It was Twitter that alerted me to the existence of an off road route from Inverness to Glasgow. It was called the BadgerDivide in a slight Scottish piss-take of the divide routes in other countries. This all started with the TourDivide, a 3500km route down the continental divide of North America, and one of the most well know adventure routes in mountain biking.
The BadgerDivide was slightly shorter at a mere 350km, but that just meant it could potentially be ridden in a few days rather than needing a long break from work and a load of organising.
I read a little about the route on the few web pages I could find. It seemed to be a new route, put together by Stuart Allen. It looked like it was possible to do it in 2 days. A weekend ride looked possible.
I tried to book a train from Edinburgh to Inverness for the 4 and a half hour train ride. Unfortunately, given the tiny bike space provision on ScotRail trains, the bike spaces were all booked out. I could have chanced it. Often I've managed to get onto trains unbooked. Either others haven't turned up, or I just squash on, often with the help of the other cyclists, hoping the train leaves before the conductor sees. However, given the effort involved in packing for even a short bike-packing trip, and the expense of buying myself a ticket, I didn't want to risk it.
A couple of weeks later I realised I actually had, for various work related reasons, a few days off. I decided to go for it. I asked a couple of friends if they were up for joining me. Jay replied to my email to say he was up for it. Before I knew it I was booked on the train along with my bike. Jay had also booked a train from his town and we were all set.
And so a couple of weeks later I left my office on a Friday, and rushed home to have some dinner with my family and finish packing before riding up to the nearby train station. My young daughter told me that if I wasn't back by Sunday, which was Father's day, I wouldn't get a present or a card from her. I tried to explain that Father's day is a made up construct of a system designed to maximise profits and drive the capitalist machine, but she just gave me a pitying look and turned her attention back to Pokemon XY series while shouting “Sunday!…..you!…..here!”.
I made it onto the train after a short panic where the platform wasn't announced until about 1 minute before departure. After running through the gates and rolling my bike onto the train I tried to fit it into the bike space. A master example of bad design which I can only assume was proposed by someone very angry at the entire human race meant that I had to struggle to squash my bike at an absurd angle beneath the protruding bars sticking out for the wall of the bike space.
Obviously one is supposed to lift bikes up and hook the top bar onto the protruding rails, but only a bike of specific size and design would ever be able to do this. Instead I jammed it underneath, the front wheel sticking out into the passenger corridor between the wall and the toilet. At the next station another guy came on with a bike and, with a resigned sigh, took a moment to evaluate the situation, then decided to do the same as me. A moment later Jay appeared at the door with his laden bike and simply leant it against the others. Now that the corridor was near impassible, he spotted me waving down the carriage and found an empty seat nearby while we watched a group of around ten students clambering over the bikes and passing excessively large suitcases over the top. A few minutes later they had failed to find and seats they liked the look of and reversed the process. Someone emerged from the star trek sliding door of the toilet to an impenetrable wall of people, bikes and shiny pink suitcases.
The train journey was great. I realised I'd never taken the train direct from Edinburgh to Inverness before and so much of the view of the passing landscape was new to me. It was near the longest day of the year and so it was light enough to watch the beautiful scenery as we passed around the Cairngorm mountains and headed north.
As the train passed through stations on it's way north, people got off, but few got on. We eventually had room to compare bikes. Jay's bike was relatively new, and it had come with tubeless tyres, which he'd never used before. No inner tubes, just the outer tyres, locked against the wheel rims with enough pressure to keep the air in. Usually, these will have some liquid sealant inside. A mixture of latex and grit which, should a puncture occur, will quickly fill the hole and seal it shut, often without the bike rider even knowing about it. He suspected the sealant in his tyres was non-existent, or had dried up and so had asked if I could bring some. We were going to pour it from the bottle I'd supplied into the tyre, but in the end he changed his mind and decided to just carry the bottle in case he need it. It seemed like too much trouble and potentially messy on a train.
Finally, shortly after 11:30pm, we arrived in Inverness, the capital of the Highlands. Inverness lies at the mouth of the River Ness which flows from Loch Ness, which sits in the Great Glen. We would be following this Glen to the west for the first part of our ride.
We found our way out of the train station and into the biting air of a northern summer night. We quickly gained our bearings and headed in the direction of the route's official start point at the castle. Or at least I did, Jay was talking to someone as they crossed the road. She seemed somewhat annoyed by the conversation and marched off down the street. “What was that about?”, I asked.
“Ohh, I'd seen her at the station before we got onto the Inverness train. She had a 10 month old child strapped to her front and had booked a hotel in Inverness. Only when she called them to say she'd decided to take the later train, they'd told her there would be no-one at reception at that time, they were sorry, and instead they would just give her a refund. She must have got on the train anyway without a place to stay. I was just checking she was ok. But she said bluntly that she didn't want any help. She was going to go to the hotel and then, if it was really shut, call the police!”
Yeah, I'm not sure either why it's the police's responsibility or why that was her plan. But never the less. There wasn't much we could do about it. I could see Jay was concerned though, despite her rebuffing his help. More for the child, than for the parent I suspect.
Riding in traffic, it suddenly felt quite dark after the late summer sun had disappeared. I paused to switch on my back light, and dug out my helmet mounted front light.
After a bit of being shouted at by folks enjoying a Friday night out on the town; “Gie us a backy!”, “ Ma friend wants to race youse”, We reached the castle built in 1836 to house the Sheriff court and Town Hall, and a shadow of the proper medieval castle which stood on the same spot before it. We spent a while performing the traditional “screwing around with GPSs” start ceremony, making sure that the map was showing correctly and everything was reset to zero. Mine certainly wasn't. There were extra lines showing on the screen which I couldn't get rid of. No matter which combination of buttons I pressed.
It was freezing standing in the dark at midnight on top of a small hill in cycling clothes. I eventually chose to ignore the GPS issues, I could still see the correct route was showing. After taking a couple of photos, we rolled down the road to finally begin our trip.
I immediately almost cycled straight off of a raised wall, not noticing the road dipped down to the left of where I was. Seconds later a car came to a stop just in time as Jay pulled out into the street. Given the effort with which the owner of the car had put into adding blue neon lights underneath, and multiple headlamps, you'd think it had've been easier to avoid. Anyway, with a friendly wave from the driver and a sullen look from a stoned looking passenger the car completed it's turn and took off like they were late for something important.
We were off. Through the increasingly quiet streets of Inverness we rode. Along the river our wheels crunched along gravel and dust walking paths as we headed out of the town. We crossed a Victorian pedestrian bridge, lit up with a rainbow string of LEDs twisted around the ironwork railings. Then a short road section before a junction where I turned left…...and Jay turned right!
“The route's definitely showing this is the way”, I shouted back.
“Nah, it this way mate”, came the reply.
I spun around and rolled down towards Jay to show him the route on my GPS. He took a look and then silently pointed to the screen of his, clearly showing the route going the other way.
“Umm….where did you download your route from?”, he asked.
“I'm not sure, I think I got it from the badgerdivide website”
“There's a website?”, he replied.
“Yeah, I was surprised too. I only just found it yesterday after previously looking at the route on Strava”
For the uninitiated, Strava is a site for sharing and comparing bike rides, including the times taken to ride route segments.
“Where did you get your route?”
“From the Xduro site...there's a yearly race following the badgerdivide!”
We had managed to download different routes. Hoping that the routes mostly converged, we decided to follow my route for a bit. Mostly because Jay's route was currently blocked by security fencing. We took a path leading through houses and up a hillside. Soon Jay's track reappeared and we continued up a track road leading up into the wilderness. It was late. Almost 1am, so when we came across a small, flat patch of grass in the trees, we stopped and set up camp. A few moments of stomping around to find a nice comfortable flat area. A bit of rolling some big cut logs out of the way, and we set up our tents. Minutes later I was climbing into my sleeping bag and looking out of the mesh top of my tent at the clear, starry sky.
“Just give me a shout if you wake up early”, I said.
“Will do”, Jay replied, as I heard some scrabbling about and muttering coming from the direction of his tent.
I must have fallen almost instantly asleep.
I woke with a start. “What the fuck is that?”, I thought to myself.
“A very ill sounding sheep? A broken dog?”
The noise continued as it moved away from my tent and off into the distance. I pulled my sleeping bag over my head and fell back to sleep.
I awoke to the early summer light and a cacophony of bird song.
I dozed for a bit, slipping in and out of sleep, not wanting to make any kind of commitment to doing anything.
“Daveee…..you awake?”, Jay quietly asked.
“Fancy making a start?”
“Not really…...but we should.”
Half an hour later we'd packed and were enjoying a coffee mixed with hot chocolate.
Off up the hill we continued, it was shortly after 5am. Again our GPS tracks diverged. We took what looked like the easiest option. Once over the hill it was a fairly easy few km section of track roads followed by a lovely 5km of single track tarmac with great views down to the south. We were currently following a well know walking route called the Great Glen way.
"Hey did you hear that noise last night?" I asked.
"Huh...no didn't hear anything"
It then occurred to me that had been a deer, barking and coughing it's way along the hillside above.
Soon we cut back onto a walking path leading through a young pine forest. It was a great fun bit of riding as the path swooped through the trees, our tyres searching for grip on the tree roots and dry dust and we powered along for half an hour.
Suddenly, in the middle of nowhere, and far from any track roads, we noticed colourful painted signs appearing. “Cakes”, “Food”, “Cafe” they read. Interesting. It was far too early for any thing to be open, but when the signs pointed off of our route we decided to investigate anyway.
We found ourselves in Abriachan campsite. It looked amazing. The very definition of those places which provide basic services yet describe themselves as a wild campsite. There were no open spaces here, just little clearings. In one of the clearings sat an old, rustic hut. Some further colourful signposts indicated that this was the cafe. There was no-one around, excepting some chickens.
Jay was looking at a sign next to a bell which said to ring for attention. I could tell he was itching to ring the bell and see if he could get a coffee. Instead, we wandered up a path to see if anyone was about. We found a ramshackle house, in the process of being done up. As Jay pondered whether to potentially wake the occupants, a big dog started barking angrily. We hastily retreated to our bikes, made a mental note to come back some time and rode back off down the path.
A couple of kilometres further on and we came to another oddity. Some wooden buildings in the forest looked interesting so we took a look. The first turned out to be a wood workshop. Currently, there were some coracles in mid-build, other, more finished examples were hanging from the roof.
Another building we found was a raised dome house, complete with a tunnel leading from a hatch in the floor down to the ground and a fireman's pole which could be leapt onto from the balcony surrounding the dome as a quick way of getting back down. Obviously we tested it out. There was also a wobbly wire bridge leading from the dome house to another nearby platform.
As we made our way back towards the main route, we passed a half built round house.
The warm wind and humid air were making me feel tired.
Soon we were climbing up on track roads. The gradient not too stressing. As we headed along we turned south back towards Loch Ness where we were rewarded with an amazing view. Loch ness is about 37 kilometres long and the second deepest loch (235m) in Scotland. Of course it needs to be big to be a suitable habitat for the curious creature(s) know as Nessie. Whether a giant eel, Greenland shark, giant catfish or plesiosaur, there is no doubting that the mystery of Nessie brings in the tourist money.
From the road the views of Loch Ness aren't amazing. But up at the top of the surrounding mountains with the water stretching out into the distance and the wakes of the tiny boats glinting in the sun, it looked great.
We were soon heading down fast tracks to the waters edge and in fact, joined the waterside road for a short distance. We Stopped at a cafe in Drumnadrocit for a morning coffee. The coffee was fine, but I was given a terrible scone. Dry and floury. More like a lump of bad bread than a tasty scone. Don't buy a scone at the Cobbs cafe at the Drumnadrochit hotel. In fact, go to any one of the cafes just around the corner.
It started to rain. Not enough to put on jackets. But enough to dampen the ground. Soon it became apparent that it was that odd kind of misty light rain that while seemingly nothing to bother about, soaks through everything.
After a short section of riding on the busy road I was glad to turn off up a quiet back road. However, we were now faced with quite a steep bit of climbing. The next section was both great and hard. The views were amazing. The paths we were following had many steep climbs and pushes but there were also plenty of rewards with the fast twisty downhill sections. We stopped to chat to a few walkers. The great glen way was still roughly parallel, far below us and far easier. But up here, the route was far preferable despite the unexpectedly slow progress we were making.
The last section along Loch Ness led us back down off of the hills and followed track roads into the town of Fort Augustus which sits at the very end of the loch.
It was lunch time. We found a great pub, “the Lock Inn”, right next to the locks which allowed boats to continue westwards down the Caledonian canal. The memories of the scone were dissipating as I ate some excellent macaroni cheese and chatted to Jay about whatever nonsense was coming to mind. I hope no-one was offended by a couple of sweaty hot, muddy cyclists trying to dry out some clothes in a busy pub. I may have used the hand dryer in the loos for a fair bit longer than usual, in a half successful attempt to dry out my clothes.
We left the pub with renewed energy, ready for the next section of our journey which we both knew from experience was a difficult, long ride.
A couple of kilometres out of Fort Augustus we turned off of the road and onto an overgrown path. As I fought my way through a barrage of nettles and thorny bushes the rain started. I stopped to dig out a jacket. Jay disappeared off ahead. Up and up I climbed, the path joining a bouldery and loose gravel covered track road. As the track got steeper my rear tyre started spinning, losing traction as I applied power to the pedals. Sitting back keeping my weight over the back of the bike did little to help, but somehow there was always just enough grip to keep some forwards movement.
As I rounded a corner I could see Jay up ahead, standing over his bike. I slowly rode up.
“My tyre's getting soft. Must have a leak somewhere.”
He span it around slowly looking for any thorns or cuts on the tyre.
“Hmm...might be the valve”
We put some of the sealant from the bottle Jay had been carrying into the tyre, and as the rain became torrential, I magnanimously stood in the shelter of a tree while Jay pumped the tyre up.
We waited for the rain to slow, but even under the tree we were now soaked through. Jay shivered, “Let's go. I don't think it's going to stop any time soon”.
A little later up the hill, and a sudden hissing noise and a spray of white sealant arc-ing out of Jay's rear tyre as it span indicated that he had a problem. Some shaking of the tyre to seal up the hole, some pumping, and it seemed to be holding, so we carried on. Up through a beautiful valley we climbed, past some machinery building something, and then onto another steep section. As we reached the top of the incline, again Jay's tyre erupted in a gushing spectacle. Again it sealed and needed to be pumped up.
Soon we dropped slightly into a new valley where we could see the road ahead climbing a long way over the top of the hills ahead. This was the Corryairack pass, the top of which was the highest point of the entire ride. The road was steep, but quite rideable. We slowly worked our way upwards until...finally...at the top we stopped as the road flattened out. The view was spectacular. The clouds were now below us, rolling along the sides of the mountains. Peaks poked out all around.
We stopped for some food next to an old concrete building covered in various strange bits of metalwork.
Then...it was time for the downhill. It was amazing. Long, fast descents, with a long, brake testing, zig-zag section in the middle. Jay, as usual disappeared off ahead. I took it slower still sliding around the corners before letting go of the brakes on the straights and bouncing over the rocks and drainage channels. Below the track straightened out again. In the past this section had been unridable as the ancient road had been washed away leaving only large boulders and holes. But the road had been rebuilt and although still rocky, it was at least possible to roll down with some care.
Jay stopped on an old bridge waiting for me to catch up.
“I'm freezing. Not sure about camping tonight. I might need to cut off at the end of the road to Newtonmore and get a train.”
Fair enough, I was also struggling in the cold, but maybe a bit more stubbornly didn't want to quit quite yet.
It amazing how quickly excitement at a ride can turn to complete demoralisation. The combination of a few things going wrong along with being soaked through and the prospect of a night of camping in continued terrible weather are enough to put off the most enthusiastic cyclist.
A couple of kilometres on, we came to a barn at the side of the road. I would probably would have ridden right past, but Jay hopped off to take a look.
Amazingly, the door was open. Even more amazingly, the barn was a bothy. One not on most of the official lists of bothies. Inside was a nice room with fireplace and sofa chairs! We rapidly cheered up even though we were still cold and soaking. Things were suddenly looking much better. We rolled our bikes inside and then after realising we'd need to walk down to the nearby forest to collect some wood, we headed back out. Where we met a small group of people. It turns out they were staying in a house nearby. After a chat they told us to go back in, they would come back shortly with a load of wood for us. Could things get any better? After enough time to change into some drier clothes they reappeared as promised with a wheelbarrow load of wood…..and some bottles of beer. We chatted some more, apologised for not being able to return the favour as we had nothing to offer them, and then they were off.
The effect of all this was that our excitement and enthusiasm for the trip returned.
A roaring fire surrounded by rapidly drying clothes quickly raised our spirits. A good sleep later and a quick breakfast, we set off out into much improved weather. The valley floor next to the bothy was absolutely covered in deer. I've never seen so many congregated in one place.
We raced down the hill for a while before cutting off over some track roads with a view of the sunlit mountains appearing to the west. The open tops of the hillside provided phone reception for the first time in a while so we took the opportunity to call home, before dropping down further to the main road and the amazing sandy beach on Loch Laggan. We tracked around the loch and I stopped for a moment to take a photo of the beach and loch. Jay continued on.
I followed the red GPS line as I climbed steeply up behind the turreted, well known Ardverikie house. The route zig zagged up the hill before tracking along through the forest with views of the loch below. After about half an hour I was beginning to wonder where Jay was. I thought he would have waited by now. But never the less I continued on. A while later and I reached a valley where I could see the track stretching ahead along the side of a loch. There was no sign of Jay. I checked my phone. No reception. I continued onwards.
The track was flat and the scenery dramatic. The mountains on either side reared up steeply into the sky. There was no-one around. Including Jay. After a while the route climbed over a small hump in the landscape. From here I could see ahead. Still no sight of anyone, nor any indication that another cyclist had passed this way. I wondered if something had happened.
I stopped and waited for minute trying to decide what to do. Maybe his puncture had returned? Maybe he was lost, maybe he'd continued on ahead and was out of sight. I looked around for any mountain bike tracks. Nothing.
I decided to turn back. Down along the valley I went, though the forest. Back several miles downhill. I asked some walkers who were coming up what I thought was the alternative road Jay had probably been re-routed along if they'd seen anyone else cycle past. They hadn't. Finally I realised I had phone reception once more.
He picked up. “Jay, where are you”.
“I've been cycling for ages, thought you'd have caught me by now. I'm down the other side of the hill mate!”
Bollocks. He was about 10 km ahead on the other side of the hills.
I told him to keep going. “Ok, I'll try and catch up. But there's no point in you waiting”.
I hung up. Sighed. Put the phone back into my pocket. Took a long drink of water. And started back up the hill I'd already cycled up at least an hour before. I raced back through the forest, passed the walkers again and emerged back in the remote valley with the loch stretching ahead. Finally, I was covering new ground. I headed along a second loch before finally the road started heading down, winding it's way through the heather before heading back into thick forest. I wondered how long it would take me to find Jay. I came to gate. It had a red velcro strap attached to it. I recognised it as one of Jays. He'd started leaving a trail.
I turned a corner and then for another hour headed up a not insignificant climb through a wonderful forest surrounded by hills. The roads were wide and open. None of the claustraphobic tracks of endless homogenous trees here.
I was really enjoying riding by myself for a bit. I felt like I was stretching my legs a bit by pushing on. I stopped to take some photos before putting some headphones on and choosing some music.
Soon I was out in the open again with fantastic views down the valley over Loch Ghuilbinn. The track headed downwards for a long descent. I could see it twisting around the side of the valley for miles ahead. There was no sign of Jay yet, but at a junction I found an arrow scraped into the dirt road with a big letter J next to it.
I was now heading into the Corrour Estate. A short cycle took me the edge of beautiful Loch Ossian. Where I could have sworn I saw a sign saying “restaurant”. This was a reminder that today was the day with really no-where to stop or buy food until we reached the small town of Killin, still along way off. I'd heard rumour of a small cafe at Corrour Station (there is!) but Jay had apparently ridden straight past as indicated by another arrow in the road. I decided against the 2km detour to the station, and instead carried onwards and past the remote Ossian youth hostel.
It was not long until finally I saw a waving figure in the distance. As I rode up, I was beginning to realise how much I'd pushed today. I could have done with a rest and refuel.
“What happened there then?”
“Sorry about that. I thought you'd just catch up”
“Yeah, I wasn't sure whether you'd had a problem or something. I thought you'd wait after a bit”
“Sorry, I was just enjoying cycling along”
“Never mind. Was good that last bit wasn't it?”
And with that I ate some snacks and we headed off.
Later that day and many miles without stopping for proper food later we dropped down into Glen Lyon, a long quiet valley with a single track tarmac road. We'd hoped to find a cafe, but there was nothing.
We asked a lone woman walking down the road and she said the nearest place for food was Killin, a way off, and over the hills.
A signpost pointed off to the left and showed Killin as being 16 miles away. Unfortunately for us, our route wasn't this direct. Instead we slowly climbed the valley.
It was again beautiful. But now, I didn't care. I was starting to really struggle. I just had no energy left. Jay shared an oat bar he had left and for a short while I felt a little better, but I soon returned to a spaced out, energy-less state of struggle. As we continually climbed, I kept pushing on, hoping that it was just a weird temporary issue and that I'd ride myself out of my energy slump. But soon I was just feeling worse. I had to stop.
Jay dug around in one of his bike bags and found a few sweets. I sucked on a weird toffee for a bit and felt good enough to get back on my bike, but 15 minutes later I again felt like stopping and just lying down by the side of the road. I was paying the price for the extra miles, the trying to catch Jay, and the lack of food throughout the day. I can honestly say I don't think I've ever felt so bad on a bike.
However, there was nothing for it but to continue onwards slowly pushing the pedals around, climbing up the never-ending valley.
Finally, we turned a corner and found the road headed up steeply between the hills to the south of the valley.
As we stopped and marvelled at how fucked up the road was, massive holes, tarmac covered in rocks, a flatbed truck raced down it, sliding around the corner, dust and stones flying. I think we had our answer.
As we looked at an information signpost, it started to rain, heavily.
Strangely, even though Jay raced off ahead on the steep climb at first, I found myself feeling better with the harder climb. The wind was picking up as we climbed, blasting the rain sideways, stinging my face. I was now keeping up with Jay and together we silently worked our way to the top of the hill. We briefly stopped to celebrate our achievement, before zipping up our jackets and hitting the long descent. Miles later we finally rolled into Killin. I was exhausted. We found a hotel (Bridge of Lochay Hotel) that looked open. There was no discussion over checking if there were even any other options. Soon we slumped into some comfy, warm, dry seats inside. It was perfect; delicious plentiful food, and a nice place to stop for a while.
Refuelled and rested. We were keen to find a camp. We'd had a hard day and were pretty much on schedule so didn't need to push on. Jay suggested we ask to camp in the hotel car park. But I didn't fancy it. Instead we re-supplied at the town coop before heading up a back road. I thought I knew where the route went for the next section as I'd ridden here before. But as we climbed the steep hill behind the town, suddenly the GPS track swung off of the small road and into the woods. We followed a very slimy, muddy track and bumped our way over roots and ruts as we continued to push on upwards. I stopped to rest for a moment and we discussed what to do for a camp spot. I wanted to continue to the top of the hill to get it out of the way. Jay pointed into the woods “How about there?”. About 20m into the woods was a clearing. We explored it, found a small stream nearby and agreed this was a good a place as any. We quickly set up our tents as the light faded.
At 5:30 the next morning we woke, packed, and headed off. We stopped a few miles in at a picnic table for some coffee and breakfast.
We headed down the cycle route over the amazing viaduct in Glen Ogle. Not only is this a beautiful valley, with the cycle track following the old route of the railway, but it was downhill...for miles.
We scooted past Callander and then, all of a sudden at a Junction “Dave….I think I'm going to have to call it”.
“I'm going to cycle it back to the train and get myself home”.
Very suddenly and without warning Jay announced he was going to ride the 30k to the nearest train station and head home.
“What...why…...are you alright?”
“Yeah….just I know we've done all the best sections. It's just a ride into Glasgow now. I'm keen to get back and see my family.”
And with that, we shook hands and Jay rode off.
I was alone.
Along the edge of Loch Venechar I rode. A route I've ridden many times. I wondered why he had decided not to ride the last section. It did cross my mind that maybe he was fed up of me. But I think it's likely he really did just want to get back to his family and wasn't interested in doing the last section to Glasgow.
I cycled on and climbed over another hill before anther great gravelly descent into the town of Aberfoyle.
It was now just after 9. Breakfast time! I rode up and down the main street looking for somewhere to eat, but everything was closed. But then...I noticed one small cafe was open. I think it was called McGregors. I parked my bike up against the window and went in. I ordered a coffee, obviously, but wasn't sure what to eat. I decided to go for a scone again. When it came and few minutes later, it was buttered and toasted, and sat next to it was a giant pot of jam and next to that a giant pot of cream. It was possibly the best scone I've ever eaten. It was amazing.
I hadn't really looked at the next part of the route in detail assuming it would be fairly flat and straightforward. As I headed out of Aberfoyle I was glad to find myself heading back out into remote countryside and climbing again.
But eventually the countryside started to change. Sure there were a few steep climbs lefts, but mostly on tarmac. However, the views were still great, I was really enjoying this section, possibly partly due to the knowledge that the end was close now. My legs were tired, I was tired. The route twisted across the countryside and as it led out into open farmland the wind increased in strength. It was whipping across the road making it hard to cycle in a straight line. The route took me across a wonderful moorland albeit I had to fight the wind the whole way. A few more track roads, a thin wooden bridge, some shiny tarmac laid by a rich farmer. Then mild shock as I cycle along a busy road back in to the reality of fast cars passing too close.
Next the route took me along the West Highland way, a long distance walking route. This close to the start, the route was mobbed with walkers. Lines of heavily laden people wearing brightly coloured plastic macs passed in the opposite direction as I cycled along, saying “thanks”, “thank you”, “cheers” as people waved, nodded or stepped to the side to let me past. All these people were lovely, smiling and chatty. I stopped to speak to a few at gates, or rocky sections or just when people started speaking.
Then as the rain started, I headed up a hill to a small swing gate in a wall with an overhanging tree. There were some people standing around it trying to stay out of the rain while they put on assorted jackets. One woman was standing right in the gate.
“Hi!” I said as I climbed off of my bike and stood at the gate. There was no response, the woman just looked at me as she dug around inside her rucksack.
“Ummm...excuse me”, again nothing.
“Uhh….I was wondering if I could squeeze through?”...she stood up and started zipping up her jacket and gave me an annoyed look.
“Look….I need to get though...can you get out of the way please?” She looked at me like I was the moron, while taking a tiny step to the side.
“I can't get past. You need to get out of the gate” I indicated with my hand to the path this side of the gate.
“No” she replied staring at me.
I angrily pulled the gate past her out towards myself as far as it would go and pushed my bike thought the remaining gap right into the area she was standing...to some considerable shouting. Then, as there was no room for me I climbed around over a wall, walked around to the other side and roughly pulled my bike through from the other side.
I now just wanted away from the walkers, even though the rest had all been nice.
Luckily, the route soon widened, heading along a track road, before splitting from the West highland way completely.
Another section of road took me into the suburbs of Glasgow. A bit of amazing segregated cycle way through Bearsden ended all too quickly forcing me back onto the road. Thankfully not for too long though. I soon found myself on the paths and tracks following the edge of the river Kelvin as it wound it's way into the city. It was nice. Much nicer than I expected.
A few miles later and I came to a large park. The end of the route appeared on my GPS. I headed towards the Kelvingrove art gallery and museum where the route directed me to the steps at the front entrance. I clicked the button on my GPS, and it showed that I'd cycled 160km today….and it was only just lunchtime.
I took a few photos, and sat on the steps for a few minutes watching passersby. I was happy. They were oblivious of my small achievement. It would have been nice to have someone to share it with.
I had considered continuing along the canal which would take me home to Edinburgh in another 80 flat kilometres or so. But I was feeling tired and the prospect of the monotonous canal after riding some of the best countryside in Scotland wasn't appealing. Finding a pub and some food was!
This had to be one of the best bike-packing routes I think I've done in Scotland. Not only did it take me through areas new to me, there was a sense of satisfaction in having ridden right down the middle of the county. The idea of miles travelled heading towards a defined end point rather than around in a circle or circuitous route appealed. Jay was great company as ever. I don't think I'd have made it though the rough day without him, or indeed even set out on the route. As I sat in the pub enjoying a beer and some food I was already thinking I need to do more of this sort of life affirming ride. This was a particularly good one though. In fact I'm thinking of re-riding the route next year…...Without visiting the cafe of the terrible scone.