Magic skies

It’s perhaps one of the hardest things to do in life, writing about an incredibly positive experience whilst sitting in the shadow of a tragedy. Just over a two weeks ago, we lost Morgan Taborn, Michele’s son, to as yet unknown causes. This has had a massive impact on our family. At 6’ 7” and only 36 years old, Morgan was a gentle giant, full of love and great fun to be around and talk to. I spent too little time to really know him, but his affable nature meant I always looked forward to seeing him again, whenever that would be. Rest peacefully Morgan. There is a huge amount of love for you in this world.

Prior to all this I had set of for Scotland on 1st of May, flying to Inverness with Kermit and lots of winter woollies stowed away in my huge, 64 litre, Carradice recumbent panniers. I have a strong fear of flying as you know, but I needed to do it. The alternatives, being so expensive, would have seen me staying at home.

Michele took me to Bristol airport. By the time we parted I was in a state of massive anxiety and barely aware of what was going on around me. Once airborne, most of the flight was fine. I enjoyed looking at the Pennines out of the window and thinking about how long it would be before I arrived there to finish my ride. I spent the bumpy landing talking incessantly to the young chap next to me as a distraction (thank you).  By the time we were down my breathing was entirely of the yoga-type. The panic I feel at these times seems all but uncontrollable, but it started to subside as soon as we touched down. Goodness knows how much energy was used in that ten-minute period.

My new Luxe Mini peak was a great choice for this trip. Lots of space and so easy to pitch. Despite low ratings on hydrostatic head, it took all the stormy weather with ease.

We were piped into the terminal and offered a free whisky, the perfect start to my trip. Only the strong wind, blowing directly from my intended direction of travel, would be a fly in today’s ointment. Or so I thought. On receiving Kermit and my luggage, there appeared to be something missing: half a flagpole. I had purposely placed the poles in the large laundry bag I used to stow my panniers and other luggage for the flight. Search as they might, it was gone.

Despite waiting for the staff to try to find the bottom half of my flagpole, I was soon ready to leave, much to the surprise of the two ladies who were setting off on a tour and were currently rebuilding their bikes after flying them up here in boxes. I intended to ride through the afternoon to a campsite at Contin, near Strathpeffer. Even at this early stage, and partly due to the strong wind, I changed my route to use the Kessock bridge and then follow the north shore of the Beauly Firth to the Muir of Ord. I figured it might be a bit more sheltered than the southern shore.

Prior to that I had to head into Inverness. I wanted to escape the main road, and my efforts to do that saw me take a wrong turning. There was only one shown on my map, and I headed off to goodness knows where. After pedalling uphill for twenty minutes it became clear that this was wrong. Five minutes later (it was a steep hill) I was back on the main road, heading into the wind, grateful to be recumbent and not hunched over the handlebars of a bike. My map was missing three minor turns. I wondered how many others along my intended route might be the same? I was also already glad that I had brought my heaviest winter shell jacket as the wind was not only strong but cold and biting.

I didn’t explore Inverness, I would be back later. Instead I found the things I needed, food and fuel, and left as quickly as I could. It was mid afternoon by now and the remaining twenty-five miles or so would take longer than I had anticipated in the gale that was blowing in my face. I found solace in having everything I needed and knowing that wherever I ended up that night I wouldn’t be hungry or without shelter. I relaxed and began what would turn out to be an incredible journey that was quite different from the one I envisaged while sat at my kitchen table planning. That’s the wonder of adventure. Things always seem to end up differently from your plan, as long as you let them by being flexible in your mind.

Perfect sunset: a great reason to camp.

Almost straight away on leaving the airport I was shown that my fitness wasn’t where I might want it to be starting a long, arduous, tour. I knew from that moment that the decisions I made on the road would determine whether or not I had an enjoyable few weeks. As I made my way to Contin, I felt tired. It was probably a consequence of the diazepam I took to help manage the flight, along with the huge amount of emotional energy it took to get through it. I could have camped earlier, but decided I wanted to ride. So, in the aftermath of all that spent energy I plodded along gently and slowly, knowing time was on my side.

I dropped down steeply from the end of the Kessock bridge to the water’s edge below. I was glad of the flat around the Beauly Firth. There were virtually no cars and the narrow road felt just right for starting a Scottish adventure. My mind slotted straight into travel mode now I was clear of the main Inverness road. My eyes were drawn to the water and the wildlife that appeared to be enjoying it. The stiff breeze saw me changing down a gear or two. Fighting the wind would waste lots of energy for little gain, so I gave in to it and plodded.

Something I have always done on my adventures is to plan the first night’s stop-over and check out that any campsites I intend to use are open. This trip was no different, so imagine my surprise when I found my campsite with gates locked and nobody around. The side gate was open, so I went in and found a note on the door saying please pitch, we will see you in the morning. I squeezed Kermit through the gap, under the chain across the drive, and set up camp. From the few visible patches of flattened grass, others had done the same. It was only when I went to the toilet block that I found everything locked, all the toilets and showers aside from one women’s shower. Fortunately, the water was on. The shower was much needed, and it felt as though I washed away the effort of pedalling and the distress of flying in just a few minutes.

Kermit hides in a friends garden during a warm up ride a few weeks before I left for Scotland

There is an excellent small shop next to the site. I went in and asked about the campsite. The young women said it should be open and didn’t know why there was nobody around. Back at my tent it was getting cold. The temperature would fall close to zero tonight. Large clouds gathered, threatening rain or hail, and distant mountains still had some snow covering although they were rather piebald in appearance. I became increasing glad that my approach to this tour had seen me err on the side of caution and take winter clothing and bedding. Somebody once said “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” As I settled down in my winter stretch trousers and duvet jacket, I felt I agreed with them.

The adventure had begun. Until next time…………………………….