The time we'd have for summer vacation seemed to keep growing as the school year wrapped up for Heidi. With standard vacation time extended and some crafty planning and organization, we'd have about six weeks for travel adventures. As trips were booked with each new announcement of time off, the stoke for summer to arrive was pretty high. Portugal, Scotland, Iceland, Slovenia, Italy, and Switzerland were on the books and when July arrived there was no turning back.
Before the biking could start we'd have to go to Portugal for a week of getting absolutely worked while continuing our quest to learn to surf. The hope was to have a quiet week on the coast and use surfing as a way to get us into the water. We've somehow fallen in love with the people, biking, surfing and coast of Portugal. This last trip was our third visit here this year. We were told to check out the Algarve area for its gorgious coastline and mellow surfing. We quickly chose to stay in the tiny town of Arrifana on the Atlantic coast.
We surfed for four days and had some great success right off the bat. As the surf got a little bigger each day and our instructor surfed more our success rate plummeted. By day four, I was surprised we could even walk. We hadn't been that exhausted and sore in a while. Each day we'd spend two hours fighting the surf for that exhilarating split second of riding a wave. The near drownings, runny surfer nose, headaches, sunburn, and exhaustion seemed to all work in keeping this trip a quiet one. By the time we finished surfing, had a bit to eat, a nap and dinner there was no other option than to sleep. Forced relaxation by exhaustion. We returned back to Roma oddly refreshed and eager to prep for the next two weeks traveling with bikes and gear.
Our arrival in Inverness couldn't have been staged any better. Blue skies and bright summer colors made for a picturesque welcome. Scotland was giving us a small peak of its amazing natural beauty before the, more common, "mist" arrived. Walking off the plane, we were excited and anxious to get started on this adventure through the Scotish Highlands.
The trip would start the day after a short buffer day in Inverness. The buffer was used to tie up any loose ends you may have before the trip starts. Although you try your best to get those loose ends mended somehow the baggage department working on a different continent just can't track your bag. Shocking. So you'll need a fixer. Our fixer used his wizardry, maybe broke some traffic laws and made vacation dreams come true. Thanks Bear!
The gang for the week would all gather at the clubhouse provided by H&I Adventures around noon for the customary pretrip meet and greet. Bikes were built and safety was discussed so we headed out towards an old Insane Asylum to shred the local trails. By no surprise, the end of day one had everyone pumped on riding in Scotland and anxiously anticipating what the future would hold for us over the next week.
Group dynamics on these guided trips are always a crapshoot and can make or break a trip for folks. Trying to keep a group of riders meshed together through a week of Scotland's best riding could be tricky and could possibly result in some hurt feelings out on the trial. Fortunately, our group was the perfect mix of ripping riders and not a single tear of sorrow was shed. Tears of joy, on the other hand, were shed at least once that I remember. Our stars were aligning. Only because we had the group we did were we able to truly get a taste of the best riding Scotland had to offer.
Scotland is someplace special for anyone wanting to see wild, remote places. Being ignorant of what the country had to offer before this trip I was blown away at every turn by the stunning alpine peaks and glowing green valleys. The natural beauty of Scotland combined with an incredible amount of trails puts this island on a scale that many places in Europe can't touch. Shhh. Trails here vary so widely that you pick your pleasure and Scotland provides the goods. In the alpine, the rocky terrain is loose, steep and rowdy while the trails below treeline offer a loamy mix with rooted, greasy singletrack that will push anyone's skills. Top those broad descriptions off with the local mist and you have yourself a recipe for an adventurous time.
The seven days we rode in Scotland will forever go down as a trip of a lifetime. We'll never forget the excitement of finishing a new adventure on a bike each day with people we knew loved being on their bikes as much as we did. Joanne, John, Jordan, Nick and our guide Chris took our trip to the next level and we're blessed to have shared this time with such a fantastic group of humans. Thank you all!
We chose this particular trip based on the bike tour company H&I Adventures. They organize (to put it loosely) trips to the coolest places on the planet that a mountain biker could imagine visiting. The whole company is setting the bar of service and professionalism to a standard of bike tours that no one will reach. Heidi and I were amazed at the effort and dedication put forth to making sure everything was going as well as it should. The Bear, our guide, is cut from a rare mold. His skills and knowledge as a guide, mechanic, physicist, and lover of bikes put him in a field of his own. Add the fact that he's genuinely a nice person you quickly realize that the bar he sets is unattainable by many other guides. Besides his daily tasks of guiding a bunch of dirtbags safely through the mud all day, Chris was always going above what I'd expect from a guide. No one in our group was unaffected by one of The Bear's herculean gestures of kindness. "Brain on, shock's open."
After such an exceptional trip our state of bliss was hard to break out of. Before we knew it we're headed back to the airport with no time to decompress and think about what just happened. It was hard being on cloud 9 and trying to shift gears away from Scotland to think that we're headed to another trip of a lifetime in Iceland. Our blissful state carried us through our flights over the pond but was quickly crushed as we arrived in Reykjavik and our bikes hadn't.