Bicycling (South Africa) - - Stone -

YYou learn things on a sev­en­day bike tour across the Scot­tish High­lands with a bunch of old BMX pros. You learn, for ex­am­ple, that your friends might not al­ways pri­ori­tise your per­sonal safety. As you strad­dle your burly ad­ven­ture bike at the precipice of a steep, rock-strewn de­scent, cov­ered in rainslick­ened moss, your friend will yell, “Ride it!” An­other will en­cour­age, “Yeah!” A third will pho­to­graph it.

The words of your wife – ‘Don’t do any­thing stupid’ – run through your head. You push hard with your right leg, throw your ass back over your sad­dle, and go.

At the bot­tom, you’ll turn to your friend, the pho­tog­ra­pher, and say, “Did you get it?”

Some­times the stones we find are be­tween our own ears. But for the first two days of our trip along Scot­land’s West High­land Way, most are be­neath our tyres.

We’d set off from Glas­gow with a rough agenda: to pedal to the very tip of the Isle of Skye, the iconic land­scape from which fa­mous YouTube street tri­als rider Danny MacAskill hails, to visit some whisky dis­til­leries (or to at least im­bibe a few bot­tles of ‘malt’, as the lo­cals say), and to overnight in Scot­land’s myth­i­cal both­ies, the cen­turies-old shel­ters that trail-worn trav­ellers are free to use.

Though we’d read about the both­ies, we still didn’t quite be­lieve they ex­isted, or know if we could find them. Most sit on pri­vate prop­erty and are ac­ces­si­ble only by re­mote dirt roads or trails. A core group of UK hill walk­ers and cy­clists, vol­un­teer mem­bers of the Moun­tain Both­ies As­so­ci­a­tion, man­age and main­tain the shel­ters. And up un­til about a decade ago, the bothy lo­ca­tions were shared al­most solely by word of mouth.

To­day, the MBA lists the co­or­di­nates of Scot­land’s nearly 100 both­ies on its web­site us­ing the UK grid ref­er­ence sys­tem, which isn’t su­per-help­ful un­less you’re a pro­fes­sional sur­veyor. How­ever, a re­cently re­leased book, The Scot­tish Bothy Bi­ble (writ­ten by a pro­fes­sional sur­veyor) of­fers more de­tail. Even with the bi­ble, find­ing both­ies isn’t

easy; but that’s one of the most ap­peal­ing things about them.

Dur­ing the jour­ney, I was the fourth wheel on a crew com­pris­ing pho­tog­ra­pher Sandy Car­son, a Scot­tish ex-pat who now lives near me in the US, and two of his old friends from the UK, Dean Hearne and Nick Coombes. Decades ago, Sandy and Dean had been among the best freestyle BMX rid­ers in the world. Though they’d moved on from the BMX life­style years ago – Dean is also a pho­tog­ra­pher, and co-owns the on­line home decor and life­style shop The →uture Kept, while Nick has an of­fice gig with the UK gov­ern­ment – the three of them had stayed in touch.

Our first stop out of Glas­gow had been the Glen­goyne dis­tillery near the town of Dum­goyne, which has been bot­tling Scotch whisky ‘legally’ (wink, wink) since 1833. We bought a bot­tle of the 12-year-old, and then rushed to a ScotRail de­pot 27km away in Dum­bar­ton, mak­ing the train that would shut­tle us up into the High­lands by mere min­utes.

Out­door re­cre­ation’s in­grained in Scot­tish cul­ture, and north­bound trains fre­quently stop at iso­lated trail­heads. We sat with fel­low bike tourists and hik­ers. Near Tyn­drum, where the rail­way in­ter­sects the West High­land Way, we un­loaded and be­gan pedalling again.

A trail com­prised of old mil­i­tary roads, aban­doned rail­ways, and drovers’ paths that runs 154km from Mil­ngavie (just out­side Glas­gow) north to →ort Wil­liam, the West High­land Way is bet­ter suited to hik­ing than bike tour­ing. We made slow progress, muscling through fields of boul­ders and stop­ping to pho­to­graph the po­ten­tial spec­ta­cle brought on by peer pres­sure.

Along the trail Dean finds a sheep skull, lashes it to his wooden bas­ket, and later names it Doc. Sandy bombs a se­ries of brick stairs be­neath a rail­way bridge and breaks his rack. I dis­cover midges, the tiny Scot­tish in­sects that swarm your face and bite you as you fix your friend’s bro­ken rack.

As the evening light be­gins to fade, an in­ter­mit­tent mist rolls in. We turn onto a gravel road we be­lieve leads to a bothy called Gor­ton. We’d seen the shel­ter de­scribed on­line as “large, lonely... no fire­wood,” but knew lit­tle else – other than that it was built with solid stone walls.

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