I lay there in the doorway for what might have been a minute, or an hour, or several hours when the silhouette of James Hayden went pass. I thought he would be long gone by now. I know I would be here for some time yet as it wasn’t daylight yet. I tried to stay awake all night, my mind telling me it would be weird to see someone asleep in the doorway of Nevis Cycles. My logical mind was screwed. What is stranger? A bolt upright zombie or a sleeping hobo in a doorway at 5am in the morning? I maintained strong, occasionally drifting off before suddenly shaking myself awake, what an idiot. Nevis Cycles was due to open at 9am, this was going to be a long, hard shift.
Nevis Cycles is in the middle of a housing estate. As the world woke up I had the occasional dog walker, runner or early worker passing by with the initial stare of intrigue followed by slight fear. I didn’t look my best. I hadn’t thought my plan through very well. I was in the middle of a housing estate with the urgent need for a wee just as everyone was waking up. I didn’t want to leave the queue, I was first in line. Seriously! But I really needed a wee. I had a plan – no, not go to the nearest tree and wee. Much better than that. I had a plastic sandwich bag. I could stand up in my bivvy bag, wee into the sandwich bag before throwing it into the nearest bin. Nobody would know I was weeing. Genius. Just for the record plastic sandwich bags leak, who knew! I wasn’t sleeping out for another night, that’s for sure. My kit literally piss wet through.
Around 8am a car pulled up on the street. 2 ladies got out and asked me if I was alright or if I needed accommodation. I explained that I was waiting for the shop to open to repair my bike. They offered me a cuppa tea. Turns out they thought I needed a bed in the refuge where they work just around the corner hence the concern for my well-being. I must have looked a right state.
9am arrived, the shop opened and a family renting bikes for the day got served first, bloody queue jumpers. To be honest by now I didn’t care. I waited for them to clear the shop of bikes and went in to explain my predicament. A bloke took my bike in and chucked it in the stand, another lad offered me a ‘spare’ fresh baked chocolate croissant and a brew. That was heaven, well worth the wait. By the time I’d finished my croissant and brew, purchased some proper Allen keys, my bike was ready to roll – and so was I. This was finally going to be my last day.
Before I set off I checked the tracker and noticed Marcus was a few miles up ahead so I thought I’d see if I could chase him down. Off I went along the West Highland Way. It was getting busy. After having minimal interaction with people for days this is a total explosion to the senses. I was smiling through gritted teeth as I wanted to press on but manners and pleasantries where shared instead, my social compass starting to realign with society. Marcus was probably long gone by now anyway. Descending to Kinlochleven I caught Marcus. He looked tired. I asked him how he was doing and he responded with “I’ve been riding for 22 hours”. That confirmed he was tired. We stopped in Kinlochleven at the toilet block for fresh water. Marcus was heading to the Co-Op for food. I was alright, I still had most of my Dornie stash and I didn’t fancy carrying anymore up the next climb than I had too so off I went.
Even though I had caught Marcus quickly and knew he was tired, I couldn’t help thinking that he’d get some food and maybe a coffee and all of a sudden he’s turn into superman, it is Marcus after all. I pressed on up towards the Devil’s Staircase, remarkably cleaning the climb – proud moment. I had legs that could pedal today. Seat down I dropped into Devil’s Staircase trying my hardest to rail every corner only stopping to carry over the few deep drainage channels. Absolutely buzzing with excitement. The end is near. I had a short climb into the forest before the final climb and descent back to Tyndrum. I met a couple from the Netherlands. After asking where they were from they returned the question. I responded with “me too, can’t you tell by my accent”. They were walking the West High Way, north to south and we laughed about how they much start each day with a “hello” to everyone walking the other way but by the end of the day it would just be a “hi”, or possibly even just a grunt. I told them next time to walk south to north like everyone else. I wished them well and sprinted off to the finish. On the climb from Bridge of Orchy I kept looking behind expecting Marcus to appear, thankfully he was nowhere to be seen. Descending to the finish I knew I had beaten him. I was overjoyed, not to beat Marcus but to know the Highland Trail hadn’t beaten me. It had tried its dam hardest but failed this time.
Alan Goldsmith (route curator) and Javi came to meet me with a bottle of Highland Trail beer. Me and Javi clinked our bottles and savoured the moment. Told you I loved him. I checked into a B&B, showered and caught up with the other finishers at the Real Food café. Marcus turned up about 2 hours after me. Turns out he’s been riding for some 44 hours (if i recall), not the 22 hours he told me earlier. That’s why he was tired, outstanding sir!
Highland Trail 2019 – you absolute gorgeous beast! Cheers.