Travel StoriesNorth Coast 500 2017
By Sharon Parker
Scotland NC500 Day 4. Applecross to Ullapool 120 miles.
The sun is shining this morning and we have a slow and relaxed de-camp. I think it would be nice to ride with the group today so we wait around for a while until everyone is packed and ready to go.
Packing is always more fun in the sunshine.
While waiting I attach the Manchester Bee stickers to my bike that I was given by Pete. Recalling the horrors of the terror attack at the Manchester Arena makes my stomach churn. A close friend of my daughter was there along with his sister. My daughter's friend was seriously injured in the blast and his sister was killed. I place two stickers on my bike, one for each of them.
I stand for a while reflecting the injustice of the world, the hate that fuels such atrocities and the futile loss of life that such conflicts bring. It saddens me deeply to think of young lives cut short so brutally. Death brings us grief and sadness but also an awareness that all each of us has is the present moment and that life may indeed be brief. We therefore need to live our lives as intensely as possible. We have to remember that it is not a sin to be happy but it is our duty to be so if we can. I often find myself feeling guilty on my journeys when I am having the most fun. Guilty that I have not brought my daughters with me even though they are now both adults. Guilty that my mother never had the opportunities for such travel and joy that I have. I have to stop this, I have to allow myself my own space in this world. One day you are here and the next you are gone, we must never forget the extraordinary gift we are given that is life. We must seek out what fulfils us, what gives our own lives meaning and purpose and sweet joy. As put so eloquently by Marie Beynon Ray
"We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand...and melting like a snowflake. Let us use it before it is too late."
Remember always to try and BEE happy for life is fleeting and precious.
I take a few more moments to reflect on Manchester, my original home town and then I turn to the sun and smile. None of us can be happy all the time. I myself have had to be careful not to bring my own sad sack with me on this holiday. Why he has appeared I have yet to fathom...so neither should we feel guilty if we are not full of joy. We need to be easy on ourselves. But my own personal lesson for this trip is not only how to travel light and leave sad sacks at home but to also allow happiness and pleasure to infuse my soul guilt free.
Once ready to ride I am happy to go at the back of the group. The 5 bikes in front of me are all bigger than mine and I do not wish to hold anyone up. Bernard takes the lead followed by Dawn, Sue ,Pete, Ren and I. I am also not overly keen on being watched so at the back suits me perfectly. Once again the road is a delight. I am sorry to bore you dear reader with another description of another superlative road that twists and turns, goes up and down through forests and mountains. This glorious ride tests my skills as even on this single track road the pace is not slow. I do wish at times that the pace was a little slower so I could drink in the views at a sip rather than a gulp. But I am equally enjoying the challenge of pushing myself a bit and seeing what both myself and my bike are capable of. I do keep pace with the others and I am proud of both myself and my bike, We do not do too bad for little 'uns Envy and I.
Are we having fun yet...I think the smiles say it all (image courtesy Bernard Smith)
My eyes are dazzled over and over by the outstanding beauty that surrounds me. Word are inept at describing the feelings I have inside me as I ride. The English language is not short of words such as exhilaration, ebullience, exuberance, elation, euphoria. All the words can describe my feelings but even they are not enough. If you really want to know how it feels you will have to ride the ride and be left as speechless by it all as I am.
Use your own words to describe this view.
As stunning as the views are we all love to include our bikes in the scene. There is something special about a row of bikes that moves a bikers soul.
We take a break at a delightfully scenic cafe just as the grey clouds roll in and the spit spat of rain requires swift action by us all to don our waterproofs. We are no longer on a dusty single track so the pace is upped on this sweeping but wet road. I am now riding 3rd in the group but I am not concerned about holding anyone up here. I am beginning to know my skills as well as my limits. I am a good wet weather rider. This is rather bizarre seeing I am at heart rather akin to a lizard whom loves to bask in sunshine and warmth. But I have learned how to stay dry in the wet so I am always warm and comfortable. I buy the best wet weather tyres I can afford and I feel no fear over wet roads. I stay relaxed and do not stiffen up. All this I guess leads to my being a comfortable wet weather rider. Oh no did I just big myself up there for a second? Yikes will the boasting gods be listening and therefore planning my downfall? Look in compensation I would like to admit I am s#!t in really tight corners ok. I am fine in sweeping ones but tight, forget it, you will leave me behind easily. But in the wet...well there is a chance even on my smaller bike that I may leave you behind...so all is well...all is equal.
The familiar site of Ullapool comes into view as once again the sun appears. I know Ren loves this place and I hope he is grinning away inside his helmet at returning here again. Much needed petrol is bought as we pass the petrol station and then straight to the campsite to set up our tent. We all pitch side by side in a neat row, apart from Bernard who pitches up across the path from us all by himself. I like this about our group. I like we are comfortable doing our own thing. We can be in each other pockets one minute and go off on our own the next. It is a good and relaxed way to be. Long may it continue.
Let's all form a orderly line now. Let's hope they all all upright after the storm passes.
Ren feels right at home in Ullapool, can you tell? (image courtesy of Jack Brooke)
A look across Loch Broom and I see storm clouds a gathering. Seems we touched lucky again getting the tent up in the dry. Our luck runs out coming back from the shops as the heavens open. I however had for once had read the signs right and I have my waterproofs on. The rest of the Noo 2 riders have arrived with the storm. The rain hammers down and the wind is making life hard as they battle to unload and pitch up. Ahh the joys of camping. They are a tough bunch so they get on with the task at hand and then we all escape to the curry house next to the campsite.
We enjoy a good meal as we all get acquainted with one another through the usual banter and merciless leg pulling. Yes you have to have tough skin to be in a biker group in more ways than one, although this is water off a duck's back to me. I maintain that you know I am truly your friend once I begin to pull your leg. That is when I feel comfortable around you. Seems people are getting comfy here real quick tonight, great stuff.
Later we all find our way into town to continue chatting in a pub and for some of us a wander around the harbour.
Hard to feel blue surround by this particular sort of blue.
After our meal, drink and wander Ren and I stroll hand in hand around the campsite and along the pebbled beach. I reflect the ups and down Ren and I have had. I am happy that we are in a good place right now. We are both independent but choose to spend by choice most of our free time together. It is not easy to find the correct balance in any relationship and ours has been a rocky road. We have had a few comments on this trip about how happy we seem together. I guess these observations are right. It was not by chance or just good luck. It has required work and a few tears along the way. I doubt it will be constant calm waters from here on in too.
The last time we were here the storm that was brewing was not in the skies but in our relationship. I knew back then by some womanly sixth sense there was something wrong despite the smiles. That something revealed herself soon after the trip. Ren and I broke up and it was a tough time for me. But as difficult back then as we may have found being together, being apart proved even harder. So we came back together but somehow we both transformed. We found a mutual happy place and I guess it would be fair to say we are happier together now than we have ever been. Storms can sometimes wreak havoc and destroy everything around. But some storms clear the path for something ever brighter and better and healthier to take the place of the the old and weather worn. Thus it was this way with Ren and I. Not exactly reborn but rejuvenated. Storms are difficult to pass through but sometimes the skills you obtain to journey through to the other side can create a even better new day and clearer horizons.
As we watch the sun slip behind the still waters of the Loch the storm clouds belong only to the sky right now and not within our relationship. I kiss his cheek and squeeze his hand. This man whom I still find so incredibly attractive, this man whom I love to spend my time with, this man who makes me smile and whom I go on the most amazing adventures with...for all this and all we have shared I am indeed very grateful.
Poor Ren he tries so hard to escape me but I am always right behind him. (image courtesy of Jack Brooke)
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North Coast 500 2017 Prologue
Ren looks at the wheres, whys and hows of this year's trip to the North of Scotland. This time they're with a group, kind of, sort of, maybe.
Panicking, Boredom and Pleasure
After the pre-departure concerns and a dull stretch of motorway things improve as Sharon and Ren head north on the first leg of their adventure.
Letting Sleeping Sad Sacks Lie
It's Sharon's turn to tell her version of the first day's events for this trip. After recently having surgery to remove a tumour is she even fit enough for the forthcoming journey?
The Best Of The Worst
Heading into the Highlands brings forth both rain and midges for our travellers. Fear not though as they are both prepared and fortuitous (ready and lucky).
Twisty roads and Twisted Friends
Sharon discovers the joy of riding Highland roads is more than enough to blow away the blues even in the rain. Nothing can stop her now.
Muggles at Bealach Na Ba
With improving weather and impressive surroundings Sharon has to make a major life changing decision. Will she...won't she...can she...should she...?
A Day Full Of Mystery And Magic
Sharon's journey into The Highlands is a mixture of magic, fear, delight, beauty and sheer survival. Can she remain shiny side up over The Applecross Pass?
While the weather takes a turn for the worst it's not nearly enough to put the dampeners on a group ride. Follow our trekkers along the Highland coastline and into Ren's favourite town, Ullapool.
There's a lot of emotions flowing through Sharon today but they all lead to one conclusion. Life is for living because tomorrow is not a certainty. The Highlands is an excellent space to make the most of life today.
Priceless Scenery And Pies
The next part of the NC500 adventure is arguably the most beautiful part. Will the weather hold out and just how expensive can 2 pies be? All this and more besides.
Friends Come In All Shades Of Blue
Fabulous scenery along fabulous road put a big smile on Sharon's face. There's friends old and new and some of the new friends are wearing blue. But why?
Riding across the very top of the country is always a pleasure even if it's raining. However Ren's day is ruined due to Sharon's fame.
Envy Attracts Envy And Fame
Sharon is revelling in the wonders of The Highlands, the delights of meeting fellow travellers and in upsetting Ren by being famous.
Sleeperzzz In The Rain
It's a soaking wet day riding from John O'Groats back south. There's the promise of a hearty meal and a proper bed at the end of the day to keep the riders going.
Fairly Dry And Rather Bracing
In spite of the awful weather Sharon's making the most of the last day riding the North Coast 500. At least she gets spoiled at the end of the day.
Failure and Reality
There is nothing left any more, nothing to look forward to now the adventure is complete. Ren just wants to get home but is that just a little too much to expect?
Thrills And Spills
There's a whole heap of miles to be covered for Sharon on her way home. How many can she cover, can she enjoy or endure them and will she survive?
North Coast 500 2017 Epilogue
Ren sums up the experience of riding the NC500. It's all about the people, the route just speaks for itself.
The End Of The Story Leaves Me Speechless
Sharon rounds off the NC500 adventure with the wrong breakfast, the wrong weather and the wrong traffic. Luckily these are just tiny hiccups on what was a most excellent adventure.
Ian Soady said :-
Very well put Sharon, many thanks. As always you capture feelings beautifully.
1/7/2017 1:36:52 PM UTC
Tom McQ said :-
That was a lovely read Sharon. Glad you are both enjoying life and having so much fun. There's NO substitute for plain old happiness.
20/7/2017 5:17:35 PM UTC
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Travel StoriesNorth Coast 500 2017