The A82 –
Glasgow to Inverness
Simon's brilliant article on the epic that was the A82:
170miles by bicycle.
1st July 2006
You’ll know the feeling. You
pretend you didn’t hear what someone said just because what they
said was absolutely not what you wanted to hear and you hope
they said the wrong thing. Only Dave hadn’t.
It’s a bit
nerve wracking to set up an adventure with a group of people you
hardly know and some you’ve never met. Especially when the
driver of the support vehicle for a 172-mile bike ride across
Scotland has only ever been referred to as Car Crash Dave.
introduced to new faces at 3 o'clock in the morning is a bit
tricky, and doubly so after only two hours sleep. Being barely
conscious it was great to realise that Dave was actually the
most organised and unflappable person I’d ever met.
Riding a bike
through a big city still intent on enjoying the night before was
bizarre. Even more bizarre, as we assembled at Glasgow Central
Station, was a drunken Irishman regaling us with tales of his
cyclocross career while rating our bikes and our chances of
photographs and the (sort of) official start we headed away
through the dawn and urban sprawl accompanied by blinking LEDs
and quiet thoughts as to what lay ahead.
The plan had
been hatched a couple of months before at a party thrown by a
mutual friend. It was the sort of conversation you have when
meeting people for the first time: vague questions as to what
you get up to in your spare time and veiled answers you hope sit
somewhere between modest and accurate. It transpired that Colin
and I both rode bikes a bit. Col mentioned that riding the
entire length of the A82 in day appealed to him because it
started outside his house.
The four of us
pedalled around roundabout after roundabout as the super quiet
dual carriageway lead us under the glowering presence of
Dumbarton Rock and on towards Loch Lomond. We devised a system
to pass the early miles on the not particularly inspiring road
by setting up a rotation which prompted a discussion on how much
you envied whoever was sitting back left. Unless it was you,
which meant you pedalled along smugly knowing you were sheltered
from the wind and would still be next time we moved around.
Lomond draped in a blanket of low cloud we pulled into Tarbet
for our first food stop. Dave, Doug and Eve had thoroughly
organised fresh bottles and energy bars for each of us, which we
attempted to shove onto bikes and into pockets whilst being
mercilessly attacked by the scourge of the Scottish summer. This
slightly unpleasant interlude was enlivened enormously by the
first appearance of Ally’s dancing. I figured he was leaping
about to confuse the insects. I was wrong.
One aspect of
the ride we had all been looking forward to was pressing the
‘Cyclists press this button’ button as the road left Tarbet. We
pushed the button. We took photographs of us pushing the button.
Then we got back on our bikes. As we climbed away from the Loch
the sun broke through leaving shreds of cloud tumbling down the
surrounding hills; stunning. Riding up a significant hill for
the first time saw our intricate choreography disintegrate as we
all searched for a comfortable rhythm.
sandwich in Tyndrum seemed ideal preparation for the climb onto
Rannoch Moor. Two minutes out of Tyndrum a bacon sandwich didn’t
feel like ideal preparation for anything but it did push speeds
up as we dropped down to the Bridge of Orgy, as Bob dubbed the
next village. We’d all been quietly dreading the up hill section
to the Rannoch Moor Summit but a lively tailwind was picking up
and buoyed by memories of past canoe adventures we were soon
descending through the fantastic scenery of Glencoe towards the
more supplies I began to realise that everything was not as it
seemed with Ally’s midgie dance. I reckon that most people
halfway through a big bike ride tend to stand still, or sit
down, or collapse when not actually riding. Not Ally. I’m sure
he burnt more calories when we were stopped than he did
pedalling, utterly incapable of holding the same position for a
as we rode on through Glencoe was breathtaking. Not that we
spent too long looking at it. It always amazes me how perfectly
sensible and rational people are transformed into gregarious
show-offs the moment you point a camera at them. Now, if you
point a video camera at a bunch of cyclists they just won’t be
able to help themselves. If you point a video camera at a group
of cyclists from a car driving next to them you are really
asking for trouble. At least the background will look good.
The moment I
mentioned that we had just passed halfway I wished I hadn’t. We
were all beginning to feel the effects of the early start and
lack of sleep. Discussions began on what we would do when we
arrived in Fort William. Bob had a train booked back to Glasgow
but wasn’t sure whether to carry on. Ally had already broken his
own distance record so was pushing into the unknown. Col and I
were quietly wishing this hadn’t been our idea; somehow we just
didn’t have an excuse to stop.
One hundred miles from Glasgow. Bob
and Colin decided to sprint
for it. We ended up standing around in the station car park for
three quarters of an hour. Bob got the train back to Glasgow,
Ally decided to stop, then to carry on, then to stop.
again was hard; seventy miles now seemed like an awfully long
way. As we rolled out of town the car overtook us. We were
pretty used to this by now as we were leap-frogged on the road
while Doug and Dave tidied up, letting us get a head start, then
drove passed looking for a good spot for filming or the next
arranged food stop. This time the car was different. Grinning,
waving wildly and yelling encouragement from the back seat was
Ally. Suddenly we felt better: someone understood what it meant
to be doing this, knew how tired we were, how sore we were, but
believed we would do it.
I’d been a bit
apprehensive about the hill away from Spean Bridge and swung
left through the village with gritted teeth. Taking turns to
lead we focused alternately on the piece of tarmac directly in
front, not wanting to lift our eyes and see just how far we had
to ride to the top, and each others back wheels. We’d managed to
convince ourselves that it was downhill all the way from the
summit to Inverness so were relieved to pull into the car park
at the Commando Memorial that marks the top. I’m never going to
convince myself of anything again.
banter that had accompanied the ride disappeared. As the road
rose and fell, criss-crossing the Caledonian Canal, it began to
feel like we were riding through treacle. I found myself groping
around in pockets searching for food I knew I’d already eaten.
We’d arranged for a refuelling stop in Fort Augustus. The
numbers on the road signs for Fort Augustus didn’t appear to be
getting any lower. Again we crossed the canal, and again the
road began to climb. Taking turns at leading, neither of us
could maintain a regular pace. We were riding together, and then
we weren’t, we couldn’t.
signalled the beginning of Loch Ness. Inverness is at the other
end, give or take. Fed and watered we discovered that our tail
wind was now so strong that it took less energy to ride side by
side rather than line astern. Our speed was measured against a
yacht sailing down the Loch. We’d gain ground, then the road
would turn in land and we’d lag behind.
miles to go we were exhausted. Stopped in Drumnadrochit Colin
had a bright idea. He disappeared into a café and re-emerged
armed with two double espressos and a pair of doughnuts. The man
is a genius. I certainly don’t advocate the use of banned
substances to enhance athletic performance and I therefore
applaud the IOC for removing caffeine from its banned list.
Sugar is a wonder substance. I don’t remember much of the last
fifteen miles suffice to say that my head was buzzing and my
legs felt like someone else’s.
expressions on the faces of the good people of Inverness are to
be believed then the appearance of two tired, dirty, and sweaty
cyclists in their pedestrianised zone on a Saturday afternoon
ranks alongside alien invasion. After asking for directions from
some terrified locals we rolled onto the station forecourt.
Photos. Handshakes. Job done. Bikes on the back of the car.
Bikes not on
the back of the car. Dave hadn’t said the wrong thing. Without
an awful lot of reorganisation there weren’t enough seats in the
car. We had to ride to our accommodation. Up a hill steeper than
any we’d encountered all day. It was only three miles and Colin
and I ride bikes a bit.
Colin for the
Bob, Ally and
Col for riding
Eve and Ally for car based support
Martin for his
shower, space to pitch a tent and handing out cold beer at
exactly the right moment.