So the idea was pretty simple ride across the country to Kennacraig get the ferry to Islay ride more there and then ride back, taking new routes, using ferries and trains to connect the impossible or less interesting parts. I would leave from home and the others from Edinburgh and we would meet at the end of day one. A grand tour for gentlemen, we even arranged our fresh kit to be sent via courier to our over night stops to enable us to travel light, a beautiful plan.
Day one, after a quick text confirmation that they had left Edinburgh, I was off, my first day was on mostly familiar roads, straight out to Kenmore then up the quiet side of Loch Tay, this was probably my slowest section, it's a rolling road that pitches quite steeply in places with variable road surfaces into the bargain, but the beauty of such a ride was I was under no pressure to get anywhere in a hurry, so I soaked up the views, the silence and weather. Soon enough I was rolling out to Lix Toll and then Lochearnhead and Strathyre where I stopped to have a bite of lunch. Back on my way Kilmahog was the next critical place and a right turn was had on reaching, I was feeling pretty good as Loch Katrine beckoned, here I stopped to stick some headphones in and take in some sounds for the peaceful road around the Loch to our overnighter at Inversnaid. I never ride listening to music and I wasn't sure if it would work for me, I had loaded up the iphone with a selection of old die hards, some difficult jazz and a couple of podcasts, straight into Pharoah Sanders, Morning Prayer, the earthy qualities of the sounds seem to blend right into the surrounds, soon my senses seemed to be heightened as my head opened up to the surrounds. I know this may read like some hippy bullshit but it really enhanced the ride beyond my expectations, from there it was right into Charlie Mingus with another hard track, Solo Dancer from the Black Saint And The Sinner Lady album and again my senses erupted along with the energy of the track. Thelonious Monk was next up with Straight no Chaser, I was now in a new place on the bike I couldn't remember this kind of elation and connection to the ride before, all good as they say. Quickly Inversnaid appeared and my 80 miles for the day were up. The others arrived shortly after and we hung around exchanging nonsense and tales from the road, it seems the bunch mentality had given them a slightly different ride than I had.
Day Two, was a late starter mainly because we were dependent on the tourist ferry across Loch Lomond, which nearly sailed right past, a quick phone call and we were back on schedule. From Tarbert it was up the Rest and be Thankful which was a pretty nice warm up and stretch out. From here we headed down the east bank of Loch Fyne which was a road new to me and a nice road it is, we stopped at Strachur (I think) for an impossibly large lunch, the pace had got a little racy and the stop was welcome, I hadn't quite expected to eat so much but the food was good and it would be some time before we ate so I loaded up, from here we raced along the Loch side to Otter Ferry an oasis glued to the edge of the Loch, a quick check at time and we were off. The next stage was pretty tough, the road pitched and wound it's way to Portavadie and I struggled as the guys seemed to be finding their legs, a big thanks to Dave who hung back and uttered "keep your eyes on my back wheel", good lad, it got me through. Soon we were on one ferry then another and the day was over at Port Askaig on Islay. 58 miles doesn't read like a lot of miles when it's put on paper and I struggle to work out why it felt so hard maybe it will become apparent as this story unfolds.
Day Three, a proper breakfast after some fine pints of Angus Og ale the night before. Then all aboard the Jura ferry, todays plan was supposed to be ride to the tip of Jura and back then over to Islay and out to Port Charlotte where we were staying, as soon as rubber hit Jura the hammer dropped, it wasn't quite what I either needed or expected but its a nice road up the East flank of Jura and we made it as far as Lagg where the road pitched up violently, a quick turnaround and it was a race back to Craighouse for lunch. Once back on Islay we met up with Brian from TWMP and Jez from Islay Birding, they would be our fresh legs to drag us to Port Charlotte via Debbies for coffee. The climb out of Port Askaig is pretty unforgiving but we dug in so not to shame ourselves too much in front of the locals.After coffee and much blethers we headed off on an evening ride taking us right out onto the edge of the island and down to Portnahaven and then back up to Port Charlotte, a beautiful ride on an amazing evening, great stuff. Dinner was a blur and then much re-hydrating at the bar proceeded. 69 miles at mostly uncomfortable pace but somehow we had been out for most of the day which was good.
Day four, more of the same met the locals at Debbies,loaded up on coffee and headed out, some confusion early on split the pack and it was a good while before we eventually regrouped at Bridgend. From here a straightforward batter to Ardbeg distillery where lunch was planned. Great to have some fresh company in the bunch and needless to say we were all playing silly buggers once again, the pace heated up and a full on sprinting for the merest hint of a sign became the norm. After lunch we rode out to Machrie where we were staying, the weather had got violently blustery I think its fair to say.
Day five, our last day had taken a serious knock instead of getting the ferry from Port Ellen where we were virtually staying we had to ride to Port Askaig, which gave us an early start, a very early start. I quite like riding in the morning, I wasn't prepared for rolling out of bed and straight into knuckle head riding mode however, it unfortunately set the pace for the day so I resigned to the back and my own pace which resulted in a nice ride. From Portavadie we were heading to Dunoon, another new route for me and what a scorcher, I will struggle to do it justice but the road wound its way clinging to the steep hillsides out of the Loch, awesome stuff, the climbs were hard the descents were screamers, quickly the tarmac widened into super fresh brand new road and the top gear downhill back to the coast. I had made it to Dunoon and with it broke the 300 miles barrier, more miles than I have done in a week for some time. The rest of the day was spent on a ferry and two trains which by the time I was home had made me very tired and incredibly stinky.
All in all it was a great trip, I was disappointed not to have got some longer rides in but certainly I couldn't have managed it at the pace the guys had set. Left to my own devices I am pretty sure 400 plus miles would have been very possible, sometimes its not about the miles though and riding 5 consecutive days is virtually unheard of for me so that in itself was a real bonus. Next years trip will be very different I am sure.