cyclePosted by Jon Entwistle Thu, August 31, 2017 09:51:34
3-2-1, GO! I bleated out
three little words that I say every day to my rock, my soulmate, my best friend
as I descended the start ramp…
And I was finally away in the
sweltering oppressive heat of the midi-Pyrenees slowly, but smoothly building
up a rhythm as I easily negotiated the racing bends on the Albi race track.
And then out onto the main
road, just cones and the odd marshal for company, looking ahead to see where
the chilled American chap I got talking to in the holding pen prior to the race
was, as he had started 30 seconds ahead of me.
I was in the groove, “on it”
as these cyclists tend to say when all is going well. On reflection, starting
back in Denmark two years ago, it has indeed been a turbulent couple of years.
I wasn’t optimal for this race, but I’d given myself the best shot I could
muster for this year given the circumstances having also overcome a recent knee
injury that tried its best to derail my season. Anyway, I had my secret weapon
and she was back at the finish line willing me on just like she was two months
prior on the Isle of Man when we were just long term friends and cycling
buddies. I say “just” with comedic flippancy, because that race, despite being
the most important race of my life at that point was my ground zero. I was
determined to race on the Isle of Man alone - a single man on a mission to find
himself and be happy just being on his tod with his daughters to remind him now
and again that he’s a good bloke really and not completely alone. But the
encouragement and congratulations I got via the text messages I received before
and after I got a shooing from Cummings, Dowset, Gullen, et al, when I look
back was probably the start of a new and beautiful relationship with an
incredibly loving and generous human being.
Anyway, I digress, this is
supposed to be a blog post about cycling not a love story!!!
I shouted aggressively
another three words of self-encouragement “COME ON JON”. For the first time in
my 45.5 years (nearly to the day!) I felt genuinely at peace with myself,
almost confident dare I say! I was raging for the right reasons this time. “Be the best
you can be”, said my Oracle prior to the race and it was going round and round
in my head and I was energised by it. I was picking up speed and I could feel
But there’s always a “but”.
And this race was no different. Though I didn’t think about it at all until
some kind soul posted the incident on the UK Time Trialling Facebook page a day later.
I’d completely forgotten about it, but it’s worth telling as it wouldn’t have
changed the result, only fortified the bronze medal position, or as I prefer,
third place on the podium.
So I’m bombing along, like
you do in the world amateur TT final, and I start to catch an ambulance in
front of me. WTF was my first reaction. What am I supposed to do now? Ok, I’ll
give it a wide berth so as not to be (unfairly) disqualified for drafting (even
though I’d be slowing at the same time), speed up and overtake it instead -
this is what you did when you entered the 19’ club last year and a combine
harvester started 30 seconds ahead of you.
But the “hill” was coming up
and this distracted me as my heart rate was creeping way past threshold (which
rarely happens as I’m often in a deliberate fatigued state) and I was starting
to parboil internally. The brain was racing as well as the legs and I sat up.
Then the ambulance thankfully sped away allowing me to get back into position
and ready for the “hill” which in reality was a short rise, but must look like
Ben Nevis to folk from the north Netherlands.
Sharp left at the junction
and hill time! Only to be met around the bend by the same ambulance who had
stopped in front of me. Evasive action. Being a mountain biker in disguise
allows me to handle the TT bike pretty well and I started to swerve to the
right of the ambulance only for it to start moving in the direction I was
I took a look at three foot
drainage trench on the right which was accelerating towards me and decided I
didn’t want to end up in the ambulance which was inadvertently doing a great
job of trying to place me in the ditch. Oh the irony!
Not to be this time…somehow?
Phew! Some choice words shouted angrily (often abbreviated as “FFS” in social
media/text messages) seem to do the trick and stop the driver from ramming me
off the road and I was away up the “hill” shaking my head in disbelief catching
my 30 second American man in the process without realising I had done until I
At the top of the rise, I
instinctively took a calculated risk. My heart rate was racing too, along with
the brain and the legs and being the highest and slowest point on the 23km
course, it was blow torch hot. No 45 kph wind chill here! I clicked into easier
gears, ignored the power data and speed, concentrated on spinning the legs
until the heart rate stabilised. And from here on, I hung on watching heart
rate like a hawk, controlling my efforts as smoothly as I could, drawing on all
my racing experience which eventually took me back into the aerodrome for the
last 2 klicks and I gave it one last heave before finishing up crouched over my
bike pecking like a dog for the next five minutes. I knew then I’d given it the
best I could have done on that day. There will be other days when I’ll be
better, fitter, faster.
I found my Oracle and she
helped me with my bike. As per usual I had no idea where I was in the standings
and as per usual I didn’t care, as I’d given it laldie and Kyle had placed a
nice cold beer in my hand. We wandered over to GB pit where Nelly was
recovering from his race and we waited on Kelvin and Mike to come in from their
own thirty-odd minute date with a nuclear furnace on TT bikes.
Then it started to dawn on
me, perhaps I should see where I finished? The target was a Rainbow Jersey
after all (you numpty)! But now I didn’t care, as I was genuinely happy, though
I got a strange feeling that I’d done something useful, but an even better
feeling that this time, because just like on the Isle of Man, there would be no
price to pay for this short-arsed 45 year old optimist with a knackered
knee. No dressing down, no looks of disgust for finishing tenth or being
ignored for smashing a record. Quite the contrary. My inspiration had given up
four days of her holiday (which for someone who is also runs her own business
is no easy task) at little notice to support me regardless of the outcome. I
owed her this even though it didn’t matter to her, because she knew I had
delivered on her “Be the best you can be” mantra, like I always do.
I wandered over the results
sheet in the baking heat wearing a nice pink sunhat that I stole from my
motivator, got some funny looks in the process and for once felt happy and at
peace with myself seeing the result. Third. By literally a fraction of a second.
For once I didn’t care about the time differences.
Bronze medal. Progress from
11th two years ago in Denmark. Heading in the right direction, and
at last now with the right people who I want to work, socialise, ride, have fun
and share experiences with. Life is for living. Life is to be enjoyed not
So once again, three is THE
magic number, but as a new and exciting life begins, it’s all because of ONE
special and amazing individual.
cyclePosted by Jon Entwistle Mon, August 21, 2017 15:26:18
This year has hardly been
optimal in terms of racing, but I’m not complaining. In truth it never was going to be, I knew that from the start of 2017. This year was all about ground zero, back to basics, a benchmarking season. And besides as another big race is
about to unfold I count myself lucky to be in the situation I find myself in as the future looks very bright indeed.
Why am I fortunate?
Well no fewer than 4 weeks
ago I was nursing the troublesome right knee which had ballooned big time due
to a tendon in the back of the leg becoming inflamed. As per usual I tried to
ignore it. I even managed a 85km ride on the road bike the day before I was due
to take part in a 300km audax, but in my heart of hearts, I knew something wasn’t
right. I was in denial, I was injured. Bugger. I hate being injured and it was so long since I last was, I'd forgotten about the ruptures, breaks, tears, chips, dislocations, fractures and surgery I'd experienced over the years, oddly all on my right side.
Ironically, on the Friday
night, hours before the 6am audax start, I was making a house call with one of
my clients who is himself recovering from multiple fractures of the femur and
just happens to be my local GP, when I asked for his opinion. He didn’t seem too
concerned, provided I skip the audax and opt for Ibuprofen (no not pills,
dammit!), Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation, which I prefixed to BRICE. The
photo explains what the “B” stands for.
And so I spent Friday
evening, deflated, dejected, disappointed and deluded – convinced I could do
300km the next day without issues and trying to talk myself into ignoring the
right knee which was now resembling a small balloon.
That was until I got a
message from another client who was also due to ride the audax. He had been in
a minor car crash and had suffered whiplash and wanted my advice whether or not
to ride. Of course not, I replied, crazy idea, there will always be other
opportunities. It’s a long game, no prizes for trying to be a hero.
I could feel myself slowly holding
up a mirror to myself…
Practice what you preach,
Of course, I was never going
to do the ride in my injured state, but when you are injured or sub-optimal,
you go through a series of iterations in your head trying to convince yourself
it’s ok to go with your gut feel. No I wasn’t chickening out, and yes there
will be another day when I can catch up with Emily and discuss the merits of
doing a 12 hour TT (well done on your 258.2 miles Emily). It just wasn’t meant to be, I had bigger goals on the
horizon and sometimes you just have to lick your wounds, or more accurately put
a bag of frozen peas on it.
And besides I got to spend
Saturday afternoon with Ashley in the Douglas Arm’s Grand Tour Café watching
Chris Froome TT his way to his 4th Tour de France title. Our
injuries were only temporary. Just need patience and time and before you know
it, we’ll be back on the horse, or rather, bike.
And four weeks later we are
both just about back on track. Far from perfect, but nothing is. For me I still
have flexibility issues, but three races have taken place in that time, all on
the podium, 2nd in a 30 mile TT, bronze in the Scottish national TTT and
another win (just) in a local (Aberdeen Wheelers) 10 mile TT. Not bad considering. Next year will
be (hopefully) substantially more optimal in more ways than one.
I guess there’s a time and place
for everything. Can’t win everything – it’s not what it’s about (for me) anyway.
But more importantly, it’s about learning to trust yourself and listen to the
advice of others who know what they’re talking about.
Thanks Dr. C (a proper Doctor) - our brilliant Torphins GP!
cyclePosted by Jon Entwistle Fri, July 07, 2017 18:16:31
That was the hardest and most
personally rewarding thing I’ve done (out of choice) for a very long time.
I knew it would be hard,
that’s why I did it. I just had to push myself to my limits, either
spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally, or permutations/combinations of
all of them.
But why? Self-discovery and
exploration is the answer. What are my limits? Can I break myself? Every time I
try I just seem to get stronger.
So when I look back three
weekends ago to three British National time trial races in the space of seven
days with over a thousand miles of travelling, it seems utterly ludicrous now.
Would I do it again? Absolutely not. So why do it? Simply out of curiosity.
Because I’m fortunate enough to do so. Intrigue. Nothing more.
The first race reunited me
with my GTR teammates Chris and Lewis and the old A1 in God’s country. The race
- British National Team Time Trial. And boy was I up for this! Perhaps I was
too enthusiastic as I kept surging and missing Chris’s calls in a chaotic but
extremely enjoyable race. We finished 15th, Lewis looked like a
baked potato that had been left in the oven too long at the end which was
unsurprising in the 32 degree Yorkshire heat which left quite a few riders slow
cooking for the rest of day.
A couple of days with my
folks followed catching up with old teammate and Team JMC founder Budge (via
the bike of course) and then I was off to the Isle of Man, being a man on a
lone mission. Having arrived late on Tuesday evening I arrived just in time to
sneak in a cheeky pint at the pub in St. Johns, where the landlady kindly
allowed me to park up for the next few days and even offered to open the pub
early in the morning so I could get access to the facilities.
That pub, or more accurately
the Tynwald Inn would be my base and it was great for people watching, whilst I
cracked on with work (all I need is a 3/4G signal and I’m away on my Mac). On
Wednesday I watched the various pro teams recce-ing the course, with Dame Sarah
Storey and her eponymous team scurrying around next to my van in the morning,
then Madison Genesis, British Cycling. Team Sky and six times British National
TT winner and current champion Alex Dowsett heading out later in the day.
Sandwiched in between all of this commotion there was a lull and so I decided
to head out of a couple of laps, one on the road bike, the next on the TT bike.
On my first lap, I came
across some steep ramps. Ooft! How would my Fuji with its synonymous 60 tooth
single front chain ring fare on these inclines? I also inadvertently got chatting to Fraser
Martin on the first lap, probably distracting him from his own preparations for the U23 race, so
decided to switch bikes after the first lap in order to ensure the initial
climbs would be manageable on the Fuji.
No problem at all. Phew!
Happy enough. In the evening I got itchy feet. Parking a van next to a pub the
night before a big race isn’t a good idea, so I went for a wander. Granted it
was a bit longer than I anticipated and did nothing for my hayfever cold, but
it was exciting enough dodging a couple of rumbling and advancing thunderstorms
and I just made it into the Inn before it appeared to have been hit by
lightning, which kept the cackling locals entertained and I took this as a sign
to turn in and get some rest.
Unusual for me, I awoke at
9:30am on Thursday morning and felt pretty tired. I wasn’t too concerned. It
was noticeably cooler and the legs felt great but I had created a new Gremlin
overnight in my nocturnal thoughts about the long sketchy descent down to Ballacraine.
I’d become rubbish and cautious on the road as I should have ended my season
back in March when my wheel washed out for no apparent reason but somehow I
stayed upright. All the confidence gained from descending high Alpine cols at
breakneck speed on last summer’s Haute Route disappeared in one incident! C’est
la vie. Rip it up and start again…
So I decided after watching
the women and U23 men’s races to head out again and recce the descent for one
last time. This killed some time, but as the men’s race started in the evening
I had a lot of time to kill. Oddly enough it seemed to pass quick enough, to
the point that when it was time to head out to the start ramp I forgot to pump
up the tyres and my power meter started to play up. Doh!
On my way over to the race
Commissaires to get my bike UCI/BC checked for compliancy, everything was back
to normal, unlike my bike which seemed to get the attention of the bike
checkers, particularly with the 60 tooth single chainring.
“You’re doing the elite men’s
race?”, said one of the Commissaires.
“With that chainring?”.
“Yip”. My unsurprised smiley responses seem to amuse them.
“Ok. Well in the interest of
completeness, we have to weigh this.”…“Sure ☺”.
“Woah, it’s heavy, 9.2kg to
be exact! Good luck!”, with a look that was one of ‘does he know what he’s
doing’ – to which we all know the answer, of course not!
I sat behind the start ramp
as I was first into the pen. A photographer took loads of photos as I soaked up the
atmosphere and wondered if my power meter was going to talk to my Garmin. Next
it was up the steps and a calm excitement came over me. The crowds were right
out in front of me and the atmosphere was building but not for number 39, but
for the lower order numbers and the household names of Cummings, Dowsett,
Gullen and Geoghegan Hart.
In no time I was away, at
last. I’m in my environment now, so let’s go and attack that 20 degree ramp!
Up, up and over, away, spinning well and in the zone. My tactic was to negative
split, using the first lap to find the best lines and settle into my rhythm on
a very lumpy and unforgiving course, with a thousand feet of climbing per lap,
that did everything to disrupt just that.
At the Kirk Michael turn the
crowds were plentiful and cheering away and here I’d decided to up the effort
and kill the hill even more than I’d done the day before. I was in my element until my
Garmin flew off right and then my universe split into two.
But the terminator in me
automatically defaulted to Plan B – Am I dead? No. Then crack on Jon!
At the top of the hill at the
brilliantly named Cronk-Y-Voddy my descent into Ballacraine was less cautious
than previous, but I knew I had to keep my hands off the brakes. Easier said
than done at 70 kph.
As I completed my first lap,
the top ten riders were hovering in the pen and I wondered if any of them would
catch me as attacked the ramp for a second time, oddly looking out for traffic
this time (I really don’t know why I did this) as caught brilliantly by Harry
Tweed in the photo.
But none of them passed me
and I was now in my groove and pushing my limits. Strangely, I felt
liberated having no Garmin and was enjoying the fact I was rolling my sleeves
up (in a metaphorical sense of course, otherwise I’d have to shave my arms too)
and getting on with it.
The descent on the second was
much better and I felt much more confident rounding the corners and making
better use of closed roads. Quick sprint into St. Johns; job done and well
done! Happy enough, but more importantly, I really enjoyed the race. The course
was simply superb and brutal for all the right reasons.
winner Steve Cummings having gone off earlier in the field was the race leader
and everyone was waiting for Dowsett to appear. I wandered to the sign off and
to get my race license only to find my Garmin had been found, probably by one
of the motorcycle chaperones that all unsupported riders like myself were
provided with. Ace.
And within less than a couple
of hours, conversations with other riders, presentations were all done and the
circus had literally moved out of town. All that was left was my van parked
next to the pub and so after a shower I decided to reflect upon the race over a
beer and replied to the various messages that were flooding in from
well-wishers and get another early night as my ferry back to Liverpool was
leaving early Friday morning.
When I eventually arrived
back in Manchester my mum seemed a little reticent to ask how it went, as it
was clearly a rhetorical question. I explained that 22nd (on the 22nd)
was good enough for a first attempt and that I was in mainly professional
cyclist company with very few amateurs and even fewer Vets.
Two days later I was driving
back up the A1 to spend the night at Chris’s parents and prepare for the final
race of the week, the British National 50 mile TT. At this juncture I was
already looking forward to getting this race out of the way, which is unusual
for me as I’m always the opposite – a dog with a bone, happy to chase his tail.
Fast forward to 8:48am the
next day, 3-2-1 go! Here we go A19, 50 miles. Oh really? Let’s get the next 1
hour 45 minutes over with shall we?
This was unchartered
territory, my mood was flat, but the legs were producing the required metrics.
The Terminator in me had already activated Plan B.
But it was being challenged,
as my inner sanctum was uncharacteristically moaning? Do I have to do this? The
Terminator wasn’t listening. Get on with it!
On the first 25 mile lap as I
approached the finish flag a familiar thud. It took me a couple of seconds to
figure it out. Yep, my Garmin’s gone for a wander again. Dammit!
Oddly this didn’t have a
negative effect, nor positive, just one that totally and utterly amused me. Gallows
humour perhaps? As I approached the flyover to start the second lap I was
almost laughing. As the second lap commenced a rider passed me. This is an
unusual experience for me and I was fascinated so much by the rider’s pedalling
style I was starting to catch him on the rises. Um, how does this work? What’s
the etiquette, protocol? Should I pass him? Just as I decided to do so on the
third rise, my chain fell off. In an odd way this was a relief and allowed the
rider (eventual winner Dan Bigham) to get some distance ahead, so I decided
having no way of judging how far to go and riding on feel once again, to keep
him in sight and use him as a pacer.
All of a sudden I felt I was
going faster and faster and went through the finish line thinking, oh is that
it? Aw, I was just getting into this.
Quick reflection - ok, put
this race down as experience. Learn from it. That’s the aim of the game after
I had resigned myself to a
poor time, but actually found I’d managed a PB of 1:44:14 with a bizarre 25
mile splits of 53 and 51 minutes respectively (with the latter having stopped
to put back on a dropped chain!).
EH…? Chris’s response was a
bit more colourful.
I was so perplexed by this
and in such a spooky mood I decided to drive the A19 before an awesome Sunday lunch back at Chris's Mum and Dad's (thanks again Carol!) because I was convinced I
would find my Garmin. And incredibly half an hour later, there it was on the
side, in the gutter, on very fast and busy A19, undamaged, reading elapsed time
of over 4 hours…
You can’t make this up!
One things for sure, every
day is a learning day and this really is a life less ordinary.
Note to self - just don’t do
three British national time trials in a week next year!
cyclePosted by Jon Entwistle Fri, June 16, 2017 20:21:18
Just like the Strathpuffer
back in January, this wasn’t my idea. No way.
It all started a couple of
weeks ago. Unusually I had my girls on a Sunday which coincided with the
Scottish National 25m TT, so I took them along with me for a grand day out.
Some folk seemed concerned that would be a hindrance and a distraction. Nope. Quite
the contrary, they were pretty useful, making coffee for my GTR teammates Chris
and Lewis, offloading left over banana cake for the “after party” and also
keeping former Junior Scottish Road Race champion and RT23 rider Ashleigh
Fraser busy too. And anyway it didn’t seem to affect the result, I think it
Unfortunately though, the
start just east of Forfar on the A90, was literally miles away from HQ, which
was a shame as my eldest, Katie, wanted to watch the race as Chris and I made
our way out of the car park. Not this time I said, but next.
“When’s next time and why
can’t I race this Dad?”, was the double-barrelled question, to which I didn’t
have the exact answer, “We’ll speak about later”, I said, trying to gain some
kind of race focus which was difficult as I just knew given the chance, she
would quite literally pitch up on the A90 and ride the dual carriageway to
Brechin and back, regardless. Why not? She’s her father’s daughter after all.
Nothing to lose, everything to gain.
After the race we bombed down
to Glasgow to meet Emma (of Glencoe TT fame) and her cycling friends. One of
her club-mates, Rob was a track coach and Emma had arranged a session on the
boards at the Chris Hoy Velodrome. It was ace fun, though I had my typical
moments of frustration. My girls watched on and part of me hoped they could get
a shot, but in my heart of hearts I really wanted them to watch in the hope it
would feed a desire – not the other way round.
On the road back up ‘Shire,
conversation shifted back to cycling. “So what’s that race you did today and
what’s the medal for?”, said the youngest daughter. This is gold (well actually
silver on this occasion) and it keeps me chuckling and grounded. Katie playing
the older sister role did the explaining about Graeme Obree’s record being
broken and how John is now doing well, like his sister Katie, and it was
their mother, Louise, that we had a good chat with after the podium
presentations "after party".
“Oh“, said the younger. Cogs
whirring, suddenly i-Pads/Pods/Phones and shopping in malls suddenly became less
“So Dad”, said Katie, “Can I
do a time trial?”. Music to my ears. I can die now a happy man…
But I’m still here to tell
the tale of last Tuesday evening. 10 miles, Drumoak horseshoe, 6:48pm. My
Puffer partner-in-crime, Mike Dennison gave her an early start (and the
number 3 – yay!) so she could see the mechanics of the TT process. Mike Cheney
who’s looking like the rider to beat in the Evening League was on timekeeping duty and was
taking photos of the cool, calm and collected Katie. There was a nice buzz
about the start line, less serious and focussed than normal and I was beside
myself, I’ve never been so excited, not in even with my own races!
Katie got called to the
start. She looked at me and said “Dad, I’m now nervous“. Hilarious. One minute
to go and now she’s getting twitchy! Awesome. “Good”, I said, “It means you’re
As we approached Drumoak, the
Thomsons and the Amundrud’s were making a healthy racket shouting and banging
what seemed pots and pans. As faster riders passed by, some gave her a big-up.
As I was in pursuit, I asked her to change down a gear on downhill section, but
her gears are restricted, so we have to make do with extra spinning, which I
guess is really the point.
At the half-way point I asked
how she was doing. “Ok Dad” and then tried to start a conversation. “Erhm, you
really shouldn’t be able to talk Katie”, I said, but found it funny all the
same. It doesn’t matter, she was going to get well under her target time which
we agreed would be to beat double my best time on this course.
35:34 to be exact. Superb.
But more importantly than anything else, did she enjoy it?
Of course she did and was
already asking about the next one. We made our way to the crossroads to cheer
on the last few riders coming through, looking out for Andy, Emma and Ashley as
they pushed their way up the shallow ramp towards the finish along with
seasoned youth TT rider Cameron Stromberg and debutant Isla Long with Dad (DTCC
Youth Head Coach Sam) in hot pursuit. Ashley was also riding his first ever TT
– and after the following night’s coaching session he now knows where the
finish line is (heh heh).
And that’s what wonderful
about time trialling, so many friends, clients, juniors. Boys, girls, men, women, Veteran
champions, Ironmen and Ironwomen (such as super couple Rob and Vera) were out in
force on Tuesday night. It’s a brilliant discipline, because it forces
discipline, focus and control and it’s more sociable than you think. It’s a
personal test. Can you go faster? Did you leave it all on the road? What should
you do next time? It’s honest and it asks honest questions of you.
I guess that’s why they call
it the race of truth!
cyclePosted by Jon Entwistle Fri, June 02, 2017 16:10:34
Thanks to Jamie Bell for this brilliant account of what it takes to complete a truly epic endurance ride. This was one of Jamie's priority events for this year and our plan was to firstly get him as fit as possible, but secondly to actually use the Highland Trail 550 as a marker and platform for base fitness and aerobic capacity. Now that he's successfully completed the H550 it now allows us to push Jamie to higher levels and fine tune his future races without constantly worrying about overtraining (he so fit and strong, he can recover quickly now).
It's all about the base!
Two “normal” blokes take on the Highland Trail 550 (H550).
We’re not as early as we imagined we would be. 6:45 we roll over to the exit of the Green
Welly and take a couple of “before” photos.
Excited, nervous, a bit groggy from the 5 pints in the Tyndrum Hotel the
night before – will we ever learn?
I’ll point out now that the words we and I are
interchangeable. I am doing this ride
with friend David Knowles. I don’t ride
with him that often due to our differing work and family commitments but when I
do it counts. He is the only person I
know that I could do this with. We are
of course totally self-sufficient. All
our own gear, spares, GPS route finding devices, food etc. This is for two reasons – firstly it’s the
rules and secondly what if we split up?
It’s no good having a puncture if Dave is carrying the pump and he’s
buggered off back to Tyndrum? Some
people will think this detracts from the undertaking – it’s called an
“Individual Time Trial” right? I don’t
agree. There’s no help being offered and
having a bit of company is nice. In some
ways, harder to deal with someone else for such an intense period of time. I've proved I can suffer in solitary on any
number of events. Anyway, its common on
these events to bump into people riding at exactly the same pace as you so you
end up spending hours if not days with them.
So we roll around the imposing Beinn Dorain opposite Bridge
of Orchy, it’ll be an awful long time before we see it again. Into Glen Lyon, cross a river, the first of many
over the next week. The trail is a wide
double track that rolls well and progress is good. I won’t be describing the route in detail as it’s
just too bloody long and you’ll get bored of endless names of glens you’ve
never heard of, feet soaking river crossings, leg sapping hike a bikes. I’ll just point out a few bits that stick in
my mind. Or caught us out. Or both.
There is a café in Glen Lyon, its 9:45, the owner is stood
in the garden of the café. “We don’t
open for 15 minutes” she says. OK “See
you then” we say. Not a riveting story
but something that will be repeated over the next 7 days. As with many things in life it’s all about
timing. I've studied the route, poured
over maps, read the blogs and forums. I know where everything (almost) is. But this knowledge is somewhat useless if the
place is closed. We will find certain
opening hours in Scotland over the next week to be a little challenging.
Onwards to Ben Alder.
It’s a humid day, I have no water left, so I fill up in a stream. It’s a bit brown but it tastes nice. I don’t die of typhoid or dysentery. Result.
There is a hut before the hike around Ben Alder. Rich and Tom Siepp are there enjoying a sit
down and snack. They are a father and
son team who have taken on many challenges over the last few years. Rich is a strong rider with a couple of H550
completions and many other long distance challenges to his credit. Tom is 11.
Yep 11 years old! I am a 43-year-old
bloke with years of miles in my legs and any number of races, challenges and
multi day trips that have led me to here.
Tom is 11! He has ridden a lot of
the route before, recently completed the Lakes 200 and is a veteran of the
infamous ‘Puffer 24 and Dirty Reiver.
There are two women brewing up chatting to Rich. We have our “Hayfield Hub” jerseys on. “Is that our Hayfield in Derbyshire” she
asks. So there we are 6 people in the
middle of nowhere, having not seen a single person on the hills all day and I’m
the only non-Hayfield resident. I
recognise one of the ladies. Her husband
bought my old campervan a couple of years ago.
Small world. This is ludicrous so
we say our excuses and press on.
Wet feet. The path
from the reservoir to the trail up the pass around Ben Alder disappears. There are plenty of bogs though. I think this is the last point for almost a
week where I genuinely have dry feet. The descent over the other side is an
amazing piece of singletrack and we quickly learn to handle our laden bikes
over the ubiquitous Scottish drainage bars.
I’m glad of my 29” wheels. One
catches me out and I tumble into a ditch.
No harm done fortunately.
Good weather, fast double track, we’re making strong
progress and the clicks are, well clicking by.
Over to Laggan where there is a café at the Wolf Trax trailhead. Its 5:05 pm. Its closed 5 minutes ago.
Obviously. The lights are on and people
are inside but they ignore our knocking.
We really are on our own for this one.
The Corriieyairack pass awaits so we press on. There is a bothy up there but it’s too early. 6:30 pm.
We want to get over the pass at least.
Its huge. And steep. At the top it ramps up to an unrideable gradient
with the appropriate number of false summits to chip away at moral. Jackets on and down the other side. It’s gone 8 now. We’ve been on the move for nearly 13 ½
hours. 140k, 2.7k of climbing. What an effort. We’ve worked out we need to
average 125k a day to complete inside 7 days so we’re pleased with this. As we will find out though not all days are
created equal. Sometimes a 15-hour day
doesn’t result in 125k, more of that later but with hindsight we should have
pressed on. There was light, we felt OK
and we could have ridden a couple of hours more. A lesson learnt for later in the week.
Camp one. Tents up by
a stream, down clothing on for warmth and a jetboil dinner. Homemade dehydrated food. Sleep comes easy even though its light until
well after 11. At gone 9 Rich and Tom
roll past – looking for a Bothy around the corner they shout, see you in the
Awoken by the rain bouncing off my tent at 5 am. It always
sounds worse in a tent right?
Wrong. It really is pouring
down. After a couple of “5 more minutes”
moments I get dressed, get up and stick a brew on whilst I collapse my tent,
pack the bike etc. we get rolling at
6:20 am on a fast downhill to Fort Augustus.
On the mass start a week later the fast boys will be aiming for FA by
9pm to catch the pizza shop and press on into the night. I will wish we did the same. Breakfast.
Its 7:30 and everywhere is of course closed. Even the “open all hours” petrol station
shop. “We’re not open until 8” says the
lady dragging in the papers. “I know”
says Dave, “I can read the sign on the door”.
There is a local walking a dog, “try the B&B up the road” she says. It’s closed but a really nice Polish lady
answers the door. “Breakfast?” she asks,
“We start in 20 minutes but you can have now if you like?” result!
In we go, de-robe, full Scottish, coffee refill. It’s Saturday morning
and it’s the first “real” meal since Thursday night. With hindsight, this is a short wait compared
to some days… tom and Rich turn up for a
brew. We have a chat, I don’t eat carbs
so young Tom eats the toast from my breakfast.
We stock up at the now open garage shop and press on in the
rain down the Great Glen. Joking about a
sighting of Nessie. Rich and Tom are
with us so I pump Rich for a bit more information on timings, the infamous
northern loop, Fisherfield etc. We ride
off and that’s the last we will see of them.
We are aiming for Contin, a place I recognise from numerous
Strathpuffer outings. It’s a long way and its rainy and pretty cold. The miles just tick by. I have a concept of micro and macro time for
these events. Look after the micro time and the macro hours will take care of
themselves. It’s not really about
counting down the miles it’s about riding for all the hours possible. Its incredible sometimes that a 3-hour
section can drag all afternoon whilst whole days can disappear?
We get to Contin, stock up and find a little hotel a couple
of miles out of town that’s open so we stop for a hot drink. I watch Dave fill his face with a huge basket
of cheesy chips. “Everything is local”
says the proprietor, the cheese is from Orkney.
Local we joke. Their hospitality
is great though.
As its still raining we decide the only thing to do is keep
riding so we press on in the hope it stops.
It brightens up and stops raining.
There is a bivvy spot, allegedly, some 14k or so further on. Despite our efforts we can’t find it but a
spot by the river in Strath Rannoch looks good.
It’s 9 pm, we’ve been on the go over 14 hours. Another 133k, 3k of climbing has slowed us a
little. Another good day. Progress is too good we joke, we might need
to slow things up a little. We will not
be joking so much in a few days..
Today we head for Oykel Bridge and the “northern loop”. We know things are going to get a lot
tougher. People talk about how hard the loop from Oykel back to Oykel is but
details are scarce. More double track so
progress is fast. There are a lot of
estates up here and there is clearly a lot of money in driving people up glens
to gun down stags. The pass roads are in
a better state than some of the B roads back in Derbyshire.
We reach the Oykel Bridge Hotel at 11 a.m. and the staff
rustle up a plate full of scrambled eggs and bacon and three bacon sandwiches
for Dave. Eager to get stuck into the
northern loop we don’t hang around.
Initially the going is good but the track gets increasingly vague. The climb is a giant push but we’re feeling
pretty pleased with our progress. We’ll
soon find out this is the easy bit! The amazing
views of Ben Hope and beyond distract from the effort but by now we’re walking
everything and progress is slow. We are
at the most northerly point of the route now.
I have never been this far north in Scotland and have got here entirely
We’re nearly out we think and we crest a hill to see a
hidden valley before us. There is a
small loch in a bowl of mountains with waterfalls tumbling into it. We are speechless. But there is a 300 metre drop into the valley
and a giant climb out. I joke that it
looks like Simon Fell but 3 times the size.
An hour later we’re at the bottom.
A pretty serious little river crossing and then a giant push up the
other side. I will not forget An Dubb
We finally crest the pass onto a huge technical descent next
to the imposing mountain Arxle. On to
Achfary the first GPX file provided by Alan Goldsmith runs out. 400k and its only day 3. I load up the route suffixed “back”. It feels like quite a milestone.
Again, we decide to press on but we haven’t eaten much and
we underestimate the size and gradient of the climb. It takes an age to push up. I just don’t have the legs to ride it. It’s gone 9 when we reach the top. It’s
getting cold and there is nowhere to pitch a tent. What can we do but press on? The top becomes a descent. We try a couple of spots but they're wet,
boggy and lumpy. Finally, a small
clearing. Pitch up, soup, bed. Utterly
exhausted but we feel pleased with ourselves.
Northern loop? Wasn’t that bad. It took us nearly 15 hours but we have
completed another 142k with 2.6k climbing.
I have clean dry socks, jersey and bib shorts. I decide this is the time to deploy them and
cheer me up. With hindsight, I would
have waited another day. It’s a moot
point really as by lunchtime they will be wet and stinking anyway.
I can see the sea!
The morning is taken up by a very pleasant but very lumpy road ride
around the coast of Wester Ross. It’s
part of this new North Coast 500 route.
It’s clearly very good for tourism as some very sleepy little villages
seem to be benefiting from a lot of campervan and motorhome traffic. I find the whole thing a little incongruous
though. This area of Wester Ross is a
marine conservation area and the authorities are encouraging vehicles to drive
around it in their thousands?
We left at 6:15 so everywhere is closed. Every shop, café and hotel. I stop to eat a piece of cheese. Nice breakfast. Drumbeg loudly advertises itself as the best
village store in Scotland. Well we’ll
see if it’s even open first. We arrive
at 8 am. The shop is closed but the
lights are on and the owner occupiers are busy inside. “We don’t open for another couple of hours”
says the lady, “I know” says Dave, “I can read the big sign. We’re starving, we
haven’t eaten properly since yesterday morning.”, “There are benches up at the
viewing point if you want a sit down.”
That’ll be a clear off then. Her
husband asks me where we are going, I stare blankly at him and roll away without
saying a word. In my head I am saying
fuck you Drumbeg Stores.
At Clachtoll we stumble upon Flossie’s beach hut. Its open!
They have a real espresso machine.
I drink 2 pints of milk, a giant Cappuccino and eat two sausages and two
pieces of black pudding. Dave nose bags
his usual pair of sandwiches, sausage this time. This does the trick and the
legs finally get working as we press on towards Lochinver. Some amazing singletrack trails slow us a
little but they are great fun to ride.
This is a pattern that will now repeat over the coming days.
Set off early with no breakfast, try
and coax some miles out of increasingly tired legs and minds until we can get
some breakfast and then things get a little easier. The riding is always easier with a belly full
In Lochinver, Dave pays £5.50 for a huge venison pie which
lasts about 4 minutes. We stock up and I
have a brief conversation with my wife Rach which moves me to tears. I hear her voice and I actually cannot speak
for a minute. I cannot over emphasise
how much you miss your family on trips like this. I think the fatigue heightens the emotions.
We are in good spirits climbing the pass through Glencanisp
Forest, Canisp to our left and the imposing looking Suilven towering to our
right. The climb is hard but it’s
amazing how much of it we actually ride – I think this is when I begin to
realise that no matter how tired you are and how many days you’ve been riding
you can ask your legs to give time and time again. At this rate, we’ll be back at Oykel bridge
by 2 or 3 pm. Or so we think.
It sneaks up on us at first as the trail becomes
increasingly unrideable. Before we know
it another 3 hours has gone and we are barely 5k further on. At times the path simply disappears and you
are reduced to following a line on your GPS, trying to pick a route
through. The worst bit is the
downhill. As mountain bikers were quite
used to having to push up stuff. We
accept this in return for riding down.
But when you can’t even ride down what you have pushed up… demoralised we reach the Cam Loch and wade
through a calf high bog of about 500m to reach the road. Wet feet, again. Really wet feet. With hindsight this is a really low point for
me. The slothness of the progress is
just so unexpected and demoralising. We
expected to reach the Oykel Bridge hotel at 3pm latest, it’s now gone 4 and we
are over 25k away. Heads down we grind
into a headwind and on to Oykel where we arrive in time for a bar meal sometime
There is a couple from Belper who start chatting to us. We later joke about this. “Belper, in Derbyshire”, she says,
Belper? West Midlands you mean. She is super annoying, reading things off her
map really loudly and trying to engage in conversation. I am so tired that when Dave leaves the bar
to tinker with some part of his kit or other I close my eyes and pretend to nod
off so I don’t have to interact with them.
We don’t hang around after food but head off into
increasingly heavy rain. On the map it
looks like a straightforward up and over to Ullapool. We decide to ride what we can and see where
get to. The weather really turns for the
worst as we pass a bothy – we hole up for 10 minutes or so as the worst passes.
At the top of the climb I have a moment. The sun has gone but there is plenty of
light. Dave is silhouetted ahead of me, it’s
gone 9 and we turn off the main track onto a fantastic winding footpath. If we
were back home on a night ride, riding this trail we would be delighted and it
makes me grin. It goes on too long
though. We want to be in Ullapool and
instead we are detouring along a meandering, rolling path. It’s off camber to a huge drop on our
left. I really hate this sort of trails
and inevitably I crash, over the bars rolling down the hill. I am OK but a bit shaken.
It’s gone 10 pm when we roll into Ullapool, lights on via
yet more singletrack – there is a perfectly good road into Ullapool Alan. We were hoping to catch the Tesco and perhaps
the campsite but we’ve been on the move for 16 hours now so pitch tents on a
piece of grass next to an industrial wasteland that was once a factory that has
been torn down.
12 hours riding and a lot of pushing has resulted in 125k
and 2.5k of climbing. We sleep knowing we couldn’t really have done any
more. We are also a bit afraid to be
honest as tomorrow is the hard day.
Today is going to be what we have now agreed is the money
shot of the whole route. Ahead of us lie
Fisherfield Forest, a river crossing, Letterewe Forest and the infamous
“Postman’s Path” to Kinlochewe. Alan,
creator of the route, sadist and master of understatement has described this as
a “serious bit of trail”. We head off at 5:55 am. Dave is not enjoying the early ride so an
hour or so in, just as we reach the appropriately named “Coffin Road” trail
into Fisherfield I suggest breakfast. We
brew up and I eat Chorizo and cheddar cheese whilst Dave demolishes a huge
steak slice. We feel better after this
until the first climb. It’s a
monster. It’s so steep you can’t
push. You have to thrust the bike
forward with your arms, pull the brakes step up to the bike and repeat. It’s painful and it takes an age. Near the top we meet some walkers. They are somewhat sceptical that we will get
our bikes through the trails ahead of us.
We have no choice but to get our bikes through.
Next is the river crossing.
It’s a beautiful, imposing remote place.
Described as one of the true wildernesses left in Great Britain – there
is no road for at least 50k in any direction.
Mercifully the river is shallow and we cross unhindered. Another major milestone passed.
What follows is 25k of trail that takes us 5 ½ hours to get
through. Writing this only a few days
later this is a blur. The physicality
was brutal. I had a couple of packets of
nuts, a bit of cheese and some protein bars to get me through. I do remember an amazing exposed descent with
several switchbacks and crossing a causeway across two lochs. It felt like an eternity before we finally
popped out at Loch Maree. Letterewe
Forest had taken its toll on us. Still
though we are in the middle of nowhere.
The Postman’s Path is 12k along the side of the Loch. It took us over 2 ½ hours. In places it simply doesn’t exist. “Serious bit of trail”? Serious pain in the arse. We arrived at the Kinlochewe Hotel exactly 5
minutes after the kitchen had closed. It
was heaving and plates of food were being ferried from the kitchen to the
tables. “I’ll go and see if the chef has
anything he can serve you” says the owner.
Things could have got violent at this point but fortunately she offers
us a bowl of stew and finds us a table.
I drink 3 pints of squash in 20 minutes and we sit in silence,
contemplating what we have come through and the hunger and fatigue that is upon
The waitress brings out two bowls of stew that look like
children’s portions. We have eaten so
little all day that we struggle to finish them though. I don’t eat carbs but I eat the bread roll
that is served me. Outside the wind has
picked up and the rain is lashing against the windows of the bar. It’s 9.30 pm and neither of us can face
leaving the bar let alone riding bikes.
It’s taken us 15 hours to get through today – all 75k of it – and we are
empty. Physically and emotionally
We decide on what Graham Obree describes as motivational
training and order a pint of IPA. Half
way through it I am tipsy so I have a bag of cheese and onion. We ask the barmaid about camping, she
suggests a patch of grass opposite next to the public toilets and car park. Excellent, we’ll have another pint then. And more crisps.
We leave the pub at 10.30pm and pitch up opposite. At least I won’t be shitting in the woods
when I wake up in the morning. The smell
in my tent reminds me of the old people’s home I used to visit my gran in years
ago. I decide to throw away the pair of
socks I am wearing. They are wet and
smell of the death of something or other.
The smell of my shoes is indescribable.
I know I will have to replace them.
Wet for days my feet are shrivelled in agony. Like being in the bath for
days. When they dry out in the sleeping
bag overnight the skin cracks.
We have passed the major milestones of Fisherfield Forest,
the river crossing, Letterewe and the Postman’s path. But it’s taken 15 hours to cover 74k and it’s
really taken it out of us. All our gains
from the previous days are wiped out and we now feel seriously behind
schedule. We know we couldn’t have
physically given any more but we are disappointed never the less.
An early start is in order, the only way to make the time up
is stretch the day, so we leave at 4:58am.
No food means no breakfast. Easy
road start followed by a ride \ hike up through Coulin Forest. Sadly, the cloud is low so we don’t get views
of Torridon to our West. What we ride
though down through Drochaid Coire Lair is one of the finest trails I have ever
seen anywhere and certainly amongst the top handful in Scotland. Even though we’re on the wrong bikes and
we’re laden with kit it’s obvious how special this is. Even the driving rain cant remove the
enjoyment. I think of friend back home
Dave Freeman and how he’s dragged me up any number of Lakeland passes to find
trails like this. He would literally
piss himself with excitement if he rode this.
I have to go back to this one day with my Hightower. I make a mental note.
We press on to Strathcarron, where the hotel is open and
serves us the Full Scottish. Carbs? I order extra toast I am so hungry. We get the usual uplift in spirits and riding
ability from breakfast and head off into the rain once more.
We are making good progress with the fry in us but
experiences of the last couple of days have left us scarred. You look at the trail on the map and you
don’t know whether it’s an hour or five to get through various sections. The “stress” of this seems to add to the
fatigue. Not stress in the sense of
modern life but stress from the worry.
Will we be covering 70k this afternoon or will that 20k section take 4
hours? It affects everything – where you
can stop and sleep, when you arrive at shops, cafes etc. It affects how much sleep you will get and
whether you're putting up your tent in the dark and driving rain. All this results in your brain making
constant calculations, setting and resetting your own internal expectations as
the time slips by.
The long up and over to Dornie, home of the famous castle,
is a bit hit and miss but we make it to Dornie Stores and fill our packs with
food. I drink a 4 pint carton of milk
and eat a whole can of corned beef. I’m
not even sure that I like corned beef?
The next kilometres pass easily and unmemorably by. The next real challenge is getting over the
Glenaffric pass. There are many walkers
coming the other way, most of them German, and to a man they express their
scepticism that we can possibly make it over with our bikes. We of course have no choice, not to mention
the knowledge that we have got through everything so far. It takes an hour or so and is bloody hard
work, it’s also breath taking.
We were told by someone earlier in the day, I can’t remember
who, that the descent was a fast spin down the loch and river to Tomich. It isn't.
it takes an age and is a long, long way away from the top. Dave rips a sidewall. It isn't bad but the tyre won’t hold. We are planning a break in Tomich where there
is a pub so we press on. I leave Dave to
put a tube in his tyre outside the pub, self-sufficiency rules prevent me from
helping him. In the pub I order a drink,
three packets of pork scratchings and several packets of peanuts. “We sell real food” the barman tells me, I
don’t have time I explain, I am heading for Fort Augustus. “Tonight?
Over the top? That’s a long
We leave Tomich after being on the move for 14 hours. It’s 30k to Fort Augustus and we both want to
make it. The state of the trail over the
next 15k will dictate things. We feel we
need to make FA, tomorrow is the last day and we want to give ourselves the
best chance we can.
We climb on a steep but easy fireroad. Progress isn't quick but we are pushing
pedals and discussing how it’s possible to keep the body and legs moving for so
long. We randomly both independently
reach the conclusion that the finest Utd player in living memory is Cantona. We finally reach the top and realise there is
no surprise, no pushing, no shitty unrideable footpath were our speed plummets
to 3k an hour. We both know we won’t be
giving up until FA now however late it gets.
The final climb and descent is on Wade’s road into FA. It was built for the English troops to march
on after Culloden so we know it will be OK.
We descend in darkness and deliriousness into FA and finally
stop at 11:30. We find a playground with a BMX halfpipe and some flat grass and
pitch up without hesitation. We have been
on the move for 18 hours now. I joke
with Dave that some people don’t manage that much riding on a 24 solo! We turn in at 12:30 am, I set my alarm for 3
½ hours later.
I don’t know how to feel now. I am so tired I could cry myself to
sleep. The end is so close, just a day
away. But I know I also don’t want it to
Today we have ridden 143k, climbed just over 3k and been on
the go for 18 hours.
We roll out of FA at 4:42 am. Onto the canal path for the flat run into
Fort William. This would normally be so
easy but the legs don’t work, it’s hard to sit down, finding any rhythm is
impossible. I’d prefer a climb to be
honest. It forces you to put the effort
in and get the legs moving. A brief stop
for roast chicken and cheddar cheese breakfast.
It takes us over 3 hours to ride the almost 50k to FW. We head straight into town to the Morrison’s
and its café. I order the “Big
Scotsman”, with extra black pudding, extra sausage, pint of milk, coffee and
coke. Did I mention carbs? Potato scone, fried bread and toast. I mention to Dave that I may never be able to
eat again in my life. It takes me 15
minutes to buy some provisions and get back to my bike in the car park. I am already eating again as I pack them away.
I know the rest of the route now. Or at least I think I do. I have ridden all or parts of it before. It’s just the West Highland Way from FB to
Tyndrum. Just. I remember when this would have felt like an
epic ride to me in its own right. The
suns out and its starting to get hot. As
I am putting on some sun cream I comment that I am now using the last piece of
kit that has so far been unused.
The first miles are fun and the rolling wide trail to
Kinlochleven is proving to be pretty much ridable. There are lots of people. Lots and lots. The further we get along the track to
Kinlochleven the more people there are.
We are not used to people, we are used to long empty tracks where we
perhaps see a handful of people in a whole day.
It doesn’t take long for me to get bored of saying hello to people. We are applauded, whistled at and
saluted. I think this is more to do with
the Devil’s Staircase that is yet to come.
It always surprises me that people think you don’t know what you're
doing. Scores of people tell us we’ll struggle
to get through later up the trail.
Really??! We’ve come something
like 850k to this point and we’re not getting over the staircase? They don’t know this of course.
I have to stop on the descent to Kinlochleven. My hands are
buzzing from the hits and drops. At the
bottom I unlock my fork and it feels much better after that! A coffee, more food and 20 minutes in the sun
in kinlochleven and we’re off again.
Dave has never ridden the staircase and I am trying to recall it from my
hazy memories of 10 years ago. It’s not
rideable Dave I say. Too steep at the
bottom and too rocky further up. But we
ride. And keep riding. I don’t know how but we clean the vast
majority of the super steep double track that is the first 4k or so of the
climb. Clearly my legs are a bit
stronger than they were 10 years ago!
There are people everywhere now and the comments and applause
continue. As do the helpful comments
about not getting over the top.
We meet an English family and the dad asks what we’re up
to. “You’re not doing the Highland 550
are you?” WTF. Nobody has ever heard of the H550. My wife has no idea what I’m doing and half
my cycling friends don’t know what it is.
“Is that miles or kilometres” they usually ask. This chap has been to a speech by non-other
than Lee Craigie, so he knows all about it.
We’re off the bikes and for an hour or so we’re on and off
as the rocky trail dictates. The little
Shepherd finally comes into view over the horizon in Glen Coe and we’re
there. A few pictures. A helpful chat with a German chap. “I think you will find the drop here a bit
too much down”. Whatever that
means. Red rag to us we’re off. And we clean most of it. We have become rather adept at manhandling
these heavy inappropriate bikes down some pretty serious trails. Perhaps it’s the effort involved in getting
on and off that pushes us into taking a deep breath and keeping going.
It’s harder than I remember climbing over to the Kings
House. There are dozens of young people
lounging around drinking in the sun. It
looks like some sort of mecca for backpackers, and a little out of place. Last time I was here a few years ago it was
We stop next to Glen Coe Ski village and I fall asleep for a
moment on the grass, late night, early start, huge effort, excessive sun and
dehydration. A car passes and beeps its
horn. I take this as a sign to get up
and get moving.
We are 25k or so from Tyndrum now – we need to get this over
the line but the next 3 hours will take an age.
I am expecting an uplift in spirits and a “final second wind” but it
doesn’t come. If anything it’s the
opposite. Subconsciously I don’t think I
want it to end even though I am desperate to finish.
We pass a man dressed as a banana. A little time later Dave asks me what I think
of him. I reply honestly, total
ambivalence. I put in a big effort to
churn the pedals to Bridge of Orchy. I
can see Beinn Dorain now so I know we’re close.
It’s the same scene at Bridge of Orchy Hotel as the Kings House. We opt to just press on.
The final 8k or so take an age and then suddenly its 3k to
go, then 2. I remember this climb at the
beginning so it’s all downhill to the end now.
We roll into the Green Welly 6 days, 12 hours and 15 minutes
after we left. I am not sure either of
us really knows how we should feel but we know we have achieved something
big. We’re on a high, we’re relieved,
exhausted and elated. After a few
pictures, words and fist pumps we hug and then buy some beers. I think we’re a bit in shock really.
We have literally come full circle as we get into some
“civvies” and head to the Tyndrum Hotel for a pint. There are a group of bikepackers sat at a
table. The H550 mass start is in 2 days’
time so we know why they're here. The
event attracts people from all over the world now. Lycra, facial hair, Italian riding caps, pony
tails and foreign accents. They stand
out a mile. We grab a pint and I go back
out to talk to them. They are not overly
friendly. “Who’s bike is that I ask?”,
“Are you doing the 550?”. We receive a
couple of grunts in reply. “We’ve just
finished about an hour ago”, I say, “6 days 12 hours.” They all stop talking and it’s like a switch
with them. “Sit down boys”, “How was
it?”, “How’s the river crossing?”, “How was Fisherfield?” We talk to them for half an hour or so as
they are eager for any bit of information we can give them. Only one has attempted the ride before and he
didn’t make it. I am trying to explain a
couple of sections of trail and how many hours it will take them. I can see they don’t believe me. “You’re shit” their thinking. “Of course I’ll be able to ride it.” I am not the strongest rider I know but I
know what's rideable and what isn't. I
also know that when you're off and pushing through boulder fields we all move
at pretty much the same pace.
I finish the conversation by saying I am glad I am in the
position of having finished and not waiting to get going, I am also probably a
bit jealous of the adventure and journey ahead of them. We wish them luck and repair to the pub.
After 2 more pints and a big steak we are nodding off and
head back to Dave’s camper. The
exhaustion means I can’t even walk in a straight line across the Green Welly
carpark. Too tired to think I am asleep
in seconds. Now we have finished it’s like
the brain relaxes and the body lets go a bit. My hands and feet are sore and
tingling, days later they still will be.