Western Isles Challenge 1996
Challenge Diary - Team Sula Sgeir (by Gavin Earons)
Monday 6 May
20.30 Caledonian Hotel, Stornoway - Our first team meeting! Team manager, captain and worrier Gavin Earons wonders if any one else will turn up. Graham Bartlett from Foress (recruited two weeks ago - many thanks Ross) is first to arrive off the Ferry. He tells me he warmed up for the event by finishing third in the Stuc a’ Chroin hill race yesterday (14 miles round trip up a Munro) then running another Munro before catching the ferry today. Our canoeist Murdie Campbell (Swordale) is next to arrive - he and I are the only two left from the successful Callanish Ltd team who completed both the last two challenges. Unfortunately Callanish are no longer sponsoring us - hence the change of name - thanks Chris for your generous support the last two years - how about next year?
At last, Dougie Flett (Stornoway/Edinburgh) arrives - we have a team! Barely time to run through the route and arrange for an early start tomorrow. Murdie gave us a great piece of news - local haulier D R Macleod has kindly agreed to make a contribution towards our costs - the £120 entry fee and most of our ferry fares are now taken care of.
Why Sula Sgeir they asked? I wanted a good locally significant name and the rock 40 miles north of the Butt seemed appropriate - especially as Murdie has actually canoed there - the Western Isles Challenge should be a dawdle after that!
Tuesday 7 May
08.30 Mackinnon Self Drive - Great news! We are not to be charged for the use of the van (nor were the other local teams) - thanks a million! All significant costs are now being met.
12.00 Ferry to Lochmaddy - Our first route plan meeting! We found it difficult to complete plans for day one during the four hour ferry crossing, the logistics of having one van and no backup proving to be a bit awkward - days two and three better be easier!
17.00 Sgoil Lionacleit - Better late than never! Some things never change - Ian saying “I’m too busy - see Stephanie” and Stephanie saying “I’m too busy - see Ian”.
18.30 Ludag Pier - This man Callaghan is really cruel - the canoeists have to paddle to the start in Barra. Bye Murdie - see you tomorrow!
19.00 Pollacher Inn - Dougie and I go for a pint and a meal but Graham starts as he means to finish by cooking in the van.
21.00 Pollacher Inn - Belated kit check! We were nearly thrown out before the start because our emergency rations were 5 gms short - anyone got a Polo mint?
22.30 Greagory B&B - Graham turns down the chance of a free bed and opts for the van and his sleeping bag as Dougie and I seek a good night sleep. I fail miserably as my sore throat turns to a dry cough and I lie awake all night.
Wednesday 8 May
07.20 Ludag Pier - Murdie arrives on time! I jump on the mountain bike and I am away - I pass Shona on the first climb. This was one long push and carry - the track was not cyclable - one guy tried to cycle past me and ended up head first in peat bog! One cyclist runs past without his bike - hope the cheat ends up head first in the bog too - where are the marshals? Good recce work by the Dream Team enabled Shona (and the opportunist Bogstorming Bom) to take a short cut and easily beat me to the end of leg. Go for it Dougie!
08.45 Machair - Ross then Graham arrive followed a few minutes later by Dougie! Onto the racer and off to the first little hill. I get up and over OK despite forgetting to take the cycle helmet off! Murdie takes the baton and heads for Graham at the foot of Ben Mhor. We are going better than the poor swimmer who is losing his battle with the current in the middle of the sea loch!
10.30 Ben More finish - Where is Graham? Dougie cycled off to the start of the next machair leg ages ago. Demon Janet looks fresh after her run but Bom is looking worried as Simon Axion is still on the hill (is Simon on Hecla?). Meg and Ethel from the Dream Team backup team offer to help us get a bike to the end of Dougies machair run - saving him a three mile walk - thank you. But where is Graham? I could have run the hill faster - well maybe not - he skids to a stop beside me on the bike. This guy is fast - he was down the hill and over the road before we got there - 5 minutes wasted.
12.00 Machair - Another good effort from Dougie and Graham takes over on the racer as I just about have time to get Murdie to the start of the next canoe leg.
12.15 Benbecula Bogslog - I head off into the bog following two guys in front, it doesn’t feel right so I check the map and sure enough they are heading too far east - they will hit the middle of the loch instead of going to the west of it. Head for the east side of Rueval and I should be alright. The bog is really dry and I make good time but it is so flat that you cannot see the lochs until your on them. I reach the track and turn east for Scarilode. Still going well but a bit demoralising to be passed by a team on a mountain bike (they must have more backup than us!). I reach Scarilode and turn north for the sheiling. Catching two teams and pass one of them before the sheiling and the other just after. The tide is still too far in and I have to cancel my plan to run the Sound of Flodday. I head round the sea loch and find a couple of the bays have partially drained as the tide goes out. I go for it - a bit soft and up to the waist a couple of time but I pass a team who took the long way round so it was worth it. Two more tweeds collected which I pass to Dougie for the next cycle leg.
13.30 Eaval - Graham heads off - do I have time to go and get Murdie from the end of his canoe leg? I decide to go for it.
14.45 Clachan Burrival - I am parking the van when I here the cry “Graham is coming” - he is unreal. I fling of the bike and head for Lochmaddy. Murdie and Dougie take a turn and I get the leg into Lochmaddy.
15.30 Lochmaddy - I leave Lochmaddy and head for the last checkpoint but where is the van? I grind it out and eventually I am overtaken by the van and we manage a changeover - they had decided to stop for some food. Thanks! We all take turns and Graham puts in a great final effort to overtake a team just as we reach the start of the track to the last checkpoint.
16.15 Track to Loch Uisdean - My chain comes off and I am passed by one team. The track decides to go into a loch rather than go round it - the first couple of times were only about 6 inches deep but the next took the pedals under the water. The next one was about two foot deep and a real effort to get through. At last the track heads out of the loch and I can make good time. Wrong - the track has a peaty puddle in it, do I go for it? Yes, but it turns out to be really deep and slippery but I make it across to the checkpoint. The return is worse because I know what is coming but I make it without falling off and pass over to Graham for the final 4 miles to the End of Day 1.
17.20 End Day 1 - Graham really enjoys his a solitary run up the west coast beach and reaches the final trigpoint.
19.00 Lochmaddy Hotel - A welcome drink to celebrate a superb day. The weather had been perfect and we had got through our most difficult day without any major problems (well Stephanie tried hard to spoil our meal by trying to do CalMacs job for them!). We leave Murdie behind and head for the ferry.
21.00 Tarbert Ferry - We sort out the plan for day two quickly but I am disappointed because my two 6 foot plus colleagues say my mountain bike is too small and I have to do the mountain bike leg. Good news as we hear that we were sixth on day one and the leading local team.
24.00 B&B - Dougie and I seek the home comforts but again my cough returns this time with a high temperature to give me another sleepless night - maybe I should have gone to the van with Graham!
To be continued ......... Suffice to say we finished a magnificent fifth and were first local team home.