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Bikepacking Scotland’s North Coast 500 In Three Days | Si’s Ultra Endurance Challenge

October 18, 2019


– I don’t think I’ve
ever had to try so hard for a kilometre, on a
road bike in my life. – [Mark] We were three
miles an hour up there? – [Simon] Yeah. I think we’ve got five K to go, Mark, until we get–
– ‘Til we get back onto the main road.
– To the main road. – It’s absolutely brutal. I remember this is tough,
– Yeah. – but you know, memories fade. (laughs) – We have just ticked past
100 miles for the day, which means you have just ticked past halfway round the NC500. – That’s true, 250 miles.
– Yeah. – But, uh–
– Not that much time left to get back to Inverness. – That is the hurt locker isn’t it. – Yeah. – Well, considering this
is a three day challenge, and it’s 20 to five on day
two, and we’re halfway. (laughs) Let’s keep going. – [Simon] You said it’s all
downhill with a tailwind from here, I think. (calm ambient music) – [Simon] The north coast of Scotland is a beautiful, rugged wilderness that deserves to be on
every cyclist’s wishlist of places to ride. And, what better way to
sample it could there be, than by riding the North Coast 500? A route that starts and
finishes in Inverness, and then traces a sinuous
line for 500 miles around the mountains and lochs
of Scotland’s north coast. It’s an amazing adventure
for intrepid cyclists. You could ride it over
the course of a week, or perhaps five 100-mile days. Or, if you get invited to ride it with the round-the-world record
holder Mark Beaumont, three. Yeah, three days. 500 miles in three days. For a slightly unhinged minority of you, that might actually not sound too bad. I mean, Mark’s own record for the NC500 is just 38 hours, straight. But for me, though, three days with that kinda mileage is a
step into the unknown. And while one night’s
accommodation is a nice hotel, the other night is a hedge. If we can actually find any hedges on that exposed north coast. – Right, Mark, talk me through it. – The plan is, start from here, well, pretty close, Inverness
Castle, and head west. This is all farmland, it all starts to get really beautiful as you hit the sea lochs on the west coast, and this is the bit that
everyone talks about, the Bealach na Ba Applecross pass. – So that’s the highest pass,
the longest climb, in the UK? – Yeah, it’s, you know those UK cycling best climbs? I think it’s been number one forever. One of my favourite bits on the route is then coming up around Torridon. – Yeah. – Massive cliffs, you’ll
see it, it’s beautiful. And then following the west coast around, so where we’re trying
to get to tomorrow night is here, Poolewe.
– Yep. A mellow 150 miles,
– 150 miles. – to warm up.
– Great. – And then crack on up the west coast. What I’ve done with the route, rather than following the traditional, the classic North Coast 500 route, I’ve deviated a little bit. – [Simon] Okay. – [Mark] Because there’s some roads which the motor homes and the cars typically don’t go on, ’cause they’re so small. But I think they’re gonna
be perfect for cycling. – It does sound good. – And then we should,
by the end of day two, make it sort of halfway along
the north coast of Scotland. – And that’s where we’re
looking for a hedge? – Yeah, and it’s, well, I mean, you joke but it’s so barren up there, that there won’t be many trees. If we find a hedge we’ll be doing well. – (laughs) Okay.
– I mean it’s properly windswept, empty, it depends
how far along we make it, but from that point
you, you can just about to start see views over to Orkney. – Oh wow. – And so you kinda know you’re
on the edge of Scotland. – Yeah, and then a casual
200 miles to finish. – Yeah, so, I mean this was your idea. I’m gonna put this one back on you. – Don’t tell ’em that!
(Mark laughs) – So we’re going inland to begin with, and then these beautiful little roads, and then finishing off with a look through what they call the Black Isle, – Oh wow.
– back into Inverness. – That looks particularly cruel, because we’re within spitting
distance of Inverness Castle, and then you’ve sent us
off on another 20 miles. – [Mark] Yeah, but, ya
know, it’s a 500-mile route, North Coast 500, and– – You’d feel pretty cheated
if you did the NC480, wouldn’t you, so yeah. – That was my biggest worry with all the, my biggest worry with the round-the-world. ’cause you can’t go
back and do a few miles, imagine you finished two miles short. You gotta do the distance. – That is a good point actually. Well, we’ll make sure we do the 500 miles. I cannot wait.
– Yeah, it’ll be awesome. – Genuinely cannot wait. If you want to see the
full Mark Beaumont route, there is a link to GCN komoot
profile in the description. From there you can download the GPX file. (calm electronic music) Here we go then, nearly ready to roll out. The route is locked and
loaded into my Wahoo up there. The screen is currently me that I’ve got 804.8 kilometres to go, so, well I know that I’ll be looking at that particular screen very much, certainly for the next couple of days. And now you notice that I’m not wearing my usual GCN cycling kit, I’m wearing Altura clothing instead. They’ve been a long time
supporter of Mark’s, and they’ve extended that
support for this trip as well. It’s fair to say they’ve
had to send quite a bit of stuff up to us, given that, although the forecast is, touch wood, quite good for the next three days, this far north at this time of year, anything could happen, in fact there were snowstorms just last week. So, it’s fair to say
I’m not packing light. And lastly, before we roll out, you’ll see that I’m riding
a 3T Exploro as well. Now, I’m currently of making a video about whether one bike can do it all, and so it seems fair to use
that same bike for bikepacking, as well as racing it on road and off. Right then, let’s do it. – Well, it’s early doors,
and this is Inverness Castle, so the start of the North
Coast 500 cycle route. And, if all goes well, we’ll be back here in three days. – [Simon] Yeah, let’s
keep our fingers crossed for that Mark, I think this might be my toughest challenge yet. Shall we do it? – Yeah, for sure. – Right. (tranquil electronic music) – Tea stop, tea stop. – Whoop whoop! Four and a half hours in. – [Simon] About half way,
aren’t we, just under. – Half an hour, halfway through the day? – [Simon] I think so, I’ve
got a 113 K’s on the clock. – So, just, take a quick
break and then over the hill. – [Simon] Yeah. – Probably not too much
food with that climb. – No, I was gonna say, let’s
do Mark Beaumont’s schedule, this place is Simon Richardson’s schedule. ’cause mine sees you enough
in trouble and darkness. Well, we said we needed a Mark
Beaumont-style lunch stop, and we did indeed get a Simon
Richardson-style lunch stop, so we’re massively behind schedule. It’s two o’clock now and we know we’ve got about five hours riding still to go. And we’re at the base of this beast. – Yeah, its reputation goes before it, it’s the Bealach na Ba,
the Applecross pass. And it’s, well, it’s up up up from here. This is sea level, and the sun is shining, it’s gonna be a hot climb. – Yeah, I have got my legs
out and my overshoes off, so it can’t be all bad, eh? (peaceful ambient music) We’re about halfway up Bealach na Ba now, and it’s gotta be said, this
is absolutely breathtaking. I mean, it’s a long old climb, isn’t it, we’ve done a good few K, there’s
still a good few K to go. But, I didn’t think there
were climbs like this in the British Isles, amazing. – It’s pretty steady
for this valley section, and at the top, it just steepens up, around those switchbacks,
and you could be anywhere in the Alps. – Yeah, absolutely. It’s just the landscape,
it’s bonkers innit. And what a day for it, I’m wishing I put a short-sleeved jersey on now. – I’m not sure we’re gonna
get the K win today, mate. – No, I blame the filming.
– Yeah. – Nothing to do with,
– I know. – our tempo, and camping gear. (exciting electronic music) We might have just done the longest climb in the British Isles, Mark, but this flat bit around the peninsula, which is actually not flat at all. – Nobody talks about it. – No, it’s really taking
it out on my legs, all these little ramps
that I’m getting excited, and trying to dance my way up. Like a bikepacking Marco Pantani. And actually, I think I’m
gonna come well unstuck in a minute. – I know, we’re gonna feel
like tomorrow, for sure. This was part of my training ride in the buildup to the world. And, the coastline of the UK, or Britain, was tougher than almost anywhere than I can think of in the world. Just ’cause of this, just constant. – Yeah, I gotta lot to learn about ultra-endurance riding, Mark, and I think one of them
revolves around lunch. (Mark laughs) (beautiful ambient music) With 200 K’s under the belt, 40 K’s to go, you can probably by this
beautiful golden light that it’s well into the evening, isn’t it, and, I don’t know about you,
I’m feeling pretty tired now. That’s been amazing but tough,
so can you point me out, Mark, what have we got
to look forward to now, downhill, tailwind,
all the way to Poolewe? – We’ve definitely done the tough stuff, it’s not flat, but we’re
off the single-track now and we’re kinda going due north now, ish. It’s a beautiful stretch,
it’s all beautiful, I mean that last bit by Torridon, and I know you were looking forward to it, and it didn’t disappoint. – No it didn’t, my word,
it didn’t disappoint. But I guess, yeah, off the single-track, onto really busy roads. It’ll be fine, we’ve only
got two days of this to go, and the last day’s only an extra 50 miles. – Let’s just get in before
we need to use lights. – [Simon] See ya in a bit! (restful ambient music) – It’s a long golden hour, huh? – Ah, yeah, look at that. – First day.
– Wednesday night is stovies night, what’s that mate? – Stovies,
– Yeah, what’s that? – you’ll enjoy stovies.
– Yeah (laughs)? – Proper Scottish meal. – There we go. 150 miles in the bank. – Pretty much on the button.
– Yeah. – The sun has just set over
that way, over the island. And, yeah, what a beautiful first day. – Unbelievable, unbelievable. I’m glad it’s ended, if I’m honest. But that was one of the best days riding that I’ve ever had. – And I’m glad that we’re
not camping tonight, although it would be
an epic night to camp, – It would.
– but I think, because it was quite a gritty first day, a meal and a bed won’t hurt. – There’s a suggestion there that tomorrow’s gonna
be easier, I hope so. I hope so. – It’s just as beautiful if that helps. – Is it, that does help. – Yeah.
– That does help. – All right.
– Right, stovies. Whatever they are, I’m gonna eat them. (birds singing) Given that we are camping wild tonight, I thought it would be a good opportunity to talk you through the kit that I’ve got, just very briefly, there’s a full video over on the Tech channel as well. Now, back here, this is where I’ve got my sleeping bag, my bivvy bag, and my mat. And then, Apidura have sent
this monster frame bag here, which is wicked, so I’ve
got a CamelBack in there, which is upsetting some
of the purists, I know. But it’s pretty good. And then I’ve also got tools,
I’ve got riding clothes, and I’ve got some food in there. Then up top I’ve got phone charger and a little bit more food. And then this one, the handlebar bag, this is where I’ve got a warm jacket and my one pair of pants, among a few other items of clothing. Now, this was hiding in my
handlebar bag yesterday, but feels appropriate, seeing
as we’re camping out tonight, to rock the dangle mug, much
to Mark’s disgust (laughs). Ah, nevermind. Day two, we now have just
560 kilometres to go, as you can see we’re gonna
have to contend with, with slightly worsened weather today. There’s a gentle breeze, as
well as blazing sunshine, so, anyway, Mark, what is in
store for us on the route? – Right, so, crack on up
the northwest of Scotland, so through places like Ullapool, Durness, so the top left corner. And make it as far along the north coast of Scotland as we can. Last night we, we gave it some good chat about an early start.
– Yeah. – Yeah.
– Yeah, I know this is, this my bad influence, we’re way later than we should do. By the way, I did have stovies last night. Which was not what I was expecting. It’s like a stew, like a lamb
and potato and carrot stew, but it was very good. – Proper Scottish fare. – Yeah, yeah, let’s see how it actually performs
– Fuels you. – for me today, yeah,
but anyway, there you go. Stovies, was lovely. Right, shall we? (groans)
– Let’s ride. (enigmatic electronic music) – Ar, ar, ar! Will I get your seal of approval, Mark? – (laughs) We’ve been distracted, we are chasing time
here, but there’s seals, sunning themselves on the
beach down there in the rocks, which is pretty awesome. – [Simon] Yeah, we’re not allowed to stop for long lunch breaks, but we are allowed to stop for seal breaks, so. – [Mark] (laughs) And there’s
some swimming further out, as well. You get quite a lot of
dolphins around here, as well. – Awesome, love it. (mystical electronic music) I’m not gonna lie, this morning, Mark, I was a little bit nervous
about the fact that, would today be able to match yesterday. And actually, I think it’s even better. – Well I think, when everyone talks about the North Coast 500, they get stuck on talking about the
Bealach, the Applecross pass, but there’s just so much more, this west coast is just, it
gets quieter and quieter, you know, more and more beautiful, I love it up here. – Car! First one in half an hour. – [Mark] Three days is punchy. – There’s been a few spots today where I’ve just thought, you know what, wouldn’t it be nice to just sit down and just chill out by a stream,
or a river, or on a beach. Sit and watch some seals maybe. And that is the trouble, when
you set yourself a target, over a certain amount
of mileage every day, that involves nine and a
half, 10 hours in the saddle, does leave a little bit
less time for faffing. And so if you’re gonna
do this as a holiday, you’d want to factor in
some serious faff time, I think, wouldn’t you? – I think if you do it in three days you gotta be willing for
a bit of a suffer-fest. – Yeah, yeah. Whose idea was this to
do three days, seriously. We’ve made it to Ullapool, which is sadly only a third
of the way through today, and I say sadly ’cause it feels like those were 50 hard-earned miles. – We’ve worked for it. I was kind of thinking it
was gonna be quite cruise-y. But it was properly
lumpy and properly windy. – Yeah, yeah. And I’ve got sore legs, but not sore in a kind of fatigued way, I’ve got sore in like a, I’ve got a sore left achilles,
and a sore right knee, which is bit weird, but
when thinking about it we’ve done 15 hours of riding in the last day and a half,
which is five times my normal weekly average. So, so yeah. – And it’s punchy, I
mean, this morning’s ride would be a good training ride full stop, and as I warm for the day (laughs). – Yeah, that said, we did
have an amazing tailwind for the last 20 K’s or so. Which boosted morale,
we’re just about to hit your stealth route as well, aren’t you, the deviation from the traditional NC500. – Yeah, so this was my idea
to try and take us off, I mean it’s not exactly busy, but take us off the roads that the camper, I mean it’s van life up here, isn’t it, I mean we’re passing, the
only other people really on the route are people who are up here having an amazing time
with their families, and– – Well, yeah, and if
it turns out that it’s an absolute nightmare of sweat and toil, we’ve got it on record
that it was your idea. – Yeah, no this is absolutely on me. That was 20 minutes, I’m okay with that. – [Simon] Yeah. (restful ambient music) Mark, fistbump for your extra route, that was unreal.
– It worked. – That was amazing.
– I’m relieved, ’cause that was a step into the unknown. But, I’m not just saying this, but that’s one of my
favourite rides in the UK now. We’re back on to the official
North Coast 500 route. And this bit, north of Lochinver, in my humble opinion,
is the real kick in the, it’s pretty punchy. I call it the shark’s tooth. – Uh.
– Yeah. – Well, I’m not gonna
lie, I’ve steered clear of looking at any kind
of stats from the day, I’m just following the map screen, but I did have a quick peek, see that we’ve nearly got just
100 K’s to go for the day. So, once we’ve done that,
and once we’ve gone through the shark’s teeth, which sound great, then hopefully it’ll
just be gentle cruise. – And we’ve just heard,
that there’s a dude, somewhere ahead, running. And, allegedly he’s doing
50 to 70 miles a day. – Yeah, so he’s basically
running at half our speed and covering half our distance, which is pretty impressive, innit. Oh, wow, look at this road! (screams) (calm ambient music) I’m in a dark place. A very dark place. These are more like dragon’s teeth, Mark, not shark’s teeth. Don’t think I’ve ever had to try so hard for a kilometre on a road bike in my life. – [Mark] We were like, three
miles an hour up there? – [Simon] I think we got 5K to go Mark, until we get–
– ’til we get back on to the main road.
– To the main road. – It’s absolutely brutal. I remember this is tough. – Yeah.
– But, ya know, memories fade. – We have just ticked past
100 miles for the day, which means we have just
ticked past halfway round the NC500. – That’s true, 250 miles!
– Yeah. But, not that much time left
to get back to Inverness! – That is the hurt locker isn’t it? – Yeah. – Well, considering this
is a three-day challenge, and it’s 20 to five on day
two, and we’re halfway. (laughs) Let’s keep going. – You said it’s all
downhill with a tailwind from here, I think. (gentle electronic music) – Hello dude! – All right, we’re at the top of Scotland. We’ve reached Durness, which
is a pretty big milestone, obviously our turning point,
we’re now heading across the top of Scotland. – Yeah, this has been a tough old day, as you can see, the sun
is setting behind us, we’ve got 12 kilometres
left to go until our, kind of milestone of 240K for the day. Which, given that we’re
sleeping in a hedge, is kind of an arbitrary figure, but both of us are fairly target-oriented, so I don’t think we’re gonna
stop until we get there. But anyway, we stopped
at a shop back there, we’ve got our food for tonight. So, I’m just looking at
every grassy verge going and thinking, how nice
it’s gonna be to curl up and go to sleep. – And you guys enjoy your hotel. – Yeah, yeah, the crew
are gonna leave us to it in just a moment. Right then, we’ve got 245K on the clock, the last 5K we spent scoping
a place to camp for the night, and Mark thinks he’s spotted it. So we’re gonna go check it out. Shall we do it? (brooding electronic music) Right then, that is the crew,
now officially leaving us. (crew shouting) There ya go, see ya later dudes! It’s been a long day, a long old day, but their hotel is keeping
them some fish and chips back, even though, what time is it now mate? It’s about half, quarter past nine. All right, better get
some tent up for Mark. I’m in a bivvy bag. Thanks Joshua. Right, Mark’s on the spotlight now. – Ha ha. – [Simon] How long’s it gonna take? – We’re being a bit cheap. – [Simon] Well, to be
fair, you’ve carried it, and it hasn’t seemed to have
taken up very much room. – No, it’s the same size as a bivvy bag. – Yes.
– It’s 700 grammes. – That was a slightly sobering thing that Mark pointed out, was that my bivvy bag effectively weighs exactly the same as his tent, so, anyway. Right, it is now officially
the end of day two, of the North Coast 500, it’s 10 o’clock, I’m in my bivvy bag, ready to sleep. I’ve had plenty to eat, plenty to drink, we’re gonna need it,
’cause tomorrow’s gonna be an epic day, the alarm is set for six, we’re gonna roll out soon after, ’cause there’s no easy
way to do 200 miles. And, if the wind is in the
same direction it was today, it’s gonna be considerably harder, so, so yeah, keep your fingers crossed. Mark, how you feeling
mate, about tomorrow? – Tip top. Nah, it’s another day, let’s
get a good night’s sleep. I think we’ll try and roll out about six. – [Simon] All right mate, sleep tight. – Sleep tight. – Over and out. Are there any wolves in Scotland? – [Mark] No. – [Simon] Bears? – No.
– Okay. All right then, day three
of the North Coast 500, starts here at quarter
past six in the morning. Morning mate. – Good morning. – Ah, let’s do it. (cool electronic music) Huh, right then, what time is it. A little bit of faffing done this morning. And, I think it’s about, ten to seven, man we did
some serious faffing. All right, see you in a sec. – Let’s ride. – Well, we have just emerged
from second breakfast, it’s now nine in the morning, so we’re pretty much
on our normal schedule, but we have at least covered
28 kilometres already, in an astonishing one hour and 22 minutes, so we’re flying, this morning, it’s fair to say, isn’t it Mark? – It’s not for lack of trying. I mean, genuinely, we’re quite, I dunno, we’re quite up for it ’cause
we’ve got a massive ride today, but, there’s a few lumps and bumps. I know for a fact it flattens
out a little bit further east, and, we just need the
wind to behave itself so we can go back to
Inverness before tomorrow. – Man, I’m so, I’m on my knees. But at least it’s the last day. – It hurts. – Oh (laughs), ah. – Si’s still got me on the hills. Ooh, hopefully it all starts
to flatten out pretty soon. Feeling good mate? – Yeah. – You still got the legs? – Well–
– Keep your, em– – I have at the minute,
I was just thinking as I was pottering up there, that I’m going pay for
that later (laughs). – No, it was good. That’s the post-breakfast
energy kicking in. – It’s remarkable, what a drink of coffee and a couple of sausages will do. (bright electronic music) – Hi.
– Hi there, ya all right? – Yeah, I’m all right. Hello.
– What kept ya? Oh, going well, going well. – [Simon] Fair play to you. – [Yellow Jacket Cyclist]
How’s yerself, you going well? – How are you doing?
– Grand. – Oh yeah, okay, up, down,
literally and metaphorically. – Yeah. So how many miles are
you running each day? – Probably the biggest day was 69, – Phwoar! – that was the first one, and then there’s been around 54, 55. Yeah, obviously (laughs),
given the circumstances, west of Ross, and the
Bealach and all that, oh my God, yeah. – [Simon] It’s absolutely phenomenal, I take my hat off to you.
– Yeah, I have got a bit of experience of running (laughs). I started running in 92,
and I did ultras since 94. – Where are you sleeping every night, you got the van? – Well, I should, the
crew stay in the van, I sleep in the back of a car, so. The back of a car, yes. They’ve got the white VW van. Now, I did start off in there and it didn’t really work out, so. – Best of luck for the last little bit. We’re going to have to
make the most of being on bikes on the descent. – Yeah, yeah, yeah, good on ya. – Right, cheers, all the best. – Yeah, okay.
– Thank you very much for talking to us. – Yeah, and enjoy the rest of the road. Thanks guys! – Cheers!
– What a dude. – Right, let’s do it. – We’re now heading fast
towards the east coast, and it’s a big contrast
to that sort of rugged, heather hills and craggy
rocks of the west. But, the road that we’ve
just turned on to is, again, one of my deviations, because I’ve never cycled down here, but I thought, looking at the map, that it would be a nice
way to avoid the A9. And, if we can find a beautiful route that links back to Inverness,
still on the button in terms of 500 miles, and it does a loop of the north coast. That would be pretty awesome. – Yeah, and you can tell by the amount of gravel down the middle that this is definitely a path less travelled. (gentle ambient music) – Right, well it feels like we’ve rejoined civilization, slightly, in that this is the A9. That also means, woo-hoo,
we’ve reached another coast. That is the North Sea over there. We got 4.9 Ks of the A9 now, and then Mark’s stealth
route has us going off to the right onto
goodness knows what roads, but if they’ve half as good as
the ones we’ve just been on, high-fives all round. Almost makes me slightly forget the fact that I’ve got 190 kilometres left to go. Although, probably about 160
if you minus the Black Isle. – We’ve reached a mini-milestone, in my head at least, of 120 K’s to go, so we’ve just stopped off
to get a much-needed brew. And we’ve bumped into Jenny Graham, who is the women’s
round-the-world record holder. So, astonishingly, I have the women’s round-the-world
record holder on one side, and the men’s round-the-world
record holder on the other. So, Jenny, great to see you. You did 124 days, self-supported. – Yep. So, just carried
everything I needed with me to fix myself, fix my
bike, sleep at night. – So, how does training
in the north of Scotland set you up for, I don’t know, Russia, and all the amazing places. – Well, I actually thought, I thought, oh, nowhere is going to throw me after training in the
Highlands of Scotland. – To be fair, that’s what I think, Jenny, I agree!
– Overwinter, it’s like, I knew it was gonna be
winter in Australia, but I was like, pff, what, Australians don’t know about winter. And, oh my God, yeah,
it absolutely had me, it was so cold out there, and so wet, and I was like, oh yeah, it’s not just in the Highlands, is it.
– Well, right, thank you very much! – (laughs) Thank you. – Right, left turn. 120K to go, come on. (exciting rock music) – Mark, that was awesome. – Well done matey. – Yeah, and you man. That was some ride. – It was huge. – Yeah.
– Three day, North Coast 500, with a twist. – With a twist, one of, genuinely, the greatest rides I’ve ever done, so thank you very much
for taking us round. – We got lucky with the weather,
but it’s a beautiful route, finished, finished–
– I thought it was always like that? – Yeah, well, finished with like a what, a 40 kilometre time trial
in the dark? (laughs) Which was fun. – [Simon] Big thanks to
Mark for taking us around the North Coast 500. Give this video a big thumbs up if you have enjoyed it, and make sure you check out the video
on the Tech channel, where I talk you through my bike and the kit that I’ve used for this.

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