Hannah was bawling in the darkness. Both boys were crouching in the corner of the tent, holding their noses, clutching their sleeping bags for protection. “It stinks Dad, it really stinks,” said Matthew, “it’s making me sick. “ I sat helplessly in the middle of the tent cupping fresh vomit in my hands, praying there was no more to come for the cup was already full. “Where’s the torch?” snapped Kirstie thrusting a nappy at Hannah to catch any final emissions then fumbling about in her bar-bag for wipes. Of course they were outside in one of the trailers, as everything is when you are half naked in the tent and really need it. Traffic thundered past on the M74, a hundred yards or so away, hot sick seeped through my fingers dripping onto tracksuit and thermarest and I’d had enough. It was time to give up.
I felt we’d been doing so well, clocking up the k’s, getting back home, passing the half way point. When we left home for the second time, John O Groats still felt within grasp but somewhere north of Burton we lost our rhythm. The weather turned, our route got blocked by roadworks north of Carlisle and we suffered an infuriating series of four punctures in less than 20km. It took two days to make it across the border from Carlisle to Gretna and then we found ourselves following a cycle route next to the M74. I chose it for its directness, thought it would help us make up time, get back on track, but endless hours spent cycling to the drone of traffic gave me motorway madness. Then camping by it. Then hot sick and no baby wipes. There was no point any more.
Puncture number four
I took the boys out on a fibre glass swan pedallo the following day. We’d managed a miserable 15km in two hours and detoured to Moffat to get away from the motorway, to resupply and to find some light relief and meaning to life. The boys loved pedalling around Moffat’s boating pond, crashing into the sides but it did nothing to lift my spirits. Kirstie and I bickered over lunch about whether to carry on and decided to try and push through the depression and see how we felt when we reached Glasgow, two days up the M74. It was a stupid plan. We crawled up and up the Tweedsmuir hills out of Moffat, legs burning from the strain of continuous climbing…. 1km… 2km…. 3km. “I like this road,” said Cameron, breaking the silence as we climbed further, “it’s quieter.” 4km and we reached a turning; left and downhill for the M74 and Glasgow, right for a further another 6km of climbing and the the tourist road to Edinburgh. I stopped and waited for Kirstie. We never meant to go to Edinburgh. It was a longer, hillier route. It was festival time and impossible to find accommodation. It was out of our way and might mean giving up on John O Groats.
More pedalling in Moffat
Forty kilometres later, still full of energy, with the light fading, we pitched our tent stealthily in woodland near Drumelzier. It had been a hard ride, climbing for two hours to almost 500m, in cold windy showers, picnicking high up over the Devil’s Beef Tub, then chasing the River Tweed down, through forests and across open moor as it grew bigger and stronger, fed by burns brought to life by the days rain, and rushing towards Peebles. As we lay in absolute silence in the tent, tired but satisfied by the days exertions, I remembered how much I love the twists and turns of this way of travelling, the strange intensity of daily highs and lows which routinely outgun those of our regular lifestyle and the peculiar joy of the unpredictable nature of life.
Above the Devil’s Beef Tub