June 25, Tuesday
Mileage: 0 riding miles
Night's Lodging - Aberdeen IYH
[As I write, I'm sitting in the Aberdeen Youth Hostel eating breakfast. I'll recap yesterday, a riding day from hell.]
We broke camp at 8 a.m. and headed one mile back into Aberlour to eat breakfast, find the Walker Shortcake factory which we had spied on our way through town last night, and to get $s - well £s actually. (Exchange rate: $1.62+ £3 fee/$100 = about $1.72 per £1.)
Literally by following our noses we found an open bakery where we bought sweets, meat pies and a scone. Tracy investigated the possibilities of getting some tea "to go," or as we have learned to say "for take away," in Aberlour's only open restaurant, which fronted a park at the town square. He reappeared carrying a tray with a large white porcelain tea pot and three cups, pitcher of milk, bowl of sugar, and silver plate spoons. We ate our bakery booty and drank our tea in a most civilized manner - sitting outside in our biking garb on a green wooden park bench in the middle of town in the cool overcast morning.
A young woman from Canada, biking and working her way through Scotland, noticed Rufus and wandered over to talk. A tour bus disgorged an elderly group of Brits, who invaded that same town square tea room, oooing and aaahing at Rufus on their way past.
On our way out of town after breakfast, we did stop at the Walker Shortcake and Biscuits (and cookies and fruitcakes and... ) International headquarters and Factory. Their "seconds shop" had bargains galore. Packets of broken cookies. Mis-sized fruitcakes. Off-colored biscuits. Tracy and Earl bought copious quantities of cookies for immediate consumption. I found a dark, heavy, whiskeyed fruitcake for my food pannier. This liquor-laced confection, obviously a medicinal item, was to be saved for emergencies.
The road rose and fell under me as the rolling hills defined my horizon. I panted and gasped my way up and down, willing my legs and knees to push along this bike and its 35-40 pound load. Tracy and Earl waited for me at the tops of hills as I struggled up. The shrubbery subtly changed as we left the highlands, the yellow broom fading away, replaced by nondescript greenery.
In Dufftown, ten miles riding distance from Aberlour, we stopped at Glenfiddich Scotch Distillery, founded in 1887 and producing a world renown single malt scotch. The distillery tour was interesting but no different from the various winery and brewery tours I have taken at home. The requisite Scotch shot was provided to those who stayed to the tour's end. A real throat burner! No weaving back and forth across the road for me! I didn't have more than two small swallows of our liquid refreshment. I'm sure Scotch affectionados would have appreciated it more than I. As it was, Earl was the recipient of both mine and Tracy's samples. Glenfiddich has an excellent reputation but only Earl could appreciate it properly.
Back on our bikes at 12:30 for the rest of the ride. The skies were gray and begged the ever-present question, "will it rain soon?" There was no question that it would rain. The question was "when"?
We had no planned stops - a mistake. We just pedaled up and down through the end of the Grampian Mountains and east through what was left of the highlands. The views were beautiful - more scenic than soothingly pastoral - although sheep abounded. We pedaled and pedaled and pedaled. The head winds got worse and worse and worse. Our goal for the day - Aberdeen. About 60 miles.
Part of this day's journey was on an extremely scary, heavily traveled "A" road with no shoulders for emergency escape. I hugged the white line which delineated "their twelve foot wide lane" from "my twelve inch wide path." My left pedal scraped a high concrete curb each time I tried to move closer to safety. Trucks (lorries) whizzed by at 65 mph. They seemed aware of me and tried to give me space, but I wobbled and lost some steering control in their back drafts. I was acutely aware of my vulnerability and mortality and felt naked without my rear view mirror, which wasn't designed to affix to the right side of my handlebar. Perhaps I was better off in my ignorance. Down shifting was problematic - without great care, any attempt into the granny gear caused the chain to fall off to the inside, bringing me to a swift shift stop. I had to dismount, fix the chain, and rejoin traffic. My fingers were greasy black. A derailleur adjustment was needed to end this nuisance problem.
Our maps finally offered an alternate route away from the main highway. It would take us a few miles through the countryside en route to Aberdeen. The dilemma: "fight the traffic?" or "fight the head wind and miles?" We opted for the longer route.
Exhausted and irritable, we arrived at the outskirts of Aberdeen at 7 p.m. Earl called the Youth Hostel. Fortunately there was room for us. This was our first youth hostel experience and it hadn't occurred to any of us, I don't believe, that not only did a hostel have to have enough room, the available beds had to be of the right configuration - e.g. two male beds and one female. Although hostels are first-come/first-served, the receptionist indicated that he would save beds for us if we arrived quickly. We followed his directions which wound us through downtown traffic, following dirty fumed buses, and checked into the large granite stone Aberdeen Youth Hostel at 8 p.m. We stored our bikes in a basement storage area, locking them one to the next, and carried all of our gear to our dorm rooms.
This day caused the predictable rift in our group.... Tracy and Earl's get-there-itis and desire to bike high mileage vs. my physical abilities. After dinner, We Three had an emotional "chat" on the front steps of the Youth Hostel: "How to make this trip better for all of us."
"This isn't working for me," complained Earl. "I don't like waiting at the top of hills for you to catch up. I get chilled and my muscles get cold."
Tracy agreed, adding, "I want to go my own speed."
I was feeling lonely and left out, but aware of my own limitations. I was tempted to bag it with them and just tell them that I would meet them in London on our final day.
"I don't like it either. I don't like feeling that I am holding you up, and I'm not comfortable about just riding alone. Riding all alone wasn't what I had anticipated doing day in and day out when we planned this trip."
"I had thought you were able to ride long days," countered Earl.
"My God, we've just ridden two 100k days! What's wrong with that?" I was frustrated and nearly in tears. [Now as an experienced tourer, 100k days back-to-back-to-back are just ho-hum days.]
"Well, I like to finish riding by 5 p.m. so that I can enjoy the evening," Earl retorted.
"Fine. You do that." Now I was angry. Why did he think I wanted to bike all evening long?
Tracy jumped in to become Peacemaker. He had a thought.
"Let's plan 20 mile segments and meet at a T.I.; or ride one 40 mile segment and meet to select a campsite at the end of the day. That way we can do the riding we want, and you won't feel like you are holding us up."
"That's okay. But what happens if I have a mechanical breakdown? Let's do this. I'll make sure you know the route that I am on, and if I don't show up at our rendezvous place within two hours, come back looking for me. That way you can ride the extra hills if you want, and I'll feel some security knowing that if I have problems, help will eventually arrive. And we can meet in 20 mile segments - that's about two hours for me, depending on terrain."
I collapsed in bed at 11 p.m - unable to sleep until after 2 a.m. I heard a nearby church chime each hour. A negatively memorable day.