What’s the best way to Aberdeen? Torque’s intrepid Account Manager, Henry Willis, cycled 240 miles across Scotland for charity and lives to tell the tale

‘This time,’ I thought to myself, ‘I might be in a little over my head,’ as the coach I was sitting in careered through one remote Scottish village after another. Rain lashed at the window as the bus took to the climbs and descents of the impressive mountain peaks with an audible engine strain. In just a few hours, we’d be out on these roads on our bicycles. We were on our way to the start of a 240-mile coast-to-coast ride across Scotland, to be completed in under a day.

A disused RAF airbase near Campbeltown, of the Kintyre peninsula, played host to the true start of our epic challenge. Ultra-endurance cyclist, Mark Beaumont, who last year set a world record for the shortest time to cycle around the world – in an unimaginable 79 days – invited 80 hardy riders to join him on the trip of a lifetime across Scotland. Our 240-mile target was the daily distance total for Mark’s record-breaking round-the-globe efforts. As I lined up in the makeshift peloton, the group was composed of experienced road cyclists in it for the challenge, while we were also raising money for STV Children’s Appeal, combating poverty among young people in Scotland.

Rough ride
If four hours of patchy sleep on a camp bed in an abandoned army barracks isn’t a compromised start to the day, lining up among 80 other cyclists on a rain-soaked and windswept runway at 4am really does put things in perspective. “Does anyone know the way to Aberdeen,” Mark joked, as he peered above the crowd and shouted over the noisy rainfall. Wheels soon began rolling and we set off on the most epic of challenges, aiming to reach our destination by 10pm.

Scheduled to be on the bike for 16 hours, this would be my toughest endurance challenge yet – harder than any transnational bike ride or fast marathon I’ve run before. The first few dozen miles felt anxious on blustery, unlit and wet Scottish rural roads – my Continental Gatorskin tyres helping me grip to the asphalt – as we zipped up and down mountain passes. Day broke a few hours into our ride, and the natural light began gleaming on the stunning Scottish lochs and stunning hillside communes to lift spirits all round.

“It’s a lang auld road that’s no goat a turnin’”
“Don’t forget to eat,” one of the support crew prompted as I stood around on one of our scheduled breaks. By the time I felt really queezy, we were 180 miles into our ride. My Garmin cycle computer tells me I burnt 14,000 calories on this ride; to refuel like-for-like is almost impossible. I simply couldn’t recoup the energy quickly enough throughout the day and my nauseous feeling stopped me taking on further food. Soon enough, though, we were onto the final leg of the journey and making progress on the long and flat roads that lead along the east coast. The miles ticked by slower than ever as it began to get dark again. In those final few dozen miles on the roads lit only by bike lights, I felt a long way from home, in every sense of the saying.

Mercifully, many of the other 80 riders in the group also felt worse for wear, and the pace near the end was notably flagging. A great sense of camaraderie and community among my new friends in Scotland pulled us all through to the finish, where a welcome party cheered us into Duthie Park, Aberdeen, at 9.30pm. It had been the hardest of days – I really was in over my head – but cycling 240 miles in one go was never going to be easy (hats off to Mark for doing it 79 days in a row!). We finished with a true sense of achievement, having collectively raised at least £70,000 for STV Children’s Appeal. And how many people can say they’ve ridden 240 miles in under 16 hours?

Henry was raising for STV Children’s Appeal. Henry’s Just Giving page is still open for donations:
https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/henry-willis

 

Mark Beaumont is mobbed by media as the 80 cyclists arrive in Aberdeen by night

 

The route took in many of Scotland’s most picturesque lochs and fishing villages

 

80 cyclists line up on the runway at RAF Machrihanish, a former army station at the southern tip of the Kintyre peninsula