This week was different. Reaching John O Groats was special. it was the furthest North I would get to and such a landmark. As I approached it, after a really hard 67 mile day battling headwinds and rain, I was totally overwhelmed emotionally.
Tears flooded my face at the seemingly sudden realisation that I’d pedalled so far.
Just less than two years ago I could only manage 10 miles. Arriving at JOG, I was In a state of shocked disbelief at the sudden realisation of how hard I’d worked to be here. Many others have been here too and they kept arriving as I spent a day absorbing food and the scenery. I was here, and I’d pedalled, it seemed unreal.
I had no interesting conversations with End to Enders, most seemed a bit time/mileage obsessed. other touring cyclists were different somehow, more interested in the journey.
I tried to explain the difference when you ride roads, cinder, clay rock & grass, but most seemed Devoted to carbon road bikes and support crews!! all of that was another planet away from my world, as was the continuous stream of empty drinks bottles on the A9, thrown away, presumably by some of those on the End to End. My philosophy is to leave no trace of being there, and I reckon there are plenty of End to Enders who feel the same, but sadly many who just don’t think of anything but ‘the challenge’.
Reports from other people on rides for charity suggested there are large, highly organised charity groups doing the equivalent of ‘over-fishing’ going from pub to pub with quizzes and all manner of things, collecting large sums of cash on the way.
I got into direct conversations with people suffering ‘charity fatigue’ from large groups of End to Enders expecting free camping as they went around trawling the pubs.
How people travel is there business and lots of money is raised this way. I don’t want to belittle It at all, these are just observations.
Since leaving JOG, I have found people much more generous and open to my cause, including other cyclists!! No more conversations that start with ” how long did it take you”, the reply to which was, “2 months”, end of conversation!!
I feel really relaxed now I’m poised at the top of the West Coast in Durness and as luck would have it, today is sunny and warm.
I’m doing short days (35-40 miles max) all the way down through the highlands. I feel I need to slow down and soak up this amazing place. It fills my soul up just being here.
The journey across the roof of Scotland was amazing. I split it into two days, stopping at Bettyhill on the campsite there. The second day had huge climbs, heavy rain, fog and Wildly varying temperatures.
It also went from moonscape in the fog to serene beauty on the coast with huge mountains and truly wild scenery. Turquoise seas and white sand beaches are all around. There is no air traffic and precious little vehicular traffic either.
Cape Wrath has lifted it’s veil today, the huge cliffs shining in the pale sun. Artic Turns are playing in the sky and it seems the whole campsite has gone out for the day.
That leaves me and a few others with a huge amount of space and peace to enjoy.
The convoys of plastic motorhomes are all gone, driven off to ‘wild camp’ as they call it, now they’ve charged their batteries, filled fridges, dumped waste, filled water tanks and done the washing!!
A man in a croft told me that the biggest motorhome he’d seen camped at his certificated location. It had no windows at the back and he couldn’t work it out. Some time later, the doors opened, a ramp came down followed shortly by a Smart car!!!!!! Thunderbirds are go!!!!
For me, Scotland is still an area where I can make sense of the world. It doesn’t attack me, it’s not ‘in my face’ to spend money on crap I don’t need or want. The people who come here (including the motorhome owners) also come for this, but it is changing, as they demand more and more with their mobile Ikeas!
Anyway, the next weeks riding makes my heart tingle. Clachtoll, Achnahaird, Ullapool, Gruinard and Applecross. Any one of them would be a bonus, but they’re all here, just waiting for the ‘slow train’, that is me and Irene, to get to them.
Every hill demands a huge effort. Every view a photograph and every cyclist walker & cafe owner a conversation. One such conversation with ‘Bas & Cas’ revealed two walkers who had walked from Lands End to JOG. Carrying relatively small packs, they’d camped on the way. I take my hat off to them, that’s a long walk (1139 miles) and most importantly, they’d had a really good time doing it.
They’re home now, and I’m 2200 miles into my journey. Long may it continue to be as interesting and incredible as it’s been up to now.
See you all soon :-)))))