The Highland Heist
Charlie the Bikemonger reveals his criminal past. Does ‘I was very tired’ count as a defence?
You know what? Bikepacking can really change you. Around ten years ago I cycled with my two great friends Crashy Simon and Beardy Martin from the south coast of England to Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands, so we could race the Single Speed World Champs. Naturally we cycled up on single speeds, largely because we had no idea what we were doing and bravado gets you up hills quicker than thinking things through (maybe).
This adventure turned out to be a tipping point in my life. I had temporarily left my job, my family, children, home, pets… and replaced them with almost nothing. I had never been so happy with so little. We never had accommodation, or bookings; we had a tarp and the woods beside the road. Even the simple luxury of an iPod was used only once on a massive climb. I know it was massive because the climb lasted the duration of three songs and one of them was a Pink Floyd track. Maybe this is how climbs should now be measured. It would make the Tour de France commentary more interesting… “Will Froome win on Alpe d’Huez today? He has a 15-second lead on Sagan, but he’s run out of Erasure tracks, and Sagan has shifted from the steady cadence of Pink Floyd to the more sprinty Psychedelic Porn Crumpets for the final kilometres – the gap is closing…”
It was a revelation to travel with so little: sleeping kit, not even a change of clothes, a stove, one pan for all three of us to eat from, the ingredients for a risotto, and a bottle of whisky. If we needed something we would – one way or another – find it along our way.
After many days of spinning like a bastard, and churning out one-speed climbs with a dead low cadence and even tacking from side to side across the roads, we arrived in the Highlands of Scotland. We didn’t arrive as sprinty, alert, fresh cyclists. We were stinking, so very, very tired, and barely with it. Martin had mistaken a duck for a barge on the river one night. “Look a barge..!” “Where?” “There, right in front of you…” “No, Martin that is a duck…” “No, it’s a barge.. hold on… oh yeah. Duck.” You have to be pretty bloody tired to make that sort of visual perception error.
I recall it was a cool damp morning when we rolled into a town of tourists, cafés and kilt shops. I left my amigos with a pretty crappy pastry and a coffee and walked to the post office and tourist gift shop. It was a pretty good gift shop, and I got some pretty good tourist fodder for my family: a Ladybird book about the Highland Clearances to educate my children, a cuddly Aberdeen Angus cow, a Scottish cookbook stuffed full of bland recipes, fudge in a tartan tin. Shit like that. I then grabbed a postcard, and a tartan pen and wrote a note to my family, wrote my home address on a Jiffy bag, looked at the tartan pen, priced at £1.50, thought what the hell, threw it in the bag and queued up at the post office counter.
Then it was back on the bikes for the closing stages of our great adventure – just two more days to reach Aviemore and the mess that is single speed racing. But riding three abreast out of town and along the banks of the River Tay, Beardy noticed that I looked confused and puzzled. He enquired if I was OK.
“Dude, I think I’ve just robbed the post office…” “You bloody done what?” “I’ve just robbed the post office.” “What. You are kidding right, what like a bank job, a hold-up…?” “No, yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ve just piled forty quid’s worth of tourist tat into a Jiffy bag, posted it home for £3.45 and not paid for the stuff inside.”
We freewheeled a bit while we contemplated my freeloading… Freewheeling freeloaders. Roaming free.