We eventually rejoined the A9 after about 40km. We had pushed hard, but time was still against us and I remember it feeling like we had done so much, but were still only a fraction through the stage. We passed through Golspie stopping for snacks and drinks as we planned to push as far as possible before taking lunch. We came across a group of around 5 girls cycling to John O'Groats too, who were lucky enough to have a support car.
We set a good pace so were making reasonable time. And more importantly we'd got ahead of the group of girls. Every time we stopped though, they'd overtake us again which was frustrating. Eventually we passed them for good just before hitting Berriedale hill. We'd heard a lot bad/difficult things about Berriedale, but in all honesty given the hills we'd done in Devon, Cornwall and the Peak district it was relatively easy. Not steep at all, just long would be the only real difficult thing about it. We kicked up it quite hard (Al leading the way) so the group of girls had no chance of catching us. Shortly after Berriedale there was another hill, very similar, but after that we knew we'd done our last major hill of the trip!
We ducked off the main road onto a country lane for a bit. Al was trying to start a mutiny and go against the planned route, but in the end just followed. The country lane was a pleasant change, and quite a good shortcut. Unfortunately it marked the end for my rear shifter which gave way towards the end of the country lane. I could shift down gears but not up! I received quite a lot of banter as during the whole trip I'd been referring to my bike as "old faithful", not having had a single problem while the other two suffered a number of problems. I had cycled over 1500km without a problem (probably around 2500km if you include training), and it had decided to die on me 60km from the end.
I set my rear mech to a middle gear, and used my two front chainrings as my gears (so I had two gears, hard and easy!). I was lucky that the rest of the stage didn't have too much up hill, or fast down hill, and was relatively flat. I probably wouldn't have survived some of the earlier stages with that setup. Also my legs were well conditioned by now, so the muscle burn was less of a concern. The roads leading up to John O'Groats were enjoyable. We played gliding races (who can glide, unassisted the fastest) which Daryl won all the time largely due to all the weight on his bike. Many of the roads were straight as far as the eye could see, and had very few cars on them. It was a nice way to finish the stage and trip. We arrived at John O'Groats at around 7pm. By this time they'd taken the sign down at the finish so we were left standing next to a white post! We quickly got some photos done and headed off to the pub (I think the only one).
John O'Groats was actually a bit depressing. I had hoped for a quaint little village much like you find in Cornwall. Instead it was houses spread out all over the place, with not real centre. The local pub was a square/flat roof type of pub, and while it was great for us (stuffing ourselves and having a few drinks), it didn't feel the most welcoming. More of a locals pub! Also while I'm ranting, the hostel isn't in John O'Groats. In fact it's a good 5-10 minute cycle away from John O'Groats. I found this quite annoying given how it was advertised. It wasn't cheap either. For the same price we could have stayed up the pub I mentioned, which despite not being the nicest pub, would have been a much better option. Plus we could have had a few more drinks!
We cycled back in the dark at around 10pm (the hostel anoyingly locks up at 11pm). Al and I pulled over when we got to the hostel. Daryl had backed off a bit complaining that my rear light was blinding. We saw him approaching, and expected him to see two guys with their bike lights on waiting at the side of the road. Of course Daryl managed to miss this, and went straight past us. I did consider shouting out, but given it was near 11pm, and in housed area, I couldn't. We watched the red rear light of Daryl's bike go off into the black, part in shock, part laughing. Eventually Daryl realised we were no longer in front of him, and that he was no longer surrounded by houses and turned back. He was a bit grumpy about it all when he got to the hostel, especially as he thought he had lost his lock (which was actually in his bag). It was nice to finish the day with a good laugh.