Day Twelve: Dornoch to John O’Groats

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So, we made it. We made it all the way from one end of the country to the other under our own steam.

Today we managed just 82 miles, an average day when compared to the previous eleven, but there were times when it felt like an impossible undertaking.

It was a hard slog, almost from start to finish. I say almost, because the trundle down to Loch Fleet, where we saw 20 or so seals basking on the sandbanks, was very pleasant indeed. We stopped for ten minutes or so to watch the wildlife, and perhaps that’s where things started to get tough. We set out on the rest of the ride feeling that we’d essentially done it, and all that remained was a casual jaunt around the Scottish coast. We debated the psychological impact of such a lassez faire approach for much of the remaining 80 miles, Or perhaps the problems were due to the after effects of a very long previous day, coupled with a poor warm-down, poor food and inappropriate recovery measures (what sort of B&B leaves a complimentary decanter of whisky in your room anyway, for heaven’s sake?).

Whatever, Tom and I found the morning increasingly difficult to get through. I felt reasonably switched on mentally, but as the ride progressed, and knowing that we had at least one hill with a serious reputation to come, I found that my energy reserves were running at low to zero.

Both our progress and our energy levels were further hindered by Tom snapping a second spoke in two days flinging his bike about Contador-style on a climb out of Helmsdale. The look on his face as he dismounted suggested that he thought his bike was a goner, and so was his chance of completing the ride, just 50 miles from the finish.

Yesterday, as we were footling around in Highland Bicycles, Inverness, I picked up some spare spokes for each of us. The owner explained how to fit them and, concluding that we had neither the tools nor the know-how to do so, I bought them anyway, figuring that if we had them with us they would act as effective good luck charms against any spokes breaking for the remainder of the trip. If we hadn’t had them today, then Helmsdale could well have been as far as Tom made it.

So, after 45 minutes, we’d managed to replace the broken spoke, realising we could do so with tools I had with me the purpose of which had hitherto been mysteries. We’d also fixed the inner tube that Tom broke when replacing his wheel after fixing the spoke, sorted out the swollen tyre which was catching on the brakes after the inner tube had been replaced and then fixed the brakes which needed fiddling with to allow the wheel to go round at all. We’d also, just about, managed to keep Tom from throwing it all in the air, which seemed a reasonable response as things got worse and worse.

We set off cold and disheartened and it didn’t really look up for some time, The climb out of Berriedale was, at this stage in the ride, as tough as we’d been lead to expect and from that point on we were desperate to stop, eat and regroup. We ended up in Lybster at a cafe which had been opened by a lovely, kind woman from Bolton just two days prior. She cooked us pasta and Rob an improbably sized fish (“Your shark, Sir,” said her husband as he delivered it to table) and told us how rough we were looking. She particularly thought I should be carted off in and air ambulance, rather than getting back on my bike.

Leaving, we set out across country and things got easier. Two or three incongruously straight roads effectively cut the North-Eastern corner of Scotland and pushing along these, up a number of hills which stretched ahead like a grey ribbon and all of which Tom promised would be the last of the ride, allowed us to get some strength and rhythm back, and to contemplate the end of the trip without the incessant traffic and away, to a large extent, from the Northerly headwind that had been trying to force us backwards all day.

I’ll write more about the trip overall when I can, and perhaps include something about how it felt to finish, but we got there in the end, to find Jo, Karen and the Rainbows, with their banner stretched out across the wall at the beginning of the John O’Groats harbour, and also special guest appearances from Jo’s parents Mike and Shirley who had made a snap decision to drive all the way up to see us finish, and brought Marge to see us too. And a cake.

We were swept over the line by a wave of texts, tweets and phone calls, and again i’ll say more about that when I write up my thoughts about the trip, but right now i’d just like to say thanks to everyone who took the time to try to help us get over the line. You’d be amazed how much your messages helped, especially on a day when it seemed like we might not get there at all.

And now i’m going to bed.

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