26 July 2011 (written on 27 July)
I talked with Steve and Simon again this morning, the guys who are cycling end-to-end from John O’Groat’s to Lands End, the opposite direction as I am. I mentioned to them that I heard that there’s not much to see in John O’Groat’s. They responded with something like the average time spent in John O’Groats is 17 minutes, most of that spent laying on the ground resting and wondering about the trip. They gave me the name of a nearby town that’s worth spending some time in, if I have time left in Scotland. I told them the date I left and suggested they look up the entry I made in the log book for end-to-enders, at Land’s End. I think they’ll like what I wrote. I’ll add a photo of it on my last day, in this blog. I asked them when they left, so I could look up their names in the log book at John O’Groats.
Simon mentioned asked me if there was much farmland, heading south, since they’d passed through a lot of farms on the way to Welsh-Bicknor. I told them there were some but also some fun little towns, lots of views, and lots of hills in Devon & Cornwall. When I left, I told them how much I enjoyed our conversations, and they told me the same. I also said, “Enjoy Devon” with a smirk, referring to the hills. Simon, who often was ready with a joke, replied “Enjoy Scotland.” It’s always good to part with a laugh.
Simon was right about the farmland. There wasn’t much to see, but it did make for good progress. I did stop a fun middle-sized town that had a very active market. I bought hand-made pasties and a Scottish Egg, which is a boiled egg, wrapped in pork, with a tasty crust. I gobbled down the Scottish Egg and kept the pasties for supper, for the next 2 days. After that, I asked around for web access. I needed to contact a friend of mine to see if I can meet him in a couple of days. A couple of folks directed me to the library. It was easy enough to find. The staff let me park my bike in the lobby, since I can’t lock all my panniers. I tried adding some stuff to my website as well, but WordPress didn’t play nice with the library computers.
When I left town, I started feeling bumps as if they were part of my seat, which means a flat tire. I pulled into a Sansbury’s (common UK grocery store) parking lot, took my panniers off, and looked things over. I didn’t want to try and fix it right then and chose to believe it was a slow leak. My seat, and post, double as tire pump, so I pumped it up, wrote down the time, and decided to see how long it would last. I found out later it was good for 2-3 hours.
When I was back on the road, I came across some hills briefly reminded me of Cornwall, but they went by fast enough. I also learned how to stand up in my bike while I peddle more to sort of “power over” more hills, beats walking & pushing. It was sunny all day, and the lack of scenery meant I stopped less for photos. That meant I went through water fast. Each day, I start with a full camelback, which is about 2 pints, and a water-bottle, another pint. Pardon me if this is more information than you want to know, but I finish both each day, and never pee. On this day, I finished both sooner than normal. For the first time, I was out of water about 3pm. It’s a strange feeling to be peddling on a hot day in farm country with no water.
I went a few miles when I saw one of my favorite signs, farm store. This one sold cider. When I get tired, the first thing that goes is my memory. As Carrie Almaer enjoys to point out, and I enjoy laughing about, my memory isn’t much to start with. So, when I saw the sign for cider, my tired memory used the American definition of Cider, which is apple juice.
I stopped at the gate, and cute little girl asked if she could help me. I told her that I was interested in some cider. She said she would have to ask her Mom. The girl ran from the house to a nearby barn, yell “Mum!” She ran back to the house yelling again, “Mum, a man wants some cider.” She came back to the gate. “Mum says we don’t have any to sell right now. I asked her if I could get some water. “Sure.”
We passed by one of the barns and the girl said, “I could just give you some for free.” I couldn’t pass that up. I wish I had my camera. The girl went to a large wooden barrel with a wooden tap at the bottom. I put my plastic water-bottle below it and she turned the spigot. Fresh cider poured in. I put the cap on and asked her if I could fill my camelback with water. She said I could, so we walked into the house. While we walked, I couldn’t resist taking a drink of the fresh apple juice. It was clearly fresh, and a little tart, and something else. “This has alcohol in it.” She looked at me as if I said that water was clear. It took a moment to convince her that in American English, cider is apple juice. But, as I just remembered, in British English, cider is fermented apple juice. On a hot day, a alcoholic British cider is fantastic. On a cycling day, a water-bottle full of it would have left driving drunk, not very far, and probably more than a little ill.
The hostel, Clun Hostel, was supposed to be “about 50 miles” from the last hostel I stayed in, according to the route notes I have from the British Cycling Touring Club (CTC). It was fifty EIGHT miles, sure seems to be about 60 to me. Grumbling about that to myself pushed me along, for “about” the last 5 miles. I was pleasantly surprised to find the road to the hostel was not full of rocks and potholes while it spiral up a bluff, like yesterday.
Fortunately, there were a few more pleasant surprises to come. The biggest came when I had a careful look at my progress. I’m about 1/3 of the way, a fact that was confirmed when another cyclist stopped by. He teaches maths, so I felt even better about a decision I made at that moment. Tomorrow would be a day off, my first in 8 days. I have 28 days total, but I want to finish is 26. If I reached the 1/3 point in 8 days, I can afford a day off, with 2 left for bad luck or relaxing. Besides, the first 1/3 should be the slowest, due to the hills, getting in shape, and becoming more efficient.
After having a shower, I walked into the dayroom of the hostel. A few folks were playing cards, including the maths teacher, his cousin who was cycling with him, and two women, who were long-time friends spending time together at the hostel. They asked me to join them a couple of times. I thanked them and declined, saying that when I’m tired I have a tough time learning a new card game. Eventually, I did join them. We had a lot of laughs and a little wine. That was the first, intentional, drink I’ve had in 8 days, and a great way to return to relaxing with some wine.