I made it back to Ullapool, I am not 100 percent and I had come to a decision on my trip, after being so ill I was very weak still, I had lied to my doctor and my family and friends because I knew they would worry and try and convince me to give in. My legs felt weak, my body felt weak and I could not shake a crippling feeling of dread inside that I would not be able to carry on.
I ran through scenario after scenario of how to tackle things, but in the end I knew that I would have to make a drastic decision if I was to finish the trip. I spent the night of the 5th of August in a hostel in Stornoway, it was strange but it was as if it was a home from home, the lady who ran it was friendly and carrying around a baby of only a few months old, I asked her to keep her distance, I wasn’t infectious but didn’t want to take the chance of giving the little one the flu.
I cooked a meal of “guiness ale pie” with rice a strange mixture I agree but it was tasty and warming. I washed it down with a coffee, there was far too much rice and I met a young man who turned out to be from Birmingham, he was going to cook some pasta but I told him to take the special rice instead, he thanked me and said he and his friend would eat that and some pasta they were very hungry.
We chatted over dinner and he told me he had done a degree in maths at the University but had found Christianity and whilst helping with the Christian union he had eventually got a job with a charity organisation promoting Christianity. He was a bright intelligent lad with an enquiring mind, he was fascinated with my atheism probably in the same way as I am fascinated by people of faith. We questioned each other without any inkling of him trying to convert me or change my mind, it was one of those rare discussions were from the outset neither party was interested in winning the argument but was comfortable to just explore the others point of view.
I put my head into the common room, it was busy and to warm for me, the slightest exertion was still causing my temperature to rise and bathing me in sweat. I had a quick coffee in the kitchen and made my way up to my room. I plugged everything in and started listening to Rendevous with rama by arther c Clarke. Soon other guests made their way up and I was in the same room as the young lad and his friend.
A young Chinese lad had come in we had chatted briefly and he was taking a coach tour the following day. He quickly fell asleep and snored loudly one of the drawbacks of dormitory accommodation. The other two fell asleep, and the young Christian lad began giggling in his sleep which became almost comical and infectious, I struggled to stifle my own laughter and turned up the volume to drown out the laughter, in contract his friend seemed to have put his head on the pillow and become comatose instantly something I was jealous of. Even turning off my audio book had not helped, sleep eluded me and I did not know when I fell asleep only that it was late.
I awoke late about 8:30, I showered and dressed and went downstairs for breakfast, by the time I had eaten and packed it was 10:45 and I headed out at about 11:00 am. As soon as I left Stornoway I was cycling into the wind and it was ferocious, I was slow and it was wearing me down, my ferry was at 4:00 pm at this rate I would never make it.
As the day wore on I was oblivious to the landscape, it seemed barren to me there was no sign of the animal life that I had come across on the Orkneys, for the most part of the day I saw no animals apart from a few goats. I pushed as hard as I could but felt my strength evaporating as I made my way across the island, the wind was simply sucking the strength out of me, in these situations I simply grit my teeth and focus my mind elsewhere and pushed on
I forced myself to drink regularly, I was sweating but barely warm and I made myself eat fruit to keep my energy levels up. I knew that I was not 100 percent but couldn’t tell if that was the issue or simply the strength of the wind, most likely a combination of both. Eventually I reached tarbert, the rain had kicked in and I pulled on my waterproofs I could feel my temprature dropping at the same rate as the weather.
I managed to find the information centre which was still open, a lovely lady took one look at me and said you look done for, meant in the nicest way. She told me there was nowhere with free vacancies but had a friend in the pier hotel, a Michelin rated hotel and very expensive maybe they had something.
She spoke to them and said I was a cyclist it was late and there would be no one else occupying the room, at this point I would have paid anything as the nearest place to camp was 5 miles away. She was adamant though and I got a room and breakfast for a knockdown price of £50. The room was wonderful, with a surplus of coffee and complimentary water etc.. I stowed my bike in their food locker acros the road and retired to my room to warm up and get some energy back.
I went downstairst to the bar where they were serving food, I shared a table with a German couple. I had ordered the soup of the day followed by and Aberdeen angus burger. My companions didn’t like the prices of the food, she settled for an omelette and he ordered two large bowls of chips.
They were staying in a campervan in a campsite 5 miles away we had a great conversation discussing Greece etc.. till I had eaten and was ready for bed!
I went to bed and slept after making some phonecalls, I felt drained I was still optimistic for the trip but there and then had decided to make some changes. I was going to make my way down the coast to Liverpool where I was going to strip my bike down to the barest essentials, I am going to cut down the camping and equipment so that my bike is much lighter and I am going to rely on B&B much more so that at least I get more sleep.
This will enable me to pick up the mileage and be less exposed to the bad weather. It would also give me some breathing space to think how best to complete my trip, I am banking on the probability that my strength will return as my system recovers, till then the priority is to take it easy and much slower and look for any opportunity to reduce the strain on my body.
With a plan in mind I had a way through and I was much more resolved time was my greatest enemy all other problems could be solved but time was the thing in shortest supply.
The ferry in the morning was not until 11:40 I got out of bed lazily and had a good breakfast then packed my bike and made my way to the ferry terminal. After booking my ticket I went to board the ferry, I was used to bikes going on first, however on this one the bikes are put on last so I waited with a guy on a motorbike, he was from manchester and rides up here at least once a year, he said that yesterday the wind was so bad that he turned back on his bike because it was to dangerous.... I had just ploughed on through it, we both lamented about the poor weather and he said he didn't envy me for the weather I must have been through, it was the worst summer in Scotland he had experienced in a long time.
In a perverse way I took this as good news, there was a lot of talk about weather and wind before my trip and I had decided to get Scotland done early on, if this was the summer weather I could imagine a much harsher winter, I would not have fancied my chances if was coming across in late September/October at least I had got that right! (note if we have an indian summer in late September/October I am going to cry)
Scotland is beautiful but the country can be harsh, I had discovered this but I am feeling buoyant because it hasn't beaten me, I am still going although slowly. The crossing was pleasant and I could only find one table with two plugs on the ship which I shared with a man working for Scotish power, I had somehow left my garmin sat nav on and it was completely discharged so I powered that and my laptop to write something whilst I made the crossing.
By the time the crossing was complete the weather was foul so I decided to find somewhere to stay on Skye. I tootled around Uig for a while looking for some wi-fi and eventually found a strange cafe that seemed half second hand shop and half Jazz music place, they charged £1 for half an hour wi fi which I didn't like paying for because I suppose I had come to see it as a complimentary service (see ITIL for when value added becomes a standard expectation). I had a coffee and paid for my wi-fi, uncharactaristicly it was very fast and after ringing round with not much luck, the only places that were available didn't have wi-fi when I asked and they said that it was down.
I eventually found the old station bunkhouse, which is a converted police station run by Kath and Heather a retired police officer and teacher. They had been working straight and weren't planning to let anyone stay that night but finding I was on my own they said come straight up and they would let me stay, it was windy and raining and I jumped at the chance. On Kath's advice I stocked up on food at the local garage, there isn't much in the way of food shopping by the ferry.
The bunkhouse is small and not much in the way of cooking facilities, there is a microwave toaster and free coffee making facilities but I had the place to myself. I didn't get to meet Heather as she is recovering from a shoulder replacement, but I chatted for ages with Kath who was simply lovely and a real character. I loved the bunkhouse and it was full of those little touches that make it feel like a home rather than a business. I spent my night listening to the next few chapters of Rendevous with Rama and planning my trip. Kath came and chatted with me again, we swapped stories she is such a character I found myself wishing I had more time to get to know her. It's her Birthday tomorrow and I am going to take a ride back down to the village so I can at least get her a Birthday card, I won't tell a ladies age but she is not quite 60 but has the energy of a twenty year old.
I think Kath has discovered one of the secrets in life is to enjoy yourself and try and find some joy in everything, at 11:00 at night she came rushing in to tell me that the midges were out in full force and that there was a huge strange beetle on the front of the house, I took a look with her and we both photographed it followed by a swatting sessing indoors to finish off the midges that had made it inside.