I was up at 5:00 and forced down 900 ml of protein drink, a brioche and a cereal bar whilst struggling into my kit and gathering various battery powered items that were charging around the room [being charged up rather than hurtling about]. Then, trying to be as quiet as a mouse, I tip toed downstairs and nibbled the breakfast that had been laid out.
Fully engorged I slipped out the door, retrieved my bike from the garage, sent a text to say I was up, and began the 4 mile cycle to the start.
It was ominously quite when I arrived at John O’Groats. I rolled up to the signpost and ceremoniously touched it before sending another text, signaling that I was on my way back home (5:47). There was an eerie light that early in the morning and I set off under the baleful glare of a seagull perched on the signpost: the only other living thing around. In my mind I substituted a cactus for the signpost and a vulture for the seagull and imagined tumbleweeds rolling down the desolate road. It was all quite surreal.
As I rolled down the road, past the B&B and on towards Wick, I wondered how long it would be before I passed other end to enders going the other way – nearly there! I didn’t have a lot else to think about, my next route instruction was 33 miles away! Quite frankly most of the route instructions on day one were only there to give me some indication that I was moving along. There aren’t many route options that far north.
Of course it was a long time before I did pass anyone: it was very early and if they had been that close to the finish the day before they would have pushed on. When I did pass someone I gave them a cheery wave but I’m not sure they really registered it. They had a very fixed expression and looked dead behind the eyes.
I, on the other hand, felt great. My laboriously crammed down breakfast had dropped into my legs and I was remembering to top up the fuel supply regularly as well. And the road was sublime: very gently rolling, good surface, hardly any traffic and fantastic views.
However, I knew from various accounts I had read that two of the major hills of the entire route lay ahead, at Berriedale and Helms Deep [sorry, Helmsdale] respectively. So I appreciated the rolling terrain whilst I could and prepared myself for the worst.
Just over forty miles from the start I began the Berriedale descent. Having seen only one other cyclist all morning I suddenly came upon a number spread out and struggling up the slope. It was like a sticky insect trap for cyclists: they whizzed into the bottom, all unexpectant, and then had to drag themselves with inexorable cyclist grit through the gloop until they escaped to freedom at the top. And so far only that one I had passed earlier had managed it. The rest could have been there for days for all I knew.
As it happens I seemed to be going the right way for both this hill and the one at Helms Deep. Both were much more severe going north.
I stopped at Helms Deep to see if I could spot Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas but they weren’t around, so I topped up with water at the local convenience store. Bearing in mind that this is one of the few convenience stores on the only main road on this part of the end to end, I was surprised at the funny looks I got in the shop from both the locals and the shop attendant. You would have thought they were used to cyclist stopping to refuel. Or perhaps it was the word ‘solicitor’ on my cycling kit?
Whatever it was, they palmed me off with some dodgy looking bank notes. It took me nearly five minutes to persuade a Cornish burger van owner to accept one of them a few days later [but then the fiscal system in Cornwall is mainly based on sheep and pasties].
A few miles down the road a magnificent property came into view in the distance, silhouetted against the sea. I thought to stop to take a photo but it was still some way off so decided to wait until I was further down the road. Unfortunately my view then became obscured right up until I was passing the entrance where I discovered it was Dunrobin Castle.
Now I don’t know what the significance of the ‘Dunrobin’ is. It probably means ‘head of the Robin Clan’ or somesuch. But as I cycled off down the road I couldn’t help wondering if it was some poor Scottish joke, like Dunroamin: having stolen a fortune from the neighbouring clans the local leader decided to rub his victims noses in it by building a magnificent home with his ill gotten gains and labeling it in such a way as to say, I’ve fleeced you enough and can’t be bothered any more.
I was over a hundred miles into day one before I reached the next milestone – 171[km] L (2nd exit) bfr bridge @ Cromarty Firth – A862. A change of road! Even with the two major hills the day so far had been flatter than any 100 mile ride I had ever done and I was feeling relatively fresh. [I’ve lost the text messages from day one and the first half of day two so I might have actually been feeling fairly crap]. I was almost hoping for some more up and down to relieve the monotony of continuous pedaling. I was far more used to grunt, grunt grunt, freewheel, grunt, grunt, grunt, freewheel, and so on.
The next 25 miles did provide a little more in the way of hills until a prodigious decent to Drumndrochit and the shore of Loch Ness. From there it was back to gently rolling road all the way to the B&B at the southern tip of Loch Ness in Fort Augustus. Here I was treated to a very nice ensuite room with my bike again secure in the garage.