"It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of a country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle." (Ernest Hemingway)
Perhaps stoic isn't the most encouraging word to describe the first day of a long cycling adventure. The first days journal entry usually consists of tales featuring childlike energy and exuberance, but departing John O'Groats slightly uphill and under a threateningly heavy grey sky, stoic we were. Defiantly pedalling, with bikes and bodies heavily laden with luggage and Jelly Beans. A coffee and cake stop 25km down the road in Wick saw spirits lifted, and back pains ceased. Cappuccino and a white chocolate and caramel slice, shared. Spirits were lifted further still by the chance meeting with an old friend of Emily. The collective forces of social media and sheer coincidence combined to make Tom make the short drive from his parents place in Keiss, to track us down on the A99. Had he tracked us down a moment earlier, he'd have caught Em relieving herself in a bush while I casually chatted to two lambs.
Yesterday we took three trains. The first from Newcastle to Edinburgh allowed demonstration for the best and worst of good, hearty British customer services. Despite reserving ourselves and bikes on the trains several months ago, the designated cycle racks were buried under a rainbow of suitcases. A forceful yet agreeable employee took pleasure in throwing our precious transport against each other, and the train door, and ushered us into a first class carriage. After the kind of doubt we brits are famed for, we decided to sit ourselves down in the first class carriage and enjoy plush chairs, complimentary sandwiches and tea. Clumsy conductor became friend when he glanced a smile in our direction, neglected to check our tickets, and left us to enjoy some cheese and pickle snacks. Sadly, that train journey only lasted an hour and a half. The Edinburgh to Inverness, and Inverness to Thurso legs were four and a half hours each, and involved cramping, noise, no free snacks, but beautiful scenery unfolding out the window.
This afternoon we enjoyed those same views as the never-ending A99 and A9 trundle alongside yesterday's train lines. The vastness and poetic emptiness of north Scotland was evident throughout, and meant there were no further pit-stops of note till Helmsdale, some 75km later. Bacon and brie sandwiches with a pot of tea, and a door stop slice of lemon and raspberry cake, all shared.
Having never completed and long distance bicycle touring before today, I can now fully affirm that; a) Scotland is really fucking hilly, windy, and beautiful, b) people both here and the world over are generally kind hearted folk, c) what goes up must surely come down, and d) my bag is too heavy. After several lingering climbs, frantic descents, and road side stops in order to swear and remove my weighty luggage for a few moments, we still found ourselves on the A9, and Dornoch was still 7 miles away. Those last miles were clocked up with a grimace, and eventually we escaped the breezy clutches of the East Coast for smooth tarmac and a descending B road into Dornoch. We can only presume the B stands for bloomin' marvellous.
For fans of numbers and stats, please see below...
Km's ridden: 128.6
Accumulative total: 128.6
Meters climbed: 1319
Calories burnt: 2629
Riding time: 6.27
Average speed: 19.8km/h
Top speed: 55 km/h
Old friends met: 1
Packets of Jelly Babies devoured: 1
Hill climbs walked: 2
Roadkill displayed: 38
Dead deer: 1
Beef & haggis sausages making up my bangers and mash: 4
The official weight on my backpack remains unknown, but if you bore witness to a slightly crazed man feeding the village clothes donation box with cycling gear, a cumbersome lock, and an un-used and sealed bar of soap, i'd like to apologise, and fall asleep with a healthy conscience. Another day of similar proportions lays in store tomorrow, one only hopes that also refers to the size of the dinner plate and wine glass.
Sleep tight, y'all.
- Glenn (and Emily) x