The final day was far more of a challenge than any of us had expected. Because we only had 34 miles to cover in half a day, I think that people almost switched off, expecting that we would reach Inverness without any effort.
The rain was already pouring and the wind howling by the time we left Boat of Garten. To compound this, we begun climbing almost immediately, before our muscles had truly warmed up. Ian was really struggling with his knee, and was cycling slowly, so I spent the day at the back of the group alongside him.
After 18 arduous miles, we stopped for water and replenishments at the van, having once again met the two men in their seventies. However much we pedalled, the miles just didn't seem to be decreasing on our final leg. Coupled with this, we faced our strongest head winds of the week as we ascended our last major climb to 405 feet. I just slipped into the lowest cog and forced my way up, whilst others walked.
For the last few miles, we decided to stay as a group, to ensure that we all crossed the Ness bridge, our finish point, at the same time. But still the rains came, as though the elements we had battled all week were providing one last hurrah, to the extent that, at one point, we sheltered under some trees for five minutes. To compound the misery, I had my first puncture of the week 2 miles from Inverness, courtesy of a large shard of glass.
The feeling of elation was marked as we finally reached the bridge, 462 miles after we started, and the sun even shone as we posed for photographs. Then, we headed to the bed and breakfast for showers, before celebrating with a couple of drinks over the FA Cup final. I had to leave the others after the main course at an Indian restaurant to catch a train to Aberdeen. Tomorrow, I fly out to Mexico City, via Amsterdam, with work at 06:15. No rest for the wicked.
I have really enjoyed the week. The cycle routes have been fantastic, with excellent signage, and the group has gelled. I have also learnt lots about the psychology of cycling, which I find fascinating. The bike has been excellent, and a dream to ride. My only wish would have been able to practice on it ahead of the cycle, so I could have eliminated the teething problems, which are common with any new bike, before we left. Many thanks also to Gillette, for providing brilliant kit.