I woke on the morning of day three and wondered if we were going to continue. A bad cold courtesy of the flight over, and painful right knee as a result of a poor bike fit, started to play with my head. Karyn had skin off where the sun never shines and was developing an Achilles problem. We were struggling. This was not what the travel brochure suggested.
At the beginning of the journey at Lands End, our lovely guide, Peter, said that the reason we cycle to the North was due to the prevailing winds. “They always come from the South at this time of year”.
After five days of fierce winds from the North and climbs that make Mt Cootha feel like a walk in the park, we were still struggling. The cold had run its course, but the knife in the knee remained in place right to the bitter end. Karyn, in her usual way was as tough as teak.
I reminded Peter of his sales pitch, and after admitting that the wind direction was a little unusual he said that we should wait until we arrived in Scotland. “Then you will see the sad looks on the faces of those poor buggers riding South, as they battle against the elements”.
I suppose that part of the reason we kept riding each day was because of our group. They were amazing. Some looked like they could not ride out of sight on a dark night, and their bikes were heavy, flat bars, no cleats and loaded with panniers. But at the end of the each day, they would be there. I think it was their inspiration that got me through.
Eventually, we did get to Scotland, but the wind remained the same. It was on the nose in more ways than one. Scotland was facing the coldest June in over forty years and we were in the middle of it. On occasions it was difficult to just move forward, even on the flat.
And then came the highlands and the ski fields. After leaving one peak for the descent, my bike started to wobble out of control. I stopped three times within one hundred metres to check that everything on the bike was in place. Finally it struck me that I was cold. I was shivering so much that it was causing the bike to develop the death wobbles. With temperatures near freezing, strong wind and rain, I didn’t think that I would get off the mountain. But I did, and so did everyone else.
Towards the end of that particular day, Karyn and I had convinced ourselves that with only 18k to go, we had completed all the climbing required and it would be down hill to the finish. We hadn’t counted on ‘The Lecht’. It is listed as one of the top ten cycling climbs in the UK. We took it on in horrendous conditions and after a day of constant climbing.
Karyn was off the bike and walking. Ahead of me, I could see two of our strongest riders walking as well. At 28% incline, the wind and rain on the nose, and the road disappearing upward into the mist, I threw in the towel and walked. I was very disappointed.
Back on the bike, we finally made it to the top. Conditions were poor to say the least. Visibility was close to white out. Then down we went. Karyn, in her usual form, shot off like a canon. She was keen to finish. I finally caught up with her just after she arrived at our lovely hotel in the highest village in Scotland. It has the record of the coldest temperature ever recorded in Scotland. (-29 degrees). It felt a little like that as we finished. An hour or so after Karyn and I were washed and changed and ready for a beer, the last of our riders arrived. Cold and wet, but all completed the journey and no one got in the support van. Just amazing. For me, it was the toughest day of all on the bike.
Things improved after that. Most of the climbing was completed, the wind eased (slightly) and we headed into Inverness and then on to the North coast of Scotland. It is absolutely jaw dropping in its beauty.
On our last day of riding (day 19) we turned East to ride across the top of Scotland to our destination of John O’Groats in the North West corner of the country. For some reason, the ever present wind decided to change as well. This time it came from the East. What’s new?
It was a great relief to complete the ride and finally stand under the John O’Groats sign. We had ridden over 1700 ks and climbed 21,219 metres. The equivalent of two and a quarter Mt Everests. We celebrated together in the rain and the wind and toasted our good fortune in completing the journey without any mishap. Our guides, Peter, Richard and John, from Skedaddle were sensational.
Karyn and I discussed the value or otherwise of taking on such a task over an extended period. Would a shorter ride be better? It did become a mind game, and I had to change my thinking to get through each day.
It was in fact a glorious ride with stunning scenery and a wonderful group spirit. Our good friend Colin from Noosa was a stand out. He rode strongly each day and kept everyone in good humour.
In addition, once again I learnt to never judge a book by its cover.