A Highland Fling
The Three Pistes Cycle Sportive takes you past 3 ski centres through some of the UK’s highest and most remote countryside in the Caingorn national park.
This was to be less road trip and more road test. The bike race (it’s not a race) had been my deadline throughout the long nights and short weekends that had so far made up my van conversion build since January 2017, and while progress had been good on the campervan side, my legs and lungs had been thoroughly neglected.
But Scotland was still in the UK (just) and seemed an ideal opportunity to give my newly registered campervan a thoroughly good shake down to see what fell off, before I had to negotiate any similar repairs in faltering French (ie. loud, slow English, re-emphasised occasionally in German). It would also be interesting to give my own body the option to collapse over 100 miles of undulating climbs to see what of that managed to remain intact as well.
I had always been advised that Scotland was a cold, dark and wet place. As beautiful as New Zealand on the right day, but with rather fewer right days to pick from. The kind of destination my parents reliably choose for their summer holidays if the weather in Denmark looks as if it might be getting a bit close. They have an uncanny knack for wheedling out holiday destinations that manage to be inconceivably damper than Dorset, and I have come to avoid as a matter of instinct any location that has flopped through the front door advertised upon a damp and torn postcard with smudged postmark and bleeding ink.
But as if to have some warped last laugh, the gods decided to bestow unto me the most blistering and unprecedented heat wave that the Highlands had ever witnessed. My air conditioning ran for seven solid hours two days in a row as I sweated my way up the length of the British Isles, and nowhere provided any respite. Even an overnight stay in the Lake District proved as sweltering as anything I would experience in France.
Naturally the weather remembered itself by the time it came to stripping down into my flimsy lycra racewear, yet eight hours of freezing riding for which I was thoroughly unequipped passed without too much embarrassment. I did, however, suffer a particularly aggressive bruise on one side of my sit bones, which I didn’t realise at the time would then plague me throughout the summer, until a bored doctor in an off-season ski resort – perhaps disappointed not to find bones sheering through my shins – invalided me off the bike altogether.
Nevertheless, as my Scottish friends proceeded to partake in another two days of this voluntary festival of type 2 fun – with a heartiness that must come bred into you north of the M25 – I headed off to pursue other novelties such as stocking up my fridge, turning my lights on and off, and draining out the 70 unused litres of water I had carefully transported from the south coast of England.