IT was just three weeks since we packed out bags and rejected a comfortable life for the unknown road but already we had suffered a startling realisation.
Cycling around the world is not the easy option – the dreaded office job actually is.
Since peddling out of Oban seven days ago our mood swings rivaled the hilly terrain with a flat, windless path resulting in us slapping each other on the back and marvelling at the scenery, while a foul headwind, rain and some serious slopes incurred the kind of language I hope my mother never hears.
In fact the all out low point hit of the Long Rode Home hit when we least expected it – on what was supposed to be an easy day. We’d trundled out of picturesque Oban at about 9am after hoffing down some peanut butter sandwiches (on Tesco’s cheapest bread) and a coffee before making our way up and down hills to Tyndrum – about 60km down the road. We’d been warned it would be tough going so we buckled up and pushed on, stopping at a quaint train station in a tiny village called Dalmally for lunch before tackling the final long climb into this quaint, mountain-framed village. We stopped at a midge infested campsite and managed to get the tent up just in time before the heavens opened.
Despite the bugs and the rain we were convinced the tough day was over as Google maps had assured us the next 150km to Troon would be a virtual downhill run.
And that was where the trouble started.
A late start had us wobbling out of Tyndrum close to lunch time the next day and as we meandered past lush fields, hills and stunning lochs the wind picked up, the tarmac worsened and the road began to resemble a torturous rollercoaster, paving the way to a category nine tantrum from yours truly.
Halfway up a rough, steep hill I all but threw Hercules into a bush, screeching ‘there’s something wrong with him!’
A bemused Scott turned back and asked patiently if I’d checked the brakes but it turned out the bike wasn’t to blame – it was me and my shagged legs.
A lunch of peanut butter and jam sandwiches beside a stunning cobalt loch help calm the simmering temper but just two hours and one rough as guts road later we were wondering “where the bloody hell is Balloch” a town near the outskirts of Glasgow which was to be the day’s final destination.
Just when I was ready to look at return tickets to Australia a faded sign for the illusive town popped into view and just beyond that a pair golden, glowing arches.
I’d always prided myself on shunning “trash” chains like Maccas and KFC in favour of less processed options but with screaming legs and lungs overriding any moral tunes I happily jumped off the healthy high horse and bounded straight into McDonalds with a happy Scott in tow.
We chowed down a chocolate thickshake and some fries at lightening speed before realising it was 6pm and there was no campsite within at least a few miles.
I was utterly convinced my poor legs couldn’t have coped with even a mile and so the B&B a mere 50 metres down the road won out while our daily budget, again, went spectacularly out the window.
Our host Barry was in the midst of watching the Wimbledon final when we pounded on his door but once Novac secured the win he happily got us settled in our double room (with its very own ensuite – what a treat) allowing us to sink into the kind of bliss that only a mattress, a kettle and a warm shower can provide.
The next morning he put on a continental breakfast for us including big fluffy baps with camembert, cheddar cheese, meats, jams, cereals, yoghurts, toast and a large plunger of coffee. To my disgust and probably Barry’s alarm we ate the whole lot without so much as a belly ache! Barry then provided us with one last bit of marvellous Scottish hospitality – a fully packed lunch on the house!
Heartened by this kindness we trundled around the outskirts of Glasgow in a bid to make our way towards the Bridge of Weir which had seemed a mere 20km away on Google maps.
As Murphy’s Law would have it this “easy day” again turned into round two of torture as we got horribly lost before cycling 50km to a wild looking campsite amid fly and midge infested farms.
This basic site happened to have a few cabins and occupying them all was a minivan full of loud tourists and I couldn’t help scowling at them as they sauntered happily from the climate-controlled bus to the coz
y cabins without so much as a minor midge assault.
After a quick shower we launched into the well rehearsed manic midge swiping dance while cooking our packet pastas before retreating to the tent where we were lulled to sleep by the heavy buzz of bush flies and bugs.
Despite two days from hell this wild bush detour happened to land us in the perfect spot to tackle our last leg of the Scotland cycle and the following morning we woke up early, swatted a few thousand midges and scoffed down some porridge before setting off for the last 50km.
Britain has a brilliant cycling network called Sustrans, which maps out bicycle routes across the nation giving you a chance to escape the main roads and potter down vehicle-free paths which often run adjacent to the highways. As luck would have it we’d landed right near route 7 and so for almost 20km we trundled down gorgeous flora-lined paths towards the port town of Troon.
Lunch (a £2 oil fest of deep-fried patty and chips) saw us through to the final destination and not long after we rolled into a bloody rustic campsite with just one spider infested loo and shower. Despite being stuck in a scene reminiscent of “Deliverance” the absence of one thing had as feeling as though we’d landed a room at the Hilton – and that was midges. Preferring lochs and paddocks these pests steered clear of the close by ocean and we quickly spread ourselves out on the grass for a serene picnic of scones and jam.
The ferry to Larne left at 11am the following morning so in a rare fit of organisation we had the tent and panniers packed before 9am, trundling the mere one mile to the P&O boat where we’d hit the Irish ocean.
As we sipped on surprisingly delicious machine coffees (our standards had clearly dropped) we spied two loaded up bike tourists rolling into the port, parking their worn-looking beasts next to our still embarrassingly shiny ones.
Jacky and Ralph Winter had been cycling for an impressive six months (they were taking two years off to peddle around the world) and for us they were nothing short of a godsend.
With ripped calves, big smiles and slightly loose lycra shorts “from all the weight we lost while cycling those hills in New Zealand” they were a wealth of advice and knowledge to two bumbling Aussies who were a mere three weeks in.
Their main advice, however was to simply “enjoy it” and by the end of the ferry ride we felt more invigorated and determined than 50 hot showers or warm beds could have provided.
The sun streamed through wistful grey clouds to reveal the rolling green hills surrounding Larne and within minutes of leaving the boat we’d discovered the warmth and good humour of the Irish – something that would become further cemented in days to come.
We rolled into a nearby campsite before treating ourselves to a delicious and creamy Guinness feeling more relaxed than we had in weeks while excitedly pondering the second leg our trip – this great green island!
Before we left however there was just one thing left to try – Haggis! Scott had decided (on the advice of a local Scotswoman) that it was just as good in a can and so we fried it up to accompany yet another packet pasta.
He swears it wasn’t too bad but I sampled a bit and it was as foul as you would expect!