There’s cycling, and then there’s cycling the Hebridean Way in Scotland.
Soldotna’s Matt and Sarah Pyhala traveled halfway across the globe this summer to bike the hallowed Scottish route, which stretches 185 miles from the northern Butt of Lewis to the southern tip of the island of Vatersay off the northwest coast of Scotland.
The two Soldotna cyclists will detail their adventure Thursday evening at the Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center as part of KDLL’s Adventure Talks series.
The Hebridean Way is the name given to the path that spans the Hebrides, a collection of islands off the northwest coast of Scotland.
The Pyhalas traveled to Scotland in late May to complete a multi-day cycling trip and to meet up with some friends for a Scottish distillery tour. Pyhala said he and his wife jumped a ferry in Oban, located on the mainland, to reach the island of Vatersay, where they began their trip on June 1 from Castle Bay.
It took the Pyhalas four days to bike 200 miles to the northern tip of Lewis, camping along the way as they experienced the rugged terrain in a way that most tourists never do, which is what Pyhala intended.
“It was just about looking at traveling in a different way,” he said. “Instead of renting a car, going point to point, taking in things that way, we wanted to get on a bike and experience it at a slower pace. Just seeing it from a different way.”
The route follows the National Cycle Network 780, a Scottish national bike route that winds its way through hilly countryside and small communities that dot the Hebrides.
Before the trip, Pyhala said that he and Sarah were tossing around ideas of where to bike. He said the Hebridean Way wasn’t settled on until a trip to an equipment rental shop, where an employee suggested the route.
“They looked at our timeline, so she suggested that’s what we do,” he said. “I investigated it, and ‘oh yeah, this is the one we’re going to do’. The other routes along the road had busier highways, and the Hebridean way, it’s very much wilderness.”
The Hebridean route follows what Pyhala described as a single-lane road that features two-way traffic, with frequent pullouts on each side of the road that allows opportunities to pass. Pyhala said that made for the occasional hair-raising adventure.
“One of most terrifying times of my life was rush hour,” he said.
Pyhala said he and his wife crossed 10 islands, seven causeways that link each island to each other, and 200 miles, although Pyhala said they ended up at around 250 miles when all was said and done.
“We did a bit of extra credit,” Pyhala said, referring to a fifth day that tacked on another 50 miles that brought the Pyhalas to the tiny community of Mangersta that overlooks the north Atlantic Ocean. The two ended up staying a night at a ritzy bothy, or a wilderness cabin or shelter that is often free for public use.
Following the bike trip, Pyhala said they met up with a few Danish friends for a tour of Scottish distilleries.
The Hebrides have been inhabited for centuries by a collection of Celtic, Norse and English-speaking people, and are an archipelago of more than 100 islands. Pyhala said experiencing the beautiful terrain of Scotland from the saddle of a bike is what he wants to share with the crowd Thursday at the Adventure Talks.
“We wanted to do things that were more outdoorsy and get in the outdoors and experience that part of Scotland,” he said. “It’s known for that scenic beauty, so we toyed with different ideas. It’s a different way of experiencing a foreign country.”