This year it's serious. Following last year's fitness wake-up call and abortive attempt to break the back of the North West Highlands, we had been meticulous in our preparations for our 2012 outing – routes and stopover points had been researched more thoroughly; equipment had been replaced or upgraded; and I had even bought an exercise bike (and trained on it)!
All in all we were feeling apprehensive but ready to tackle what we now knew was going to be our most demanding leg to date. Aside from the demanding terrain, we were going to have to cover some serious distance (over 300 miles by my estimation) in order to reach the nearest train line and thereby make it back to Inverness at the end of the trip without involving some costly private hire recovery. And after falling far short of our intended target last year, failing to meet our goal on this occasion simply could not be allowed to happen.
On the subject of private hire, we had decided not to brave the suicidal Cycle Bus again in order to reach our starting point at Durness – instead we were taking the more direct, quicker and considerably less nail-biting option of an early morning train from Inverness to Lairg, then a pre-booked taxi along the length of scenic Loch Shin and onwards to our starting point on the north-western tip of Scotland.
As our morning train carried us past those familiar oil rigs in the Cromarty Firth, we marvelled at the weather forecast on Steve's smartphone, which, unbelievably, was predicting 20°C+ temperatures and clear blue skies in the Ullapool region for every one of the five days ahead. We were in fine spirits, therefore, as we alighted at Lairg station, with the sunshine nicely taking the edge off the crisp mountain air. The peace and quiet of the highland countryside was something to be savoured as we cycled a couple of miles along the deserted A836 towards Lairg village itself.
Our friendly taxi driver introduced a mild element of concern into our otherwise carefree demeanour as we discussed the west coast cycle route that lay ahead for us, warning us about the other road traffic we might encounter on some of the more tortuous roads – "most of the drivers are either blind, or blind drunk", he assured us!
Before long we'd reached Laxford Bridge and were retracing the familiar route of the Cycle Bus which had whisked us away from Durness in the gales last year; the route which we would shortly be retracing one last time, under pedal power.
Go to Day 1 (Durness to Oldshoremore via Sandwood Bay)