Day 4 didn’t start too well, as I had woken after around 3 hours and headed back out into the night to try to complete the missing leg from the day before. The wind hadn’t subsided, but the rain had reduced to a drizzle. Coming from a park of the country that suffers from 24 hour light pollution, the extreme darkness was noticeable. But, not only was it still dark, it was cold, and it quickly became clear that I was still more tired than I cared to admit. I managed mostly to stay awake, with a new naps on the handlebars, but with the next motorway services not too far away I knew that coffee and breakfast would help. It wasn’t a truly 24 hr stop, so choices were limited, but I sorted myself out, topped up with coffee and headed back outside.
I needed to get moving, as I was only a few miles still from the van. The next stop was Hamilton but it was still 35 miles away. The road quality was still poor, and I was beginning to feel very tender. Despite an empty road, I opted for a while to ride on the cycle path that ran along side the road, not because of safety, but for comfort. Much of the segregated path was new and nicely surfaced. The road was doing me too much damage. My pace had slowed to less than 12 mph…hardly a world record pace. I was still struggling to stay awake, but I started to revive a little once dawn began to appear and the rain subsided a little.
Eventually the lonely road started to give way to civilisation and a lovely looking services near Lesmahagow. I was hungry and desperately in need of more caffeine. It was around 6:30, so after a message to Del to let him know where I was, I settled down on the ground, shut my eyes and slept until they opened half an hour later. I tried to eat my bodyweight in food at breakfast, and just relaxed for a short while before making my way towards Hamilton and then Glasgow, now wide awake and full of energy. Hamilton, was the end of the previous day’s Leg 3, so although I had caught up a little, I was still over a full leg down on my plan going into Day 4
A good route through Glasgow, along Clydebank and Dumbarton had been provided to me and I began to make surprisingly good progress. The route included lots of cycle paths, many totally segregated, and I rode past Celtic Football Stadium, and the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome.
I met up with Del briefly in Dumbarton at lunchtime following urban roads and cycle paths (which I made a mental note not to repeat on the return). The sun had finally come out, and I started to enjoy the ride again. The sun somehow always makes the day seem better. I was also heading towards Loch Lomond, which I was really looking forward to. It didn’t disappoint.
The ride was way off schedule now, so we rejigged start and stop points and the new aim for the day was to at least make it to Fort William. It seemed like a sensible destination and would enable me to make good progress towards John O’Groats the next day.
I had in my head that I wanted to get over the mountains that day.
I noticed going both north and south, that I had started creating certain targets…”I want to get over the border” (Wales, Scotland, England etc), or “I’m getting over these mountains tonight”. When things don’t go to plan, it’s these kind of more solid interim goals that keep you moving when it would be way too easy to stop. I think that I started thinking like this years ago when I first started riding long distance. I’ve found that it’s a particularly useful way of avoiding giving up when the going gets tough. Instead of, “I’ll get to the next town and catch the train”, which I did once, and then regretted, I’ll say to myself, “I’ll get to the next town, have a short break, then see how I feel”. Invariably I feel better then, and set a new goal, saying exactly the same. Before you know it, the brain is saying, it’s only 10 miles, no point in giving up now.
Heading to the Highlands
Riding along the A82 alongside Loch Lomond was just magical.. I’d only ever driven past it, and so on the bike I got to enjoy it’s beauty in slower time, despite having my head down getting the miles in. I was back into the rhythm of my pre-determined leg lengths again, although at a slower pace than I had planned before the ride started. Eventually though the road started to climb again, and I was soon heading into the mountains. I passed the Green Welly and continued riding the ups and downs of the now quiet roads, heading into early evening. The ride was amazing, all the storm, the saddle sores and the tiredness had melted away. I was in the Highlands, and I was in heaven. As the sun started to set, I reached the top of an area called Black Mountain. Del was waiting for me, taking in the scene. It was the most stunning sunset, among the most beautiful scenery. I knew that time wasn’t on my side, but there are times when you just need to take in nature. At that moment I just wanted to soak it in. It didn’t matter what happened before or after, this was the moment of the ride that I most wanted to remember. This short video expresses my emotions at the time brilliantly
But this moment had to end as it was about to get dark, and I still had a lot of miles to complete. I had 12 miles of descent ahead, into a mountain valley on a chilly evening. I gave Del a clear instruction to not go too far ahead, as I might be in need of a clothing adjustment and a hot drink before reaching Glencoe. Although wrapped up ready for descending the temperature plummeted quickly. I wanted to get as close to Glencoe as possible before it became completely dark as I didn’t know the road. I hadn’t thought to put on full finger gloves, and as day turned to night I began to shiver. Del was no where to be seen, and I needed to warm up. It was one of those strange situations where the only way to warm up was to stop riding and stand still. Eventually I saw the familiar flashing beacon from the top of Dora, almost at the bottom of the descent. The cold though had brought out my angry side, and I launched a verbal attack on my poor husband who was stood there armed with a hot cup of tea. The tea was really needed, except that he then told me to drink quickly or leave it as I needed to make progress. This did nothing to temper my rapidly angering mood and I wrapped up in another layer and set off into the darkness to complete the pass towards Ballachulish.
Once through the pass, the road levelled out, as I was now at Loch Leven. It was still cold, but so quiet. The pandemic situation meant that Scotland didn’t have the normal volume of holiday makers, and so, once it got dark, the roads were deserted. Eventually as the lights of Fort William came into view, I knew that I needed to talk to someone different. So I called my coach and just let off steam.
I slept well in the van at Fort William. I knew I needed to sleep, so no alarm was set and I was content to sleep for as long as I needed, as I knew that it would help to speed me up the next day. I was now a long way down on my target time, and the likelihood of achieving a 8.5 day record had all but slipped away. But, I had decided at the beginning, that I was going to finish this journey regardless of what happened, and a couple of bad days wasn’t going to stop me. Tomorrow was another day, and with no big mountains ahead I planned on trying to get to John O’Groats before the end of day 5.