Gosh. Where to start.
I was thinking about what to write in this blog quite a lot during the (many) hours of cycling over the weekend, but haven’t had the chance to sit down to write anything, due to lack of wifi/computer/time etc, but mostly through total exhaustion. And actually now we’re home I am desperate to get into my own bed and stay there for a week, but I think I need to do this now before I forget everything. That being said, I’m also trying to put together some photos and video footage from the trip to include in the blog and the computer is struggling enormously with this multi-tasking (it is behaving as if it has also just cycled to Skye and is similarly exhausted and therefore unable to perform this unfeasibly large task) and so maybe it will be the middle of the night before we get finished. And I should also apologise I think at this point in advance for the length of this blog – I feel a long one coming on, but it seems such a lot has happened since last Thursday – so please bear with me.
Day 1: Beatson to King’s House Hotel, Glencoe, 76 miles
We set off early from the Beatson on Thursday morning (was it really only Thursday?!). Dad and I had brought our bikes and bags into my office on Wednesday night for logistical reasons much to the bemused looks of all the visitors in the hospital (who don’t often see two rather dubiously dressed people struggling to squeeze two bikes and a lot of luggage through a very small door into an office) but it made for a slightly easier start on Thursday morning. We quickly met the rest of our fellow cyclists in the Beatson car park, and the team from Sport Ecosse who were our guides and support for the duration of the challenge, led by a rather scary looking Kevin, who looked as if he could have cycled down from Skye that morning before we started without breaking a sweat.
We had a very quick de-brief and lovely send off from supporters at the Beatson before heading out on to Great Western Road, and we were off. We cut through Morrison’s car park to get to the canal, and before we were successfully through the car park, we had lost a chain, and two people had fallen off their bikes already due to cleat disconnection failure. I had the uncontrollable urge to laugh in that slightly hysterical panicky way, whilst thinking ‘we’ll never make it out of Glasgow alive, let alone all the way to Skye’. Glancing nervously over at Kevin he seemed to be having a similar thought, but everyone managed to get sorted quickly and onto the canal without much further ado.
We followed the canal all the way to Balloch rather uneventfully. We very quickly established a natural order of cyclists, with the elite group of Sean, Simon and Kirsten at the front, and the rest of us essentially at the back. I spent much of the morning chatting to Mark, a cancer survivor and keen cyclist who was keen to take part in this event as a thank you for the treatment he received. Unfortunately poor Mark was knocked off his bike by a car six weeks ago and badly injured his knee and was in fact advised not to do the event at all, but was determined to take part, so in the end settled on ‘just’ doing the first day.
By mid way along the canal it had started to pour. I seem to have a habit of only doing these sporting events in extremes of weather. It was at this point that I noticed my lovely new Garmin had decided to stop recording the distance (it missed out the last 3-4 miles before Inverbeg), hence the slight discrepancy in distances. The cycle path from Balloch along Loch Lomond was drenched and covered in leaves, and it was at this point I discovered that my very slick tyres that I have difficulty enough stopping at the best of times, were essentially impossible to stop in the heavy rain which made for a rather hazardous last 10 miles of the morning but we made it to the Inverbeg Inn soaked to the skin but relatively unscathed in time for lunch.
Unfortunately the same was not true for fellow cyclist Maeve. Maeve’s Dad is currently receiving treatment for leukaemia at the Beatson, and she and her friend Leeanne signed up to do this event for him. They are both novice cyclists but have been training for a few months, and then poor Leeanne had an altercation with a car a fortnight ago and really hurt her clavicle – it wasn’t broken or she wouldn’t have been able to take part, but was giving her a lot of pain before even setting off. Almost immediately after setting off however it was clear that there was an issue with Maeve’s bike – it had gone in for a service last week and it transpired the pedals seemed to have been put back on too tight, and as a result she was having real difficulty unclipping every time she stopped. So before we’d even reached Balloch poor Maeve was black and blue from falling over nearly every time we had to stop. But then in the torrential rain on the banks of Loch Lomond, the bike went away from under her, and she landed hard on her side, so by the time Maeve and Leeanne reached us for lunch, Maeve was in real trouble.
We set off after lunch for what was to be I think the most difficult bit of the entire journey. We had managed just over 30 miles on the flat (albeit rather wet) before lunch, but we had about 45 miles still to go. The first part remained quite flat, but was on the road after Tarbet, and the narrow windy A82 at that. The relief of the road widening out was short-lived as we found ourselves on the five-mile climb into Crianlarich. It was at this point that I started to swear. Mark was very much my partner in swearing crime on the hills. But you just can’t stop pedalling. Because if you stop it will only be harder to start on a hill. So on we peddled, to a very welcome hot cup of tea and re-group before heading out again through Tyndrum and towards Glencoe. The steep hill out of Tyndrum nearly finished me off, and in fact did finish poor Mark’s knee off, which finally gave out towards the top, but he managed an heroic sixty odd miles with that injury on the day which I think is an amazing achievement.
At the top of the hill, we stopped for a chocolate biscuit and drink (left out by the most fabulous support team) and Dad (who had cycled this route before) reliably informed me not to worry, that was the last hill of the day and it was down hill from then on. At which point we got back on bikes, turned the next bend, only to be greeted by another long uphill stretch, whereupon I would have cried, had I had the energy. We also thought we only had about 6 miles to go, but it turned out to be ten, in driving rain, fading light and a tremendously strong crosswind that we thought was going to blow us into the paths of the oncoming lorries (I did anyway). I nearly passed out with relief when I saw the little yellow arrow pointing to the King’s House Hotel, our home for the night. As we cycled down the drive to the hotel we were greeted by the astonishing site of a herd of almost tame deer which made me smile for the first time in what seemed like hours.
We reconvened with Mark who had been picked up by the support van, as indeed had Yvonne and Bianca, but Leeanne and her clavicle and Maeve and her knees, elbow, hands, shoulder (etc etc) unbelievably soldiered on and made it to the hotel – such a test of grit and endurance I’m not sure I’ve ever seen. I defrosted in a somewhat peaty bath, but never have I enjoyed a bath so much, then nearly fell asleep into my tea before going to bed.
And in fact I need to go to bed now too. So I’ll carry on with day 2 and 3 tomorrow…..