It’s nearly 5 days since we completed our 24hr fundraising challenge on the West Highland Way. Already the pain, suffering and chafing memories are fading, and it’s starting to seem like it was quite good fun, really. The wee film we’ve made makes it seem that way.
Bits of it were fantastic. We charged down every single one of the 4000+ meters descent over the route, sometimes going at 60km/h down fire roads, sometimes hopping over rocks and drainage channels on steep, tricky paths. Even in the middle of the night, we always found the energy to enjoy the downhill sections, lights blazing, probably scaring the life out of walkers camping by the path as we rattled past. The weather couldn’t have been better. Our support crew brought us lights and chicken soup when we needed it. The scenery was great. We heard stags bellowing, and saw herds of deer running across our path at dawn on Rannoch Moor. The King’s House Hotel gave us free coffees at 7am, even though they weren’t open yet.
But most of it was pretty grim. The 12km stretch around Rob Roy’s cave was the worst overall; a 4 hour bike carry across a never-ending jumble of rocks and boulders. There is no comfortable way to carry a bike for that long. By the time we passed it, we were 2 hours behind schedule, the light had gone and we picked our way slowly through the dark, bashing our shins off our pedals and falling into ditches until we reached Beinglas Farm and made our first support stop (where we got our lights). We were already knackered, and it was sooooo tempting to stop there and then for a few pints before getting a lift home.
But we ate a few rolls and had some soup, then pushed on. The next section up to Crianlarich was almost as bad. It was mostly rideable, so we made good time, but it was so rough that by the end of it everything was starting to hurt quite a lot. We reached Tyndrum about 2am, ate more food, put on extra layers to keep out the cold, damp mist, and kept going.
From Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy was a relative breeze, with long fast sections of old military road, and we felt a bit better by the time we met up with our support for a second time to stock up on supplies and eat more chicken soup. We were also past half way, and feeling a bit more confident about making it to the end. But grinding up an endless hill at 4am, 80km covered in 14 hours, with 75km more to go before any rest, is not a happy place. Legs, arms, shoulders and most of all arses were really starting to hurt! We moaned a lot, but carried on.
The plan was to be at Kings House Hotel just before dawn, but we were still climbing up on to Rannoch Moor, miles to the South. Nobody said it, but it was starting to look unlikely we’d make Fort William inside 24 hours. That stretch was another real saddle-destroyer. We had slapped on extra cream at Bridge of Orchy, but the chafing was still bad. Ooooft. The cycle computers were telling us that we’d been stopping too often – our pace was fine, and we never stopped for a proper rest, but every gate, bridge, junction, puncture, snack, or call of nature stopped us for a minute or ten, and they all added up.
But we rolled into Kings House Hotel just after 7am. The kitchen didn’t open ’til 8, which was probably just as well because otherwise we’d have stopped for breakfast. Sod 24 hours, we were hungry, sore and tired. Some staff were already in though and took pity on us with free coffee. We doubled up on caffeine energy gels and left for the Devil’s Staircase, agreeing that we were definitely never going to try this a second time, so we’d better make a last ditch attempt to make it inside the time.
We slogged up the hill, up into the clouds, pushing our bikes the whole way since we were too shattered to even try riding any of it. On the other side, the cloud broke and we could see all the way down to Kinlochleven, over 2000ft below. The descent only took about 20 minutes, and we got into the town around half past nine, only an hour or so behind schedule. We had to stop for a while to eat some more and refill our water supplies, and we left for the final 26km stretch at 09:50. 2 hours 45 to go…
North of Kinlochleven is another long, hard push uphill, far too steep to cycle. But higher up the path levels out and improves a bit, and we cycled to the top of the last big climb at 11am. 1hr 35 left. We didn’t stop for a rest at the top, just mashed on, sweating and cursing as we careered past loads of walkers. We were all in a right mess by now, but determined to keep going until we ran out of time or reached the end.
Glen Nevis seemed to go on and on and on. And on. It was 12:15 but we still couldn’t see Fort William. Andy asked a foreign couple how far was left to the town. ”Oh, I don’t know” he said. ”Two and a half hours walk at least”. ”WHIT?!? We need to get there in 20 minutes!”. ”Oh, that’s not going to happen” he said.
Two minutes later the path joined a steep forestry road and the three of us raced down it. Andrew’s hands had gone numb and he couldn’t use his brakes, but we kept up. At the bottom the track joined the main road and a sign said 2km to the end. 3 minutes later we arrived at the sign, and pretty much collapsed on the spot. It was 12:35 – 23 hours and 59 minutes after we left Milngavie.
We went to the pub, had a pint, ate two meals each, then fell asleep on the grass next to our table until it was time to catch the train home. Yass!
So, a massive thank you to everyone who helped or sponsored us. Special thanks to Sandy and Vicky, our support crew. Also to Simon, who not only lent me the bike lights I needed, but sponsored us a whole heap of money. We will name a stand in your honour!