As luck would have it the Bigfoot train was on the starting grid when I arrived. So I joined in and it turned out that the first section of the ride was very conducive to fast group riding. We were essentially traversing Scotland diagonally from south-west to north-east along a massive straight fault containing Lochs, including the famous Loch Ness at the end. Shortly after the start we rode along the rather strangely named Loch Lochy and then briefly through a loch-free section to the base of Loch Ness at Fort Augustus. The main A82 road, which we had been following since Ft William, crosses to the north side of Loch Ness at this point. RAB 2011 had ridden south on that section and it had been a problem traffic wise. So this year we climbed the hill to the east on a minor road.
It was getting warmer and it wasn't far up the short but steep climb that I had to stop to strip off some clothes. The rest of the Bigfoot train didn't feel the need and kept going. They were climbing faster than me anyway!
After the initial steep climb it flattened for a while with some nice scenery. Somewhere along here we met bikes riding the other way in some kind of race; at least they were sporting numbers on their bikes and riding quite hard.
One final climb and then we seemed to be on the top of the world with a fantastic looking descent ahead of us. There were a couple of disabled riders on extremely low recumbents getting ready to descend and hoping to hit 60mph!
The initial descent, basically dead straight, was 4 miles long. Not terrifically steep but I was averaging about 30mph.
At the bottom was the first rest stop of the day, where I ran into the Bigfoot train again, and left with them. The descent continued, but became much twistier, which was tricky as the road was basically single track and there was some tourist traffic. Eventually it straightened out as we got close to the Loch level. Unfortunately there were no great views of Loch Ness because it was shielded by a thicket of trees.
The road continued on, basically straight and flat, into Inverness, which is on the east side of Scotland. Inverness is near the end of the Beauly Firth which has its outlet in the North Sea. The main A9 road from Edinburgh crosses Beauly Firth at Inverness on its way north, but we went around, which meant heading west for a while. That, unfortunately, took us back into a headwind. Two of the Bigfoot train "engines" distinguished themselves on this section, pulling us along at an amazing pace. In fact, a bit too much for me even with the draft. I was very happy to reach the next rest stop when we finally swung around to the north again and reached the northern side of Beauly Firth. I grabbed the food and went and crashed on the grass. It was pleasantly warm out of the wind and I decided to take a break from the Bigfoot train and ride at my own, slower pace, for the rest of the day.
The next piece of water was the Cromarty Firth, which we rode parallel to for quite a while. The main road, which we were also paralleling, went east and north along the coast, but we, of course, struck off due north over the top. It was still quite warm at the start and the roads were really quite traffic free.
Eventually we climbed up to a plateau at about 800' where the weather was a lot cooler and windier. I had a moment of foolish complacency where I was riding no hands trying to open a packet of Jelly Babies, from the rest stop, when a gust of wind came sideways out of nowhere and practically tipped me over. I survived but, sadly, the Jelly Babies didn't.
In a reminder of how the weather can change fast at altitude, the sun went in and the temperature seemed to drop sharply, enough to make me stop and put more clothes on. But soon we were descending down to Dornoch Firth and Bonar Bridge, with the base camp not far away, and the temperature warmed right back up again.
After crossing Dornoch Firth, we made a left turn and a few short miles into the base camp, which was the most spectacular location since Lands End.