Today has been an epic day. I'm exhausted and it feels as though a week has gone by in the space of the day. I was up early and drinking tea at the cafe by the Applecross Inn just after 9am. It was a hazy, muggy morning and I wasn't sure what I was in for but thought an early start over Bealach Na Ba wasn't a bad thing.
Bealach Na Ba in Gaelic means 'the pass of the cattle' due to it's history as the route drovers took their cattle that had been reared on the coast over to the markets in central Scotland. The road is one of the few in Scotland that is similar to the mountain passes of The Alps with it's hairpin bends and gradients that approach 20%. It has the greatest ascent of any road in the UK rising from sea level at Applecross to 626 metres in roughly 6 miles. I hadn't even heard of it before my trip but apparently it's well known amongst the cycling community.
The rather inconspicuous start hides the beast that lies beyond. The sun was shining and right from the off it was a slow incline. All of a sudden a huge bird of prey flew in from the left and landed by the side of the road. I stopped to watch as it flew off with some unfortunate small animal in it's grasp - nature in all of it's glory.
I could see the road ahead starting to unfurl from the hills. Switchbacks and steady inclines.
The road was fairly busy which was good in a way as it meant I could catch my breath stopping to let them pass. The going was tough but once I'd gotten into a rhythm I was slowly creeping up the hills and feeling great. The wind picked up the higher I went and the sun had disappeared but it was still rather humid and so I was soaked with sweat and looking forward to cooling off on the way down.
Turning to see where I'd come from earlier was rather satisfying. Progress!
One of the best moments of the day was when I was climbing up a rather prolonged steep section. The cars coming down had pulled over and as I inched my way ever further onwards and upwards the drivers waved as I passed. One older couple in their car were going mad, cheering, clapping and giving me the thumbs up when I passed and it just made my day. I can't quite explain how great it felt to get that encouragement from total strangers and I'm sure it carried me to the top.
The view of Skye from the top was pretty darn good but it was blowing a gale up there and I was getting cold.
I chatted to a few people and rewarded myself with a nice chocolate fudge flapjack before setting off again. I had made really good time, only one hour and 20 minutes to climb the 5.5 miles so I was rather chuffed with myself. The reward was just over the brow of the hill and when I saw it I gasped and then giggled with joy and here's why.
Waiting for the next stream of cars to pass I checked my brakes and then rolled away. The next 15 minutes were just thrilling. A few tight corners and then some serious speed on the long descent. The views were stunning.
I couldn't help but let out a loud 'yeeehaaaa' as I laughed and grinned my way down. Monkey was flailing about on the handlebars, he's turned into a total adrenaline monkey! Slowing down for cars coming uphill I was floating on cloud nine. The buzz you get from something like that makes the pain from every hard pedal turn on the way up disappear.
Reaching the bottom I stopped in the Bealach cafe for a big pot of tea to recover from the efforts of the last hour or so. There was a group of 5 cyclists in there and they asked how I'd enjoyed the pass. I think they could tell by my face but I babbled something about how phenomenal it was, I think I was drunk on adrenaline still!
The plan for the rest of the day was just to ride as far as I could to get closer to the Kyle of Localsh in order to get to the Isle of Skye in the next few days. The 7 miles over to Lochcarron found me tiring a bit but I stocked up on supplies at the Spar and decided to aim for Balmacara around 14 miles south as she said there was a campsite and a hotel bar. The weather was changing and it looked like rain so it sounded like a nice option to be able to hide in a hotel bar for part of the evening.
Little did I know what was in store for me on those 14 miles! No sooner had I left Lochcarron and rounded the loch when I was hit with a mega hill.
This would have been tough on fresh legs never mind those that had just ridden Bealach Na Ba!
For miles I battled with the ups and downs alongside the loch. This was seriously hard work and having reached the viewpoint I took a quick breather to admire the view and refuel myself.
No sooner had I stopped when the heavens opened and within minutes I was soaked. Those people who had been out admiring the view with me jumped into their cars and campers and drove off leaving me to shelter under a tree that really didn't make any difference. The rain looked set to continue so there was nothing to do but keep on riding. About half an hour later I had a serious sense of humour failure. Drenched, exhausted and climbing a neverending incline I screamed into the wind to give me a break and stop the hills. I do find that venting like this can be therapeutic but it didn't quite manage to turn my frown upside down on this occasion.
When I finally rode into Balmacara it was still raining and you couldn't even see the coastline. Standing in the wet eating a pork pie from the Spar I decided to check out the hotel bar. I was told that it wouldn't open until 6 and the staff at reception didn't look very inviting or offer to let me shelter there and so I got back on my bike and went to the campsite to see if I could find somewhere dry to hide.
At this point I was running on fumes and just rather sick of the day. It's a shame to feel that way after the highs of the morning but I was wet and now getting cold and just wanted to get out of the rain. I decided to stay in the campsite and no sooner had I unloaded the bike of bags and started to put up the tent when the rain stopped. For a moment I toyed with the idea of just leaving the campsite to wild camp along the beach but I was too tired to pack the bike again so I pitched my tent and battled with the midges that had now appeared.
I knew that a shower would fix me and so I got some 10p coins from the warden and spent 12 glorious minutes scalding every inch of my weary body. Feeling rather warm and fuzzy I popped back to the Spar and bought a beer to celebrate the days achievements with Monkey. My body and mind were happy again!
Miles ridden = ???
- Ice creams eaten = 7
- Ferries taken = 20
- Islands visited = 17
- Wild camp nights = 24
- Ticks removed from body = 3
- Distilleries visited = 6
- Breweries visited = 3
- Bothy nights = 6