We arrived on schedule – 1st September 2006 – at 12.45 pm – after a fast 50 miles cycle started at 8 am near Forsinard.
The departure had been timed earlier than usual in the hope that we might foil the midges. Sadly, not. They were back at the windows by 5.30 am, and stayed until Stuart drove the hearse away at 8.20 am. I say hearse because the campervan at that stage contained 100’s of dead bugs lost through being swatted, sprayed, or deaded using some other method.
It was a tricky departure for the cyclists. We were being held captive by the swarms of insects baying for our blood on the other side of the vehicle walls. Problem was that lots of our gear had been left out overnight when we made a hasty retreat into the van at nightfall.
Paul decided he was tough enough to withstand the onslaught, and complete with a net of sorts (one of my see through T Shirts 😉 over his head he charged outside whilst we emptied half a can of Raid at the open entrance to ward of our attackers.
Does this sound like I am being over dramatic? Truth is – I’m not. It was that bad.
Paul fumbled around outside collecting up shoes, kitbags, shoe inners, gloves, etc. He raced back to the van and passed the items through an opening in the mesh door (as mentioned yesterday the mesh is too big to stop the tiny midges). Paul then raced around some more to gather the remainder. By the time he returned to the door he was covered from head to toe in thousands of insects. It was like a scene from the movie The Swarm.
Before letting him in we got him to shake off as many as he could, a total waste of time. Then, with the remaining half can of Raid we opened the door and blasted him as he came in. The van filled with bugs in seconds – and in a few more seconds we dispatched them to a higher place.
We put on our kit, stood in a row like parachutists about to jump, and then when the green light (metaphorically speaking) went on, it was go, go, go. I had swapped my helmet for a scarf-like hat I had in my possession. It was pulled completely over my face and I could only just see through the weave of the material. I spotted my bike in the grass, grabbed it and ran with it 50 meters up the road, hoping that in doing so I would be in a midge free zone.
Not so. They had figured out our plan for departure. Swarms were waiting. I ran a further 50 meters whilst still wearing my balaclava like hat. If there were locals, and of course its so remote that there are no locals, but if there were, they would be forgiven for thinking that a van robbery had just taken place.
We all regrouped once clear of the insects, and looked back helpless as Stuart opened the campervan door and allowed the bugs to settle on his Michelin man outfit. This outfit had been put together minutes earlier in readiness for the tasks he would have to perform.
As we had departed from the van we noticed that the tool boxes were still out, and the bike workstand, plus a few other heavy items. Stuart would have to contend with these by himself. We rode into the distance feeling a fair bit guilty.
The ride was pleasant enough, mainly through forests, but on good quality dirt roads that enabled us to make good time. I phoned Eleanor to say that our arrival time would need to be re-scheduled from 3pm to 1pm. It caused a bit of a problem because her family were still in town shopping. Understand that in these parts “town” means "a place far away".
To give her more time we stopped at a pub in Watten for a coffee at 11am. Thereafter it was back to the task at hand – getting to John O’ Groats. We completed the final few miles across the now nearly flat terrain. It was both exhilarating and surprising to cross the final hill.
Coming over the brow we were suddenly faced with a stunning view of the Orkney Islands, much closer to shore than I had ever expected.
Just as we navigated the final bends I noticed a commotion alongside me – a car was overtaking but not overtaking, if you see what I mean. I looked to my right and found my view blocked by a young person wielding a video camera. It was Lucy, Eleanor’s daughter. They had just arrived and were determined to beat us to the finish point.
I waved them past (have developed a certain blasé about doing this for motorists) and in any case pulled over to the side because I had just spotted a road sign announcing that we were now at the end of the road.
Photoshoot, followed by a quick confab about riding in together, no one front wheel ahead of the other. Warnings were issued that if anyone went for a sprint finish they would be spoken about in negative terms until the end of their lives – and possibly beyond expiry as well.
Then, with a flick of the pedals, we rolled towards the finish line.
Eleanor was there, having just managed to rush into the souvenir shop to purchase small bottles of whisky and tot glasses to match. They were handed over and in my case, quickly used up. Next it was time for the official photographer to do his thing. We followed this somewhat unique experience with a coffee at the souvenir shop. Paul purchased 30 postcards and I purchased a more realistic 4. He settled in for another coffee and started writing. I headed for the campervan and sat down.
Later in the afternoon, and after the rain, I headed off to do a spot of gift shopping.
We were collected by Eleanor’s husband, Julian, at 6.30 pm and whisked off to her brother Malcolm’s home in Lyth. A huge meal awaited us, top quality country cooking. Thanks Susan!
So, here we are, its Saturday morning, and I am tasked with finishing the blog entry. Around me the activity is manic, washing up, packing, eating, drinking tea, etc. I still need to do all that, but the blog readers are already upset enough that I did not press the publish button last night. Sorry folks. The party just would not wait!
We have a 16 hour drive ahead – Paul and Martyn alternating at the wheel of the left-hand-drive 7.5 litre diesel engine. Not as powerful as my thigh muscles currently are. Whether they will stay that way will have to be seen.
Signing off for now – a possible further blog entry tomorrow though – so watch this space
Gavin, Martyn, Paul, Stuart.
SUCCESSFUL LEJOG OFFROADERS