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DAY 11 - Ardlui to Speen Bridge (86 Miles)

PhotoAnother big and tough day - the most physically demanding yet.

I was up and out of the room at the B&B by 5.30. I had lain awake most of the early hours recounting yesterday's epic and wanting to make sure I could get my bike fit for the long day ahead. Outside the relentless Scottish weather continued but I thoroughly enjoyed the time alone faffing with my bike. Chris had packed a stove and tea bags into the van, so I brewed-up and pottered about with the tailgate of the van keeping the worst of the rain at bay. Ian Palmer must've woken up about 6am because we played some text tennis which really added to me getting ready for the day. I sorted out all my kit and bike and finally went back into the B&B for breakfast at 7.30. I decided to take all the time I needed to eat and get ready, the guys didn't seem to mind and gave me the space I needed.

We set of in the rain, back to Tarbett and along the poorly surfaced loch side road. We came across another end-to-ender who we called ‘Orange Man' on account of his orange jacket. He told us that he was heading for Inverness that day! He was averaging 160 miles per day (we averaged 70) and was hoping to complete the challenge in 5 days. He was from Cambridgeshire and most of his training was on the flat – he was going to just love Glen Coe… With his steady pace and our spurts we stayed with him over Ranoch Moor. I was feeling really tired a lot of the time today and had to let Nige and Di go on without me. A lot of the time they would be quite far ahead. The wind battered us as we crossed the moor and then became an invisible wall to us as we turned west to cycle up Glen Coe. The famous Glen is an awe inspiring part of the British Isles. The mountains on either side are steep and humbling and the river rages along it with its never ending supply of water. I know this because I have visited the place before – this time I couldn't see a damn thing for the fog and the constant rain that battered my face all the way up The Valley of Torture!

Just before the top the guys slowed and I was able to catch them up. As I came alongside Nige he confessed to feeling dizzy. Nige is quite bad at managing his nutrition during a days ride and due to the weather we hadn't had many food stops so I wasn't surprised. Being diabetic, I always had food to hand and so a passed him an energy bar. We rode a bit further and I caught Di. We looked back and Nige was quite a way behind us so we stopped. When Nige caught us up he was in a bad way. I gave him more food and we set off again. We met Chris with the van just over the top of Glen Coe and this was when I noticed that Nige was showing the early symptoms of hyperthermia. Annoyed with myself at not seeing it earlier and giving him quite a lot of food, his body would now using valuable energy to consume before releasing it to keep him warm, I opted not to get into the van but to get off the hill. The van would've been an inviting prospect, but we'd have to face the howling wind and rain at some point. So we dropped down to Ballachulish and a warm café. All the time I kept an eye on Nige, we sang songs, he knew the words and his conversation was fine. By the time we were flooding the café floor and drinking tea we were all good.

The stretch from Ballachulish to Fort Bill was hard work. The weather got worse, the traffic was heavy and the wind a constant reminder that cycling is stupid! The last time I had chatted to Orange Man he'd told me about a blog he'd read by a guy who was using LE JOG to overcome depression. The author had likened depression to ‘cycling into a headwind your whole life'. Di and I sang the whole of Queen's Greatest Hits album – this proved to be an effective antidote to depression!

We stopped briefly at Fort Bill. Chris restocked our supply of inner tubes (I'd had a few disasters in my morning workshop). With only 15 miles to Spean Bridge we cracked on. One of my lowest points wass after riding for what seemed like ages we saw a sign in the distance, expecting it to read ‘Spean Bridge 4 miles'. When it finally came in to view it actually read ‘Spean Bridge 10 miles'. I could've cried! It might as well have read ‘Spean Bridge, just the other side of the moon fat boy'.

Eventually we reached Spean Bridge and were greeted by an impossibly steep hill on the track up from the road to the B&B. After a Bullshit Baffles Brains moment in honour of the commando memorial in the town, I was at the top. And promptly collapsed into the wet grass and enjoyed the sensation of the rain falling on my face while the guys put the bikes away.

After a visit to the Commando Monument and supper at a proper local pub, where we learned that Chris doesn't like venison and Di cant play Charades, we slipped into the tea/plan/bed routine again.
This was a really epic day. If you want to find out if you've got what it takes to ride LE JOG then go and just do this route. On a fine day you will have the most amazing time. On an inclement day it will really test you. Good luck.


DAY 12 - Speen Bridge to Conon Bridge (63 Miles)

Nige and Di find their pace so we spend the day sprinting!

I had another early start and got down to the bike and was rewarded with the most stunning view of Aonach Mor and Ben Nevis peeping around its shoulder. Something odd also happened and it took me a while to understand what it was – ahh – NO RAIN!

We rode passed the Commando memorial which looked Resplendent in the morning sunshine and a fast sprint along Loch Lochy. A brief stop with Chris at Fort Augustus for snack and another sprint along Loch Ness. Nige and Di were ahead of me a lot of the time which was a little disheartening as I think I would've preferred to have taken more time along this stretch. The weather was fine and the scenery spectacular – from what I remember. But the sprints were a good way of shaking off the previous couple of frustrating day.

Chris met us again at Dramnadrochit where I bought a few mementos and foolishly crammed in three BLT sandwiches. Foolish because what followed was the toughest climb of the whole tour! We turned left from the shores of Loch Ness and headed over the tops towards Beauly. 3/4mile at 17% climb killed the conversation! I knew it was tough when a lorry slowed behind me, stopped and couldn't get going again – very steep! Every climb though is rewarded and we had some stunning views on the top. Before a short and sharp descent into Conon Bridge.

We arrived at some ridiculous time of about 1.30pm and if the weather hadn't made itself known again, we probably would've ventured into town. As it was it took us all afternoon to work the budget accommodation's bath and shower facilities.


DAY 13 - Conon Bridge to Helmsdale

Days like these and I could ride forever!

I did the now customary early start and had a brew on the vans tailgate while I sorted out my admin. Chris had woken in the night to the sound of an alarm in the bar. He'd woken me up and I'd lied about hearing it too. So at breakfast the joke was that he was starting to hear things in his old age or starting to suffer from tinnitus – not funny if you're a tinnitus sufferer – but funny if you want to take the mickey out of your support driver!

We had another fast start and rode quickly through Dingwall. Its really nice to ride through a town as its waking up, you really get a buzz from the town's energy. We sped along Cromarty Firth, now assisted by a really strong tail wind. Nige started to navigate and was determined to take us over the bridge over the Firth, until we checked the map and showed him that the bridge headed South!

At Alness we got off the main road and headed over the top towards Bonar Bridge. The wind was really strong here and across our direction of travel. Thankfully the roads were fairly quiet and so other than being really scary, when we were blown from one side of the road to the other, it wasn't too dangerous…..! Now I found my legs. With a mix of good pace keeping, fast climbing and good downhill skills I pulled quite a lead from the guys who were slowing due to the cross wind. I waited for them quite a while a Bonar Bridge, long enough to receive a good lecture on sportsmanship from Coach Chris! Oops, sorry coach.

We then headed back towards the main A9 along the Dornoch Firth and cycling was an absolute pleasure all the way to Helmsdale. The strong wind at our backs pushed us along the coast in the sunshine. We had amazing views of the North Sea and could see right out to the oil rigs in the distance. The signs of population dropped dramatically and it was almost a disappointment to arrive at our destination. Chris had split from us for the afternoon and had gone back to Inverness to collect Lisa from the Airport. Again he proved to be worth his weight in gold by stopping at the B&B in Helmsdale and dropping off our bags so we could get showered and clean on our arrival.

We arrived in Helmsdale early enough to spend some time looking about the town. We found a great café near the harbour and took time to have hot brews and jacket spuds – yummy. The thing I liked the most about the afternoon spent in Helmsdale was enjoying the company of Nige and Di. Without Chris we reflected on what the trip had meant to us all. Don't get me wrong, Chris has been a fantastic friend and huge asset to the team, it's just that he hasn't been with us from the start. For me the afternoon in Helmsdale felt like the ‘right' end to the trip. The next day we would all be in a melancholy mood for our own reasons. But those couple of hours on the penultimate day were perfect. We went back to the B&B and waited for Lisa. It was truly FANTASTIC to see her coming along the road in the van while I waited, sat on the wall like a lovesick teenager!

We had dinner in the B&B while we excitedly told Lisa all the stories of the last two weeks. Phew – we've come a long way.


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