Sunday, 31 May 2009

Day 17: Dunbeath to John O' Groats (and on to Westray)

That's it...sniff, sniff

Can you believe it - a glorious sunny morning, not a cloud in the sky, wind from the south. Why couldn't the last 2 weeks have been like this? Couple of the largest poached eggs ever on toast and we were off. With plenty of time before my ferry (1:45) the last 39 miles were a real pleasure, apart from the roadkill that we were complicit in - not a story for the kids. Almost not wanting trip to end. Almost. The last mile or two had us changing direction and showing us what it could have been like - tough going into a headwind. And then we were there, a short freewheel through the car park and photos by the signpost in the sunshine. A sense of achievement, certainly, and what else? Relief, joy, gratitude - a whole mixture really. Coffee and cake, and then the short 4 miles to Gills Bay where I'd get the ferry to Orkney and John would leave for Thurso. Both thought briefly about cycling to final our destinations, but common sense prevailed and we consulted the bus timetables. Chained our bikes up in the ferry office (I'd pick them up on my way back tomorrow) and said our manly goodbyes. Last saw John trudging back up the hill to the busstop with his 2 panniers and bar bag, as I sailed off into the (not quite) sunset. What a trip, must have got some sand in my eyes...

Two ferries and a taxi later, arrived in Westray where the pier was lined with the kids waving placards, Alison and a number of her relatives. Great to be back with my family, Sam has hardly left my side since. Do you think they missed me?

[Sam typing:] Of course we did!!

Day 16: Carrbridge to Dunbeath


What a day! 6:30 and unable to get back to sleep, I upped and left knowing that I was still about 35 miles behind John. 3 hours later, after breakfast in Inverness, I gave John a call and told him of my progress. He'd only just started for today, so was more than happy to wait in Evanton for me to do the extra 10 miles to catch him up. I covered the distance with a couple of other end-to-enders that I met just N of Inverness, one of which didn't seem to be a happy bunny. He was looking forward to finishing much like 'getting out of prison'! In contrast, my joy at finding John outside the only coffee shop in town was fantastic. I don't think he was expecting the bear hug that I gave him, but neither of us could stop grinning for ages as we caught up on the last few days. Too soon, it was time to crack on but, despite my mornings efforts, it now seemed easier again. Found our first sign for John O' Groats - only 90-odd miles to go, and afternoon tea in Brora saw us chatting to (well, listening to) the life and times of who must have been the most celebrated ghillie in these parts. Got to Helmsdale at tea time, knowing that this was still 55 miles short of the end, so after a few phone calls to sort out accomodation, decided to do a further 15 miles tonight so that we'd be under less pressure tomorrow. Unfortunately, that 15 miles included the climb out of Helmsdale and then the Berridale Braes - a couple of significant hills that weren't what was needed at the end of such a long day. Still, did mean that I'd done over 100 miles in a single day for the first time ever (108), and that tomorrow I'd get to see my family!

Day 15: Killin to Carrbridge

Another good night's kip and I think I'm over the worst of this illness. Still can't face a cooked breakfast though, so porridge (and loads of sugar) will have to do. A spectacular first few miles alongside Loch Tay, and some familiar roads and hills (like Schiehallion) of previous holidays found me alongside the A9 by lunchtime. The NCN7 cycle route would follow this to Inverness and beyond, using old roads and paths that followed the new busy road and adjacent railway line. The climbs were, for a change, long and gentle and with health restored I could now at last look up and appreciate the stunning scenery, even in the drizzle. As the day wore on, so the weather (and my mood) improved. The scenery continued to amaze, with snow on some adjacent slopes, the sun was shining and I was feeling good. This was what I came on this trip for. Those cold, rainy days in mid-Wales, the dubious wonders of Liverpool, and that never-ending illness seemed like an age ago. For the first time in days, I believed again that I'd finish, and with that some added targets started forming. Could I catch up with John (wouldn't it be great if we could finish together?), and could we do so by Friday lunchtime, giving me the added bonus of then being able to get the ferries across to Orkney and Westray to meet Alison and the kids for the last day of their holiday. Stay calm though, still plenty of time for things to go pear-shaped... Evening found me in Aviemore for a chip supper, then pushed on to Carrbridge and another 80 miles done.

Day 14: Glasgow to Killin

What a difference a good night's kip can make (only had to get up twice !!). Had some solids for tea last night and it's a sunny morning - must be a sign. So after lots of umming and arghing(?), decided to go for it. What's the worst that could happen? Throw the bike in a ditch and get a train back to Glasgow. So jettisoned half my kit and got out the door by 10:30. Have to say a huge thank-you to Ann and Michael for putting up with me and my problems for the last 3 days. My imprint on their couch might eventually fade away, but I doubt it. True to form, on leaving it started raining, but not for too long. Easy downhill ride to the center of Glasgow, where stopped past the old student haunts of Andrew Ure Hall, George Square and Blackfriars pub. Then headed for the north of Glasgow and John phoned me. Had to ignore the call as I was in bandit country. Once in safer terrritory, I called him back to hear that he'd met another cyclist on the road to Fort William. Was initially relieved to know that he wasn't on his own, but then started to feel a greener emotion.... Oi, that's my mate - give him back. Seems that I was missing John already. Putting those spurned feelings aside, slowly rode into a sunny but blustery afternoon just wondering how far I'd get. Killin (me), 60 miles later, felt like not a bad effort and at least left me feeling positive for the first time in days.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Day 13: Still Glasgow!!

Had to wave goodbye to John this morning, as he set off to continue alone. He's been incredibly tolerant and supportive of me in the last few days, for which I'm truly thankful. I feel much better today in terms of the flu-like symptoms, but still have problems keeping anything down\in. The thought of four 75 mile days on an empty stomach means I'm going nowhere. I've also been experiencing some sort of Pavlovian reaction - the thought of getting back on my bike actually causes my stomach to turn! Maybe tomorrow will be better...

Day 12: Still Glasgow

What happens next is another tortuous night stood, sat, knelt in the bathroom and a day on the couch wondering when this misery will end and whether this is the end of the road for me. We agree that John should carry on tomorrow (Monday) as that his flight south from Inverness is booked for Saturday (already moved from Thursday). Given it'll take me 4 days to cover the remaining 300 miles, the latest I could leave is Wednesday. I guess it's just a wait and see. At least Jenson Button won the grand prix and Newcastle are going down.

Day 11: Lochranza (back) to Glasgow

Oh what to do? A night of countless bathroom trips for the whole variety of reasons. Woke up feeling positively dreadfull, one minute shaking with chills the next sweating like really sweaty thing. Cycling the alloted 105 miles to Fort William was out of the question so John sorted a taxi to the island hospital where they confirmed a urinary infection 'off the scale'. Ah, that explains it then. Sent on my way with a load of antibiotics and orders to do nothing and I should be ok again in 4 or 5 days. Hmm, this could be awkward. A couple of phone calls later and we'd made arrangements to stay with friends in Glasgow, Ann and Michael. I couldn't get there soon enough. Half a bowl of soup and tucked up in front of Britain's Got Talent wondering what happens now...