Days 12 and 13 from Loch Lomond into The Highlands, and some equipment tips

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27th August 2021

Days 12 and 13 from Loch Lomond into The Highlands, and some equipment tips

Follow Alison’s stories of what it’s like to be the back-up and support here, as she reports back with a daily MAMILgram (that’s Middle-Aged-Men-In-Lycra):

Day Thirteen- Loch Lomond to Glencoe (67 miles, 2,635m elevation)

After a well-earned day off the saddle (Day 12), I took the cyclists back to the shores of Loch Lomond where they had finished on Day 11, and they picked up the cycle path to Tarbet; a long cycle ride beside the water as they headed towards The Scottish Highlands.

The need for cyclists to be vigilant was reinforced when the side door on a company van suddenly opened across their path, enabling those who had been overnighting inside to handily empty their barbeque from the previous night. Derek had to swerve at the last minute. From Tarbet the route switched back to the main road, which by now was less busy.

The day having begun in mist, by mid-morning they were caught out by the need for suntan lotion – that evening their red faces wore the clear signs of too much sun. Neil had also left his water bottles in the car, and so they were sharing the allowance they had.

After dropping them off, I travelled eight miles from Loch Lomond to Helensburgh. Shortly after setting off on this trip I had received an email from the daughter of Emeritus Professor Michael J Baker, founder of the Department of Marketing at Strathclyde University, to say that he had died and that his funeral would be today. He lived in Helensburgh and so by the most extraordinary coincidence, I was able to attend.

It was a moving occasion. I had known him for many years, since he took an interest in my early work on marketing in publishing and encouraged me, both with comments on my research and writing and guidance on how to establish a new discipline within a university (in my case Publishing). My own experience of the unexpected but kindly interest of a very well-known figure was replicated by all who spoke. He was a generous, supportive, curious and above all cheerful man, and this was a very well-lived life. I was so pleased to have been able to attend.

I also took in a quick trip to Hill House, the Rennie Mackintosh designed house of publisher Walter Blackie. Since my last visit a huge protective shell has been placed around the house, imaginatively enabling you to view it from above as well as inside. It contained lots of lovely nooks for reading and a wonderful bathroom.

Leaving the coast, I headed north, through a landscape that expanded continually, grew in scale as we entered The Highlands, and had increasingly few trees. I met the cyclists at Glencoe Youth Hostel, where Derek’s accommodation was a brand-new pod. Drive on down the valley beyond and there is a remarkably good restaurant called ‘The Gathering’. There was really good food and a cheery atmosphere.

Day Twelve – A well-earned rest day at Troon beach

On the evening we arrived (before our second rest day at the home of Derek and Linda), some of Derek’s cycling pals came around for supper and the highlights of the trip so far were discussed.

Derek and Linda are the future in-laws of our third child. Their daughter Jenny and our son Jack met at Edinburgh University and are getting married next May. He’s clearly already welcome, and it was lovely (if surprising) to find his face beaming out at me from pictures on their fridge.

In the morning of their rest day, Neil and Derek made a trip to see Davey in the local bicycle shop. Officially this was for repairs and replacements, in practice I suspect it was more for the chat. We also dealt with a pile of not so fragrant washing.

Derek and Linda are both very keen golfers and we travelled down to Troon where we had a walk on the beach and lunch.

The beach was surprisingly full, mostly parents with very small children. Their older siblings have already started the new school year, which in Scotland begins in mid-August. Rather than a clear view out to sea I was surprised to find a really mountainous skyline, with Arran to the right and the rugged continuation of the mainland to the left.

Find out more about Neil and Derek’s cycling challenge from Land’s End to John o’Groats on our dedicated web page HERE.

The end is close but beyond the next few days – what next?

As we near the end of the journey, both cyclists are feeling optimistic. As completing Land’s End to John o’Groats has been a long-term ambition for them both, nearing the end creates a vacancy.

Derek has been offered the chance to do the whole trip again in 2022, this time for a different charity, and Neil is starting to wonder what his next challenge should be.

Both are upbeat, Derek commenting that he is ‘Staggered that he is still able to stand’. Above all they have a really strong set of shared-memories: places cycled through; meals eaten; breaks taken; views seen; accommodation experienced; people encountered – all within the context of the prevailing weather (and remarkably little rain).

From the support vehicle it’s been similar. Although I have missed out on the physical exercise, and my running gear remains unused, after ten days of constant exposure to Radio Four I feel very well informed. And daily viewing of the distance travelled on the maps kindly provided by Jack has been uplifting. Travelling so far in so little time, I’ve had a crash-course in UK geography.

 What equipment have Neil and Derek been using?

I’ve been repeatedly asked about Neil and Derek’s route, and how they know where they are going. For those unused to long-distance cycling, it’s complicated.

Neil has a Garmin, which is basically a satnav for cyclists. It has three forms: an app, a link to his phone and a physical device which sits on his handlebars.

Consulting maps and the Cicerone guide-book, he created a route on his computer and this was downloaded to the Garmin account, which in turn transferred it to both phone and device. As you travel along, in addition to offering you satnav style mapping for your route, you can access statistics (e.g. average speed, distance covered, time taken, gradient climbed and calories used).

There is more. Strava is an app which enables you to share information about your physical exertion. The Garmin statistics can be linked to this, enabling others to comment on your performance and goals. Both our cyclists were keen for this encouragement!

What else do cyclists need?

  • Clip-in shoes which lock your foot to the pedals. Be sure to master the heel-twist that releases. Otherwise, if you stop suddenly and forget to remove your foot, your only option is to fall over – with the bike on top.
  • Bicycle pump. A CO2 gas canister (and spare cylinder) is also useful, for rapid air-pumping into a deflated tyre.
  • Lights for the front and back help make you more visible (in daytime too), particularly if you have them flashing. Recharging equipment for when you reach your destination.
  • Puncture repair-outfit and spare inner-tube.
  • Suncream and a light ‘skull cap’ for inside your helmet. Helmets generally have holes and this can lead to sunburn for the follically-challenged.
  • There are many purchasable bike-bags for other essentials, but the more weight you add, to you or your bike, the more you reduce aero-dynamicity – and hence increase the effort required.

Find out more about Neil and Derek’s cycling challenge from Land’s End to John o’Groats on our dedicated web page HERE.

To support Neil and Derek and donate to their causes please visit their fundraising page: 

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