part two of Phil’s epic tale…
I never get the best sleep when bivvying, so I never expect to feel fully rested when I wake up. I had probably rolled around for about two and a half hours when I opened my eyes to see a cloud of midges surrounding my head. I put a head net on but it was no use – you can never relax when the midge is about. So I just got up, packed as quick as I could and headed off. I think it was about four thirty in the morning. The plan for today was to get as far around the northern loop as I could with a target to reach the pie shop in Lochinver that closed at 9pm. It was about 130 hard miles away!
The route to the start of the northern loop covered reasonably easy miles, the majority on fire road or double track over undulating terrain. I had continued not to eat much in an attempt to save my food, so I was hoping to be able to grab a bite to eat in the Oykel Bridge Hotel. I arrived before opening time but they were fantastic and made me the best bacon sandwich I have ever eaten followed by two cups of strong coffee and a chicken sandwich to go – great hospitality.
I had checked the internet at the hotel and found out I had created a decent lead by riding into the night and starting early. This was good news as it is never fun having to continuously look over your shoulder. I decided to push hard for the next section to try and improve my lead and give me breathing space in case I had a mechanical.
There was a reasonable section of road to keep the pace high, which eventually turned into a fire road heading along Glen Cassley.
This then turned into a steep climb out of the valley next to the power station, another section of road and then back off road heading off towards the northern most point of the route. The next sections are a bit of a blur. I remember nice sections of undulating double track, peat bogs with the track barely visible, a steep hike along Glen Golly and some fast downhill tracks until I popped out at Achfary. This marked the end of the outward section, so I stopped to change over the return track on my Garmin. I was immediately surrounded by midges, which made sure I didn’t stop for long. Another steep up through Achfary forest and then the track descended down to Kylescu and the start of a road section that I hadn’t been looking forward to.
Looking at the route before the race, this section of road was littered with chevrons, so after 250 miles this was going to be difficult. I had been eating and drinking better during the day which had maintained my energy levels, however I worked out that if I covered this road section quickly I would still get to Lochinver for 9pm and catch the pie shop before it closed! My race strategy was now being driven by hotel and cafe opening times.
I cracked on passing through Kylesku and heading towards Drumbeg. The views across the bays were amazing in the evening light and I did consider stopping to enjoy my surroundings. However, I’m not sure if my competitive spirit or the smell of homemade pies got the better of me, but I carried on crawling up and flying down the other side of every lump in this brutal road. I neared Lochinver and the route turned off road a few miles from the town. This route took in some amazing beaches and bivvy spots but my mind could only think of one thing – pies! Time was ticking by and this off road section was slower than I wanted it to be.
Finally I made it to Lochinver just after nine and the pie shop was still open. By this time I realised that I was now very hungry and energy bars, gels and flap jacks would not be enough to get me through this race. I needed to start to eat more protein and carbs. With this is mind I ordered a homemade chicken and mushroom pie, a slice of homemade quiche, a chocolate milk shake and a can of coke. That’ll do nicely. It was now nine thirty and I wanted to keep going until midnight and then try and get 4 hours sleep. So with a steak and kidney pie purchased for breakfast, I carried on towards Glencanisp Forest. This section of the route didn’t look too bad on the map with no major climbs, so I hoped to get back to Oykel Bridge and then bivvy somewhere on the track to Ullapool.
The track through Glencanisp was anything but easy. It started along some nice singletrack but soon turned into a nondescript path where I had to drag my bike through boggy undergrowth. As the light faded, I was then following a narrow rocky path alongside a steep valley with the river a long way below. I was now feeling very tired after two days of hard riding and my pace was slow. I needed to be very careful to avoid ending up in the river. I pushed on to the high point of the track next to Lochan Fada. It was now 11.30pm and I decided to call it a day. The wind across the loch meant no midges and the soggy grassy undergrowth meant for a comfortable night’s sleep.