The route for my H2H (Highlands to Home) adventure tour was never a secret. I had published it already on my Rig Testing blog entry. But as the start date grew closer, it did raise more than a few questions in the circle of friends planning to dot-watch my progress. The principle of these being, why ride all that way and not carry on to Land’s End?
The answer to that is simple, if rather winding. Originally, this was never intended as a JOGLE attempt. The first incarnations were based around the idea of riding from my home town of Sidmouth down through France and Spain to Gibraltar. But even before COVID would have forced that to change, a large dose of reality had shifted my goals. After more than a year away from distance riding, and absolutely no experience of solo touring, it was hard to gauge if I still had the enthusiasm and will power for long days out on the bike. It was my still sorely missed riding buddy T who unknowingly gave me the answer to that one in his words spoken at the start of Munga:
“Now all we have to do is ride home”
Those words helped me reshape the ride over a period of months into something that still offered plenty of adventure and personal discovery, but with a little more control over the outcome. I opted to explore some of the UK rather than go overseas, and scaled back the ride to 1,000 miles (1,700km) spread over 10 days, starting at the farthest point and riding back to my home. Doing so both limited the likelihood of abandoning, and also reduced the hassle of getting back on public transport if my passion for the ride did falter. I briefly flirted with the idea of including Land’s End, but I know myself. After all that time on the bike, there was no way I would feel like riding past my front door , only to have to get the train back there the next day. Nope, JOGLE (or LEJOG) would remain where it always was – as a goal for some future time, when a bunch of mates can be rallied together to share the adventure with.
14th August 2020 – Transit Day
Of all the “new normal” – but completely far from anything resembling normal – things I have done of late, flying to Inverness was definitely the most surreal. Bristol airport, which would normally have been mobbed with holiday makers, felt more like a shopping mall that had fallen badly out of fashion, and had no sales on to draw crowds. It was eerily quiet – almost library reading room quiet. Most of the cafes and many of the shops were closed. A handful of people were sat on the benches or milling around – it seemed barely enough to fill one of the surprising number of flights still departing. As it turned out, most of them seemed to be bound for Inverness, because our plane was largely full. Row upon row of mask wearing travellers – it’s hard to picture a more doomsday like scene. I ended up ordering a tea, not because I especially wanted one, but doing so gave me a few moments of fresh air where I could drop my mask without feeling self-conscious about doing so.
Despite all the bike trips – I have never arrived by plane with a bike in a cardboard box, with the intention of actually leaving the airport by bike. I was a tad nervous about how that might play out – visions of either being accused of littering, or arrested by the police for leaving a large unattended package. Another part of me though was excited about the simplicity of it – fly somewhere, unpack your bike, and ride off. And, as it turned out, the answer to the littering-cum-potential-terrorism problem was really rather simple. Next to the baggage carousel was an open door to the office were the airport cleaners were based. They very helpfully directed me to a large space to one side of the airport where the recycling bins were. It took me a while to unpack and assemble the full rig, but eventually one of the bins was a little fuller than it had been, and my transport away from the airport was ready. In the process I kicked myself for one thing, and patted myself on the back for another. The blue straps I left at home thinking they were for the GoPro which did not make the list, turned out to have been be the essential straps for attaching my bar bag. Luckily the short Voile straps I’d packed “just in case”, but with no expectation of using filled the job almost better than the Velcro originals. After a last tug on those plus every other strap, I turned on my daytime flashers and rolled out of the airport.
0KM – 14th Aug, 16:22 – Inverness Airport
The idea of travelling up later on a Friday was to allow time for a short test ride into Inverness itself, with the option of getting to a bike shop that afternoon if anything had got lost or damaged in transit. Luckily, it was an unnecessary precaution – the bike rolled smooth and true along the back lanes, and sections of cycle path into town, and instead of worrying about mechanicals I could look up and enjoy the scenery. Barely out of the airport I passed a sign to the battlefield of Culloden, the final defeat of the Jacobite uprising in 1746 and the end of their attempt to have Charles Stuart recognised as the rightful heir to the British throne. I was tempted to take a detour and go have a look – but my desire to find my B&B and get food and a beer was stronger.
Unfortunately, though strong, that desire was also a tad misguided. Failing to notice the slight right turn in my GPS track, I sailed past my accommodation, through the pedestrianised city centre, and was merrily pedalling along the river snapping photos in the glorious late afternoon sunshine before I realised I was about to exit the City and start on tomorrow’s journey up the coast. I laughed at myself as I span back past the shops and up the hill to meet Kenny at the Silverstands Guest House. We’d swapped so many emails with the re-planning of dates around COVID, it felt like we already knew each other. I turned out to be the only guest staying that night, which prompted my host to very kindly allow me to store the bike in the downstairs hall and also put breakfast in the fridge of my room when he realised how early I wanted to depart. All that remained was to go hunt out that beer, and quite by luck, a delicious wood fired pizza too – the aroma from the smoking oven just smelled too good to walk past.