Day 56 Thurs 28 April: A quick look at a map will confirm that the greatest distance between two adjacent RNLI Lifeboat Stations is that between Lochinver in the North West and Thurso on the North coast of Scotland. A very long way around the coast via Cape Wrath and 130 miles by road. It took more than two days to cycle the very demanding North Highland route, as described in days 46 to 48.
The second biggest distance between two Lifeboat stations is 82 miles, between Wick and Invergordon, today’s route. Southbound, down the east coast, from sparsely wooded Caithness, through the blossoming gorse and partly forested Sunderland and into Ross & Cromarty. Mostly gentle terrain, apart from two major climbs, the most notorious being Berriedale. Forewarned is forearmed. As it happened, the descent was more of a challenge than the immediate ascent. With a shear drop beyond the barrier on the first hairpin, already at 13%, Fondo started to accelerate too enthusiastically towards the next, steeper, sharper hairpin. The response to my firm braking sparked a tantrum on Fondo’s part as the front wheel began to shake and shimmy quite a lot. What a dilemma. Brake hard and be thrown off a wobbling bike or release the brakes and hope the tyres keep a grip on such a sharp, fast turn. A split second decision, an equally risky compromise (less front and slightly more rear braking) did the trick. Within seconds we almost ground to a momentum killing, gravity induced halt on the immediate steep ascent. At this gradient and with this load it was only possible in the lowest gear ratio, spinning a high cadence for the next half a mile.
“Why so much boring cycling detail?” I hear you ask. Well I’ll tell you why. Soon after the first 60 miles but well after the main climbs, with 22 miles still to go, Fondo suffered a mechanical crisis. The first since our relationship began. Rear derailleur failure. In other words, no way to change down from top gear ratio for any remaining uphill pedalling. What a grind. A quick investigation was inconclusive, no obvious broken cable. Maybe a fiddly, expensive job at the combined brake/gear STI lever. Too tired & hungry to sort tonight. I needed refuelling first and wanted to meet Bruce, my very kind host, one of the Invergordon Lifeboat crew who also happens to run a very good local hotel.
Am I disappointed with my bicycle? No. Thanks Fondo, for delaying the inevitable until after today’s big hills. Yes, it was very hard work on even the slightest of the last few ascents but we made it to Invergordon in time for supper and Friday’s big Lifeboat Day. More details tomorrow.