In mid August Scot and Scotty set out on a quest to conquer both the West Highland Way and the Great Glen way on their mountain bikes in under 24 hours. Along with the two lads riding, they had a very trusty support crew in Phoebe Sneddon and Grace Metcalf. Here, is Scot Easter’s account of ‘that’ BIG day (and a bit).
I have to cast my mind back a long way to find the Genesis moment for this ride. Perhaps it was as a teenager with my face pressed against the car window on journeys up to the Highlands Seeing the West Highland Way snaking its way north, at first on the far shore of Loch Lomond before crossing the road and disappearing off into the hills, seeing it reappear as you crest Rannock Moor and Glencoe in all its glory appears before you. A view that no matter how many times I see it takes my breath away.
Since then I’d always wanted to ride the full route from Glasgow to Fort William. Over the years I’d walked/ran/ridden sections of it, including one of the crux moves over the Devils staircase, but the route in its entirety eluded me, and that included the other crux move, up the eastern shores of Loch Lomond, but more on that later.
Fast forward to 2017 and after the tragic loss of their amazing son Charlie, Nick and Sarah Craig founded the Ride for Charlie foundation, a fund that would help young cyclists to chase their dreams of racing their bikes abroad just like Charlie did. So now I had a reason why and the motivation was back.
Now asking people to donate money to do something I’d always wanted to do seemed a bit cheeky, so I had to make it harder, scarier, tougher. About this time I’d heard of a few other people who’d ridden first the West Highland Way before then Jumping straight onto the Great Glen way from Fort William to Inverness.
Now you are looking at over 170miles off-road through the Highlands of Scotland non stop, scary enough then. So scary that it took three years and a pandemic to build up the courage to do it, but one Sunday in July whilst chatting with Scotty Chalmers and girlfriend Phoebe we kind of agreed to do it. I’m not sure how we even got onto the subject or who proposed it first but there we were. Scotty and me would ride and Phoebe would run support. A quick look at diaries and we could only find one weekend when we were all free, four weeks away. Date set then, come rain or shine we were going for it. Those four weeks flew by. We’d managed to pull a few favours in sorting a few bits of kit we needed but best of all was Grace Metcalf giving up her weekend to help Phoebe in the support wagon. Along with all this help and the donations we’d received these acts generosity paid testament to how highly people thought of Charlie and his legacy.
Driving up the motorway en route to Glasgow the weather wasn’t great, ok, it was shit. Rain bouncing off the windscreen, wind buffeting the van. I started to think how hard this ride was going to be. Now Scotty and I are no strangers to riding bikes, we’ve both done it for years, but what we were going to try do was way outside our comfort zones, like miles outside those zones, not just different post code but a different hemisphere. Significantly further than either of us had ridden before, how would we cope riding through the night without sleep, what gremlins would come to haunt us? What aches, pains, injuries, crashes could put a stop to our ride? What would happen if one of us couldn’t continue? Something we didn’t even talk about. Good job we had two bundles of morale driving us up the road, keeping the music playing and spirits high.
Arriving in Milngavie just up the road from the start of the WHW we all bundled into Gilly and Ross’s house, some very conveniently placed and generous friends. Alarm set for 04:30 and off to bed. I think I managed 3 hours.
At 5 am we rolled out into the dark to ride to the official start of the WHW. After a last minute kit check and some nervous photos at 5.30am we started riding. The first few miles passed quickly as the sun rose the only thing slowing us down were the 1,000 gates that needed opening, 12 miles in and we climbed up and over Conic Hill, a stiff little climb and rowdy decent, stopping to say hello to the Highland Cooo’s we kept repeating our 3t24 mantra’s, ‘keep the powder dry’ and ‘take no risks’. The decent dropped us off on the Bonny, Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond.
Yeah, Loch Lomond, that lovely Loch I’d driven past so many times admiring its beauty and serenity. Well I wont look at it in the same way again. The first half flowed nicely, some sweet singletrack occasionally kissing the shore-line, passing half asleep campers emerging from their tents with some dubious smells lingering in the air. Then it all changed. I’d heard from friends top couple of KM would be a bike carry. Now, I grew up mountain biking in the Lake District, I’m no stranger to hike-a bike. But this was different, it wasn’t easy put your bike on your shoulder and walk. It was throw, carry, stumble your bike along over boulders, roots and an unrideable path. Then I fucked up and made a navigational error that saw us take in an extra 4km of this terrain instead of whizzing along a fire road. I apologised to Scotty for my error but in true Scotty style it didn’t dampen his spirits and he just kept smiling. It took us over 3 hours to cover just 10 miles. I wanted to throw my bike into the Loch a few times, but a quick look at the yellow band on my wrist put me straight again.
Finally it ended, 6 hours after we left Glasgow we met Phoebe and Grace at the first RV point. Like an oasis in the desert the chairs were out, coffee was on the stove and camp bistro with its pop-up-fusion menu was open for business. A quick look at my phone and morale was boosted even further by all the messages of support coming in.
Back on the bikes if felt good to be peddling again, a chance to pull back some of the lost time. We whizzed along only briefly slowed by a collapsed bridge forcing a ride through a river, remember those fresh socks, not so fresh any more. More fun trails through the woods of Crainlarich and into Tyndrum on tracks lined with the most amazing purple heather and we were at RV2, a quick bottle fill, and on again into the Highlands proper. The Highlight of the ride, where the mountains really start to tower over you, where you can almost hear the bagpipes on the wind.
Through the Bridge of Orchy and over Mam Carraigh the views were getting truly stunning, made even more so by the broody clouds and rain that kept hitting us. I always say the Mountains look at their best with some foul weather rattling around them. As we climbed over Rannock Moor two riders appeared in the distance traveling at an unnatural pace. Phoebe and Grace had jumped on some e-bikes and were bearing down on us, shouting support and pointing a camera at our haggard looking faces, we rounded the corner and rode into Glencoe. Again, it took my breath away, that view, the summits shrouded in mist. The rain really picked up at this point, we were both soaked to the skin so it was a relief to stop at the bottom of the Devils staircase for a costume change and more culinary delights from Camp Bistro.
As we set off again the rain eased and the clouds lifted slightly again. The climb of the staircase passed quite quickly, our minds distracted from the aches and pains by the views, looking north we could see the Nevis range, and to the west the back side of the fearsome Aonach Eagach Ridge, the teeth in Glencoe’s jaws.
The decent into Kinlochlochleven was a blast, a real reward for the all the miles we’d ridden so far, techy, fast and a little loose we laughed all the way down. We soon paid the price though, the climb back out the other side in the shadow of the Mamores was hard going, but Fort William wasn’t far now and we were getting close to the half way point.
We’d found a sweet spot, a pace we felt we could keep riding all day at. Scotty and I didn’t really talk much, occasional chats about this and that, but we were both content to just ride side by side with the odd ‘you ok’. It just worked, no one rider faster than the other, just evenly matched keeping each other going.
As we started the fast decent into Fort William in the pitch black darkness I could make out some lights in the distance, as we got closer I could make out a rider, who the hell was out here at this time of night? Then Music…WTF…Ride Of The Valkyries was blasting out of some speakers (you know, the tune from the opening scene of Apocalypse Now). It was Phil Stephenson, a good friend who’d ridden out to guide us down the hill and provide a very bulging bag of pick n mix, it was moment like this that made the ride so special and all the pain and suffering worthwhile, I pretty much laughed all the way down.
Into RV3 and time for some food and more fresh socks. Phoebe knocked up some fried egg sandwiches and hot chocolate, bliss. Big lights on and it was time for the night shift. 100 miles down, we’d completed the WHW but still had the 70 mile Great Glen Way to ride with a 5 mile detour to visit the Commando memorial at Spean Bridge. It was going to be tight to get in under 24 hours.. We briefly spoke about not going, to try get to the finish before the 24h was up, but we all agreed that it was better to complete the original route and go over time than cut it short.
The start of the GGW was fast and flat, still riding side by side we soon arrived at the memorial, I was so glad we made the detour. A slightly selfish detour, but to be in this place that I first visited over 25years ago, a place that means a great deal to me, to be there with Phoebe, Scotty and Grace was a special moment for me. We’d got this far and with your best mate beside you and the most amazing support crew I rode away with a huge sense of pride. All the little doubts and fears I had about finishing this ride disappeared.
Right, time to hit the gas, back on the GGW we were flying along, fast trails allowing us to really push on. Taking turns on the front we cracked on at 18 mph+, deer kept running across the trail so we had to be on our guard, didn’t fancy hitting one of them at full tilt. We were no longer riding at a sustainable pace but pushing past it, taking hard turns willing to empty the tank. With 30miles to go we’d managed to get our average speed back up, but we were about to hit the sting in the tail. The Fast trails came to an abrupt end with a 20% climb out of Invermoriston, straight back down again and onto a 3 mile long climb that seemed to last forever. It kept going like this, climb after climb. We kept pushing, no longer able to eat real food it was flat coke and snickers. The end was in sight though, and we kept riding along, side by side on the climbs, keeping each other going, then letting it go on the descent as best we could with aching hands, arms, backs, legs and everything else in between.
The Sun was coming up the miles were ticking down, Loch Ness started to light up as the sun crested the horizon and the darkness at the side of the trail was replaced by pink heather again. The sea was visible in the distance so we knew we were close and finally we dropped into Inverness. Passing people who’d just got up to walk their dogs or go to work felt a bit strange, the start in Glasgow felt like it was weeks ago, not just the previous morning. We rolled around the final corner and up the hill to the Castle. We’d done it.
Finishing this ride wasn’t something I’d taken for granted. There were so many variables, so many things that could go wrong, thankfully none of them did and my body didn’t let me down.
I spent much of the next 12hours in the foetal position, as the adrenalin wore off I didn’t feel good, I’d gone deep to get to the end. I threw up into a bush on the shore of Loch Morlich, I suppose if you are going to barf you might as well do it in beautiful place. Despite being unable to function or eat properly I started to think ‘what next’. I never considered myself capable of riding this kind of long distances or riding on no sleep. I’d always considered people who took on these kind of rides as a little super human, but now my eyes have been opened and if #rideforcharlie has taught me something it that’s anything is possible. You don’t have to be superhuman, you don’t have to be the fittest person in the world, you just have to have the courage to try.
So, another adventure ticked off by the lads…their biggest to date! Planning is now underway for the next epic day(s) out…lets see what they can come up with!