Challenge complete! The Coast to Coast-ers return.
On Monday morning Team FreeAgent returned tired and aching but exhilarated after an epic (perhaps verging on legendary) weekend of running, biking and kayaking across Scotland.
The 'Scotland Coast-to-Coast Challenge' is a 105-mile mixed-activity route passing down the Great Glen from the North Sea at Nairn down to the West Coast at Loch Leven. Along with some 600 other participants, we took in the sights of Nairn, Cawdor Castle, Loch Ness, Fort Augustus, Fort William and Ben Nevis and Glen Coe.
Friday's complex pre-start logistics left us in a caravan park outside Nairn overnight, basic but functional, and Saturday dawned bright but windy. After a quick dip of the toes in the North Sea the official start saw 600-or-so Challengers set off on the two-day journey.
First off was 7 miles of trail running which at times bottlenecked to a walk but was over surprisingly quickly. The team had become fairly widely split even at this early stage, so after the 'transition' from running to bikes, we separately set off for the 48-mile road cycle. We quickly discovered that the wind was getting stronger and, yes, it was to be a headwind all the way. What might have been a long-but-lovely pedal down the Great Glen progressively became a hard slog, struggling to keep up the speed. All of us at one point had reason to question General Wade's uncanny ability to put his roads up the steepest inclines possible.
But the equally steep descent into Fort Augustus was fast and exhilarating, and our subsequent first taste of kayaking on the weekend involved a quick paddle out into the canal and back, in preparation for Sunday's longer stint afloat. Overnight accommodation provided was a campsite, and in common with the other course arrangements by Rat Race Adventure Sports, was impressively equipped and organised.
So day one finished for both the team's Phase 1 (Ed and Roan) and the somewhat later Phase 2 (Thomas and David) with a much needed shower and plate of pasta, and a few lessons in tent assembly under windy conditions.
In true Scottish fashion, as the wind died down overnight the rain started. It didn't let up until Sunday lunchtime, so our 34-mile off-road cycling section left us thoroughly drenched. The transition back to foot-power at Fort William was fortunately dry. At this point a sub-split-team headed by Thomas improvised some additional protection from the elements using some bubble-wrap that was conveniently available (see photo above!)
Foot-power took us over 14 miles of mountainous terrain including a section of the renowned West Highland Way through Lairigmor ('The Great Pass'), fording a knee-deep fast-flowing river and a long climb towards the summit overlooking Loch Leven. The trek ended with a slippery descent down to the loch, and the final stage was a wind-blown kayak across the loch to the very welcome sight of the Isles of Glencoe Hotel and the finish line.
It's safe to say none on the team had embarked on such a challenge before, and we faced some of the worst weather the Scottish summer could throw at us! But we posted some creditable times and certainly enjoyed the weekend overall even if some of the individual minutes were pretty testing. We're all very proud of what we accomplished.
And of course it's not just for our own sense of achievement that we tackled the challenge - MacMillan Cancer Support is our chosen charity this year and our sponsorship page at http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/freeagentcoasttocoast is still open for donations. If you had a more relaxing weekend than us, you should probably donate right now!
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