On the Road
On the Road

With an old bike ...
... by Bill McLaughlin.

   Go to Chapters ...
The Turning Point
Running Repairs
Up on the Roof

The Turning Point

Next morning, I turned my back on Ullapool with great regret. I could have stayed on, but my self-imposed timetable told me that I had to get moving.
I headed back up the road toward Corrieshalloch, and braced myself for a long walk. No way was I going to tackle the 3 mile climb back up from the sea.

I had about 60 miles in front of me. Once past the high point at the gorge, it was across the barren moorland for about 20 miles, past The Aultguish Inn at the end of Loch Glasgarnoch, and down onto Garve for my first stop.
A railway station! I felt as though I had come back into civilisation again! The waiting room served as a good shelter from the storm that had suddenly blown up. The rain had lost none of its ferocity, when it followed me from the coast. So far I had been lucky, and had, until now, kept one step ahead of the driving rain.
I brewed up, lighting the little Primus in the corner, and filling the teacan from the tap in the gent's toilet!
The door opened and a railway worker came in.
"Whit the hell dae ye think yer up tae?"
I thought it was obvious, but decided to explain.
"This! This is a Waiting-Room - no some damn Tearoom. But you jist make yersel' at hame son!" His moustache bristled.
I let his sarcasm wash over me, being an innocent abroad, I thanked him for the invitation.
He had a uniform, a hat, and an Albert watch on a chain, but no charity - a terrible contrast with all that I had met before.
I got up, switched off the stove, emptied the can complete with tealeaves down his sink, and wished him well. He watched as I threw my leg over the bike and started off.
"I hope the tea chokes yer sink, ya auld bampot!" I yelled, as soon as I was sure he couldn't catch me!

I didn't stop until I hit Beauly, about 10 or 12 miles further on! Here I made a stop for tea - this time with water from the river at the bottom of Beauly Gorge. It was better then railway water, anytime!
I settled myself under some trees, as a respite from the rain, and enjoyed a steaming can of tea, accompanied by some digestive biscuits, left over from breakfast.

I was getting tired, as I pedalled the last few miles towards Cannich, and, with about two miles to go, was freewheeling around a bend when the bike skidded on some wet leaves. I lost it! Skewed all over the road, my feet slipped from the pedal straps and I hit the grassy bank on the far side.
The front wheel stopped dead, and the back came around to meet it, throwing me over in a tangle of metal and grass.
I picked myself up, and realised I had sprained an ankle - but worse to come!
The handlebars had pulled over at right angles to the rest of the bike, so I straddled the front wheel and twisted. Fortunately, I managed to straighten them. The locking nut must have come loose!
I opened the saddlebag to get out the small repair kit that I was carrying, and checked to see if I had a spanner that would fit. Sods law! Nothing would look at it.

"Good afternoon, young fella."
The voice came from behind, and startled me! A man was standing, watching.
"Got some trouble have we?" I liked the 'we'!
He was dressed in a long overcoat, tied with string, and well worn boots stuck out from below. Covering his head was a greasy looking bunnet, and over his shoulder, he carried a large kitbag. Most striking was his hair, or rather his beard. His hair was long and greasy, shoulder length, maybe more, but his beard stretched right down covering his chest like some huge sporran!
I felt a bit frightened by his appearance, but his voice didn't belong to the figure. It had a polite Highland lilt, with a gentle, reassuring quality about it.
"Lets see what you've done, my boy." he said, as he leaned over the bike. Then he noticed me hopping, and said ...
"Don't tell me that you've done in your leg, as well!"
The kitbag came off the shoulder, and from somewhere deep inside, he produced a bandage! It was bit grotty, but it was a bandage, and he tightly strapped my ankle. It was painful.
The next delve into the bag, produced a roll with some spanners, and miraculously, he had one to fit the handlebar locknut!
"I can't do much for your tyre though." he said.
I looked down and could have cried. Along one side of the rear tyre, was a rip, exposing the inner tube. Disaster!
"I'll walk with you into Cannich." he said, "Then we'll see what can be done."
As we walked, he told me his name was Davie; Davie Graham - Gentleman of the Road, tramp, vagrant, a graduate of the University of Life and an engineer to trade. He told me of how he had lost everything in a fire 'too many years ago to remember', and had taken to the road.
He got by, doing odd jobs and telling stories, and seemed remarkably happy.
He was intending staying in an outhouse, that he knew, near the hostel I was heading for, and I marvelled at how anybody could survive like that.

We reached the hostel, where Davie was hailed like a long lost friend. As we had passed through the village, he greeted everybody we met, and they returned the compliment. This guy was a celebrity.
He explained my predicament to the warden, and it was decided that we would eat first, and sort out the problem, later.

After tea, we went into a small workshop next door. The rear tyre was ruined and needed replacing. Unfortunately, there were no bicycle shops around.
A piece of rubber was found, and we proceeded to cut a gaiter to glue inside the tyre to try and keep me going.
The nearest shop I was told was in Fort Augustus, some 30 miles away, at the end of Loch Ness.

I slept restlessly, that night; weary and a bit worried. I had asked the Warden if there was any mail for me, as I had been expecting some cash from home. No letters, nothing. I began to really worry. I was short of money as it was, almost skint was the term. I had a couple of shilling left, but now I knew I would have to cough up for a new tyre, if I made it to Fort Augustus!

Next morning, I set off after thanking my new pal. The ankle was tender, but the warden had found a crepe bandage in his first aid kit, and had redressed the strain. Davie got his back, and it promptly disappeared into the kitbag, along with a new roll of string, a knife and fork that he had 'found', left in the kitchen by some previous traveller. I could swear that guy could have produced anything from that bag.
I waited until the postman arrived, and almost yelled with delight - Ma had come good. A letter! I opened it, and two well worn pound-notes fell at my feet.
"Thank you, Ma! Thank you!" I offered up a silent appreciation.

Running Repairs

I made it up to Drumnadrochit, and through the Fairy Glen. While appreciating the woodland scenery, my mind was on the patch we had fitted to the tyre. Just before the Loch Ness road junction, I hit a small pothole and heard a definite 'Bang!
The gaiter had slipped, exposing the inner tube, which had swelled like a blister of bubblegum and immediately blew out.
I took the saddlebag off, and upended the bike. At least, I had a puncture repair kit. It didn't look good - the tube was slit, the worst kind of problem. I took out the longest patch I had, French chalk to clean up the wound, glued the patch in place, then inflated the tyre.
The inner tube started to come through the hole in the tyre again, so I started over; this time using more glue to keep the gaiter in place.

I got down to Loch Ness, and had only made about 3 miles when, 'Bang!' again. The repair was not working. Because I had turned the tyre away from the new patch, I had succeeded in making another hole in the inner! So another repair was called for. I repeated the process, and again moved the new repair away from the outer hole.
I got as far as Balbeg, when it happened again, I was beginning to despair as I opened up the repair tin yet again. Only two more patches left, and the glue tube was looking a bit sick!
This time, the repair held for about 5 miles, before blowing out like a sperm whale. 'Whoosh!' Down on the rims again!
I walked for a while, not wanting to see the damage, but now my ankle was beginning to pain me, and I had to give up.
This time, I sat on an old milestone about seven miles from the bike shop!
Further repairs effected, I set off again, and made another 3 miles, before again hearing that sickening bang!
My resolve broke down, and I cried. I had a bad ankle, a broken bike and it felt too far too go on.
After sobbing for a while, I looked around to see if anybody had noticed, and felt foolish.
"C'mon McLaughlin! Greetin isnae gonnae get ye anywhere!"
I used the last patch. It was almost a joke; meant for repairing pin pricks, and I knew it wouldn't last. Still, if I walked a couple of miles, maybe I could get a lift!

Cars were few and far between, so I mounted up and gave it another go. I got about 2 miles, before the inevitable happened. I raged, and jumped up and down. Threw the bike at a hedge, and screamed at it. Then, I stopped; remembering an old tale that my Dad had told me. Once, when he was stuck with some of his pals, on a trip with a blown outer tyre, they had stuffed grass into the wheel to get them back! Could this work for me?
I upended the bike again, and levered off the tyre to one side. Taking handfuls of grass, I started to stuff the tyre all around. My old man hadn't told me how long this took, and it seemed ages before I had enough to make it look like a soft tyre!
Gingerly, I got back on the bike, and, sure enough, it seemed to hold. Slowly, I got moving again, but after about half a mile I heard a grating sound, as the rim started running aground.
So I repeated the stuffing operation, but it took longer this time, and succeeded in making a couple of miles before getting that sinking feeling again.

Using the bike for support, I hobbled the last mile or so into Fort Augustus. I was directed to the shop, which seemed like a biker's heaven! I had never seen so many tyres and tubes.
The inner tube was beyond further repair; the outer no longer able to serve its purpose. I had to buy both.
"That'll be two pounds, four shillings, altogether."
The look on my face must have told the assistant the whole story.
"Hang on son. I'll talk to the manager."
He came back with an older guy in tow. I had two pounds and two shillings in my pocket' and still well over a 100 miles from home!
I asked for credit, and promised to send him the money when I got home.
"How much do you have?" asked the manager.
I told him.
"OK!" he said. "I'll give you a discount. How about one pound, nineteen and sixpence?"
"Deal!" I said; not being in any position to bargain.
As I left the shop, the manager called to the assistant ...
"Away and change that tyre for the boy."

A new lease of life! I had a half-crown in my pocket, and was back on the road again, Yes!
I fired away - the pain in my ankle subsiding with my feeling of relief - and headed the 20 miles to Loch Lochy. This had been a previous stop - where I had first encountered the black girl.

Up on the Roof

The warden remembered me from my previous visit, and welcomed me in, commenting on the bandage.
"Been in the wars, then?"

I was just happy to rest up for the night, so I set about using the last of my cash to buy a tin of Spam, and had that with toast and some bread that had survived the bike being thrown at the hedge.
The hostel was quiet this time round, and he lit a fire, piling on some logs. Even in summer, the nights got a bit chilly around here.

"You're not eating much, are you?" said my host. "Running out of money?"
So I told him my tale. He didn't seem surprised at the turn of events, offering, as an opinion, that I had been mad to try and do what I had done with the resources I had.
I was pleased that I had made the journey, but was apprehensive as to the next leg.
"Tell you what." he offered. "If you help me in the morning with a problem on the roof, I'll pay you, and give you tonight's accommodation free."
I needed no second invitation, and didn't even bother to ask more details about the job.

Next morning, out came the extension ladder. The warden explained that he had a fear of heights, and asked if I could make it to the roof while he held the ladder! Since the pain in the ankle was subsiding, it was no bother to get up there.
He tied some slate tiles to a rope, and proceeded to direct me to the faulty ones. This was a dawdle. I whacked the tiles into place, then sat back. It was only then that I realised what a magnificent view I had, as I clung to the chimneybreast. I could see right across to Loch Lochy, and beyond, a view across the hill toward Loch Arkaig. The sun was shining, and I could have sat up there all day.

   Go to Chapters ...
The Turning Point
Running Repairs
Up on the Roof

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Original story and material © 2005 Bill McLaughlin
Layout, editing and additional material © Dave Sloan 2005, 2016
'tachras' and 'Winding Yarn' © Dave Sloan 2005, 2016

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