“You've got all your camping gear and clothes in just those few bags strapped to your bike?!", the petrol station cashier asked, confused. "Yep, all set for the next few days in the Scottish wilds!", came my enthusiastic response. Despite my best efforts, she did not seem convinced! I'd popped in for a final load up on snickers bars, before a long weekend spent bike packing and wild camping in the Western Highlands.
The plan for the next few days was a simple one, a hundred miles of cycling a day, with nights spent sleeping under the stars in my trusty sleeping bag and bivvy combination. It felt so good to be out of London for the first time in months, coronavirus having scuppered all my usual plans to regularly escape the city in recent months.
In addition to being vital for my own sanity, this trip was also a fantastic opportunity to test the exact bike packing set up I'll be using for a 5000km unsupported cycle across the USA in 2022. Part of a two-man military team, the plan for next year is to cycle from California to Florida in 35 days, with the aim of raising funds and awareness for military mental health (IG: @starsandspokes). As two serving officers in the Royal Navy, it's a cause very close to our hearts.
And so back to the epic Scottish wilderness. The forecast didn't look great, temperatures dropping to 5 degrees overnight, and showers due to pass through on a regular basis. These classic spring conditions would see my saddle, frame and handlebar bags loaded up with the necessary waterproof layers; there is nothing worse than having your kit and clothing soaked through within the first few hours of a multi-day trip. To be avoided at all costs! I'm happy to report that the Restrap dry bags worked like a dream throughout the trip.
Starting and ending in Glasgow, my circular route would take me as far north as Fort William, first inland through The Trossachs and then back down along the stunning Argyll and Bute coastline, ready to catch the return train home to London. With a bit of planning and the right kit, it's amazing how much outdoors goodness you can fit into just one weekend.
Heading away from the train station and out of Glasgow itself, I could feel my stress levels drop as the urban sprawl gave way to greenery. It had been way too long since I'd last been on a cycling adventure, I'd forgotten how liberating it is to strap your possessions to your bike and start exploring. There's just no other machine that compares to the bike in that regard, in my opinion; it has such a positive impact on my mental health.
The first couple of days were spent rolling through the undulating woodland of The Trossachs, with the nights spent sleeping on the shores of a couple of the smaller lochs. Whilst Loch Lomond is the best known, the whole area is speckled with stunning smaller lochs just waiting to be discovered by the adventurous cyclist. The National Park is teeming with wildlife, from the more commonly seen red and roe deer, through to rarer species such as beavers which are growing in number across Scotland currently. If you're super lucky, you might even spot one of the majestic Golden Eagles that soar above the moors and peaks in these parts. I wasn't so lucky on this occasion, great excuse for coming back again soon...
My final full day was the longest of my trip, with comfortably over 100 miles covered. As my reward, I'd booked into a bunkhouse for the end of that day. Oh the luxury! It makes a huge difference to know that a warm shower awaits at the end of a long day in the saddle. Being predominantly along the coast, I spent this day indulging my slightly odd obsession of Scottish ferry spotting! Whenever I see these vessels, a vital link between the mainland and the islands, my mind drifts off into a world of potential future cycling adventures yet to be planned. The Hebridean Way is firmly on my 'to do' list.
For me, going as lightweight as possible is key, you can cover so much more ground when your weight is kept to a minimum. This in turn increases the exploring possibilities, it allows me to fill my eyes with as much beauty as possible during a single weekend escape from the city. Not being a natural hill climber, it also makes the highland hills far more manageable when compared to a traditional, heavy set of panniers wrapped around the rear wheel.
All things considered, a great way to spend a weekend!
To learn more about Stars And Spokes, the USA coast to coast expedition, and the cause Pascal and Dan are supporting, head over https://www.starsandspokes.com/ where you can donate to a great cause