Wednesday, October 14, 2015


It's been an ambition of mine to complete the 100miles of The West Highland Way in a day by mountain bike for some years now and with two failed attempts under my belt and approaching 63 years of age I felt that one final try was in order before I could throw in the towel in and not feel too bad about it
My two previous attempts, one north to south and the other in the more usual south to north direction had both ground to a halt about 19 miles short. Both had been done on a relatively heavy Full Suspension bike which made the carrying or 'Hikeabike' sections very tiring, especially as the day wore on. So the strategy on this occasion was to use a much lighter Hardtail bike which,while sacrificing a degree of comfort would undoubtedly make the carrying sections much easier and thus, so my theory went, provide the extra energy to enable me to complete the job.
There is a well recognised key section of 'The Way' which is generally accepted as being the toughest for walkers and even more so for bikers and that is the seven mile stretch along the south shore of Loch Lomond between Inversnaid Hotel and Beinn Ghlas farm. The path is so rough here that it is fair to say that there is little more than half a mile of biking in the whole thing
I left Milngavie, the south terminus of 'TheWay' at 8.00am and was enjoying the ride in good weather. The first big obstacle of the route, the ascent of Conic Hill had gone easily enough and as I approached Inversnaid I was feeling good and was well on schedule. I would have to admit though that the thought of taking the hotel ferry over the loch and rejoining the route again at Beinn Ghlas, thus surpassing the difficulties was very appealing. However on inspecting the timetable I found that this would entail a wait of over two hours and so I took the fateful decision to push on.

I was about 2 hours into it and was coping well with what is basically rock scrambling with the added hindrance of lugging a bike along with you. To be fair, there were some short sections that I could have ridden but I had decided to err on the side of safety, realising that being alone, a simple fall might mean a twisted ankle or the like and the project being abandoned all together.
What happened next all went very quickly and is pieced together in retrospect but I do believe it to be a fairly accurate account of events (A subsequent visit to the site on foot proved this to be the case)
I was on a very steep scrambling section of the path and was aware that there was a long drop to the rocky shore below me on my immediate left. Having said that, I couldn't see the shore as the rocky, root strewn path overhung it. In skiing and mountaineering one often hears the term ' No Fall Zone' being used to describe an area where the results of a fall at that point would be disastrous. This was a 'No Fall Zone'.
I was on foot, the bike in front of me and above to my right and I was pushing forward and up to clear this particularly tricky section. I was nearing level ground when either my back foot slipped or the edge of the rough path gave way and I was immediately airborne with no introductory slope to roll down with the hope of stopping, just straight into freefall. I recall thinking 'This is going to be bad' and I think I let out an involuntary shout. My next recollection was coming to face down on the jagged rocks of the shoreline some 20feet below my take off point.
I've no idea how long I was unconscious and only know that I was because I came to in extreme pain thinking ' Please let me go back to where I was' meaning, not the path above but to the place with no pain - unconsciousness.
Any attempt to change my facedown position was painful in the extreme but, almost instinctively, I checked for feeling in my feet, arms and legs and was somewhat relieved to find that I could register movement in all extremities. My next thought was the possibility of internal bleeding and that scared me. I have to take ant-coagulant drugs as a result of having an artificial heart valve and that makes me more prone to such bleeding than the average person. But there was nothing I could do about that. I just had to hope.
On realising that I was unable to move and was out of sight of anyone who might be on the path above I began shouting for help. After half an hour or so I was very relieved to hear voices. Shortly thereafter a man who was walking 'The Way' and as it turned out, who I had passed earlier in the afternoon,was at my side. After assessing the situation he climbed back up to the path where he was able to contact the Emergency Services by phone and get the evacuation process underway. He informed me that it was likely that I would be taken by the Loch Lomond Rescue launch to Inversnaid and thereafter by helicopter to Glasgow's Southern General Hospital. I was extremely relieved to get this information but the wait of an hour or more seemed very daunting because of the pain I was experiencing.
Sometime later and after a lot of moaning and groaning on my part I heard the rescue boat and crew manoeuvring into the small area of rock strewn shoreline where I was lying. I was glad to see them and so grateful when they placed a breathing mask over my face giving a mixture of oxygen and whatever else which immediately reduced my pain and induced an immediate calming effect.
It was a difficult evacuation for them given the limited access and a painful one for me, even with the help of the Magic Mask but their empathy and professionalism was second to none and very reassuring. I knew as we moved away from the shore and through the bumpy waters of the loch that I was in good hands
Whenever the boat landed in front of the Inversnaid Hotel I was carried ashore where medics examined me further and administered the morphine shots which made me more comfortable before I was loaded into the helicopter for the half hour trip to Glasgow. Buoyed up by the morphine I remember thinking as we flew down the loch 'It's a pity I can't see out of the Windows'.
The outcome - 1 x broken scapula 5x broken ribs 1 x punctured lung and 2 x fractured vertebrae resulting in a two week hospital stay and many sleepless nights. Now, three months on with the help of family, friends and physiotherapy and a bit of perseverance I have shed the body brace and the walking stick and am managing to do some short bike rides again. I am in no doubt that I was very very fortunate to come away from this experience with no major lasting consequences.
Once I return to full fitness it's my intention to do some fundraising for the volunteers of the Loch Lomond Rescue and Helimed - Quite what that will entail I've not yet decided but I think it is safe to say it will involve a lot of cycling - but not on the south shore of Loch Lomond!