Brothers Ed and Richard dreamed of undertaking an epic expedition, conspiring in the pub to complete a massive triathlon right the way across Scotland.
When they woke up the next day, however, they remembered that they had jobs and lives and families, and couldn’t just disappear for weeks on end.
But that didn’t put them off. They just scaled their plans to fit around ‘normal life’, applied for a Next Challenge Grant and set off to do a Scottish triathlon anyway, in miniature.
The Next Challenge Grant
Ed and Richard’s trip was supported by The Next Challenge Grant, an annual bursary for aspiring adventurers.
It’s funded by me – Tim Moss – several other adventurers and crowdfunded public donations.
Since 2015 it has supported 50 different expeditions with awards from £50 to £800.
A Scottish Triathlon in Miniature
by Ed Shawcross-March
There is a certain irony to adventure websites that despite the perils of climbing, swimming in open water, caving and generally being out of doors it never seems to go wrong. In fact I find that it would seem that no one ever fails to complete what they started or indeed suffer anything more that minor inconvenience. Perhaps the power of the internet allows us to only see the tip of the iceberg of people’s lives and we never see the 90% of ice that sits beneath the water.
The idea for the Scottish Triathlon in Miniature was born over a Scotch in a climbing hut. The memory is hazy but it started by discussion great feats of endurance and trying to see what the modern world had left. We both love Scotland it’s mountains and lochs so it was an obvious place to start. We decided on a triathlon of epic proportions: Swim the length of Loch Awe, cycle to the foot of Ben Nevis and then run the Scottish 4000 foot peaks.
It seemed a good idea at the time but far less so the next morning. We realised it was a pipe dream but something seemed so right about it that I harboured the idea for the next year. When I saw the ‘Next Challenge Grant‘ application I realised that there was a chance to do something fun, a bit silly and weekend sized to try and show that a family and a ‘normal job’ does not have to constrain the adventurer who still needs his pay check at the end of each month.
It was always going to be a big ask for Rick and myself to complete our Scotland in miniature triathlon. Young families, my six day a week job and Rick’s caring for his amazing little boy with autistic spectrum disorder means that time to get out and onto the hills falls into very small windows.
We met in Repton at 2200 on Wednesday evening. I was just back from a family adventure, cycle touring in Shropshire and had barely started to unpack and then repack. A miss-threaded pedal in my crank arm compounded matters and I hoped that it would last the trip. After a couple of hours of madly scrambling round for bits of kit were eventually ready to leave by 0100 on Thursday.
For me a ferry ride always adds value to an adventure and in this case it also added an opportunity to grab 40 minutes sleep alongside all the other commuters. After the drive up this was needed and gave the coffee time to kick in.
Rolling off the ferry we stopped briefly for water and cash and then cycled towards Brodick Castle, the brewery and the all important path up Goat Fell. Scotland is an amazing place and I am always reminded of this when cycling as the movement prevents midges from landing and makes the scenery far more enjoyable. The days that I have spent in Scotland recently have been windy, rainy, and midgey in equal measures and while I can cope with the former the latter had me doing the highland fling within seconds of locking the bikes up at the trail head. The plantation we walked through gave us shelter from the gathering storm but did nothing for the humidity and insect life. Rarely have I managed to get my timing spot on in the outdoors, but on this occasion Rick and I managed to step from the insect ridden, humid forest onto the windy, wet mountain side at just the moment when the rain started in earnest – small turns of fate like this would seem to dictate the next two days but not always for the worst.
We struggled upwards making great time. We had packed light and were both climbing in shorts, the rain ran down our bare skin and soaked our feet; my heart sank knowing that they would now be wet for the next two days. We trudged on.
Summiting we made our way down as quickly as we safely could and it was a joy to move from the open mountain and back into the forest. We ran down sections in a bid to generate some body heat on our way down to the bike – we failed…..
Normally the bike would be my strongest discipline but two Eccles cake and a black coffee for breakfast on the ferry left my legs feeling empty and as we approached Sannox golf club we realised that we needed coffee, cake, dry clothes and a warm fire. The club, essentially a wooden hall next to the course car park, provided the first two and they were most welcome. Once warmed (but still soaked to the skin) we left the café (and two large puddles on the floor) and began the climb over the centre of the island and onto our next stopping point of Lochranza. In the dry this would be a great ride but in the wet it was not pleasant. Side winds and climbing from almost sea level to 200 metres in a short distance made it miserable. It was on the descent on the far side of the island that I decided I would never ride my bike again as we rolled into the Arran Distillery at Lochranza. I pried my fingers off the handle bars, the wind chill and rain having meant the had turned blue and painfully cold. The decision to stop for coffee, a distillery tour and a wee dram (purely for its warming properties) was not a difficult one to take.
Warmed, fuelled, with water still squelching in our shoes, we mounted our bikes again and set off along the road to the pier at Lochranza. I knew this would be a hard part of the journey as it meant turning into the cold wind that was blowing from the South West and bringing all of the moisture with it. Our clothes became wetter and wetter (were that possible) and then the second great feat of timing on my part. My pedals fell of (I say pedals for dramatic effect, in reality it was only one pedal) and my ability to ride was ended. I think at this point that Rick was beginning to criticise my lack of bike maintenance but luckily I was able to ignore him as he rode ahead a little and the rain drowned him out. Thankfully he took pity on me and made the chivalrous decision to walk beside me, this was great but did mean that I had to listen to him having a sense of humour failure. It was time to put up the tent, sink a puffer, and get some sleep.
The timing benefit was that this took place near a restaurant so we were able to shelter and eat. With a decision made to continue, at least until we found somewhere to camp, we pushed (quite literally) onwards.
With little energy left and warmth fading we took advantage of the Scottish access code and pitched our tent a few yards from the road-side in a sheltered copse. The race became one against hypothermia (now actually a real possibility) and the midgies. The lack of wind that made the midgies worse also meant that the tent was pitched quickly and we dived in. Once out of wet clothes and into sleeping bags Rick produced his master stroke of a hip flask of whisky to supplement the beers that we had carried from the brewery. Warm and dry (or as dry as one can be in a tent after a full day exposed to the elements) we began to feel better and even managed to laugh a bit about what had happened. The whisky made us sleepy (nothing to do with the miles cycled and hill run up) and we settled in for the night with the incessant pitter patter of rain drop on the tent.
The next morning the day dawned a little brighter than the last and crawling out of the tent we were greeted by Scotland at its finest. A calm sea, bright blue skies, a few cotton wool clouds and a little hazy sunshine. The chill in the air meant we packed the tent quickly and began our walk onwards. The night before we had resolved to try to fix my pedal issue at the first opportunity and to carry on but with the nearest garage or house being about 10 kms from our campsite we had a couple of hours of travel on foot before we could start to pedal again. A couple of failed attempts at a fix were made but every stick that we optimistically hammered into the crank simply broke as soon as I applied any pressure. Rick was evidently annoyed with me and not without justification. To say that I am not as diligent in my bicycle maintenance as he is and it is not unknown for me to have mechanical issues while his bikes seem to run on and on for miles. However we were in it together and he stuck with me as we trudged, pedalled (with one foot) and cursed our way along the coast road. I carry a range of spares on most tours, even brief ones, but a spare crank and pedal are certainly not on the packing list and I doubt they would be for even a transcontinental tour.
Like a shaft of light from heaven the May sunshine illumined our saviour. C M Weir and Sons garage just on the corner of the road in Mackie looked quiet but as I walked tentatively up the drive I was greeted by a young chap in overalls. He helped immediately and cut a 6 inch piece of mild steel rod and gave me two nuts. I managed to affect a pedal spindle from the rod and nuts, wrapped the remaining screw thread in electrical tape to save the wear on my shoe and we set off again. I am forever grateful to this young man and his kindness – it was going to be a pretty rubbish day if I had had to walk the entire way back to Brodick.
With ‘Carmelita’ (my Salsa Vaya) rideable (though not as efficiently as I might have liked) we set off again hoping to make up time and to swim in the bay at Blackwater foot. Arriving at the bay we noted another of Arran’s human influences – golf. Arran seems to be a place where people come to so they can spoil a good walk. I suppose that lots of rain keeps the greens green and being coastal the midgies may not be too bad and from a selfish point of view it means fewer people on the mountains but I always think of golf courses as a bit of a waste of open space – until now. A club house with sea views, beautiful toilets, and a brunch menu suddenly changed all that. Perhaps I could buy some second hand clubs……
Ignoring the full carpark and golfers in their tartan trews (OK most weren’t but we were in Scotland so they were for the purposes of the story) we stripped off and donned wetsuits. Being bold explorers we had opted for shorties (cheaper, lighter and easier to put on) but trying to save weight I had not brought trunks or spare underpants – commando it was. This was much to the chagrin of the family enjoying a picnic by their car (I am not sure that a sausage roll and scotch eggs will be eaten by them in quite the same way again).
I would like to say that we resolutely strode into the water but in reality we crept, standing on tip-toes to delay the horrible, inevitable moment when the cold waves collide with one’s scrotum. This moment passed (again without the stoicism one would expect) we dived under, gasped and spluttered (again in a most pathetic way) as we surfaced and began to swim. The water seemed to get warmer but browner and less briney as we neared the outflow of the Black Water emptying the now peat stained rains of the previous 48 hours into the sea.
A glance at each other confirmed that we were both finding the cold too much and a muted ‘yep’ was emitted through Rick’s chattering teeth. We swam for shore and as soon as a windproof layer was on and the beach going families mooned once more we began to warm instantly. Unfortunately this was just not pleasant. I get chilblains (or the screaming barfies as a Canadian friend calls them) regularly when climbing in the winter and I still do not look forward to them. The sensation of warm blood filling cold extremities made we wring my hands as though it would make a difference to the agony I felt. With Rick in a similar mind-set we wrung, hopped and shuffled our way to the café followed by stares of misunderstanding and thinly veiled amusement by the golfers on the first tee.
With too much time spent lying in sleeping bags in the morning, my mechanical issues and a longer than we hoped lunch stop to warm up (again) we were running out of time. Coupled with the chafing of our under carriages caused by salt water, sweat and damp clothes we now had little choice but to cut out the bottom loop of the island and return to Brodick over the string road. If we were able to do it fast enough then we might be able to squeeze a half pint of beer in at The Wine Port near the brewery.
We made our way steadily through the fields of what really did look like lowland Scotland and up onto the string road. My legs were tiring rapidly and each pedal stroke was hard work, two things kept me going; the knowledge that it would be much worse were not now able to at least partially pedal and the impending descent. We warmed as we climbed and it was lovely to be able to smell the first wafts of heather as we climbed to the pass and the viewpoint toward Goat Fell. Stopping briefly to trot to the viewpoint we were greeted by an attractive young woman in a long rain coat and high heels; not exactly hill walking attire. Accompanying her was an older chap with a camera.
‘Lovely view,’ the young woman remarked,
‘Amazing but a little chilly if you’re not wrapped up warm,’ Rick replied.
I smirked in the background, barely able to contain my school-boy like mirth at the Benny Hill esque situation. I would love to have been able to think of something witty to have replied with but a sharp mind is not something that I am blessed with.
We studied the view for a few moments avoiding eye contact with the couple lest I break out in a fit of giggles before turning and jogging back to our bikes. The descent hairpins wound down the hill and afforded us a view back to the view points. The young woman had now dispensed with her raincoat and even from a distance a couple of points told us that she was a bit nippy. The road down to Brodick was fast and steep and I made a mental note that I would like to return to ride the route in reverse. For some reason despite being a poor climber and frequently being spat out of the back of the groups I ride with I love the challenge of riding up hills and Scotland has some of the best climbs I have seen outside of the Alps.
We rolled into Brodick just in time; Rick’s Brompton was starting to experience a little bit of brake fade despite the fact that he descends at speed that leave me nervous for his own safety. A quick stop at the ferry port confirmed time for a pint and the purchase of appeasement gifts for our wives before boarding the ferry.
Almost immediately on finding a seat we were both asleep, taking forty winks before a long and coffee fuelled drive back to Derbyshire to arrive in Repton just after midnight.
The route we chose was not the initial choice and the swim was not the length of Arran’s longest freshwater loch. Both of these decisions were made for the right reasons and to make sure that we made it home safely and on time for the weekend. Driving our adventures are not thoughts of heroic endurance but spending time together, mutual support (and piss taking) and clearing our minds so we can enjoy the time spent in the warm with our families all the more. So while not as planned and certainly not as heroic as we had envisaged we did complete it, self-supported and had a great time. Arran and I have unfinished business and surely this is what exploration is about, discovering new places and pricking the desire to return to learn more.
A Scottish triathlon in miniature completed in 47 hours door to door and back in time for a (very tired) weekend with our families. This would not have been possible without the support of Charly, Izzy and Will, Becky, Joshi and Ben. Financially, ‘The Next Challenge Grant‘ made a big difference and meant that our families did not suffer from our going away. Thank you Tim and Laura Moss and all of the supporters who donated to it.
- Km driven: 994
- Ferries: 2
- Km run: 11
- Km cycled / bike pushed: 82
- metres of height gained (cycling and running): 2200
- Km swum: 0.5
- Pints of beer: 7 (4 by Ed, 3 by Rick)
- Coffees: 10 (5 each)
- Whiskies: 4 (2 each)
- Portions of Haggis eaten: 3 (2 by Ed, 1 by Rick)
The Next Challenge Grant
Ed and Richard received a £100 award from The Next Challenge Grant.
The money came from me, other adventurers and members of the public.
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