The one you’ve all been waiting for…..right?
Let’s answer those questions from the last NC500 post:
- What did we wake up to?
- Were our bikes still there against the outside wall?
- Were we in any condition to cycle ….?
And let’s start where we left off from …… 2 caterpillars seeking shelter from the tent destroying storm in the public toilets.
Let me just reiterate how clean these public toilets were….. We made our home in the accessible toilet space and soon after passed out with the comfort of the wind howling OUTSIDE to send us to sleep. This was actually a pretty good sleep! Cosy and undisturbed by tent poles crashing onto me. Luxury.
We awoke the next day at what I remember as 6am ish … to evaluate the situation. This wind was still rumbling, howling and battering the building – Kirstie and I looked at eachother. As much as we wanted to get going – we knew had to hold off to let it die down. So we fell back to asleep for a few hours. We made a good decision – the wind had calmed down.
Action stations. Time for the staple of most of our bike adventure breakfasts – porridge! Wolfing this down you’d think would be easy – appetite and all – but the on the go sachet can be hard to get down first thing … this is the case for both Kirstie and I. “Finish it – use some dried fruit for texture” we both said to eachother. Every. Last. Spoonful. Boiling our water for the all important coffee too was a very comforting sight and sound. Liquid gold.
Now to pack up – starting with a look at our sorry looking tents. We had taken over the whole inside of the building by hanging up our kit – making it look like a sad version of an outdoor gear shop haha! Rolling up our on – the – move lives into our bags, we started to hear the sound of car engines and soon enough we had our first visitor to our shelter. The look on their face was hilarious – and the visitors to follow. We would shortly explain our story of refuge and our trip to those who wanted to talk …. some were a bit freaked out by our elated faces and welcome to the building – caused by part of a good nights sleep. Can’t blame them – we had just had a coffee.
Packed up and ready to go, we started to lug our gear outside to our bikes…… which were thankfully still there and safe. No one would be cycling them off in that storm ….
After a nice hello from a very energetic Collie dog we hopped on our bikes – destination Gairloch. The coast road lay ahead – with a variety of weather systems flying around us. But the wind had died down – YES.
At this point we felt alright – the shelter and rest had done us good.
Push push push here we go.
Now the Bealach Na Ba was a challenge – no blooody doubt. But – this coast road was another ball game. Relentless hills that appeared out of no where. We managed to stay in a bubble of dry weather – with the rain chasing us the whole coast.
But wow – was it beautiful. We had the Isle of Skye to our left – what a view! This chunk was fueled by Colin the Caterpillar sweets (M&S’s finest) – supplied by Kirstie. Sugar was needed through these winding up’s and downs.
No cyclists in sight – at all. But why…..
Make way for the coos!
This cloud was spectacular!
On we pedaled, with tiny drops of rain hitting our faces when we stopped to snack – a good reminder to keep on moving.
Check our faces at the sight of a big chunk of downhill!!!! Featuring the insane view below!
Wow – what a descent it was. Brakes were needed.
A bit of rain headed our way…but that is what the waterproofs are for!
At one point we had to shelter under a tree when the heavens opened from that cheeky cloud that had been tailing us! Opportunity to snack too of course…
A guest house with a name suitable for any Lord of the Rings fans…
Onward to Sheildaig – where a big lunch was to be had. We plonked down in the cosy Sheildaig Bar and Coastal kitchen and kindly asked if we could dry off our rather drenched clothing – they kindly allowed us to on a blazing hot radiator. The luxury! Over lunch we discussed the reality of what we thought we could cover on our bikes that day – with the all important element of food in mind for those miles ahead. We planned to get to Gairloch and beyond to a potential bothy. Another very important talking point – was the weather. The weather systems coming to the West coast on that day ..and the following days to come were not safe. Over lunch – and with signal back on our phones / and through chatting with the staff – we were told of the Covid restrictions tightening up again in Scotland. This was to make a huge impact on our food restocking / stopping off for the rest of our trip and another thing that we had to seriously consider due to the remote locations ahead..
With the storm from the night before still echoing in our minds – I messaged one of my mums best pals who we had planned to say hello to in Gairloch, asking if we could stay with her that night. To our delight we received a big YES! and she agreed to meet us in Gairloch. We had no ETA to give as we honestly had no idea haha!
Absolutely stuffed from lunch we had to make a move towards Torridon. This was beautiful – truly breathtaking. What a corner of Scotland! Aaaaand the sun was back out.
This was such a lovely chunk of the cycle – and fast! Until we reached the – hilariously flat – Glen Torridon which partly follows the River Torridon. Why hilarious? It was hilarious because I found this bit the hardest – my energy was so flat it was insane. “Why why why – this is the flat bit Ana – get on with it” I said to myself and out loud for all the glen to hear! Kirstie stepped in at this point and made sure I shovelled down the snacks. I think this situation is called the “BONK” in cycling terms… where you reach an absolute flat of energy. I was BONKING haha.
What a place – for a snack stop.
From the combination of cycling those monstrous hills of the coast, the sea air (amazing) and the ever changing weather … I was starting to feel quite delirious and in a bit of a dream world. I mean – it all looked like a dream. Which didn’t help in staying fully awake haha. Rainbows and all!
Passing the mountains on either side was spectacular – and the road was beautifully smooth. This is what it is all about to me – being engulfed by these landscapes, feeling absolutely tiny and beautifully insignificant.
After a while I did start to wake up again – thank you for forcing the snacks Kirstie!! With our sights set on Kinlochewe now – we pedalled along, wave after wave from lovely passers by in cars or on motorbikes.
Just before Kinlochewe some impatient car came towards us – waay too close – particularly to Kirstie and forced her to fall off the road … and fall of her bike into a low ditch. This happened very gracefully to be honest! No injury done and just delirious laughs – we pulled in Kinlochewe to evaluate the situation.
All was fine – but by now the sun was going down very, very quickly. No service to contact my mums friend and really no idea the distance left – we set our lights on full beam and slipped into the night – now headed to Gairloch. I vividly remember the snack I shoved down as we set off – a Miniroll. YUM and important for sugar levels haha.
I think I have mentioned before in previous blog posts – but I really enjoy night riding. It is so peaceful with a heightened sense of awareness – and the deeper into the wild you are the better. This lay ahead for a good while to go!
To our right was Loch Maree and on our left Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve – although we couldn’t see them. We could see the mountains covered in a black cloak of night with their outlines only visible from the backdrop of faint (for now) stars.
No more delirium. And it felt so good. We picked up the pace, finding a good rhythm and enjoyed the peace and darkness of the landscape. I think this was honestly a favourite part of our trip and I remember it very fondly. My body temperature felt good with the cool of the night meeting my heat – a perfect balance. Let me tell you – for me that is rare on a cycle … either to hot or cold haha. This road was fantastic. Smooth and winding.
Looking towards Loch Maree my eye was caught by what looked like fire. “Kirstie that mountain is on fire!!” …. “What?” It was insane to see. (for those Lord of the Rings fans .. it looked like the BEACONS HAD BEEN LIT). This transfixed me … and it’s light didn’t dim whatsoever. “Maybe someone went up there to light a fire to signify something?”… we had a discussion. What it was I shall tell later on…
A car whooshed past us – and from following its lights we could see it going up hill. We continued to watch it …. it kept going… and going… and ………going. We looked at each other “It’s still not dropped down”.. as this would be an indication the hill ending. This went on for a long, long time… haha. We appeared to already be on the incline without knowing … gotta love the dark! The car finally dropped and we laughed.
We were still in a good rhythm and maintained it which felt great! A stop for some snacks not far from Victoria Falls – where the stars were fully out. What a gorgeous sky – and how lucky we felt.
Up and off we went in the ever darkening night – now we started to hit some up quick ups and and downs on the road that now became narrower .. we still were unsure how far we had to go. Winding down the road we saw car lights ahead … followed by a lot of tooting! “What the hell?” we said. We slowed down …. it was Susan! My mum’s friend. She leapt out and said she had just driven from Gairloch (which wasn’t far away) to find us – as we hadn’t been able to make contact – and she insisted we put our bikes in the back of the car. We were obviously grateful but also hesitant as we wanted to cycle on! But we did as Susan said and soon found ourselves around her big table guzzling some hot food. Admittedly I was feeling pretty sick and took a while to get any food down – due to the insanely winding car journey throwing my stomach up and down towards the edge of the world – Susan’s house – aka Rua Reidh lighthouse where we were lucky enough to call our home for that night.
The next morning was hard.
From the conversation we had been having with Susan that previous night – about the extreme weather systems coming our way, further restrictions and the reality of time, we had to make a decision. Even typing this brings back that feeling of what if and maybe we should have just pushed on.
Many tears were shed when we had to make the call – we had to stop. We felt guilty and a huge weight on our shoulders of responsibility to finish this challenge – not for us in a strange way, but for the wonderful charity and all those who had supported us. In the following days that feeling of guilt we realised was ridiculous. We had to be safe – for us.
If you know us personally – or maybe you have gathered from previous blogs – Kirstie and I are positive, can do and let’s go get it kinda women! So this was very hard to sit ourselves down and say stop – but in this case our health/safety was most important, even though it was hard to reach that conclusion amidst everything else.
The following days were calm and we took time to let our bodies catch up with our minds – and no better place to do it than in the middle of nowhere – with the extremely generous care of Susan. It was nice to not be tied to social media – telling people or explaining why we had to stop to everyone. We wrote our news for our donation page and left it at that. No one had heard from us since the start of our journey – and we received only kind and supportive words. Of course we didn’t expect any words of “why didn’t you keep going” – but that thought was hard to shake from the back of our minds when we had come off of such a high of the west coast and the act of physically stopping – halting our challenge that we were – and remain very passionate about.
Us. Taking time for us.
While up at the lighthouse, we walked and talked through the days of our cycle – with huge smiles on our faces. Even though we didn’t finish this time – what we experienced in those days was honestly life affirming and mind strengthening.
Also – the fire looking beacon at the top of Slioch? That was MARS!!!!!!! Blazing in all its glory. How lucky we were.
A word on friendship.
Kirstie – the monster that she is (in the best way) is and will be a great friend on many an adventure to come. This was a bloody tough experience – fun, hilarious and filled with happy memories, yes – but I feel I can say for both of us that this was also one of the hardest trips mentally I think either of us have been on. With no competition of speed or anything between us – this was a truly honest cycle filled with our own madness and freedom feeling seeking selves.
I feel very lucky to have done this trip with Kirstie – and to have this friendship. We could be our crap and great selves – and at the end of the day still be able to laugh. And ultimately make a very hard decision together – for two equally as stubborn ladies.
If you’ve got yourself a Kirstie – lucky you.
On the way back with our partners who very kindly picked us up – we saw the vast distances we had crossed – AND THAT HILL IN THE DARKNESS. As well as the Bealach Na Ba – pictured below. I am proud of us.
This North Coast 500 challenge will be back – and with all the positivity and love we brought with us the last time – for the incredible Scottish Association of Mental Health.
This is not the end of this story – if we have anything to do with it!
Thank you for your continued support.