Emil Carr-Ross


Cycle Mechanic and Bikepacking Rider in Glasgow, Scotland.

View My GitHub Profile

29 May 2024

HT550 Days 3 and 4


… and why I scratched

I spent days 3 and 4 with mostly no phone signal and no charge.

Day 3

Day 3 started in the Croick estate where I had rolled out my bivvy the night before after riding with Felix. The morning was rough, I felt stiff, surrounded by midges and having forgotten to take my net into the bivvy, I did not want to get up. And I don’t think I did until after 9am. Once I finally rolled out the bivvy and rolled through to Oykel bridge, I found our favourite dotwatchers again and refilled on water, before heading up to Achness hotel for breakfast. The place seemed dead but after ringing the bell they welcomed me in for cereal and two breakfast rolls. Another rider passes as I eat and we say hello.

A later conversation with my partner May reveals these are their local roads when they’re home in the Highlands.

Up the gravel track, down the hydro and wind installation and out to Loch Shin where I’m dangerously passed several times by sports cars doing flybys, including after they told me it would be the last one. To their credit, they apologised.

The doubletrack towards the Bealach Horn starts here. About 10km through rocky puddles I pass someone going south, coming back from Cape Wrath having just completed An Turas Mor. he remarks how little I have - I remark how much he has.

Soon the track splits off and becomes rougher. Some excellent spots for future camping, and some streams with clear, clear water let me refill. The track gets rougher and rougher and soon I have to stop-start and walk over the worst of it.

Up one peak, and I stop for some porridge on my stove, feeling the lack of carbs and my stomach begging for fibre.

Then back down. Soon I realise how rough the trail ahead is going to be.

A sharp ledge where the loam has fallen away has me decide to skirt around, between two rocks. Bad choice. One step and I’m knee deep in bog, and my bike is axle-deep. I feel the resistance and realise there’s no way out but forwards. Second leg in, roll the bike forwards to solid ground, and brace myself against it as I work myself free.

A river crossing follows where I kneel down to rinse myself off and carry onwards. No sooner am I on the trail up the next summit when I look back and double-take to see Eliza washing herself and her bike in the river, having just passed her without realising.

We hike near each other. Eliza is fast at hiking and shows me up, but gave me a reason to keep pushing. We reach the summit at a similar time, before she takes off, her full suspension bike far more capable at descending than my fully-rigid bike or I.

At the bottom I find her in a stables. I check the time, and the distance to drumbeg, and suddenly I find some untapped energy to keep me pushing. With 1.5 hours, I knew it would be tight, but I also knew I could make it.

Going up the forestry track, I just kept pedalling, kept pedalling, ate haribos, kept pedalling and soon I was descending into Kylesku bridge. What a sight. The track became fast and easy. I sustained near 35km/hr when suddenly…

The bike skids out. Back wheel whips around to the left and topples over forwards. Im thrown off like a projectile straight into a verge. Reflexively, I bend my elbows and knees and manage to brace my fall, protecting my head.

A wave of diziness, I check my helmet, intact, no head impact. I can move my arms. But my knees…

The adrenaline has me let out a blood-curdling scream. I’m sure I could be heard from across the valley. I lie there trying to find the strength to get up. Slowly, I move one knee, and the other, and am shocked to find myself intact. I was sure I had torn an ACL, or both. But just two skinned knees and some blood. My bike is intact too. Almost in tears now, I keep going, desperate to make Drumbeg stores, desperate to cry but the tears just wouldn’t flow.

Over the bridge into the amazing views of Asynt. I know I’ve been here as a child but I never remember it like this. This is a truly amazing way to experience Scotland.

I keep pushing, keep pushing, keep pushing but soon realise I won’t make Drumbeg tonight. I find a patch of grass with two tents already at the rock stop, and roll out my bivvy.

Day 4

Another slow, depressed start. I don’t think I was on my bike until after 10am. I later find out Louise and Sam probably passed me and were in the hotel, within spitting distance, for breakfast.

I carry on to Drumbeg, this time knowing it will be open. I stare at my wahoo cursing the cues for being about 4km out of sync, along the steep, steep, unjulating road to Drumbeg.

A goat terrorises some cars as I arrive.

I’m greeter by the shopkeeper and the lovely, lovely 17 year old cat Myrtle. I open a tab, barely able to stomach any real food, and sit down.

Soon Sam arrives, and Louise.

Louise buys a bottle of olive oil for her chain. Sam is struggling with achilles issues and decides to scratch.

I decide to scratch. I know that if I keep going on, I’m going to keep being slow in the mornings, snd stop enjoying myself. It’s tricky to balance my mental health with the goal of finishing, and my health had to take precedence on this one. Even if I did finish; would I be healthy sfterwards, or would I lose time to illness?

Sam and I set off a little after Louise, slowly for Sam’s achilles issues, towards Lochinver with the goal of a bus or hitchiking onwards to Ullapool or Inverness.

Soon we pass Louise at the side of the road with a mechanical. She went to adjust her headset, but the star nut, having rusted from the inside, crumbled under pressure from the top cap. The solution in the end was 2 voile straps around the bars and the fork crown to preload the headset, before re-tightening the stem. I promise a bottle of prosecco at the finish line, so that the steerer tube can be corked up from the bottom.

We continue on again, and Louise takes off at her own pace. Sam and I stop at a cafe where I manage to make a cardboard sign, and we catch a lift in a caravan as far as Lochinver.

In Lochinver I wash my bike, buy a phone charging cable before parting ways with Sam for travel onwards. Shortly before five o’clock, I get a lift with a local electrician to Ullapool.

I wait in Ullapool to see through Katie, Rachy and Rachel who are all in good spirits. Stuffing food in their mouths and their bags, I ask everyone how they are and for a photo. To quote Rachel: “I mean like everything hurts right” - “Feeling posh about my smoked salmon”.

They depart and I head to the petrol station for onwards hitchhiking. Soon Kirsty rolls through and I almost don’t recognise her as a HT550-er for her choice of gravel bike. (I later find out she had her mountain bike stolen on Dales Divide). Pressed for time, she decides not to stop at Tesco and instead opts for four sandwiches from the petrol station.

The clock goes nearly eight o’clock, and I’m just about ready to give up, when suddenly a white van slams on his brakes and announces he can get me almost to Inverness. An eventful journey was had thanks to Vladimir.

He gets me to Connol Bridge where I cycle on to North Kessock for the night.

A bus shelter makes the perfect spot to bivvy for an early start the following day.