Dear reader, if you were hoping for more drama, more exhaustion, more biking over the red line of pain then I invite you to show us what you mean and get on your bike. If you are looking for the day when the weather gods turned the other cheek and we all entertained thoughts of not making the distance then you've come to the right day, most specifically the right morning. It started in slow fashion, this time because no one turned up at reception until well past the due time of 7am. Since the keys to the shed was firmly locked up we had little to do but drink tea and chew on the previous nights naan bread. In the dinning area a father and daughter came in equally frustrated. They were wearing full wet suits so Steve quipped 'going for a walk then?' to which he got the dead pan reply 'no, canoeing' - it seems humour had yet to get out of bed and have his first coffee.
With bikes eventually retrieved we were ready to go. Go back to bed judging by the weather that is. The Met office forecast had been wrong for almost all of our trip, however this morning prediction of a 22mph northerly wind with rain was spot on. Taking Hugh's mantra that we had to 'play the ball as it lies' we hopped on and pedaled off. It turned out that this was not a particularly fruitful tactic. With hoods up and heads bent down we were making only 8mph for what felt like an unreasonable amount of effort. When taking a moment without pressure on the pedals requires the application of brakes to stop any reverse motion you have to wonder whether it is going to be a great day.
We had skipped out on breakfast in the hope of picking something up early on and with the weather as it was this became an even better idea. Sadly we felt the full force of the Sunday morning lie in from the wrong end - nothing was open. This made the sign that announced 'No services for 30km and over a 400 metre pass' all the more discouraging. While contemplating our immediate future a chap with huge walking boots biked up to ask for some directions. He set off in one direction and we were still faffing when he came back the other way - he looked a lot happier to be biking with the wind! At a time like this many people would start to wonder why they were getting soaked to the skin while only a couple of hours before they were in a warm bed. Others may mutter dark comments on just how bloody miserable they were. I like my friends for many reasons but one has to be that their reaction to such a situation was to try and recall the exact lyrics and tune of 'Donald where's your troosers'. (just for the record: the lyrics). A priceless boost in morale had us making progress, all be it slow.
We were following the A9 on a bike path a few feet from the race track which made for a reasonable if not good surface. Shelter seemed to be at minimum and it was only seconds after Colin claimed that the track looked a little hidden from the wind when it rose up to the top of a bank - it couldn't have been more exposed. Soon after we came across the reason why we hadn't seen much traffic coming the other way - an accident had shut the road. There was a helicopter in attendance and several Police cars so when people leaned out of their windows to ask how long the stoppage would be we weren't very optimistic.
With the accident behind us we came to our first opportunity to stop and we grabbed it with both hands and possible a little tooth as well. While Duncan and Hugh had a full fried breakfast and then a bacon roll on top of that we contemplated the 31 miles we had managed after 4.5 hours of biking - not such a good return. We all looked closely at the remaining 69 miles and did the mental calculation that at that rate we still had over 10 hours of biking left. With an eye on hypothermia Duncan tried to beef up his waterproof solution with a pair of plastic bags extracted from the waitress with the most heart wrenching look of pleading on his face. Suitably tooled up we moved on.
If the sadists would like to stop reading now and fill in the rest of the day from your sordid imagination. For everyone else you'll be pleased to know that things started to look up from this point on, the weather dried up and the wind dropped a little while the gradient felt in our favour for a change. We played hare and tortoise with three other bikers all the way to Aviemore 31 miles later. Predictably we were the hare. In Aviemore there was a Harley Davision bikers convention but we managed to drag ourselves past the empty dance floor and headed straight for food. The cafe was quite busy with a few people hanging around the entrance but Steve and I excused ourselves and walked in and took a seat. Only later did Duncan and Hugh mentioned that the people were in fact queuing by the sign that said 'please wait here to be seated'.
Our second lunch did us good but we were still drained from the mornings effort but we kept moving on. In fact I remember there were many attempts to get exactly the right inflection of 'troooosers' during this section of the trip. I won't say that things had perked up so much that Inverness just jumped out at us, in fact it was a long drag following our bike lane where the miles seemed to have been stretched out some what. We were somewhat pleased to spot the cycle lane try to tack on a 5 mile detour so we joined the A9 for a small section. We had planned to stop in Inverness after our bad start to the day and we even got as far as phoning up a hotel to check for vacancies when Steve proposed we just sucked it up and cracked on to Dingwall. This wasn't met by rapturous applause by any means but it is testament to Steve's powers of persuasion that in the failing light we found ourselves not in fact at the end of the day but at the start of the last 23 miles. Earlier in the trip we had been scanning the route when Hugh almost claimed that the last two days would pedal themselves. What he was trying to get across was that with the finish so close that for last two big days out we would be highly motivated and nothing would stop us seeing it through. Duncan and I found the idea of 230 miles simply pedaling themselves hilarious and had commented on it frequently for past few days. Finally Hugh was prepared to admit that it didn't feel like the day was finishing itself off.
With over 100 miles on the clock we finally made it to Dingwall and didn't even waste too much time finding the bed and breakfast which greeted us with smart rooms and a kitkat each - if ever we needed a break! The tradition routine of shower and out for food was followed and we wondered through the centre looking for late night sustenance. Some locals staggered out of one pub, across the road and into the next pub while Steve commented that he was 'too tired to fight' so we kept our English accents to ourselves. Eventually we found a Chinese restaurant with an oriental waitress who confused us slightly with her Scottish accent. During the meal Nadine called Steve who kindly offered Duncan the chance at redemption for his flapjack comments and handed the phone over. To his credit Duncan floundered through without too much damage. Despite Steve's enthusiasm to party a couple of nights ago I think even he was happy to head straight back for some competitive resting in preparation for the following day.