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Saturday, 13 August 2011

Day Six: Tuesday 26th July Ballater to Stonehaven

We did consider this as a viable form of transport to get to the top of Mt Keen but then decided that it wouldn't really be in the spirit of the trip. It was a strange thing to see around the side of the guest house but then again, this was Ballater, anything could happen!

I was looking forward to this part of the trip. On one hand this did not hold the same sense of adventure as the previous days as this was the only part of the route that I had previously ridden. We were due to cycle through Glen Tanar but we were given a fun-sounding singletrack route over Pannanich Hill from the guys at the bike shop. It was free of charge too!

So off we went up the landrover track towards the hill. It was a long and steady climb but my level of fitness must have improved over the week because I wasn't struggling at all. It was a really nice ride before heading off towards the singletrack. However, we had been warned that the path up the hill was less of a path and more of a slight scar through bogs and heather.  Again, the reassuring cry from Sven confirming that this was his favourite kind of terrain. It was my least favourite. My front wheel got sucked in so many times and my legs simply couldn't get the bike through and up over the terrain. I was getting frustrated but at least the pedal was fixed.

It wasn't too long before we reached the top and could see Mt Keen. This was by far a shorter route than going through Glen Tanar even if it was hard work getting up. Getting down was great. A very thin deer track took us down through the heather. The adrenaline was rushing as the heather hid the big rocks until they were almost upon us. There were a few boggy puddles to suck in the wheel and I was comforted to hear that Sven had gone over the handlebars too. Although I don't think he went over quite as often as me but I did get to the bottom well before him, just with a few more bruises!

At the bottom we were greeted with the lovely looking rocky path chiseled into the side of Mt Keen. Having been up before I knew that this was near impossible. Therefore I thought it safe to bet that Sven wouldn't pedal all the way up. In fact if he did, I was prepared to eat a sheep's testicle. Of course I only said this to camera until I saw Sven walking. When I finally told him he'd lost the bet he decided he really would bike up the rest of the way... he did. Amazing robot man!!

It was a lovely walk to the top and after some food and photos and chat we began our descent. I knew this was a good one with lots of little jumps over drainage ditches. Unfortunately the Mt Keen Management had built up the humps on the lower part of the descent making it impossible to hit at speed. I'm sure someone is going to come a cropper. Luckily it wasn't either of us but it did slow us down and spoil the fun a little.

Once through the splash at the bottom we carried on towards Edzell. We turned off just before Tarfside and followed the other side of the River North Esk all the way. It was fairly flat and so we could enjoy the view, the lovely weather (of which we had lots of) and the masses of grouse or pheasant hiding along the route. I'm not sure which they were but I was definitely hoping to apply the old rule that if you hit and kill one you musn't pick it up but the person behind you can. Unfortunately we didn't have one for our tea that evening.

To be honest I thought that my legs would be finished upon arriving in Edzell but I think that was when the adrenaline began to kick in. We stopped for a coffee and another look over the map and after confirming our road route to Stonehaven we headed off. Several miles from Edzell my legs did give way and I really struggled. It took a lot of determination and the thought of a nice cuppa and warm bed at home to keep the wheels turning. I really thought I might end up walking most of the way but Sven kept me pushing on.

With about 7 miles to go Sven stopped and used my phone to call Christine. I kept on going, having established a rhythm, and it wasn't long before the realisation that over one of these hills I would see the sea. I knew that Sven would be behind me but in my mind he was miles away. I'm not saying for a second that I haven't enjoyed his company and support for the entire trip. I have and he's been a life saver but the only thing that kept me going was my own rhythm, my own heartbeat and my own monologue. I was my own motivator and I was going to get to Stonehaven. Moreover, I was going to get to Stonehaven on my own, without relying on motivation from Sven. I wanted to do this bit alone.

Every hill was a sprint and every descent was too slow, I just kept pedalling and pedalling. I never did see the sea until after I had spotted what I thought was Stonehaven

I waited for Sven on the bridge over the bypass and was pleased that he was not right behind me. I had been too afraid to look back before incase he was on my back wheel. That would have crushed my motivation as I really was pushing it flat out. He was a few minutes behind and we gently rolled down to the town square. This took us right past my house. I could actually see it but we had to get to the sea to make it a true coast to coast. Also, I'd promised Sven fish and chips!

We reached the sea, went to get chips where I spent 30 minutes in a queue smelling like I'd just cycled 250miles! Then it was home to my girls who were very excited as I'd not told them about the detour to Stonehaven but as they were tracking us they had reached the moment where they realised we were heading towards Stoney. I got my cup of tea and it felt good.

I'd never attempted any distance cycling before and was worried that this would be out of my ability. It wasn't. Although I would have struggled without Sven's help and without the good weather, this trip is a must. Spend the money on B&Bs or hostels if you can afford it and take a sense of humour and it will be a ride of a lifetime. It's the best bike ride I've done... so far!

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