As a recreational cyclist, occasional hill walker, and unconvincing triathlete, I consider it my right to leave my training and organisation for an event to the very last minute.
So it was no surprise that just days before cycling the infamous 90-mile Bealach Mor Cycle Sportive, I had not yet arranged accommodation for before and after the event.
A quick bit of googling told me that accommodation near the Sportive was thin on the ground. Un-deterred I started phoning round for weekend accommodation in the north west highland village of Kinlochewe.
“Yes”, I explained to surprised B&B owner, “I do know that 500 cyclists are descending on the village this weekend. I’m one of them!”
As it became apparent that Kinlochewe was fit to bursting with cyclists that weekend, I started looking further afield for a bed. As I examined my map, a red triangle and the word “Torridon” caught my eye.
Seconds later, I was on the phone to Torridon SYHA: “I don’t suppose you have any beds left for Friday night, only I’ve left it a bit late for the Bealach Mor cycle…”
“Don’t worry, we’ll squeeze you in” came the reply.
And that was that. Or so I thought.
I booked a hire car from Glasgow airport on the Friday afternoon and picked my way north up the A9 past Inverness, and promptly missed the sign for Gairloch and drove all the way to Ullapool by mistake.
By the time I realised my wrong turn, I was running dreadfully late. The kind SYHA people had phoned my wife to ask if I was having trouble getting there, and then phoned me on my mobile to let me know the hostel normally closes the doors at 10.30pm, but they’d wait up for me.
Exhausted and relieved I arrived close to 11pm, to be met by the ever-cheery Emily, who had my room key at hand.
Less than half an hour later, I was showered, had my bed set up, and was enjoying a chat in the fabulous panoramic common room with a couple of cyclists who had travelled all the way up from Yorkshire to cycle the Sportive.
Morning came quickly and I made breakfast in the kitchen alongside a couple of retired gentlemen, both veterans of the Bealach Mor sportive. A good chat and some very useful information about the sportive route was imparted by these super-vets.
That’s what I love about staying in hostels. People share things. Whether it’s a spoonful of coffee, a splash of milk, or a spot of advice, it is the done thing.
Before setting out for the Sportive starting line at Kinlochewe, I spoke to a mountain biker who was standing at the front door of the hostel surveying the magnificent range of hills in front of us. We inspected his playground for the day, and agreed it would a fine day to be on the bike.
It turned it to be just that. The sun drew a bead on the Applecross peninsula and stayed with us for the entire Sportive.
It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows though. I worked in a bunch from about 10 miles in and got dropped 30 miles into the Sportive, just before the lonely and impossible looking climb up to the Bealach. It nearly nearly broke me.
The ride round the coast that followed that leg wobbling ascent was an exercise in pain management and plausible deniability – hill after hill after hill and a North West wind to fight against too.
Greeted by the kind people of Kinlochewe, I reached the finish line after 6 hours 27 mins, with two 10 min stops en route at the feed stations.
Next time I’d like to be closer to 6 hours, but it would mean passing by the feed stations. And that would mean missing out on free home-baking. That’s a challenge in itself.