It’s easy to write about all the good stuff when we’re cycle touring. The fabulous scenery, the interesting people we meet, the fun adventures we have. But my friends always tell me that they most like hearing about “how it really is.” So in the spirit of truth in reporting for our cycling tour of Scotland, here you go.
- Amazing scenery. I just have to say it one more time.
- We had outstanding weather. Scotland is known for its changeable weather, as well as the cold and rain. In 22 days, we had only one really rainy day, combined with horrific headwinds. While the temperature never did reach 70, we had 8 days of sunshine, 3 of partial sun, 7 cloudy and 3 with a few showers. Quite the record.
- When cycle touring, it is impossible to consume as many calories as you expend. So the sky is the limit on food consumption, and all manner of treats are allowed. In the case of Scotland, my local favorites included McVities chocolate biscuits, scones (complete with jam and clotted cream) and cider on tap. The weather wasn’t always conducive to ice cream, but it’s a universal indulgence.
- Despite the treats, one always loses weight when cycle touring. Even better, inches come off and muscles are toned. There’s nothing like coming home and finding those tight clothes fit so easily.
- Salmon. Lots of it. It was on the menu everywhere. What more can I say?
- We always carry an abundance of inner tubes (8 between us) and one extra tire. Normally we go through a good number of those tubes and the tire as well. On this trip, Rich didn’t have a single flat – clearly a record for him! I managed two flats, primarily due to rocky trails. In the US, we have more trouble due to the retread tires on trucks. The shoulders are littered with metal shards left behind when the tires blow. We saw no such debris in Scotland. (Of course, there were no shoulders either… see below).
- In the US, the cyclist’s most dreaded road surface is one that has recently been “chip sealed.” It’s the cheap way out. Spreading the road with goo and throwing down crushed rock to prolong the life of the road surface. Sure, if you’re in a car you just roll over it. If you’re on a bicycle, it is a nightmare of uneven rocks that take at least a couple miles per hour off your speed. We were dismayed to learn that Scotland has learned about chip seal. They just call it by a different name.
- When we scout out roads for cycling, we pay particular attention to the shoulders. We look for paved shoulders that are wide enough for safe cycling outside the range of traffic. Forget that in Scotland. There is no such thing as a shoulder. There are few markings on the road period. Since many of them are only one lane wide, why bother? Fortunately, traffic is often light, and sometimes confined to just the local sheep.
- Finding cheap lodgings in Scotland was more of a challenge. There is no such thing as a roadside motel. The closest approximation was a guesthouse. It was obvious that some we stayed in were more like boarding houses. While the place was full, there was no one else at breakfast. The cooking tended to be blasé, the carpet was worn, and heat only came on for limited periods in the evenings. And just like cheap motels, electrical outlets were scarce.
- It’s one of cycling’s facts of life. I don’t know why, but hour after hour, day after day of cycling means a constantly drippy nose. Perhaps it’s the wind. Maybe it’s the exercise. For whatever reason, a runny nose is a signature symptom of spending days in the saddle. That’s life, live with it.
- Some of us have more sanitary ways of handing this nose issue. Mine is a kleenex, tucked into my handlebar bag. But not Rich. He has perfected the art of expressing his snot into the air as he rides. All well and good for him. Not so great for the cyclist behind him. Believe me, riding in the Snot Stream is no picnic. Especially when there is a head wind. If he’s feeling extremely magnanimous, he might invite me to ride in the “snot-free zone.” In that case, it doesn’t take more than 2 seconds for me to increase my cadence and fly past him to cycle in front.
- Traveling light is of utmost importance when cycle touring. That means the “wear one, wash one” concept of clothing is followed. When we cycle in hot climates, we constantly hand wash our cycling clothes every other night. With the cold weather in Scotland, we could easily convince ourselves that we didn’t sweat as much and could wear our cycling duds more days between washings. It sure made life easier. I’m not sure if those around us would agree.
- For the most part, we manage to work together to plan our itinerary. But there are those moments when we don’t see eye-to-eye. Take our final trip to see Fraser Castle when we got mired in traffic. I’m of the “never give up” camp. Rich is in the “let’s be practical” corner. We attempted to settle our differences on an isolated patch of roadside pavement. Let’s just say it was a good thing the traffic was zooming by. It wasn’t a quiet conversation.
Just like blog posts, the bad and ugly bits easily fade into the background in our cycling trip memories. It’s the good that stays with us, and spurs us on to the next trip. No doubt that will be the case with this one. Stay tuned for our next adventure.