THE BIG JOURNEY (PART ONE)
Last month, on April 2nd, I cycled 366 miles in 5 days across the UK. Phew, it was quick, it was hard, and it was certainly an adventure. I was positive about conquering this challenge with no problem. On the first day, I cycled 131 miles from Aviemore to Edinburgh and spent more than 16 hours on the road. I was exhausted; that is almost twice the amount I have ever cycled in one day before, but I was determined that I would get through the rest of the way.
Preparing for the first day, I was battling anxiety.
Mental preparation was really important for the last couple of days and even though I had not felt comfortable when I was leaving I felt as ready as I could be.
My biggest concern was the first two hours of the morning as it was still dark outside. I knew the road but the feeling of cycling in complete darkness made me feel uneasy.
It was 5:15 am. Lights on, I set off on my bike. The first stop was only a few hundred metres in as I left Aviemore and its street lights behind. The light on my bike was not bright enough to cut through the darkness. I had to put my head torch on. In a couple of hours I had a second breakfast. I was about 17 miles in and the sun was out. I was relieved and ready to give it everything. It was a cold but sunny day, all I needed. I was doing so well for the first 90 miles and then the big hill came. This was the first time I got of my bike and had to walk up. Since that moment, my energy was going down hill. I was moving more and more slowly.
I kept checking my phone as if the number of miles left would magically drop to zero within minutes. When I got to the big bridge, I thought I was in Edinburgh after crossing it. I was wrong. It started to rain and snow a little and it was dark already. Going through the city seemed endless. The Komoot app works great in the countryside but it has not quite mastered city cycling yet.
I managed to get to my hosts Helen and Mike’s place about 9:30pm. They waited for me with dinner and we got to chat about their cycling adventure around the world. They are in the process of writing a book about it. I was beyond exhausted and as soon as I prepared for the next morning, it was nearly 11pm and I fell asleep before I even hit the pillow.
I had a feeling there would be something unexpected the second day, because it all seemed too good to be true. And there was.
Surprisingly, my muscles were not aching as much as my knees were the next morning. I started at 6am and I was looking forward to getting out of the city. A few hours later I was going towards the first mountains I needed to go over. As I was getting higher and higher, rain turned into snow and it was getting worse. The weather forecast said 10% chance of rain. But there I was, battling freezing temperatures, cycling on a road that was not gritted and eventually developed into layer of snow up to my ankles. It was a pretty remote place, only about one car passed every 20 to 30 minutes. I cycled in the car tyre tracks so I can get some grip on the road. It was so cold that I sacrificed breaks for food and kept going.
Eventually, I got over the first set of mountains and arrived in a little town called Innerleithen. I needed to put some more layers on to get warm and change my socks as my feet were soaked through. Arriving at a little craft shop, I kindly asked if I could just get warm and change my socks in there. A lovely lady who worked there named Charlotte ended up giving me a chair, and serving me a cup of tea and instant porridge. She also filled up my flask with tea and gave me plastic bags to put on my feet to keep them dry and warm. I was over the moon and felt ready for the second set of mountains. I was told that the road would be gritted so it should be better.
I was slow but I was happy to reach the top and looking forward to whizzing down. It was not snowing or raining anymore but my bike and I were wet. I was flying down this hill and my brakes were struggling to work straight away due to the wetness. I tried to push down harder and harder but nothing was happening. I knew something was wrong. My bike is heavy so even though the hill was not steep, I was gaining speed. I began brainstorming my options. Should I jump to the side? I had fallen off my bike before and it was pretty much a sure thing that I would hurt myself. I did not want to ruin my waterproof jacket and break my laptop on my back. I started touching the floor with my right foot, as if I was on a scooter. It helped a little but was definitely not getting me to a stop. Eventually, I had to scrape my foot on the floor to stop me going. As soon as I got off my bike, I broke down into uncontrollable sobbing. I truly feared for my life and knew that if I had an accident, it would take a while for someone to find me.
I unlocked my back brakes and they looked like they had melted. My first reaction was to call my boyfriend Charlie to ask what to do with my brakes. Of course, I was in the remote mountains and there was no signal. My brakes were not working so I grabbed my bike and started walking down the hill, crying and feeling sorry for myself.
I probably walked for about a mile when I got to some houses and a car was passing by. It was going the other way but I thought I would at least ask for advice on my brakes. The man did not know anything about bikes but pointed me down the road to a hotel. I was passing a house as I saw a lady reading a book inside. I rang her doorbell and she opened the door. I asked her for help and when she saw me crying and desperate, she invited me to come in for a cup of tea. Her name was Heather and I was so grateful for her kindness. I managed to get on her wifi and call Charlie to ask about the brakes. Apparently they had not melted but wore off and the dust combining with water made them look melted. Charlie told me to tighten the brakes up, so I did. Heather gave me some soup as well. I was also able to contact my next host, Hannah, whom I was supposed to meet in Carlisle in about 2 hours. With still more than 30 miles to go, I set off. My brakes were still not quite working so I walked down the hills and cycled the rest. After a few hundred meters I had realised I did not have my sunglasses. I went back to Heather’s place because I thought I might have left them there. It turned out that I had left them half way down the hill where I managed to stop my bike. I took them off to wipe the tears off my eyes and completely forgot about them. It was too far to go back so I had to keep going.
I tried to hitchhike with the passing cars but there were not many. When I waved at a small truck, he not only did not stop, but zooming passed with less than half a metre between us, he nearly ran me over. Eventually, after 5-10 miles, I managed to wave down a minivan. Kenny and Bramble were going a slightly different way than I was planning to go and said they had lots of stuff in the back but probably felt sorry for me and decided to try to fit my bike in. I had to wait to get to an area with signal to call Hannah and work out where to meet. Bramble and Kenny decided to take me to Gretna where we met with Hannah. When their boss called I got the old “Ssssshh lassie, he can’t know we are doing this in our work hours.” They drove the minivan to Lockerbie where me and Bramble got dropped off. We loaded my bike in Bramble’s car and he drove me to Gretna. Bramble’s and Kenny’s strong Scottish accent meant that I understood only about 20% of what they were saying but what wonderful chaps they were. On the way to Temple Sowerby where I was staying with Hannah, we popped in to Halfords to get new brake pads and sunglasses.
After a lovely dinner, I spent two hours learning how to change brake pads on Youtube and managed to change mine. When I was done, I noticed that my front wheel could do with more pump of air. I asked Hannah and her boyfriend if they had a bike pump. They found an old one in the shed. The valve did not quite fit and instead of getting more air in, it let most of it out. Bugger. I tried to use my little pump but for some reason, it would not fit. I gave up eventually and decided to research what the problem was and fix it in the morning.
I only cycled 50 miles as opposed to the 93 miles I had planned. I went to bed absolutely exhausted again, but with a warm heart from all the kindness I received that day.
To be continued in the next post.
If you haven’t read about my preparation for this journey you can find the posts here.