The next morning we were told that she (the landlady) had been out looking for the dog...not sure why she thought he'd be at our bedroom window, but some mysteries are better left unsolved.
Day 4 - Tarves to Banff. It was a lovely day, a clear crisp morning, but I was knackered!! Tina forgave me for my antics, apparently she knew it was me at the door....bummer, I really thought she'd be left wondering. Clare was great as she just pedalled away and didn't moan..so I simmered down a bit..a bit..not that much! She was great at teaching my how to pre-empt the hills and get down the gears early..that really did help. Tina was slower than normal at stopping for her customary dram from her hip flask, I think we were all just keen to get the next day under our belt and sleep! Gillian met us in Turriff where she had managed to speak to a kind man who, on hearing what we were doing gave her the use of The Turriff Fishermen's building, to prepare our lunch. It was lovely to be able to sit down to eat, go to the loo, wash your hands...luxury. We got to Banff in good time, the B&B was lovely, but we had to say farewell to Clare who was driven back to Tarves by Gillian to collect her car and head back to Kirriemuir. That night Tina texted me in my room to say, "Is that you up to your tricks again? I can hear you outside the door!" I really wasn't..I really was just lying in my bed...but old cry wolf meant I'm not sure she believed me!
Day 5 - Banff to Forres (50miles) I wasn't looking forward to this day much...my bum really hurt and I knew it would be a long day..but I did think (stupidly) that this coastal route must mean it would be pretty flat. WRONG!! Cullen how I hate you...Portsoy...Fordyce...all of the above. Just build coastal villages on the coast and stop deciding you'll have one inland a bit on a hill, and another down and up another bit. The route 1 sustrans map we were following went a bit daft somewhere and we ended up on a "planned route 1" section which should've read, "field with awkward gates". I think the 3 of us on our bikes were beginning to lose the will to live at this point. However, we persevered and met Gillian in Cullen where she had created another feast - it was always so uplifting to see her half way each day. Caroline, Tina and I kept each others spirits up by singing and sometimes singing hymns...to much hilarity as I make up the words to the bits I don't remember, and it doesn't always work very well. Reaching Elgin we were faced with a massive hill out towards Duffus....getting to the top we felt fantastic and we could see a lovely downhill stretch before us. Then it absolutely poured down with rain. I wasn't stopping to put my jacket on, Tina had a cape on which made her look like Nanny MacPhee (from the back..Tina don't be offended you don't look like her from the front!) Caroline, like me just wanted to whizz down the hill and get wet, we were 8 1/2 hours into our cycle and had gone past the point of caring. Beautiful rainbows and dark skies followed, and we were finally on the only flat stretch of this coast 50miler. From Kinloss along to Forres..flat, lovely, do-able. I could (nearly) smile again. My lovely pals from Brodie near Forres arrived just as I did at the B&B. Pete and Hazel are great friends, and they came with a £50 donation for SHELTER and much encouragement for me. We stood in the porch staying dry, and they listened to my tales of woe about the journey so far. We've known each other since I was 17years old and moved to Moray to do my nurse training. Pete lived in a house I shared in Elgin, and Hazel was his girlfriend back then...I was so happy to see them at the end of a 10 hour cycle! Gillian drove us through to the Kimberely Hotel in Findhorn for supper that night, it was lovely, but I barely had the strength to lift my fork to my mouth..so we ate and then went straight back to the B&B to sleep.
Day 6 - Forres to Inverness. Emotionally this was always going to be a hard start to the cycle as Tina and Caroline were heading back to Wiltshire right after breakfast. I spoke to Sarah who runs the Mayfield B&B in Forres and said, in Thomas the Tank stylie "I mustn't cry, I mustn't cry..I'm going to cry, I'm going to cry!" I held it together over breakfast and I gave them hugs leaving Gillian to pay Sarah for the B&B and me to head off to start the cycle. At lunch time that day Gillian told me that Sarah had asked that my payment for the B&B (£35) be put in the pot for SHELTER - how lovely was that?!
Being the lucky person I am, another friend Brenda who lives in Altyre near Forres joined me at the B&B at 10am to cycle with me to Cawder, over half way to Inverness. This was great as she took me through a private estate which was not only beautiful but cut a few miles off the journey to Cawder!! We also met 2 ladies out walking who we stopped and chatted to and they gave me £2 for SHELTER! The headwind was really strong this day though, and Brenda and I were getting a bit fed up with the struggle to get anywhere fast even on the flat stretches of road. Nonetheless, we got to Cawder and met Gillian who had lovely soup and sandwiches for us. 2 more ladies that stopped to speak to me about what I was doing for SHELTER ( I wore the t-shirt the whole time) gave £2 donation for SHELTER too, I loved those random acts of kindness. I said my farewells to Gillian and Brenda and headed onwards to Inverness while Gillian strapped Brenda's bike onto my land rover and ran her back home. This bit of the journey was tough mentally and physically. Although my bike had upright handlebars I'd taken to leaning on them, tucking me head down as I found I could get more speed up this way, but it had taken it's toll on my neck and I was in a lot of pain. The headwind didn't ease, and then the rain started. I had a tiny cry to myself as I reached the summit of a hill somewhere near Croy or Culloden and had to get off my bike to push it DOWNHILL as the headwind meant I was getting nowhere cycling...and by the way, I have never seen so many discared condoms on one stretch of road!! From Culloden to Smithton I saw every shape, colour and special effects (is that even a real word?) type of condom discarded en route...I wonder what the story is? The highlight of that trip was coming down hill through a housing estate into Smithton, sheltered from the wind I tucked myself down and enjoyed the speed. Looking up I saw one of those automated speed signs it was doing *sad face* 31 *sad face* 31 I looked behind me to discover I was on my own...it was meeee! Wheeeeee! doing that all by myself! I laughed out loud when I remembered that, had I been in my car this might have been an issue, with 9 points already (though I'm sure 3 are due to come off..I've been saying that phrase for ages..especially to my Dad) but not an issue while on my bike - HA! The freedom of it!!
Inverness, I could hardly believe I'd made it this far - it felt like I'd really achieved something!
That evening Gillian and I went out to a lovely restaurant and consumed half a bottle of red wine..which for those who know me will realise this was a massive amount for me! Having been off booze for 7 years, and in recent times having an occasional glass of wine it made me feel quite pissed! We were to meet the Perth firefighters in a pub near the restaurant so made our way there. We ordered 2 more glasses of red wine, but I couldn't face it, so instead drank 4 pints of water. The boys arrived to see us at the stage where everything was hilarious.."You said "the!" " "Ha ha ha ha ha!" By 4 pints of water I was sober and back to dreading the next days cycle, but delighted when Gillian told me she'd made an appointment for me to see a chiropractor at 9am in Inverness.
Stuart had the cycling boys under strict instructions not to overdo the drinking...so for them to walk in and see us bent over double laughing must've equalled - permission to relax that rule! It was great meeting them all again, and knowing that I would have their support for 2 days cycling. Jim is a "real" cyclist and talked about staying close together on our bikes and though that sounded great at the time it proved to be the thing that kept me awake that night!! Stupidly as it turned out! Craig was their equivalent of Gillian.. only he had a light on top of his wagon.. .but that's boys for you :)
Day 7 - Inverness to Tain I found the chiropractor and was surprised to discover he was the same age as my eldest daughter, so that made me want to sit him down, make him a cup of tea and get him to discuss what he'd like to do when he grows up!! Hee hee!! Seriously though, he was great (and fully qualified!) He tried to make adjustments to my neck and back, but he said the muscles were in spasm and it wasn't going to happen. So instead he massaged and proded, until the pain shot down my leg..then he rubbed biofreeze (a product I also love) into my neck and shoulders telling me it should help get me through the day at least. The pins and needles in my right hand were just from the position of my hand on the handlebar, and he reckons in time I'll get the feeling back...I've still got it now though which is a bit annoying.
We met the boys in a lay-by right before Kessock Bridge, and though I felt rough from the pain inducing chiropractor's visit, they looked slightly rough in a different way :) Literally just as we set off the rain came pouring down, and the wind from the west was battering against us. I followed Jim's instructions to just stay close and watch the wheel of the bike in front. Oh my...who knew the Kessock bridge was just a massive bleedin' hill??! I had on my high viz waterproof jacket, but when we re-grouped in the lay-by beyond the bridge I was soaked through, I mean thoroughly soaked. Cursing the jacket that claimed to be waterproof I discovered I'd left the side vent unzipped..oops! We got a bit lost with the route 1 signs over the bridge, but I was comforted that there were boys who knew about these things, so it was quickly remedied. Sadly though as we emerged on the other side of the A9 from going through the underpass we saw a landrover towing an animal carrier with 2 cattle in it had over turned. Very sad to learn that one was dead and the other one was clearly really distressed and banging around the trailer. The boys called for emergency assistance, then with nothing else we could do, we headed on our way.
Lots of hills meant that my "lets push our bikes up this hill" companion Stuart and I had lots of opportunities to stretch our legs, avoiding future problems with our muscles...yeah, well that's what we told ourselves. Craig would drive up behind us and give us an encouraging wave (I'm not taking the piss Craig, I really was encouraged by you!) and like Gillian, whenever I saw his vehicle I felt my heart warm knowing we were a "team" ...oh I do love a good team!
A fantastic part of this day was down to Gillian again...we had a great downhill stretch to Cromarty, where we were getting the ferry over to Nigg. The sidewinds were pretty violent, so arriving in Cromarty for lunch I was thinking this could be an interesting place to try to shelter and eat...but there she was again..just like Turriff she'd managed to wangle the harbour man's place to cook, and feed us...what a cosy respite that was! I was bursting for a wee though and was wishing my padded gel trousers were actually a massive nappy..but I resisted the temptation to test out the absorbency of gel padding. The ferry trip was short, and we got off to me finding the "ladies" toilets in the bushes on the right hand side of the road, and the "boys" on the left. It's amazing how quickly I lost any sense of caring where I peed. This will become more apparent on the story of the last day. Stuart and I also discovered that we must never be lulled into a false sense of security with regards to village/town signs. When it says "Welcome to Tain" for example, it doesn't really mean you to think you are welcome right there and then..no, it's building you up to feel welcome, because you won't actually reach the place for about 3 or 4 miles, they're just teasing. That was funny for about 2 seconds past the sign..then it was just annoying.
Our B&B was lovely, a lady called Agnes and her husband, she had the kindest face and her accent was beautiful. The boys were at Tain campsite with a couple of them staying in a B&B in Tain, but the plan was that we'd all meet at the campsite at 9am the next day as it was a big trip and the boys needed to get there, pack their bikes onto the vehicles and drive back down to Perth and beyond. Gillian and I had an early night and I had a dream about Agnes. As the days were going by I was (weirdly) getting more nervous about not completing it! I think it was a combination of being in so much pain with my neck, one of my knees being a bit rubbish with tendonitis, and my bum pain from the saddle being close to intolerable. Anywhoos, that night I slept like a baby (not waking up for nappy change, no I simply mean I slept deeply and well) and I told Gillian the next morning that I dreamed that Agnes was sitting on my bed, holding my hand and saying, "You'll be alright dear, you'll be alright!" Weird but lovely! At breakfast I became really emotional and sat looking at Gillian with tears in my eyes. I couldn't eat the food Agnes had made for me, and she was really understanding and just told me to make a sandwich, closely followed by her saying, "You'll be alright dear!"
Leaving Agnes' the next morning she gave us a reduction in our room rent as we were doing it for charity..kind lady.
Day 8 - Tain to Altnaharra. We joined the boys at the campsite to be met with many tales of Sheepdog Week..something Gillian and I had been relatively (but not completely) unaware of. Basically with every question they asked in Tain the night before, from, "Can we have some crisps please?" to "Can we have 3 pints of cider please?" the answer came with a shifting of the eyes downward, a shaking of the head and a, "No, sorry it's sheepdog week!" This caused much hilarity during day 8! Craig (Daddy firefighter) gave me a reassuring hug before setting off as he listened to my story of being all greetin' faced at breakfast. Off we went, this time I did tuck in behind Jim and went into a trance just staring at his back wheel. Not looking at the road too far ahead did help keep me going. He used words like peloton (riders clumped together to reduce drag..which can improve things by 40%) and that they were my domestiques, riders whose job it is to support and work for other riders in the team...I wanted to call Jim and the boys "my bitches" but he wasn't up for that..so domestiques they were. Jim also found a way to tilt my saddle forward and help with the pain, it really did help too, so I was very grateful that my bitch, I mean Jim had more than one string to his bow. Seriously, day 8 was much improved because I felt so supported by everyone. Then came lunch at Lairg. Again, Stuart and I discovered the "welcome to Lairg" sign wasn't really telling you that you were entering Lairg, no, it was just a reminder that you were on the right road, and at some point you would stumble across Lairg. Craig, picking up on our disgruntlement pulled alongside to tell us that Gillian had spoken to a man (there seemed to be a theme here!) who had agreed to let her use the Lairg Fishermen's place to prepare the food. Craig assured us we just needed to keep going through Lairg and it was just on the outskirts..yeah right!! My bad mood soon (ish) lifted when we arrived to the smell of chicken curry and more rice than could feed the population of Lairg, their relatives and extended family that had moved to Canada and Australia. I'm not exaggerating! There's no denying Gillian can whip up a banquet...I knew she knew we'd be hungry but on that day her portion management left the building!! Love you Gilly!! To be fair it was day 8....we were both beginning to lose the plot one way or another. Lairg to Althnarra had every conceivable form of weather, and scenery, and hills. However the downhill to Altnaharra fairly cheered me up...short lived when on my arrival there all the boys were getting ready to load their bikes on and head back home. Gilly and I had to console ourselves at the Altnharra Hotel where the toasty warm fire was some comfort. We left without paying, I think we were both just too upset - then, like good girls walked back to pay. I also discovered that somewhere on the road down to Altnaharra I'd lost my watch - it was not to be found even though Gillian re-traced some of my pedals (can't say steps as I was on my bike). A good nights sleep and a hearty breakfast left me knowing I had a day of cycling on my own to contend with.
Day 9 - Altnahrra to Portskerra The weather was rubbish, I mean, really rubbish. I set off feeling a tad lonely and I'd been warned to get off the road if I saw a log lorry as they weren't prone to moving over or stopping for cyclists, "They had money to earn!" Oh well, that's alright then @&*(**) !!! 42 miles on my own, this could be both annoying and difficult. Gillian and I agreed to meet at Bettyhill for lunch. The clue really is in the name of that place. Hilly it certainly is....but not one Betty in sight. In the pouring rain I climbed into the car to eat, I was laughing and nearly crying throughout as I knew I still had a good 3 or 4 hours cycling ahead of me. I had rested my bike against a wall in a small carpark opposite the shop in Bettyhill and as time was marching on I thought I needed to get on with cycle part 2 of the day. I was grumping and moaning to Gillian who was telling me to get out and get on with it. I opened the car door to jump out, a car had pulled up next to us with 2 men in it with their windows down sipping tea. Because I had been sitting and eating in the car some wind had built up in my gut...as I clambered down from the landrover that wind decided to free itself! Gillian and I fell about laughing!! The guy in the passengers seat of the car next to us didn't see the funny side, to be fair he had taken a direct hit..the driver however was laughing a LOT! I couldn't do anything for laughing so it was left to Gillian to go and get my back, stick the handlebars in my hand and tell me to, "get a move on!" I left and was still laughing hysterically as I sped down a hill in the pouring rain and up the other side. I had to get a grip as I thought if someone sees me laughing like this, on my own, on a bike in the pouring rain they might call for assistance, and that would be a sad end to a charity event! So I pulled myself together and got on my way to Portskerra. When I got to the B&B Gillian was waiting in the car - there was no-one home! She'd been waiting ages, but fortunately it was only about 5 minutes after I got there that the couple arrived. A good hot shower then we went off to the Melvich Hotel for supper, and it was lovely! We met 2 couples who were holidaying in Caithness and they gave me £5 for SHELTER so that was lovely - another spontaneous act of kindness. An early night again for the last day...I could hardly believe it!
Day 10 - Portskerra to Thurso A mere 17miles on my last day and off I went after a good breakfast. The weather was horrible , driving wind and rain and of course it wasn't at my back. A new thing happened too. I had got soaking wet 2 days in a row and despite my gel shorts and leggings I was beginning to get chaffing on my groin and surrounding area...ouch!!! On the last day I got to the village of Reay..saw Dounreay and realised the connection with the village, which I'd never heard of before, cycling out of Reay I realised I really needed a wee. I could see there were houses ahead, but there was also a chest high stone dyke that looked perfect for ducking behind. So I made it to there, dumped my bike on the grass verge and squatted down for a wee..literally mid flow I heard the familiar sound of a posties van pulling up. There was (and I hadn't seen it) a postbox in the wall just up from where I was squatted...I just kept my head down, though I knew he must've seen me and did my best to act cool!! The really horrible part was that (hmmm...maybe this is too graphic to describe, which must mean I need to share it) in my gusset..a great word by anyone's standards..was blood stain in the shape of my bike saddle..now THAT is chaffing at its very best! So with the nippiness of chaffing that has caused bleeding I persevered. I met Gillian at the "Thurso 4 miles" sign and she told me she'd wait at the Welcome to Thurso sign, which I had hoped we just be up the road a few hundred metres..but alas on this occassion it was at the petrol station as you entered Thurso!! So the job done, I felt quite emotional as Gillian and I took some photos of the Thurso sign. We clambered into the car, with me smelling like a polecat we drove to Andrew's in Coupar Angus. He had made us a lovely celebratory meal, and invited Golfing Grandad (aka Dad) for supper too and a bit of reminiscing commenced. I told Andrew to put the bike and all the gubbings in the shed as I didn't want to see it's face again for a long time..he duly did just that. Yesterday, a week since the Thurso cycle I went out for a wee 13mile jaunt and thanked my bike for not having any malfunctions on the 377mile event. I think I might re-build a relationship with my bike, on the understanding that we don't do over 20miles in a day ever again. This Friday 23rd Stuart and maybe some of the others if they're free, and myself are going to SHELTER in Dundee to hand over the money. When it's all in I reckon I'm going to have made it to the £2k - thank you EVERYONE for all your support without you none of this would have been possible :)
What's next: On Sunday 11th May 2012 I'll be running the Bath Half Marathon to raise money for SHELTER...I suppose I'd better start learning how to run!