Scotland Part Deux
Kirkintilloch to Arrochar 74 km
Full of breakfast, we left our hosts and set off into a light drizzle. The wind had dropped, and we found our way onto the canal path without any problems. The canal path through Glasgow to Bowling, was a delight. We met a really interesting guy who had toured all around the world and stopped for a while to swap stories. His were better though.
We had a coffee in a wee café with a sociopathic café owner who tried desperately not to talk to us. Unfortunately for him, he had to mutter “there you go”. I felt for him. Hopefully there were no more customers that day.
The cycle path was flooded, so we popped out onto the A82 until we had had our fill of cars ,and we re-joined the cycle path. The route to Loch Lomond was mostly good, and before long we were back on the A82 towards Arrochar.
It was fast, furious, and also fun to test the legs out after picking our way along the narrow cycle path.
Cobwebs fully blown out, we arrived at the hotel, mildly wet, only a little tired, but ravenously hungry. We ate some unappetising, unsatisfactory, unloved food; we went to bed really excited about tomorrow’s ride.
We were so close we could smell it!
Arrochar to Loch Awe 59 km
What a day!
So the snow that was promised for so long arrived. We were just below the snowline and so we set off all lights blazing, into a dreich, grey, sleety, morning, spinning our way gently along Loch Lomond. As many of you will know, it is a gentle but long pull up from the Loch to Crianlarich. It served to warm us up as the sleet became heavier and decidedly lumpier. As we pedalled up, we could see our breath, chugging out, like two old steam trains toiling uphill.
We pushed into the sleet towards Tyndrum where we planned to make our regular pilgrimage to the Real Food Café. Despite us being as bedraggled as two mad, wet hens, and leaving puddles everywhere we went, we were given a real warm welcome and were well looked after. There was a wee reminder of Malawi on a poster in the toilets, as the Real Food Café supports charities in Malawi. This was nice for me at least as I was reminded of the sunshine, red earth, and smiling faces we had left behind.
While we were tucking into cheesy chips, the snow decided to try a little harder and started to fall in big, wet clumps. These were definitely not flakes, more a sort of sky-porridge.
We finished our chips and ventured into the slush. We pulled out of Tyndrum, and down Gleann Lochaid towards Loch Awe. At first it was a buttock-clenching descent, with no brakes, and on worn out tyres. I was glad I packed the toilet paper!
As we slithered down the hill, nervously, we saw the full range of driving behaviour, from considerate drivers, who gave us space, to the other extreme; a lorry who took great delight in firing high-velocity, brown slush into our faces from the other carriageway.
We dropped height quickly, and the snow transitioned into sleet once more. As we stuttered downhill, buffeted by the headwind, Annette shouted “how can you not love this?”. The universe responded almost instantly with hail. The headwind drove hail into our faces, giving us a sort of pain-facial, and a classic ice-cream headache. I felt my teeth aching as they longed to be in a warmer mouth. It was great fun!
We both noticed a movement in our feelings. In the past few days we have spent a lot of time suffering, but as we moved out of the Trossachs into the Highlands, and more specifically ourHighlands, the Highlands we have wandered around a thousand days; it felt very different.
The weather was a whole lot worse than it has been, with driving snow and freezing winds, but we weren’t suffering at all; we were having fun. The snow, the cold, the wind, the lumpy roads, all felt like a comfy old pair of slippers, and we relaxed and enjoyed the wind in our teeth, as we cruised past familiar hills, lochs, and rivers. This was our environment; we belonged here.
We took our foot off the gas, and thoroughly enjoyed the next 20 or so kms, past old rides, and old haunts, past Stob Gabhar, and Glen Orchy, where we have had some great days paddling the Orchy, or cycling through it up to Rannoch Moor.
We arrived at our billet for the night with smiles on our faces, and more importantly, in our hearts. As I type this, it is a filthy night outside. Like a thousand other Highland nights, we sit by a roaring log fire with a pint, glancing every now and again at the pish outside. This is our home.
Loch Awe to Ardgour 82 km
We got up and looked out of the window. It was almost dry. As we set off towards the coast, a watery golden sun lit up the hills. We dawdled along Loch Awe enjoying a spectacular winter’s morning.
It was impossible not to enjoy this day. It was dry for once, with the sun occasionally lighting up the snow on the surrounding mountains, we were cycling along familiar roads, and checking off familiar landmarks.
We soon crossed over the pass of Brander, and past the Falls of Lora, and before we knew it, we were at a fantastic wee café that we had visited on past rides.
We ordered two coffees and a slab of tiffin each. The coffees were special Christmas coffees that tasted like somebody’s grandmother’s recipe for homemade cough medicine, the tiffin weighed about two kilos each slice, and probably had enough calories to keep an average sized human fuelled up for thirteen or fourteen years. We waddled out of the café feeling slightly sick, and convinced we wouldn't eat again until the New Year.
With tiffin-powered legs, we savoured this ride we had done many times before, and stopped to take photos of the “Welcome to Lochaber” sign. At last we were back in Lochaber.
It seemed so far away from Lake Malawi, or The TanZam highway. Giraffes, and baboons were replaced by deer and sheep. I started to wonder if I had cycled through Africa at all. This glacial landscape, with mountains rising out of the sea, was a far cry from the big-skies of Africa. The heather and bracken-clad hills, a million figurative miles from the vineyards and Olive Groves of southern Europe. It was confusing and disorientating. Reality seemed slightly bendy.
For Annette it was an emotional day, and conversation was light and sparse.
Before long we crossed the Ballachulish Bridge, cruised along a new cycle path through Onich, and onto the Corran Ferry. It was “the wee ferry” and so was running continuously. We skidded aboard, and just a few minutes later arrived in Ardgour.
We used up the last of the daylight sitting, looking at the view, and drinking a flask of tepid hot chocolate. Refreshed, and contented, we flicked on our lights and blinked our way west to visit old friends Anna and Norrie, who had generously offered us hot food and a bed for the night.
When we arrived, they seemed genuinely surprised that we’d made it from Africa to Scotland. I thought back to the banana woman in Tanzania, who told us matter of factly, that we would certainly be killed.
I wondered how many others had suspected we might not make it; probably more than we supposed. Later that night, in bed, I thought back to times on the journey that we were genuinely suffering from cold and wet, cuts and bruises, or tiredness and hunger, and of course the thought had never entered my head during those times, that we wouldn't make it. I only considered that we might be slowed down.
I started to wonder, was I a blind optimist; was I naïve, or worse, stupid; or was I arrogant and cocksure?
My final thoughts as I drifted off were…”ah, who cares!!”