There’s a wee joke I share with my sister when we get stuck in a spot of bother, any temporary crisis, it doesn’t have to have anything to do with being out and about in the hills, which basically revolves around asking the question ‘what would Ray do?’ Ray is of course, the redoubtable Mr Mears, who over many TV series has given reassuring advice and tips to heed if we were ever parachuted into seemingly hopeless situations, whether on the Skeleton Coast of Namibia or in the Sweden sub-arctic. Fortunately most of the scrapes us mere mortals find ourselves in are rather more prosaic, and one such happened over the weekend. Man handling my bike over the rocky shore of old route of the West Highland Way from Rowchoish bothy back towards Rowardennan, my derailleur hanger snapped for the second time in a year. Sigh.
If you haven’t already joined the dots yet, I suppose this is a good time as any to disclose the true motives of my travels over the last four years. I’m writing a guide book. No big revelation I’m sure, though from the very fact that there has had to be a covert sub-plot, shows the sensitivity of the subject from certain quarters of the bothy world. So this explains why I ended up in such a predicament, when any perfectly sane person would have swooshed back along the (relatively) new track to the Rowardennan which now runs high above the loch-side. Unfortunately I hadn’t really considered that this original route along the waters edge resembled an obstacle course, and thought it an easy task to confirm whether it was a realistic cycle for the entry in the book.
The day had started so well. A fine forecast, simple pedal from Balloch round to Drymen on the Sustrans Route 7, and a glorious ride on to Balmaha and beyond, thankful to be bypassing the BBQ’s and bathers but still drawn in by the beauty of Loch Lomondside, marvelling at how close this first showcase of the Highlands was to Sauchiehall Street. Thankful for a simple objective, I sped onto Rowchoish, up and down past the bothy on the forestry track, before doubling back 500m into the relative cool of the regimented pines. After a quick lunch, photo-shoot, and wander down to the water for a gander over to Tarbert, I could almost taste the pint I had so easily earned, and as the first rocky obstacles and stretch of broad walk were swiftly negotiated, I had no notion that my day was about to go pear-shaped.
Looking down at my fatally wounded machine, my first thought was of course, what would Ray do? Shoe-string budget or not, the obvious solution would be to get a taxi from Rowardennan back to Balloch, whatever the cost. The thought of trying to hitch, or beg a lift from someone at the bar was too wearisome to contemplate. But would Ray get a taxi?? Surely not. But not even he would be able to find a miracle cure for the bikes ills, so what other options were there? Shaking the frankly irrelevant notion from my mind, the next dawning realisation was that although I had just passed a remarkably convenient escape route back up to the WHW and a free wheel down to civilisation, if I was to check the route with due diligence I had to go on. Perhaps I had traversed the only difficulties, and could push the bike with relative ease back to the main path? Maybe only cost an extra twenty minutes or so? Ok. Onwards. Nothing worse than writing up the description not knowing with absolute clarity that you couldn’t cycle the route. How hard could it be?
Two miles, and an hour and a half later, I was finally back at the hotel. A total sense of humour failure had been narrowly avoided, but the tediousness of the up and down, rocky scramble here, another set of steps there, had left me exhausted. The anger fuelled adrenaline had got me so far, but to cap a bad job, I’d somehow lost my water bottle from the bike frame. In the searing afternoon temperatures, and with every single stream bed freakishly but inevitably completely dry, I was totally dehydrated, and it wasn’t until my second sip of amber nectar that I could finally laugh it off, and wonder at how I could have possibly made such a pigs ear of a beautiful sun-kissed afternoon. Taxi ordered, I was soon on my way, had the best fish supper of my life at the chip shop opposite Balloch station, and a couple of months later was happy to write with satisfying authority ‘not suitable for cycling’ in the book entry.
And what of Ray? Well it took me a couple of days, but then the solution struck me with a clear sense of the obvious. A canoe. He’s always floating off into the near distance in a canoe. He’d cut down a few branches with his Bowie knife, lash them together with some reeds, and float the bike back to Balloch, which as the crow flies is a good ten miles shorter than the overland route. Taxi indeed. He’d never forgive me.