Day sixteen: A solitary start, incommunicado and John finds fame.
It’s a funny thing how your body gets used to a tough routine and starts to rely on the thrill delivers. This was very evident on the morning after my day off when I jumped out of bed at 5am and could not wait to get going. It was like my body was craving the adrenaline rush of pushing against the storm, and Scotland was waiting outside ready to deliver the appropriate conditions. But Scotland was the only one.
Having arrived two days before, had the first day cut short by my unscheduled snooze, and then waltzed straight into a rest day, Mike had not yet got into the flow. So, I started day 16, which was always going to be a big one, with vigour, enthusiasm, and a new lease of ambition for companionship: leaving Mike and Tony in their beds.
The lonely church, the green Landrover, the missing mobile…
The plan today was to cover a full 220km, making it the longest day (in terms of miles) of the entire endeavour – so there was no time to lose. Even before I set off the storm had set in, and the rain was falling hard: and it offered no promise of letting up that morning. I was heading west from Durness, along a multitude of coastline climbs and breathtaking descents, determined to get as far ahead of the support team as possible. For the first hour and a half I didn’t see another living soul, then a local farmer came into view in his green Landrover, nodding as he passed, in acknowledgement that it was also his first greeting of the day. Either that or in complete unbelief at the sight of a mad cyclist at that time of the morning in that weather, all alone.
Shortly afterwards I arrived at Eriboll and the tiniest, quaintest little church that you’ve ever seen. Known as ‘the rainbow over Eriboll’ I thought the lonely situation of this 200-year-old building was really quite profound.
But there was no time to dwell too long on that thought, and as I pressed on up Sutherland Moor and to the day’s highest point, the wind and rain just kept on pounding. It was so wet, and there was so little cover that in the end I just laughed. I’m not talking the sort of internal smile you award yourself when the situation is just too much for words, but a full blown belly laugh. Had the Landrover driver seen me then he would have definitely thought I was mad!
It was at that point that my desire to get a good start on the support team turned into wondering why they hadn’t yet caught up. So I decided to call them: but, of course, I couldn’t find my mobile.
What else could I do?
Now this was my third and final mobile, so it was quite an important issue. I knew I had it when I was getting ready to leave that morning (checking the essentials had become a habit), so it had to be lost: either en route or outside the campervan itself. Unbelievably, I found a phone box up there in the middle of that remote Scottish moor and decided to phone Mike and Tony to see if they could check. But their numbers were in the missing phone, so that wasn’t going to happen.
The only number I knew ‘by heart’ was Penny’s. You can imagine what she thought when my voice greeted the ‘unknown number’ warning on her screen early that morning, but what else could I do? As ever she reacted brilliantly and soon got the whole situation sorted out, tracking down numbers, making a few calls and saving the day. Meanwhile, the rain continued to fall, and I continued towards the far side of Scotland.
Leaving that problem in the safest hands of all, I set off into the raging wetness again, forging my way ever closer to the East Coast. Even a crazy, one-man-against-the-world struggle needs great external support along the way.
A familiar friend, and he’s finally found some fame…
They finally caught up with me about 80km into the morning. After breakfast, Mike joined me on the bike again as we made our way towards John o’Groats and corner number three of the journey. When we arrived, I have to admit I was a little bit impressed with the place. I’d been there ten years earlier when I was at the start of another adventure (cycling from there to Landsend), and I couldn’t believe the changes.
Previously it had been me, a hut and a local guy walking his dog. Now it had become a remote, mini metropolis of shops, tourists and merchants selling their wares. Mr o’Groats has clearly become quite the celebrity entrepreneur.
As I said, this was the longest single day of the twenty-eight, and although in our minds at least, we had started the journey home by reaching that famous landmark, there was still more to do this day. After a kayak across a bay, a short swim and then a lovely sandy beach run (the weather had turned kinder as well), we were back on the bikes for a 50km final leg to Helmsdale.