DAY 52: Lochcarron to Shieldaig – over the Bealach na Ba pass

Monday 16th April

For the first time I stepped outside the tent and it didn’t feel cold. We managed to get everything packed away and on the road by half seven. A few minutes later we were climbing a steep hill out of Lochcarron, this got up to a 15 percent gradient and with my legs not yet warmed up, put doubt into my mind for what was to come. We reached the top and took in the view of the mountains in front of us and the loch behind. We saw a Roe deer to our left, if it hadn’t been for it’s white bottom it would have perfectly camouflaged into the fauna.

We carried on towards the black mountain in the distance, it’s menacing presence made me question my ability to climb it. Danny reminded me of every climb that we have conquered that has been longer and harder, this renewed my confidence slightly, but I knew that I hadn’t done any of these on a fully loaded trike with sore and tired legs.

For those that don’t know the mountain pass I am referring to is the Bealach na Ba – a 8.9km long climb with an average gradient of 7% and a maximum of 20%, the closest we have to an alpine type climb in Great Britain and for that reason it is rated at a difficulty of 11/10 in the top 100 Climbs. It is one of the only roads in the highlands that goes over a mountain rather than along a valley.

We reached the bottom of the Bealach at 8:30 in the sunshine and took off a couple of layers, Danny gave me some snacks to put in my bag. With Danny also being fully loaded it is impossible for him to cycle at my pace on such a long steep hill so we would rejoin at the top. My aim was to climb the hill expending as little energy as possible, after all I wasn’t going to be breaking any records on a fully loaded trike! I doubt a fully loaded trike has ever even attempted this climb!

I passed the warning signs and the bottom slopes were pretty gentle, almost easy, and then it began to rain! Mark had warned us the other day that the pass can have its own weather system, but still I was not prepared and there was no way I was stopping on an incline to unpack my bag and find more suitable clothing! I tried putting my sunglasses on to stop the rain falling in my eyes, but I couldn’t see as they kept steaming up from the hot air being emitted from my face.

As the gradient ramped up I just continued to turn my legs, distracting myself with anything I could think of, the rain became gentler and I could see the wall of hairpins in front of me. I had managed to get into the rhythm of climbing albeit very slowly. The beauty of climbing a hill on a trike especially with the extremely low gears that I have, is that it doesn’t matter how slowly you go. You can’t fall off or wobble, so although it’s harder work on your legs and a trike is never going to beat a bicycle up a mountain, a tricyclist can take their time and this makes it very manageable. This is a bit more difficult fully loaded as I was having to put quite a lot more pressure through the pedals to turn the cranks especially when at the hairpin section of the road ramped up to 15 and 20 percent gradients. On the hairpins there was a fantastic view and Danny had come back down to take some photos. A few minutes later it was clear why he had come back down as I went above the cloud line and into the worst weather.

With only the last little bit to climb, I was now getting wet again and was freezing. I wasted no time in putting on all of my waterproofs at the top and began to descend.

I love descending on my trike, experience has taught me the right amount to lean and turn with the corners and when it is suitable to gain as much speed as possible. Unfortunately this experience was wasted here, I could barely see the road and there was certainly no view. We huddled into a cafe with very sympathetic staff at the bottom. I think they probably get quite a few people who have descended in the weather we had, walk in with the same dishevelled look!

As we left the cafe the sun had come out. We were warned of a couple of hills and on our way out of the village someone shouted ‘good luck’, why would we need luck we had already climbed the mountain? With the sun on our backs the undulations of the road were not a problem at first but as we continued the ups were getting steeper and the downs not very pleasurable. On the gradient profile these little mounds look flat compared to the mountain but pretty much every time we started to go up the gradient rose to over 10 and 15 percent. This was relentless and very tough on my joints, the hills too short to get into a regular cadence but too long to roll up with the speed from the previous descent. The village we had earmarked for lunch was not getting any closer. We had to get to this village as there was nothing else on the road before then. Despite knowing this it didn’t stop me telling Danny multiple times that I wanted to give up for the day. We could have pitched our tent on the side of the road, we had enough food and supplies to cook dinner but had very little water left so had to continue. My body was giving up on me, I had no strength left, I was hydrated and had been eating well all day, every inch of me was just tired. On the last two inclines before the village I didn’t get into the right gear and was really struggling, Danny had to give me a push so I could get enough momentum to change gears. For those who cycle with me, you will know how well I know my trike and what gear I need to be in and that this has never happened to me before! The tiredness had clouded my judgement!

We reached the village of Sheildaig and found the local hotel with a pub, luckily we had turned up 5 minutes before they stopped serving food so quickly ordered something. That was it, I couldn’t go any further, as we cycled into the village we saw a couple of tents pitched on the top of the hill and I had earmarked this as a good place to wild camp, but with rain forecast all night it was not preferable. The small village has a few BnB’s so a quick text to mum who was at home on a computer with phone signal and she set about finding us somewhere to stay. Success, more expensive than I would ever usually spend but this was a necessity and what a relief that we had found somewhere to relax! Thank you mum!

Whilst sitting eating lunch we found out that the tents pitched the the top of the hill belong to two guys who are both individually walking the entire coastline! What are the chances on my 5000 mile stretch of coastline that this would happen!  I had heard of them and what they were doing but had never imagined that our paths would cross. I’m sure that three people like this have never met in this circumstance before and I feel absolutely honoured to have been in their company!

It did make me feel slightly insignificant though, they had been walking for many more months than I had been on the road and were also resting in the village after finding the previous part of the coastline particularly challenging. But I rock up and dismiss wild camping for a BnB because i knew that my body needed proper rest out of the rain, I am pressured by needing to get back by a certain date in a month and a half whereas they still have years left of their journeys!

Tomorrow brings rain and we will make a plan when we wake up!

The day that I, Zebra on a bike met Sam Doyle – Walking Britain for PTSD and Christian Lewis – Chris walks the UK!

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