Day twelve: The unexpected lurks around the corner – and he’s feeling mischevious!
The aggressive beauty of the Highlands, bathed in gentle sunshine is surely one of the world’s greatest sights. In fact, my whole time in Scotland was a mixture of those extremes: wind-dominated, angry storms and driving rain or dramatic, stunning landscapes blessed by blue skies and touched by the sun. This morning was a mixture of both.
From millpond to maelstrom!
It was an idyllic start to the day on the bike. Setting out early I completed 86km of joyfully beautiful scenery, ending in one of the most picturesque parking areas I’ve ever seen: and all before breakfast! As I arrived in Cuil Bay, ready for some bacon and eggs, my heart warmed to the cool blue, flat and still waters awaiting my kayak across the bay. It was so millpond-still that as I tucked into that morning’s fuel, I almost felt guilty that I would be the one to disturb its surface. It was a bit like the mixed feelings you have (both childlike joy and destructive shame) at walking through freshly fallen snow.
You’d have thought I’d learned all about the laws of unpredictability by now because half an hour later, by the time I entered the water, the wind had descended and it started to erupt. That didn’t deter me of course; in fact, it was even more appealing in many ways, and the reward of seeing Ben Nevis ascend towards the skyline over to the right made it all the more special.
To add to the joy of a tumultuous crossing, I shared the water with a family of seals who bobbed and weaved around me as I bounced from wave to wave.
No room for a fall in a boggy fell run…
After the kayak across the bay, all 13km of it, I hit the road for 40km on the bike before arriving at another unexpected obstacle. This one took me by surprise because the map makers clearly hadn’t visited for some time. Why would they? It wasn’t the sort of place normal people go very often, although I think that prehistoric cave dwellers would have felt very much at home.
I was looking for the footpath that the map had promised me would be there, to guide my run up the steep fell and over the other side to my awaiting swim. It was about 5km, and most of that was pathless boggy mud, occasionally up to my knees. It was excitingly fabulous, though: exotically ancient, mysteriously magical and leaving you with the feeling that you were very far from anywhere, in both distance and time. I loved it!
Being totally alone added to the thrill of that run (trudge), with no radio signal and no way of getting a message to anyone else if I fell or twisted an ankle. The danger and the thrill of the needing to be extra careful with every step was exhilarating, as I slowly and carefully made my way down the other side of the hill. Later Tony told me he had seen my orange bag momentarily emerge through the greenery before it was once more swallowed up by its grasp.
The joys of an ice bath!
An ice bath at the end of each day is a favourite of many endurance athletes, but it is not normally part of my routine. This day, however, I was unexpectedly and abruptly introduced to one. Whether it was the origin of the water being the surrounding snow-capped mountains or just the nature of the Scottish air, I don’t know, but the swim that followed was seriously cold. It was enough to take your breath away and hide it at arm’s length for a minute before reluctantly offering it back. It was far too cold even to become accustomed to after a few minutes and enough to spur on even the hardiest of adventurers to the other side – fast.
What a fabulous day!
Clearly, the obvious lesson to glean from day twelve is to expect the unexpected. But it is actually so much more than that. I have found that a better approach is to expect and totally embrace the unexpected. Not all surprises are good ones, but they mostly represent excitement, adventure, opportunity and learning: good or bad. The attitude with which you face everything (planned or unplanned) determines the result that you achieve at the other side.
Looking at the bigger picture, I think that day was one of my favourites, and some elements of it are certainly on the revisit list.