'That was for you mum' - Sam Milton completes his gruelling North Coast 500 cycle in his mother's memory, and raises more than £10,000 for Friends of ANCHOR charity that supported his family
Get a digital copy of the Northern Scot delivered straight to your inbox every week
STUNNING scenery rewarded gruelling climbs as former Highland League footballer Sam Milton cycled the North Coast 500 route in memory of his mum.
Milton (33) covered a total of 535 miles by pedalling for almost 32 hours over five days to complete his challenge and raise more than £10,000 for a charity which supported his late mother Mandy during her cancer battle until she passed away in March.
This week. the ex-Lossiemouth player’s fundraising total stood at almost £9300, with Gift Aid adding an extra £2000 and more donations still to come.
The money will go to Friends of ANCHOR, who support cancer patients and their families across the north-east.
“It was great to raise some money and give something back to the charity, but at the same time we were doing it in memory of my mum,” he said.
“If I had raised £100 or £1000 I would have been quite happy, it wouldn’t have changed my approach to the challenge.
“But the fact that we are nearing £10,000 is just absolutely incredible. I’m just overwhelmed by the support and just hope that the funds raised can go a long way towards making sure that the charity can continue to do what it does in terms of caring for cancer patients.”
Milton, who took up running after football and now plans to compete in a triathlon, burned over 4000 calories a day and climbed around 36,000ft over the full distance of the popular tourist trail to reach the finish line at Inverness Castle last Friday.
The offshore worker then wrote a Facebook post saying “That was for you mum” with a heart, followed by NC500 and a tick to say he had accomplished his punishing challenge.
Inspired by his mother’s determination and positive attitude throughout her illness, he powered through stretches like the Bealach na Bà mountain pass,which is the steepest road climb in the UK.
“It was 626 metres of climbing and almost 10km of uphill climbing – 20 per cent at its steepest gradient,” he said. “But when the going got tough, in terms of the discomfort and the pain I knew it was temporary.
“When you think of the likes of what my mum had to endure and the fact that she never complained once, it certainly gave me strength and the determination to keep going.
“That positivity gave me added impetus to keep going.
"You knew at the end of the day you would get a bit of a break, whereas what my mum and other people go through, you can’t really relate to that.
"It gave me that added impetus and drive on, to grind it out and do it.”
Bealach na Bà was accomplished last Monday as Milton cycled the 108 miles from Inverness to Sheildaig on the banks of Loch Torridon.
By Tuesday he pedalled north through the Knockan Crag nature reserve past Ullapool to reach Ardmair.
Day three took him past the famous Smoo caves and round Loch Eriboll to head over the Kyle of Tongue crossing - another 114 miles completed.
From Tongue it was back up north on Thursday to sweep through Bettyhill and past the Dounreay nuclear plant and most northerly point at Dunnet Head to the iconic landmark of John O'Groats, before heading south through Caithness to Dunbeath.
Following that 100 mile stretch, a headwind tested Milton's resolve as he went down the Berriedale braes, through Sutherland and Ross-shire to reach where it all began - Inverness Castle.
That final leg took over seven hours, burning 5721 calories and clocking up 118 miles - ten more than expected.
“At Bonar Bridge I should have went left to Ardgay but the GPS was a bit sketchy and the Garmin [route navigation] was telling me to go right,” he explained.
“Five miles down that road it said I had went off course so I stopped and checked my phone and realised I was heading north.
“My last day was meant to be 108 miles and ended up 118 – just what you don’t need at the end of a 500-plus ride.
"I joked with everyone at Inverness Castle, saying sorry for keeping them waiting."
But he completed the route with no injuries, bike issues or mishaps, and when asked if he would do it again, his response was: “In a heartbeat – but the other way round so I could enjoy the scenery more.”
Supported by dad John and wife Tessa on the roads, he said everything went as well as he could have hoped and the weather was kind to him.
"To be honest I felt I was getting stronger if anything as the challenge went on, which was really encouraging.
"In terms of the scenery, the west coast was stunning but it was probably the toughest because of the undulating terrain. It was just constant in terms of the unrelenting nature, the ups and downs.
"They always say in cycling you need to earn the downhillers and I was certainly made to earn mine with some of those climbs.
"It was the single track roads. A lot of the time you were coming down these descents a bit blind in the sense of it being single track and you didn’t know what you were going to meet round the corner so you would always have to err on the side of caution.
"You were on your brakes quite a lot, maybe a lot more than you would have been if it was standard carriageway.
"It was still quite busy with camper vans and the likes so you certainly had to keep your wits about you on the single track roads and on the descents.
"You can easily top 40 miles per hour, even 50 on some of the steeper descents so it is quite scary when you are coming down on 25mm of rubber. There’s not a lot of contact with the ground."
Milton's employers, Ithaca Energy, promised to add £500 to his fundraising total if he completed his challenge and they were true to their word.
That extra sum, along with more donations from work mates, will smash the online total through the £10,000 mark, not including the £2000 gift aid.
To make a donation to his challenge, visit https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/SamMilton .