Balance is the key to many things in life, not least riding a bike. However, a balanced diet has eluded Alastair and he merrily barrels around like someone who knows there’s a famine just around the corner. To try to find some balance in all things mass-related and, for the sake of his daughters, to stave off Fat Dad Syndrome he entered the Audax National 400, which took place 25-26 July.
Dingwall is a little way north of Inverness. The assembled 60 or so cyclists looked for all the world, as most Audaxes do, like a training camp for the paramilitary wing of the Librarians’ Union. In place of banners there were route cards, in place of petrol bombs there were energy drinks, and the heady steam of revolution-inducing absinthe palled compared to the appeal of a good British cuppa.
Every Briton good and true should explore the wonders of north-west Scotland as the Audax did. Lairg (small meal), Achfary (large meal) and countless points in between shimmer and hum with beauty, beauty ao profound and on such a scale as make one feel that one has inadvertently selected the “Go Large” option at the nature takeaway. Around Durness and Cape Wrath (derived from the Norse for turning point, and nothing to do with anger, since you ask) is some of the oldest rock in the British Isles. Lewissian Gnossic looks as though at any moment it could tire of the toehold vegetation has on the place and send it all packing into the Atlantic. The image of golden shafts of evening sunlight on the mountains south of Loch Eriboll will remain blissfully lodged in the memories of all the riders who saw it.
The good people of Audax Ecosse ensured industrial quantities of sustenance were available at regular intervals and a brief slumber in the fuggy warmth of a village hall was intensely welcome on the leg between Strathy and Helmsdale when, as is normal even in late July, the temperature bumped along in low single figures.
A sunlit Moray Firth greeted mid-field riders (some speedsters were back in Dingwall before sunrise) and the flat terrain led to some of the most satisfying speeds of the whole ride. A little over 25 hours and 425km later Alastair’s famine-proof physique, now replete with numb balls but few other ailments, coasted back to where it had all begun. While there was no serious move to do it all again just at that moment, stopping felt ever so slightly like a bereavement. Jon Hopkins’ Late Night Tales album has the theme “Requiem for a Dream State” and it fitted perfectly the mood of the journey back south down the A9.