I Recently had the pleasure of meeting Sean McFarlane during the 70 Wild Miles Event in Glencoe earlier this year , he’s a super fit , motivated multi-sport competitor and was the outright winner of the 70′ this year , I was very impressed by his modest easy-going nature, yet there’s no denying the drive he has to perform at his best ! so I was excited to see a report by him in my inbox about a challenge he and friends had undertook , after reading it I asked him if it would be ok to blog it up so we could all share in his experience and he has kind kindly gave me his permission , if your wondering just how hard it is , it really is super “NAILS” , the terrain he crossed , the organisation it took and all in under 24 hours , really an exceptional performance !!!
West to East Beast ……………..
The challenge was to bike, run and kayak from the Atlantic Ocean to the North Sea taking in the most westerly mainland Munro, Ladhar Bheinn and the most easterly, Mount Keen, all in 24 hours. The big question beforehand was “Can it be done?” The answer I’m pleased to say is “Yes!”
I’ve had a good few car journeys with Doug, usually going to races in which we both have high hopes for a decent result. But this journey was very different. No discussion about any fellow competitors, just an overwhelming sense of going largely into the unknown. All good.
We arrived at Kinloch Hourn at 530pm. Nice and early and plenty of time to ensure we had everything for the paddle into Barrisdale and run up Ladhar Bheinn. Nick, Willie and Alan arrived together with everyone’s favourite canine friend Dougal at 630pm. A quick 45 minutes more of preparation and off we paddled with Willie and Dougal staying behind with the vehicles. It was a perfect evening and a fantastic way to start. Mind you I was very much aware that we hadn’t even officially begun!
We arrived at our agreed beaching point just east of Barrisdale Bay at 815pm and immediately began to prepare for the hill run. For most of the paddle in we could see Ladhar Bheinn rising in front of us and we were very much aware we were starting from sea level. The four of us walked to the agreed start point on the far side of Barrisdale Bay and with our feet in the Atlantic, me, Doug and Nick started at dead on 9pm.
A nice zigzagging path through the ferns soon got us high up and we continued through the valley to the river split. From there we headed straight up for about 45 minutes, gaining about 500 metres to a col and then along the ridge. The views were amazing though my main concern was to avoid injury so I wasn’t looking around too much. After a couple of peaks we arrived at the summit at just after 1030pm. A quick photo stop and down we went, taking our time and turning the lights on at about 1115pm. We arrived back at the kayaks at midnight and after a quick cup of tea stuck on the head torches and paddled back. The incoming tide and the strengthening easterly wind made for some choppy water but that added to the fun. We arrived back at Kinloch Hourn at 130pm and once Willie had been woken up (!!) we had a decent stop with plenty food and then, somewhat reluctantly, me, Doug and Willie set off on the road bikes for the next 40 mile stage.
The start of this section was probably the lowest point of the whole challenge. Dark, raining, into a strong wind we climbed steeply from the off on a poor road surface, narrowly avoiding some highland cattle. But things did improve. At 330am I turned off my torch and with the surface improving, began enjoying myself. Almost running over a wild boar was a first. Back on the main road the three of us TT’d to Invergarry and then ploughed on up the climb towards the Commando monument, which took a long time to appear. When we reached it, we knew it was downhill now to the next stop at Spean Bridge to get food, meet our support crew and crucially our peleton.
Seeing the assembled gang was great. Half of them offering us all sort of wonderful nosebag, the others clearly chomping at the bit to haul Doug and me round the next 111 miles.
Setting off at about 530am, Doug and me duly took our place right at the back with Alan C and John, then Waff and Gillian, taking it in turns to lead. But it wasn’t long before the heavens opened. And it was cold; very cold. It quickly became miserable and both Doug and me knew we were in danger of having to pull out. The rain did eventually ease but not until we were all very wet and cold.
The stop after 37 miles at Newtonmore was never more needed. A total kit changed helped, as did plenty of food. Mhairi’s picnic table was a very welcome sight. We took our time here, making sure we were all ok for the next stage. I wrapped up like we were biking in mid winter and set off once more for the 37 miles to Tomintoul.
Whilst I warmed up reasonably quickly, my biggest problem here was a danger of falling asleep. I like my routine and I was seriously struggling with a lack of sleep. On several occasions I felt my eyes closing and then a sudden jerking as I came to. Not good. Some face slapping somewhat alarmed Doug but it did seem to work. We arrived at Tomintoul and a latte followed by a can of energy drink seemed to do the trick.
The next section had been billed as the toughest of the bike stages – 37 miles to Glen Tanar via the Lecht and Corgaff. The wind had been mainly into us all day and it was at its worst at the start of this stage. But the support crew continued their tireless work and provided Doug and me with the draft that we needed. A big cheer from the assembled supporters at the start of the Lecht climb gave us a boost and once up and over the descent was great. Waff punctured at the bottom but after a quick tube change and help from the support car we rejoined the rest and headed off up over the next climb, knowing it was the last. After that the awesome quartet ramped up the pace and sucked Doug and me along to Glen Tanar, never dropping below 20mph.
When we arrived our support crew weren’t there – I had estimated we’d take a lot longer – but we were all glad for the break and the cars soon turned up. Gillian, Alan C and John left us, having done a ton of work. They had put us in the position to do this in 24 hours so I was keen not to let that work go to waste.
Me, Doug, Alan, Nick headed off on our mountain bikes with Dougal up Glen Tanar. An early wrong turn from Doug had me slightly concerned but I needn’t have been as he then led us perfectly up Glen Tanar to the base of Mount Keen. It had taken us over an hour so far but we knew the return leg would be far quicker. Off the bikes, me, Doug, Waff and Nick all set off up to the top. My lack of mountain biking was taking its toll now and my back wasn’t great. In fact it was really sore and for the first time I began to worry that I wouldn’t be able to do this. With Waff setting the pace, I thought of the pain my Aunt Holly had gone through (not voluntarily either) and that spurred me on. Eventually I reached the guys at the summit and having taken the required photos, began the descent down.
My back pain eased and when we reached Alan I was sure, for the first time all day that we could definitely do this in 24 hours. A quick change and back on to the mountain bikes, we hammered down, even allowing time to take a wrong turn. On the road for a couple of miles we then arrived at Jules’ parents’ place in Aboyne, the final stop.
We were all feeling the effects at that point and the sight of smiling, encouraging faces, a bbq and beers was almost too much. Doug decided to call it a day there – having done the Munros and the bike in-between that was the main objective. I managed to muster up some support for the final 27 miles to Stonehaven in the form of Willie, Waff and Nick.
With the taste of hamburgers in my mouth (very bad idea) we headed off on what was now a glorious Deeside evening. Knowing there was nothing after this stage save for food, beers and sleep, I biked pretty hard to make absolutely certain I would make the 24 hour target. After some questionable mileages signs and what seemed like a long way, we saw the North Sea and after one final push down the hill we arrived in Stonehaven. We duly winded our way to the harbour and our awaiting support crew and with my feet in the sea the challenge was over. 23 hours and one minute.
The main thought looking back on this was how absolutely vital the support was. Becs, Mhairi, Alison and Jules were incredibly efficient at providing us with all the food and drink we needed not to mention driving the cars and kit to the correct spots. The peleton of Gillian, John, Alan C and Waff were brilliant and their relentless work at the front of a 111-mile road bike (most of which was into the wind) was both very impressive and vital for the whole challenge. Nick kayaked in and out of Barrisdale, did both Munros, got naked, did the mountain bike up and down Glen Tanar and the final road stage. Alan did all the kayaking, biked with Dougal (who at the time of writing is still asleep) up and down Glen Tanar and was chief photographer. And Willie managed to sneak in over 100 miles of biking whilst still being able to form the key part of the egg mayo roll production line.
Could it be done quicker? Yes, probably. My descending on the hills is very poor. We could have used quicker kayaks but if we had I think the return paddle would have been difficult. And we could have taken less time at the breaks but doing so might have led to difficulties during the stages themselves, particularly towards the end. But the challenge has now been set so bring it on…
More info on Seans challenge can be found here http://westeastchallenge.wordpress.com/