I ordered a pair of bright red panniers and fitted them somewhat crudely to my little road bike, who was non the wiser to what I had planed for her. I stopped by Tiso's to invest in a comfy saddle, so my bottom wouldn't be making the calls on the daily distance. When browsing the lovely shelf of saddles a young shop assistant suggested I measure my 'Sit Bone'. Thats right...... he wanted to measure my bottom.......... and so he did.
Lots of blushing later, I had myself a (hopefully) comfy lady saddle.
So very simply our goal was to catch a ferry from Oban to Barra - Cycle up the outer Hebrides to Tarbert on Harris - Ferry across to Skye - Cyle across Skye and catch a ferry to Mallaig - Cycle back to Spean Bridge.
An awesome Outer Hebrides and Skye loop on a mode of transport I have yet to trying adventure on.
Cycle touring is the simplest of adventures you can put together. All you need is a bike, panniers to put stuff in, and basic camping gear. We didn't even have a map..... Johns techno smart phone, would apparently suffice, but would require many cafe stops to maintain its charge (oh what a shame).
We were off. Wind blew through our hair and our loaded bikes wobbled like a brown bear trying to walk along a slackline. This was both novel, and an entirely new style of adventure for me. I would be lucky enough to watch 3 very unstylish dismounts from John, where by the bike would fall over with John still clipped in to it. I very much enjoyed this entertainment.
......... 30 minutes later we had reached the opposite side of the island, found a ghostly quiet ferry terminal and revelled in our successful journey across our first island.
Our second ferry of the day took us to Eriskey a small island stuck onto the south end of the Uists. We 'ooooowwwed' and 'Aaaahhhhed' our way across this little island of white sand and stunning views. If this is what we had signed up for then cycle touring was going to be super fun.
So far..... ferry, bike, ferry, bike, camp.
Waking up in our tiny two man tent, we smiled at the thought of our first full day of cycling. I must admit I was a little nervous of cycling all day long, or at least until either my legs or bottom objected. I imagined a 40-50km day, on these loaded bikes would be all I could manage. 100km and two cafe stops later, my bottom pulled rank and decided enough was enough. Here, would be where we pitched or tents.
To our surprise we had cruised up South Uist, across Benbecular and around the majority of North Uist, all in a single day. I was feeling mighty proud of myself; until John got started on his daily 7 minute workout. My legs groaned just watching the extra dose of exercise happening before my eyes. So instead of join in, I ate sweeties and heckled him.
Our third ferry now awaited us. We would now head to Harris...... land of the hills!
Ferry, bike, ferry, bike, camp, bike, camp, bike, ferry, bike.
Harris is by far my favourite day. The dramatic landscape was vamped up by the moody skies. Black hills and white sand contrasted beautifully, and the turquoise waters invited thoughts of tropical climates past the chill in the autumn air. This island is like sweet and sour, beauty and harshness married together in this single landscape.
We climbed up and over the hilly heart of Harris and dropped down into Tarbert where we would catch the morning ferry.
Ferry, Bike, Ferry, Bike, Camp, Bike,Camp, Bike, Ferry, Bike, Camp, Ferry.
Rolling our bikes on to yet another ferry had now become routine. We lent them up agains the side, tide them in place, and grabbed a few select items. Settling down on the ferry allowed us rest time, but still with our travel in motion. The Calmac ferries are great for travellers. They offer hot showers, hot food and are really, really reasonably priced if your on foot or a bike.
Our next steps would be on the Isle of Skye, a tough hilly island. Home of the famous Cullin Ridge, and possibly the UK's most alpine style mountaineering.
For once the wind was strong and south easterly. Lucky us, head winds it would be. I felt like a proper pro cranking hard, head down and taking it in turns to slip stream. We pushed on, the rhythm of peddling I found therapeutic. It allowed time to think and feel comfortable in my own world.
After a long climb the Cullins came into view. Tiredness and burning legs were soon forgotten, and we revealed in the beauty of our surroundings.
We figured Skye would take up 2-3 days. Instead it took us 1 and a 1/2. The swift pace of road cycling gives me a buzz, but it's not too fast that you don't get to experience the places you visit. We camped under the Cullins and watched the sun set. Camp routine was now nailed, and we had become a well oiled machine at pitching, cooking and washing.
The final few legs: Bike, Ferry, Bike.
I started to realise that when you cycle all day long you can eat, and eat, and eat. We stopped for breakfast, enjoyed poached eggs and bacon on toast, the only trouble was, I could have ordered another three portions. All food went directly to my legs, and my waist in turn was thankful.
Fuelling yourself is key. To cycle all day and cover 100's of km in a day, you can't be stindgy. Cycle touring is one of the most enjoyable and unnoticeable diets I have been on. I would recommend it to anyone.
We jumped aboard our last ferry, Armadale to Mallaig. Arriving on the sandy coastline of Arisaig. We enjoyed views of the Small Isles: Eigg, Rum and Muck while we pushed on. Only one night left till we would reach our very own finish line.
We woke to heavy rain and low cloud. Today may be a tough ride, but at least all our kit was going to get soaked on the last day. We had been very lucky so far with the weather.
To my surprise I had a smile on my face. It didn't matter that the surface water flicked up and stung my face, or the horizontal rain soaked through every inch of my clothing. Today I felt truly alive, unstoppable, psyched at how far we had come and how close we were to our very own finishing line.
Today we would make it back to Spean Bridge, a 60km day with incredible hills and lochs to enjoy on our journey. Stopping off at a cafe inside a railway carriage, we dried out a little, and 'procrastinated' (John taught me that big word).
The very last hill into speak bridge hurt. My legs burned and my tummy rumbled. I felt tired in every bone of my body. It felt amazing! For just a week on wheels and in a country I call home, it was an adventure I will never forget!
This Journey felt more than just and adventure to me. For months I have felt a little lost in the world, my purpose unclear and my future path lost in thick mist. Desperate for answers or a small clue to direct me, I was tuned in and listening to the world around me. I seem to get answers when out exploring, or at least I get a reminder of who I really am.
To travel in such a simple way, to share great moments with a great friend and to live a way of life I understand and love so much, is all I needed to be inspired. I came away from this short journey refreshed and full of dreams. It doesn't matter that I'm unsure of what direction my life is going in, as long as I enjoy every moment of it, thats all that matters.
Outdoor Girl and Adventurer. Enjoy stories from her coaching, talking and exploring.