Cycling the Great Glen Way

Published: May 19th 2016
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I had spent the previous night in Inverness, a Scottish town in the northeast of the Highlands. There were some notable churches and a castle worth seeing here, but that's not what brought me. I had a rented a new Trek mountain bike model, panniers were fully loaded with my gear and I had many kilometers ahead of me as I rode out of town following the thistle in a hexagon marker, similar to that of the West Highland Way, but this time in blue. I would be mountain bike touring across the Great Glen Way, another of Scotland's long distance trails. This one stretched 127 kilometers and links Inverness with Fort William, pretty much going from coast to coast. Initially I had planned to walk this route, but then decided cycling it would give it some variety, especially after grueling through the West Highland Way. It was easy going leaving Inverness but right at the outskirts I met my first ascent. My bike was quite sturdy, and the gearing seemed good, but I was going to have to adjust to touring on a mountain bike. I was used to touring on the road with a much lighter bike and thinner wheels. Within a half hour I was practically out of breath! The climbs were brutal, but the scenery was getting amazing. I could see all of Inverness from the distance. Then I went into the forest, and had some incredible downhill sections. I figured my break disks might wear away fast with these descents. Then the climb back up again, harder even than before. There were increasing number of instances that I had to get off and walk the bike up an insanely steep hill. My calves were burning. From there I hit the high point of the route and soon after I was able to see Loch Ness in the distance. There was a series of many more descents and then I was back at pretty much sea level and riding on some paved road as I came in to the town of Drumnadrochit. I had done about 29 km at this point but it was some taxing terrain for the most part. I was famished and although I had food with me, I decided to stop in at a sandwich place for a bite.

I took off again soon after and had yet another monster hill to get through. This one kept going on and on it seemed. It felt like forever, but eventually it leveled off and I was heading back down again. I was on my way to Invermoriston now and had decided to take the low road. At several intervals, the Great Glen Way deviates to high and low paths. Usually the low paths are more suitable for cyclists and I was going to take advantage of that. Nevertheless, there was still a lot of elevation gain and loss. I passed many other walkers and cyclists. The way was well marked for the most part. A few hours later and I had descended into Invermoriston. I rode along some nice roads for a while and crossed some ancient stone bridges. Then the path deviated upwards and I took the low path yet again. This time I was making much better progress but the accummulated effort for the day was taking its toll. Another 12 km later and I descended into the town of Fort Augustus, situated at the bottom end of Loch Ness. And no I never did spot the damn Loch Ness monster. I found a campsite and setup for the evening. I was fortunate that despite the weather being cloudy, it didn't rain. I had cycled about 64 km for day 1. It took me about 9 hours!

I awoke the next morning and the skies were dark. I quickly packed up my gear so that it wouldn't potentially get soaked if the skies opened up. Then I loaded up my bike, had a quick feed, and set out again. I found the Great Glen markers and proceeded along the Caledonian Canal. My butt got pretty chafed from the day before since I didn't have my biking shorts, or chamois butter, that serve me so well on touring trips. It was hell trying to stay seated. Luckily the terrain was flat and I rolled along gravel road. There was a mist in the early morning air. I passed many boats navigating through the lochs of the canal. I then made my way along Loch Oich. Again the terrain was quite easy and I was making ground really fast. Before I knew it I had cleared past Loch Oich and was passing through the town of Laggan. The skies also cleared up and sun was peaking out. Then I approached Loch Lochy, another big lake and began to handle some crazy gradients of elevation but nothing like the day before. I realized that Day 1 really was the killer compared to this. I went along Loch Lochy for a while and went in and out of woods. Then I was back along the Caledonian Canal and in the distance I could see Ben Nevis, meaning I was close to Fort William. The final stretch brought me past Neptune's Staircase and right by Banavie. I was close to home and had booked another night at the "Chase the Wild Goose" hostel so I figured I would drop off my camping equipment there. It felt like coming home. Then I proceeded back along the Great Glen Way into Fort William. I reached Inverlochy and found Nevis Cycles, where I dropped off my bike. It was a short but sweet adventure, and I was happy I cycled the Great Glen and got another long distance trail under my belt. The Lochs were interesting to ride along and the mountain terrain was challenging for a fully packed bike. I resupplied at Fort William and then ate at a cheap fish and chips place before heading back to Banavie. It totally hit the spot.

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