North Coast 500
Riders: Paul Hunt, Ben Keeley, Maciej Malyszka
What a ride 😍. Initially it was planned for 2020 but the virus proved to be more annoying than Scottish midges.
We rode a slightly different course compared to standard NC500 which is the coast ride, as long as it possible. We rode Mark Beaumont’s course, exploring more remote places, finding extra climbs and avoiding the busy A9. It is easy to navigate and fantastic route with plenty short and very steep climbs.
Day 1: We start late with not one but two hotel’s breakfasts, full English and continental. Inverness to West Coast wasn’t too difficult. With fresh legs and full bellies we kept a nice average speed and stopped often to take some pictures or short breaks, knowing that the biggest climb of the trip is getting closer with every pedal stroke. We arrived at the bottom of Bealach-Na-Ba at 2pm. It surely is one of the greatest climbs in Britain. Starting from near sea-level it rises 626m in 6mi(9km) of uphill – reaching 20% at its steepest gradient. It took us 1h to drag ours over 20kg bikepacking rigs to the top. Few more hours of riding and we camp at closed Beinn Eighe Natural Reserve visitors centre. First camp, nice warm evening and billions of vicious, blood sucking Scottish midges. 127mi/201km, 7500ft/2286m
Day 2. We covered almost the full length of the west coast. It is a very remote place with only a few places to get some food or refill the water bottles. The last 2h were cycled in pouring rain and struggled to find a decent spot for overnight camp. Eventually we camped close to the highest peak around, with a stunning view on the valley next to Loch a’ Chairn Bhain. That time only, we cooked separately in our tents but rain cleared the air from midges and sweet raindrops tapping gave us a great deep sleep. The next morning Paul complained about mine and Ben's snoring but I’m sure he was dreaming. 125mi/200km, 9531ft/2905m
Day 3: We start a day with 750ml of water between three of us which we used all to cook porridge and coffee and nothing left to drink on bikes. Ben cooked us some scrambled eggs which we bought last night. Ben carefully delivered them over the last 10 miles.
We started the ride with a few minutes of sharp descending right from the camp and over 2 miles climbed with a 8% and max 20%. In the middle of the climb I started to think about using the purifying tablets but we all managed another 50minutes when we met a local old man unwinding water hose in the middle of nowhere. God only knows what he was watering as literally was nothing there. Quick chat and we were back in water business. More than 40 miles and we turn East in Durness to enjoy breathtaking views on Atlantic Ocean.
Without any doubt day 3 course was the best at all. Great views, empty roads, herds of deers and great remoteness.
We camp at the edge of River Helmsdale. Place so beautiful that if clear of midges we could sit outside for hours enjoying the evening. 125mi/200km, 8717ft/2658m
Day 4. Last day. Lothmore Climb for breakfast. 4.7miles, 6% av, 350m(1140ft) and just a few miles on silky smooth A9. We did little detour and found a delicious local bakery before turning into the land where more climbs await us. I teased Paul a bit when riding A9 by telling him that we could take the main road straight to Inverness if he struggles but he knows me well and says nothing, just follow me and Ben and the course. Last winter training toughen him up. Plenty fatigue in the knees but the easiest day of the trip. Climbs were not so steep and we start counting miles down to zero. We arrived in Inverness at 7pm and after the picture at front of the castle we rode to the pub for well deserved food and cold pint.
North Coast 500 in 4 days, 500mi/800km, 9640m/31630ft, bike with gear over 20kg.
Some gear I used:
-bike: Kinesis RTD, di2, 12-32, oval rings Absolute Black 46/30, aero bars, Pirelli Cinturato tyres 28c
-handlebars bag Topeak front loader
-top tube bag Bontrager
-frame bag Bontrager
-seat pack Altura Vortex
-kitchen Stanley Mountain set, Soto stove, 1x 125g gas
-dinners Expedition Foods
-breakfasts my own mix base on oats
-tent Jack Wolfskin exolight
-sleeping bag Vango Down Cobra 200
-sleeping mat Decathlon
-1 jersey, 2 bibs,2 pair of light socks, rain/wind jacket Endura, 1 base vest, Lazer Genesis helmet
-running leggings,long sleeve base layer, merino socks for nights
-wet antibacterial tissues, dry soap and shampoo from Pits &Bits 2x100ml
-front and rear light