A slight pang of jealousy crossed my heart this morning. Watching somebody set out on something you have done yourself can have that effect. I put it down to knowing the route, the seemingly endless days of nothing to do but pedalling, the freedom that brings with it and the openness you feel for a short time as you proceed with nothing else getting in the way of your simple lifestyle. It’s all there in front of you. All you have to do is the day to day mileage and look after your health as you go. It may be a challenge, but it’s also a privilege to have the time and the energy to do such a thing. My lap of the UK coast will live with me until I die as one of the great highlights my life. Born out of struggle and pain, those 6500 kilometres were the beginning of a much longer road, one I’m still on.
Riding around the UK was the start of fighting back, the start of acceptance of my illness and the start of my recovery. Everybody who makes this trip has their own reasons for doing it. They are all unique and I can only wish Natalie the best of luck as she continues her journey around this wonderful island. You can find out more or follow Natalie here http://www.zebraonabike.co.uk.
Perhaps it was that small twinge of jealousy that made me log onto my computer and book a flight to Scotland. I had been thinking about it for ages, but the idea of a more prolonged ride was eating away inside me, baiting my mind to lead me out into the hills to explore a little more. I’d been following Kayak prices on flights for a while. Anyone following this blog will know that I am petrified of flying, but you will also know that I have forced myself to make a few over the past ten years. The only way I can do this is to book it a long time in advance and then work on the feelings of dread until it feels a little less daunting. At that point I numb my mind using Diazepam and board the aircraft.
After last year’s ride, which I abandoned a couple of weeks in, I decided to stay in the UK. I need to play it safe. There are so many adventures to be had here that I would need several other lives to explore them all. Aside from riding around the UK coastline, my other trips included cycling from Lands End to the north of Shetland taking in Ireland’s west coast from cork to Larne and the Outer Hebrides. There was a highly enjoyable journey down the West coast of France (La Velodysee) and then across the Pyrenees to the Med’. A couple of years ago, Kermit and I rode across the UK from Devon to Suffolk, up into Norfolk, across to Snowdonia and then south through the Welsh mountains to Chepstow. I love each of the countries that make up this island chain. They are so varied.
For some people, that first trip would be an introduction to travelling further and wider each subsequent journey. For me it was a one-off. I was ill with an unhealthy lifestyle and needed to change that. Riding2Recovery: a journey within a journey, was the point where the pendulum began to swing the other way, in my favour.
My cycling has since become a more integrated part of my life. I still have choices. I can save up and go on long adventures every few years or I can take shorter trips every year, depending on my health. I see the latter as the healthier option. Long trips, as good as they are, deplete your reserves and throw you out of balance when you come home. I spent my younger life doing this by hurling myself into all things climbing and flying and forgetting to allow other things into my life. Quite simply, I was hiding from emotional pain that I didn’t want to face. I have now come to a point where I’m happy to get out and see the world in a less demanding way, something I see as personal progress.
So, Scotland it is. My flight will deposit me near Inverness and the rest is up to me. I will definitely be following the North Coast 500 up the west coast and across the top of the mainland as far as Dunnet Head. From there I intend to return to the small village of Betty Hill and then head south through the mountains, rather than follow the A9 down the east coast as the NC500 does. I’ve never done the latter part through Sutherland, so why not? Back in Inverness I will then follow Sustrans National Cycle Network (NCN) routes through the Cairngorms and back to Edinburgh with a couple of side trips thrown in for fun.
From Edinburgh I may well go south and east using NCN 1, something I also haven’t done previously. It’s a dog leg and looks fabulous on the map. I have an old mate in Berwick and would like to catch up with him (something I wanted to do last year.) From there, NCN 68 leads south as far as Derby and forms a cyclable Pennine Way, one that’s available to most people and not just proper mountain bikes. It’s unlikely I will get as far as Derby though as I hope to meet Michele somewhere further north, so we can explore together.
Writing this down and publishing it is part of my motivation. It makes it real and helps my mind settle on all the things I need to do to make it happen. It gives me a time line on which to prepare my equipment and Kermit for the task. Having a leaving date means I can decide where I need to be in five or six weeks and make sure I am at that point. Doing this makes the process less stressful as I can see that I will be ready to rumble come leaving day. It is all flexible to allow for days when I feel less well and unexpected problems that always seem to materialise.
I am aware that this is quite early for Scotland. I’ve chosen May because traditionally it can be quite settled then, and I hope to avoid the worst of the midges (July/August). It will also be quieter in terms of other visitors at that time of year (no school holidays). Because of the earlier dates I have to also consider my equipment. It could be quite cold and wet, so my packing will reflect that. In short it means that I will have to carry more clothing than I normally would to make sure I’m comfortable on and off the bike.
It’s my intention to use two sleeping bags, one inside the other, to maximise warmth and flexibility. This means I can use both together or either separately, something I have found useful in the past, rather than have one three season bag that is too hot for warmer days. Michele kindly bought me a pair of stretch, windproof and showerproof trousers for my birthday. I can use these on drizzly days and cover with my normal waterproof trousers on properly wet days. These were not expensive, but I’m finding them perfect for cycling at this time of the year as they are reasonably breathable and don’t make annoying scrunching noises every time I pedal. These will be accompanied by my Altura winter tights and Sealskinz waterproof socks, hat and gloves. I think you are now getting the picture of what I expect?
I would guess the biggest question is whether to take Trevor (my faithful trailer) or panniers. I think this time the panniers will win. There is less advantage to the trailer with a trike over a bike. Panniers are much lighter and tuck in behind the seat. The extra weight on the rear wheel helps traction on steep, wet roads too. Trevor is much nicer to use in terms of packing and unpacking. You don’t have to go near the kind of filth that sticks to panniers. But that aside, I reckon this ride will be hard enough as it is and every kilo I can save will be a bonus.
So, there you have it. The beginnings of a plan, the initial thoughts around creating another wee adventure. All there is to do now is to fill in the gaps, and service Kermit, and do some riding, and decide what to take, and check it all over before leaving, and get my head in the right place, and sort out what meds I need and complete my mapping and planning and……………….!!!!!!!!!!!!
Until next time …………….