Updated: Sep 5
A 6-day solo expedition through the hills of South-West Scotland; 288 miles covered on a 26" mountain bike with rucksack, tent, stove and little else...
It's almost car related. I'd set out to cycle to Kames for a workday which East Ayrshire Car Club were holding on Sunday 24th July, in preparation for the Summer Sprint rounds the following weekend. Volunteers would get a free entry into the event and due to the cost involved in travelling there, entries etc; it looked to be my only opportunity to go racing again this year, so that was the plan.
The route out was a 116-mile opening journey through Longtown and into the Southern Uplands, of which I thought I could manage most on the Saturday with the remaining 25-or-so miles across to Muirkirk covered the following morning. I got off to a flyer, averaging 13mph on the opening stint, but the pace began to unravel a bit once I crossed the border and it seemed fate had other plans for this particular adventure.
The weather was less than ideal. My phone got wet pretty quickly which seeped through the cracks and rendered a beautifully useless striped pattern across the screen, then a wrong turn put me about 10miles off-course through Gretna where I was met by previously un-forecast heavy rain blanketing the moorlands north toward Moffat. It was relentless and I couldn't stop or deviate off the course I'd set. Just had to push on, up through Boreland, and see where I landed.
Eventually, I found a vacant farmstead in the dark - absolutely soaked through and freezing - it was 11pm and looking pretty desperate by this point, having climbed and then descended through 20 miles of cold water. I bundled my bike over the iron bars surrounding the shuttered-up outbuildings and took shelter in the driest corner I could find. This was the worst experience - pure survival - but fortunate at least to have lined the contents of my rucksack with a bin bag before I left the house, else I wouldn't have been able to get dry at all and that probably would have been me.
I managed 80 miles to that point, including the detour.
The following day and the remaining 45-mile leg up to Kames Motorsport Circuit was really hard going - exposure, clattering shutters and a cold hard concrete floor aren't really condusive to restful sleep - and I arrived late afternoon just as Dave was locking the place up. Yes, I'd missed it - the primary objective was lost and it was all in vain - but I don't mind really. For all the effort, the great lows and high in the achievement of cycling 125 miles in just over 24 hours. It wasn't so much about being at a particular place and time as it was just being... what an experience.
It's always tea time at Kames.
I recovered the situation thanks to the hospitality at Muirkirk Caravan Park on the Sunday night. Showered and dry for the most part, had an excellent breakfast at a local cafe the following morning and started to relax, enjoy the journey, because I didn't have to be anywhere now; no fixed destination or schedule. The following 4 days only got better and I learned a lot.
I decided to head south, over the hills to Sanquhar and take it from there..
This trip was actually inspired by a friend, Dan Smith; who, after years of studying and learning how to produce commercial music, managed to get himself featured on Radio 1 with his recent 'Pearls' release - an amazing achievement and a testament that if you can dream it, you can have it when you keep an open mind and follow the path to making that dream a tangible reality.
So what did I learn? Well, if you're planning a long-distance bike-packing journey you should probably expect to do no more than 60 miles per day on smooth sealed surfaces ...or use a road bike instead. More importantly: It doesn't really matter, man. The price of fuel doesn't matter. Having a large expendable income doesn't matter. Having a successful business building racing cars doesn't matter. If you have a bike, a tent and a bit of spiritual wherewithal about you; you can always get by and go far on not much and have a pretty decent time doing it.
It's a curious effect but when you go and spend your time doing something like this for yourself and for the love alone of what it is you're doing, the people you meet along the way approach you differently; you seem to carry an energy that resonates with the folk around you, you become a positive centre and everybody takes an interest. There's a lot of love in the world.
A few stats from the trip:
T Total - 35h45min (across 6 days) V Average - 8mph V Max - 34.8mph Distance recorded - 288 miles Total Altitude Climbed - 5,539m (that's 356m short of Mt. Kilimanjaro; the tallest free-standing mountain on Earth)
Some journey highlights:
- Seeing Christina Murray attempt to break the Lands End to John 'o Groats record on the Sunday (and then drafting her support van down the hill just before Abington services!).
- Passing over the hill track from Muirkirk to Sanquhar on day 3 and descending from the telephone mast, at the top of Todholes Hill, down a winding broken singletrack road into the village; I didn't touch the brakes, tucked in and recorded my first top speed of the journey at 34mph whilst hanging off the bike through the tight corners - sheep scattering left and right. It was a thrill; but then looking back up at the mast on the sunlit horizon from my camping location at the end of the day, miles down the valley and bathed in an orange glow. It was one of the most euphoric experiences I've had.
- The stars on the 4th night, where I climbed up through the windfarm at Ae Forest and camped just over the hill, were incredible. There is SO MUCH going on - things flying around everywhere - and the Milky Way opened up above me. You could barely make out any constellations for the whole sky was a packed canvas of bright twinkling bodies that night. I managed my only camp fire of the trip here, sausages and all. The morning brought glorious sun and a drop in humidity.
- The final pitch at Gretna overlooking the Solway Coast. I'd intended to push ahead to Brampton at this point but I thought back to lessons from that first night and glad to have chosen to call it early. I met a nice guy in the park there as I was cooking pasta, we chatted a bit and he pointed me down to the shorefront for a pitch. It was so peaceful and I had the best night's rest.
- Climbing hills on the last day, cutting over from Brampton into the North Pennines for the final leg through Allendale. I think this is the first day my body had properly recovered from going overboard on Day 1. This brought a change of scenery and I met a great couple in the small village of Hallbankgate who lived in the chapel; they were kind enough to show me their home and I left with such a good energy. That day I climbed 3 or 4 massive hills like they were nothing, when I'd have struggled to climb even one of them before the trip. The road from Whitfield to Allendale, ascending from The Elk's Head free house, was a notable achievement. Dropping down again over the old hill road toward Slayley, familiar territory and onward home; it was the perfect end to the journey.
I hope you like the pictures. They're terrible. I'll maybe do a thing again soon and take a camera with me.