John O’Groats or bust
After around an hour’s sleep, I was up again, in the early morning, heading towards Wick just as the sun was coming up. It was windy, and there was still the odd rain shower in the air, but the morning skies were amazing and vast.
The road was still beautifully smooth, but I could now see the empty landscape, and the sea wasn’t far away. I needed food, and looked to see if there was any sign of a 24 hour petrol station as I approached the town. There wasn’t, but there was a large Tesco, due to open in 20 minutes, and so I waited. Suitably refreshed, and with a stack of Danish pastries (& a Red Bull) inside me, I rode the final few miles to John O’Groats to find Del waiting for me, cup of tea in hand at the famous signpost. There were some other JOGLE’rs, who planned on walking the route, and we all wished each other luck on our respective journeys. I was slightly outside my new target, but I had made the half way point in 5 days, 1 hour and 45(ish) minutes. I was quite pleased with that, despite now being a whole day behind on my plan. The thing that had kept me going was the thought of a full Scottish breakfast at a main hotel. I was at the half way point, and felt that I had earned this short bit of luxury before setting off again. It was a very odd arrangement though. Scotland hotels had only opened up again around 3 weeks prior to my visit, and they were still getting used to being ‘Covid Secure’. This hotel hadn’t quite mastered it’s routines yet. I asked for a full breakfast, but the girl on reception said they couldn’t do it as they only had a limited menu due to the circumstances. So I asked what she had. She couldn’t do me a full breakfast of toast, sausage, bacon and eggs. But, I could order (separately) toast, sausage, bacon and eggs. No, we didn’t understand the logic either. So I asked for everything they had, washed it down with gallons of tea, and then set off into the wind again, knowing that every mile was now a mile closer to the end.
I checked on the dotwatchers Facebook group and was amazed at all the messages of support. You would have thought that I had finished with all the congratulations that I was receiving. But there was no question of even thinking that it felt like the end. In my head it was always just the half way point, but knowing that it was a shorter distance home now felt good. The fundraising had gone through the roof too whilst I wasn’t watching, although I was struggling to take it all in.
It’s all down hill from here
As I left John O’Groats at 8:30 am, I was looking forward to having a mighty tailwind but it was not to be. There was a fierce cross wind, and although slightly favourable, the gusts threatened to throw me off my bike on several occasions. I was convinced that the wind was trying to kill me, and despite the sunshine it was freezing cold and brutal.
This was to be my longest ‘leg’ at 63 miles, but it also turned out to be one of the most stressful. My pace was ok, but it was physically draining. Tiredness had caught up on me, and I stopped at several ‘Audax hotels’ (bus stops shelters to everyone else) to rest my eyes, and give my arms a rest, as my hands were tight on my handlebars trying to keep the bike going in a straight line in the wind. Del found me along the route, and fed me some more, whilst I drank more coffee to wake myself up a bit.
The day went on, and eventually the wind became manageable as I headed south. Berriedale Braes was beautiful now that I could see it in daylight, but seemed a much steeper climb going southbound. My legs were starting to feel heavy, and every pedal stroke was a mission, although I felt very thankful for the glassy smooth tarmac again. In my exhausted state though I just couldn’t appreciate the magic of the ride in the same way as the night before.
Eventually, I reached Brora and spent some time resting my body, but not sleeping. Del, aware that I had been craving pie and chips for days (Scottish chip shops only seemed to be open in the evenings), spotted the chippy open, and delivered.
“I need to tell you something important about this pie” he said.
“Don’t tell me it’s deep fried?” I replied, to which he just smiled at me
I didn’t care, it had never tasted so good. I knew I was going to need a good sleep but I wanted to get as far south as possible. It was already 6:30pm before I left Brora, and so we planned that we would decide how far I could continue, when we got to Dingwall. The leg started well, and despite the wind it was a lovely, if cold, evening, but after Tain and as darkness began to fall, so did my ability to stay awake. I had less than 20 miles to go, but I struggled to stay upright. This time, the monotony of the A9, and total darkness lulled me off to sleep. I would stop in laybys, and rest my eyes, and even found a bench by a church, stopping for a quick powernap. But the more tired I got, the more I felt the cold and shivered as I rode. The A9 seemed to be endless, when only 24 hours earlier, it had seemed like it was much shorter. Eventually I could stay awake for no longer and was in danger of falling off my bike. I tried to call Del, to find me in my layby, but there was no signal. I sent a message, and resigned myself to continuing, shutting my eyes momentarily in each layby as I crept at a snail’s pace along the route. My message got through, and I arrived at the Cromarty Bridge junction, to see the familiar and so welcome orange flashing beacon. I handed Del my bike, ate as much food as I could, and then settled down to sleep leaving instructions to let me sleep for as long as I needed. I had no trouble falling asleep this time.