Sunday. 12:30 (ish). A full seven-man cycle team ready to go on a cold Scottish afternoon. The LEJOG’s first full group cycle started off with a minor disagreement, quickly settled, over course and group options. This was soon overshadowed by issues with David’s bike (a loan from Mark Snr), as something was not quite right with the steering and brakes. Some head scratching and minor adjustments with a multi-tool, and it was deemed safe for him to continue (with caution) and to take it easy on the downhills. Our first target, the climb up the Crow Road, a route I now have done a couple of times, making tackling the hill a less daunting prospect. We set off with the intention of staggering the climb, so that everyone arrived at the top at roughly the same time to avoid cooling down too much. I ended up solo for the first half of the ascent, but could see Mark M, David and Brian in the distance, a target to slowly work towards, knowing that behind me Sammy, John and Gio would soon have me in their sights. I’ve somewhat improved in my climbing ability, not having to resort to my lowest gear at all, while still turning the pedals comfortably. Upwards I trudged, enjoying the scenery and watching some sort of bird of prey circling overhead, knocking back a few slugs of lucozade on the lesser inclines. About half-way Mark M dropped back to join me, and the two of us chatted away while making steady progress towards the leading pair. As we crested the last rise or so, John and Gio powered up to us, with Sammy not far behind, and a quick pit-stop at the top was the order of the day. I began to roll to a stop, unclipping my shoe and attempted to put down my left foot (my foot of choice in such stopping situations) but hadn’t realised my shoe had re-engaged itself, so gracefully tipped completely over into the snow-covered verge, much to the amusement of my riding team. I was glad it was a soft fall, so neither bike nor me took any damage.
Some further adjustments to David’s bike and some refueling and we were off again, taking it easy on the descent due to the roads being only partially clear of snow – riding in the clear tracks left by cars. I took to the back with David on his hobbled machine, him braking hard to avoid picking up too much speed as we headed down into the valley. We regrouped at the bottom and set off 2 abreast in an attempt to stop cars from splitting us while overtaking.
Not much further on, Fintry-ish, a puncture hit Mark M’s front, so we all stopped to pitch in, me keen to see how a repair (or rather a swap) is done. Rather than a masterclass in what (I’m told) is an easy enough procedure, a sticking tyre and issues with inners and pumps resulted in a good 20 minutes and many hands not making so much light work of the change. Still, I reckon I now know how it should be done, so can head out solo (once the nights get a bit lighter) confident I can tackle a change of tube (well, as long as its the front, getting the back wheel off is a whole different matter).
We moved on, the group splitting again as time passed, the stronger riders striking out leaving the stragglers a short distance back, I fell in with the back group, enjoying the company at the back, a welcome change from my previous outings when the back group was usually me, solo. A short distance on, a regroup for a junction and direction choice, followed by a short hill which split the group again. Finding myself feeling ok, decided to chase the leading group, just to see if I could catch them. I reeled them in and was soon tucked in behind John, in a train with Gio & Sammy, and we sped on. As my turn at the front hit (“is it a mile or half-mile at the front?”) we arrived at some direction choices, so we stopped to allow everyone to regroup before moving on, assured everyone was heading the right way home.
As the light began to fail, and the back slowed some more, I took advantage of my luminous jacket, hat and bike tails lights to be the “rear-guard”. The roads were getting busy with cars, some of whom don’t feel they need to give you much space as they go by, and I doubted the ability of some drivers to even notice my less colourfully garbed compatriots. It also let me take the last few miles easy, to be sure I’d complete a full training run (3rd time lucky!).
We arrived back a satisfied bunch, 49 miles or so and the first full team outing in the bag.
A productive LEJOG planning meeting (with the obligatory curry) was to follow, with Mark Snr and Cameron joining the riders at ‘the clubhouse’ (Gio’s place). The support van sorted, route now fixed (near enough), accommodation booking jobs handed out and a few more organised group runs pencilled in to calendars, including a coast to coast and a ‘2 days of doing a 100 miles so we know we can do it’. Its all coming together, all I have to do now is convince everyone that this bike is the best way to do the 1000 miles this summer.