When we decided to cycle across Canada and run across Scotland neither of us were experienced bikepackers and I should note, we still aren’t by any sort of stretch of the imagination. Matt had done a bit of multi-day cycling around the Hebrides when he was younger, and could actually feel the wind in his hair, but apart from that the two of us were rather new to the whole thing. Given the enormity of trying to cycle across the second largest country in the world, we thought we better get some form of a test run in first, see how we fair after 3 days cycling around the South of Scotland or if I should be rescinding my resignation from my job and cancel the whole thing.
Humbie - Dumfries
Our initial plan on the Friday had been to go from Humbie via Duns to Dumfries, getting 180km in on our first day but after an emergency dental appointment on the Friday morning for a cracked tooth we set off on the direct route for Dumfries at around 1.30pm. Having never put anything more than the essential tools on our road bikes before, the first thing we noticed was how much slower life was when you cycle tour which took a couple of hours to adjust to mentally more than physically. Being slaves to our Garmin watches and constantly checking average speeds was not going to work well with this new pace of cycling and adapting to the attitude of ‘we will get there when we get there’ was harder than we both thought it would be.
After a few hours of cycling, my bike started to play up, making a clicking noise from the rear cassette in certain gears.
Lesson 1: never get your bike serviced right before you set of on a long cycle ride or race, always ride it first to make sure any issues from the service are picked up when you are close to an open bike shop.
After sending a video of the issue followed by a quick text exchange to my bike shop (phenomenal service…even if that’s probably not what they intended their shop mobile to be used for) the advice was, try and stay out of the gears where the bike is making the noise and bring it in as soon as you get back, we set off again. The worst part of that advice is that I don’t do repetitive noises…a click or a beep is enough to drive me somewhat demented and therefore the next 400km of potential clicking was going to be a potentially toys out the pram experience for me.
At around 7.30pm and 134 hilly kilometers later, we arrived at our hotel. In Canada, we will be camping but for our first experience I was pretty insistent that we would be easing ourselves in gently to the whole thing.
Dumfries - Ayr
After a slightly slow start to Saturday morning, we finally set off cycling at 10.30am, this was mistake number one of the day.
Lesson 2: leave early in the day. Morning miles are easier than afternoon miles.
After about 45 minutes we had a quick toilet stop (thanks to my child sized bladder) and in doing so bumped in to a fellow cyclist who well-meaning as he was took us on a somewhat circuitous route of Dumfries & Galloway, including a stop at a museum to/birth place of John Paul Jones (founder of both the American and Russian Navy’s…hopefully the irony is not lost of you) and a stop at a café where the food was good but the service somewhat reminiscent of Faulty Towers. Therefore, after a couple hours of stops we hadn’t intended on we were a little behind schedule.
After 90km of riding with our personal guide to all things Dumfries & Galloway, we set off on our own up to Ayr. The weather which had been lovely and sunny up until that point, changed and as it started to get gloomy we found ourselves cycling through parts of the country that felt somewhat left behind when the mining industry closed up shop.
As we approached Ayr, wildly behind schedule, we realised that we had booked a hotel that required us to travel along a dual carriage way to get to. As I called to check if we could change to the hotel chains other hotel in Ayr, which we had just passed and was clearly accessible on bikes, Matt decided that there was nothing else to do but watch the Edinburgh v Scarlets rugby match on his phone at the side of the dual carriage way in the dark.
Lesson 3: unless you want to be delayed and end up at the side of a dual carriage way at 8pm then be clear to any cyclists you meet/chat to/cycle with that you have your route and your timings and you’d like to stick to them
Hotel switched over and a short cycle back to the original one we saw and we were done for the day, 174km of Dumfries & Galloway, East Ayrshire and South Ayrshire later.
Ayr - Humbie
Sunday was nothing except for a slog. From Ayr we were heading almost due East back to Humbie, where the promise of a Sunday Roast awaited us. The only thing that stood between us and Mum’s roast potatoes was 144km of misty Scottish countryside, oh and a bitterly cold Easterly headwind to contend with.
After our Tim Horton’s breakfast (yes, we took this test run for Canada very seriously and obviously had to try the local cuisine) we set off for home. While we may have taken a circuitous route on Saturday to see some of the best parts of Dumfries & Galloway, the circuitous route we took on Sunday was 100% down to Hannah’s absolutely shocking sense of direction.
Lesson 4: Never ever take directions from someone who frequently mixes up their lefts and rights.
After a couple of morning pit stops to put on more clothes and scoff a bag of sweeties, morale was somewhat low when we reached Biggar for lunch. As a result of us finding excuses to stay inside the warm café, we had a very leisurely lunch whilst watching James Cracknell make history in becoming the oldest man to compete in the University Boat Race.
The 56km to cover after lunch were slow, cold and hilly but they ticked by as they do when you just keep turning the pedals and finally home was in sight.
All in all we had a great weekend covering 450km and climbing 4600m, here’s to doing that 14 times over in Canada…