Tour of the Cairngorms – Day 2
It was a cold night last night. I had to put on all my extra clothes just to keep warm – there is no way that the rating on this sleeping bag is correct! The tent is very claustrophobic – there is hardly any room to move and it doesn’t feel long enough – my bag touches the end. I wonder how it would fare in a wind? I get up and start to pack. Breakfast is one of the Rita breakfasts – it’s horrible – oats and fruit in a fruit juice sauce. Bleuch! Neil and Al are having porridge. This may be a better idea in future. We are joined by Tony’s friend today – who even comes complete with a pannier to make us feel better!
As we start – it is crisp – Al has his extra base layers on for the cold and I am wearing my Gortex shell to keep the chill away. The sky lightens to a red glow – and we ride up some lovely wide wild track. Tony, his friend and Neil all ride off ahead – they are obviously feeling good today. We stop to take off the extra layers and the midges strike! My goodness they are terrible today – my legs are bitten to pieces quicker than I have ever seen before – and the bites will last for over a week! I stop to take photos of Al riding up the track – and once again get bitten.
A great downhill through the southern part of the Abernethy Forest leads to yet another river crossing. I take my shoes and socks off for this one as it is early – and I dried them all out last night! I really don’t know why I bothered – the next one we try and ride and I get soaked! So does Al! A couple more crossings follow and some great singletrack lead us to the col above the Braes of Abernethy. I fall off my bike here after hitting a large rock that I simply didn’t see. I twist my right ankle – but more importantly (although it didn’t feel like it at the time) my left knee twists as well.
A decent, another river crossing – lead us eventually to the road up to Tomintoul and a lunch break at the café there. Bacon sarnies all round – and in hindsight – not enough slow release calories. Tea, cake and a brush with the local grumpy shopkeeper and we are off up the hill. Tony’s mate turns back at this point – leaving us to our own devices. We slog up the tarmac road after passing some very fine iron gates. We can hear the gunfire of the guys on the hill – grouse shooting. My left knee is hurting now and I know I have a problem. I don’t say anything yet as I hope it may work itself out – but when we accidentally cross the river and have to backtrack – I am in so much pain that I take some of the painkillers in my pack. It doesn’t help. I am worried that it is my cartilage – my other knee had a similar problem from playing hockey when I was younger.
The head wind is terrible – and after a long spell at the front – Al runs out of energy, We find him round the corner sitting down – exhausted. I take the lead and ignore the pain. Probably a pretty stupid thing to do in hindsight – but there we go – it gets us up towards Inchrory and the lodge there. What a lovely lodge. Tony is far behind – I am amazed that I have dropped him – given my knee pain, but all is revealed when he arrives. It turns out that when he broke his chain yesterday ( at the campsite!!!) – it was put on incorrectly. Minor repairs follow – and Tony is off! I am at the back now – and that is the way it stays.
The scenery all merges into a blur as my left knee is in agony. I tell the guys as we pass the Loch Builg where we were originally going to overnight – that I only have about two hours left in me – that’s all. We cycle on. Al is worried – we need to get over the Culardoch which stands in front of us at 900m and if we stay this side and my leg freezes then we are in big trouble as we are now in the middle of nowhere.
We meet a couple of mountain bike riders coming the other way – who say the climb is not that bad! I guess they had never ridden with panniers! I start pushing up the climb – there is no chance of riding with this weight. Al is always in fron and goes on to cycle up the latter half of the climb – a very impressive feat. Tony just keeps going – I overtake Neil – I didn’t realise it but he was exhausted.
At the top there is heather in cages and a weather station. Very weird! The descent is manic and I get a puncture. Neil rides by – which I think is strange. Takes me ages to change my tyre – left knee knackered! I can see Al riding back to check on me – thanks Al. Neil apologised – he was a mess! Not enough cals consumed and he had started shaking! Nothing like digesting muscle to make a mess of you!
We eventually get to the campsite in Braemar to find a Games going on. Its madness here – so we decide to push on and ride up the road. I am nearly in tears – my knee is on fire. We eventually decide to wild camp down by the river opposite Mar Lodge – next to the Victoria bridge. I am so knackered I do not even notice the big lump in the ground when I put my tent up. No sleep for me! I crawl into my bag – leaving the others drinking whisky that Neil purchased earlier in the day. I eat two meals and feel broken!