Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Post LEJOG Activities

After our celebratory dinner at the Seaview Hotel, I returned by taxi to the Castle Arms Inn for the evening. I woke early, had porridge and a full Scottish Breakfast with Black Pudding and Haggis and decided to cycle to Dunnet Head, the most northern most point of the U.K. Even though John O'Groats is considered the ending point for LEJOG, some cyclists believe you have not really completed the End to End until you have cycled to Dunnet Head. There was a brisk wind from the Northeast and it was overcast. After taking some photos, I then proceeded to Thurso to catch my train to Inverness. With it being Sunday, everything was closed in Thurso except a coffee shop by the river. I caught the 12:22 pm to Inverness and arrived early at 4:05 pm. Europecar was waiting for me and quickly loaded my bike. I rented a small commercial van, so I did not have to break down my bike. (it was also considerably less expensive than a car with hatchback). Then I headed south on the A9 to Bridge of Cally where I stayed for the evening. Had a nice steak dinner and woke at 5:00 a.m. to head to St. Andrews. It was overcast and a cool, windy morning. I arrived at St. Andrews at 6:30 a.m. and was the 10th to sign up for golf. The first 8 were able to play in the morning, but I was able to play in the afternoon. I spent the morning doing some sightseeing, buying souvenirs and having breakfast and lunch. I hit balls before my tee time at 2:30 p.m.
This really was the icing on the cake to my trip. The sun came out, the wind was up and St. Andrews was everything I hoped it would be. I hired a trainee caddie, David from the Lake District ( who was three weeks on the job). I was paired with three other gentlemen, one from San Diego, one from Australia and one from Bermuda. We all had a similar game which made it fun. The highlight was when one of them hit their drive on the 17th tee on top of the slate roof of the St. Andrews hotel and it came bobbling down like "mousetrap". We all had a great laugh. I was really proud of myself that I parred the 1st, 17th and 18th holes. I shot a 92. I of course had my photo taken on the bridge of the 18th fairway. After a pint in the Clubhouse, I said goodbye to St. Andrews at 7:50 p.m. and drove down to Edinburgh. I dropped the van off at Waverly station and took the Caledonian Clipper overnight train to London Euston that arrived at 7:15 a.m. I then cycled to the Park Grand Paddington where I had stayed on my arrival to England. I dropped my bags and then cycled my bike to the Bicycle Workshop for them to disassemble and pack up in my cycle travel case. I went back to the hotel, showered and then went souvenir/gift shopping until the late afternoon when I picked up my bike. The folks at the shop were very generous to donate $100 to the SS Eagle Fund. 
That evening I went to Leicester Square, had my last meal in the UK at an Italian Trattoria and called it a night. This morning I rose, packed and headed to Heathrow via Paddington Station to catch my 11:00 a.m. flight on Virgin Atlantic to Chicago. Then I take Southwest home to Jackson late this afternoon.
Once again, an incredible journey, meeting some wonderful people, experiencing all that the U.K. has to offer and having a great sense of achievement and contentment. 
Now back to reality and all that awaits.

I do plan to highlight the things I recommend and things I might have done differently in the near future to help those still contemplating the experience. Stay tuned.......

To all those reading, let's try and get that $20K goal met...almost there....please encourage friends to participate however small the contribution.
Again many thanks to all that have contributed to the charities in Simon's honor. Cheers for now.......

Birds that can be seen around Dunnet Head

The look back over the cliffs to the mainland from Dunnet Head

The view north overlooking the Orkney Islands from Dunnet Head

Dunnet Head Lighthouse in the background
Map showing the positioning of Dunnet Head

Entering St. Andrews

The 18th green at St. Andrews

The historic St. Andrews Cathedral

Downtown Alley

The Clubhouse

The view from the clubhouse to the city of St. Andrews..big University town

Yours truly teeing it up on the 1st tee

On the course looking back towards city

On the famous bridge in the 18th fairway..look at that perfect sky. It gave me goosebumps just thinking of all the golf legends that took the same walk. The Royal & Ancient Golf Club is the building to the left of me in the background.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Day 14 Altnaharra to John O'Groats 76 miles...1,074 miles total completed

What a Journey! YES, I did finish yesterday and it was not only an exhilarating day, but very emotional one for me. 
I started out at 8:15 a.m. in Altnaharra riding the Strathnaver Trail. The weather was cool and overcast, but the sun peeked out several times throughout the day and it warmed up to 68 degrees. My last leg of the trip took me through Bettyhill ( I prefer to call it bugger hill), Melvich, Dounreay, Thurso, Dunnet, Mey to John O'Groats. I really felt a burst of adrenaline as if Simon was pushing me this last leg. At the end I had so much energy, I felt like going back to Land's End the next day. (Don't laugh....a group of eight retirees  were at the dinner table next to us and were doing exactly that starting tomorrow...JOGLE-John O'Groats to Land's End). It was a relatively easy ride from Altnaharra to Bettyhill, then a grueling climb up onto the road along the northern part of Scotland where you could see the North Sea along the entire route. I ran into the Pelaton at Bettyhill where I stopped for tea, but they were already pretty spread out. From Bettyhill the road was very up and down. Up to the dales and down not to the valleys where the towns were along the coastline. Stopped in Thurso for a late lunch and had a sausage roll and tea. Did a little shopping there and then onto the Castle Arms in Mey. The Queen Mother had her summer residence here at Mey Castle until she passed away. I waited at the Castle Arms for the rest of the group, met the owners and had a half pint. At 4:00 p.m., the group had not arrived, so I continued on the last 6 miles to John O'Groats. As you can see the photographer had to put extensions on the sign, just to fit Jackson, Mississippi. After congratulating the group and taking care of photos, I rode back six miles to the Castle Arms where I stayed for the evening. Had a nice celebratory dinner with the group at the Seaview Hotel and yes had one dram of Glenmorangae before calling it a night.
I plan on blogging more and summarizing the highlights later. But let me just say a few thank you's.
Thanks to Tamar for letting me make take this journey, and dealing with the day-to-day headaches of running the Inn while I've been gone. Thanks for the support and encouragement from my sister Penny,  brother's Michael & David and Nick, David, Martin, David, Matt, Helen and from the tour group that I joined along the way. 
My sincere gratitude from all the well wishes from friends and acquaintances, and words of encouragement along the way. And special thanks to everyone who donated (large and small) to benefit the two great causes in Simon's honor. It truly has been an incredible experience, one I will cherish forever!!!
Starting off my journey outside Altnaharra

Morning clouds over Ben Kilbreck

The first sign I ran across denoting the mileage left to the finish line

Climbing up to Bettyhill

In the town of Bettyhill, the Pentalon
The view entering Thurso with the Orkney Islands in the background
Someone's house (and their small castle entrance)

The view from John O'Groats with the Orkney and Shetland Islands
Simon's second stone guitar pick I hid under the headstone

The finish line.....cycling back to Jackson is only four times the distance I traveled.
Rode the 6 miles back to my accommodations for the night at the Castle Arms Hotel in Mey

The blog will stay open for a month. I'll share more thoughts about the journey in coming days...

Friday, June 7, 2013

Day 13 Inverness to Altnaharra 80 miles....998 miles to date

Today's ride took us from Inverness at sea level, through Dingwall, Evanton, Cadha Moor, Bonar Bridge, Lairg into Altnaharra,  800 ft above sea level. It was a little cooler reaching 64 degrees and overcast throughout the day. As you will notice in the photos, there was a big contrast between the green farmland of the lower valleys near Inverness, and the desolate moorland surrounding Altnaharra. After crossing the Kessock bridge, I climbed up to Dingwall and stopped for tea and a scone. Then further climbing of the Struhie gave spectacular views of the Cromarty Firth. The ride downhill to Bonar Bridge from the high point at Cadha Moor was also exhilarating. After a picnic lunch with the group at Bonar Bridge, we began the slow, long climb through Lairg past the high point at the Crask Inn before descending into Altnaharra. Enjoyed an evening with the group for dinner at the Crask Inn with a Grilled Avocado and Stilton starter and Salmon with family style vegetables and potatoes and then Whiskey Raisin Cake with ice-cream Yummy! We are over 50 miles from any town in the middle of the moors. Tomorrow marks the completion of the End to End (LEJOG). It will be a long ride, but not too strenuous or hilly. We have learned there is a pelaton of 700 cyclists beginning a ride from John O'Groats tomorrow. We should run into them about midday. Should be interesting.

Kessock Bridge leading out of Inverness 
Overlooking the Cromerty Firth. Notice the reflection of the clouds in the water!
Looking out toward the North Sea in the distance
Before my descent into Bonar Bridge. Notice how svelte my body has become!
Looking Northwest near Lairg

On the moors before the Crask Inn

The Altnaharra Hotel where I'm staying tonight
Deer in the back yard of the Altnaharra Hotel

Nick Mitchell outside the Crask Inn where we had dinner this evening
Dinner with the group including Dave White from Wellington, New Zealand who has spent 44 days touring the UK on a bike. Sorry to Matt and Dave for chopping off their faces. The gang call me Mississippi Pete. Have not sampled a Scottish Single Malt to date, tomorrow night may be a different story!!!


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Day 12 Glencoe to Inverness 92 miles...918 miles to date

Today I had an adventure beyond the journey that was already planned. My route today began in Glencoe through Fort William, Achnacarry, Laggan Locks, Fort Augustus, Loch Tarff, Dorres and Inverness. What should have been an 83 mile route ended up being 92 miles. The weather again was beautiful reaching a high of 82 F. From Glencoe I left at 8:45am and crossed Loch Leven north to Fort William and then followed the Caledonian Canal. At Achnacarry I took a wrong turn and went high up on a lumber road overlooking Loch Lochy instead of taking the road along the side of the Loch. I ended up going five miles before hitting a dead end and having to retrace my steps. I did see my first deer (for this trip) on the trail. After getting back on track, I stopped for lunch in Fort Augustus being serenaded by bagpipes. Then I climbed 51/4 miles to Loch Tarff -100 ft to 1,300 ft. I had to walk towards the top. As I got back on my bike my gears locked and I fell on my left side on the road. Luckily there was no traffic behind. I gashed my left arm, but no other injuries. I had wet wipes in bag, cleaned up and headed on my way. This was mile 50 and I still had 40 miles to get to Inverness. The rest of the ride was uneventful, mostly downhill along the General George Wade road into Inverness. I arrived in Inverness at 6:15pm. I had originally booked at the Loch Ness Inn, but changed plans today after realizing it was too far out of Inverness. Enjoyed an excellent dinner at the Riverhouse Restaurant, and the company of the bike group, helping David (with the group) celebrate his birthday.

On the way out of Glencoe looking over Loch Leven

Same photo looking North over Loch Leven
Crossing a bridge looking back to Glencoe

Looking North over Loch Leven

Another beautiful garden along the route
Arriving in Fort's your Gaelic

Canal lock

Ben Nevis..the tallest mountain in the U.K.

Loch Lochy
The path I took before realizing I went the wrong way

Barge at Fort Augustus

Bagpiper performing at Fort Augustus. Too hot to wear his bearskin headwear.

Loch Ness.... Who can see the monster?

Heading downhill towards Inverness going 34mph

Inverness Castle across from my hotel

Staying at the Place Hotel in Inverness tonight.

Two more days to go! Tomorrow off to Altnaharra.