WIND

Bicycling (South Africa) - - Wind -

TThe rain re­turns as we ride west to­wards Skye. We suf­fer the spray of pass­ing tour buses as we make the white-knuckle des­cent to the vil­lage of Shiel Bridge.

There we en­counter a crotch­ety clerk at the Shiel Shop, buy a bot­tle of malt, climb a moun­tain over­look­ing a loch, coast through a misty pine for­est, and in the twi­light, find the Suardalan Bothy.

It’s the best yet, out­fit­ted with wooden bunks and an iron stove. We dis­cover that the pre­vi­ous vis­i­tors, as per the MBA bothy code, had stocked the shel­ter with a large stack of dry fire­wood be­fore they left.

We’re only a ferry ride away from the Isle of Skye, and the next day, at an old light­house with com­pli­men­tary tea, we load our bikes onto the last man­u­ally op­er­ated turntable ferry in Scot­land.

We’d read about a bothy at the north­ern tip of the Isle called the Look­out, a for­mer coast­guard sta­tion from which you can spot whales swim­ming in the At­lantic. And we in­tend to make it there; but the weather re­mains omi­nous, forc­ing us to stop in Portree and overnight at a bed and break­fast.

There, we find we’re not the only hard­ened bike tourists get­ting soft. At a pub on the town square, we share a round of pints with Mike Ryan, who’s on a three-week tour with his 14-year-old son, Cae­lan. Mike tells us he’s a park ranger at Big Bend Na­tional Park in Texas, and we find we share mu­tual friends. He and his son are head­ing south, and we sug­gest they stay at some of the both­ies we vis­ited.

“I heard they’re hard to find,” Mike says. We nod our heads in uni­son.

A band plays Gaelic folk songs. An­other round en­sues, and then an­other.

The next morn­ing comes too early, but the trip’s most ge­o­graph­i­cally stun­ning ride awaits. Skye’s rock for­ma­tions, the Storr and the Quiraing, draw tourists from all over the world, and we’re soon among them, hik­ing up the Storr in our cy­cling shoes, a salty sea breeze swirling around us.

We ride along the un­du­lat­ing coast­line and turn to sum­mit the Quiraing. Up there, where leg­end has it that an­cient tribes once used the rock for­ma­tions to hide their cat­tle from raid­ing Vik­ings, we don’t dare stand too close to the cliff’s edge, for fear that one of the many mighty gusts will blow us into obliv­ion.

→in­ally, we find the Look­out Bothy. It’s a rel­a­tively easy walk from the road, and when we ar­rive, we dis­cover that the tiny hut is al­ready oc­cu­pied by half a dozen other trav­ellers. Ev­ery­one is wel­com­ing, and – as per the bothy code – ea­ger to make space for oth­ers. But we’d never in­tended to stay overnight; we’d left our bivvy sacks and sleep­ing bags at the B&B in Portree.

You learn things on a seven-day bike tour through the Scot­tish High­lands. And over the course of the week, I’d learned that in all of life’s day-to-day stresses and ex­cesses, re­ally, I don’t want for much more than a warm sleep­ing bag, the com­pan­ion­ship of friends and loved ones, and a beau­ti­ful view.

We use the bothy for a respite from the whip­ping wind. We make cof­fee and watch for whales.

Then we get on our bikes, and let the tail­wind take us home.

LOOK­OUT BOTHY, ON THE ISLE OF SKYE. LEFT: SANDY CAR­SON, NICK COOMBES, IAN DILLE, DEAN HEARNE (L–R) OUT­SIDE GLENBUCK BOTHY. ABOVE: SUMMITING THE QUIRAING.

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