Long ago, in a land the sun forgot, one girl in her waterproof gear set out on a journey; a journey from coast to coast, over mountains and through glens on her trusted steed. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, the idea to try and wait until the end of the week and write a weekly update didn’t work out so well but here I am, another week later, and I am ready to tell my story. Unlike Narnia, it isn’t fantasy but hopefully will provide some entertainment on this drab and dreary day!
After being picked up, fed and given lodgings by my wonderful uncle, it was time to set off on my epic journey of 85 miles to Inverness. The planned took me through the Cairngorms, over The Lecht and into Inverness along the old A9. The day did not go as planned.
Uncle J rode out with me at about 7:30am, it was still dark outside and the rain had already set in. We were both determined to carry on despite the rain and were doing well, if not travelling relatively slowly through streams of running water. I fell off within minutes, after my brakes locked and I steered myself into a verge for a soft landing. Good job, Elisha; good job.
After 8 miles, drenched with fingers so numb that braking and changing gear had becoming quite a challenge, I stopped to add another layer to my shivering body and everything seized up! At this point, I had to put my stubbornness aside and remind myself that this trip was supposed to be fun and to help me get some miles under my belt. Climbing another thousand feet and dropping another 6 degrees whilst soaking wet was probably just going to make me ill.
So… there we go, we turned around and, after an hour spent drying everything off, we loaded Peggy and my bags into the car and headed to Tomintoul (which I still can’t pronounce) where – in the now glorious sunshine (well for Scotland), I set off again.
This was the first time I had taken my iPod with me and I tried it out with my funky little speaker but the wind was too ferocious – it remained this way for the entire week. I’m not sure how I always manage to find a head wind. I was very glad that I had also packed some headphones as I listened to the whole of ‘Wild – from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail’ over a few days. I loved it! It was fairly depressing and I do wonder whether a more light hearted book might have raised my spirits on the darker days but it did make me think that I had very little to complain about in comparison. Definitely a recommended read/listen. Although it did make me want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Ooops.
I loved cycling through the Cairngorms. The scenery was stunning – so orange and autumnal. I probably didn’t need to cycle all the way to Nairn, though. Idi Garmin was up to his old tricks again and sent me ten miles out of the way. Fun times. The extra hour meant that I rolled into Inverness well after dark but the silver lining was that I got to see the Culloden Viaduct under a beautiful mauve sky.
When I arrived, I knew it was going to be difficult to leave – Susan and Dave are my kind of people and they looked after me as though I was royalty. I even got a hug from their beautiful Bernese Mountain dog, Breagha. Thank goodness I got to spend my bonus hour here, getting fed rib eye steak and sleeping in a sumptuous bed. It was only a shame I didn’t get to stay longer – I definitely hope to visit again soon! Maybe we can all cycle over the Lecht in slightly friendly weather!
I was really excited about doing the coast to coast in a day that is possible between Inverness and Fort William and the weather didn’t look too horrendous either. Practically the entire journey would follow the banks of several lochs, even providing the opportunity for Nessy spotting! Dave and I stopped in the village of Dores for a quick selfie and for some more fuel. Dave kept suggesting that I take on more fuel and I got the sense he was hiding something from me… the severity of the climb ahead maybe.
Unfortunately, I turned out to be right and also Peggy began making strange, guttural noises and gear changing became increasingly challenging. I’m sure Dave thought I was just being a bit wimpy (which I also was) but realised that, actually, something was a little off when he had a quick pedal and noticed that the crank arms had more play than the football season.
The only real option was to carry on to the next bike shop and Dave called Susan to find out whether one existed in Fort Augustus where we had planned to stop for lunch. It seemed that we were in luck and with Dave’s best efforts I somehow managed to climb my highest ever ascent, battling into a headwind which would have been a challenge for the bravest of hearts. I have no idea how Dave managed to put up with me, pedalling torturously slowly and digging out little jokes to keep me afloat but he did and I was so grateful, if a little pathetic. Thank goodness he was there.
Arriving in Fort Augustus, a heavy scent of burning wood lingered in the air and we were both shocked to see that the medical centre was on fire! Thankfully no one was hurt but it was an incredible scene.
At the bike shop, we found out that the mechanic didn’t work on Sundays and they also didn’t have a spare bottom bracket, which is what we thought the problem must be. I called Andrew from Fudges and he said that, if I continued, I could render my bike worth about 20p. At this point, cycling through to Fort William didn’t seem very sensible. We stopped and had lunch whilst I mulled over my options.
Dave tried to convince me that I should come back to Inverness, get the bike looked at try again on Monday morning which sounded so appealing but I was keen to push on. This definitely wasn’t the ride he had signed up for and I felt terrible! At least he got a good chance to stretch his legs on his cycle back.
The lady in the tourist information office was pretty rude in her delivery of the news that there was no way that the bus would not accommodate Peggy and handed me a taxi number. Paying for a taxi was not high on my agenda. I trooped back into the spot where we had had lunch and asked (very loudly and dramatically) at the crowded bar whether they had a wifi code because my bike had broken down and I needed to work out how to get to Fort William.
My cunning plan worked and I was rescued from having to hitch hike by Mac, very dashing in his kilt, who works for Rabbie’s tour company. He didn’t have any spaces in his van and I was a bit confused at first but it turned out that there was a big gang and one of the other drivers had space for me. Thanks to Joe, I caught the 4pm train from Spean Bridge, chatted away with the lovely guard who was an avid cyclist, and arrived in Fort William in time to trundle Peggy to Nevis Cycles as recommended by the Twitter gods.
My sleep in the Backpackers Hostel was not ideal – it’s just never as comfortable as a real bed and it was very busy. Having the room next to the common room just meant that there was background noise until quite late. At least I got to meet a few nice people, including Anna, a teacher from New Zealand.
After a trip to Morrisons, and eating an entire packet of Jammie Dodgers whilst on the phone to my mum, I was ready to pick Peggy up. The verdict was expensive but at least John threw in a spare rear light – I’d somehow lost one. I had a new rear derailleur fitted and a new Shimano bottom bracket.
Right – off I went… oh no. I didn’t get away with it that easily. Idi Garmin wouldn’t turn on. I spent fifteen minutes on hold talking to a useless man in the Garmin office and proceeded to freak out. One of the lovely mechanics made me tea. THANK YOU. It was also a nice opportunity to meet and chat with Jimmy Joe. A local cyclist who broke me out of my storming mood for a short while! I freaked out some more and finally managed to factory reset the Garmin and then re-plot my day’s route.
It was well after lunch time by the time I set off and I had fifty miles to cover – most of them uphill. Great. At least the weather didn’t seem too bad. Wrong. It wasn’t too wet but the WIND. Jeepers, the wind. Cycling over Glen Coe, I was blasted off the road a number of times and the bridge at Ballachulish was horrendous. I had to get off the bike and push, I was so terrified. At this point, ‘Wild’ reached its darkest moment and I felt truly horrible. No tears though. I did manage to keep myself mostly together this time.
The A82 up to Tyndrum is quite a dangerous road but it is also one of the most beautiful routes I have had the privilege to cycle. The laybys were littered with photographers stopping to snap high quality snaps of waterfalls and mountain landscapes. It is aptly described on this lovely article on the Guardian’s website.
Despite knowing I was going to be quite late to arrive at the hostel, I had to take a few of my own photos but they really don’t do the place justice. You’ll have to go and see it for yourself. I absolutely loved it.
Up on Rannoch Moor at a maximum height of 1,142ft, in the dark, I was getting a bit weary. The wind was taking its toll and I had been pushed off the road a few times. I started seeing mile markers for Tyndrum and they seemed to appear far too infrequently. It was really slow going.
That night, I ate some pretty ropey food but slept like a baby in a very empty hostel.
Glory upon glory, a drama free day of delight. My favourite day of the trip. The distance was brief, I set off late morning after a lazy start and spent almost the entire journey gazing awestruck across unrestricted views over Loch Lomond. It was wonderful. I loved every dazzling moment.
Today I finished my book and put on some old tunes from my never ever updated iPod and belted them out as I rolled effortlessly along cycle paths. I would highly recommend this route for families and friends who want a sociable cycle. I wonder whether the other side of the loch is similarly well set up for cyclists.
AND if Susan and Dave treated me like royalty, Jean, Dave’s mum, treated me like a deity. Spare slippers, heated dressing gown, melt in the mouth slow cooked steak in gravy and top notch chat. I loved listening to Jean’s stories – she’s a charming lady and I only wished that I could have stayed awake a little longer to listen but bed was calling me on a megaphone.
Well at least I had one good day, right?
RAIN. Rain. Endless rain.
I managed to pedal away from paradise at about half seven on the Wednesday morning into sheets of rain but I was determined to make the ninety mile challenge I had set myself. Even if my Dad had already texted to say that he was only working the morning and could come and pick me up en route – all I had to do was let him know.
Then I got a puncture.
After the debacle with my rear tire only a couple of weeks before, I was insistent on checking and checking the tire until I found the offending article. An hour later and I was still standing on the cycle path where traffic was slowly building. I couldn’t find it. I had no option but to give up and live in hope.
It was still raining.
I had been cycling for about thirty miles on the same cycle path. My battery died on my iPod and my ‘Disney can get me through anything’ mentality that got me quite a few odd looks from dog walkers died too. It was boring. I even found myself forgetting to pedal. It was flat and monotonous and all I could think about was getting hugs from my dad and my four Bernie babies. I gave up and arrange to meet my dad in Ayr.
Finding each other was a bit of a challenge but finally, in the car park of the college, I stood in a puddle and took off my shoes. I had no idea I was standing in a puddle until my dad pointed it out to me. I was THAT wet.
In the van, we drove along the route I would have taken and the rain continued. It really was beautiful and I wish that I had had the benefit of the long summer days so that I could have warmed up in Ayr and then cycled on. Much of this trip has been about learning when it is time to call it a day and I don’t regret my decision at all.
In fact, I think I am also going to have to tweak the rules of my challenge so that I can accept a lift if I need to get to a repair shop. There really is no point in unnecessarily torturing myself. The 4000 miles is the important thing.
I am already looking forward to it being summer again in December.
I didn’t cycle today. I really thought that I would make up some miles and cycle around Loch Ken or out into the Galloway Forest but my dad took the morning off. I just couldn’t give up the rare opportunity just to hang out with my pops and we had a lazy mooch for half an hour into Laurieston Forest with the girls. It was a real treat. A shame mum had to work but I am so pleased that she has her new job and that she still found time to feed me venison. Nom nom nom.
More rain but nothing too severe.
I enjoyed the cycle from my mum and dad’s new place to the station at Dumfries and I made it in good time. The route was quite undulating but I really enjoyed it. I stopped by an iron cyclist and tried to improve my selfie technique – I am absolutely terrible. I also looked absolutely terrible. I’m sure I was mildly attractive before I started cycling. Now I look like a fly in lycra. Not good.
Thankfully, the train guards on the journey accepted my ticket despite it being almost impossible to read. I did have to shiver on the platform for nearly an hour but I didn’t mind too much. I treated myself to a hot chocolate and a devilish cookie and also nipped into the toilets to dry off and change some of my layers. I was a bit wetter than I thought I had been – mostly in the foot region. My Sealskinz booties had been entirely ineffective throughout and had also fallen to pieces.
Rather than begin my blog as I should have, I devoured chapter after chapter of my teenage fantasy book. My favourite genre – I’m such a geek.
When I got back to London, I really wanted to cry. All I wanted to do was get back on the train and return to that inhospitable but beautiful country. There were far too many people. At least the sun came out. Ridiculously, the next few days were spitefully warm. And dry.
I’m glad that one of my best buddies, Stacey, was down from Yorkshire for the weekend. It may have helped me to procrastinate even more when it came to blog writing but it was great to have company. I definitely felt lonelier, surrounded by people, than the entire time I spent on my own with Peggy. There is certainly a difference between being lonely and being alone.
What a week!
I know I didn’t complete all the miles I set out to on this training ride but I still think it was a tremendous achievement and that you should all sponsor me.
Here’s the link again in case you missed it at the top!