About three months ago I sustained an injury to my right arm. For some reason this progressed into tennis elbow. It's not something you plan for, and the main course of treatment is complete rest, so stopping using the arm at all was a huge challenge, one I wasn't really able to do. As the weeks turned to months, and the pain in the tendons of my lower arm gradually became worse, I realised I had to take drastic action. I cancelled all work projects, both at home and for clients, and didn't lift even a cup of tea. Not only this but I was suffering from a bout of sciatica down my left leg and the arthritic toe joint of my right foot had decided to join in. If I had been a horse I would no doubt be on my way to the glue factory.
The downside of this was it also included abstaining from all the fun things as well, such as cycling. Apparently gripping the handlebars of a bicycle puts a lot of strain on your arms.
But an opportunity had arisen, with the recent break in the wet weather, to cycle from Bridge of Allan to Glenogle to a favourite camp spot, a route which I had cycled with my friend Vince almost exactly one year ago. This time it was with Pauline.
But how to do it with this very painful arm? I wasn't sure if it would be even possible, but I decided to try and cycle all 25 miles, there and back, without using my right arm at all! And with a fully loaded bike!
We set out late from Bridge of Allan, just outside Stirling, once the mornings heavy rain had abated. The first section was fairly flat, allowing me test out my plan. It seemed to be OK. We then negotiated several small hills, which were more of a challenge, but apart from using my hand to change gear on the rear set, I seemed to be OK in not using the right arm. I certainly must have looked like a very casual cyclist to those I passed, my arm dangling at my side.
In less than two hours, taking it easy, we were in the small village of Callander and time for a break for lunch in the local park. The entire car park for the public park was flooded due to the recent heavy rains. Fishermen wandered across the flooded tarmac in their chest-high waders, and I watched in anticipation of when they would suddenly find the river embankment. They obviously knew the terrain well, expertly navigating, and my hope of some light entertainment was dashed.
As we sat there I spotted what looked like some sort of creature swimming across the flood. It crawled out onto the grass and lay very still. A gull spotted the movement and went for it, tossing it in the air. I scared the gull off and on closer inspection discovered it was in actual fact a small water vole, an endangered species in the UK. They have seen their numbers plummet by over 90% in recent times. We reckoned it had been flooded out of its home due to the sudden rise in water levels, and had swam across to seek drier ground. It was obvious by the large numbers of gulls and crows that this water vole's fate was going to add to the statistics, so Pauline and I decided to intervene in the natural selection process. Pauline retrieved her small cooking pot, and with as little distress as possible to the water vole, we caught it and relocated it to a safer spot. Hopefully we've helped to preserve this little riverbank chap.
From Callander To Strathyre was easy going, following the swollen River Teith and then along the eastern forested shore of Loch Lubnaig and then the River Voil. Single-handed cycling it seemed was not that hard, and the reward all around was well worth the inconvenience. The fall was late this year, and though in a couple of days it would be November, the tracks were bursting with colour and the autumn colours were mostly at their height.
From the brightly lit yellows of the birch together with every shade of green from dark jungle green, through apple reds to a very light pale green and everything in-between, the hillsides were a joy to behold. They were awash with the pale yellowy-orange colour of the Larch, and occasionally we would come across a crimson Maple. The forest tracks were covered in this natural canopy and our tyres rolled along a carpet of colour reminiscent of a 1960s Axminster weave.
To our right the rivers and loch had burst their banks, and though problematic for surrounding farmers and houses it did create a picturesque landscape. However, by the time we reached Strathyre the flooding started to hamper our progress. A local elderly cyclist stopped us and advised that the route ahead to Balquhidder was impassable. But this brought an added bonus. Over the past year a new section of cycle path had been constructed alongside the A84 road, and now connected Strathyre to Kings House at the end of the Balquhidder road, a saving of around four to five miles. Considering my challenge of single-handed cycling this was welcome news. A small part of the new path was flooded but we were able to detour briefly onto the road.
It wasn't long before we had passed high above the village of Lochearnhead on one of my favourite cycle paths, twisting and turning its way through indigenous woods, though cycling a lot slower than normal with just one hand and thus one brake! The path follows an old rail line and just before our hidden camp spot for the night we crossed the old viaduct that curves its way up the glen.
Almost exactly a year ago when camping in this very spot with my friend Vince, we found a young stag that had literally just died, possible just hours before out arrival. It had taken it's last stumbling steps into a pool of water at the base of a fallen tree, its throat cut open from a fight, it being the rutting season (you can read that story again here). I was keen to see what had happened in that year, imagining there would be a perfect skeleton in the same spot. To my amazement the pool of water was entirely empty.
Very close by were half a dozen bones, picked perfectly clean, and lying scattered around in this dark, damp wood. Something very strong had managed to haul large parts of the carcass out of the pool, and most had been carried off. Maybe the small antlers had been found by other walkers or cyclists and taken home.
The great circle of life.
The following morning was cold, and condensation soaked our tents. Ahead was another 25 miles single-handed cycling, this time mostly downhill. After a brief stop in Callendar for lunch and the ubiquitous coffee and cake, we were back in Bridge of Allan in record time.
Though not a single-handed, round-the-world adventure in the realms of yachts-woman Ellen McArthur, it had been a physical challenge and one that I had pulled off successfully with no detrimental effects, postponing the trip glue factory once more.