So by now [spoiler alert] we’ve been back almost a week. This time last Friday I was slogging my backside across Northern Scotland from Inverness to lovely Golspie on the east coast.
It’s astounding looking at the map of the UK to see just what we achieved. I don’t mind admitting it’s pretty nausea inducing just thinking about it.
Anyway, you didn’t come here to hear about my issues. You came here to read about my trip. Also, a big thanks to Linda Fort who wrote up a nice piece about it here.
Day 7 – Innerleithen to Perth (76.1 miles)
As much as we had 75 odd miles can be considered a short day, this was one of them. And one I was for a change looking forward to.
Largely because of that thought of a ‘short day in the saddle’.
Then I woke up from a terrific slumber in a lovely hotel having had a delicious steak dinner and chicken wings, to rain.
It was wet. Not only was it wet, it was proper wet. And windy. Really windy. As we set out I didn’t realise I was woefully under dressed for a climb, but I soon would.
I’d taken to tuning out when the guys were talking about the route, largely because I’d find knowing would cause me to be tense before bed. I was always tense in the morning, but at least I’d slept. Anyway.
This climb went on and on. In the valleys of Scotland past Innerleithen Golf Course. It was freezing at the top. I was soaked through – if I had seen the van behind me – cleverly disguised in the fog and mist I’d have been straight in. Even a monumental down hill didn’t cheer me, it simply made me colder.
By the time we reached the outskirts of Edinburgh I was miserable, sore and frozen.
The thing is, Scotland was quite kind to us really. The miserable mornings gave way to sweltering afternoons, never warm enough to totally dry out your shoes but enough for the rest of you.
At this point in the Morrison’s car park during the first stop I broke out the ‘proper’ rain jacket. I had resolved not to wear it because of it’s boat sail properties but at this point I didn’t care.
The day got better from that point on.
We hot footted it across the Forth Road Bridge – looks exactly the same as the Severn Bridge, what a waste of time – but the rail bridge looked good.
I also got a double burger so I was happy.
Day 8 – Perth to Newtonmore (76 miles)
ANOTHER SHORT DAY.
Strangely, the short days felt tougher than the 100 milers. I’m not sure if it was the anticipation of finishing before five in the afternoon, but for some reason we never managed it.
It didn’t help that alongside the A9 around Glenmore Forest Park was some incredible scenery, but also some intense headwind.
We got lucky on the final segment. Well we did, Jimmy not so much.
We managed to get the wind behind us and the holy grail of a smooth, newly laid road and path which got us shifting.
Jimmy found gravel, somersaulted over and landed in a ditch. He was okay don’t worry. So was his bike until a mile outside Newtonmore.
Newtonmore was wonderful, Chris’s fiance Lucy had family up there and we were able to stay – for a third night in proper beds in a proper house.
Bangers and mash. Bingo. We didn’t play bingo I just meant like, YEAH! Bangers and mash.
However, as I said, a mile outside Jimmy’s what I am reliably informed is called a derailer – ironic – fell off. The bit that makes all the gears change down by the chain.
It’s a pretty important bit as it turned out and delayed Jimmy’s start the following day.
Day 9 – Newtonmore to Golspie (110 miles)
Crikey. Two short days then this. It started miserable again. Rain, wind.
But actually we managed to crank this one out in a pretty respectable time arriving in Golspie in time for a trip to the pub and some fish and chips.
The trip was pretty flat for the most part, taking us through the Cairngorms National Park and up to Inverness.
I’d really wanted a shirt from the Inverness Caledonian Thistle club shop, which was open, but we were told they didn’t sell them. I still don’t really understand.
After crossing the first of three bridges between Inverness and Golspie it felt like we might actually manage it. The ride down into Golspie was stunning and apart from a brief incline, we got away with murder.
Talking of the bridges, it’s interesting. Drivers seem to throw caution to the wind when the only escape is driving forward. We were never in any particular danger, but with an unpredictable sidewind and cars whizzing by you did have your heart in your mouth on occasion which wasn’t the most fun.
Day 10 – Golspie to John O’Groats
You’ve just spent nine days of perfectly good holiday cycling from Lands End to Golspie, for a great cause in SANDS without doubt – but you’re at the last day.
Let me explain a little about my morning rituals up to this point. I talked about it with Dan and we agreed the mornings were the toughest part mentally.
Up at 6 most days to prepare. Shower. Toilet break 1. Start to prepare. Toilet break 2. Breakfast. Toilet break 3. Set off.
I’m not going in depth about toilet breaks, for once I’m not trying to be funny.
Bearing in mind the 9 days experience climbing on a bike, the nerves, the sheer will power needed to get going again I cannot describe.
It was such a mental thing. Once we were off it was fine, but that act of dragging yourself to another day was excruciating. Thinking about it now brings me out in a light sweat. Largely, I enjoyed the riding, but that act of getting up in the morning with sheer dread for the day ahead is not something that will leave me anytime soon.
And I’ll never understand why hotels don’t leave you with a toilet brush, everyone would be happier.
So, the final day. We’re heading out and immediately I’ve got a problem. I can’t clip my boots into my pedals – not a huge issue but ultimately frustrating when you are used to pedalling a certain way.
I managed to fix one, but by this time I was a long way behind – not unusual but I wanted to start well on the final day!
We did get going though, Dan wasn’t to far ahead and we zipped along some relatively flat, decent roads on the way to the first stop.
There were a couple of monster hills but the wierdest bit was going through the town with all the guys/scarecrows dressed up in appropriate clothing. I.E. Fireman guy outside fire station etc.
There were loads of them. I can imagine as a visitor, having a couple of jars in the evening and getting completely freaked out by them all. A bit like that Doctor Who episode where the scarecrows come alive.
I did manage to clip into my peddles not long after that, I realised a stone had lodged in one of my cleats so once I got that out I was golden.
I’ve forgotten to mention as well, for the first time in three days it wasn’t raining!
We got to the first stop which was at the bottom of a valley along the North East coast of Scotland, essentially meaning a huge climb back out with some really tight angles.
We’d made pretty good time to the first stop so I was determined not to slow everyone down, but there was a moment where I had to walk up for a few minutes, the hill was taking its toll!
At the top, looking out across the North Sea we were struck with the realisation that effectively, in terms of hills that was it, and secondly, John O’Groats was within touching distance.
We had around 20 miles to stop 2 in Wick, I think we did it in record time. We zipped along in formation. I think if memory serves we were averaging 20mph on largely flat terrain. We suprised everyone getting to Wick quite so early. But that meant, just 16 miles to go.
As an aside, Scotland is beautiful. But the amount of grotty towns that pop up out of nowhere there is astounding. You can be in the most delicious countryside for hours, and the bang, grey town.
The nicest building we saw in Wick was the Tesco. I know most places look dreary in the rain, but I’m not sure the sun would’ve helped.
We probably stayed longer in Wick than intended. We had a fairly large entourage by then so it was easy to get distracted.
As it was, the optimistic plan had been to get to JOG for 3pm as we’d heard the weather was moving in.
We were starting to push our luck but once we got going we started to hit our stride. Powering along again. I was pushing it with everything I had. My knees were burning, my calves and my thighs too.
If we’d had a fourth session that day I’m not sure how I’d have done. But we did it. We powered on.
One last incline. We could see JOG. We picked up Blake, Dans 11 year old step son 2 miles from the finish so he could join us cycling in.
It meant, thanks to 2 miles of down hill we were able to coast in to town, making sure we went at his pace.
We’d hammered the pace though. We’d earned a Coast! It felt a little bit like what I imagine a lap of honour might feel like.
There wasn’t much to JOG, but that sign. Oh when you see that sign, the hard work and the worry disappears.
We were clapped and cheered in by a decent crowd. I was last naturally.
But we’d done it. From reading this you’ll know there were times I struggled. But we’d achieved what we set out to do.
And we got to spray some champagne which was worth the mental anguish alone.
Thank you for reading. I’ll probably post some more but I appreciate everyone’s support.