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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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 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 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 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 6

875km – 20 Aug, 08:00 – Loch Lomond

There’s something special about reaching the point where you have less distance in front of you than already travelled. It feels like a big wave of kilometres building up behind you, and all you need to do is keep your balance and ride the surf home.  As if that feeling weren’t enough, today also offered the unusual pleasure of an extra hour of lazing around in luxury room, and a properly good breakfast before fetching my bike from the shed and kitting up for the day. To top it all off Diane, as hoped, had been able to spare some strapping for my nigglingly painful Achilles. With only a short stretch to ride I had plenty of time to get to Alexandria (just north of Glasgow) to meet my friend’s for a quick coffee and a catchup.

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H2H – Day 7

Any notion that the storm predicted for today by charity group riders in Lairg wouldn’t materialize was dashed when I looked out through the glass door to the pub car park. I stared across an expanse of tarmac, that the rain had already turned into a shiny, grey mirror which reflected the dark clouds above. It wasn’t an inviting prospect – getting wet during a ride is one thing, but starting out in the rain is an order of magnitude harder. The arrival of my bike up from the cellar broke the contemplation – I dropped my bags beside it in the hallway and headed for breakfast in the vain hope that the conditions may brighten up whilst I ate.

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H2H – Day 8

1145km – 22 Aug 20, 07:04 – Cross Keys Inn, Tebay

Tempting as it was to lie in and wait for the staff to arrive so that I could enjoy a full breakfast at the pub, the best way to start pulling back some of the lost time and distance from the previous day was to get up and going. Luckily the emergency provisions in my fork bags still contained one freeze dried breakfast, although despite its name (chocolate muesli), it was actually the least tasty of the lot – closer to weak hot chocolate with a few grains floating in it. Of course it’s entirely possible I hadn’t read the instructions properly and had over-hydrated it. If the energy stats on the side of the packet were to be believed though, the lack of flavour would be compensated for in calories to fuel what appeared to be another damp morning.

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H2H – Day 9

1338km – 23 Aug 20, 07:15 – Nantwich

I looked at my watch before rolling out. If I waited another hour and a quarter I could set my day up with a solid breakfast before riding – one which was probably included in the room price as well. But adding the time it took to arrive and savour, I’d be two hours later leaving this spot. At touring speed that was around a sixth of the distance I wanted to cover today. As I rode slowly back past the entrance I could almost taste the delicious food I was missing. It took a massive act of will to resist and keep pedalling along what seemed like the high street of the lovely old town, and out into the countryside beyond. I knew the road ahead would offer up some kind of breakfast, but I had no idea of when. The instant coffee and biscuits were only going to keep me in good spirits for so long.

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