There are no words to truly describe Scotland's raw natural beauty. It is so different than any place I have been. I know there are cities and towns across Scotland (we have seen a number of them ourselves already, so we know they are there) but the sheer emptiness of this country staggers the mind. I know some clever writer some time ago remarked that there are more sheep than people in Scotland, and based on what we have seen so far, that does ring true to a certain extent. The country is awesome to look at up close, the way we have the past couple of days.
At one point today, as we were riding through a glen (valley) in the Cairngorm mountains, Adam looked at the vista and referenced both the tour company we are with and our environs when he simply remarked "as advertised...Wilderness Scotland".
Today was an incredibly long hard day of mountain biking, at least for us (about 40 miles and over 3,000 feet of climbing). The other rider with us (Patrick) is way better than we are so there have been times when he and the guides have had to wait for us at certain junctures. They aren't complaining (yet), so we'll just have to push on.
Today started with a nice breakfast (great waffles) at the hotel we stayed at in Aboyne. To say last night's hotel was a dump, is doing dumps a disservice. It was the second worst hotel I stayed at in my life (the worst being a hotel in John Day Oregon three years ago on my bike trip where someone found a half-eaten burger under their bed). This hotel had a room that had two squished mini-beds, no drinking cups, a little TV with no remote, and had heat pouring out of every radiator in our room and throughout the building. Our windows would not stay open, there was no place to hold a roll of toilet paper, the room had flies in it, the shower was the size of a phone booth, and there was no internet. Oh yeah, at 2AM a drunken bunch of idiots had a party and because the walls were paper thin, I was up all night (Adam slept through it though). Adam and I lost 5 pounds last night. It was like being in the hot box in the movie Bridge on the River Kwai. Tonight we are in a charming B&B with hot water, a cool room, internet, no flies, and a South African owner by the name of Diane who (after she insisted I ask her on bended knee) offered to do our laundry (we better buy her a nice gift). What a difference this makes after a long day of riding.
So let's review what we did today. We left the shit-hole hotel and charming little village of Aboyne at 9:15 in sunshine and made our way along another bike path that was once a railway line. These paths (Britain's version of the US "rails to trails" project) are everywhere and they are great to ride on. We rode this path to a mountain bike trailhead and did some amazing single track routes and worked on our skills (which are sadly lacking for this terrain). We did really well during the first part of the morning. We stopped at a cute town for coffee (Adam had a scone) and then did a not-so-fun trip through a sheep pasture that involved a lot of walking and mud and trudging through gorse. I could have lived without that.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention that yesterday we saw a deer, and both days we have seen thousands of sheep, rabbits, and other natural wildlife.
We stopped for a picnic lunch by an ancient stone bridge and then proceeded to work our way up and through the eastern part of the Cairngorm mountains. This was a 30km ride that involved a ton of climbing, numerous technical descents and more than our fair share of walking. However, this terrain was simply incredible to ride through though. Immense mountains (still with some snow), vast glens, raging clear streams, and thankfully no rain. There was not a human being in sight. Sheep, sheep, and plenty of sheep. What incredible views though. Just staggering. Adam and I (by necessity) have been learning mountain biking skills at a fast pace. Today we did some stuff we have never done (and still can't believe we did!). We rode up rock gardens, down rock gardens, through mud and even rode across several 15-20 foot wide streams. That was hard work but it was fun too.
But boy is mountain bike different than road cycling. The hard paths are just fine. As soon as we are on what they call "single track" though, things change in a hurry. Your riding slows to a crawl, you are constantly worried about falling, the ups and downs are steep, and the descents themselves are hair raising because of exposed rocks, tree roots, streams, and mud. We are doing the best we can, learning as we go, but it is a whole new experience for both of us and is thrilling in a "theme park-roller coaster" kind of way.
So we just came back from an excellent dinner (who said the food in Scotland isn't good). The guides we are with are so nice and our riding mate Patrick is a super nice interesting guy. All-in-all it is quite the adventure for Adam and I. More to come tomorrow, as we cross the mighty Cairngorm mountains, home to the highest peaks in the UK.