Highland Trail 2019 – Day 4

I awoke from my bed after a restless night.  The swing of temperature from -7°C to +20°C too much for my body to cope with.  I got up and got my clothes and sleeping kit together, thankfully all dry now.  Loading my kit onto to the bike along side Andy, both with differing outlooks on our day ahead.  I got away at 4.30am wishing Andy safe travels on the northern loop.

I arrived at the Old School House bothy, seeing people loading bags in the door way I put a spurt on.  I don’t know why but I felt like we were back racing again.  I wasn’t sure who was there but assumed it would be John and possibly Javi.  I think I also wanted a bit of time to myself this morning as I was still missing a quality meal from the night before.  Onwards to Tesco in Ullapool.

I should have stayed in bed a bit longer as I arrived in Ullapool too early for Tesco so went onto the seafront and found a café and a newsagent.  I had to wait for the café to open too so prepared my food stash for a day in Fisherfield, raiding the newsagent of sandwiches and pork pies.  As soon as the door opened I was first into the café, always a race I can win is the one for food.  I ordered a full breakfast with extras and a side of cake (don’t judge, I have a figure to maintain).  Whilst waiting for my breakfast I checked the tracker to see it was John behind me so I felt a little bad flying past without saying morning, I also noted James Hayden was in the area.  I wasn’t doing too bad this year after all.  I ate my breakfast, messaged my wife then started the dreaded pedal to the coffin road.  Every time I arrive at the coffin road it looks steeper.  I slowly hiked my bike up, periodically looking down into the valley to see if I noticed any bike like objects moving towards me as I clearly have hawk vision.  As I reached the top I sat down and had one last check on my tracker before loosing signal.  James was coming, it wouldn’t be long before he caught me.  Keep moving Karl.

I managed to descend into Fisherfield still on my own.  The weather had been good all morning so I was confident the river crossing would be passable.  Riding along towards Shenavall I met a bloke coming towards me he said “Hi Karl”.  How does he know me, probably a dot watcher I though so I stopped.  He was on a custom made On-one E-bike, oh how I wish we could swap bikes right now.  He introduced himself as Mark McPhilips, a friend of a friend.  It was nice to take a moment away from the race to think of the real world back home.  Mark took an action shot as I pedalled away, he was probably able to take many action shots.

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I arrived at Shenavall bothy.  I’d never stopped here before so thought I’d take a couple of minutes out to have a sandwich and a drink.  Inside the bothy was a lovely man have a quiet read.  I think he may have been disturbed once or twice today as he instinctively asked if I was riding the Highland Trail.  He then offered me a cuppa tea, “oh yes please if that’s okay” I hastily responded.  Little wins like this keep you going.  Just as I was starting my second sandwich James Hayden arrived with biscuits in hand.  James was also taking a few moments out.  As he walked into the bothy he noticed the WiFi code and password.  Typing into his phone he quickly realised it might not work.  For information the WiFi access name is FOrGEtAboUtIT, password Talkto1anOther.  Signal can be a bit flaky.  Also bin collections on Friday has been cancelled for the foreseeable future.  James had his biscuits and then quickly departed to the river crossing.  I followed a few minutes later just as Marcus Stitz turned up.  That poor bloke wasn’t going to get to finish his book in peace.

I arrived at the river crossing just as James was pondering where to cross.  I told him to follow Alan’s GPS line and he wouldn’t be far wrong.  We agreed to cross separately to take action shots.  I think I took a better shot, but it was marginal.  I’ve got to try and find something I’m better than him at.  I rode with James for a few minutes before I pulled away from him.  Yep I was shocked too.  It didn’t last long as he skipped past me on the hike-a-bike section before we crested the top of the climb.  Not long after this we caught John White.  He’d made quiet progress and leap frogged me.  I shouted ahead to John.  He stopped and waited, then we had a good old man hug.  I first met John in 2018 for the inaugural Silk Road Mountain Race where he kicked some serious butt.

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We rode as a threesome together towards one of my favourite descents on the ride.  This year was the first time I’d brough a full suspension mountain bike (with dropper post) and I was going to enjoy it.  As we arrived at the lip James let me and John ahead.  As I passed James he said “let’s see how its done”.  Me and John went for it, flying down.  I stopped near the bottom, jumped quickly off my bike to take a couple of pictures.  John came flying past me and I managed to get a couple of good shots.  As I refocused for James I realised he was still just navigating the first couple of switchbacks…on foot.  We’re in a race so wasn’t going to spend too much time waiting.

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Now it was time to press on if we wanted to get to Kinlochewe in time for food so I pressed on really hard to the postman’s path.  I didn’t tell John why I was riding so hard, but he kept with me.  We got to the postman’s path and started to slow slope walk along the loch to Kinlochewe.  It’s picturesque along the path looking over Loch Maree, but quite frankly I don’t believe the postman used it a whole lot.  I’d imagine quite a few letters went missing.  James showed his style by quickly floating past again. I mentioned to John about the potential serving times at the pub.  This hasted our progress.  We arrived well after food service ended but as it was just after 10pm we would settle on crisps, chocolate bars and coke from the bar.  Nope, barman had tilled up.  I wasn’t doing too well at spending money that last couple of days.  Deciding to press on as we had no food options I started to walk out when James showed us his class.  There was a box of food, including flapjacks, on the counter.  James stated that he was having this food and leaving the money on the counter.  The barman repeated that he’s tilled up but James reiterated that he WAS taking the food and leaving money on the counter.  Me and John quickly joined in, stating our intentions to do the same.  Thinking we’d done pretty well to harvest some food from the establishment I was ready to do a runner.  James on the other hand asked if there was even a glimmer of hope we could have a can of coke.  James persisted and said “look it’s just there, just a couple of cans each”.  He is good.  We got the cans and the food leaving the counter full of cash and the barman bemused at what had just happened, well done James!  Just before we left Mark McPhilips re-appeared.  His crank had snapped so he was heading home by bus, glad I didn’t swap bikes in the end.  We said or fairewells and headed off.

We rode 3 abreast up towards Torridon pondering our next steps.  James was going to crack on.  I was tempted to stop at the Teahouse bothy.  A small, cozy room barely big enough for two or three people.  Tea for two, John?  Think we had earnt a comfortable nights kip.

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