Day 2: King’s House Hotel to Spean Bridge, 36.5 miles
So this was our ‘recovery day’. If anyone had told me even a week ago that a near 40 mile cycle would be classed as a recovery day I would have laughed out loud, but actually compared to Thursday this really was a relief. Having thought I would sleep like the dead on Thursday night, I actually slept very fitfully and found everyone else much the same at breakfast (exhausted and somewhat glassy eyed). We had a relatively late start in the still pouring rain but beautiful surroundings of Glencoe. A beautiful rainbow framed the road as we set off, immediately uphill somewhat unsurprisingly. Something that became increasingly clear throughout this journey was that every stop, whether long or short, was followed instantly by a big hill, just when your legs had cooled down. This relatively short incline was followed by a long descent which would have been marvellous had it not been for the driving wind and rain, complicated by Dad’s chain coming off half way down which didn’t help matters. The weather however improved, the route flattened out and we were really able to enjoy a rather leisurely cycle through Glencoe, over the Ballachulish Bridge and to Fort William for a downright lazy lunch.
We had a real chance to get to know everyone better on day 2, and we learned about each individual’s reasons for taking part. Maeve and Leeanne as I mentioned were doing this as Maeve’s Dad fights leukaemia. Poor Leeanne had lost her right hand woman by now and was soldiering on herself (it had become clear on Thursday night that Maeve had done herself some serious damage, and she spent most of Friday in A&E getting X-Rays). Kirsten and Simon (her husband) were doing it as a thank you to the Beatson who treated Kirsten’s dad a few years ago and Sean’s family has also recently been affected by cancer.
Russell is the chaplain at the Beatson and spends much of his time with in-patients on the wards there. And I must say, having had the fortune of spending time with him on this trip, I can only imagine the support and comfort he must provide for the patients and their families while they are going through some of the most difficult times. And of course the lovely Yvonne and Bianca who work in the physics department at the Beatson. The physics department support the planning and administration of radiotherapy, and as a medical oncologist I don’t ever give radiotherapy, so to be totally honest, I’m not quite sure what it all involves, but I don’t think they have much contact with the patients. And I think that is a great shame, because again I can only imagine that any patient’s day would be much improved by some interaction with either of these two delightful ladies.
After lunch we had a relatively short ride to Spean Bridge. Mum had picked Jamie and Holly up on Friday morning (our fabby nanny Julie had stayed overnight on Thursday with Paul off in Vegas) and driven up so they could join us for the rest of the weekend. We had relaxed tea and even caught a wee bit of the new series of Strictly Come Dancing before heading to bed.
Day 3: Spean Bridge to Kyleakin, Skye, 67.5 miles
Another early start as we were setting off for what would be for most of us, our final day’s cycling, at 8.30am. We met for our morning brief from Kevin. I mentioned in the first blog that Kevin looked a bit scary (in that athletic cyclisty sort of way). In fact it turns out that Kevin is a saint. Not only did he work out most (?all) of the logistics of the journey, he and his team looked after us all the entire time. Despite clearly being capable of (and probably desperate to) cycle way out front with the elites, Kevin stayed almost exclusively at the very back, checking everyone was OK. At no time did he even look impatient, cross or bored. He genuinely must be the most patient man I have ever met. And all whilst being sustained entirely it seems on black coffee and guinness.
Kevin gave us a debriefing before each stage, which he always kept a secret until we were about to head off (I think for fear of putting us off), and it became clear that the bigger the smile the news was delivered with, generally the worse it was. I think it was his way of breaking it to us gently. When we met on Saturday morning for our briefing, the smile on Kevin’s face was the broadest I’d seen, which filled me with dread (rightly it transpired).
We set off and were faced with (obviously) an immediate one mile steep climb out of Spean Bridge. On cold, tired legs, clad now in mostly still soggy and definitely fragrant lycra, this was just torture. When we were nearly at the top, at the point when I thought I was going to either fall off or my lungs were going to explode, my Garmin beeped with a message. My Garmin remains a bit of a mystery to me, but it is on the front of my bike so I can see how far we’ve gone (so I can see how far we have to go until we can stop) and it seems to speak to my phone somehow. Anyway, just at this ‘can’t go any further’ point up pops this message from my friend Mairi saying ‘come on, one day to go!’ and it genuinely spurred me on to the top. Nearly cried. Thank you my lovely.
What followed was probably our hardest chunk of cycling. But for the first time it had stopped raining and we had some really fabulous scenery to content ourselves with (when we could breathe). Mum and the kids supported us through this and stopped, unbeknownst to us, halfway up the toughest hill to cheer us on which made a massive difference. And our reward was an enormous descent which was one of the most exhilarating things I think I’ve ever done. All you actual cyclists will laugh at this, but I reached 31.5 mph on the way down and thought I was going to take off. Another wee tear was shed here. A final cycle round Loch Cluanie and we finally made it to the Cluanie Inn for some welcome lunch. By this point everyone was dropping like flies. Sean’s knee was playing up (not that you’d know – he was still miles ahead of everyone) and similarly William had been increasingly struggling with his knee throughout the ride (not that he’d complained once about it) but we knew it was getting bad because by Saturday he was cycling at the same speed as us. I’ve not really mentioned William yet. He is a fundraiser for the Beatson Cancer Charity and organised the event from their side of things. He was our liaison during the run up and really sorted us all out and dealt with (certainly my) 20 million questions before the event. He was calm, supportive and fun throughout the whole cycle and such a great ambassador for the charity. He wasn’t looking too hot on Saturday lunchtime though if I’m totally honest……
And Leanne battled on as ever. Despite her clavicle, which was worse on hills, and Saturday was only hills, she just kept going. A total trouper. We were a little anxious about Yvonne and Bianca, but bless their hearts they arrived, somewhat sweaty and tear-stained in time for lunch. For novice cyclists their perseverance on Saturday morning was unbelievable – they refused to be beaten by the dreadful hills – totally fabulous.
After lunch, although much less hilly, we were really done in and the few hills we did encounter seemed twice as big as they actually were. But we reached Eilean Donan Castle on the banks of Loch Duich which was beautiful, then onwards to Kyle of Lochalsh, where we re-grouped before heading to the Skye Bridge. The first glimpse we got of the Skye Bridge would have brought tears to a glass eye (and therefore many to mine), and may I say many more tears when we realised how bloody steep the bloody Skye Bridge is.
But we got up it, and then we got down the other side, and then we were on Skye. And I’m not sure any of us could quite believe it.
So I’m nearly done. I’ve just one or two wee things more to say. I’ve not said much about the support team, other than marvellous Kevin. His team were equally marvellous and this trip would have been impossible without them. On the first day, Brian drove the support car with our constant supply of refreshments and ’emergency’ bags – he was there at every stop and directing us where to go. On the second and third days, he was out cycling with us, checking we were all OK, keeping us all safe, offering help and guidance and just been generally great. Alan just joined us on day 2 and in fact spent most of that day with Maeve at the hospital, but then provided us with our much needed sustenance en route on day 3. And lovely Paul – he wasn’t cycling on this journey (although I’m sure would have loved to) but was just a huge support throughout. He drove the big support van at the back with all our luggage, but he did much more than that. He went back and forwards making sure there were big yellow arrows pointing us in the right direction (how we loved those yellow arrows – it usually meant food was close) (and indeed if it wasn’t for those big yellow arrows, I’d undoubtedly have ended up in John O’Groats), but also told us about secret chocolate biscuits at the tops of hills and dished out cuddles at all times. Thank you to you all.
I need to mention the bike. I’d like to say my bike, but of course she’s not mine, just kindly on loan. I now look upon her like an old friend and feel as if we have been through this adventure together. What is absolutely clear to me is that there is no way I would have managed this without that bike. When I went to pick her up from the Beatson when we got back to Glasgow, I had to move Yvonne’s bike out the way and could barely lift it. My admiration for her has increased even further – I couldn’t have got her bike up a single hill, let alone the whole way to Skye. So Jenny (owner of bike) a massive, massive thank you again for lending me this lovely thing for the summer. If you think you’d ever like to sell her please let me know because I’m a little bit in love with her and don’t really want to be parted from her.
And finally a word about my totally fabulous dad. He didn’t get a great deal of choice about doing this. He is a lifelong cyclist but hasn’t done quite as much in recent years. At 71 he was by far the oldest of our group, but one of the best (far better than me) and he didn’t leave my side the whole time. He let me whizz off at the fast bits but waited patiently for me at every hill as I ground to a near standstill. He took my wind virtually the entire time (hence why almost the entire movie has him in front of me) and I really couldn’t have done it without him. Dad thank you. You are a wonder. And marvellous mum who followed with Jamie and Holly the last two days and supported us all. It was so great to have you all there and made a huge difference – thank you to you too.
Here is a wee movie of our adventure: