Headline: Ride completed, sad to get back to reality
Route: Kyle of Sutherland to John o’ Groats
Miles: 104.1 miles
Cycling time: 8.00.30 on the road, ride time 6.57.26
Average speed: 15.14 mph
Total ascent: 4541ft
Weather: Blessed to the end. Noticeably cooler in the north of Scotland
Total time on the road during the 9 day journey: 74.37.50
There are mixed emotions all round about the last day. A sense of achievement to be completing a challenging journey, but sad that this life in the saddle, living in the protective RAB bubble, is coming to an end.
Today, the last day of cycling, was one of the most stunning of them all. We set off at 6am to allow for an early arrival at the finish. So the Falls of Shin were ridden in the emerging light of dawn, giving rise to an atmospheric view of the silhouette of Invershin Castle. As day fully broke we pushed on to Cairg, then dropped into Altnaharra for an early pit stop. The next section, from Altnaharra to Reay was one of most beautiful of the ride, long swooping roads hugging lochs and the foothills of majestic climbs, before heading to an energetic coastline. There was a long climb through the pretty and aptly named Betty Hill, followed by the northern coast road, with its enchanting views of cliffs and sandy coves. From Reay we ventured to Thurso for the last leg. I found myself slowing down, riding on my own, in no hurry for the journey to end. The final stretch offered up views of the Orkney Islands, a window into adventures to come, perhaps. John o’ lay in sight, considerably more built upon since I was last there quite a few years ago.
The feeling of achievement as you ride through the finishing arch is quite overwhelming. With hand aloft (only one as advised, no one wants to risk a crash with a two-handed celebration) we are all greeted with a cheer by the organisers, and a medal around the neck. Celebrations are brief; a few hugs, some soup, the compulsory photo of bike aloft by the road sign, clapping in other riders. Then it’s back into organisational mode. A bike needs to be pipe lagged and put on transportation, luggage needs to be retrieved, shoes changed, all before the 15.45 coach leaves for the three-hour trip to Inverness. No time for a shower even, but all jobs done and successfully on the coach full of napping, bobbing, joy-filled heads.
I ended up spending a night in a B&B in Inverness as Easy Jet moved my flight to Luton three hours early. Not that convenient when completing a bike ride, so I had to get a transfer to a flight the next day. Not to worry as I was salvaged by a B&B that would make Bill Bryson proud. You can forgive all the chintz as there was a bathtub and kettle in the room; you don’t get that in a Replica Inn. It felt like a family home, obviously with gossiping relatives, as when I went to breakfast I got a round of applause from the other guests who all knew of my achievement.
It was hard to go straight back to work and slot straight into normal life after such a joyous and single-focused existence. I’ve been doing the twelve-mile round trip commute to work to keep the legs spinning. I’m still locked in the sleep pattern of early nights and waking at 5.15. Fatigue kicked in on Tuesday afternoon when I had to go to Thurrock Services to reclaim the bike. Crawling through the Dartford crossing is enough to make anyone enter a catatonic state. We decided to combine the trip with a family jaunt to IKEA, being so near, and as we trawled through halls of mock bedrooms I just wanted to collapse on futons dressed in clean, white, cotton sheets and sleep for a hundred years.
I highly recommend the Deloitte Ride Across Britain. I’ve made friends for life, I’ve visited parts of my nation that I may never have seen; I’ve tapped into an inner strength that will always be with me.
Registration for 2017 is open: rideacrossbritain.com
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