Where Was I?
It was now Thursday morning, having left JOG the morning before. To summarise the challenge so far, it would be fair to say the weather was being a little unkind. The weeks building up to challenge we had a lot of sun, typical of what you’d expect from mid-May really. The very second I stepped off the train in Thurso the rain began. I’m not even exaggerating for comic effect here; that is genuinely when the first drops of rain started; I just didn’t think too much of it at the time. I was now in a hotel in Bonar Bridge; a non-optional budget extension having been exposed to a prolonged head-on battle with the elements all of the previous afternoon and early evening. Hopefully today would be a better day…
I had decided to make the most of the option of a cooked breakfast in the morning, as in my experience it really does help in getting a good start to the day. This meant I was out of the door and cycling by about 8:00am. The weather at this point was dreary but not raining, so I took that as a win.
At 8:02am just down the road, it started drizzling. I didn’t mind too much however, as this would make it less likely to rain in the evening, where I wouldn’t be able to dry off before camping out. I reasoned that if Scotland could do ALL of its raining before 12pm, I’d have plenty of time to dry off and be happy as Larry from then on.
The weather did in fact clear up and by mid-morning the sun was out. I was still having a very hard time of the headwind, as I still was not a confident cyclist and every time the wind would try and take control of the handle bars, it was unnerving, especially on the downhill.
As it happened, most of that morning was predominantly downhill. I remember there was a bit of a climb on a bit called Struie Hill (or something like that). There were a few great views up here and for a time it was actually easier than the flat bits, due to being protected from the wind.
The wind picked up big time when I reached the summit, but who cares? I was going downhill now; all I had to try and do now was not to let it push me over sideways, which it valiantly attempted every time it noticed I wasn’t paying as much attention.
Before I knew it, I was in familiar territory going through places like Alness and Evanton as I had done on my run last year. I even managed accidentally to find myself on the main A9 road, which I explicitly said I would never set foot on again after the arduous torment it provided me with for days on end during LEJOG.
I was a happy hobbit once more once I found a roundabout to leave the A9 and get back on my planned course towards Muir of Ord and eventually to Loch Ness.
It was amusing me at this point how many people I spoke to were asking me how I wasn’t cold in just my thin, windproof jacket and non-cycling shorts, as the weather was sunny but had a bit of a chill in the air. “not yet” was my typical response. How right I was…
By early afternoon, I had covered about 100km and found myself right by Loch Ness. I made my first proper stop for the day here, just for a quick coffee in a place called “Nessieland”. I knew the road along Loch Ness was a good one, so quite fancied being a little more fresh for it.
You soon realise when you get alongside Loch Ness that it’s a big rascal! 20 miles I felt like I was going for before it disappeared from view. I was delirious at this point with how well things were going. I was making good pace on the miles and the weather was holding out nicely. I made my next stop in Fort William for half an hour or so, which was pretty touristy. I remember feeling like I could go on at this pace all day if things continue as they are. They didn’t.
In hindsight, I probably should have read the signs here and stopped again around Glencoe a few miles down the road and found shelter. The clouds had begun to gather malignantly and I also didn’t realise quite how far it would be before the next potential place of shelter.
It started to rain again at the precise location where it became impractical to turn back. Full on proper rain as well like you’d see in a storm; not like the pathetic summer drizzle from that morning. I figured I would just have to power through and hope to dry off later on. After all, it couldn’t possibly do what relentlessly it did to me last night AGAIN; that would be unlucky to the point of being suspicious.
The further into Glencoe Valley I got, the more powerfully the wind and rain would channel itself directly at me, head-on! I still felt quite strong, but the cold was just starting to affect me now. The violent shivers induced by the wind saps your energy very quickly and every time the rain entered an extra heavy spell, it hits you like a confidence bullet. After hours of this relentless wind and rain and brutal attack to the senses, I had genuine thoughts that my number might be up.
Looking back now, I can’t help but think I was being a bit overdramatic; but these were my genuine thoughts at the time. I’ve even got a notepad entry on my phone with all this stuff written down in all seriousness.
What happens is your confidence plummets to a point where it completely abandons you when you get that inescapably cold. I started thinking things like ‘how long it would take an ambulance to get to me if I called for one?’ I also noticed how little traffic there was and wondered ‘how long it would take a passing motorist to notice me if I collapsed?’ This is all quite genuine; I wrote this down as a memo on my phone because for a good 20 minutes or so, I actually thought I might not make it as far as the next village. It didn’t help that I had no idea how far the next village or town was.
The next village in question was a place called Bridge of Orchy where I started to search for potential places to sleep for the night in a bid to not freeze to death in my soaked attire and my far from warming bivvi and sleeping bag. I asked at a hotel and they were fully booked, but told me there was a youth hostel just up the hill across the road. “brilliant!” I thought, that’ll do nicely. Now that I’d stopped, my body went into a full on convulsive shivering mode in an effort to make me warmer, which was quite comical now I think about it. I must have looked like a really low budget stop-motion animation, pushing my bike up that hill.
Unfortunately, when I got to the top, the owner told me they were also full up; I’d need to try the next place along in a town called Tyndrum, which was about five miles down the road. He then went on to give me a lecture on how everywhere is always busy in May and that I really needed to have booked in advance, but I’d stopped listening by that point. I didn’t have the energy or enthusiasm to try and explain that I had no way of predicting in advance where I’d be that second; I hadn’t planned on staying anywhere in fact! I had simply incorrectly planned for a summer challenge as opposed to the winter one I’d been gifted with this May…
I then very stiffly got back on the bike and tried to get moving again. My frustration had actually given me some more energy to work with somehow and I knew what I had to do. I just had to ride another five more miles before I could get warm again… hopefully.
I relied quite heavily here on shouting at myself (loudly), and shouting at the weather to get me through the next five miles and stay focused; a technique I developed throughout the early evening, particularly when the rain turned to hail briefly for a short but painful duration.
I made it to Tyndrum and sure enough, every hotel, B&B and hobbit home (yes, really) had a sign up saying “full”. The only hotel I could find that had space was a bit swankier than my normal choice and they wanted £60 for the evening. Is that normal? I’ve no idea, so I said I’d have another go at finding somewhere cheaper first. After I fruitlessly returned, the girl at reception said the manager could do me a deal of £50, which I gratefully accepted, leaving the small matter of credit card bill in the capable hands of ‘future Frodo’.
So there I was at night number ‘two’ and once again as I put my head down to sleep, I found myself thinking that the worst must SURELY be behind me now…