Are you scared?

How can you tell your wife you are terrified
Absolutely fillin yer breeks
Can’t sleep worry
With a head and belly full of what if’s
“A wee bit” was my response “a lot more than that bike ride.”

Do you know when you get an adventure in your head, it could go two ways great fun or……….. .
But It keeps niggling away at your head.
Just go for it,
You know you want to.
This isn’t the first time I have went off on a solo mission and tried to find my physical limits against nature. I traveled across Scotland from Fort William to Montrose on a solo mission. ( I will try to condense it and make it slightly more bearable than that bike seat after 5 days ) The bike ride itself was amazing, coast to coast across Ben’s and Glen’s of God’s country with a poorly devised plan, Braes of Abernethy were a complete head mess and run off of Mount keen was like a big long motorway. The planned diet for this trip had some serious repercussions.

There were a few mad nights that are worth recounting even though they happened over ten years ago I still smile when my wee stain brain drifts across their memory. The first night turned into a multi lingual whisky drinking affair in Fort Augustus with two Dutch dudes, a Japanese bloke and Chinese fella.

Forcing and straining a hangover over the Corrieyairack pass seems a distant pleasant memory now and the second evening was spent in Kincraig with two welders from Edinburgh zoo. It’s not often someone tells you his story and you are motivated and still retell it. The older mentor dude made claymores when he wasn’t manipulating metal to restrain wild animals. The younger welder was time served but had just started with working with the older dude.
The year before, he had arrived home from the fabrication shop. It’s a dark place filled with ear shattering crashing and grinding. Black fumes that make you cough and struggle for breath, there are sparks and flashes to burn your retinas, not the nicest places to work but he got satisfaction from creating things. After years of this constant battering of his senses, he had enough, but felt his skills would only take him to another fab shop, he wanted something else. His wife pointed out an advert in the paper.

What did he have to loose.
CV sent off.
Enough time past to stop dreaming then a surprise interview and a second interview.

He arrived at his new job with a bag of tools and directed towards his first job where he met the claymore maker.

“Here son, pit yer tools doon and help us chase this rinocerose into the back of his cage.”

I can’t imagine your First day at work could better it.

The next night was spent in a bar in Tomintoul. By this time of the journey I just needed a burger and bed. I ended up sitting with the head Gamekeeper who told me stories of the youngsters cutting about in ripped jeans and baggy t-shirts at the bar. The next day they were all unrecognisable as I wheeled past the same dudes cutting about in immaculate Harris tweed suits and big peaky blinders flat caps getting prepared for a day on the hills.

At the start of bike trip, my belly was like a washing machine with  nerves, sitting in the passenger seat with my bike in the back on the way to Fort William is still pretty vivid. Its was like heartburn but more consuming and less acidic taste in yer throat but just as hard to swallow.

Have I got everything,

It’s just riding a bike and a wee bit map reading skills. These adventures would no doubt be more fun with company and alot more safer.

A couple weeks ago I paddled round Cumbrea a wee island in the Firth of Clyde in my sea kayak.

We had lunch beside a castle, investigated an abandoned light house and jumped in the sea.

What a day brilliant.

I really enjoy having my headphones in with a melodic techno beat bouncing away and paddling at the side or the back of the pack caught in my own thoughts and repetitive paddling strokes as the weather and environmental conditions adjusts the view and how you move the paddle. You just get in a zone, a mental safe place. Pretty much what I was contemplating with this adventure but a wee bit bigger and with a complete lack of advise or a cheery face when it gets hard work .

This was not just spur of the moment thing though, it will seem like, wake up, chuck the board on the river and bash on.
It’s been a couple years paddling up and down the Forth. From glorious summer days to snow covered winter affairs that have been captured on the front page of the local paper.

Its was intimidating going down stream for the first time never mind attempting to paddle back up through ancient arches of the old bridge. I got out at the rowing club and carried the board back a couple kilometres home. I started planning. Exit points were scarce, the mud banks would suck and trap you. Waiting for the incoming tide like watching strictly come dancing giving a slow torturous death.

The longest paddle up until this point was to Alloa 20 odd kilometers away on a outgoing tide. A fisherman helped me pull the board up dock wall then kindly offered me a lift to the train station. We were sitting in his car discussing fishing boats as my train pulled out of the station. I got bus back home. The other day I paddled to Fallin 15km on in coming tide. This made me reduce the paddle by 7km by leaving from the pontoon at Stirling’s old harbour instead from from the end of the street . Maybe the next time that extra 1 hr 30 mins to get from one end to Stirling to another against the tide will be possible.

I arrived at 0420hrs, high tide to be 0655hrs the water was racing past the small jetty going upstream. This didn’t do the nerves any good. The Aquaplay board was pumped up and everything was packed and ready. I had a spare paddle,
VHF radio,
warm clothes,
loads of food,
3 litres of coconut water mixed in with 3 litres of water,
My leash attached round a chest belt.
A pair of boardies A neoprene top and booties.

Oooh and sun cream and sunglasses.

It was closer to 0500hrs when I set the board in the water it took off the wrong direction.


Thoughts of going back to my bed were bouncing about. It didn’t help minutes after setting off two big half trees drifted up stream. The worry of the lack of street lights round the first corner increased. How was I going to see similar big logs drifting towards my inflatable board.

It didn’t help I had to switch off my head torch. Every time my upper paddle hand caught the beam of light. my hand lit up, blinding and ruining any ability to see along the river with night adjusted eyesight.

St Modans school and The bypass bridge were sneaked past like a silent ninja, the twighlight and a wee bit confidence was starting to creep up as Fallin and the Bandeath estate were edged past, the river was pretty much slack tide and still.

The current and sun seemed to rise at the same time, after passing the old supports for the south Alloa bridge effortlessly I started looking the sunglasses.

I don’t know if my nerves or the water were more turbulent passing under the main section of the Kincardine bridge, I had often sat in cars on the bridge and witnessed massive whirlpools and eddies below and was anxious to see if the new 13’6″ by 29″ Aquaplay board was going to be stable.

There wasn’t time to relax after passing the under the bridge without incident. The shipping lane had to be crossed maybe checking what channel the port was on and confirming ship movements would have created less stress. I was glad there was no tankers leaving Grangemouth. Just before Bo’ness I took my first real rest kneeling down after over four hours standing, I tucked into my snacks.
I mentioned earlier about the eating during the bike adventure messing up my diet. It mainly consisted of bananas, chocolate bars, energy drinks, milk and then beefburgers, chips and beer at night. On the night of my arrival home my face’s temperature went through the roof. The following couple months was a struggle with confirmed food poisoning after drinking water from streams.

After recovering from food poisoning my face was permanently red with huge spots. It wasn’t blood pressure and Roscia cream helped. Then my wife sent me for the food allergy test and discovered my intolerance to sugar. Ten years later, no fruit, chocolate, Irn-bru or McCowans toffee all the good stuff. It took another 7 years to discover my intolerance to dairy products and got spot free skin by laying off the cheese and milk. I honestly reckon the extreme use of glucose and pints of milk during that bike ride added with the Campylobacter food poisoning performed a spiderman type bodily transformation giving a big beetroot heed, hence why was I kneeling on the board getting swept along side the shipping lane markers as I filled my belly with chorizo, beetroot, mixed nuts and not pasta salad. My messed up diet gives folk that have to prepare food for me a nightmare. But my world has transformed, family life is focused and tranquil, a lack of cheese sandwiches is a small price to pay.

Between the Kincardine and the Queensferry bridges was hard work with a confused sea and waves coming from the north and west but didn’t stop me arriving with a smile at Port Edgar for a break and stretch the legs.

The wind had died off after the big passing under the last of the big bridges. The tide was still to turn and slack tide made next section to the wee island at Crammond was probably the most relaxed part of the whole journey. Where the flattest calmest water was in the scary freezing cold pitch black early on the morning. This felt like the home straight.

The last section from the wee island at Crammond towards Newhaven was the worst bit of the whole journey the waves couldn’t decided on a constant direction, it was hard to put any real effort into paddling with most of the effort spent concentrating on not falling off the board. Paddling on knees against the tide felt like pissing into the wind with my mouth open.

Energy levels fell off and after 10 hours on the board my head and body were struggling to keep balanced. I just wanted to lie down and see where the tide would beach me. Eventually I struggled past the Granton pier.

The plan was to get an uber up to the train station for the final leg of the adventure but gratefully accepted the offer of a lift home.

The fear was useful it had me considering every aspect of the journey, each part of my kit. It was not wasted energy. Every time I drive over the stirling road bridge I am concerned with what way the tide is running.

60km and nearly 12 hours of constant paddling. Would I do anything differently. Maybe try and do it with more daylight, warmer temperatures and less wind, especially If I got any time at home during the summer

Even after a couple days my back is still pretty strained, yoga sessions are helping but nothing too mental and showing my body lots of compassion. I would like to do it from the end of street instead of the pontoon but think this would make for really big day. I have also swam the length of Loch Chon and sea kayaked the length of Ard so I wouldn’t mind getting the board in at the most suitable point close to Gartmore and paddling down the remaining part of the Forth back to the end of the street.

If anyone has any information on the last stretch it would be appreciated?
Thanks for taking the time to get this far,  it was a sare enjoyable ride for me hopefully you enjoyed some of it?

2 thoughts on “Are you scared?

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