#headwindhaters

The Road to Harris

Our first breakfast, porridge and coffee… and we pour over the map, the swell wasn’t quite getting into the spot we’d camped at. The night before had shown promise but that promise had disappeared with the wind as it swung more west. Heading south and into 50mph winds wasn’t a thought anyone relished so we make plans to head north.

Lunch is a feast of beans and lentils in the ferry waiting room on Berneray, sheltering from the wind and rain, as we wonder what the hell we’re doing. We arrive on Harris later that afternoon it’s grey, damp and should be miserable but we all seem stoked to be on the road. The wind whisks around and threatens, at times, to knock us off the bikes. Harris is referred to as Adru meaning thick, stout or bulky on Ptolemy's original map of the British Isles. We certainly feel it that evening as we head north, thick, stout clouds roll overhead and the hills seems to get bulkier. We make quite a scene rolling into the carpark of the Harris Hotel, it’s raining and we have the biggest infectious grins on our faces, we’d made it to Tarbert and we’re stoked. My hands are sore from braking for the last three downhill miles trying to keep the weight of the damn trailer from snaking, it’s such a relief to think about hot food. But our dreams are dashed, they are full. The other diners can feel our pain through the glass windows as rain streaks down and we pedal out the carpark and into the ferry port where joy behold the Hebrides Hotel is still open and we have approximately two minutes and 39 seconds to order food.


Shut Up Legs

Lunch: Spiced Thai Soup, Highland Brie and Cranberry Toasties, a slab and when I say slab I mean a S L A B of fruit cake, washed down with a long black. In a tearoom that had opened that very day for the summer. It was a stroke of good fortune, it was possibly the best and most welcome meal ever and we’ll always be forever grateful to the two lovely ladies that ran it.

The worst part of this 80km trek wasn't the morning’s hills, we knew it was coming, we had to turn back into the wind after we skirted Stornoway, we’d tried not to think about it but the 20kms with a solid headwind was to be the worst stretch of the journey. We were dying of thirst, as we pulled into the gas station in Barvas and bought ice cream and beer, we sat for an hour on the kerb as we each savoured a can of Stella.


The sea: I didn’t lose myself in it; I found myself in it. - Albert Camus

We came for waves, that’s the point of any surf trip, be it by foot, car, plane, or by bike. We’d felt the brunt of the South West winds, they’d helped and hindered in equal measure. But as we woke on that first morning on the Isle of Lewis we felt the East wind, grooming and blowing over the waves creating the perfect light offshores that all surfers want. The swell was small but for a summer swell in Europe we were lucky. We counted our blessings on the cliff at Eòrapaidh or Eoropie, where St Ronan founded the church before retiring to the Isle of Rona in legend by travelling on the back of a whale. A piper played the Star Wars theme tunes on bagpipes as the sun set out to sea, a bizarre yet fitting reward for a beautiful run of surf and sun kissed days.


The Hills (Again).

The problem with any return journey is that you know what to expect, you’ve seen the views and you’ve tasted the tearoom food where we planned a return visit. We’d remembered the South west wind but not the new east wind as it picked up and caused havoc with our first 30kms. We turned south on the A859 the wind now cross-off in surfing terms, we turned and breezed south aiming to hit the tearooms in time for lunch. We pass an agricultural fair, with prize cows and sheep mixed with an imported Ferris wheel that juxtaposes against the rugged landscape. We pass the fair, sticking to the road unknown to us at the time but, to our detriment.

Tired, hungry, sweaty, thirsty and coved in salt. As we roll into the tearooms carpark, something is amiss an empty carpark, our hearts sink and the note on the door confirms our suspicions. The tearooms are shut, having re-located to the Agricultural Fair for the day. We sit in near silence on the tarmac, out of the sun, and hand out the remains of our supplies, a Clif Bar, a slice of Stornoway bread (a thick dense white bread), we boil some water for a coffee, adding thick honey for sweetness. We know the Hills await.

The Isle of Harris might be the end of the road, but it’s not the end of the journey. A boat trip to Skye and the drive south and home await. Strangely I want to keep cycling to keep going I’ve enjoyed this new experience, this new way of a slowed down surf trip, of not being at the whim of the charts, tides and swell, of chasing tails and being annoyed when the elements don't combine. And now I know why that family were cycling in the rain, in the wind and climbing hills with a toddler in their trailer. I now realise it’s not the conquering of hills that count, it’s that everything tastes better when you’re made to work for it and that’s what makes it worth it. The coffee, the lentils and beans, the waves and even warm cans of Stella from gas stations, everything tastes great after a day in the saddle.

photo by Chris McClean
photo by Chris McClean
photo by Chris McClean
photo by Chris McClean
photo by Chris McClean
photo by Chris McClean
photo by Chris McClean
photo by Chris McClean