When the alarm went off at 05:00 I joined it, not quite so fair and definitely not feeling bright. But I was looking forward to today.
My only previous trip to Scotland had been a week’s self catering in Spean Bridge, a few miles down the road. It had rained and been overcast for the entire seven days. In fact it was undercast as well: we never saw anything above 100 metres. The views were very much of truncated hills with grey blankets on. Today I would see what we had missed out on. [And I would be very disappointed if all the hills were 100 metres high and completely flat topped]
I managed to get up and on the road a few minutes before my designated 06:00 start time which boosted my mood up to ‘slightly grumpy’ as I whirred the pedals around in a low gear, trying to ease my aching legs into the day. I had slightly further to go today, in fact it was my longest scheduled day, and the best thing I could do was to get some steady miles in early on so I wouldn’t feel I was playing catch up all day.
From my previous holiday I remembered the road as being mostly flat. But then I was driving, not cycling, and most roads seem fairly flat in a car. If it was mostly flat I calculated I could cover the 30 miles or so to Fort William in a couple of hours if I managed the same average speed as yesterday. If I re-fueled there it would put me in a good position for the short step to the climb up and through Glen Coe.I was suffering from bladder drip, which I always find takes a while to get under control for the first couple of hours on a ride. Probably a consequence of forcing down all that protein drink, coffee and energy drink first thing to get the system fired up. I certainly wasn’t sweating it off in the early morning so the surplus all had to come out somewhere.
And then there were all those great sights and views that I had missed last time around. I felt obliged to take photos of the Aberdeen Angus. I back tracked a few hundred metres to take a shot of Loch Lochy despite telling myself I had already stopped too many times. And I loitered at the Royal Commando memorial at Spean Bridge to take a few shots. I’d seen it before but without the background! (of which my photos do not do justice).
I even stopped to take a picture of the road! I don’t know whether it was a sub conscious action, all this picture taking, because my body was feeling achy and it was a good excuse to keep stopping. Consciously I was taking as many photos as possible because I was feeling more than a little guilty that I was getting to enjoy all these views that my wife and I had missed on our holiday, whilst she was stuck at home with the kids and the dogs and the cats.
By the time I rolled into Fort William I was somewhat behind schedule but managed to find somewhere open (it was Sunday) to replenish my water bottles before pedaling on.
Fortunately the stretch to the Glen Coe climb was less inspiring and I managed with only one or two stops before the ascent. The climb itself was pretty easy going, probably because I kept on stopping to take pictures again. One of my cycling ‘things’ is that I don’t like to stop on hills (unless I fall off). If I want a rest I tell myself I’ll have one at the top (by which time of course I don’t need one). But I must have stopped half a dozen times to take shots up and down the glen.
At the top I stopped again and sat by the brook gazing down the climb. Glorious. And, in hindsight, the high point of the entire trip. In my head I’d done the hardest cycling of the day and now it was just cycle through the glen, free wheel down to Loch Lomond, skirt Glasgow (okay, I was a bit worried about that) and a short cross country section to Kilmarnock. But for now the sun was shining and I called home to relay my high spirits.Within ten miles of my high I reached one of my lowest points. My expectations of a cruise through the glen were dashed as it continued to grind up and down for mile after mile. In reality it probably didn’t but compared to my expectation it did. And because I thought it would be flat I found myself pushing too hard up the hills, trying to make the same speed as if it was flat. Stupid! Of course the demon was on my shoulder now telling me that I had been too casual. I’d taken my eye off the ball and wasted precious time snapping away like a tourist. [It was only a long way down the road, when I was closer to my destination, that I remembered that I was a bloody tourist and this was meant to be fun and why shouldn’t I take some bloody photos and stuck two fingers up to the demon.]
Playing on my mind as well was my water supply. I was very nearly dry and I still had a long way to go to reach Bridge of Orchy, which I hoped was a small settlement and not just a bridge. First off I tried to ration myself and then reasoned the water was doing me no good in the bottle. So I drained the bottle and ploughed on.
Worried about the water and the fact that I was now behind time the demon started telling me just how far I had to go today and then the next day and the next day and the … ‘Your legs are tired, your shoulders ache and this road is meant to be flat, not writhing up and down like a hooked eel. And you’ve still got miles to go just to get to Bridge of Orchy. Where there probably won’t be any water. Look, you’ve only done ½ a kilometer since you last looked. You’ve still got 90 miles to go and it’s nearly midday! Six hours to cover 60 miles. At this rate you won’t get there until 21:00. And you’re bound to get more tired so you’ll slow down. And your sciatica will play up. There’s no point reaching for that water bottle, it’s empty. Another 200 metres. Is that all! If you get in really late today you’ll suffer for it tomorrow. And that will knock on to the next day. And the next day…’n that state the minutes seem to take hours but eventually I dragged myself up a final climb and dropped into Bridge of Orchy. There was nothing there except a hotel. Time to beg some water.
I locked the bike to a drainpipe and clicked my way into reception. When I asked, most politely, whether it would be possible to fill my water bottles I was curtly informed that there was a tap outside. I clicked back across the wooden floor muttering choice phrases about the legendary warmth of Scottish hospitality. Still cursing I cast about, looking for this secret tap. And there it was, right by the door, with a big sign saying ‘free water – please do not disturb reception’ [or that was the gist anyway].
I glanced back through the door and waved a feeble apology to the glaring receptionist. I quickly filled my bottles and wheeled the bike round the corner, out of sight, before mixing up my potions.
Relieved to have liquids back on board I managed to dismiss the demon and think a bit more clearly. I realised that I had pushed too hard for the last few miles and as a result had neglected to eat anything. I remedied this by immediately downing an energy bar and promising myself to keep the supply going regularly.
I don’t recall much about the next stage but my text from Crainlarich was, ‘v. tired. Long way to go…’. So I guess I was tired and felt I still had a long way to go. I think I was suffering from not eating earlier. I know I stopped at the public toilets in Crainlarich to apply a thick greasing of butt cream because that area had been causing some discomfort. I also guess I must have stopped for much longer than I thought because otherwise, calculating from the time of text messages and the physical distances between them, I only managed 8 mph on the next leg.
On the stretch alongside Loch Lomond I recall feeling a lot better, probably as the food started to kick in, and making up a lot of time by going really fast. My text from Balloch at the southern end of the loch even says, ‘…very fast road, so went very fast…’ But again the timing of texts etc show that I only managed 12mph. I do recall stopping and buying food at a convenience store and sitting down to methodically chew my way through it, so I might have lost more time than I thought there. It might have been a sub conscious effort to avoid the next bit. The bit I was least looking forward to: negotiating the run into Glasgow on the A82 and managing to come off at the right junction to go over the Erskine Bridge.At one point I even had a charming kid of about 10 hurl a rock at me from a pedestrian bridge crossing the road. Fortunately he was a crap shot – probably pissed.
When I hit the A82 there was no shoulder that I could cycle along. Unfortunately the lanes also seemed particularly narrow and the traffic was very heavy: it was nearly 17:00 and everyone was heading back home after their Sunday afternoon spent soaking up sun and lager on the shores of Loch Lomond.
Having joined the road there was nothing I could do but carry on as fast as possible in the hopes that I could get off before I was knocked off. I charged on purposefully, keeping the cars at bay by force of mind alone. It was taxing but I was managing to deflect even the most wobbly drivers. In a big gear, each pedal rotation was driving me 9 metres closer to the bridge and comparative safety.
I only had a mile to go when the heavens opened and dropped the contents of a small lake on the road. Visibility was suddenly cut down to nothing, with rain bouncing off the tarmac and plumes of spray jetting out from the speeding traffic. I quickly stretched down and switched my rear light on but didn’t think it would provide much visibility: I could hardly see the cars in front. The virtual white out didn’t slow the traffic though.
A driveway appeared out of the murk and I thankfully pulled off before I got mushed. As I tried to shelter under a small tree I mused that if it rained like this on day four, on the urban stretch through the Midlands, I might have a very nervous and uncomfortable day.
The rain left as quickly as it came and after waiting a few minutes for the heavy traffic to clear the surface water from the road I crept out of hiding and sprinted as fast as possible for the slip road to the Erskine Bridge and freedom.
It was a big relief to get off the main road and I felt a big weight lifted. I think the last stretch had been playing on my mind all day, probably why I had been prevaricating, stopping for photos and the like. And with a lighter load I speeded up. For the last leg of my day, from the Erskine Bridge to Kilmarnock, I averaged 15mph, despite it being quite uppy downy [a term you’ll only find in the most technical of cycling texts]. But I was still very relieved to get to the B&B. I was proper tired.I tried to eat what I could but it was an effort and I was still left with a surfeit. I determined that I would try harder to eat more regularly the next day.
I had developed sciatica during training and in the last two weeks the knee on the other side had started playing up, probably over compensating. Whilst this hadn’t been a problem on day 1, I had suffered a number of tweaks today on the steeper hills. So I went to sleep wondering whether I should tackle the Kirkstone Pass, which I had detoured my main road route specifically to climb. It was meant to be the main challenge of the route but I didn’t want to jeopardise the whole thing by damaging something in the effort.
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