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Robin's Highlands and Glens



                                                           July 2016

One Saturday evening in March 2015, and having just returned from the pub, I received an email from Trevor Stephons saying he'd entered the Highlands and Glens 1200 - in July 2016! He asked whether I was interested? Drink had been taken and it was just ten minutes later that I was entered! 

Sometime later I received an email from Mark Rigby outlining the route, the approximate timing and some useful general information including a warning – start organising accommodation fairly soon as remote hostels can get booked well in advance. Mark had loaded the route onto Google Earth and I soon became fascinated by the whole ride. There would be no support other than what we could organise ourselves. Some of the route was hilly but a lot of the route was mountainous. However, it was the middle of summer so cycling conditions couldn't be too difficult? The midges that everyone had talked about, couldn't possibly be a problem on a bike, at speed!?

Over a several evenings I plotted the route on Memory Map and divided the ride into manageable junks. For this to possibly work I saw that it was critical I made the early ferries on Day 1 - one from Mull after just 21 miles and one to Skye in the afternoon. In fact, the first few hours of riding demanded much thought and calculation. For me, the success of this ride would hinge on my progress that first day.

So, on and off, over the next fifteen months I spent time looking at profiles and working out speeds, loading apps to my phone and enquiring about accommodation. Luckily Gill had always wanted to visit the Highlands so my challenge became more manageable when she agreed to join me - this way I could book the first few B&B's in advance.

Mark said he would load gps files closer to the time of the event but I had already bought the AA road map of Scotland and that seemed perfectly adequate. With a highlight pen I marked the route and divided it into the “stages”. First day to Alness, just beyond Dingwall, second day to Crask Inn north of Lairg and the third day back to Skye. That was half the map, the remainder, with the cover, I binned.

There are some hardy riders that can soldier on for days without much sleep and with a total disregard for personal comfort and hygiene. I can't. I require a daily quota of beer and sleep. Also a shave, a shower and a meal at the end of each day. And new kit each morning after a cooked breakfast. My ride wouldn't be 1200 km, it would be 4 x 300 km's or thereabouts. This is x rated audaxing lite! 

We had driven up to Oban with fellow Cornish rider Dene Clarke. Dene is hardcore and fits the description of the former rider I described above. Though he'd decided on travelling light, he still had clothing, a bivvy bag, food and tools. On the eve of our departure we met in Weatherspoons and Dene introduced me to Gavin, a young audaxer from Newcastle. He rode an old school steel bike with downtube shifters and a traditional saddlebag, and who sported a wonderful thick dark brown moustache of generous proportions. He seemed pretty hardcore too! After dinner we wandered down to the ferry and found we could buy tickets for all the crossings which would save valuable time on the first day.

DAY ONE 

Though the ferry times had altered, and Mark did keep us in suspense as to the exact start time from Craignure, most people made the 9:30 ferry from Tobermory. Earlier we had all caught the 7:30 ferry to Mull where we were briefed about the ride by Mark but then we rode the first leg at an unnecessarily quick pace and spent a chilly half hour waiting in Tobermory. Thankfully the ferry was warm so it was a pleasant crossing. As I rode up the slipway I spotted Gavin. We rode together from Kilchoan, the route climbing over the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, topping out at somewhere between 550 and 600ft before swinging back to the shore once more. Gavin is a strong rider and, though not travelling light, he attacked the long hills with much enthusiasm. After about 15 km we were joined by Hackney Audax rider Jack. Clearly he was a strong rider too and keen to press on at pace. All was looking promising – I was in good company!

At the brow of a particularly long hill Gavin said he needed to shed a layer. Jack fiddled with his array of electronic gadgetry and then decided to go for a pee as we were ready to head off. We waited a while and in that time saw another rider approach and on a bike with time trial bars. He stopped and removed a layer. “What time is the Mallaig ferry?” he enquired.“There's a 1:30, a 3 o'clock and one at 3:30”, I replied. “ It has to be the 1:30”, was his conclusion! I turned this over in my mind as Gavin and I continued on our way. 

I'm juggling with the maths in my head. I've no gps or bike computer, just the AA road map and route sheet - and the route engrained in my head along with the stats for each “segment”. The one we are on is approximately 90 km and has 9700 ft of climb. If we are to make the 1:30 ferry our average speed has to be near 29 kph which, in this terrain, will be difficult. 

At Salen the route turns north with two quite challenging climbs before we eventually reach the gentler terrain along the Sound of Arisaig. We take in the scenery and the cycling becomes more relaxed. We are disturbed from our reverie by the sight of Jack coming past with the time trial chap on his wheel. I think we are both pleased by this sight but are immediately aware they are not slowing down as TT takes to the front. I get on Jacks wheel and look back for Gavin but he's slow to respond and it is some time before he is safe on my wheel. And then the miles start to tick by as TT grinds out the pace, with only a little help from Jack and myself. I look back at Gavin and give him the thumbs up to indicate that we're getting a free ride. I am used to this sort of riding and I'm happy to suck a wheel but I know that the elastic can break at any time and the punchy climbs start to have an effect. Not only is TT setting the pace but he's also attacking the climbs at a speed I know might cause problems later. Still, my main concern is making this very early ferry and I'm willing to suffer a bit for that. Gavin isn't prepared to and eventually drops off the back. As we make the steep incline to the junction with the A830 to Mallaig the road curves and Jack is no longer in sight. His elastic has broken!

TT doesn't pause other than to say we have about 21km to cover in 45 minutes, mutters something about boarding time and we're off. Or rather, he is off and I am on his wheel. I'm now left to my thoughts and an overriding impression that, like first thing this morning, we are travelling at an unnecessary fast pace. I also want to explain to TT that if he eased backed on the climbs I could contribute on the flats but my lack of breath doesn't allow for conversation. And all this within the first few hours of a 1200 km audax!

Mallaig looms into view and I see that it still isn't 1:15! We already have tickets so are immediately waved on board and we park our bikes. I'm glowing with satisfaction as I know the achievement has been immense and that after all those months of anxiously worrying whether I could get to my B&B before two in the morning I now realise I'm well ahead of schedule. 

We make our way to the cafe onboard and order coffee. I once more thank TT for his help in getting me to this ferry and by virtue of that, my B&B in Alness at a reasonable time in the evening. What a great start. I'm not sure how TT will cope with the remainder of the days ride but hopefully he will knock back the pace a bit. I'm pretty confident I haven't done any lasting damage to myself, at least nothing a few pints and a good sleep couldn't put right! Glowing in our own smug achievement the ferry pulls away as we watch a group of riders gather at the ferry terminal. And then in walks Jack! By the skin of his teeth he'd made the 1:30!

During the crossing we discuss our former pace and TT assures us he'll revert to touring speed, so when we leave the ferry I'm a little surprised to see him disappearing ahead. We eventually catch him and ride together before once more losing Jack on the way to Broadford. TT and I stop for supplies after the information control but, as Jack didn't, we were able to regroup on the way out. Now it's easy riding and we're soon over the Skye bridge and making our way to Auchtertyre where there are two long climbs to negotiate as we head north to Strome Ferry. 

My memory is a blank as to whether TT was now ahead at this point or behind. Jack and I climbed the steep gradients in small gears and chatted as if we were enjoying a pleasant afternoon ride. Two days later I would be kicking myself for not paying more attention - wet, cold and in the early hours of the morning, the acute climbs around Strome Ferry and Lochalsh Dam became a never ending torture. But this afternoon all was fine and later there were only easy gradients as we followed the rivers Carron and Bran to Dingwall. Somewhere along the route Jack stopped to take a leak and I continued on slowly thinking he would catch me up. At Gorstan, where the road met the A835 to Dingwall, I stopped to phone Gill and give her an ETA. As I packed away my phone I spotted a cyclist approaching and fully expected to see Jack – but it was TT who must have been behind all the way.

We rode into Dingwall together arriving at about 8 o'clock and it soon became clear how different our rides would be. TT was off to Tesco's for his receipt before pressing on with the idea of getting a bit of sleep “somewhere”, whilst I looked for a suitable watering hole. Finding “The Mallard”, situated at the railway station, I bought a pint before heading to my Alness B&B. I arrived there just before 10. I drank another beer and ate a pork pie whilst giving Gill a brief account of the day. Then I showered, shaved, ate some more and replete and much around midnight I was able to climb between crisp clean sheets and fall into a wonderful deep sleep.

305 km, about 21400 ft of climb, 2 beers and 6 hrs sleep.

DAY TWO

Having been the first to arrive in Dingwall I realised that I was probably now the last on the road. After an early breakfast I was able to get moving somewhere before 8:00. Sadly, I got lost in an housing estate in Alness and frittered away half an hour trying to find the road out. Still, my spirits were high and on the open moorland on the way to Lairg I met the first fellow cyclist. He had a strong Merseyside accent and I guessed quite a bit of northern grit because his night, unlike my own, had pretty much been devoid of sleep. We chatted for a while and he told me I'd see two girls ahead who were making a better job of it than he was.

I arrived at Lairg sometime before 11 am and met the two girls outside a small store, and yes, they were in good spirits. I'd set my heart on a cafe stop but was disappointed to find it closed. Having found a half filled 2 litre bottle of water outside the supermarket, and assuming it was left by a fellow audaxer, I re-filled my bottle and carried on. This was the first time I'd noticed the midges!

Wind now became a factor too. There might have been wind before but I hadn't noticed it. As the landscape was devoid of interest, or at least that part of it that could be seen through the low cloud that hugged the hills, it just served to destroy my earlier positive mood. At Laxford Bridge the route swung east and finally the pesky wind started to work in my favour.  Apart from a smallish climb  about 15 km outside of Durness the route was fairly flat and were it not for the low cloud it would have been something of a pleasure to cycle. 

Durness. In all those months of pouring over the ordnance survey map I'd always thought of it as a vibrant town with plenty going on, not a remote outpost with few facilities! There was a supermarket and also a public toilet and, to be fair, something resembling a pub some distance along the road but, on that day, the only activity in Durness was a regular flow of audax riders traipsing into the mini supermarket for sustenance and a receipt only to reappear with sadness and disappointment in their eyes. If your resolve was to ever to fail you would certainly be put to the test here – and especially without a good nights sleep. I think I can speak on behalf of others – a cup of coffee and a piece of cake wouldn't have gone amiss.

Back on the bike and my mood was once more uplifted as the prevailing wind continued to work in our favour. And it was somewhere around here that I caught up again with Team de Lux. I'd noticed the four Belgian riders on yesterdays Tobermory ferry. Dressed in smart matching jerseys they were quite the professional outfit and rode together, only occasionally stopping to re-group. They later explained they were from a part of Belgium that is close to Luxemburg hence, “Team de Lux”. Over the remainder of the ride we would continue to leap frog one another, though the pace their lead rider was setting meant that one of them would later abandon.  

We were treated to spectacular views of beautiful sandy beaches below the steep cliffs, the sparkling azure sea and golden sand lit by the occasional suns rays, giving it a slightly Carribean feel. This scenery was entirely contrary to my expectation so in some way tempered my feelings about Durness. I made a mental note to return here one day. After 6 miles the road swung south to encircle Loch Eriboll, a frustrating ride once you had noticed that our route would continue on the opposite shore, seemingly just a stones throw away, but only after we had battled wind and hills for 25 km! It has form this stretch of water and was christened “Loch 'Orrible” on more than occasion!

From Eriboll the road climbs significantly and the only traffic was a continual flow of  motorhomes. I again caught sight of Team de Lux as they crested a climb. I joined them for a while and exchange pleasantries though only Miguel spoke fluent English. Eventually I drew away and covered at speed the next exhilarating stretch as the road descends once more to the sea, levelling out to cross the Kyle of Tongue and on through Tongue village. Had I observed the route sheet I would have turned left after the bridge onto a small lane. This became clear when I caught sight of another Team de Lux on a later climb. What is happening? Two Team de Lux?? Was I having my own Groundhog Day? I coyly pass them ( again ) and Miguel explains what has happened. And will happen again before I finish this ride!

I'm aware that I'm falling slightly behind schedule but I'm not unduly concerned as the next 50k will see me arrive at Trantlebeg, the only manned control on the ride, and from there it is only a short hop to Crask Inn, my second nights stop. I'm not sure where I got the idea from about the “short hop” and later that evening I feel like I'm cycling in treacle, unable to grasp that my progress is now quite slow and my expected time of arrival no longer early evening. At Trantlebeg I jettison unwanted food from my pack leaving it for those that have more of an appetite than I have - one ham and one cheese roll. I have a cup of tea and catch up with Alan Parkinson who I haven't seen since the 2014 LEL where he “towed” me back to Market Rasen in miserable weather, a feat made considerably easier with the help of his GPS!

Brevet card signed and water bottle filled I head off for Crask Inn. It is just short of 80k but my brain refuses to compute anything other than a totally unrealistic figure for my rate of progress.  Shortly before I reach the junction with the A873 I spot a mobile mast on an adjacent hill and think of phoning Gill to warn her of my, now inevitable, late arrival. I've had experience of the midges already and it is with some alacrity that I dismount, find the midge spray and cover my hands and face before using the phone. Both the spray and the phone are working well but I am concerned that Gill is not in the hostel at Crask Inn but sitting in the car which she says is warmer. I give here some idea of my progress and arrange to meet her at an hotel in Altnaharra, about 20k further on and where we can have a drink together. The route is not hilly and I imagine I am riding quickly but the “treacle” is dragging me back and the thought of a pint makes things worse. Worse still is the frequent locking of the chain when I free wheel as it gathers up around the jockey wheels. I'm in denial and soldier on but my pathetic pace eventually forces me to stop and make a serious assessment of the problem. It dawns on me that the free wheel is broken and that one of the pawls is occasionally jamming it. At a little over an hour later I arrive at the hotel and see Gill. She has been inside and thinks the place is too smart to serve her smelly husband and encourages me to carry on to the hostel. I see Team de Lux ride by and, as I'm now getting cold, I agree to carry on. There are two steepish climbs and only 14k that separate me from beer, food, shower and a bed and the steep gradient helps to get me warm again. I come across Team de Lux in a lay by and I slow and ask if all is ok. They're sorting lights so I ride on. Keeping constant pressure on the chain allows me to ride comfortably and at 10 o'clock I arrive at the hostel.

I agree with Gill that the accommodation is basic. However, the heating has been on for some time and the hostel/cottage is toasty warm. We are in a small room at the top of the stairs and in hushed whispers I recount some of the days events whilst supping a beer. Later I creep quietly downstairs for a shower aware that there are two other guests staying. Clean and shaven, and now feeling human again, I have a second beer with the savoury barbecued chicken and salad that Gill has brought me. A pork pie, something that becomes a staple for the remainder of the trip, finishes things off. I curl up in a deliciously warm and very comfortable bed and enjoy a blissful nights sleep aware that the remaining riders will at some time or other be passing outside during the night.

315 km and about 17400ft of climb. 2 beers and 6 hrs sleep.

DAY THREE

I'm up at six and creep downstairs. My ride would be over were it not for the fact that I have a spare wheel in the car. I cover myself with spray, don my eBay mozzie net and set to work on the bike. Fortunately I have a comprehensive tool kit in the car and I can remove the cassette off the broken wheel and fit it, along with a new chain and the old tube and tyre. All done I pack up and we head off for breakfast in the main house across the road.

The proprietor, Mike, prepares not only the best breakfast of the trip but possibly the finest breakfast I have ever eaten. The cooked meal is all home grown, or least sourced locally, and is a reminder of what food should really taste like. I'm well rested and quite relaxed, possibly too relaxed, and over coffee I chat away with the two other guests, a couple of retired Kiwis, who are on a cycle touring holiday. It's been a wonderful stop and I'm finding it very difficult to get going again so it's after nine o'clock that I eventually make a move. 

Today's ride to Lochinver, Gairloch and back to Broadford is by far the hardest at 350 kms and 25,000ft of climb so it's crazy that I'm on the road so late. My progress to Lairg is good but I'm slowed by the long climb and head wind out of the village. The small punchy climbs surrounding the shore of Loch Assynt are nothing too hard on the legs, but the wind is taking some of the fun out of it and as it starts to rain my progress becomes slower than I'd scheduled. In Lochinver I stop to refuel and get a receipt but I'm not sure of what I want to eat and can't find a pork pie in the small supermarket. I settle for milk and bananas. It's wet and windy and I get cold quickly so I don't hang around. I had passed others who'd stopped at a cafe as we'd entered Lochinver but I needed to keep moving. 

Out of Lochinver the scenery is stunning despite the weather. Short steep climbs get me warmed up. They're never too long to be a nuisance and I'm beginning to enjoy it until my chain starts slipping as it's not seating properly when I use the small chain wheel. I'm now restricted to the large chain wheel on the compact which involves standing on all the steep climbs. A minor irritation. I make a note to return here one day with Gill for a holiday - it's very beautiful. I've accepted my reduced gear selection but I'm slow to come to terms with how laboured my progress is. ETA's are constantly being reworked but I'm still hopeful of arriving at our B&B in Broadford sometime after midnight. I meet up with Team de Lux once more and ride with them for a while, though I think one of them has abandoned – they're a bit strung out. In Ullapool I find a supermarket selling pork pies as I'm craving the rich fatty pastry. I buy another litre of milk and some water and search for somewhere sheltered to eat, eventually finding the warmth of the ferry terminal. As I depart I see Miguel searching for a bike shop to purchase inner tubes and say I have a tube I can spare if he's out of luck. Leaving Ullapool the main road is easy going but after about 15 kms it starts to kick up and the climbing continues as we turn right to Dundonnell Forest. I don't mind the climbing as the gradient is quite comfortable and I'm warm – it's the descent that hurts and I lose heat rapidly on the way down. I stop to put on my jacket, but because I'm soaked with rain and sweat I get cold and never warm up. I'm praying that there is a pub or cafe in Dundonnell as I'm beginning to get hypothermic. As I enter the village I see a pub, or that is what my imagination conjures up, complete with log fire and hot food. The reality is even better! It is a smart hotel and from the moment I step foot inside the staff are welcoming - the fire is roaring and the bar beckons! I need warming inside though and the friendly barmaid says she has delicious hot soup which I order along with a half pint of local ale. I ask whether I can put some clothes on a radiator but she says she can do better and directs me to the boiler room around the back. I change in the toilets and hang the sodden garments on the hot pipework in the boiler room - it is at sauna temperature and difficult to leave. When I return half an hour later my wet clothes are completely dry!

Back in the bar my soup arrives and I begin to thaw. Team de Lux arrive and then Seamus, one of two hardy Irish riders, finds comfort in this most welcoming of refuges. I get carried away and go on to order the venison burger and chips, forgetting I have 170km still ahead of me. Replete, I press on and keep the efforts under control in order to allow the digestion of the rich food now residing in my stomach! I then spend half an hour running through all the alternatives that were on the menu and come to the conclusion that any one of them would have been preferable to this highland beast. Still, he won't get the better of me and I move on in my thoughts to determine my rate of progress instead. Somehow everywhere is further apart than I had allowed myself to believe and the weather isn't helping. Thankfully the terrain is gentle. When I eventually think I'm arriving in Gairloch it turns out to be Poolewe, 12 km short of the next control. But at Gairloch I find a pub and enjoy a pint and phone Gill. It is 10 o'clock so it is unlikely I will cover the next 120 km in two hours!! I suggest to Gill that I might arrive between 2 and 3 am. Gill isn't amused. She asks me why I'm doing this and suggests I could call it a day - she will come and pick me up! It is not a good time to be having this conversation!

I move back to the bar and see Miguel and another member of Team de Lux. They are worried they will fall short of the cut off time. I wish them good luck and head off, having been given precise instructions on where the B&B in Broadford is and how I might get into it!

Thankfully the going is now easy and without both wind and rain to contend with I make good speed. In fact my progress is surprisingly swift, even on the climb up Glen Docherty and when I hit the main road to Skye the headwind has thankfully all but disappeared. Along the way I encounter someone I believe to be Seamus's mate who is resting at the side of the road. In the dark I can make out he is leaning on something but still astride his bike! The conversation we have is confusing and I'm not certain whether he knows where we are headed but he is keen to follow my wheel so we set off together. I check from time to time to see if he's still there as the miles tick by but gradually he falls back and I'm torn between waiting and pressing on. Thoughts of beer, food and a clean bed spur me on and I leave my Irish companion to the night. 

It is not long before the climbs begin near Strome Ferry and, given the circumstances, they're punishing and seemingly never ending. In the dark I can't read my watch but I sense I'm slipping back from the revised, revised schedule! Thankfully, over an hour later the torture ends and I free wheel down to the main road at Auchtertyre. The next 20 kms to Broadford take a further hour so I don't arrive at the B&B until after five o'clock – five hours later than I'd originally imagined! Needless to say, Gill is less than happy. I shower, drink a beer, eat and go to bed.

350 km and about 25000ft of climb. 2 ½ beers and 2 hrs sleep.

DAY FOUR 

After just two hours sleep we're up again for breakfast but our German host refuses to allow me another hour in bed. I'd planned on some extra sleep and then catching the one o'clock ferry from Armadale as this day is my shortest at 250 kms and the cut off time at Oban not until 2 am in the morning.

I think for a moment I'll join Gill for a mooch around Broadford and perhaps a coffee. As she's packing the car I look again at the ferry timetable and notice there is an earlier ferry at 11 o'clock. It is now just after ten o'clock and it is about 17 miles to Armadale so I say I'll ring her later, and I set off. 

This is mad! I'm time trialling again but the outcome is less certain than on the first day – it's not flat by any means, and though the climbs aren't steep there are more of them than I remembered. I glance at my watch when I see a sign post and then calculate that I only have an outside chance of getting there on time. Two more hills and I think I'm there as my watch shows 11 o'clock. I can see the ferry but there is yet another short hill to climb. I'm almost giving up but spur myself on - “Never give up!” “Never give up!” I'm rewarded by seeing two cars waiting on the slip and fellow rider James waiting to board. Once more I am glowing with satisfaction and incredibly happy, especially when James says he's abandoned because it's been a tough few days and that he can't believe I'm still going. And for the second time on this ride I'm ahead of schedule! To add to my upbeat mood the sun is out and all is looking good. 

I now have over 14 hrs to ride just over 220 kms. I roll out of Mallaig stopping to take off a layer – it really is quite hot. A French couple who are cycle touring pull up and the chap asks if there is a bike shop in Mallaig as he needs a new chain. I offer to have a look at his bike. It's not the chain that's the problem but the jockey wheels that are not turning properly. I ask if he has any oil, which he does, so he holds the rear wheel off the ground as I oil the jockey wheels and chain and soon all is working smoothly again. We continue to chat and I ask them if they are ready for the midges - they haven't any line of defence so I give them my “Oh So Soft” before heading on my way. What a great day. I'm getting hungry so I stop and picnic on a large rock by the roadside. I eat a small pork pie followed by a banana and an apple but then see that I have forgotten to refill my water bottles. It's hot and I'm thirsty and as I'm in a celebratory mood I have the bright idea of finding a pub. Fortunately the Lochailort Inn is just along the road. I order a pint and the barmaid happily fills my water bottles. She's busy doing things so I sit outside and watch the world go by. Soon James draws up along with Dave and Neil, two more riders who've also abandoned. They all look full of riding and it's hard to digest that they've packed and when they head off after a drink I struggle to catch them. It takes me a mile or so but I will always suffer in order to suck a wheel! They stop in Glenfinnon further on for a short while. When we continue and I go to take my turn Neil politely tells me not to bother and to let them do the work. James is looking very frisky and I'm more than happy to sit there and watch them take turns. It is like riding into Paris on the Tour de France. When we enter Fort William I cheekily sprint for the sign!

I'm craving rubbish food and when they suggest going to McDonalds I join them. I order crispy  flavour enhancers and chicken - with chips and a large bottle of coke. The sun is shining and we are all relaxed but after 3/4hr it dawns on me that, whilst they're going to Oban, just down the road, I still have to ride to Killochleven and over Glen Coe! I can never thank these guys enough as they offer to pull me all the way to Loch Leven. It's close to five o'clock and I'm clearly frittering away my advantage! We part company before the bridge and I head to the penultimate control. Gill and I had driven this rode on the Sunday so I'm prepared for the tedious up and downs that offer little in the way of views. I buy water in Killochleven but fail to notice that it is flavoured with something quite sickly. Why do they do that?

Glen Coe was great. I'd been warned about the maniac car drivers but, apart from a steady stream of tourists, all was quiet. As I reach the summit I am overcome with tiredness and stop for a nap. Within seconds the midges are upon me but I no longer have any line of defence so I carry on. I come  across a figure resting at the side of the road astride his bike. It is the Irishman again. I have no evidence to think that he ever got off his bike for the whole ride! Once more he is keen to take a wheel and we head off together. It's not long before he falls behind and I imagine him looking for something to lean against. I'm reminded of Flann O'Brien's Third Policeman. 

At the Bridge of Orchy I meet up once more with Team de Lux. We chat and I decide to put my jacket on but when I start again they are some way up the road with the Irishman. Then they're all gone. For the second time on this ride I miss the turning and take a longer route. Miguel later explains that although it might have been longer it was probably easier as the track they used through Glen Orchy was in a very poor state. Once more I'm falling well behind my schedule and I stop to update my ETA with Gill. I need to meet her at the control because she has the key for the B&B in Oban. The control is hidden away in the small hamlet of Kilmore, about 4 miles outside Oban and she says that, although she has been to Kilmore, she didn't find it. I say I will meet her at Connel, near where the road to Fort William turns off. Understandably Gill is not entirely happy about coming out to meet me as she's tired and wants to be in bed at the B&B.  Sometime around eleven she arrives and agrees to drive to Kilmore once I've found the correct road. She's puzzled as to why I won't put the bike on the roof of the car? I'm cold and hungry and gradually running out of patience. I return from my reconnoitre and she departs along the road I indicate. I can see her headlights in the distance as the roller coaster lane cuts across the undulating countryside eventually joining the route and sometime before midnight we arrive at the control. I remove my bag and put the bike on the roof of the car. Under no circumstances is Gill coming inside – she's really had enough of the “Highlands and Glens”! I have no response and enter the control to leave my brevet card. Team de Lux are already there, as is Seamus. My card is taken and I'm offered a cup of tea. I explain my wife is waiting outside and I'm told to bring her in for a cuppa. Reluctantly, Gill does come in and thankfully starts to appreciate the scale of all our achievements - seeing the frazzled cyclists slumped at the tables and hearing the tales of those who arrived earlier. Fellow Cornish rider Dene Clarke, Gavin and another were first back, arriving wet and cold, like drowned rats. 

We met Dene for coffee in Weatherspoons the following morning. He'd booked a night in an hotel where he'd slept the afternoon. He'd then eaten, had a few beers and slept again. Now he was ready to ride back to Cornwall! Gill and I were ready to start our Scottish holiday - I had a marriage to save!

250 km about 17500ft of climb. 1 beer.

( Totals - 1220 km with just over 80,000ft of climb, 7½ pints of beer and 14hrs sleep. )                                             I have respect for Dene and all the others who completed this ride finding shelter from the weather wherever they could, but with little sleep. Also for those who'd planned accommodation in advance and whose plans fell apart with the deteriorating weather. I'm thus hugely indebted to Gill for making this work for me and I have sympathy for those who had to abandon. It was a fine line between success and failure so all credit for trying. 

 Robin Snelson 19th Dec 

 

 



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