First, an apology: I was defeated by technology, tiredness and triumphalism over the past few nights so didn’t update this blog. Even if I had found it in me to seek out connections and stay up that bit later to get down my thoughts, they would have been pretty incoherent ones so I’m playing the quality control card too.
To resume where I left off, our fifth day took us from Edinburgh to Aviemore. I suppose a small part of me would have been disappointed if it hadn’t been raining when we woke up in the Globetrotter Inn in Edinburgh. If the weather had been fine I would have had to reassess Scotland – I mean it always rains in Scotland, right?
Looking out over that grey, sodden land at 5 in the morning from my hostel window was frankly rather depressing. This was no drizzle or short-lived downpour; this was proper relentless Scottish stair rod rain. It was the kind of rain that took me back to those west coast summer holidays of my teenage years at Selly Patterson’s B&B in Tighnabruaich near Loch Fyne – where we did our best to maintain a state of denial for two weeks of constant downpours and low-key family feuding. Such precious childhood memories…
Back in Edinburgh, my cold was firing on all cylinders and I was really feeling the previous day’s exertions. I was shivery and depleted and the last thing I wanted to do was ease my burning backside onto a saddle and pedal off into the rain for 130 miles.
But of course that’s exactly what had to be done, so I grabbed the usual breakfast of porridge, peanut buttered toast and coffee and dug out the overshoes, the knee warmers, the Sealskin socks, the merino skull cap and of course my gorgeous pink Rapha Stowaway, a featherweight shell that attracted incredulous scoffs from the less enlightened members of the TRAT team because of its colour, its apparent flimsiness and its price tag (no, I’m not telling how much I paid for it – suffice to say it justified every single penny on this trip).
There was nothing remotely pleasant about that morning’s ride. Because of the increased danger posed by the rain – invisible potholes, greasy road surfaces, and restricted motorist vision – we had to be even more on our toes than usual as we skirted Edinburgh and made our way to the Forth Road Bridge. I remember thinking as we ploughed through all that water that it was only right and proper that we should have a day like this – a day to endure rather than enjoy. We’d had it too easy til now and I didn’t want to go home without a tale of at least some hardship. It’s good to be careful what you wish for I guess…
By the time we’d reached the lunch stop 50 miles on we were about as wet as it’s possible to be (except beneath the Rapha, obviously) and I for one was pretty miserable. We tried to dry what we could on the radiators at the Bridge of Earn Institute but when it came time to head off again most of our stuff was still pretty damp.
We had a long ride ahead that afternoon – 80 miles in all – so it was a huge relief when the rain stopped after lunch as we headed into Perth and then onto the A9 for the long haul towards Kincraig.
All that rain had made sensitive undercarriages all the more sensitive and I was feeling every single bump and pothole so it was something of a relief to find the roads get smoother and better maintained as we headed north. The countryside was becoming more and more beautiful too – much more of the wildness and vastness I’d expected from the Highlands.
The A9 seemed to go on forever that afternoon but I for one didn’t really mind. My cold had been bludgeoned into submission once more by drugs and exertion, and the combination of that and the better weather really lifted my mood. The main thing I recall from that afternoon was an apparently endless gentle climb to Drumochter Pass, the highest point of the whole ride (around 500m I'm told), followed by the most spectacular descent I’ve ever had the pleasure of riding down. For something like 11 miles we barely had to pedal once as we swooped down that perfectly smooth road, slicing through the beautiful countryside with with wind on our backs, bikes whirring contentedly and huge grins plastered across our grubby faces. It was so blissful – and all the more so because of the unpleasantness that had gone before. If I was asked to pick one descent of the whole trip as my favourite, this would be it.
But blissful descent or no blissful descent, 80 miles is a long way to cycle when you’ve already done 50 that same morning (not to mention 600 or so in the previous four days) so I was relieved to reach the Cairngorms Christian Centre near Kincraig. Once we’d enjoyed a 20-minute health and safety briefing about – among other things – the best way to use a shower curtain, it was time to clean up, tuck in to more delicious food and hit the sack once more.
There was one sad development on day five: Darren, the TRATer who’d trounced me on Shap Pass, had ridden himself into a standstill and then hadn’t managed to get enough sleep so he’d started to struggle really badly – physically and psychologically. The combination of physical exhaustion and anxiety were threatening to endanger him on the road so the decision was taken, with great reluctance, to keep him off his bike for at least some of the remainder of the ride.
Knowing how strong a rider Darren is made it all the harder to accept that this was the best thing to do but I think even he agreed that it really was. It was a terrible blow for Darren and a real disappointment for the rest of us too. He’d done heroically well until now and it was a desperately unfortunate combination of factors that brought his ride to a premature end. We all knew that it could have happened to any of us so it was a slightly reflective group that set off on that final day.