Coast to Coast 2017 Report

I’ve had a few days to recover from the exertions of the Coast to Coast 2017 and, as ever, I’m starting to look ahead to the next thing.

We’ll get to that later. In the meantime we should get caught up on the exploits of the weekend of 9th September 2017.

I took the Friday off work and spent the morning packing the van. As always we seemed to have way too much stuff with us and the back of the van was full by the time that we left, late, to pick up the monkey from school. We were in such a rush that I forgot to get the Monkey’s iPad for the journey. It turned out not to be a problem. Getting to Cawdor Castle took far longer than I expected it to. Mostly because of the huge traffic jam over the new Queensferry Crossing. The bridge has literally just opened in the last couple of weeks and already the traffic is at a standstill trying to cross it.

The journey was fairly uneventful. Other than a short pitstop at Stirling to let the dogs stretch their legs we trundled serenely up the road, turning off the A9 just north of Aviemore and winding our way through some very Scottish scenery before emerging from a tangle of single track roads right at the gates to the Castle.

Evidence of my lack of preparation abounded as I realised that sitting with the iPad back home were the printouts of all of the important information that the organisers had emailed me. After much toing and froing I managed to work out what I needed and took myself into the tent to check in. It turns out that they were registering competitors by surname, and of course my surname was in the busiest segment. We got there in the end, and just as I was leaving Stacey arrived. I went through the process with him again and then we both went outside to get our bikes and take them to the transition point ready for the next day.

It was then that the heavens opened! A short, sharp burst that left me soaked to the skin. A taste of things to come.

We got ourselves settled in at the Nairn Camping and Caravanning Club a few miles away, had something to eat and went off to sleep. In the morning we had breakfast, made sure that we had all of our mandatory kit, broke camp and set off for the start line in Nairn. The weather was perfect for a 7 mile run and we got ourselves into the corral to wait for the gun. We went off in the first Challenger wave at 08:30 and soon found ourselves running at a steady pace through trees in single file. The pace was a little slower than I would have liked but it set us up for a the rest of the day by making sure that we didn’t burn ourselves out too early.
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Coming into Cawdor Castle we saw our little support team cheering us on just before the transition. It took us 1 hour 20 minutes to get to the end of the first section. We quickly got our bikes, sorted our bags, made a quick pitstop, and headed out onto the day’s main event: cycling from Cawdor Castle to Fort Augustus.

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We spent the next three hours cycling in great conditions along tiny little roads. The route tended to climb for the first half, dropping down just beyond 25 miles. And then with 10 miles to go we hit the last big climb of the day. Labouring up to a point on the B862, we climbed 451 feet in 2 miles. Overall we climbed around 700 feet on that section before beginning the plummet down into Fort Augustus. With the sun shining we hurtled down towards the transition, hitting over 44 mph.

At the transition we put away our bikes, dumped our bags, and trudged on tired legs the half mile to Loch Ness where we joined the production line for the kayak segment. Two buoys marked the triangle that we had to paddle around as quickly as we could. It was less fun than it probably sounds but the sun was shining. We trudged the half mile back again, people overtaking us the whole way, and clocked in for the end of day 1.

When we got into the campsite properly we found that our little support team had set up camp and were about to come and look for us. We had taken them by surprise. It sounded as though they had been on a little adventure of their own, finding a spot to cheer us on as we rode past on the bikes and then getting themselves to the campsite to be told that no dogs were allowed. Between us we had three! In the end they persuaded the powers that be that it would be fine.

We spent the rest of the afternoon resting, getting ready for day 2 and eating. In the evening we took a wander into Fort Augustus and sat by the canal with a drink, watching the clouds gather. Vanessa managed to get stung by a wasp while fending it away from the monkey and so now we know that she is not allergic to wasp stings.

There was a band playing in the campsite that night. We kept away but you could hear them from where we were pitched. Luckily they were finished by 10pm but I think a few of the competitors continued to party for a while afterwards. Stacey said that some of the revelers kept him awake well into the night. I can’t say I noticed.

Day 2 dawned grey and wet. There was no need to break camp early and so we got ourselves dressed, had breakfast and headed to the start line in the pouring rain.

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The start wasn’t at the transition. We had to cycle half a mile into Fort Augustus and onto the Caledonian Canal tow path. There we were gathered with others that had arrived, and released in waves. This was to allow us to spread out along the tow path and get a good start, for reasons that became obvious shortly afterwards.

When our wave was released Stacey and I got a decent start and began to overtake people. The path was very wet and the bikes were kicking up grey clay, coating rider’s backs, and fronts if they were unlucky enough to have to ride close behind someone.

And then we stopped. After a little under 2.5 miles the route crossed the canal at a road swing bridge. Just as we arrived at the bridge it closed to traffic and swung open to allow a yacht through. That carefully considered phasing had come to nothing as riders bunched up at the side of the bridge.

When the bridge opened again some riders tried to get across onto the path at the side, while others began to stream onto the road, blocking all of the traffic. Stacey and I got separated as we negotiated the narrow bridge and headed back down onto the path. This then snaked through a narrow opening in a fence where everyone bunched up again and we had to walk through in single file. The procession of bikes continued on a little further to a tight switch back in the path that took us up onto a disused railway line. We were now properly on the Great Glen Way. I managed to get going again, but only slowly as I waited for Stacey to fight through the pack. When he caught me I found out that he had fallen over at one of the obstacles because of the press of people.

Now we managed to get some rhythm going again and fought our way back through the pack as we squelched along the banks of Loch Oich. A fairly straightforward section along the old railway.
Approaching Loch Lochy we switched sides and headed into the forestry tracks. Here we passed quite a few people as a couple of very steep ascents on muddy tracks took their toll. My glasses were continually steamed up as I puffed and panted my way up these climbs. The trick is not to stop at the top as so many people were doing, but to use the descent as your rest time. And so eventually we dropped back out of the forestry, negotiating a couple of gates, and rejoined the road at Clunes.

Still pouring with rain, we rode to the tip of Loch Lochy before climbing away from the water and heading across the rolling hills to Fort William. There was a very steep descent before we reached the roads to take us into town, where we joined some horrendous traffic through road works. We were having to weave our way through trucks and buses and campervans, negotiating temporary traffic lights and mini roundabouts, before we managed to find our way into the Shinty Club and the transition to the final run.

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It was a melee at the transition. We met up with the support team again, as sodden as we were, and passed our bikes into their care. After a quick cup of tea and a flapjack we were away again. Through some houses and out onto the West Highland Way.

As we began the initial climb out of Fort William the sun came out. We took off our waterproofs and would have reveled in the warmth and the opportunity to dry out a bit if it weren’t for the lung busting climb. Up and up we climbed, over 800 feet in 4 miles. And when we came out at the top there was a strong wind and heavy rain. Back on with the sodden water proofs.

For the next three miles we alternated between walking the steep uphill sections and jogging on the downhill and flattish sections. Through some harvested forestry, passing walkers coming in the opposite direction who were near finishing their own adventures. At one point the rain became so heavy and the wind so strong that it was being driven at us horizontally and I thought it was hailing.

After about 7 miles we dropped down quite steeply for a short way and found an unexpected checkpoint. We checked in and continued ahead, entirely oblivious to the fact that this was a diversion that would add an extra 2 miles to the stage.

For the next 4 miles we generally headed uphill. We began to get a little down as we got colder, and couldn’t understand why we were still climbing when we should have been ready to drop down the side of the mountain to the loch. On we plodded, and our spirits brightened as the weather lifted briefly. Unfortunately it caught up with us again as we neared the end of the valley. By now we were tending downhill and so we started jogging again. The path abruptly started to descend steeply and we careered our way down the hill, passing a few people on the way.

It seemed wrong though as we still couldn’t see the loch. When we emerged at the bottom of the track and crossed a road we realised where we were. We had been diverted to Kinlochleven. At this point I assumed that they must have cancelled the final kayak and so we ran to the finish line.

Only to be told that it wasn’t the finish line as we crossed it, and that a coach was coming to take us back along the road a number of miles to the transition point for the final kayak!

We didn’t have to wait too long in the rain before the coach came, and Stacey and I were the last people to get on it and so had to sit right at the back. The heaters were on full blast in the coach and Stacey looked as though he was dropping off to sleep as the driver raced along the edge of Loch Leven. Abruptly he stopped and disgorged us out onto the road and into the driving rain again. I started to shiver.

Amongst much complaining we waded down onto the beach, selected a kayak and pushed out into the loch. We could see the finish line and so we paddled for home. Many people were just about done in by this stage and we managed to come from being just about the last kayak on the loch in our wave to power through. We rounded the small islands and headed for home. We drove past more kayaks and drifted in to the quay to be assisted from our boat. And this was the final insult. Because so many kayaks had crossed all at once they kept piling in from behind. Some pushing right through the throng and into the quay ahead of us all. Stacey and I had to wait while quite a few other got out ahead of us.

It was only a mild irritation though, and as I got out of the kayak I started running for the finish line. Stacey wasn’t too pleased about that but I could see the end and I went for it. The monkey had been waiting in the rain especially so that she could cross the line with me and so we did, hand in hand. It was lovely.

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As we crossed the line and picked up our medals, the monkey got one of her very own and so she was super proud.

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We milled around the Isles of Glencoe hotel for a while, eating some soup, before heading into the village to find the cars, and to get changed into something dry.

And that was it! I don’t know what our official positions are yet as they are still changing as they fiddle about with them, but we finished in the top 300 of around 926. I’m happy with that.

We parted company with Stacey at Tyndrum after stopping for a chippy, and got home very late. Now to plan the next escapade.

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