The bag was packed (and compressed to make sure it fitted within the hand luggage dimensions), the bike together with my helmet and shoes were sat in a bike shop in Wick (fingers crossed) and I certainly couldn’t do any more training now so all I had to do was get up with the alarm, rush around a bit, shout at people to hurry up and drive to the airport.
Bag packed, bike there, alarm, get up, shower, grab bag and drive to airport. I ran through the litany once more and craned my head off the pillow to look at the alarm clock. Another minute had slipped past.
I revised the litany: bag packed, bike there, go to bloody sleep before the alarm goes off, get up, shower, grab bag and drive to the airport.
I must have dropped off at some point because the alarm did go off and, thanks to a wife much calmer than me, I managed to arrive at the airport, on time, with my bag and the tickets and passport I had completely forgotten about.
Having never flown internally before I must admit that I was sceptical. Whilst my flights weren’t ridiculously cheap they were, nevertheless, cheap and I’ve not been awash with glowing recommendations for cheap flight deals. We’ve all heard the horror stories.
I don’t quite know what I was expecting when I marched up to the check in desk wearing my early morning scowl but it wasn’t a flawless check in and to be told that the flight was scheduled for take off on time.
Feeling buoyed, and yet strangely cheated, I made my emotional farewells and trudged through to wait for the call to board. As I sat down I risked letting the tension off the restraining strap on my bag, pulled out a book and settled in for a long wait. I was convinced that now the
victims passengers we were past the check in and had no one to moan at, the airline would hit us with the bad news, “Flight XYZ1 to Edinburgh has been delayed due to blah blah blah”. Still, I had a couple of hours between this flight arriving in Edinburgh and my connector leaving for Wick so I had a bit of time to play… ”Would passengers for flight XYZ1 to Edinburgh please proceed to boarding gate 2. Please have your boarding pass ready for immediate departure.”
Gosh! Ok, a bit of poetic license used but the flight did leave bang on time, the attendant was very pleasant and whilst the plane was noisy the flight was short. The connector flight to Wick was also beyond my expectations and the attendant even dished out free drinks and snacks.
So, I was in Wick and it was only just lunchtime! Funny to think it would take me six days to cycle back again. The only downer on the flight was having my butt cream confiscated because the tub was slightly over the size limit (even though it was only half full!). Never mind, Sudocrem ® is widely available and I picked up a fresh supply in Wick.
I must admit to feeling a bit apprehensive as I walked to the bike shop. A couple of days earlier I had phoned to check that my bike had arrived but the person on the other end had such a strong accent that I couldn’t quite understand them. It was a bit of a confused conversation, probably because they couldn’t understand me either. Anyway, over the last two days the feeling had built that I might have misunderstood and my bike wasn’t there. I was almost sure, “D’nay fash yourself!” meant, “Don’t worry.”
As I approached the shop the door was wide open in the early afternoon sunshine. When I got closer the first thing to greet me, just inside the door, was my bike. I was much relieved. And pleased as well because someone had straightened the handlebars and draped my helmet and shoes over them so it was ready to go.
I ventured deeper into the shop to find someone to thank but couldn’t find anyone in the eclectic jumble: it had more the feel of an overstuffed second hand shop than a bike shop. After a minute or two I called out but there didn’t seem to be anyone around. I wondered whether I should just take the bike but thought that might give the shop keeper a bit of a shock when they came back.
Having just decided to write a note for them the shop keeper appeared, just like in a Mr Benn cartoon. I thanked them for accepting the bike and setting it up for me and after a few initial refusals managed to get them to accept £10 for their troubles. They also let me change into my cycling gear ready for the ride up to John O’Groats, which saved risking arrest by doing it on the High Street. Feeling much cheered I couldn’t get the Mr Benn shop keeper image out of my head and wondered if I might step out of the changing room into a strange five minute, costume based adventure.
By the time I had stopped for the third time to readjust my handlebars on the cycle up to John O’Groats my feelings of good cheer had eroded somewhat. I cursed under my breath wondering if I might have to keep doing this all the way to Land’s End on the six day, costume based adventure I was actually about to embark on. And now that my sense of relief had passed it suddenly struck me for the first time that my bike might not have been particularly secure sat in the open doorway of an unattended shop. Bloody magic shop keepers!
Cycling past my B&B (about 4 miles south of John O’Groats) I pushed on to John O’Groats to check out the start post. Here I persuaded the attendant photographer (after I had woken him up) to change the date on the post to the next day (when I would be starting). He obliged and I took my start photos then because things wouldn’t look so good at 06:00 the next morning. I certainly wouldn’t anyway.
Before heading back down the road to the B&B I detoured to Duncansby Head. Despite John O’Groats being the official finishing point (or starting point) of an end to end Duncansby Head is actually the most North Easterly point so I felt I should roll my rubber to the end of the road.
As I sat on the grass looking out over the Orkney Islands I decided to load the route for day one on the sat nav and follow it to the B&B. This was fairly pointless from a navigation point of view because there was only one road but I just wanted to make sure it was working ok. I switched it on and went to pick ‘Day One’ from the list of routes. Let’s see…menu – click…where to? – click…routes – click…arghh! No bloody routes. Fumble, fumble. Click, click. They must be here somewhere! Click, click. Sweat, sweat. Click, click. Shake, shake. Click, click. Bang, bang!
But no amount of clicking or shaking or banging of the sat nav made them appear: I had forgotten to download them! After hours of painstaking mouse clicking and cursing I had forgotten to download the N@%M routes.
Now I must admit that I wasn’t overly concerned about not having the routes on the sat nav because I had my written route sheets and I was much more familiar with using them. But if my long suffering wife found out I would be in trouble. Firstly, for not having the routes, which was a safety net for her, and secondly for wasting £300 on a tool specifically bought for this trip which was now useless.
So what to do? Confess and try to laugh it off? Or blag my way through the week by making up little sat nav anecdotes? Fortunately I was in a loving and supportive relationship so my course was clear.
As I spun the pedals on the way to the B&B I started to think up my first anecdote,’…and I ended up in the sea!’,‘…took me the wrong way round the one way system’,‘…through a field of Aberdeen Anguses!’,‘…and I think they were even more surprised than I was to find me in their swimming pool’. And then it struck me that when I created the routes on-line I had made them public. Which meant that I could download them from anywhere with internet access. The B&B had a website so surely they had an internet connection. All I had to do was beg.
And so it proved. Five minutes of connectivity and the routes were all safely on the sat nav. No one need ever know. And, until now, nobody ever did.
The B&B was very pleasant with great views over sheep covered fields and out across the North Sea. My bike was securely locked up and the hosts were the only ones on the trip who offered to put out some cereal etc for breakfast because I planned to be on the road before they would be up.