Day 7. Hamilton to Fort William. 135 miles over the Highlands. Gale force winds and rain forecast. It was always going to be a massive challenge, and it didn’t disappoint.
At breakfast there was a stoney silence as the riders ate at the earlier time of 5am and contemplated the challenge they were about to undertake. The advice of the team around kit, nutrition, safety, lights and pacing were all being heeded with people looking more wrapped up than usual against the elements. From the warmth of the dining tent the groups moved huddled to the start line as the wind and morning rain swept over them and final checks were done on the bikes that were to take them all that distance. Finally it was time to start the longest day.
The first section through Glasgow was a necessary requirement, but after that the scenery began to open up. Simultaneously the rain began to ease and the rich greens and purples and greys of the Scottish scenery began to be lit by stunning patches of sunlight and dotted with rainbows. At that point we could feel we were in for something special.With the number of pit stops doubled we were able to get reports of progress from all the riders throughout the day. After leaving them in the pre-dawn darkness in mute apprehension, the mood at the pit stops was entirely different. Inspired by the gradual easing of the rain and also the highlands rising up around them the mood was unified and resolute.
The day 7 route is arguably the most spectacular of the entire ride as it takes in the glorious scenery of the Trossachs and then up along the River Fillan and onto Rannoch Moor, Glen Coe and the Bridge of Orchy. For those who haven’t been up to this part of Scotland the sheer scale of the scenery is hard to describe. The enormous glacial valleys stretch for miles with the ribbon of tarmac guiding the riders as they are dwarfed by the towering mountains on either side. The mix of surging rivers and waterfalls, wide expanses of wind blown rock and heather and the deep, steel grey, wind tousled lochs were the perfect setting for the riders to rise up and meet the challenge in front of them.
Although progress was good from all the riders and reports from pit stop 2 were of good spirits, it wouldn’t be a truly epic day unless the weather held something in reserve. As the riders crested the climb at Glen Coe they met their match. Instead of an incredible sweeping descent, riders were greeted with a headwind which has been described as anything from between 30 and 80mph. Reports of people going 8mph downhill in their lowest chain ring were not uncommon. This seemed to be the sternest psychological test of the day with the relentless noise and buffeting of the wind draining the courage of all as they pushed on for hour after an hour into the endless wind.It was only when they hit the final pit stop at 116 miles that the road turned East and the wind was on their backs that the riders dared to believe they were nearly there. Pure elation and relief replaced the focus and grit of the preceding marathon effort as they were blown toward the base camp whooping and cheering as they went.
We had said the night before that the main priority was the safety of the riders, followed by getting as many of them across the line as we could. Keeping a close eye on rider fatigue, weather and road conditions we kept the chaperones, NEG riders and medi-bikes out on the road as the final courageous riders pushed on as night fell. Only 1h 30m behind the cut off we welcomed in the last rider. The feeling of seeing the last rider come in off the mountain surrounded by the dedicated support team was incredible. Everyone had risen to a massive challenge and performed.
The evening tents were buzzing with talk despite the extreme fatigue. The stories being told were getting taller every minute; the roads steepening and the headwind strengthening with every passing beer. A day like yesterday is what Deloitte Ride Across Britain is all about. There is no other event out there which brings so many people together and galvanizes them into a unit which can then achieve so much as one. People came in yesterday who swore they would not be able to finish the day. Strong riders rode on the front of weaker groups to bring them off the mountain. The boasts were not of time you got in, but the people you helped. Those people coming across the finishing line after 135 miles elated despite saying it was the hardest thing they have ever done are the true spirit of MORE IS IN YOU.
Roll on the final 2 days.
Day 8 –Fort William to Kyle of Sutherland, 111 miles
Riding from Fort William to Kyle of Sutherland begins by passing through the Great Glen and the memorial of the unknown soldier prior, to the first pit stop of the day at Fort Augustus. The route then follows alongside the banks of Loch Ness before cutting inland through Beauly to ride alongside the Cromarty Firth and ending up at Kyle of Sutherland. We continue to head into the wild north of Scotland as people give way to nature and the views unfold in front of the riders.