Bealach Feith Nan Laogh
Turning north off the main road at Strontian towards innocuous-looking hills, the wooded first few kilometres are flat and surfaced with new rolling tarmac, I was in a pleasant dream of cycling paradise, spinning without a chain, listening to birdsong, still on the big ring. A small sign turned me left up a short wooded hill towards 'Pollochro 8m'. Not far really . . . I knew the climb began shortly but the small ramps weren't difficult and I was still outstripping the chasing horse-flies until a sign above a lost hub-cap said 'RAMP' in big capitals on a red background. The road didn't seem that steep, I was still spinning off the beers, marveling at the rock-garden scenery. Things focused down to the width of my front tyre as I got out of the saddle at Belgrove House and dropped to the wee ring to turn some sharp corners through the old pines. No biggie.
The people in the deck-chairs watched me like an old curious tractor from the 60s, going to an agricultural fair. Not far off. I passed them and gasped a greeting, more like a plea for help. The horse-flies had found me, mocking my pace, so I spun a bit and went into the red, rounding a corner to a sudden and sickening rise in gradient to a hairpin. Jeez, that must be 25% I thought! I ground up it, heart racing to the max, sweat washing my eyes with battery acid. I rounded the corner and another rise of the same punched me in the gut and I unclipped, steeping a foot to the ground just to catch my breath. Hell! I wheezed for a minute, eyes full of tarmac, then turned and rolled down to a layby, reclipping, turned again tightly and ran at the beast this time, grinding out the switchbacks and trying not to spin in the melted tarmac and gravel. If I didn't dig a little deeper, I would end up a tarred and Ruskolined mess on the Bealach Feith nan Laogh.
The road finally straightened a little but continued to rise at a punishing gradient, bellying up through the rocks and whispering grass towards what looked like a mobile mast - perhaps the pass, a sign of the end to this punishment? It ended thus, hung over the handlebars beside an old gas storage tank, it was full, I was empty.
I've never burned off two beers quite as quickly in my life.
... the downhill ...