Monday, November 19, 2012

Ride Across Britain - Day 9

And so to the final day. The organizers had arranged an early start to allow people to reach John O'Groats in time to pack up their bike and make their transport connection. The weather forecast was mixed; rain at the start of the day, then clearing but with showers later in the afternoon. I, along with a small number of other riders, would be returning to the Kyle base camp for one more night. In my case because I had to take my bike with me, and the only bus transport that could accommodate bikes was returning to Kyle and then continuing on the next day. Most riders were having their bikes shipped back in the UPS trucks for pickup at various drop off points the following weekend, but we were returning to the US on the Wednesday so that didn't work for me. At least I didn't have to clear my tent and pack everything up, just a day bag with some clothes to change into at the end.

Once again, I set off in the company of the Bigfoot train. Sure enough it started raining almost as soon as we set off, but it wasn't torrential. I had fenders (mudguards) on my bike but surprisingly, given the probability of rain, very few British riders did. That meant that group riding was at bit unpleasant at times when the spray from the bike in front hit you in the face.

The Bigfoot train in motion

After passing through a few small villages, we entered the moorland and settled into a long very steady and slight ascent to just under 900'. Although we were nominally on an "A" road, it was single track in places. We were in Sutherland now and probably contributing significantly to its total population. We really were a long way from anywhere populous by this stage.

By the time we reached the summit, the rain had stopped and there was serious brightening of the sky to the north and east. The descent was steady, a bit steeper than the ascent, but the temperature was only about 7C (45F).

Heading down towards the light
The descent went on for about ten miles and by the time we reached the first rest stop there were a lot of pretty cold riders. The rest stop was at a small pub and people were crowded into the bar trying to get warm. However, not everyone was feeling the cold.

The latest in biking shorts?
After the rest stop, the grade dropped and we rode alongside Loch Naver for quite a while.

Loch Naver

The road was doing a lot of short ups and downs as it wound its way alongside the Loch and eventually I started to warm up. The sun was coming out so I stopped to lose some clothes and also decided to drop off the Bigfoot train and ride a tourist pace. The valley went on for about twenty miles before we reached the coast. It was at this point that I realized I was quite confused about the direction we were taking. I had assumed, wrongly as it turned out, that we would follow close to the east coast. In fact we had gone due north and had reached the north coast. Scotland at the top has a long straight north facing coast that meets the east coast at John O'Groats. So whereas I thought we would be turning left, instead we turned right.

What followed was a long series of small climbs and descents, seven in total, spread over about 30 miles along the north coast. The first climb was about 400' and the rest about 200' each. At the start we went through a small village with an unlikely name. Here we were, nearly as far from the English border as you get, with most place names sounding very Scottish, e.g. Altnaharra, with a village called "Betty Hill". According to Wikipedia, the Scottish name is Am Blàran Odhar.

Towards the end of the seven hills was the second rest stop in the car park of a hostelry of some sort, and lots of people were inside including, it turned out members of the Bigfoot train. I didn't stop beyond picking up supplies and they passed me some way down the road. The train seemed to have lost a few carriages. Unfortunately, one member was suffering knee trouble so they were coming in at a slow pace.

The remainder of the ride became progressively flatter as we approached John O' Groats. We passed by the Dounreay Nuclear power stations, now decommissioned and then went through Thurso, the main town of note in the areas, before the final very straight and flat run parallel to the north coast. Finally we turned north and rode down to the finish arch at John O'Groats. Lots of noise and my name being announced on a PA system.

After the congratulations and being presented with a medal, it was time for the matching photo to that at Lands End. I was lucky that the line was pretty short as the whole procedure took quite a while.

It was still early afternoon but, much as I might have wanted to just take it easy for a while, I had the bike to pack up and, knowing that it always takes longer than I think, decided to get started right away. Most riders were boxing their bikes up in the car park, but I found a nice spot on some grass adjacent to the finish arch. So I could hear the riders being announced on the PA while I was packing. I had great views of the coast and the Orkney Isles just to the north.

Everything went well to begin with but I had some problems with the fit in the case. The problem is that there really is no margin for error, everything has to be in exactly the right place for the lid to close. After a few retries, I was satisfied and it was time to go and get a shower at one of the shower trucks that they had brought up. Talking of showers, the threatened late afternoon rain shower showed up while I was waiting in the queue. It was pretty intense and we all took refuge under the cover of the snack area. While in the queue I got chatting to a guy who had done the ride on a Bike Friday. He was a Deloitte partner and had done the ride previously and felt he needed a slightly different challenge this time. He survived the ride but one of his knees was unhappy from spinning the small wheels of the Bike Friday.

Just about everyone except the people like me going back to the Kyle base camp had departed by now, either in taxis to Wick airport or buses to Inverness. Our bus didn't leave until 6:30, and the small cafe was doing a great business, unfortunately running out of beer. An enterprising fellow had set up a stall across the road and was selling Stella Artois out of a box. I took his last few bottles at a price, but it was worth it.

It was nearly three hours back to Kyle, along the east coast road, so there was very little time to do much beyond eat. The caterers had put on a full Sunday roast dinner, which went down very well. It felt strange for the usually buzzing tent to be so empty. I went over to the chill-out tent afterwards, where some serious drinking was getting started, but I was wiped and, since we had to be up for a 7am departure on the bus, I bailed and went to the tent. It was good that I was very tired as the camp staff and perhaps some of the riders were partying very heavily, including Karaokee, until the small hours. I slept through most of it.

Elevation and Distance

No comments:

Post a Comment