A Series of (Un)Fortunate Events

A Series of (Un)Fortunate Events

Knowing when to turn around is a fine art. We were making our way to the northern coast of Scotland and at some point decided John O' Groats no longer felt like a place we needed to see.

Steven already had a memory of reaching the popular tourist destination while motorbiking around the UK several years ago, and I prefer being off the beaten track anyway.

So there we were in Altnahara when we decided to make a sharp left and head west, intent on finding a remote trail which seemed to connect to another route leading toward Ullapool.

We needed water.

The river running through Altnahara looked questionable even with our filter, not that the region is polluted per se, but run off from animal agriculture and mono-crop farming makes us think twice.

We passed someone working in a garden and asked if we could fill up our bottles, but she said she only works in the garden and the house was a rental, currently locked up. She gave us some advice and off we went, but the house she suggested wasn't easily accessible from the road.

Back to the river we went, deciding to just trust it.

But that's when a friendly shout reached our ears and we looked up to see the woman we'd met waving with an armful of bottled water. She'd gathered some of her own supplies and drove out to find us. We gratefully accepted the water, inwardly vowing to make eco-bricks with the single-use plastic. It was hard to explain our little-as-possible approach to plastic in that moment when greeted with such a loving gesture of support and kindness.

As we often say,

Everything is always working out.

We turned from one remote rode to an even emptier road, awed by the vastness of the landscape and towering clouds. The Highlands are spectacular with their sweeping vistas. I even felt a sense of anxiety feeling so small in the landscape.

All flowed smoothly, for a bit.

About twelve miles in we started going down a steep hill while noting the first signs of rain in the area. Up until that point we'd enjoyed partially cloudy skies, a tailwind and balmy temperatures for early May. A lively chat had carried us calmly to that point and now we cruised down a hill, curious about reaching the turn-off for the even more remote track.

That's when it hit me.

The turn-off!

I remembered we weren't meant to cycle this far in on the road and we reached halfway down the big hill when I asked Steven to check the map.

Sure enough we'd missed the turn about what felt like a mile ago.

And that was the first of a series of (un)fortunate events.

Suddenly it started pouring rain. We pulled on our waterproofs, not overly deterred, yet. Turning around the wind blasted us with a full-force headwind, but we cycled on. Up hill, into the rain and cold wind. This certainly wasn't our first ascending, cold, rainy and windy ride.

But then...


The sound every cyclist knows and dreads.

Steven's back tire let out a massive hiss as the pressure quickly dropped and we were faced with the next obstacle.

We plummeted from high in the sky to trudging up a hill like two kittens lost in a frightful storm.

A plug from an earlier puncture had let loose and the bike was unridable.

To understand this better, we have to share a brief backstory. At the time we were riding with 27.5" x 2.8" plus size tubeless tires and before we even set off on the journey, Steven acquired a puncture merely a mile from his home. That puncture had been haunting us ever since. Sometimes it would randomly hiss but then reseal. Sometimes the plug popped out. Sometimes it behaved for two-weeks straight, only to start hissing again.

This tire really had its own personality and seemed to enjoy acting up in the most inconvenient of moments.

Like now, in the remote Highlands, riding uphill in the cold and windy rain with no shops or support for many miles around.

We have a great sense of humor and love the story today, but at the time it felt really hard. We were both already feeling tired, cold, wet and hungry. Add to it that we were just getting into a more wild area without knowing the conditions of our track ahead, which was technically a hiking trail.

We reached our intended turn-off point and saw a small shed down the track. The humble building offered a wind shield where Steven could get to work on the tire, an ordeal that lasted quite awhile. In the meantime I sat on the ground hugging my knees and generally doing my best to zone out of the situation. What would Wimhof do?

Fully in, let it go - Wim Hof

"I think I got it!" Steven finally exclaimed after much fiddling about. Side note here, he's brilliant with bikes and always knows how to fix things, having built our two bikes himself. I'm actively learning from him as we go along (but we both agree I have to work on my patience when it comes to technicalities).

"Yes!" I jumped up, excited to get moving again and warm up. I was shivering by that point.

We hopped on the bikes and continued on the super rocky road for...

Two seconds.

Pssssssssssssss psssss pssss!!!!!!

The puncture seemed to exclaim even louder this time, but wait.

It was now the front tire!

The front tire had a completely new tear and rebelled wildly with a vengeful hiss.

We quickly returned to the shed-impromptu-wind-break and Steven once again pulled out the supplies to fix this puncture.

Many long minutes later and we were back on the track again. By now our confidence of the path ahead was quickly fading. But we felt committed and here is a good moment to repeat the opening statement of this post.

Knowing when to turn around is a fine art.

Trusting your intuition is a skill to practice, as sometimes fear dances around wearing the costume of intuition. Although we felt doubts we also had a feeling that something promising lay ahead. We carried down the correct hill this time and came to a wild stream rushing vivaciously in the spring weather. A small bridge led us over into a small woodland where once again, the series of (un)fortunate events continued.


By now you understand what this means. Neither of us can recall which puncture called out on the third occassion. Steven was near tears of frustration by that point and I was fixating my attention on some energy bars to distract from the cold. Rain poured off us and we were both shivering. We knew the best thing would be to find a spot to pitch our tent early, call it a day and wait for the rain to stop.

Before then we had to fix the puncture, so we hovered beneath the trees while Steven got to work and I pulled out the energy bars.

That's when a distant rumble pierced the sounds of dropping rain and stream water. A vehicle was approaching from whence we came.

Thick tires of a LandRover churned the gravel and slowed as the driver spotted us. The window rolled down just like in the movies and a posh British accent rang out.

"Can I be of any assistance?"

That's how we met Hugo, a British man who lived part-time on the property we were traveling through. We promptly explained the situation and he invited us to his house for a cup of tea to warm up for a bit.

Thank you Universe!

It turns out we were just a few minutes from the end of the gravel road where it turns into the hiking path we'd searched out. That's where Hugo's house set, an old picturesque estate straight from a romance novel. Hugo waved us in and within moments stood dripping wet outside his kitchen.

The kettle hissed, and Steven jumped. But we realized it was a welcome sound this time, and Hugo poured us two cups of tea. We took stock of our new surroundings while feeling a bit out of sorts from the last hour of events. Hugo led us into polite small-talk as we warmed up, sipping tea and trying to feel quite ordinary with the sudden turn of events.

Our host gave us the WiFi details so Steven could get to work researching some new parts to fix the tires. We had a lot to figure out now with dwindling supplies calling for a change of plans.

Fast-forward another hour later and we were heading off again, this time into lighter rain. Hugo had given us access to one of his sheds where Steven fixed the puncture and gave our bikes a good look-over. We felt ready to continue on and followed the directions Hugo and his brother had given us. They assured us the trail was easy and would be no problem for our bikes.

But within minutes of leaving the vicinity, the final (un)fortunate event arose with alarming speed. I suddenly had to use the toilet. As Steven and I use as code, "Toilet, toilet," meaning I had to poo. NOW.

We looked around the open landscape while I hopped off the bike and danced around.

"I really have to go!" Maybe it was the energy bar or all the excitement. Or more likely, the copious amounts of caffenated tea, which I'm not used to.

My knight in shining armor, eg soaking wet raingear, scouted out a poo spot behind a boulder and got to work with the shovel. The house was well out of sight but at that moment I wouldn't have cared.

A glorious few minutes later and relief washed over me, as refreshing as the still-falling rain.

It's then when we realized our plan to head deeper into the wilderness was probably not the best idea. Not with now nearly zero puncture repair supplies and no way to reach the outside world. Sure, we would make it no matter what, even if we had to walk.

This is where we apply the fine art of turning around. While we have the privilege of choice, we are grateful to use it.

Our new plan was to go back into the forest from earlier, camp early, and head back to Altnahara the next day where we could slow down and make a new plan. And that's exactly what we did.

Sunny skies the next morning.

We found a serene spot along the treeline, watched swallows swooping in the evening air and spotted deer in the distance. The night passed peacefully and the next morning we filled our bottles from the lively stream.

Returning all those miles from the previous day was not an easy task for our morale, but we took it in stride and made it to Altnahara with new energy. The story continues from here and we are happy to share it leads on with a new series of ultra fortunate events, thanks to the kind people we met in town.

In the end we backtracked a full 40 miles to reach another alternate but more established road leading to Ullapool.

That's another story for another day (check out the next post).

Oh, and why the (un) in parentheses? We don't see these events as a negative occurence, but like the ring to the phrase "A series of unfortunate events." Sometimes events feel tough, but they can lead us to beautiful places and we have to trust the process.

After all,

Everything is always working out.

Written by Karla Sanders @karlasandersart | Photos by Steven Tiller @steventiller