Day 5 – Laide to Shieldaig
Day 5 – Laide to ShieldaigApril
Day 5 started with a damp but clear morning in Laide. After a good breakfast at the B&B I headed over to the local shop to resupply before continuing south. The first stretch flew by with some enjoyable and easy going riding. The hills were not as bad as they had been for the past couple of days and progress towards Gairloch was good. The road leading out of Gairloch and down along side of Loch Maree was incredible. The road has recently been resurfaced at the top leaving behind a beautifully smooth surface and what felt like miles and miles of downhill. Progress down towards Kinlochewe was going well. The roads were empty, the skies were clear. There wasn’t much to do other than roll and take in the stunning views of loch.
At Kinlochewe I turned south once again and headed down towards Shieldaig. This was another great single track wilderness road, weaving it’s way between the mountains and eventually leading to another big down hills section at Torridon. I stopped for a short break at Shieldaig to check the map. I was hoping to get near to Applecross today so that I tackle the mountain pass tomorrow morning.
After leaving Shieldaig I turned onto the small coast road to Applecross, the road immediately became very hilly again. The road was very reminiscent of the coast road leading to Drumbeg a couple of days before with steep grades and constant ups and downs. Eager to make progress towards Applecross I pushed on as fast as I could, carrying as much speed as I could down the hills to keep momentum to get back up the other side. About 1 mile down the road I took a down hill sharp bend with way to much speed and lost control of the bike. The couple of the seconds that followed felt a lot like a slide show. Slide 1: “This bike isn’t going to make the turn”, Slide 2: “Front wheel digs into the embankment”, Slide 3: “I’m flying!”, Slide 4: “I’m lying face down in a boggy ditch”.
I lay in the dirt for a few seconds trying to make sense of what just happened. I stood up and checked myself over, remarkably I seemed fine. Completely untouched in fact with the exception of a small stick that had got lodged into my helmet. My next thought was that I probably was hurt and that adrenaline must be holding back the pain. Hold on I thought, I couldn’t feel any adrenaline. My breathing was normal and my heart rate was normal, I felt surprising calm given what had just happened. Despite hitting the bank at 15 MPH or more and being flung through the air I was somehow uninjured. I was a little damp from landing in the ditch but amazingly uninjured.
My next thoughts turned to the bike. I need to get it moved as it was half in the road and half in a ditch on a single track road. A quick inspection of the bike revealed that it too appeared undamaged. The front right pannier looked like it took a hefty impact. The back plate was a bit bent but it was still attached to the pannier rack. I pulled the bike off the ground to push it over to a small clearing a few meter up the next hill. I tried to push the bike but it wouldn’t move. I checked the wheel to see if anything had got wedged in the spokes but they were clear. I checked the chain for the same issue, nothing. I lifted the front of the bike and it began to roll, revealing the problem must be on the front wheel.
I moved around to the front of the bike to find the brake pads were pushed up tight again the wheel rim. I released the brake cable from the brake arms to free the wheel so that I could move the bike out of the road. As I began to move the bike it became clear that the bike had not survived the crash quite as well as it first appeared. The front wheel was buckled. Badly. The front wheel now had about a 1 inch kink in it and was clearly unrideable.
I sat down for a few minutes to try and figure out what to do next. The road ahead leads to Applecross and eventually Applecross pass, continuing in this direction with an unrideable bike was not an option. With how steep the hills had been for the last mile there was no was I couldn’t risk riding the bike with a wonky wheel and no front break. The rear brake alone would be hopeless at the stopping the bike with all of the pannier weight and it was likely that the front wheel was structurally compromised, given how badly out of shape it now was.
I remembered seeing a sign for a campsite as I passed Shieldaig so I decided to head back there and figure out a plan. As I pushed the bike back towards Shieldaig a car pulled up along side me on the road. The driver had seen me earlier that day on my decent down to Shieldaig and inquired about why I was pushing the bike and heading back to Shieldaig . I explained to him what had happened and he asked If I was injured. I told them I was fine and that I was heading back to Shieldaig to camp and figure out a solution.
The camp site at Shieldaig was not was I was expecting. It turned out to be a free to use community camp ground. The camp ground was actually just a water logged field where people could park their camper vans. The facilities extended as far as a water tap and a large bin. I made my way over to the back of the field in order to keep my bike out of sight of the main road. The whole field was saturated and I couldn’t find anywhere that you might consider a “good” spot to pitch the tent. Moments later is began to rain and I had no choice but to put the tent up in the soggy field.
I got the tent up and threw everything inside to escape the rain. It quickly became apparent that my light weight tent was not designed to be pitched on such wet ground as water began to make its way in through the floor of the sleeping compartment. I pushed my small tarp underneath the tent to try and keep the water at bay but It didn’t help much. I ended up having to huddle on top of my inflatable sleeping pad hoping that it would keep my dry.
As I sat in my tiny 1 man tent, huddled onto my sleeping pad trying not to touch the wet floor I had to figure out what I was going to do next. I need to get back to civilization to either get the bike fixed or find a way home. There was no bus service at Shieldaig and the nearest train station I knew of was at Kyle of Lochalsh, which is at least 2 days away on foot. The phone signal was very weak and there was no data connection which meant I wasn’t going to be googling my way out of this one. I was stuck, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to call home, there was very little anyone back there could do and they’d likely only get hysterical about the situation anyway. That nights journal entry simply read “Everything sucks. If my sleeping bag gets wet I might just cry”.
About 3o minutes later I heard a car pull up outside the tent and someone got out. I unzipped the tent to check who it was as the car sounded very close. It was the man who had stopped on the road a couple of hours before. He told me he’d been around everyone he knew in the local area to ask if they had a spare bicycle wheel, he had not been successful in sourcing one but it was very surprising to discover that he’s gone out of his way to do this, for me, a complete stranger. I didn’t even know his name, nor he mine.
He kindly offered to give me a lift to the train station in the morning. He told me there was a station at Strathcarron and that I’d be able to take a train up to Dingwall or Inverness where I’d find a bike shop. We exchanged telephone numbers and arranged that I would call him in the morning. His name was Bruce.
This was yet another incredible act of kindness from a complete stranger. After an emotionally tough day things were suddenly looking a little brighter thanks to Bruce.