Sunday, June 06, 2021

Highland Trail 55(5) 2021

All my stories start before the event and this one is no exception - with a vaccine that gave me health concerns (am I dying?) and a pair of suspension forks that turned up 10 days before the race and 5 days before I was due to leave. There was the dropper post failure which left me hurriedly mechanic-ing on work day evenings and generally rushing things.

Once installed in Scotland, I shared dinner with Karl Booth who inadvertently showed up just as I'd made enough vodka chicken for 2.

After that we collected Lars Henning from the By The Way Campsite, dodging the scrutiny of the site owner, before Andy Lawrence joined us in the pub. In the pub! None of us had had a drink inside a building with other people in over a year.

As far as coming out of lockdown parties are concerned, this was another prestigious one for me, surrounded by some wonderful ride veterans. Karl encouraged James Hayden to join us but he kept to himself.  We talked of 2019's adventures and what we'd all been up to in the last 24 months.

In the morning, Steve Waters joined us for our small, unobtrusive shakedown ride to Crianlarich station cafe. The chats - and bants - were so enjoyable I'm not sure I'd have noticed if a pedal dropped off.

I reassured myself that while it's not about the bike you're riding, this year's bike is 150% better than 2019 when I still had cable brakes & 6mm Quick Release - both needing constant adjustment. 

The station cafe was closed so we made a raid on the Londis and sat outside. This was to be the face of things to come.

The ride back was even easier - cutting down the road to avoid some of the steep hike a bike on the West Highland Way.

• • •

Outside The Real Food Cafe a multitude of riders and Alan Goldsmith, the organiser, accumulated including Nick Bubb with whom I'd spent a pleasant evening in the Melgarve Bothy in 2019. We swapped our new strategies for 2021 - he was planning to stop near Blackburn Bothy but I was confident he'd get further.

My own strategy was to accept I'd not make it to Fort Augustus for dinner & carry 3 dehydrated meals plus one breakfast. Not weight efficient but practical given my lack of training & general nervousness about the availability of supplies.

• • •

We all went our separate ways, me to do last-minute packing, the decision to travel heavy, given my speed (slow) and three days of cold, unsettled weather at the start of the week.

The boys went back to the pub for their pre-race food whilst I "did a James Hayden", locked my door & cooked my own meal. Rather than this being a healthy. well balanced, nutritional feed it turned into a pile of whatever I could lay my hands on and ill-advised purchases from the shop. I felt rather ill from all the sausages and cheese.  I tried to quieten my mind and save energy.

Then Karl came back from the pub, mentioned sandwiches so I set about putting more sausage (salami) and cheese between bread, before going to bed satisfied I'd done all I could except make breakfast and move the van.

The morning went to plan. We (women's wave) were just early enough to the start line to see off the first men's wave. I took a flying lead for around 10s, the only time I'd lead the women's race, then settled down to the back to watch the men gradually drift by as the next waves were released.

The first lot arrived quickly - 13 minutes later, led out by Karl who slithered by me with ease on the trickiest of drop-offs under the railway bridge. I created a bottleneck, lifting the cumbersome bike over the gate below & climbing over the stile after it but everyone was patient.  There were 552 miles to go.

The next waves seemed slower to arrive but the scenery ahead through big open glens, crossed by railways was punctuated by greetings from Andy, Steve, Nick and finally Lars - in one of the last groups to leave and riding as one of the race favourites alongside James, Josh Ibbet and Liam Glen

The other race favourites greeted me with anything from a cheery wave to a steely ignorance and they were gone.

In the past I've stopped at Bonar Bridge to get food but this year I reluctantly decided to bypass it to increase any slim chance of reaching Fort Augustus, although I didn't expect to. So I carried on past the cafe at 11am-earlier than last time and also gaining 30 minutes of the time it takes to stop and eat. Bonar Bridge still brought great joy with the sight of a red squirrel going about its squirrelly business

• • •

I munched my sandwiches alongside Steve Waters as we had a quick chat then he pulled away. I congratulated myself on my success so far but the climbs through the Forest around Rannoch were feeling draggy & harder than usual. Initially I put this down to the weight I was carrying - the food, extra clothing and the new additions to my packing. Then I realised that extra weight was nothing compared to last month when I rode cut gate on the cotic with a litre glass milk bottle on board. As I leant over the bars for one more push up a gravel slope I noticed the gentle hiss of a brake pad rubbing on a disc.

• • •

The contents of my tool bag spilled onto the trail as I dug out the tool to adjust the brake position I was supposed to have corrected last week before getting distracted by the next big thing.

As I was getting it sorted, Alan arrived, bringing me the kind news that there were 2 people behind me. I instantly felt lighter when I started riding again but some of my progress on last year's schedule was now eaten away.

Ben Alder passed without event which is satisfying, as it's the most daunting part of stage 1. There was a small celebration that I didn't fall off on it this time.

• • •

At Rannoch I stopped at the toilets, my first sit down on anything other than the saddle. I wondered if those two behind me had sneaked past.

At Kinlochlaggan I remembered 2019 when the storm really got its teeth into us and I added my already-saturated wool top and fleece which gave just enough insulation to keep me going. This year I skipped through the sunlight dappling in the trees to start the off-road battle over to Coreyairik pass. The arrival time at Melgarve was my next milestone measure against 2019 when I arrived at about 8pm. I now know it would take me at least 2 hrs to get to FA - because in 2019 I did it in 2hrs "fresh", the morning after a night in the Bothy.

I was slightly disappointed to reach the road section almost dead-on my 2019 schedule, all my advantage having gone, but reassured myself that it was ok because I'd been taking it easy and not really burned any matches yet.

• • •

The sight of a pine marten scampering across the grass into the forest lifted my spirits consider­ably and I cruised on up the road, waving to another competitor camped in the military ruins before Melgarve Bothy at 8:30pm.  I rode determinedly on to the Correyairik pass.

The pass has plenty of dug-outs, valleys & switch backs where you can get out of the wind so I persevered on until I found a space to set up my stove without too much breeze. All around was the sound of tumbling water from Thursdays rain. From now on all progress I made was ahead of 2019's schedule.

I summitted at around 10pm. I was right not to chance dinner in FA.

• • •

I would have liked to ride on through to Fort Augustus but despite my best intentions, during the descent my brain started to ask for sleep - what? Already?

I quite fancied Nick's idea of stopping just before FA, somewhere near the Blackburn Bothy maybe. I passed one tent near a bridge + felt a little guilty as I noisily rumbled by over the wooden boards. My brain was telling me to stop soon, before I get to FA. The FA campsite was closed still (to tents) and after FA, the Great Glen Way is not great for pitching tents.  So soon after I passed the bridge camp I started to look out for relatively flat ground.

My pitch was stable but a little draughty.  I didn't mind too much. The sleeping bag coped well with low temperatures and keeping the breeze off - or so I told myself. I brewed up one of two desert sachets I'd brought.  Apples and Custard had been on my mind for a while and this was supposed to be the coldest night of the race so I might as well consume it rather than carry it.

My sleep was fitful. Shivers, dreams, fears of missing my alarm. In the end I woke with the light and the cold and rather than shiver, I made a porridge a coffee to fuel the pack-up and roll-out, reassuring myself that by night 2, I will have eaten or burned 2/3 of my "excess baggage". 

The descent to FA gave me all the validation I needed for my high-altitude stop. The sunrise over Loch Ness was sublime and Fort Augustus at 5:45 was eerie. 


I loitered near the petrol station in case they opened at 7 then used the toilets as the only source of available water. I'd forgotten it's only hot water available for your 50p entry. Still, it was nice to sit somewhere warm for 2 minutes and I risked the water anyway.

There were plenty of early morning smiles on the Great Glen Way and I was joined (briefly) by an elderly gent on an E- bike, surprised to see anyone out so early.

First Coat Stop of the Trip by this Tiny Fungal Forest

In Invermoriston everything was still closed so I carried on past the scene of 2019's scratch & headed up the climb towards Loch na Stac, remembering my reccy ride in 2019 when I was too scared to camp here because somebody somewhere was having a fire & I'm too Okanagan to camp in a forest near fires.

• • •

Loch na Stac - my least favourite place - where I smashed a derailleur off in 2019 was less horrid because I accepted my fate and walked the whole thing. It was nice to descend to Corrimony in daylight, intent now on Cannich for breakfast which *Surely* had to be open. Before that I had to make sure I didn't miss a turn onto a new section of trail. I was intently looking out for my turn when completely surprised by a stealthy rider appearing at my shoulder- Iwona S. She had been in the tent by the bridge & a little surprised to find frost in the morning. I was surprised I'd not had frost!

As we rolled along the road, a cycling club run in the other direction started to cheer us on.  I'd gone from a one-horse race at the back to having competition and a crowd all at once. I was a little overwhelmed.

Iwona stopped to adjust her clothing which was a relief as I had been riding above myself to maintain our conversation. I was expecting her to catch me when my turn appeared and I really enjoyed the new Afric/Kintail section of flowy gravel riding and popped out the bottom, down the last of the descents into Cannich cafe.

I was dismayed to find Iowa's bike there first. "How come you turned off?" she asked. Damn, she'd missed it. I enjoyed her company over" breakfast" so was dismayed to find she'd later scratch but did carry on having a nice ride in Scotland.

Breakfast was getting decidedly lunchish so I had salmon + cream cheese bagel (more cheese!) which came with fresh salad that nearly made me cry with happiness.  With a forecast for heavy rain it was time for me to make progress over the road of 1000 puddles to Contin & hopefully onward towards the Northern Loop.

I went over to the Cannich Spar & ditched the warm eau de toilette for perfectly good water from a plastic bottle (boo) and topped up my dinner supplies with one of those crap "pasta-with-sauce" sachets. It was the best I could find. Lunch part 1 was bought. I wanted enough on board to carry me through to Oykel Bridge and beyond because I didn't trust the Oykel Bridge hotel. I didn't want to carry too much though so planned to add some supplies in Contin, particularly as I knew the Pasta-with-sauce option was a really bad idea.

• • •

The Orin Dam from the Long Grass


Compared to June 2019, the Road of 1000 puddles was a dream. Around 40 other riders had shown me the good lines which ran around the worst bike-engulfing lakes and a series of dead-end tyre tracks indicated which lines to avoid. I pootled across the ford at Orin dam which must have been a raging torrent in 2019.  

Trousers and Gloves on for the Downhill.

When I reached safety I holed up behind the hydro buildings as the first of the rain began to fall, to eat my second lunch and change into waterproof trousers and gloves for the long road descent. That all took it out of me somewhat and it was a kind of dishevelled Trep that rolled into Contin. My resolve to continue dissolved into the puddle at my feet when I discovered the stores opening hours were early mornings till 2pm. 

The campsite wasn't taking tents. I sat in the doorway with the stacks of newspapers and my phone, trying to decide what to do. The Inn wanted £80 for a room & I couldn't be arsed I didn't want to be separated from my bike. It's a long day to the Oykel Bridge Hotel I didn't trust them when I got there plus the weather was set to move in. I decided to treat myself to one short, early night, hit the shop at 6am and get gone.  I had been thinking about buying a blanket from the shop for a really snuggly night then donating it to the charity box in the morning.  Now I considered stealing a stack of Times newspapers and putting them to good use as a blanket.

In reality it took me ages to find a suitable tent spot so my quick early night consisted of rapid progress against my target to demolish 2/3 of my packet food stash by polishing off the packet of Goulash with rice.

• • •

In the warmth of lower elevation my sleep was sound, give or take the pitter patter of rain on the tent. I had a tiny condensation puddle in the morning but otherwise we were packed up by 6am. I later realised I missed a trick and could have descended to the stores unladen then packed up my stuff on the way back but you live and learn.

At the stores, normality was restored. I topped up snacks to capacity, bought lunch and a pot noodle supply a ditched the pasta-with-sauce in the food bank then returned for a hot pies and coffee breakfast.

Just as I was set to leave, Mart pulled in, fresh from a night in a B&B. I also discovered it was him I'd seen at Melgarve on day 1.  I set off alone, knowing I'd see him later.

• • •

After some forest trail riding from Contin I reached Inchbrae lodge a little peckish. There was an "Under new management" sign outside so I thought I'd give them a chance. Last time I passed the manager informed me he was closed but if I'd like to wait 45 minutes... This time I was served coffee and cake by a nice lady who told me not to worry about my dripping coat and muddy boots. Her brother, the handyman-cum-assistant told me their story and empathised that the previous owner was, "never open". As I left I realised my biggest error was not noticing the lunch menu until I was re-dressed and heading out the door.

Miles of forest and farmland tracks ensued.  

In Glen Veitch the rain had really taken force and I tried my luck on the route crossing the river in the fast flowing water but the ford was slippery and there wasn't enough traction to support my weight and the force of me trying to stop my bike and bags from floating off downstream. Thankfully before the start, we all talked about this in the bar on Thursday night so I followed advice and I tracked downstream to where an island split the flow in two, slowed everything down and made for shallower water - or that was the theory. 

The first part went well but my second crossing had me thigh deep, throwing Sunshine onto the bank.  I channelled a little Jill Homer, Be Brave, Be Strong.  I hauled out the bank myself, absolutely saturated and just plodded on, my waterproof socks, gaiters & trousers oozing river water from every orifice. It gave me the adrenaline and incentive to get moving though.

I did think of taking a photo but the idea of lingering for a moment longer was not a good one.

• • •

I had to dodge a digger.  Initially I thought of drafting him to steer clear of the steady 20 mph winds but unfortunately he wasn't going fast enough.  I stopped for a chat with the SSE worker opening the gates who kindly informed me that Mart was just ahead. So was an absolutely amazing valley. Water was everywhere. One white waterfall went right from the top of the mountain to the bottom. Standing waves and towering eddies churned the main river into a brown frothy mess and the whole valley boomed with nature's force. My paramo waterproof meant I was having a great day.

Again, the thought of stopping and getting my camera out into the wet filled me with dread.  The thought of stopping for anything filled me with dread.

Mart was having a little less fun. I caught him up sheltered in a cow shed after he just made coffee. I cycled round in circles to check in on him before continuing on. I don't actually remember if or where I ate anything. 

My only memorable stop was at Croik church. I'd just stopped because a buck had jumped the deer fence (duh) when I startled her but her infant couldn't make it over as it was only 3ft tall. The deer realised her mistake so I was patiently waiting for her to cross back over the road to her baby. Mart arrived too and thankfully noticed what was going on and waited with me for mother and child to be reunited.

We bobbed into Croik church to seek some refuge from the weather and empty our socks but unfortunately it was still closed due to covid so we used the church walls to shelter instead. History repeating itself, though in somewhat less horrific circumstances than the Highland Clearances.

We hammered into the headwind through the farmlands to Oykel Bridge Hotel without contracting any animal-faeces-borne diseases. Small birds swooped across the fields where the river had flooded and I wondered if they were catching flies or desperate to save their ruined nests. My heart was breaking over cold and lifeless eggs and I needed to find something more positive to think of, urgently.

Martin cheerily commented that the weather was breaking and indeed, the rain had eased to steady, rather than pelting and patches of brightness emerged.

Oykel Bridge helped marginally. Mart continued to Achness but because I'd not really had much to eat I didn't really have the legs for the hill climb to go over to Invercassleay/Rosehall before eating.  I sucked in a big lung full of reverse class snobbery and walked into the public bar.

• • •

The simple menu offering didn't really suit someone who's not keen on bacon, sausage or egg so I had the takeaway soup to eat in, a packet of scampi fries and some coffee. A steady stream of riders switched between the two available indoor tables & we all had banters with the Surrey boys fishing party at the next table who promised me they'd still be there on their 25th round when I returned. My respect to the OBH, that must be a difficult day to manage that turnover in outbound / returning tired riders.

I had a tuna roll to finish off then reluctantly I headed back out, though I was feeling good and quite intent on continuing out for dinner and sleeps, rather than stopping at Rosehill, thereby continuing my erosion of the weight I was carrying. 

Outside the OBH, Lars had arrived with another rider. He left me with the advise, "When you get to the bit that looks like Tiramisu, just slide on your bum!" I knew exactly where he meant.

• • •

We bumped elbows or fists of something and I headed on with fresh wind in my sails.  The rain had stopped and I freewheeled down the hill, no hands on the bars, perfectly balanced singing the Beatles "Fool on the Hill" which seemed entirely reflective of the situation of heading out onto the Northern Loop when I'd decided on a policy of camping in warmer elevations /latitudes.

Unfortunately my body had other ideas. Around 8km up the road I had a violent surge of nausea. The blood drained from my hands, feet and head and the contents of my stomach seemed to move up and down with every pedal stroke until I couldn't pedal any more. I desperately needed to pee so found a rocky outcrop away from the river, road and gaze of Estate buildings and let the pee flow and waited for the nausea to ease. It didn't.

I wondered about camping by the river to wait it out. But what if I got really bad? I decided to retreat to the Achness hotel before anyone else got in there before me. There wasn't any phone signal so I rode down and begged for a room until they relented and gave me a perfectly formed single room with shared facilities. I rinsed my clothing out in the shower, unpacked all my bike bags to dry out my tent, mat and sleeping bag (they were damp but not terrible) and stuffed my shoes with tissues.

I'd missed the restaurant but the hotellier gave me a large bowl of natural yoghurt which is exactly what I felt like when I asked him about the possibility of getting "something simple".

Back in my room I considered the option of brewing up my final emergency food sachet but I actually felt quite full and really didn't fancy any more food.

The hotel window was left open to release the damp kit smells and to let the outdoors in. The heat meant I had a fidgety night but I no longer felt ill. I debated an early start but acknowledged I needed the breakfast at 8am because when I had handed my litter to the hoteliers wife to put in the bin on her trolley it, sadly, included my cheese and pickle sandwich for the day ahead which now had the consistency of glazier's putty, not a tasty butty. 

There would need to be a raid on the breakfast buffet.

I was awake with the blackbirds at 5:30 and took the time to organise all my dry kit back into its bags and get most of it on the bike outside.

Back inside me, Mart and the two riders following the tail of the race, all breakfasted in the one room while the proper (fishing) guests were all in the conservatory it turns out snobbery extends beyond the OBH.

We all meshed into the same breakfast buffet though and I was relieved for my Rapha shorts which at least added some decency to my tights-and-socks combo.

I pondered the prospects for us getting to Drumbeg in 14hrs and Mart scoffed but then we got thinking on it.

• • •

I needed to make up time wasted overnight if I wanted to be back in under 8 days.

Without the extra 16km of exposure and OBH inconvenience, Mart was a lot fresher than me and he was ever so slightly more disciplined, having washed his bike with the hose and set it by the door ready to go.

I, on the other hand, tried not to get distracted chatting to the fishermen in the shed and, despite having pre-packed, took an unnecessary amount of time to get going.  After 10 minutes I stopped and unloaded most of my kit into the road while hunting for my chain oil before reverting to using Bum Butter anti chaffing cream on my chain instead.

All squeaks eliminated, I set off onto the Northern loop.


I was happy to discover at the Dam that the croissants that still turned my stomach at breakfast could now be easily consumed as my lunch. The dam climb required me to swear a lot and consume a lot of sweeties to make up for lost calories. At the offroad turning I had another idle lie down and tallied the hours it had taken me to do this last time. I'd entered at 4pm and camped in Glen Golly at l0-11pm. Now I was here earlier and hoped to make Kylesku for dinner. What were the chances?

Posing for the tourists.  No zoom!

I met a small group of 3 unladen cyclists who were keen to tell me about their 4 years riding LEJoG in stages. I continued on my way with one chat stop to eat some flapjacks then my turn which got me away from their chat about "where this one goes"! 

Much to my surprise, Glen Golly was drier than last September. Out the other side, the weather and ground conditions were ripe for a lunch break.


The croissants weren't going to cut it so I brewed up enough hot water for one of my pot noodles and a coffee.

I knew Landslide would appreciate my position so I pinged my spot and sat by the waterfall listening to the cuckoo, busy insects and life sliding past.

Just as I'd finished packing I was joined by John Barker. He'd also had brake issues and was making up for lost time.

John Barker is a Rights of Way Officer so this is his Natural Habitat

We talked intently for a few hours about bikes, racing, life. He inevitably rode away from me on the downhills then I'd catch him up faffing. We mused that we were all alone up there yet surrounded by such beauty & perfection and amazing trail conditions. "Where is everyone? "asked John.

Bealach Horn and John, bog surfing

By the time we reached the bog crossing (the Tiramisu) I was a bit wobbly from riding it with someone on a full susser either right behind me or just ahead. There are some big bog slides where you lift the bike down first + jump down after it - hoping to find a solid spot where you wont sink up to your knees. 

And then there's the stumbling around in the tussocks. I wasn't even riding the bike and I managed to drop it, get my hand caught in the saddle, trip over a wheel and land on a bent wrist. At least I just squelched and John was ahead so he didn't see. The river crossing at the top was steep wherever you went so I just enjoyed the swim then had to shoulder my bike to climb out again. At least I had the hike up the Bealach Horn to warm up on and took the opportunity for some sneaky photos to recover on the way up.

John on his way to Score a Table at the Kylesku Hotel

John was well ahead now. I smashed the downhill. Absolutely loved every pedal stroke. We were definitely coming back to do this again (this was the first in a flip-flop of emotions).

The very North of the UK. Peeking between peaks to the North Atlantic beyond

After the escape from the North, we dropped into Achfarry, passed quietly through and did a little jig whilst we uploaded the "Back" route onto GPSs.  We weren't half way yet but it felt like it.

Slightly old school photography because I couldn't be bothered to change settings.

We pushed side by side up the climb behind Achfarry, overwhelmed with the aroma of azelias in bloom.  At the top of the final descent there was a moment to lapse into appreciation and load on the coats for the descent to Kylesku.  John ripped a zipper but after some cursing reverted to a long sleeved coat and headed downwards way ahead.  The azelias were replaced by a carpet of yellow gauze along the Kylesku banks.  One tent flapped underneath the bridge as the channel acted as a wind tunnel and I thought it not an advisable place to sleep.  

On my way across the bridge I dinged a bell to two bikepackers cooking up food in the carpark and proceeded to try my luck at the hotel instead.

I parked next to Mart's bike at Kylesku, just in time to wish him well as he was leaving. I then (almost force) entered the Kyusku Inn, joining John at his table for coffee and, erm, a bag of peanuts. "Sorry the kitchen is closed". Will I EVER get to eat here? After a bit of us muttering under our breath at the state of Scottish hospitality and "What I'd do if I ran a restaurant," the waitress relinquished and very kindly offered as the desert menu to match the pace of the one other occupied table in the room.

Two puddings & 2 cheese boards later I found myself shovelling expensive French Honeycomb and chocolate brownie into my mouth alongside Stilton and chutney. The oatcakes were exceptional. They brought us extra bread and napkins to take away our leftovers when we legally had to be evicted at 10:30pm. Otherwise we enjoyed our food through the Sunset dropping over John's shoulder.

Outside we went our separate ways. I faffed getting water from the toilets & John went on, though I was momentarily convinced he'd been turned into a deer in an oddly Orwellian moment only Kylesku high street. 

John, is that you?

The mountains turned pink with the sun and Coigach put on a show for me. Back on the main road I thought I was about to be accosted when a driver one minute beeped at me then on the next hill came reversing towards me. I kept my head down and kept moving but he got out of the car.

"Are you sure you don't just want to stick your bike in the back of the car Jack?". 

"No thank you", I said, riding by. 

There was a yelp of surprise then he drove up to me again with his window down. "Oh god Sorry I thought you were someone else".

Not sure who Jack is but I hope they got to where they were going on their bicycle.

The Drumbeg road has been resurfaced klaxon! I was so pleased to be on it at 11pm, motorbike-free and campervan-free.

I passed Mart, already sound asleep in a field then John said "Ok chum" at me as I arrested another climb, eager to keep going so long as I felt good.  I'd stop just before Drumbeg or Clachtol. 

Drumbeg (or Nedd) won, as I found a flat spot under a tree. Unfortunately RIGHT under a very low bough. I scrabbled about a lot to pitch it the tent but in the end had a pretty neat space with lapping waves and a view of the tiny harbour below. 

Decamping in the morning

Mists over the harbour

There was cheese and coffee for breakfast & I decided not to bother Mr Drumbeg stores so continued on. Unfortunately Clachtol stores were also shut when I passed and so was Achmelvich, so it was a very hungry Trep that arrived in Lochinver.  Still, I saw seals basking on rocks in the morning sunlight.  I bet Liam Glen didn't see seals basking on rocks in the sunlight.

I needed more than pie so I parked at the Spar where there was another bike and Javi! I got my coffee and breakfast pie (amongst other things) from the shop and then sat with Javi for 10 minutes or so before Mart + John arrived to take over. 

They went to the cafe for real food while I had the Ledmore Traverse to cross between Canisp and Suilven. 

Given the previous evening, the day's weather was disappointing. A low cloud obscured the two peaks all day and I was a little melancholy compared to the last time I did this route.

As I really got into the thick of it, a cyclist was walking the other way pushing his bike. "I don't suppose you have a chain tool I can borrow?" We had his chain fixed in a flash between the two of us as Mart passed me by. I anticipated a supply of Karma down the road but all I had was an awkward, horrible rocky day ahead. John passed in a while, literally full of beans, and bacon, haggis & Lorne Sausage. Slightly regretting his breakfast choices. I didn't see him again though. Instead, I started needing to have a regular lie down with my feet in the air - the sensations varying between. bruising, burning and aching as the rocks (unrideable) took their toll on my feet shod in cycling shoes. I regretted not wearing my vibram-soled boots but there was no time for regret, only walking.

I paused at the bealach to send a text or two indicating my discomfort. Sending messages required me to stand with an arm in the air so that was short lived.  At the sight of the final loch I stopped and waited for 2 hikers to pass so they didn't get to laugh at me falling off when I did revert to riding my bike.

I had another pause at that place I have always thought would make a lovely bivi spot. What was I doing leaving this place to go to Oykel Bridge Hotel? Then I remembered that meant Fisherfield and "only" 216 miles this of this thing left and 2 of 3 half-loops to do.

My only photo of the day.

The final track along the lake was done with a complete lack of dignity or finesse. No co-ordination was applied.  I just about managed to ride from the bog down to the gate at the road.

I suited up for the ride down to OBH. I thought I might try Altnachealgach Motel instead but they were fully booked and after I'd waited to talk to someone, telling me to wait to find out how long I needed to wait, then telling me there'd be a 20 minute wait without finding out what I wanted or offering me a menu first so I decided to risk the time window for OBH. As it was, I arrived just in time for the main menu but not an indoor table which were all reserved for residents. Ok. Well, not really Ok, it's forecast 1 deg C and I've just descended 10km but in the absence of choice I'll take it.

• • •

My overdue karma came to the rescue and a lovely hiker chap who had a table all to himself came out to sit in the evening sun and sent me in to take his table. I was immediately scolded but the mis­understanding cleared up and I continued to eat my meal in comfort - and surreptitiously dry my socks out. 

Mart and John had gone on their way and I didn't expect to see them again. Much as I fancied tumbling into a nice warm bed, I'd still only done 80km so needed to make progress to Ullapool. All I could remember of the route here was the final long descent. I checked the weather and that got me all the motivated I needed 1°C in my current location. 10°C in Ullapool. Best head over there then. 

I set off up the gravel tracks.  The light went on through the trees then I just ran the dynamo on the open hillside - it was still daylight until 11pm.  A pair of fell runners shoes sat outside the Schoolhouse bothy but on I rode.

• • •

At the top of the steepest climbing, I passed John's bike and tent pitched just before the river crossing at Loch na Daimh. I guess he decided to deal with that in the morning. I had a date with 10 degrees and ploughed on through the water. The moor stretched out ahead of me for what seemed like an eternity... but on the map is very little. Sheep eyes glowed back at me. Moorland birds hooted at me in the darkness. I wish I knew what they were because they made a fascinating noise. After what seemed like an eternity I felt the elevation start to drop then finally skidded to a halt at the deer gate at the bottom by East Rhiddoroch lodge. It was clearly warmer terrain and despite the long descent I was not too cool. Open fields presented ripe camping opportunity. 

I found myself a reassuring tree and a not too shabby plot. The tent went up in no time but my so-called flat spot had just enough slope for me to slide towards the door with every move. Oh well, I wrapped myself around the pole, relaxed and set my alarm for 5am, having recognised I was on Estate Land and didn't want to be disturbed. It was leftover flapjack for breakfast.

As promised, I packed up quickly before the Loch Achall road stretch and a climb over woodland into Ullapool where I met ziggy stardust running with his 4 pointer dogs. Not a hallucination.  In Ullapool the only shop open at this ungodly hour was the coop by the harbour so I had the crappiest coffee and a magnum. Bite me.  There are days it's never too early for icecream.

The Tesco's run found me food for now, 2 lunches and a cuddle from the Carpark cat.The trip to the outdoor shop got me dessicated porridge for the morning. Oil for my chain, replacement mini pliers to help me change my brake pads and a pair of thicker socks. The previous day's battering really scared my feet and I needed something shock absorbing to take the edge off.

Once I'd oiled the chain I checked the brakes, replaced the front, checking their alignment this time.  Every time I glanced at the doorway to the posh coffee shop there was a line of five people.  Finally, when no-one was left I walked over.  One woman inside was trying to find something Gluten free, vegan, FODMAP, don't like lettuce.  The owner walked to the door swinging a mug and smiled, saying, "I'll be with you as soon as I can".  After 5 minutes waiting and staring at my bike (that wasn't being worked on), I gave up and got back to work.  Every time I looked back there was a steady queue.

I ran out of excuses & headed toward Dundonnell. Joining the new path alongside was somewhat interesting.  If I'd been on the Coffin Road by now I'd be in Fisherfield in no time.


Instead I bundled down a river path, clambered under branches, walked a precipice and sat in a field with butterflies. I finally made it to the hill which then snaked around gorges & then dropped to the Dundonnell Road and crossed onto the Fisherfield motorway. This inevitably petered out into single track stapled to the hillside and too narrow to place a foot, a pedal and a tyre in the same space, meaning one of these things inevitably smacked into the other on a regular basis. 

The track from the top of the Coffin Road eventually came into view above me 6 hours after I'd initially passed under­neath it. I called Alan a rude name. I cursed anyone who had complained about the Coffin Road ever.  The valley thronged with people - some swimmers, some Cape Wrath Trailers, some climbers. Someone in the bothy - I wondered if they were a warden.

For some reason I crossed the river fully clothed this time. When I reached the other side I cursed my decision to wet my socks before bedtime but as I still had desires on getting out of the valley before I stopped, I knew my clothes would soon be dry in this warm weather - once I'd traversed the last of the bogs of course. 

Not bad as paddling spots go


My 8 day plan was going down the pan after I didn't make Ullapool so getting out of Fisherfield would be good.

I checked myself. What the hell was I saying? Right then I HATED racing. I was in one of the most remote and beautiful places in the world in perfect weather and I was in a rush to leave! What I really wanted to do was pitch up, make dinner, have a swim and go climb a mountain tomorrow.

I did the "make dinner" part and carried on trudging.

I stomped through the bogs, past the other huts, onto the riverside path, past old camp spots & a family with a large tent, fire and speakers blaring out musing into the river(!) and started the climb out of the valley, hoping it would filter out the smoke and the noise. Although the air was dearer it felt like the music merged with the sound of water leaving me hearing snippets of song combined with falling water. I couldn't tell if I was hallucinating. Listening hard to figure out if I was actually hallucinating, made me fall over. At least I wasn't "good enough" to make it out of Fisherfield in a oner and I would get my wish - to stay the night.

Through the tired trudging I realised I was hungry and needed a wee.

• • •

I headed off the trail, squat in the grass and, perfectly balanced in my position, I fell asleep and woke up again a few seconds later - still peeing. Luckily I stayed upright.

I stumbled down the slope back to my bike, perched on a rock and bit into the twix I'd been hauling around for 2 days. Seconds later I woke up wondering what on earth was stuck in my mouth. Ok. Not good - I realised I probably shouldn't descend Clach na Frithealaidh in this condition. Safety aside, where would the fun be in that?

I carried on up the slope aiming to get as far from the noise as possible - even though I couldn't decide if the radio tunes were real or not. I was pretty sure we'd moved onto The Cure which seemed an odd choice for a small mountain rave.

• • •

A flat spot presented. It should have been boggy but in the relatively dry conditions the moss was dry to touch. One lump stuck up obstinately through the tent floor and was cold to touch - so a little damp beneath the Cuban Fibre. In the corner a small jumper twig protruded rudely upwards so I put my helmet over it to protect it and the tent from eachother. The pitch was, otherwise, flat so I just slept in a z shape around the obstacles. It felt like my chances of making 8 days were blown so I didn't bother getting up with my 5am alarm. The breeze that had been wafting down my back had been blocked by my bag up at the back of the tent. 

I ate the Mouse au Chocolat as a treat for doing so well and lay down to re-charge.

In the morning the breeze whipped at the door so I built a fortress for my stove out of rucsac and shoes and brewed coffee and porridge and ate with the cuckoo ringing in my ears.  The water was quieter and the music had stopped.

Up we go again.
An old fisherman hiker stopped for a chat just as I'd stowed away the rest of my stuff and asked where I'd travelled from today. I was a little embarrassed to say it was 10am and I'd not yet actually done any miles.
Room with a View?

However, thanks to the extra rest, the final climb out was not nearly as terrible as last time - I must be a little stronger. I started from my camp spot wearing all the layers of morning but soon had it pared down to bibs only (plus the usual socks, shoes and a bra!).

Nanu nanu
I had patronising chats from a hiker which I cut short with "I know, I've done it before" then the descent was peachy. Let's call this the last one I managed to really enjoy. A pair of dot watchers caught me on the final throes but at the time I did not realise and just sped past. Hello if you're reading this!

Into the breach

The hike over to Canmore & the Causeway as sublime for scenery. I'm so glad I didn't do it in the dark. The paths were streaming with old man climbers lugging packs of rope and gear on their steel bikes. It was like a Rough stuff Fellowship convention out there. I got in someone's photo shot riding along the beach of the Loch.

On the open moor land sections an older hiker greeted me, said he'd heard "all about me" from the earlier dot watchers. Ah the notoriety of the Lanterne Rouge..

A man on a bike with massive panniers and his dog with a massive stick opened the gate for me on the forest trail with the substantial boost to my energy levels to keep on rolling through. Before I knew it I was rolling under the diverse ancient imported tree species of Inverewe gardens and wobbling to a halt at the edge of Poolewe.

Finally my luck had turned and I ordered real coffee and salmon salad from the Pool cafe. Half the salad was potato salad and the fish portion was immense. The coffee was good, the cake better and I washed it down with sugarey tea.

I checked my phone but it died just as TSK called me.  I wondered if he'd been ringing to tell me I'd turned the wrong way or to tell me about the great cafe that closed at 4... actually he was ringing to ask me about the roof in the house so I'm not sorry I missed that one (mostly because the roof is now fixed because he JFDid-It).  The dying phone made me realise my battery charger hadn't been working despite the last 40 minutes of continuous descending I had zero extra charge on it.

I blagged the cafe for power then settled down for a good rest.  

In the toilets of the cafe, the wallpaper was patterned with monkeys riding in hot air balloons. That took up some of my time, as did chatting to Marcia and her accomplices. We'd all ridden past Marcia's house in Marybank earlier. The cafe closed at 4 but the staff let me use the Loo well after.

Finally, I said my goodbyes then set off along the Tollie Path. I had no illusions that this would be quick and easy but constantly reminded myself it was better than Postie path and obviously better than the road.

My body had the same nervous reaction to a large intake of food but this time I recognised it, had a wee then patiently walked off the nausea, a few steps and rests at a time. A chance meeting with a lady walking two gorgeous labradors and a collie cheered me up no end. As we chatted in the evening sun I kicked the ball for the dog and stroked their velvety ears.

I escorted my body onwards and put all my energy into enjoying the evening. The birdsong was deafening and species I've not spotted before flitted by. Oh how I wish I had time and my notebook.The cuckoo called, the flies buzzed. I hardly minded the occasional midge, the coconut scent of the gauze overwhelmed and Loch Maree and Slioch opened up before me. 

All aboard for Slattadale

The woodland brought a temptation to stop but my distance was only 50km for the day and easy road miles lay ahead. If I was to stand any chance of an 8 day finish I needed to do 135km / day from now on. In my head there were 2 days and 3 sections left to go: Torridon, Glen Afric and Glencoe. There was only one thing to do - tag Torridon onto today and Glen Afric onto Glencoe. It was probably 48 hours or more continuous plodding but I'd not forgive myself if I didn't try.

• • •

I tried to procure whatever dinner I could from the Kinlochewe hotel with the hidden agenda of charging my battery. I had enough left for 1 Garmin charge and would need to hope for the best with my lights. They reluctantly sold me 2 cans of coke and a packet of crisps through the front door and directed me to the parking lot where I could get clean drinking water. In a stroke of good luck, the cleaner had just arrived and let me use her kettle plug socket to charge my battery for the duration of her shift, while I brewed up a pot noodle and coffee and dodged midges. I've made a donation to their community fund which maintains these facilities for public use 24×7.

Ben Eighe in sunset

With the new socks on that I bought in Ullapool, I stormed the Torridon road (easily done as it's downhill) seeing the last of the peaks in as the sun finally disappeared. There are some big open estate tracks around here and they were enjoyable in the night air. The miles were still rolling in easily. As I dropped down to the last few estate houses though, my rear tyre went wobbly and was fully flat by the time I stopped. 

Quite frankly, I couldn't be bothered to mess with worms in the darkness so reached straight for an inner tube. Inside the tyre there was little sealant left - I either lost a lot or there was not much there in the first place when I decided she'd be reet before the trip - lesson 2 learned. I settled into a little hole in the grasses and pumped up the tube. Everything held so we were back on our way for The Big Push.

I didn't mind doing Torridon as an over nighter. I hate the drains & walked most of them as my co-ordination was on its last legs. At the bottom of the climb I allowed myself a look at the teahouse bothy. They were off limits for the race but it's such a sweet little hut. A tent was pitched outside but it wasn't Mart. I rode away from it without regret, though an ominous, soggy cloud mass was starting to accumulate over the minor peaks I was about to pass through.

When the light finally went at around midnight I tied my head torch around my neck and used that to find my feet, saving my strong bike light for faster riding. I did end up engulfed by the moist cloud and my waterproof layer went on for the worst of it.  My bike glistened in the dew fall but it mercifully did not actually rain.

By the time I descended to Achnashellach station there was enough daylight to see my way and I managed to resist the platform shelter. It was time to make up some more road miles over to Loch Carron but as I turned off the big wide open A-road my rear tyre went flat again. I was momentarily tempted by fixing it in the shelter of the Strathcarron hotel but it was so flat I wouldn't even get that far.

• • •

Whilst you were sat in the gutter...

Instead I nestled on the verge between the forests and dug out three thorns and a piece of glass from the tyre - clearly I'd missed those during my 1am inspection. I prayed it would hold, toyed with the idea of hanging around Lochcarron (7km off course) for supplies, maybe even a tyre or some sealant. (I have no idea if there is a bike shop there) then decided forward progress was the best tonic - I have patches and a boot. The most annoying thing about this puncture was completely missing out on sunset riding, though the two pics I did snatch made me quite content.

Strathcarron sunrush

I resisted a quick sleep at the Strathcarron hotel/campsite and pushed on, still full of enthusiasm for the tum off to Dornie where there was surely breakfast at the end of the tunnel - or at the end of the stalker's path anyway. 

My mood might have been a little low but the sun burned the cloud off and the track was relatively dry so through the fug of an all-nighter I was generally pretty happy with the promise of good coffee.

Maybe I should've done the pizza place but the facilities in the public carpark called me to the coffee shop where I feasted on cake and they ground me a couple of coffees worth of grounds to take away for the rest of my trip.

I also bought two lunches worth of food at the shop and crammed some super noodles into a cooking pouch to replace the emergency stocks consumed at Kinlochewe.

Beyond Dornie a helicopter was busily moving telegraph poles from the roadside to the hillside.  I pretended I was in a breakaway in the Highland Trail and millions of people were watching around the world and it made me ride a little bit faster for a while.

• • •

I'd been reminding myself for hours how much I love Glen Afric and it rewarded me with enough sunshine that I shed all my layers to eat lunch holed up behind a wall, out of the gentle breeze which was enough to keep the midges off.

The push up the glen where each mountain stream cuts into the valley was still pleasant right up until the point that it got highly tedious. It was hellishly much further than I remember and with my renewed nervousness over my rear tyre, much slower too. My feet were hurting again so I stopped to switch socks for the puddly bit that was ahead and to eat my second lunch of the day.

• • •

At this point Mart caught up, having slept camped near the teahouse bothy. His bike must have been out of the way where I could not see it. I admitted I'd pulled an all-nighter and may plan another to get back within 8 days. He quite rightly called me nuts and promptly disappeared into the distance - in the nicest way.  I swore at him, which he did not deserve.

I was left alone with my lack of co-ordination, a dubious rear tyre and a headset that had now started to squeak, somewhat unnervingly. I dug out an Alan key, had a faff with the headset and shovelled sweets down. Mart was at the other end of the valley.

I set off and smashed my way through all the puddles with varying levels of success. Critically, half way through I realised I'd forgotten to put waterproof socks back on.  Some puddles were clear, some made me swear, some were soft and made me wrinkle my nose and wonder what I'd just ridden through. I was starting to dread the section after the bunkhouses where the track improves as I knew it would send me to sleep and I knew it went on and on.

Sure enough my brains body started to falter. I rode a lot of it whilst half asleep, taking micro maps on the bike.

Eventually my body had a major hot flush on a climb and I just had to get off and lie down. Despite propping my knees up on eachother and still wearing my helmet, I fell fast asleep - I think possibly for about an hour. 

The sun went behind the hill - I woke up shivering with my sodden feet screaming in pain. I checked them. Trench foot had set in on all my pressure points so I stuck some dry water-proof socks on and carried on riding. The pain subsided slightly but the dozies did not and now my left knee screamed with every pedal stroke. I ride-limped or walk-limped the climbs until eventually I'd had enough. I wouldn't allow myself to quit before I'd had a sleep and some food but I thought I'd phone TSK for a chat. At that point I realised I didn't actually have enough phone signal to quit even if I wanted to.

• • •

Last time I was down Glen Afric there was nowhere to stay because it was a glorious solstice weekend.

At least this time the prime track-side spots were clear. I didn't care for the scenery, I just pitched my tent with my back to the breeze for max warmth, locked the bike to a tree and tied up the tent walls for more head and foot room.

I passed out about three times whilst getting bedded down before finally polishing off half of my crisp packet from Kinlochewe and a leftover chocolate brownie from Dornie. It was 9pm when I lay down to sleep. My target of 8 days was gone but it didn't matter because I was probably going to quit tomorrow. I turned off all my alarms.

• • •

There was no glorious sunrise on quittin' day. The sun was well awake when I woke up. I sighed a heavy sigh and decided I should probably at least look outside and see what quiltin' day looked like.

Good morning

The loch pinged back a perfect reflection of the yellow gauze strewn hillside interrupted only by a thin layer of mist above the water.

I wondered why on earth I'd actually want to do anything else other than ride my bike today.

I finished more crisps and a mars bar and quickly packed up, finding that the feet and knees had mostly stopped hurting, though I consumed the last 2 Ibuprofen to be sure.

• • •

Unfortunately I was in for a little shock to the system as I had passed off the track between Glen Afric and Fort Augustus as a bit of blah-de-blah with a big steep descent at the end.

First off: the main forest road climbed for miles before dropping to Tomich. Thinking it wasn't much further I skipped the Cannich cafe a carried on.

Lordy what are we breeding here? Fleecy midge sheep?

When it became obvious that the distance was further than I thought, a lot of energy reserves were pulled from my feed bag and I breakfasted on sweets or chocolate bars washed down with stream water for around 50km.

I gave the best help or advice I could to some stuck gravel kids without brake pads then found the stone drop, finally into Fort Augustus. I had to be a bit proud of myself that last time I didn't even make it out of Tomich without severe exhaustion and here I was on day 7 - still riding!

I looked around me outside the toilets and flopped into a bench. I preferred Fort Augustus at 5am. Still, at least the shop was open. 2 lunches, coffee, COLD water, a resupply of tasty high energy sweets and porridge. I guzzled half the food while listening to the old man on the bench next to me tell a steady stream of other coach party guests that he was "Just waitin' for 'er, she's probably shopping".

I thought about starting up a conversation but then realised the futility and stayed focussed on the Edamne bean salad and packing the rest of my foodstocks into my bags.

• • •

Time to TT down the Caledonian Canal, as a hiker jumped into my seat faster than I can shed gears on a steep climb. I tried to calculate how many riding hours I had spent returning to Tydrum from this spot in 2019 as I bypassed the swing bridge at Laing where we'd stopped to watch a boat pass; the Eagle Barge where we stopped for dinner and a pint and then Fort William where I'd stopped to sleep the night, cook a meal and shower and dry my kit out. 

Instead this year, I popped into the Spar to buy an icecream and a series of cold sugary/ caffeinated drinks for the journey and risked my precious phone battery to send a few texts - but only once I had checked my spare Garmin to ensure I'd enough power to see me to the finish line - 94% that'll do. I wish my legs had that much power.

Fully fuelled I set off up Glen Nevis , through the carpark full of BBQ-ing tent campers and vans and onto the solitude of the fire road which gradually climbs into track then path. After a few hours of climbing and increasing walking it was worth changing into thicker socks and I had a chat with a runner on his way to a solo WHW attempt - 36 hrs in and looking forward to the taxi ride to his home in Fort Bill. We were mutually impressed at eachother.

My vague plan to keep going through the night resurfaced somewhere along the way I'd thought an extra night out would give me a 10 day finish which I was really keen to avoid. The day marker ticks over at 8am so anything that could be done to get me in before 8am would be the difference between (n days) and (n-1) days. I guess I was thinking 10 days because I'd forgotten about my all-nighter in Torridon, Or in my rush to go less-than-8, I had forgotten there was a day-8 between less-than-8 and 9.

I came into Kinlochleven with the same plan to go as long as I could in the natural light then use my headtorch till it died, saving the exposure light for downhills & backup emergencies.

Unfortunately I took a wrong turn on the descent and followed a DH trail off route, meaning I spent the last of the twilight retracing my steps to my navigation failure and repeating the correct descent.

As I rolled towards a final river crossing my brain said "ooh Bridge!" Unfortunately my body did not react in time and as Sunshine's front wheel peeled 5ft into the riverbed below, I threw myself backwards onto my arse, taking a slightly shorter fall broken mostly by my middle aged arse and the water bladder in my rucsac.

I gave the bike slightly more than a quick once-over before trundling around town - angry at the toilets for being locked after 6pm and horrified at the campsite for being so rammed. No nice tasty quiet spots there!

• • •

I carried on up riding as much of the pipe run as I could - which wasn't much - then hiking the rest. The remaining light was enough and occasional flat runs gave me a bit of a light boost on the dynamo to see a while longer.

When it got really steep near the top, I stopped for a wee then ate some tabouleh while I put on a windproof jacket and knee warmers.

As I reached the levelling point a little bundle of SIL said "hello" through the darkness. It was Mart. He'd pushed himself as far as he could but mentally was in the same place I'd been 20 hours earlier. Actually, to be fair, he wasn't ready to quit but he was ready for it all to be over.

• • •

I tried to leave some encouraging words about being just high enough to keep out of the midges and get a good rest then said I was going to see how far I could get. When I turned onto the path to the Devil's Staircase I glimpsed over to the Blackwater Reservoir and remembered back 8 days when we passed the other end of it. I remembered Robert Macfarlane's writing about the Bothy here, besieged by death as I looked out at 6 sheepy reflective ghost eyes staring back at me across the tussocks. The thought of descending the devils staircase tired, in the dark on a creaky bike I'd just crashed with fading light batteries did not seem to be a sensible approach.

• • •

For all I'd persuaded myself I was full of beans, surely I'd benefit from a few hours rest. The return journey must be far enough that I'd end up needing a sleep anyway. It was 1:30 am, I could just grab 3 hrs.

Just above a wooden bridge, overlooking the Mamores I found a bog dry and flat enough to pitch on and my camp went up impressively swiftly. The breeze was irrelevant and I was conked out before I knew what was happening.

The sunrise woke me before the alarm and suddenly I didn't want to race for the finish because I didn't want it to end so I made up the porridge a coffee as Mart trundled by looking refreshed.  He stopped for a quick chat then pressed on so he didn't get cold.

 • • •

His passage spurred me on a bit but I still finished my breakfast and it "only" took me an hour to eat and pack so I was on the move by 5:15. Why can I not manage this for my job!!


I was, however, suddenly quite empty again - no legs, no co-ordination. I managed the first few messy turns on the devil's staircase then limped my way down on foot as I couldn't seem to stop the front wheel (and me) bouncing off rocks and I hardly had the muscle strength to lift my feet on and off the pedals to dab or catch myself from a fall. Woe betide me if I clipped in, I could no longer rotate my feet hard enough to unclip.

I just about managed to slither through the gravel on the West Highland Way by the main road.

• • •

It was so warm my backside was finally starting to give me grief so I sat on a nice big rock and changed into my other shorts, remembering I'd only worn them for 2 days after washing them at the hotel on day 3. I instantly felt better.

Back into Glencoe

I tipple-cursed the blocky, slammy cobbles on the section near the ski hill as I jarred my way South.

Only when I passed my moorland bivi from 2019 did I begin to enjoy myself again as the track got smoother and a tad more downhill pointing. I tried to ignore the steady stream of hikers thinking I was riding the WHW and secretly wished I'd carried on at 3am so I didn't have to put up with their well-meaning shit.

When I reached the little hill climb that cuts from the Bridge of Orchy estate to the main road I was confronted by a Shaman wearing a sun hat and a sun/moon print tee shirt and shorts I'm not sure he had sandles on but he should have. He had a white beard and a long white ponytail.

• • •

He laughed at me huffing and puffing my bike up the climb and in a thick Lancastrian accent said, "Seemed like a good idea at the time".

"That time was about 2 years ago" I answered without a beat.

It made us both laugh. I didn't dare look back to see whether he was real or if he'd disappeared into a mirage on the lake.

Instead I lay in the grass and ate a mars bar and said hello to a couple of American girls who were too well perfumed and engrossed in their conversation to even notice me.

I struggled over the top of the hill and finally down to the A82 at the Bridge of Orchy hotel. I even managed to ride little technical sections since I had an audience of hikers and I managed to huff my way up the hill to the railway as some mountain bikers (briefed by Mart, I presume) said, "We understand you're the back- marker."

There wasn't much else to say but "yes." and "I'm not stopping for anyone". A TT is still a race and you go hard when you can, even if you are last.

I was accompanied up the valley by a freight train on the railway line and had to wait at the bottom of the final climb while a farmer sorted out a highland cow and calf that had been spooked by a clan of Ramblers and a Scottish and Southern Electricity van. When she lowered her horns towards me I did as I was told and hid behind a signpost for a few seconds.

• • •

I made a right hash of lifting my bike over the locked gate at the head of the trail, gave up and let it fall upside down into the dirt. "Well, that went better in the gym and it went better last time," I said to the two lads I'd just passed on the ride up.

"You've done this before you've come back?" they asked. Fair point. 

I intermittently rode and scooted the last pitch. . My welcoming committee was no more than a Stirlingshire Council Tipper van roaring up the lane to the treatment works. 

I took my own selfie that could've been any kerb stone anywhere in the world then wobbled down the hill to a cuddle from TSK, a table reserved at the real food Café by Mart and a catch up as he'd been back long enough to eat his breakfast.

The next hour was an antisocial blur. I ate - obviously. I'd meant to phone and thank my supporters and tweet and get a shower but we were in a rush to get back and we had checked out of the campsite hours ago. My phone was locked away in my bike bags and in the end I stepped into my civilian clothes, strapped myself into the van and rabbited at Andrew until I fell asleep.  It took me a few hours to realise I should mention my completion on social media since I'd checked in with the spot when I finished. It turns out that wasn't enough to make the dot bounce - to be honest I didn't even know if I was still a dot.

• • •

Being driven down the motorway with my feet in the air-on the dashboard was the easy bit. Using those feet since I got home is harder. 3 days later I still have one ankle that's bigger than the other.


A few people have asked if I'd do it again and I really can't be sure. I have said absolutely not and yet I can absolutely see why I would.


Anonymous said...

Excellent blog! We met at Oykel Bridge Hotel on your way out and my way south.
Gary Davies

Trepid Explorer said...

Hiya! Awesome ride that Gary. You see what I mean when I said I was one of the slow ones. At least your face let me know what to expect on the Leadmore traverse.

John Bronze said...

You can read all the race reviews from the top guys in endurance events across the world, but I doubt you'll find a more honest and inspiring account than this. Thanks for the blog it was excellent.

Trepid Explorer said...

Cheers John. The truth is I'm amazed I remembered it!

Lars Henning said...

Haha, fun read Andrea. I think you drunk those Surrey boys under the table. When John and I came in they were properly sloshed! Well done on the finish! Hope you found the optimal tiramisu slide!

Martin Brown said...

Great to hear I wasn’t the only one suffering - still got pins and needles in my toes 10 days later!
Hope your recovering ok..... see you next year?

Trepid Explorer said...

Ha ha! You see, they thought I was drinking Guiness but actually it was bog water and coffee! I am eating and chilling my way back to recovery Mart... hey, you've changed your tune Mr Next Year! Shall we make a pact? Because I think I need you to be my carrot again if I do.