Today would be our last day on the road, the finale. Very much a bitter sweet day. The anticipation and joy of completing the challenge, the relief of being released from the daily packing/unpacking routine, the relief also for my backside – whch although I don’t suffer much in that area, was begining to hurt, all offset by the realisation that the journey was coming to an end. And what an epic journey it had been.
Before the end – quit literally the end of mainland Great Britain – we had 3 things to conquer.
1. The dreadful hangover I was suffering. Brought on by 1 too many Whiskies the previous night. we didn’t know at the time of booking, but the Dornoch Castle Hotel is the worlds number 1 whiskey hotel and bar.
2. The fabled climbs of Helmsdale and Berriesdale. The locals in the hotel and previous bike shops having all succesfullly filled us with dread around these.
3. The wind. Finally doing it’s job and blasting us head on, all day long.
We set off in a realtively shambolic fashion around 11:00 and made about 8 miles in the first hour and a half. This was going to be a long day…
Much of the first hour or so was spent on lovely, deserted lanes (above). Normaly these would have been fabulous to ride, but the hangovers coupled with a deepening fatigue, meant they were a slog. it was becoming apparent that it would be a late arrival this eve.
Soon we were back on the A9, the main road North, which itself was suffering. Seeming to deteriorate the further North it went.
We decided to tackle the twin climbs of Helmsdale and Berriedale before lunch. They didn’t dissapoint. Much of the route today would follow the cliff top, descending into small villages, organised in bays, then climbing back out of them. Echoes of Corwall here. Helmsdale and berriedale being 2 extreme versions of this, both relatively steep, mile long climbs. Folk were right to warn us of them – they warranted discussion – but top be honest they were pretty easy. We had dealt with much worse.
We stopped for lunch around 15:30, then pressed on for Wick. We were buoyed by the fact we had dealt with the 2 major climbs of the day, and the hangovers were well and truly gone. But the wind! Block headwind – 2 knackered cyclists = very tough riding.
By now we were in Caithness, our final county, and the end only 17 miles away. But that would easily be the hardest 17 mile pedal of the trip for me. It was a proper slog out of Wick and we were both suffering. The only motivation now – was to complete.
We rounded the brow of the final hill and were presented with an amazing view. the end of the mainland, John O’Groats, and stunningly, Orkney in the distance.
We had made it. 960 miles of proper hard pedalling. Like I say, a very bittersweet moment. But also a truly amazing one. Some of the things we had to endure, multiple bike issues, losing David, dreadful weather (but not where we were expecting it), tent breakages etc… all of this easily make it my hardest challenge to date, and my best achievement.