It’s over already. We had been planning it for months and now it is done. At least, we started planning it months ago, booked the hotels and train ride a couple of months ago then forgot about it until about a week before.
Inverclyde to Inverness; four days of cycling, four ferries, just over 250 miles with about 5,000m of climbing thrown in for good measure. I’ll do another post on some of the route highlights and focus here on the experience.
The most amazing aspect was the weather. It had been fine for at least a couple of weeks before we left, so in true Weegie fashion, we couldn’t believe it would hold. But it did. Not one drop of rain, many hours well above 20C, even early in the day. The one thing we hadn’t planned for was a heatwave! The wind wasn’t the prevailing South westerly, rather a north easter which meant in our faces for 3 days of 4 but I figured we would take that if it meant no rain. Although early on day 1 it looked far from promising as the ferry left Gourock…
But sunshine had appeared before we hit Dunoon and stayed the whole trip.
What did we learn?
- Most of your friends, family and colleagues will think you have lost your senses. You will be begged to text, call or tweet every day so people know you’re still alive. And it’s not like this route is exactly off the beaten track…
- 6kg of luggage makes the back of your bike heavy. But when you have previously weighed 6kg more than you do now, the effect on your cycling isn’t too bad. It’s still a pig to lift the bike over badly designed gates along the canal.
- Ferries make a holiday more exotic. Some are even free (Corran Ferry) when you are on foot or on bike, but check the timetables in advance because some which are 10 minute trips only run about 3 times a day (Camusnagual, that’s you!)
- 16% and 20% hills can be done in the granny gear with the bike fully loaded. Another granny gear would always be nice. You don’t spin out at the top with a loaded bike, so I could sacrifice top end. Another granny gear would also have helped stop my back wheel skidding on the gravel uphills.
- That horrific hill out of Fort Augustus you’ve been worrying about all week isn’t as bad as you feared. So you can ride the whole route and not walk the bike on any hills.
- In all sorts of outdoor pursuits we use euphemisms. Roads are never hilly; they are lumpy or undulating. Lochs aren’t cold, they just aren’t as warm as we would like or as warm as they could be. Your long ride isn’t an amazing achievement, it’s a decent effort.
- In beautiful weather, Scotland has scenery without rival. Of course the midges are a curse and the lochs are still freezing, even the sea lochs.
- People doing the same activity as you or doing no specific activity will talk to you, people doing other activities less likely. So runners don’t talk to cyclists but other cyclists will as do the people who’ve stepped out of their cars at viewpoints and find it funny you are dripping sweat and coughing up your lungs.
- There’s always someone doing more. From the family on the gravel forest road pulling trailers and children behind their bikes to the Frenchman planning his 400km day ride from Austria to Italy and the guy in the flash gear wild camping his way to the Jura whisky festival.
- If you don’t talk all the time, you overhear hilarious things. Guy in cafe on phone to his wife “just to let you know I’m not coming home tonight. I’m going to stay here and bury him, unless you want me to wait for you.” Hopefully a conversation about the dog. Or the waitress starting her shift in the cafe looking in a pot in the kitchen “best day ever! Lentil soup!” Well, that’s what passes for excitement in Benderloch… and the woman in the community cafe in Fort Augustus telling German tourists about locks and lochs and the difference between them and trying to spell Urquhart Castle.
- Sustrans routes are fabulous and fantastically well signposted. Scenic roads, canal towpaths, forest roads and very little traffic. (Almost) didn’t need the maps.
- Wildlife sightings included an osprey at Loch Tarff above Fort Augustus, seals and an otter at the Sound of Jura, a weasel, llamas, Highland cattle cooling off in the river, too many sheep to count, cuckoos calling from the trees, a woodpecker and a deer a day. One youngster darted into the roadside foliage and stood motionless ready to bolt. One front leg raised, looking at us for any sense of danger.
- Sometimes temper tantrums can be spawned by the most unusual things. Like overwrapping M&S snowballs in cling film to prevent disintegration… turns out trying to unwrap one while needing a pee at the side of the road with plummeting blood sugar is likely to lead to a burst of what can only be called snappishness…
- I am a diesel. JT is a V8. We knew this. I don’t do well after long periods of rest during the day. He is rejuvenated as long as enough fuel is supplied. He has short bursts of power for the sharp climbs. I have endurance for the long slow grind.