Thursday, June 20, 2013

Another country conquered (in a manner of speaking)

Strontian to Ardnamurchan Point Scotland June 20, 2013

We made it! 

It took us six days to cross the entire country. And let me tell you this is one mountainous country. It is also stunningly beautiful, rugged, and wildly remote in appearance. I can see why poets have written about it. It is hard to convey how difficult this ride has been for me. Not only because my mountain biking skills are modest at best (even though our guide Graham was kind enough to tell Adam and I we were in the top 25% of riders he has seen on this trip). I know for sure that Adam and I did not train enough for this trip, and it really would have helped.

Today we started by riding out of the tiny hamlet of Strontian and mostly rode on narrow lanes/roads for the first 15 kms in a steady but not horrible rain. The headwind however was horrible, as it has been all week (not a moment of tailwind in six days of riding). Apparently the headwinds we have faced this past week have been nothing compared to what the guides have seen here before (headwinds so bad that cyclists were blown off their bikes and the bikes were blown off the road). All morning we rode along Loch Sunart which is stunning even in the rain and is a salt water loch that feeds into the Atlantic Ocean.

After an hour or so of riding we stopped for coffee (the Brits can not go an hour without tea or coffee – you were right about that daughter Lauren!) at a tiny roadside cafe that had the best croissants I have had this side of France. That was a surprise – Paris-quality croissants in the middle of nowhere. Then we continued on until we reached a mountain biking trail and made our way to someplace called Singing Sands beach. This was a beach used extensively for training during WWII, specifically for the D-Day invasions in 1944 due to its resemblance to the beaches in Normandy. It was very sobering to stand there and think about all the boys who trained there and didn't make it back. The place had an eerie desolate sad sombre feel to it, as it probably ought to have.

More trail riding led us into the westernmost mountains in the UK, which (like yesterday) we got to climb/hike over pushing and then carrying my 40 pound mountain bike. And yes, like yesterday, we got to walk over icky sloppy wet moors. Just gross. On a side note, my cycling shoes are so gross that even washing won't save them so I am leaving them as a gift from me to the entire country of Scotland. They were good shoes and they don't owe me anything. They took me across the US, down the Pacific coast, and across Scotland. Over 18,000 kms on those shoes! Goodbye stinky wet shoes. 

After we crested the mountain, my riding mates started riding down a singletrack trail no more than 6-8" wide that hung precariously along ledges on the slope. I didn't ride more than 2-5% of this trail and basically walked my bike down the mountain. No fun! After that nonsense, we had our final picnic lunch in the rain and set off for the last 20kms to Adarmurchan Point lighthouse, which is the westernmost point in the UK. 

I wish I could report that it was an easy ride for the last little bit but it was not. It was into a driving rain and nasty headwind, plus we must have climbed over 1,000 feet just in the the first 10kms after lunch. We did however see our third herd of red deer this week which were speedily jaunting across the moors. Finally we caught a glimpse of the lighthouse in the distance and made a dash (yes...uphill...into the rain...into the wind...notice a recurring theme here???) to the end of the peninsula. 


At the lighthouse we stood and gazed at the Atlantic Ocean, the distant Scottish isles to the west, and thought about the past week. Then our guides Dave and Graham gave each of us a celebratory shot of local 12 year old single malt scotch to celebrate the successful crossing. Very nice, and it helped warm us up. What a tough ride. Day for day it was way harder than either the cross-country 2010 trip or last year's Ride the West trip. Mountain biking like this is different from road cycling and I will admit probably a tad too "extreme" for this middle-aged Jewish guy. But it was a great experience nonetheless and getting to spend a week with my boy Adam was unforgettable. 

Now on to the the rest of the summer which will include golf lessons (HELP!) and annoying my wonderful Duchess. I'll have more to report from Edinburgh when we get there this weekend.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations Mark and Adam!! Whew!! I am sure glad you did this ride and reported on it, because I now know to avoid ever attempting it myself -- it sure was a tough one!!! Again, congrats on a great accomplishment! Dan Koch