Belfast to Ayr, Scotland
Scotland is clean, well kept and no graffiti in sight. I felt safe to be here and welcome too. Cars were curious, even though they were pointing at Al and laughing. Some even beeped their horns. Guess it’s not normal to see aliens on bikes in Scotland.
The ride to camp was memorable in that the coastline was beautiful. The sky and the sea were the same color, distorting perception into a surrealistic painting.
I know Nessie is waiting for me in Scotland.
I took my time getting to camp on this day. Riding was so pleasurable, I wanted to stretch it out as long as possible. When I finally did get into Ayr, most everyone was already there. I had a good belly laugh when I came into the parking lot of the Cragie Horticultural Centre, at the University of Paisley. Our camping area was set up opposite the archery practice field. There were students shooting with bow and arrows at targets, just beyond the targets were our tents. They were off a safe distance away, but just the same it made me chuckle.
The night before in Belfast, Tim had a meeting for the Odyssey riders. We were given a new schedule and were told that Japan was off the route. Instead we were to have extra days in Australia. The final schedule had us in Australia for 28 days with only 8 days of riding. Nine of those days were camping on the beach at the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns.
I looked at the schedule and said, “YES!” Nine days on the beach sounds fine to me. I didn’t mind giving up Japan for some time off. However, I was the minority. The group was livid. One member stood and accused Tim of “bait and switch” then requested his money back. Those were strong words from this particular rider who has been a staunch supporter of TK&A. His points were good though, he stated the reason he signed up for the trip was to go to the “difficult to get to places”. Those were Russia, Japan, China and Vietnam. He could do the easy English speaking counties anytime.
The meeting was a very difficult one for TK&A who never did give us a solid, logical reason for deleting Japan.
Now we were camping on an archery practice field. I found that rather amusing.
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July 6, 2000 Ayr to Inveraray
I woke up with a congested head and the other ear was now hurting. I didn’t feel like riding so I sagged. Most of the morning I slept in the van, feeling even worse than when I woke up. I wonder if the van is leaking carbon monoxide, my head really hurts.
We took a short ferry ride to Dunoon, where Michael dropped us saggers off in a cafe. We had to wait for all the riders to pass through the ferry before we could proceed to end of day. It was a very cold and cloudy day. The wind off the river was spine chilling and I was wearing shorts. Not a good clothing choice. I went window shopping in town and ended up buying a pair of sweat pants. Looks like I might be making good use of them in Scotland.
After waiting for 3 hours all the riders passed through and Pierre came to pick us up. We drove into Inveraray and stopped briefly for a “rest stop”. The town is on a beautiful lake in the hills. All the buildings are black and white. It has a stark kind of beauty about it. Tourists are everywhere.
The campground was about 4 miles from town. It was a nicely done place with a small store, recreation hall and once lonely telephone for all 220 of us!
We were treated to a special ceremony of a Scottish meal, lucky for us they gave us “normal” food, then did a ceremonial presentation of Haggis. The Haggis was in a small amount but I didn’t hear anyone complaining. It is made of sheep’s stomach and testicle and other nasty sounding stuff. The dancing and ceremony was fun.The guy in the kilt recited Burns and cut open the Haggis with his long silver knife. I couldn’t hear him, but he sure looked good.
My favorite part of the night was taking the pictures and showing them to the staff and performers. This gentleman’s wife saw this picture and exclaimed with love in her voice, “that’s MY husband!” I had to ask if it was all right if I kept a picture of her husband on my computer. She was proud to say yes!
July 7, 2000 Inveraray to Fort William
I woke up the next morning to an overcast but cool day. The “miggies” were out and bite the daylights out of me while I took down the tent. I couldn’t wait to get on the bike and ride away from them. Miggies are those mini bugs that bite anywhere they can, they get into your nose and hair. I hate bugs!
My ear was still not normal, but I discovered the more Advil I took the better I felt. Hopefully I could continue this treatment until the ear decided to get better. I rode all day. Scotland is so beautiful, even though I only saw the sun come out once or twice I still love this country.
Early in the morning I came around the bend to see a bunch of bikes stopped alongside the road. My heart skipped a beat, thinking it was a wreck. It wasn’t. Everyone was stopped to take pictures of the cows. Highland cattle are a rare breed, and I swear they are the cutest cattle I have ever seen.
This group of cattle was so well groomed, I believe they may have been show cattle. Their bangs were combed and the bull wanted to be petted! He was such a lover!
Fort William is located in the Highlands. It is at the base of the Ben Nevis mountain range, the highest in Britain at 4400 feet. I got off my bike and walked through the town, shopping as I went. They had a terrific selection of shops featuring sporting goods, woolens, tartan everything, liquor and other tourist junk. The bike shop was called “Off Beat Bikes”, I bought a great logo t-shirt there since my other tee is falling apart from too much wear.
The popular items for sale in Scotland are mostly woolen goods. If you have any Scottish blood in your family line, most of the shops can tell you what tartan plaid represents your “clan”. There are so many very beautiful plaids available, each differing in color and design. I choose to designate my favorite plaid of green and black as the “Kraft clan”. It’s not exactly a Scottish name, but the plaid is my favorite, so that works for me!
The not so recent movie “Brave Heart” is still alive and well here in Scotland, or at least on the tee shirts. They are seen everywhere with a picture of Mel Gibson yelling “Freedom!” Then of course there’s the infamous monster of Lock Ness, Nessie. Without Nessie, Scotland would merely be a place to buy Scotch. The legend of Nessie is strong, evidenced by the tourists who feed on it. I never did see Nessie but then I never did take the cruise. Oh well maybe next time. I know she’s out there!
The Queen was in Scotland while we were here. She came in to Knight the famous actor Sean Connery. Sean was getting his knighthood, because of all the work he has done for the dairy industry. (?) I think any man who ages as well as 007 has deserves to be made a knight! Way to go, Sean!
Our campground in Fort William was not a campground but a “football” field, located next to the Leisure Center. The Leisure Center is not to be confused with a retirement home, as it might be back in America, but it is a Health Club, sort of. The Leisure Center is a great facility with a bowling alley, aerobic dance, workout center, bar and pool hall all wrapped into one. We had a nice meal catered that night and again at breakfast. We used the indoor showers and toilet facilities. It was all very pleasant.
The Leisure Center didn’t have enough table and chairs to facilitate all of the Odyssey riders a seat. Wild Bill and Suzi made due with a couple of high chairs at dinner. We do what we must to get by.
July 8, 2000 Fort William to Inverness
The camping field was surrounded by mountains, so no wonder it was very cold when I got up. My tent and sleeping bag keep me warm all night, and when I open the zipper to go outside the cold wakes me up fast! I made sure to dress warm today, somehow I knew it wasn’t going to get any better.
After breakfast I discovered my front tire was once again flat. This was the same tire that has been letting me down now for some time. I went to change it, only to realize 2 of my tire levers were broken. I went to borrow a set from Jason, the mechanic. I changed the tire, but didn’t have much confidence in it. I just know there is something hidden in the tire that is causing all these flats. The tire is still in excellent shape, having only been replaced in Washington, D.C. but I may have to pitch it, if I can’t find the problem soon.
Once on the road I was deep in thought, enjoying the scenery and the day. It was cold, but not raining. The countryside is so gorgeous and I missed my first major turn on the DRG. By the time I realized I had passed it, I was a few miles out. The DRG had us criss crossing the main highway today, taking us on the back country roads instead of on the main, more direct route. The terrain was getting more hilly, I knew I was better off sticking to the DRG route in case I had trouble, but I really wanted to follow the main road in, set up my tent and go to sleep as soon as possible. Dreamer I am.
Before long it started raining, stopping in a telephone booth, I put on my full rain gear. It felt good to be warm if not dry.
After about 20 miles I rejoined the riders on route. I had saved 2 miles by using the main highway. Now I had to make a decision to stay with them or continue straight. Considering my lack of proper tools and the unreliable tire, I decided to play it safe, I stayed with the route. It was a good thing, because on the way to checkpoint I got another flat.
I usually don’t like flats anytime or anywhere, but this one was welcome. The last 4 miles to checkpoint was up a back country road with a grade of 13%. YUCK! I made it to 1 mile prior before my tire died. I was glad to be able to hail a ride to checkpoint. From there it was downhill. I found out later at the bike shop, that route was considered to be one of the most difficult in Scotland. (From Fort Augustus take B862 towards Errogie.)
At checkpoint I jumped out of Michael’s van to ask Merlyn if he would let me use his tire levers and if he would help me locate the mystery problem in my tire. He was cozy and dry in his van and said to me, “unless you LIKE riding in the rain, why don’t you just get back in the sag where you were.” Since I couldn’t argue with that, I did.
The ride down the mountain looked fun, but it was really raining hard now. I was semi-glad to be inside the van, but I was soaked to the bone and getting chilled. Considering the condition of my infected ear, this way not a good thing.
Our camp in Inverness was next to the city’s huge Aqua Dome Sports Center. The Center was a wonderful place with indoor swimming for both children and adults. Upstairs was a spa with steam, sauna and Jacuzzi. The other end of the building had banquet facilities to feed us. It was a great place to spend a few days.
We of course we camping adjacent to the track field and next to the caravan camping. It was pouring rain when I got to the locker. My “camping” friends were all ready to buzz off to a nice warm B&B. I was so out of sorts, my bike needed work, my laundry was dirty and I just couldn’t decide whether to go or stay. When I said it was too much trouble to go find a B&B, I meant it, even though Dave and Mary said I was crazy!
Within 15 minutes I had my tent up. Now I decided to get that d@**! tire fixed. I still was short a tire lever so I went to back to Jason to borrow his. He was just coming on duty at 4 p.m. and had just woke up. My timing was very bad. Jason was in a bad mood and basically told me not to worry about fixing it right now, we wouldn’t be needing the bikes for about 4 days. Of course, this was true, but I was anxious to solve the problem now. I asked if I could borrow his tire levels, he then told me “I don’t lend out my tools. That’s how they get broken.” Terrific, this morning he was lending, this afternoon, he’s not. I just love the customer service I get on this trip.
Immediately I went to Merlyn and asked him the same thing. He gave me the same answer. I wonder who trained Jason? So now I’m without help from the guys who signed on to help. I felt so down and angry. I just cried. Enough was enough. I couldn’t hear them and I didn’t have the strength to rip their faces off.
Rod came by saw my condition, ripped the tire off and got his hands dirty doing it, so when he hugged me, he made a point to wipe them on my coat, several times. He made me laugh and realize I’m on this trip because of the people, the riders that is. The others can “go to hell in a hand basket!”
I know someday the mean monster in me is going to come out and rip somebody’s face off.
July 9, 2000 Inverness Layover
I woke this morning to the sounds of silence. My ear canals were so swollen, it was worse than before. It was also Sunday and I was afraid I would not make it through the day. Inquiring at the Aqua Dome I learned that right next door was the Royal Scottish Infirmary, and they had an emergency room. I grabbed my helmet, hopped on my bike and went.
In the emergency room, the doctor saw me immediately. He was so young, I found it hard to believe he was actually the doctor! He examined my ears and found both canals to be so infected that he could not see the eardrum. I found it very difficult to hear and understand him, so he drew me a picture. I found him to be very knowledgeable and thorough. He gave me a different prescription of antibiotics and drops and sent me on my way.
The pharmacy did not open until 11 am, so to kill time I rode around town, enjoying the sites. Inverness is another charming tourist town. Even on a Sunday morning before the shops were open, people were about window shopping and attending church. It was an active place.
The rest of the day was spent enjoying the sauna and steam room. When I came out I felt like a wet noodle. This has got to be good for my tired body!
At 6 p.m. we loaded the bikes onto an 18 wheeler to be transported to Bergen, Norway via ferry. My front tire, was flat.
July 10, 2000 Inverness to Aberdeen
When taking down the tent today, I discovered a note attached to a set of tire levers. The note read, “I want you to have these. I have never used them, don’t intend too and hope you don’t need to either!” The note was from Gloria! Thanks, friend!
We piled onto four buses to transport the riders to Aberdeen. Al jumped into the bus driver’s seat, causing a great commotion. The bus drivers loved him there, they were laughing and teasing the real bus driver. Al sure gets a lot of attention. Everybody loves him.
In Aberdeen we are staying at the Aberdeen University dorms. Aberdeen is an old University, founded in the 1400′s. It is a beautiful place, built with granite stone, as is the whole city.
It is cold here and the wind blows endlessly. I find it hard to believe it is July!
July 11, 2000 Inverness Layover
A day of true rest for me. I slept, I ate, I slept, I ate, I worked on the website.
July 12, 2000 Inverness to Bergen, Norway
Our last day in Scotland brings a sadness in my heart. There’s something about this cold, beautiful place that I will miss, it feels like home.
“Haste ye Back” reads the sign as I leave, I will be back! There’s so much more to see.