H2H – Day 5

695km – 19 Aug, 06:36 – Fort William

At least one of my plans from the previous night was still roughly on track – I was up and out early in an attempt to beat the traffic. I had not, of course, been noisy in my exit, although carrying rather than wheeling my bike was mostly an attempt to slip past the night manager and avoid any awkward questions. He didn’t seem remotely bothered though, and wished me a good journey as I returned the key and stepped out into another damp, grey morning. And indeed, the roads were not that busy, but they were not that pleasant either. The few vehicles travelling south were mostly large trucks who seemed never to have heard of safe passing distances for cyclists. My second encounter with the A82 did at least confirm that I wanted no more time on it than absolutely necessary – a feeling that transferred itself through my cranks, picking up some pace as it did so. It was a good job too – as the expected 10km of busy road ended up being 20km – clearly my previous evening’s map studying had been somewhat awry.

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H2H – Day 4

The day started with a rather comical scene – a group of lycra clad cyclists, stood at the foot of the narrow stairwell from their rooms, waiting to get back into downstairs reception area of the hotel (which was locked). Eventually, after debating the Fire Escape as an option (and whether it was alarmed) some sounds of life were heard emanating from the bar/dining area, and a couple of loud knocks got the door unlocked, accompanied by profuse apologies for it not having been done at the usual time of 7am. Whilst stood waiting the charity group riders gave varied descriptions of their route. As it had last night, it still sounded fairly similar to mine and I wondered if our paths would cross during the day. I was going to be on the road an hour and a half ahead of them, due to the only breakfast slot the hotel could offer being rather too late. But I was sure some of the group looked strong enough to easily close that down with me riding at touring pace (or in fact any pace I could manage, given their bikes and physiques).

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H2H – Day 3

I woke up more excited than a kid at Christmas. Today would, hopefully, be the day I travelled to  the point which had, in large part, been the inspiration for the whole ride. All thanks to stumbling across this article on the Cycling UK website, and a writeup by Michael Hutchinson about the journey to Cape Wrath:

There is an 11-mile road from the ferry slipway to the Cape. It is not a good road. It was created in the 19th Century to build the lighthouse, and it has not received a lot of attention since. It’s narrow and horribly potholed, it winds and undulates, and sometimes it deteriorates altogether into a patch of gravel. It passes through a live-fire training area for the army, so it gets bombed every so often. You can navigate it on a road bike if you’re careful, and don’t mind getting a lot of punctures, but it’s more a job for a proper tourer, a cross bike or a mountain bike.

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H2H – Day 2

The hotel breakfast room was dark and deserted, apart from myself and the lone member of overnight staff who was busy fetching me some coffee.. He’d offered the full cooked spread, but I was still way too full from last night’s feast. Instead, I opted to squeeze just a few more carbs on top in the shape of yoghurt, cereal and toast, and stuff my pockets with fruit from the buffet counter. In the few minutes I was there it was pleasing to reflect on the previous day, which had turned out to me much more than the sum of its parts. A section of journey that could easily have ended up as a transit slog to get from Inverness to the start of the ride proper, had proved to be a bona fide first day of the tour in its own right, and a perfect appetizer for the remaining 900 miles.

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H2H – Day 1

Including Kenny, one of the taxi drivers in the rank at the airport, and the chap from the table next to me at dinner, three people had told me that the A9/A99 up the east coast was not an especially nice road for cycling. But having double checked the route in bed the night before, there really weren’t a lot of options to get where I was going. At least it was a Saturday, which the blog posts I’d quickly scanned suggested would mean less traffic and fewer trucks. Worrying about road conditions wasn’t the ideal mental state to be starting out on my long, solo journey. Luckily I had the morning routine of kitting up, stashing gear and packing bags to distract me. By the time I was stood outside ready to wheel off, I was half an hour later than I’d planned to be away,.  With a lower than typical 170km planned for the day, it wouldn’t really matter. Even at touring pace, barring mechanicals I should be in Wick well before nightfall.

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Rig Testing on Dartmoor

Lists are like Marmite. You either love them or hate them. I’m definitely of the former persuasion. Like studying a good map, imagining how a ride will pan out and the gear I’ll need to endure it is a big part of what gets me fired up for an adventure. If that’s you, then scroll to the bottom for all the tiny details. If you’d rather stick pins in your eyes, then I’ll spare you the agony. Just consider the picture at the head of this article as the gear summary. Somehow or other, everything managed to squeeze into it’s allotted place on the bike. Of course the real test would be how well it rode, and whether all the new gear worked once out in the Scottish Highlands. Luckily, to help with that part, I have some properly wild country on my own doorstep, in the form of Dartmoor. Always beautiful, but in bad weather, also bleak and forbidding.

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In Memory of T

It was all nicely planned out. A sneaky holiday week in Cornwall with the family, nothing fancy, just a change of scene for a few days. Some walks, a dip in the sea, a braai (BBQ) or two, a few beers, just simple times. We didn’t bring bikes, but I’d firm plans to catchup on the blog. Plus T had been nagging me for ages to revisit some of the epic rides and publish them properly. Although obviously in T’s case, it was the Munga he really wanted to see expanded into an actual book. In fact we’d been exchanging messages about it not two days back, in amongst our usual everyday banter. To be honest, I was more interested in working on that rubber arm of his with a view to a future Tour Divide attempt. After the usual early resistance, it felt like I was making headway too. Aided by a couple of video clips that included barren, remarkably Karoo-like landscapes, I had a sense that the passion for an adventure was starting to flow through him again.

Then, from nowhere, as we were packing the car a confusing message caught my eye on the Wednesday group – something about having been proud to ride with Mr T. It didn’t connect at first, why would someone make a comment like that? And then Penny sent me a private message soon after with the awful reality. Theunis had died. Out doing what he loved, riding with friends, they’d stopped for coffee at 96 Winery Road, and he’d begun to feel unwell. I’m not clear on the exact details, but I believe he collapsed soon after. Despite the best efforts of all present (one of them a first responder himself), by the time the ambulance arrived it was too late. A wonderful guy, and the best friend and cycling partner that any of us who knew him could ever wish for was gone, too soon.

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Up and Down

There’s doubt as to whether the expression “May you live in interesting times” is actually an ancient Chinese proverb, or a more recent, and possibly accidental mis-translation. Either way, it’s hard to imagine a more apt phrase to sum up the unusual times we find ourselves living through. As cyclists, it’s certainly been a challenging time, with many of our favourite events and races cancelled. And, depending on exactly where you live, also affecting how often and how far you can ride. In the early lockdown stages, here in England, we were allowed out just once a day, with an emphasis (although not an actual hard rule) that those rides should be close to home. Other parts of the UK and Europe were far stricter – limiting distances to as little as 2km from home in some cases. My riding buddies back in South Africa had it even tougher – for many weeks they weren’t allowed to ride at all. And when that restriction was lifted, riding was only allowed within a 5km radius from home between the hours of 6am and 9am.

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The Road Goes Ever On (Part 2)

As mentioned in Part 1 of this entry (which seems, and is in fact, months back now), our family’s relocation to the UK went surprisingly smoothly and pretty much according to our plan. So much so, that after a couple of days unpacking our new home was looking, well, homely. It’s not that there weren’t still a ton of jobs left to do, but they were mostly small, the sort of jobs that take longer in trips to the shed for tools than to actually do. I knew I’d get to them eventually, if not actually before Yoli got frustrated with me ignoring them. But my mind was craving a proper escape. For months we had been planning, decluttering, packing, unpacking, and realising that half the stuff we hadn’t decluttered was now either redundant, or just plain didn’t fit in our suddenly smaller spaces. I needed some alone time and lurking in the garage was the perfect answer in the shape of three of the boxes still to be unpacked. That shape being, of course, long and rectangular, and sort of bike sized.

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