Aviemore to Tyndrum via Ben Alder
The one word to sum up my feelings would have to be daunted. Suddenly I am very aware of just how epic the HT550 is for the timeframe we are given. Just one week to do a year's worth of riding! Struggling against a headwind to make my way back to Tyndrum, I had ample opportunity to consider just how slowly I was riding. To extrapolate, compare and calculate to my heart's content and realise there was no way I'd get round the HT550 at that pace.
The numbers were changing so slowly on my Garmin that I was grateful when it cut out at 144km, over 12hr in, leaving me alone to pretend that I was riding at something like a normal speed. Physically, I wasn't feeling too bad. The legs were still going and nothing really hurt. But I really struggled to keep pushing against the headwind and my pace ground towards a halt. Several river crossings in quick succession and getting lost twice on the west Highland Way (following decoy bright lights), I eventually reached Tyndrum a full hour after the train I'd planned on getting. Luckily the Tyndrum inn were amazing and produced a curry in record timing whilst I got changed out of my wet clothes and hung everything over their boiler so I could catch the train semi-dry. My feet were in dry socks inside differently coloured drybags to avoid my shoes soaking them again. I'm confident It was a good look but, given that the barmaid had to tell me three times to turn my headlamp off as I was pointing it straight in her eyes, I may not have been at my most switched on. I texted Neil to let him know I was alive and Lucy to say I didn't want to do the HT550 anymore. For some inexplicable reason she took this as a joke.
If felt like a lifetime ago that I'd left Aviemore youth hostel, happily pedalling down the cycle path to Laggan to pick up the HT550 route south, seeing only a red squirrel on my journey.
The sun came out as I approached Ben Alder, making the snowy peaks seem far less forbidding for a lone cyclist on a Monday. I enjoyed the solitude on the steady climb up from Culra, over the bealach and down a beautiful descent to Ben Alder cottage. I loved these serene and beautiful few hours, just me and my bike. This is why I cycle.
From there, it was bog central but still stunning, with only some wooden stakes to guide me along the path. And some bike tracks. I'm not the only one doing a reccie I think. Fortunately the bog didn't last as long as it might have and I was soon back on estate roads heading towards Bridge of Gaur. I had the option here to head west to Rannoch station but it was still early and the weather was good so I headed on, taking a small detour due to shooting in the area. When I'd looked at the map earlier I'd had this in my head as a quick linking stage between two glens. But this hill was a gift that kept on giving, without a particularly rewarding descent either. So I was significantly less happy on reaching Glen Lyon, at the 120km mark. But not far now. A quick 40km along flat roads. No problem.
How I can have cycled for so many years and still underestimate prevailing winds is a mystery. As the evil headwind funnelled up the valley, my speed slowed to 8km an hour. Even the downhills became a struggle. When I felt like I was fighting to stay on my bike at all I would get off and push. Swearing sometimes. No one was around to hear. I am comforted by the fact that when it comes to the HT550 I will be going the other direction on this section. I'll be buying an MP3 player too.
Another journey, another step along the bigger HT550 journey. I think these rides are all part of the bigger adventure. This time I did better on my food and my maps. One step at a time I think I am getting there. But wouldn't it be nice to feel like I was just a bit faster?