Google+ Followers

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Day Sixteen: Arrival - Brora to John O'Groats

Before I set out, I discovered the solo cyclist at our camp site had come from John O'Groats yesterday by the route that I planned to take today. He confirmed that the road was good and that the Cairns were interesting.

Heading out from the camp, I quickly climbed my first hill but the hills to Helmsdale didn't prepare me for the hills that followed. I did get a post in Helmsdale

When a group from the Helmsdale Hostel came out and cheered me on my way. It is nice to get encouragement along the way.

The first hill out of Helmsdale was over two kilometres of constant climbing and it was followed by at least two others. I had just come down one steep hill with soft escape routes and was climbing the next when Marilyn caught up with me. I had left my mobile phone behind. The next decent also had soft escape routes but the corner swept nicely into the next climb. The first had much sharper corners near the bottom although I was still able to sweep through them on the trike with the minimum of braking. The trikes handling through corners really impresses me and adds to the joy of riding it.

The hills may have dominated my thinking but there were some really amazing coastal views along this stretch of the ride. With very light traffic, I was able to stop frequently and take in the panoramas.

The hills did ease but I was still pleased to turn inland at Lybster and head for the Camster Cairns. I stopped and explored the Cairns and had lunch before heading through to Cansbay. Although the road was fairly straight, there were a number of interesting panoramas along this road and a lake by Watten. I seem to enjoy the barren nature of moor land or the Scottish highlands.

As I approached John O'Groats, I could see what looked like rain to the west and to the east what I thought was low cloud. My pace increased over the last 10 kilometres as I felt I needed to beat the rain that didn't come.

Delchalm (Brora) to John O'Groats: 100.4 km in 6 hours 19 minutes 26 seconds at 15.8 km / hr.

Day Fifteen: Transition - Inverness to Brora

This was a much shorter ride but further than we had originally planned before leaving home. I left the camp site in a light rain that persisted until I was crossing the top of the Black Isle. I quickly found national cycle network route 1 in Inverness but gave up following it on the Black Isle. To avoid traffic, it meandered around when I really wanted to get to my destination. After parting with route 1, I followed the A9 from just before Tore all the way to Delchalm and the camp site. The ride across the Black Isle had involved quite a climb but it had a good downhill run to the bridge.

The Scottish Time Trial championships were being held along the A9 between the roundabout after the bridge from the Black Isle to a roundabout near Newfield. Talking to two marshals, the time trial was over 100 miles and involved two laps of the course. I counted 22 riders but I am sure that I must have missed some. This section to the Dornoch bridge was reasonably flat and there were some good views back toward the Black Isle. Passing Tain,the left hand mirror mount became really loose so I had to stop to tighten it. At that point my energy resources were low so I also drank an energy drink.

Beyond Dornach, it was fairly rolling country but interesting. Today's traffic again seemed more patient giving me room and waiting to overtake in sensible locations. However, a lot of the road had verges that I could use to stay out of the traffic lanes.

Although leg wary on arrival at the camp site, I feel much more positive than yesterday's ride. The rain and then overcast conditions kept temperatures down and made it good conditions for riding. I am hoping tomorrow's conditions are similar as this will make it easier to do the final ride to John O'Groats.

Inverness to Delchalm (Brora): 95 km in 5 hours 35 minutes 6 seconds at 17 km / hr.

Day fourteen: The Great Glen or Great Disappointment

I was looking forward to this day and the hopefully scenic beauty of the Great Glen. I set out to do the first stage in the canal path with the intent of following what is described as a forestry track and another canal path to Fort Augustus. This should keep me away from the traffic and allow me to take in the views. After dropping a drink bottle and bruising my tail bone, I decided the rest of the journey would be on the A82. Apart from the roughness of the canal path, I really didn't think the views were particularly good. Most of the ride was beside trees and across the canal had little of interest.

After backtracking a kilometre to find my drink bottle and then bouncing the remainder of the journey to where I could follow a B road to the A82, I headed up a steady climb on the B road to the junction with the A82. This was quite some distance from the Lochs which I was hoping to ride beside.

Almost the first cars to pass me on reaching the A82 set the tone for the traffic for the day. They flew past me without slowing down or giving me much room. The drivers in this area seem to have little patience many overtaking on blind corners or into on coming traffic. I began to really appreciate those who slowed behind me and put their hazard lights on. It was nice to know that some people cared for my safety. These poor driving standards really coloured my day.

My attitude to the day was also not helped by extremely rough patches of road followed by smoother patches. The inconsistency of surface along with the rolling hills really sapped the energy. Again with trees lining either side of the road, there was little opportunity to see the beauty of the Great Glen. Few of the parking areas were designed to give access to these views. I could understand why so many seemed to be driving just to get to the destination.

Marilyn caught up with me just after Ivermoriston and stopped in the next parking bay. She like me was frustrated with the standard of the road and the lack of opportunity to take in the views of the glen. She too had experience of impatient drivers. At least the roads improved as we approached Inverness and there were more opportunities to sample the views but I was too weary to really appreciate the views.

I was really glad to roll into Inverness and find the camp site. This is really the first day in the journey that I really wish it was over. I am just hoping on this final stretch that I don't encounter too many idiot drivers.

I have also decided that front suspension on the trike is almost essential for these journeys. I will be looking to upgrade just to provide an easier ride.

Fort William to Inverness: 104 km in 6 hours 36 minutes 29 seconds at 15.7 km/hr.

Day thirteen (3 August 2012) Loch Lomond to Fort William

After the rest day, I made a reluctant start to today but once moving and free of the camp site, the riding was good. Getting away early meant that I didn't strike much traffic on the narrow portion of the road around the edge of Loch Lomond. After Ardlui, the roads widened and there was a five kilometre climb to Crainlarich. As I pulled over here to let Marilyn know my progress, two buses and a stream of cars came past. The first real traffic for the day.

The next stretch to Tyndrum was failry easy going and despite the five kilometre hill climb, me average speed was still higher than the previous days. Tyndrum was notable for the Green Welly cafe and being caught by two fairly uncommon charity riders (they had a motor home with a sign on the back following them).

After a brief stop, I headed up the road for Fort William and after a short climb entered a beautiful valley that reminded me of Fiordland and the Hollyford Valley. Off the top of the climb was a gentle downhill and I maintained a steady 40 km/hr for quite a long stretch until it past the road through Glen Orchy and climbed past the Bridge of Orchy hotel. I could understand the similarities of this area to New Zealand's Glen Orchy.

Not much further on was a steeper climb to a view point looking back down the valley. I decided to stop here and cover myself in sunscreen before moving on. Marilyn had just passed through the Green Welly Cafe (a good reference point) so I decided to wait for her. From my vantage point it was easy to see her coming up the road.

While I waited and even once she arrived, I had a steady flow of people wanting to look at the trike and discuss it. A Ukrainian photographer asked to take my picture for a portfolio on British life. She didn't care that I wasn't British (ignoring my Irish side for the moment).

After a hot chocolate and a muffin, I made sure Marilyn was back on the road before I set out for the second half of my journey. A short climb led to a plateau that proved to be fairly easy riding. At the end of this plateau past the Glen Coe ski centre, we went over a pass. It was on this plateau that the chain tube began to move again. I tool a plastic tie from a signpost and another that I found on the side of the road to secure it again. I kept stopping frequently along this stretch to take photos.

On the road down from the pass, I stopped for lunch in a beautiful valley. I would be pleased to allow this part of the ride to go on forever. It really reminded me of my original plan for the ride and just how much it had changed into a challenge just to get to John O'Groats, The ride down this valley was reasonably fast and I reached Glencoe / Ballachulish feeling like this had been a good day's riding. All that remained now was the ride beside Loch Linnhe into Fort William.

I had noticed that the canvas was beginning to show through on the right hand front tyre so had carried one of the spare tyres for the last part of the journey. Once at the camp site, I replaced both front tyres discovering that the canvas was showing through on both with the left actually being worse than the right. I had expected the front tyres to need replaced but had made sure that I had three replacements. The front tyres had lasted better than I had expected.

The day finished with a meal at a hotel by the canal and a positive feeling in anticipation of tomorrow's ride through the Great Glen.

Inveruglas to Fort William: 107.4 km in 5 hours 37 minutes 30 seconds at 19.1 km/hr.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Days seven through twelve

Day seven (28 July 2012) Montford Bridge (Shrewsbury) to Charity Farm (Eccleston)

It was another early morning start in cool condition. I set out from Montford Bridge with the intention of getting to the B5476. I had mapped out a route but knew to my left would be the A5 and if I went beyond the B5476, I would reach the A49 which I planned to join at Whitchurch. Wem was a checkpoint on the B5476 so when I had trouble decoding which branch to take at an intersection, I chose the branch that would either take me further north or further east (toward the A49).

This strategy worked until I found signposts that directed me toward Wem. When I got the last of these, I didn't realise that I would have been better to go beyond Wem still it added very little to my journey. Once on the B5476, The ruin to Whitchurch was fairly light on traffic and without major hills, I was able to maintain a steady pace.

I chose to follow the A49/A51 around Whitchurch even though this was slightly further. I followed the A49 thorough Warrington, Wigan and on to Standish but then missed my turn onto the A5209 so went passed the destination. A small backtrack got me onto the roads that lead me to the camp site at Charity Farm.

The camp site didn't have a hard standing space with electricity so we ended up in a paddock. With only gas for cooking, we decided to drive to Eccleston to purchase Chinese takeaways. We noticed when we were about to go to bed that the fridge light was blinking but since it was on auto and the leisure battery had plenty of charge, we assumed it would continue to operate. Unfortunately it didn't.

Montford Bridge to Charity Farm: 129.6 kms in 7 hours 2 minutes 22 seconds at an average speed of 18 km/hr. Somehow my detours had made this the longest ride of the journey.

Day eight (29 July 2012)Charity Farm (Eccleston) to Kendal

With fairly heavy rain falling, I left Charity Farm heading for Kendal. Even with the wet road, the down hill run to Eccleston set me up for a good pace through to Preston. A puncture just as I entered Preston really slowed progress. I thought I had the right gear and preceded to prepare to fix it. The initial problem was the wrong spanner to remove the front axle. Trying to find a garage, I tried to ask a lady who simply ignored me and walked on. The next person did respond but sent me to a closed bike shop. I then figured out how to jam the nut with a spanner so I could get the wheel off and managed to change the tube. The the second problem occurred. The new pump that I had brought in Bridgwater didn't have a mountain bike valve fitting so I couldn't pump up the tyre. While I did all this sitting on the doorstep of a closed pub, people walked, cycled, and drove past without asking whether I was all right. Even when the publican came to open the pub, they tried to ignore me even though this meant stepping around the trike and me. They did at least give me some idea of the direction that I should go head in when I asked.

By this time, I was really feeling like the traveller in the good Samaritan story being abandoned and ignored by other travellers. Finally as I was pushing the trike in the right direction, I had my good Samaritan and I almost cried. He was ashamed that the people of Preston couldn't take the time to help. What was even better, was that he showed me the path I should take that got me to a Halfords' store. There I managed to get a pump that fitted my valves and another person lent me a spanner to tighten the axle.

While fixing it outside the Halfords' store, people began to take an interest but it was too late to stop Preston being awarded the most unhelpful place that I had passed through.

While I was getting the puncture repaired and back on the road, Marilyn was trying to get out of the paddock at Charity Farm. Being parked on a slope at the far end of the paddock and with the heavy rain overnight and in the morning, the top surface of the paddock was slippery. The motor home being front wheel drive lacked traction so just wouldn't move. Marilyn went I got the manager to tow her out but that meant a 45 minute wait. So I was well on my way again before she had even left the camp site.

The next part of the journey was uneventful but I ended up in the centre of Lancaster. Here someone who wanted to look at the trike gave me directions back to the A6 and a fellow cyclist who understood the national cycle network provided additional assistance.

Going through Kendal proved problem free and I pulled in beside the motor home without Marilyn realising I had arrived. My average speed was low because of the distance that I pushed the trike around Preston.

Not only did Preston receive the award for being the most unhelpful, Charity Farm is one place that we will not return to in a hurry and wouldn't recommend to others.

Charity Farm to Kendal: 95+kms in 5 hours 55 minutes plus at 16.5 km/hr.

The distance is inaccurate because the Bontrager wireless computer seems to start counting distance if close to a computer or phone. On the first day of the journey, I managed to cycle 1061 kms while I slept simply because the bike computer was too close to our phones. This will be replaced once this journey is over.

Day nine (30 July 2012) Kendal to Gretna

The departure from Kendal was in cold conditions and I was apprehensive about the journey as it started with a climb to 1400 feet over 13+ km. I had no idea whether this was constant climbing but I wasn't expecting to cover the first 13 km in an hour. I was right about how long it would take but the climb proved easier than expected. The down hill into Shap made up some time but I knew the average speed would be lower today. Realising that I had left my drink bottles in the motor home, I went to the local store and purchased a large bottle of energy drink.

At Penrith, I missed a turn and ended up in the town centre and then on the wrong road out of town. A quick check of the map got me back on track. I knew that if I could maintain my pace, I might get to Carlisle before Marilyn. Her journey to Gretna would only take 55 minutes according to the TomTom but I had a four hour head start. I was there about ten minutes before her but a heavy down pour and taking the ring road delayed my progress. Still I was on cycle route 7 on my way to Gretna by the time Marilyn texted to say she was booked in at the camp site.

The distance to Gretna by the cycle route proved further than I had expected but I was still in the camp site by 2pm. That gave us time to explore the town but not Gretna Green. After nine days, eight cycling days, we were in Scotland. This had proved to be a very pleasing day and what is more I achieved the same average speed as yesterday with its unscheduled walk.

Kendal to Gretna: 91.5 km in 5 hours 33 minutes 37 seconds at 16.5 km/hr.

Day ten (31 July 2012) Gretna to Lanark

Being awake early, I got on the road in very cool conditions. We had expected showers but it dawned a fairly clear a day and despite the cool wind, proved a pleasant day of triking. I knew there was a climb about half way through the ride but what I hadn't expected was a gradual climb for all of the first part of the journey with the gradient increasing toward the end of the first half of the journey.

I headed out through Gretna Green and got myself onto the B7076 / Cycle Route 74. This roughly followed the A74(M)/M74 almost all the way to our destination at Kirkfieldbank just outside Lanark. Apart from losing the quick release bold for one of the under seat clamps, the day was uneventful. The country was picturesque and I passed through very few towns. What was really frustrating was the constant drone from vehicles on the motorway. Only a stretch between my lunch stop at Abington and the next motorway crossing point where I branched off to head toward Lanark.

I arrived at the camp site to find Marilyn hadn't set up. There are no hard standing pitch at the Clyde Valley Caravan Site. With prediction of heavy rain, Marilyn wasn't keen on parking on the grass and not being able to get out in the morning. After about half an hour we decided to park so the front wheels were almost on the drive. This area looked reasonably firm and it avoided the obvious low patches some of which already showed signs of vehicles having got stuck.

I am sorry but this is another camp site that we will not be revisiting. A high percentage of the site are permanent dwellings with a grass area in the middle which the owners seem to want to collect money from without providing a lot of facilities. Even the amenities block looks uncared for.

Even if there is fairly heavy rain in the morning, we will be leaving to try and reach Loch Lomond tomorrow. There we plan to take another rest day before pushing on to complete the journey over four or five days to John O'Groats.

Gretna to Kirkfieldbank: 106.7 km in 6 hours 18 minutes 59 seconds at 16.8 km/hr.

Day eleven (1 August 2012) Lanark to Loch Lomond

The day dawned better that we were anticipating. The forecast had been for heavy rain but we had already made the decision to push on to Loch Lomond. Again I left as early as possible and got out onto a damp and rough road heading for Hamilton. The trike bounced and slid around on the road but I made good time into Hamilton as the roads dried.

Hamilton to Glasgow was also an easy ride and I followed the Clyde river bank through Glasgow until I picked up national cycle route 7. Initially, this was on an old railway line and then along the canal tow path. Finally, it turned north following the river to Balloch. According to the maps, it goes all the way to the shores of Loch Lomond but for me, it was on the wrong side of the river.

There is a western cycle path that follows the A82 to Tarbet. I couldn't find this out of Balloch so ended up on the A82 until I found it. At the first round about, I assumed the wrong path and ended up following the A818. I realised my mistake at the next roundabout and after consultation with Marilyn, took a road back to the A82 and the correct cycle path.

The rain was fairly steady along this part of the journey so I was reluctant to consult maps. Back on the cycle path beside the A82, I passed through Luss although again, I didn't see where it left Luss so got out on the A82. After being consistently sprayed by vehicles, I was glad to find it again and finally end up on what seemed to he the old road. I took a relief stop at Tarbet before continuing on to the camp site at Inveruglas. There was no choice but to ride on the A82 along this part of the route and I found that some drivers didn't care about spraying me from the frequent puddles as they passed.

I was glad to reach the camp site and be able to take a good warm shower. The journey was longer than I had planned primarily because I chose to follow the cycle routes rather than stay on the main road.

After the last night's caravan park with its mixture of permanent homes and caravan trailer homes, I was more conscious of the different standard of homes and apartments that I passed by. Do people by choice live in low quality homes or allow their homes to deteriorate. What looked like a modern apartment block in Glasgow had a number of units that looked poorly cared for.

Do we blame the people or do we blame our systems that push some people to poverty and others to have little care for themselves and others? The system needs to change and monetary reform is only the first step.

Kirkfieldbank to Inveruglas: 110.8km in 6 hours 51 minutes 43 seconds at 16.1 km/hr.

Day twelve (2 August 2012) Rest day

Rest day on a beautiful day by Loch Lomond. Remaining four days will be posted after we reach John O'Groats.