Category Archives: John

the final training ride?

Saturday was to be our last ‘team training’ ride before the LEJOG. In the end there were four riders – Bryan, John, Sam and myself. John cycled to mine and we headed the 5 or so miles to the “Club House” to meet the others. The four of us set off to do an ‘easy pace’ 60 miles or so, but we were soon moving at a blistering pace on route to Stirling, a slight tail wind helping us reach a comfortable 20mph+ average. The miles slipped by, with us occasionally riding 2×2 to chat as we easily moved along what felt like gentle downhill roads, with barely any inclines in our way. We passed through Denny and Bannockburn, and soon arrived at Stirling. A small boy called out “look, its the Tour de France” as we whisked by – the first (and probably last) time I’ll be mistaken for a pro’ cyclist.

pro_tour

The pro tour?

As we turned back from Stirling along the A811, the effort required jumped up as we were now facing into the same wind that had helped us along so far. Bending low on the bars for my stints behind the man at the front to save energy, tucking even lower when my turn at the front came along, we worked our way along the road, breaking the momentum in our changes only briefly to snap a quick ‘overtaking’ photo for John.

action_photo

Big J on the attack!

This turned out to be costly, as unaware of our antics, Sam powered on while the rest of us messed about, and a ‘chase’ to get back on his wheel ensued, lead by myself as the next man in the train. Just as we caught him up, his 0.5 mile stint completed, and I took over at the front, still out of breath from the pursuit. Not to worry, once my turn at the front was over, I’d have time to recover on the back of the train. Not quite, as just as I peeled off the front, we were starting the climb up the Kippen hill, so drafting was going to be of little help. Bah.


a fun 4.5 minutes going up the Kippen hill

We climbed pretty much as a group, pausing briefly at the village to regroup for the final stretch of the ascent. At the top, a quick stop turned into a slightly longer break as Bryan fixed a creaking saddle and Sam’s electronic gears needed some attention.

gearsNsaddle

Anyone know the reset process for electronic gears?

The ride down was taken steadily, with only a brief mile or two before the Crow Road and our second and final climb of the day. The Crow Road was at the end of my first ever outing on the bike, back in a chilly, wet November last year when I was completely new to modern cycling and could barely work the gears and worries of falling off while ‘clipped in’ were a distinct possibility. So it was apt that the last climb in my final training ride before our LEJOG would also be on that same hill. Back then, cycling up-hill at any sort of speed was a distant dream – I’d chug uphill at barely over walking pace, often thinking I’d be quicker hopping off the bike and running, as my more cycle-experienced team-mates fast vanished into the distance, seeming to glide uphill with barely any effort. Not so today. We all moved up together, Sam and John taking the lead, our speed barely dropping below 10mph except on the steepest sections. Bryan fell off a little, so as we made the top we were one man short, but the descent would be followed by a stop to regroup. My bottle bounced out of its cage at the car park, a fellow cyclist going uphill recovering it for me, as I braked hard and was working out how on earth to turn back up hill to recover it when sat in my top gear (walking was my plan). Bottle back on board I continued down to the turn-off, Bryan soon with us and the four of us got back ‘in the train’ for the last few miles home.

A slight detour at Torrance from the ‘normal’ route added an extra 4 miles. After a stint at the front, knocking back some water, I found myself off the back of the group, and struggling to regain their back wheels. My recent “these hills are easy” self confidence was vanishing as quickly as the group were into the distance. A red light ahead spurred me to catch them, but they all stopped for a quick ‘which way is it’ just before the lights, allowing me catch up, chow down a banana and let them know “I’m suddenly done in”. Not good. We got going again, my energy slowly returning, but I still struggled on some of the slight uphill sections, pushing hard to stay in-group. The downhill to the second to last junction caused a bit of a stir, Sam in the lead coming to a near stop before shooting out, leaving the rest of us unclipped waiting for the traffic. As we’d just been coming downhill, I was in a high gear, so stood up and pushed hard up the first section of the last short hill before home, zipping ahead of Bryan and John, who not liking this ‘attack’ returned the favour as I hit ‘lactic acid’ threshold, sitting down as they zoomed by me before they too slowed up near the top. I rolled after them, catching up on the roundabout as we turned in to stop at the “Club House”, comparing averages as we hopped off our bikes and loaded them onto the cars. 18.5 mph. That was an ‘easy’ training ride? There’ll be none of that crazy speeding on the LEJOG.

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/201881474

cyclists vs midges

Saturday 14th. Probably the last proper team training outing before the big day on the 27th. Start point was to be Callander. Big J and Sam were going to ride an extra 30 odd miles from John’s place, but Bryan had offered to give Mark and myself a lift to the start point. Turns out the drive over took a lot longer than anticipated, and the 12:30 start slipped about an hour. We got parked up, grabbed a quick bite and set off. I immediately regretted going single layer-short sleeve, as although the sun was sort of out, it was chilly on the bike. However, once the train got going at a solid pace I soon warmed up and we were making good time along the road. A minor collision with some on-road debris resulted in a possible puncture for Sam, so a brief stop to check it out was called. Re-inflating the tyre seemed to sort it out so we restarted.

The weather soon turned, and drizzle was upon us as we hit a slow climb out of Lochearnhead. The drizzle turned to rain, so a stop for jackets-on for yours truly was made (yeah, I still can’t put on a jacket in the saddle). The hill continued, the rain relenting as we reached the top, but Sam’s back tyre had deflated on the way up, so needed a new tube. We pulled over in a lay-by and he changed the tube. The rain had stopped, and the midges were out, thousands of ’em. I’m usually a prime target for these little beasties, and this time it was no different, swarming round me as I held Sam’s bike for him as he hurriedly worked the new tube onto his wheel. However, the sheer number of the wee beasties resulted in everyone getting chewed at, as we swatted and splatted them as best we could. Tube changed, back on bikes, escape the beasties down the hill!

midge_mayhem

the aftermath of cyclists vs midges

by_cottage

fold your arms, and no smiling!

On through Killin and to Glenlochay, with a brief stop at Big J’s in-law’s cottage for a quick photo session and chat about the hill to come – the road is a bit ‘rough’ and there are gates in the deer fence on the hill that need opened and closed to get through. There’s also a bit where you need to get off the bike… not liking the sound of that. We were soon at the foot of the hill, having already picked our way through some very pot-holed and gravel covered sections of road. The first gate lay ahead of us, Bryan in the lead opening it for us, but we all had to dismount to get by the cattle grid, Big J’s hope of just cycling through was not happening. Clipping-in on the slope was a challenge, and avoiding the numerous holes, rocks and gravel strewn over what was left of the tarmac was not making this climb any easier. Mark and Sam took to the front, I was in the middle followed up by Bryan and John, all of us picking our way carefully through the mess that was once a road, while working hard to get up the hill. Another gate and cattle grid lay between us and the top, this time we were able to slip through the ‘kissing gate’ at the side. Again, clipping in not easy on these kind of slopes, but everyone eventually got to the 500m high summit.

Bryan_n_BigJ

Bryan and Big J on one of the better bits of road

The downward section was not the normal relaxing descent, the road equally pitted and scattered with obstacles as the ascent. At the bottom we regrouped, Big J rolling to a stop, having picked up a front puncture somewhere on the last section of the descent.

tyre_burst

help me Mavic Man!

Wheel off, tyre quickly checked for thorns, new tube in, inflated with the gas, when BANG! the tube exploded. Mark and John started to put in a second tube, taking their time to avoid another issue.  However, there was something up – the tube was starting to bulge out the wall of the tyre. An inch-long gash in the sidewall was responsible. Not looking good, but Sam produced his tyre patches and the tyre was fixed up, inflated as best we could without bursting the patch and we set off, John cautious at first to be sure the tyre was going to hold.

The road rolled on, the mostly downward section offering a welcome respite from the recent climb, but this was a short-lived 10 mile section before the long climb up the road of Ben Lawers. Five miles or so of steady uphill was before us, but not as harsh as the previous climb.

ben_lawer_climb

could that be a cakey shop ahead??

lochan at top of Ben Lawer

the top reached

We were soon cycling alongside the lochan at the summit, the flat soon becoming a steep descent, picking up speed as we headed down toward the A827 and the return section to Killin. The final short climb back up to the ‘midge’ spot and it was mostly flat or downhill all the way ‘home’, Bryan taking the front to ‘get some exercise’ for several miles, with the last 3 miles seeing a burst of speed to finish the day.

The final fun of they day – getting 5 men and 5 bicycles into one car. This involved various wheels being taken off and held on knees, but they were all squashed in somehow for the trip back to Glasgow, where a curry (plus unexpected karaoke) awaited us in Cambuslang.

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/199377763

Costa Del Cycling

After returning from our very own Farce Whitton trip on the Sunday, I was down to London by coach on the Monday at 5.45 am.  Returning from London at midnight on the Wednesday, it was then an early rise to drive to Leeds on the Thursday and the family hols to Calahondas, just outside of Marbella.  So after the Farce, very little in the way of exercise in the following week.  Of course, I had sussed out marbellabikerental.com.  It’s obligatory you know.

An immediate issue of being based in Calahondas is that there is only one road that takes you basically anywhere – the N135*.  This is a dual carriageway that “you are allowed to cycle on” – but really, just don’t.  So if  I were to hire a bike, would I have anywhere to bike?

Come the following Monday I’m going stir crazy – I’m getting the bike for a few days and I’ll suss it out from there.  Pick up the bike from the hire shop (lovely, helpful couple – if you’re in the Marbella area use them) and they flag up a couple of routes – including the N135 – no.  “Are there any hills” I ask?  They immediately burst out laughing.  Oh yes there are indeed hills.  In fact the only flat is on the N135 – no.

Trip one – Tuesday

A 5.30 alarm call and I awoke and spring up – it’s pitch dark.  I get up and have breakfast (never seems right at this time – it’s the middle of the night).  In truth, I’d have been better sleeping on for at least another half hour as I slowly mess around getting gear together and planning my route.  Eventually, I head out in the dark, throw the bike in the car and drive towards Marbella with a rough plan of where I want to start.

I end up in a town just a couple of miles from the hire shop – which took an hour and a half to find the previous day.  Today’s route will see me head to Ronda (“help me Ronda (sic), help, help me Ronda will play through my head continually as I climb the hills).

You’re always uneasy on roads that you don’t know.  Looking on the map, this looks like a main A road that you would generally disregard from a major cycle unless you had no option.  However, the girl in the shop said it was fine and the further you go the finer it gets.  So I set off.  And there’s a slight incline (3%) to begin with.  This soon changes to 6% and the town is left behind and the route is beginning to look pretty good.  Over the hill, the sun is beginning to think about getting up – wish I’d got on the road earlier now. So up we go with the gradient never below 3% but never above 8% for mile after mile.  This is Tour de France like cycling – except my average speed is probably a touch higher than those chaps – well, I’m on a 3 day route, they do 21.  After 12 mile the road flattens a little and in fact there’s then several miles descending.  Truth of the matter is that I’d rather have climbed all the way to Ronda and then enjoyed turning round and freewheeling the 30 miles back to the start.

Some really stunning scenery on this run.  Looking down at some golf courses from way up the hill was stunning – this is what cycling is all about.  However, a major problem was beginning to happen.  I’d forgotten my bib shorts with their nice padding and my backside was now being seriously irked by the saddle of the hire bike to the extent that peddling was becoming an issue.  Anyway, onwards to Ronda (help, help me Ronda – you’re singing it now too aren’t you)?

That golf course used to be above me

A bit of a skirt round the town half looking for a bike shop.  Eventually I decide it time to get back on the route.  Of course I’ve deviated from the path and getting back on route is not so easy and the traffic is slow.  After a bit crawling behing a couple of cars I approach a junction and come to a halt.  Glancing nonchalantly to my right I am looking in the window of a cracking looking bike shop.  Sister fate has played a trump card.  In I go, try on some Orbrea bibs and tell the chap I’m wearing them to go.  Result.  They make a reasonable match to the DIFD tops as well.  Result 2.  And Carol will never know that I’ve just spent some considerable coinage on a new pair of bibs.  Who returns from  a bike ride in different clobber to what they go out in?  Result 3.

Didn’t expect a massive improvement with the bibs.  However, massive improvement was what I got.  My ass had been in real pain and I could hardly pedal.  Gone.  As a man reborn I got onto those hills and headed up knowing that were were 12 miles of straight down to come.  Eventually I hit the top and started the descent.  However, I stopped to take a photo of the previously mentioned golf courses for young Tubs.  Dragged the bike away from the road and took a snap or two.  This was probably a mistake.

I finished another couple of miles of the descent and hit the only small piece of ascent before the final 5 miles of descent (which I had forgotten about approaching the route the other way).  Jumped on the pedals to attack the hill and noticed the puncture that I had.  Never really felt it on the way down the hill.  Probably aquired taking the snap for Tubby.  So it’s his fault.  Cheers wee guy.  Took maybe 10 minutes to leisurely fix the flat – this is 3 hrs 12 mins quicker than Ian’s current best time.  However the pump on the hire bike was woeful.  Trying to pump to a reasonable pressure was almost as tiring as the ride itself.

With enough air in the tyre to coast home I located the car and stopped the GPS.  65 mile in the bag, 1800 miles of ascent and average of 21 mph.  Average actually said 14 mph, but that’s a mistake.

Stumbled across the bike shop, which previously took an hour and a half to locate and got a track pump to get the tyres back up to full pressure and purchased a couple of spare inner tubes, just in case.  Result 4.

Headed home just about midday to reconvene the sun worshipping and avoidance of the swimming pool.

“I’m home darling”.

“Have you gone and bought new shorts after going on about how you’ve no money”?

Strike result 3 from the record books.

Day 2 to follow.

Cycling tip #23 – use your head when braking in the rain?

Sunday. Day 2 of the Lakes expedition. After a poor nights kip for some (snoring, oversoft mattress, loud expulsions of windy-pops) it was up and at ’em for breakfast. Various goodies had been acquired/ brought with the team, our milk safe in the fridge overnight thanks to sticky labels (OK, I maybe went a little overboard, but when I was in student residences, milk was always getting nicked). We chatted to a few other folk staying in the hostel who were doing a bit of walking and watching their friend take part in a big swim event later that morning. Breakfast done, we packed up, grabbed our gear from the drying room, spent ages trying to find John’s overshoes in everyone elses bag only for me to find them – in his bag – then we were off. The plan was to head along the “Fred” route and sort of pick up somewhere along the route were we left off to get the other hills done. More parking fun was to ensue, the swimming event and the triathalon meaning that there were people everywhere and not a space to be found. Eventually we found a layby space and decamped, the rain starting to fall as we got kitted out.

shorts

shorts? have you seen the weather?

right, this is where we left the cars…

We set off along the flat route, through Ambleside to the first climb of the day – Holbeck Lane leading to Troutbeck (what great names some of these places have!). I got off to a bad start here, my front mech jamming, unable to swap from the big to the small ring. With no hope of getting up the hill in those gears, I yelled to the others to go on (no, its not another puncture), clipped one foot out, banged my foot on the mech and turned the pedal to get the chain to shift over. Result. The others were quickly vanishing, so I pushed hard to close on them as they toiled up the hill. After a short while I was back in touch, breathing hard as we all slogged up the slope, the occasional car squeezing by us as we made our way further up to the Kirkstone pass. As we climbed, dozens of cyclists (triathletes) started to stream toward us, down the hill. A few “hello’s” from John at the front were ignored (seriouz bizniz this triathllon?), only getting the occasional nod, until, to our surprise, a huge yell of “Guys!” – our very own Gio belting down the hill. We responded with our own cheers and hello’s as he vanished down the hill behind us, and kept plugging away at the hill. Soon we were passing an ambulance attending to an unfortunate triathlete on a corner, a convoy of cars behind us only able to pass us once we’d cleared the accident. We continued upwards, calling out to the steady stream of downward cyclists to watch for the accident, and after thirty or so minutes of climbing we reached the top.

fine_weather

the fine weather

The steep descent required serious braking, sharp corners, oncoming cars and the occasional walking or slow, tired cyclist to watch out for. The slope levelled off, and several miles of flattish roads were ahead, time for the train to come in to play. Sadly this was not to be, as we hit a short rise, my front tyre was looking decidely flat, so I had to stop. Pumped up (slow puncture?) and we moved on, but it wasn’t more than a few miles before I had to stop again for more air. Then again as we turned to climb to Matterdale End. And at the top (well, the first top, there was a second not far ahead). And at the bottom. At least the (pricey) tube I’d bought at the top of Whinlatter had a valve that agreed with my pump. This was getting silly, so a new tube went in. Tyre patches also applied as it was clear the tyre was seriously gubbed, gauging roughly where David had seen air coming out the tyre wall on one of the many previous stops. Patched and tubed, we moved on, this time, my tyre seeming to hold the air without issue, but planningon heading to Keswick to get me a new front tyre to be sure of no further incidents today.

We turned on to the A66, Sam taking the lead, the rest of us following, the road starting to head downhill. We spread out a little, mostly keeping to the left of the white line at the edge of the road to give the fast, overtaking traffic more space. We must have been doing around 25mph when it happened. I was at the back, and suddenly and seemingly in slow motion, I could see Sammy was in trouble – his front wheel slid from under him, tipping him over the bike, his head hitting the tarmac, and he lay there motionless as we all careened to a halt. Bryan got to him first – “don’t move him” I yelled as I got off my bike. “Sammy, you ok?”. A few moments passed. “I think so”. “Can you move?”. “Yeah”. “Help him up, slowly”. Bryan and I helped him to the kerb of the junction we were now at and sat him down. “You alright?”. “Mmm”. I’m no medic, but I’ve got a fair bit of experience of dealing with a postictal Dee, so started to apply some of the cogntive checks I’d picked up over the years. “Follow my finger with your eyes”. Left, right, up, down. All seemed well. “Can you move your fingers?”. Yup. “Toes”. Yup. “Anywhere hurting?”. “My head” (surprise). “here” (waist/ hip). “Do you feel sick?”. “No”. So, no concussion (probably?), so far, so good (ish). “What year is it?”. This seemed to pose an issue for a few moments… “2012?”. Ok. “Where are we?”. “The A66, Lake District”. “Who am I?”. “You’re Ian…. I’m feeling a bit funny now”. A quick conflab with the rest – we’re getting him an ambulance, he’s not right and needs a proper medic to check him out. Bryan got on the phone, 999, me using my wee Garmin to call our rough location, getting John to keep him talking, don’t let him fall asleep. Bryan relayed our location, the controller at the other end getting him to ask Sammy his name. He got that right, but was now getting more confused about where we were going, where we’d just been, and was getting cold. I whipped off my jacket for him as Bryan got off the phone. We didn’t have to wait long for the blaring of sirens and the flashing blues as the ambulance arrived. The paramedic took his time to check Sam’s neck, then got him to follow his finger (turning his neck) left then right, head up, chin to chest (neck working ok). “Was he unconscious?”. “Maybe, but only a second or two, can’t be sure”. “OK, seems you won’t need a brace, lets get you in the ambulance”. “where you taking him?”. “Carlisle”. Hmm. “Can you take his bike?”. “I’m not supposed to, but I’m a cyclist too, ok, wait while we get things sorted, then we’ll take it for you”. We took charge of Sam’s car key, took his Garmin for safekeeping, then passed the bike to the ambulance crew, who were quickly off, sirens and lights down the road.

Ok, now what? Back on the bikes? Keep going to Keswick John reckoned, bike shop, ditch bikes, grab a taxi back to the cars. Sound plan. The rain was tipping down, we cautiously made our way along the road, cars dangerously close at times, all of us extra aware of the drains, bulging cats-eyes and any potholes that could lie ahead. The longest four miles ever were ahead of us, the four of us moving in mostly silence, mulling over the recent events. We got there, found the bike shop from the day before, John and Bryan going in to see about a taxi. They were soon out – turns out we’re less than 30 minutes away from the cars, bike shop guy reckons we’d be as quick biking it as waiting for taxi. So a quick refuel with gel/bars and we got ready to set off back up the road. Bryan’s phone went – Sammy! Seems they’d turfed him out of A&E, his ride in the ambulance seeing him mostly recovered, the doc showing more concern over his hip than his head. Good news. Less so for the road, as we were immediately on a hill, working hard to get to the top 4 or 5 miles further on. The rest of the route we fell back into the train, taking our 0.5 mile stints at the head of the group, as we set a quick pace on the favourable roads, some shorter upward hills but a good few downward or easy flat sections allowing us to hit decent speeds all the way back to Ambleside. Ok, where’s the cars? Erm, not sure. Think its this way (stupid Garmin not playing ball with the ‘back to start’ function). An extra loop of Ambleside’s one way system and we hit the right road, a mile or so further on and we were back at the layby and the cars. Ride done. 50 miles (5 or so missing from me stopping my Garmin at the Sammy incident).

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/192728801

suns_out

typical – as soon as we’re done, the sun comes out

A fun drive from Ambleside to the M6 (Sammy’s in-car GPS taking us the ‘scenic route’), and we were soon at Carlisle, picked up a bored (and much better) Sam, only effected by a sore hip and a bit too much daytime TV while he waited for us, and headed home. Curry in Cambuslang rounded off an eventful weekend – not really the 170+ planned for the weekend, and missed out on a chance to try the infamous Hardnot and Wyrnose climbs, but I reckon we’re excused due to all the other hills, weather, punctures, accident, floods and er, hills.

For Want of a Nail (Part one)

For Want of a Nail

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

The original plan (well the current original plan which was one of many but don’t let that complicate the story) was simple.  Me, Sammy and David would be meet Ian and John in Coniston at 0930 and start riding soon after.  However, since it was raining (pretty hard) John decided a new jacket was required and Keswick was the place to get it, prompting a change in the start of the ride to Keswick, a place we were due pass through on our ride.  Same ride, different start point……..

The background to this is the weekend just passed was supposed to be the pre-lejog, big 2 hard days in a row cycle to ensure that everyone felt what it was like to get up 2 days in a row and cycle.

Driving down, the call came in from Ian ‘John wants to buy a jacket, going to Keswick for it’, ‘Ok, we will just come there and save a bit of time and start the trip there’ we respond.    Our response is paraphrased, the real response would have involved word like selfish, unprepared, **** (insert swear word here) etc…..  It’s not like rain wasn’t forecast.  However, at the time it seemed like an ok plan.

As we drive into Keswick we spot a bike shop and John’s car.  Ian’s bike is strapped to the back unsecured, we think about taking it to teach him a lesson but think better of it.  Ian’s view of security gets even stranger as he padlocks his carton of milk  to the fridge in the youth hostel for fear of theft.

The rest of us troop into the shop and find John trying on various jackets, posing as if he was on a bike to ensure the sleeves are long enough, this is not a quick process but eventually a jacket is settled upon.  Everyone then has to take a shot of the shops toilet and we are ready to go.  Well nearly, there is a job of driving round Keswick trying to find a non paying parking spot, but eventually we end back in the centre of town at the Pay and Display.  Of course no one has any change for it, but luckily you can phone a number and pay by card.  Great, but seemingly the computerised system doesn’t do ‘Scottish’ and it’s off to the newsagent to buy a packet of mints to get some change.  Nearly there, just the weekly discussion about how many layers to wear, which gloves to use, overshoes or not….  Given that it had been raining for 3 straight days, pretty much meant everything was going to be worn.

We eventually set off about 11:15 and immediately find out that however bad a road is in a car, it’s 10 times worse on a bike.  The roads are in a terrible state, flooding everywhere and rocks and scree all over the road.  We cycle gingerly, not knowing what’s around the corner.  There are no land speed records getting set this weekend.

The 112 mile route we had planned to do has 9 big hills, but although we have the route mapped in Ian and Sammy’s Garmin gps no one is quite sure when the hills are coming.  After about 10 miles Sammy thinks there is a hill coming and having put too many layers on, everyone is already sweating and it’s time for some to come off to help us the hill.  Suitable ready, off we go.  Now what we were expecting was a hill, not a wall that had slightly subsided.  This hill was near vertical, the 25% signs suddenly appearing in view, the recrimination of the route owners began.  ‘You didn’t say it ramped up so quiclky, ya ****’ ‘Is this one of the big ones’ ‘ How long does it go on for’ are the shouts heard.  Nobody knew and quickly no one could speak as everyone used all their energy to keep moving, this hill was tough and it went on for miles.  Some decided that weaving all over the road from side to side lessened the gradient, others decided that nearly falling into a ditch at the side of the road was the way to go.  However, in the end everyone made it up to the top without stopping.  I think it was one of those situations where had one stopped, everyone else would have quickly followed, but no one did, pride forcing everyone onwards.  At the top we re-gathered and had a chat about the experience.  But not for long, it was cold, jackets back on and then down.  Brakes stuck on, this was not an easy descent, windy thin roads with debris everywhere, cramp in your hands as you grip too tightly. But soon we were down and back onto the flat in a group. But not for long.

Onto hill number 2, again no real idea of what to expect, the expression ‘Fail to plan, plan to fail’ comes to mind.  This hill is hard but not too hard and has a nicer feel to it, it is semi enjoyable.  We come to the top, stop and take in the view and then quickly get going again.  This descent is better, smoother roads, wider turns and we bundle down and eventually it bottoms out.  However, there are only 4 of us now.  Ian is not with us.  We remember him putting his jacket on but surely it doesn’t take that long. We look back up the hill to try and spot but it’s a long hill and hard to see in the rain.  Eventually a lady in a car stops and tells us that Ian has a puncture.  It’s a relief that we know what’s wrong but know that there could be a wait as Ian wont be in the Guinness book of records anytime soon for the fastest time to change a puncture. And then we wait, and wait, it’s getting cold and eventually the decision is taken to start going back up the hill to help.  We go about half way back up and find Ian.  The puncture has been changed but the valve on tube keeps coming off when getting pumped up.  We get Sammy on the job, he is known as the ‘Mavic man’ after the yellow cars that follow the Tour de France to provide mechanical help.  After a bit of toing and froing it is fixed and we are on our way.  Not for long, we manage another couple of miles and psstt…… Ian’s tyre is down again.  This is not going well.  Another new inner tube, another check of the tyre, it is pumped up and off we go again, all the way back down to the bottom and ready for hill number 3.

Sammy kicks off first, followed by myself and then the other 3 are a bit slow in getting going.  Sammy is setting a good pace but I am keeping him in sight, I check back a couple of times and can see John’s new yellow jacket.  All present and correct.  As the hill ramps up, you start to concentrate to keep going, a steady rhythm is required.  My technique is counting down from 10 to 1, that’s easy, only 10 to do and then start again.  I havent looked back in a while but when I do I dont see anyone but there are a few corners so they might be round one of them.  I keep going.  Eventually I stop just short of the top and decide to wait.  Nothing.  I eventually phone David and find out the bad news, Ian’s tyre is down again.  So I wait and wait.  Eventually, Sammy comes down from the top and we decide to roll back down to help and it’s nearly to the bottom.  It is again fixed, but this is not a good sign, however there is a bike shop at the top of the hill and we will take it in there.  Off we go again, my legs not enjoying the hill the second time around.

We reach the top, where the bike shop and a cafe are situated and Ian goes off to get help.  John and I browse the shop and John decided to purchase another set of gloves to supplement the 3 pairs he is already carrying. ‘Super Waterproof’ or so they claim, they need to be.  Sammy has replanned our route for the rest of the day, taking in most of the big hills but less of the flat in between.  Ian’s tyre has been checked and been given the all clear and we decide to stop for lunch although we barely deserve it.  The standard of lunch is reasonable for a forest cafe but the prices resemble a 3 star Michelin place.  2 soups, 1 baguette, 2 cakes and a drink, £20!

Lunch duly eaten, we set off once again.  The descent is treacherous, water is pouring off the hills making handling tricky, stones everywhere.  We make it to the bottom and guess what?  Ian’s tyre is down again.  This is turning into a nightmare.  We try and work out what to do.  One school of thought is a couple of us to go back and get the cars, but the quickest way is back over the hill we came.  This is rejected due to the danger.  So we decide on fixing Ian’s tyre once again and heading back to the cars a different way involving hill number 2 and hoping for the best.  The trip back to car is fairly uneventfull although hill number 2 seems decidedly harder, although not for David who romps up and over in double quick time.

We make it back to Keswick at 17:32 just in time for the bike shop closing.  Great! No new tyre. And only 45 miles done.

Quickly, we were locked and loaded and off to the Youth hostel.  I think most of us would have preferred the luxury of a B and B and a nice comfy twin room but due to many events in the area, this was all the accomodation we could find.  How bad could it be?  Well in reality, not too bad at all.  We had one room for the five of us, while not exactly Ritz standard was clean and tidy.  The showers were hot and the setting was fantastic.  Life was ok.  Deoderant was sprayed on and we were ready to go out.

On the way out we chatted briefly to a hen party waiting on their lift.  It turned out their lift was the hen herself who didnt drink and who would be taking 2 lots of her friends to the village for her night out.  Sounds great for the hen!

The nearest town is Ambleside, a lovely spot with may fine restaurants.  We decide on the ‘Jade Garden’ for rice and noodles to fuel us for the next day.  It turns out to be a perfunctory by the book Chinese restaurant that wont be winning any awards anytime soon.  However, the chat is good and everyone has enjoyed it so far even given the mishaps that has happened.  It’s all about the journey.

We get back to the Hostel at 22:30 and Ian and David go for a drink as it too early for bed.  The rest of hit the hay and dream of a better second day……TBC

Pun on wetness

The plan – 6 of team DIFD to head down to the Lakes to take on the “Fred Whitton sportive” route on Saturday, an easy 60 on the Sunday. The “Fred” is a tough 112 miles taking in 9 significant climbs, including some of the hardest in the UK with gradients of 25%. The guide to the route uses the words “painfully” and “very, very” an awful lot in front of the word “steep”. So, guess the hills were going to be tricksy… Sunday was to be a recovery day from the significant self-inflicted torture that Saturday was promising to be.

Saturday. 6.45am start. Rain. Lots of it. Mark M had dropped out (needing to get his cycle legs back after his last few weeks of focussing on his marathon training and better guessing the impact of the weather), so 5 of us were heading down in two cars, myself with Big J; Bryan, Sam and David in the other. Gio would be in the same area taking part in a triathalon on Sunday so was going to miss out on today’s fun. Did I mention the rain?

view_from_car

the fine weather

As we got closer to our target (Conniston), John was eyeing the weather from the car, noting how very, very damp the few cyclists we were passing looked and decided that a new waterproof jacket was in order. A quick phone call or two to the other car and a detour to Keswick was made, a bike shop found and John kitted out in new bright yellow Gore jacket. Some swithering over some Gore bib shorts that happened to be a close match for out team kit (decision was we’d come back for them later) and it was back to the cars to find a parking spot somewhere on the Fred route, as the morning was moving on. Seems despite the weather there were a lot of people trying to park.

lost?

we’re not lost, we’re exploring

A brief stop on a quiet lane was rejected as being too close to a river that looked to be already bursting its banks – didn’t want to be paddling back to the cars at the end of the day. More forays along quiet roads, passing through some serious flooding (bow waves and hissing engine from the depth of water) a call was made to just head to Keswick and face the cost of a proper car park. This had its own issues – very little change, so phone based payments attempted (succes for car 1, a jog to the shop for change for car 2 as ‘your network is not compatible with this service’) and we were parked, £7 down each. Waste of cake money…

shorts_or_not

ok, when Ian’s not looking, put a fork in his front tyre…

A quick discussion on gear (long legs, 2 or 3 layers, definately waterproof jackets) and we eventually hit the road on our bikes. First stop, the flood we’d just been through (and back again), with a mix of taking the footpath (still under half a foot of water) or the road (equally flooded), picking our way through the water with care. The ‘train’ moved on, the rain coming down, the spray flying up, the road sodden – water streaming through the ironically named dry-stone walls in various spots, inches of standing water not uncommon, causing us to take to the middle of the road in an attempt to pass on through the shallowest part of the floods.

hill_one

see that hill there? that’s the easy bit

Nine miles done in half an hour (watery roads not condusive to speed) and we were at the first hill of the day – the climb to Honister Pass. A quick stop to shed our jackets (the rain had abated) and we started the climb, all in the small rings as this one of the “painfully” and “very, very” hills. Dodging to the side for a few cars/ bus we pushed upwards, Sam starting to traverse at the steepest section, David having a wobble and near dismount situation with a ditch. I pushed ahead a little to avoid the traversing (extra time on this hill? no thanks!) and reached the top, 2 mountain bikers watching us from a side path. I clipped one foot out to wait for the others right behind me, only for Sam to call “this isn’t the top, keep going” as he pedalled by me, the false peak a short respite only before more climbing to the real top a bit further on.  We regrouped for the descent, as steep as the climb, so hard on the brakes as we headed down, avoiding the gravel and debris washed on to the road by the rain.

descent_honister

Honister descent

back_honister

Looking back toward Honister

Through Buttermere and three miles or so on to Newlands, the second climb of the day. This was ‘easy’, at least compared to the last hill, again everyone climbing roughly together. A brief stop at the top to regroup, warnings to take care on the way down and we were off.

top_newlands

Having read the weather report, Sam wore his swimming goggles

I was last to go, but punctured nearly immediately. I pulled over, the others fast vanishing ahead. I started to change the tube, tyre half off, old tube out, new tube in. A van stopped, asking if I was ok, I was – just tell the guys up ahead I’ve got a flat. Pumped it up. As I unscrewed the pump, the valve started to come out, deflating the tyre. Bah. Rescrewed the valve, pumped it up. Unscrewed the pump. Valve came out again. By this point the others had decided to come kick my ass for wasting their time, getting chilled in the rain. Dissing the pump, a gas canister inflated the tube, and we were off, making our way to Braithwaite. However, we’d barely gone on a mile or two and I’d punctured again (2). This time Sam helped me change the tube (dont want the new guy pinching another tube), pump still de-valving the tube so another gas inflate, and we were again on our way. We were soon at our third climb – Winlatter. A gentler climb this time, but we’d hardly got a few hundred metres before I had puncture number 3. Sam and Bryan were well ahead, but John and David were stopped with me. John took charge of this change, taking the tyre completely off the rim, checking it over carefully and getting me to do the same, David finding the hole in the tube to see if we could find something that was causing these punctures. Nothing. New tube, inflated. Ready to go again, as Bryan and Sam came back down to see what was taking so long. Up the hill we went, nothing too steep, but a fairly long slog. The promised lunch stop would be at the top as well as a chance to get my tyre checked over in the bike shop that was there too. We got to the top with no issues, I took my bike into the shop, the mechanic taking a look at the tyre and tube. His verdict? You’ve been unlucky, can’t see anything wrong, avoid the gravel. So purchased a couple of new tubes from the shop and off to lunch (and cake).

lunch

soup, sandwich, coffee and cakey

cakey!

best £2.20 I spent all day

Ah, lunch. Baguettes, soup, coffee, water and cake. Toilet stop. A quick chat to a mountain biker who had four punctures in a day (ridiculous! no-one is that unlucky…) then back out into the rain. Down the hill we went, the wind and rain battering us as we went. As we hit the valley floor, I was again feeling too much road through my bars – flat number four! Unbelievable. Another new tube, exasperation all round and a change of plan. Time was against us (it was nearly 5pm already) so a quick try to get a lift for me and my ailing bike from a couple in a van failing (“sorry, we just live over there”), it was change the tube then a few miles along the valley floor, back over Newlands, to get to the cars. The second time up the climb seemed tougher, particularly as I was watching my front tyre, concerned it was going to go at any moment. David pushed to the front, stretching himself to hit the top first, the rest of us soon there. Me puncture free so far. Down into Braithwaite, turning back to Keswick, the train making great time, the wind now helping us and the roads relatively clear of debris and floods – the ‘best’ bit of the day, a nice fast section for a half dozen miles. Soaked, not as tired as we expected, not even half the mileage we’d planned, we were back at the cars.

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/192728842

We packed up, made a quick stop at the Co-op for supplies and headed off to the Youth Hostel. Hidden behind Ambleside up a serious hill, this YH used to be a mansion. We checked in (here’s your key, bike shed round the back, drying room in the basement), claimed beds in the 3 bunk-bed room, grabbed a shower (or trickle depending on shower cubicle choice) and put our wet gear in the drying room. The bikes were locked in the shed, a quick chat to a hen party (you chose to stay here? for a hen night??) and we piled into Sam’s car to head to Ambleside for a Chinese. Not the best grub, but plenty of it, a beer for David and me, water for everyone else, then back to the YH. A quiet pint (the YH had a small bar in reception) for me and David, everyone else off to bed. We finished our drinks and headed to bed too.

The morning would be bringing better weather (right…) and a second crack at the Fred to finish the hills we skipped. A sort of enjoyable day (some good hills done), nice lunch, bad luck on punctures, rotten weather, ok room, passable dinner and my first sleep on a top bunk in 25 years. Part 2 (Sunday) soon.

Fast Fathers Day Fifty Six

I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog recently so decided to throw in a few words about Sunday’s fast run from the Clubhouse. It being Fathers Day we decided to go for an early start but after some discussion agreed 8am was civilised.

The usual four (myself, J, Tubs and Gio) headed off from Gio’s at a couple of minutes past 8 when a shout goes up that Young Dave had just pulled up. A quick about turn and a five minute wait til the wee fella got himself sorted and the train of five was off.

We headed off over the well cycled roads through Kirkie and Kilsyth making good time with an average of just over 19mph due to a slight tailwind. It’s a very strange feeling not to turn up the Takmadoon Road and our nemesis climb, and instead to carry on towards Banknock.

Onwards through Denny and into Stirling where we passed the start of the Trossachs Ton Sportive. As we left Stirling on The Carse road we could see some groups from the Sportive in the distance, heads down. The DIFD Train set of after them.

We passed fewer small groups before realising one group of three had tagged on to the back of our train for the ‘free speed’ a group provides. I got chatting to one of the guys for a few miles and it turned out they were from the registration team of the Sportive so set off last and enjoy doing the route reeling in the slower cyclists all the way round!

Only when we split with the Sportive route did we realise that Young Dave had dropped off the back. We waited a few seconds for him to arrive and headed off up the Kippen Hill towards Fintry, ignoring the signs warning of closed road ahead which wasn’t a great move. I decided to try the hills staying in the big ring at the front so kept a good speed up through the village. When we arrived at the road closed signs it looked ok to proceed as there was Tarmac there just not perfect. Further up even that disappeared and we ended up on the base of the road, which wasn’t doing the wheels and tyres any good. Soon we topped out and enjoyed the decent into Fintry on the uneven surface. Stirling Council take note!

A quick stop in Fintry to take on some food and drink, we discussed the possibility of adding a few miles via Milngavie but decided to head home and enjoy being spoiled! We headed off up The Crow with Tubs and I deciding to try the climb in the big ring whilst J and Gio trying to do a high cadence easy gear climb. The decent into the Lennoxtown was a bit hairy with about a dozen sheep loose on the road making it very stop/start after the car park.

On the road over to Torrance my Garmin battery died meaning I only got 51.8 miles registered rather than the full 56 but we managed to achieve the 19mph average for the full run. A smashing route, I must say. Apologies for the lack of photos!

Garmin output : http://connect.garmin.com/activity/190026982

Bleuch! Na Ba!

Sunday 3rd June. Bryan had headed home after the previous day’s sportive, but John, Sammy and myself had met my brother Dominic in Inverness for dinner, then stayed at a B&B in Contin to allow us to take on the UKs biggest road bike climbing challenge – the Bealach Na Ba.

11/10

11/10 – thats got to be good?

This ‘road’ is around 630m over a mountain, starting from sea level and hitting 20% gradients with a series of straights and hair-pin bends. On a single track road with tourists a plenty to contend with over a near 90 mile route, the day after a fairly hard 98 miles. It was going to be an interesting day.

breakfast

mmm, greasy goodness

We started with a cooked breakfast, not ideal cycling fodder, but enjoyable just the same, then loaded the car and set off for Kinlochewe. We were soon there, having driven down the hill at the start of our route, not looking too bad, but we’d soon get the feel for that part of road on the bike once out of the car. We parked up, stocked up on eats and refilled our bottles and got on the same bit of road we’d just driven in the car.

Achnasheen-ish

Up the hill we went, John falling off the back, so Sammy, then myself reached the top, a brief wait for John at the summit and an adjustment of his handlebars before we got on our way again. The road was mostly flat, but the wind was against us making us work hard until Achnasheen where we turned south-westwards. The wind more or less behind us, we started to make more comfortable progress towards Kirkton and Lochcarron. I fell off the back a bit, dawdling on a part of the single track road resulting in me being separated from the others by a car overtaking. We regrouped in Lochcarron itself, a toilet break and bottle fill stop before pressing on up the short hill then down into Ardarroch. I again lost touch with the others on the descent (me no likey-fast downhills), but we regrouped before the main event of the day, the Bealach. Far from being the ‘quiet road with hardly any traffic’ that the ‘best cycle climbs’ book claimed, there seemed to be a steady flow of cars and motorbikes passing us as we took our obligatory photos by the sign at the bottom of the hill.

ahead there be dragons…

a large native?

a large native?

We set off, John and Sammy putting in an impressive pace upwards, mine more reserved, with a quick stop to adjust my left shoe (I’d loosened it off to relieve my achilles) as a group of motorbikers passed me. The hill rose steadily, being a ‘reasonable’ climb for the first mile or so, but contending with cars overtaking or coming towards you down the single-track road making it a greater challenge.

The toughest part of the climb, just before the hairpins began, I passed by a fellow cyclist, on foot, pushing his bike upwards. Determined not to meet his fate, I worked the pedals hard, ignoring my twinging achilles, focussing on John and Sammy on the ‘flat’ part of road ahead (not at all flat, but compared to the incline I was on, it looked to be blessed relief). This was not made any easier by motorhomes, really too wide to be taking this route, coming down the hill towards me, not stopping at all, putting me in fear of being forced off the narrow road. As I reached the hairpins (“if you’ve got this far, you’ve made it”), ushering following cars by me on the sweeping turns, things again got tricky, cars I’d just been passed by stopping for cars coming downward, offering me little choice but to re-overtake them to avoid stopping (stop and you’ve no chance of getting going again on this kind of hill). A few more hairpins and what felt like a level piece of road (its funny how the steeper parts effect your perception) before the final incline and I made it to the top, about 45 minutes of slog done.

from the top

view from the top

A few photos to be taken, I grabbed a tourist sporting a nice digital SLR to take a photo of all three of us, only to find this chap had an eye infection and could barely see the screen on my tiny compact camera. He did well regardless, the photo of the 3 of us not suffering from his lack of vision.

difdx3_top_of_Bealach

three fresh faced cyclists at the top of the Bealach

dog on cairn

the ‘amusing dogs on cairn’, so i couldn’t get a piccie of the official height.

The chill was setting in quickly, so we set off, the promise of fish and chips in Applecross ahead of us. The descent was as treacherous as the ascent, winding down the hill, oftentimes difficult to see any oncoming traffic, and still cars and motorbikes passing in both directions. We parked up at the Applecross inn, fish & chips ordered in the packed bar, as we slowly warmed up. The food arrived quickly, chatting about the various ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ of the drivers who helped or hindered us in our recent climb of the Bealach as we ate.

Applecross

Applecross over the bay

All too soon we were off on the road again, the next 45 miles or so starting with around 30-odd miles along the coast road. Sounding quite promising (coast, by the sea, its going to be flat…) but it soon turned into a hellish series of rises and descents with little-to no flat sections in between, the wind forever working against you. Sammy pressed on, seemingly unaffected by the Saturday or todays exertions, whilst myself and John were feeling the miles, John in particular. Our attempts to work as a duo were barely effective, the constant switch from ascent to descent making it hard to draft at all. Eventually John gave the team order “push on yourself, I’m done”, so I set off “to catch Sammy”. Right.

A few miles later I caught up with a lady cyclist just as she crested a hill, chatting briefly with her about how hard this section was “worse than the Bealach” she reckoned. At that moment, I was in agreement. Some of the short hills here were incredibly steep, making them feel not so short as you had to work hard to keep any sort of speed on them, resorting to the lowest gears frequently. There was barely any respite to be had from trying to speed down the slopes in an attempt to take as much momentum as possible up the inevitable next hill. I left her on the next slope, slowly making my way onward. I stopped at a junction, unsure of the way, and John was soon in sight, pointing me the right direction. We climbed a few hills, me making a bit more headway on the upward sections, John catching me on the descents. On one such descent, the poor road surface, speed and a BMW saw John barely avoiding a skid into the oncoming car, both braking hard to prevent the collision. We soon hit the main road, Sammy waiting on us. I barely stopped, the midgies were out in force, homing in on me if I dared to present a stationary target.

Torridon

looking back at 10 miles to go…where’s that downhill bit?

Only “a couple more hills” lay between us and the end, so I took the first with Sammy, John falling behind. We took a few turns about, before the descent into Torridon saw Sammy leaving me well behind.  I plodded on, taking a brief stop to take some photos (and some cakey-treats of course), seeing John in the distance I turned the camera to capture him toiling along the slow rise of the last miles. The ‘its downhill for the last 6 miles’ turned out to be only the last 3 miles, making each of the preceeding “80s” miles that wasn’t downhill torment. Soon the downhill arrived, rain falling in the distance, so I pushed to get back quickly hoping to avoid any downpour. I arrived at the car, Sammy sat waiting on the tailgate just as the rain began. John was soon with us, and we started to load the bikes, hearty congratulations all round for the days efforts.  The rain stopped, the midges out in force, so I sought refuge in the car, as a cloud of the beasts homed in on me, the less ‘tasty’ of the group completing the loading of the bikes, the already in car midges suffering my wrath as I swatted them as they landed to try and bite any exposed skin.

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/185542792

Miles done – 89.4, climbed 2,103m, midgey bites 14+. Itchy.

And for those who’ve travelled the A9 to Inverness and been told of the’soldiers head’ in the rock, but never been able to see it,  here is is, in all its ‘not very impressive at all’ glory:

soldiers head

the ‘famous’ landmark of the ‘what do you mean you can’t see the soldiers head’ near Slochd summit

 

Cairngorm Classic

Saturday 2nd June. Aviemore-ish for the Cairngorm Classic sportive. Some wag obviously thought that having an organised 100 mile ride in and around Aviemore could only work if they started from the ski-station car park. Which is at 632 m. On top of a mountain. We arrived in 2 cars, Bryan and Sammy in one, Big J and myself in the other.

carpark

the long walk from the car to registration/ starting line

First thing we found after parking was that being on top of a mountain in June at 8.30am is decidely chilly. We were in summer gear, not our winter layers. Still, it was bound to warm up, or so we told ourselves as we checked in and picked up our ‘dibbers’ (timer chips you wear on a lanyard round your neck). We returned to the cars, swapped to cycle shoes, blew up my front tyre (the valve flew off, most irritating, needing a new tube), swithered over long sleeves/ leggings then made our way to the start. After accosting another cyclist to take our photo, we moved to the start, dibbed our dibbers and started off for about 7 miles of downhill, the air chilling us as we zoomed down the hill. It was hard not to think at this point that you’ll be slogging back up this same hill at the end, after having cycled for 90+ miles with 5 odd hours in the saddle.

4xDIFD

Smiles and “sunshine”. Its cold on that there hill.

We split as we descended, Sammy vanishing in the distance, John slipping behind, though I could see Bryan just ahead of me. He stopped as the hill was coming to the end, wondering where John had got to, so I pulled over too. A big train of about 2 dozen cyclists whisked by, John yelling “come on” from within. Bryan and I shot off in pursuit, but had no chance of catching them. I think I struggled after the group longer than Bryan, but was soon in a smaller group on the road around Nethy Bridge, which was swallowed up by another, this second group had Bryan in its midst. 2/4 of our team back together as we hit a flatter part of the route. A few miles later, John appeared ahead, slogging it out solo and was absorbed into our train. 3/4. At about 20 miles we started a climb. I’d slipped toward the back of our train, and as we began the ascent the different climbing abilities of the folk to my side became problematic, 2 riders clashing, one coming off in front of me causing me to wobble into the verge to avoid falling on top of him, as he yelled his disgust at the other guy who’d swung accross and clipped his wheels. As a result of my near stop, I’d fallen off the back of the train, now a good hundred yards further up the hill. I struggled to regain the back of the pack, pushing hard to try and catch them, but working solo was hard going. I finally caught them, slotted in at the back, tired from the chase, just as we hit a steep hill. Not having any time to recover, I was soon adrift on the climb, and as the road split (50 milers left, us 100 milers to the right) I was again a good 100 yards behind on a slight incline. It was no use trying again to catch them, but I tried for a mile or two to regain the group before giving up. The next dozen or so miles I spent working my way along the route solo, hoping for a train to come by, but with no luck. The occasional fellow solo rider or duo would appear ahead of me, but few if anyone came by me.

some hills in scotchland

view from a cake break

I soon hit a feed station, and being on my own, stopped to grab a few cakes, hoping that I could pick up a group, but most other folk arriving were in ones or two’s. I set off after a minute or two, slogging on, sighting an orange top in the distance as a target. As I approached him, another rider slowly worked by me, so I tagged on his tail. He moved out immediately, looking back at  me unhappily, so I backed off and let him go on. Odd fellow. Shortly after, a group of half a dozen Dunfermline CC started to overhaul me, so I asked if I could join, which they were happy to allow. Two of their group were around my level, the others either tired or less able when it came to the short climbs, so I put in my fair share at the front and we made good progress once I’d worked out their odd system (starting at the back they’d move to the front, overtaking the train on the outside before settling on the front, soon followed by the man behind). There was little chit chat, but a good atmosphere between them, and we worked together for a dozen or so miles until we hit the next feed station at around the 60 mile mark. Here the others were waiting (20 minutes it seemed), I thanked my temporary team-mates for the previous miles, and  quickly grabbed a few bits of millionaire shortbread and a banana before we set off as 4/4 Team DIFD. We worked as a team up the hilly section that followed, pushing hard into the wind, on the drops to avoid as much wind as we could. We were making good time, overtaking many solo or duo riders as we went, the only event of note was my chain deciding to jump off as we piled down a hill which was soon sorted.

Just after Boat of Garten a “10 miles to go” sign signalled that we’d soon be on the final stretch (uphill all the way, joy), and the DIFD train had picked up a couple of extras. One kept with us as the route began to slope upwards, taking his turn at the front (but pushing a bit too hard) as we slogged on. As the hill began proper, I was done, my earlier efforts trying to catch trains and solo-ing so many miles taking their toll, so I told the rest to go on. I could see them working their way by a few struggling folk as I followed slowly, still overtaking a few other cyclists myself as I went, with the occasional person walking up the hill. As I crested the first rise, took a quick cakey break (been carrying all that food, may as well eat it before I finished) andgrabbed a few quick photos before zooming up the last few bits of hill (cake power!).

up to cairngorm

target one, post cakey-break

Overall, a hard but fun ride, 17.6mph average, around 5:35 hours to do the 98.2 miles for me (the others around 20 minutes quicker).

cynthia

done. Now where’s me free pasta?

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/185542838

Magic Minted-peas

The Sunday outing – emails had been flowing during the week discussing a coast to coast in late June, which then turned into debate over a Lakes ride instead and ended with the decision of doing a “Fred” (named after Fred Whitton, turns out this is a 112 miles ride of 9 peaks, some hitting 15%+ – no easy feat). The end of this email exchange also sorted Sunday’s training ride, a plan to take in the Dukes pass run with an extra 50-odd mile extension via Crieff, for a 120+ run. This time there was the promise of a lunch stop.

train

the DIFD train in action

As this was going to be a long run, and the lunch stop was going to be timed to meet non-cycling family, needed to be up at silly o’clock for Big J picking me up at 7am for the start at 7:30 from the ‘club house’ (Gio’s place). We started as a 4 man group – Bryan, Gio, John and myself, with Gio intending to join us for the first 40 miles or so. The first 20-odd miles flew along, even with the wind against us we were easily topping 18mph average as we hit Aberfoyle and the climb up the Dukes pass.

bigJandGio

Big J and Gio on the Dukes

We rode up as a group, with only the last section splitting us slightly, Bryan dropping back a short distance. I barely had time to take a few snaps before he was with us, “I’m not a climber” as he pulled alongside. The descent went without incident, the only traffic a bus toiling upwards, giving us plenty of room as we streamed by.

view from the top of Dukes pass

what you doing right on our tail at the top?

Just after the 40 mile mark, a quick stop for farewells to Gio, as he turned toward Callander and home, the three of us continuing onwards to Strathyre. The road rolled for the next several miles, the sun growing stronger and the shadows it was casting through the trees making it hard to distinguish potholes from leaf patterns adding in the occasional clunk and jolt to the ride. John took the pace, holding us steady for a long stint, switching back to turn-about as we passed by the glassy calm of Loch Lubnaig, the shores dotted with folk enjoying the early sun. We were making good time, enjoying the excellent weather and were soon turning along the A85 at Loch Earn, passing campers and day-trippers scattered along its edge, with barely a hill to be seen. The nice level tarmac saw us to Comrie (home to a fine golf course) and it was only another 10 or so miles to Crieff and a welcome stop at Yann’s.

relaxing with a cold coke n water

 

Carol, Ewan, Heather, Niamh, Luke, Stephanie, Bryan and Ian

We sprawled on the grass or at the table and were served coke and iced water by the friendly staff while waiting for Bryan and John’s other halves, enjoying the sunshine and break from pedalling. They soon arrived, and we sat down for a fine lunch – not quite a cake stop, but just as good: onion soup with a cheese topping followed by rump of lamb with minted-peas and chips for me, others partook of mushroom soup, black pudding salad, Arbroath smokies with mains of La Potee (Toulouse sausage & ham broth), fish pie and eggs Benedict; the kids tucking in to fish gujons, lasagne and chips. The only slight downers to this fine feast were the grumpy folk at the next table over-reacting to the excited children, and having to pass on dessert from being stuffed.

the mighty steeds at rest

you can never have too much sun-cream…

Bottles refilled, we said our goodbyes to the families, and hit the road for the remaining miles. A steady climb taking us through Muthill, then down to Braco and to Dunblane before turning off to Doune. Here we made a short stop to grab some energy drinks, the chilled water in our bottles (well, mine and Bryans were iced by the folk at Yann’s, John had refilled from the tap) already warm. The temperature in the small square was hitting 33-34°C according to my Garmin, as I tapped in our target of Kippen into its GPS, getting us on our way to Thornhill and the hill beyond. We rode up the first section together, John and I pushed on a little harder on the next steep section, but by the summit we were all together again for the descent down into Fintry and the Crow Road hill.

We trundled along the flat section, John announced himself ‘done’ but as soon as the climb came into view, he forged by me. My ‘thought you were done?’ was replied to with a ‘last throw of the dice!’ as he stood on the pedals into the corner and pulled away. I stuck to my pace, sat on the saddle, feeling ok considering the 110 miles we’d now completed and just kept turning the cranks. John was still in sight, standing at every turn, but I was beginning to reel him in. Feeling a bit short of energy (the lamb and magic minted-peas wearing off!) I struggled with my pack of Zip-vit sweets, trying to pry the now sticky, half melted goodness out of the bag while maintaining my momentum. Eventually got one out, chewed it down, and returned to focussing on John’s back wheel in the near distance. After a few more minutes I was in touch, with not far to go to the summit. “Where’s Tubs?” he asked, “not sure” I replied, and we moved on together. We stopped at the top, Bryan soon appearing, and we waved him on, then followed for the ride down into Lennoxtown.

127 miles of red squiggly line

I missed my clips as I started off, the others were fast vanishing as I finally got my left shoe in, so I was playing catch up down the hill. Pushing hard, I glanced down at my Garmin, to see it reading 45mph (!) scaring myself a bit, so eased off as I passed the car park and the turn. The wind soon put paid to any speed I was carrying, and I could see John and Bryan ahead, folded over the bikes as they disappeared from my view round a bend. I caught them at the bottom, waiting for me at the turn. John lead us for the next section, but as I swapped to the front, I offered to take a longer stint, to which there was no dissent. Strangely still feeling strong, I pushed on, the others hanging on to my wheel for a change. Stopping only for lights and junctions, Bryan asking if I’d been on “the EPO”?, “nope, just feeling ok” as we completed the final miles back to Gio’s to pick up the cars. The only momentary struggle on the final short hill before home, I was well pleased to have been able to return the favour of many a ‘carry’ for the last miles of an outing! A sterling ride by us all, 127 miles done, a proper “LEJOG” distance completed in around 7 hours, average 17.6mph.

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/182915931

Are you sure its not cake o’clock?

Sunday saw a return of the “team Sunday cycle”, agreed on Friday evening at the Race Night to be 8.30 starting from Big J’s place. In the end only three of us could make it, so John, Sammy and myself decided on a ‘to Largs and then see how we’re feeling’ outing. The weather was looking promising, and saw 2/3 riders in shorts from the outset. We set off at a steady pace, slipping easily along the roads in our trio-train, with only a small detour due to a closed road near Bishopton altering our route from the norm.

sunny_largs

Largs main street. And yes, it was warm, sunny and that is a blue sky.

The first incline of the day the up-and-over to Kilmacolm I stuck to John’s wheel, to see if the last few months of training had paid off, and I could now keep up with the “Monsters”. It seems I’ve been doing something right, as we hit the top with me still close on his tail, but Sammy seemed to have dropped back. I took the opportunity to shed my leggings as the sun was making itself felt, while we waited the few moments for Sammy to reach us with a “I’m pacing myself” (this was to be a sign of his experience over mine as you’ll soon see). We forged on down into the village, then out onto the country roads to the next climb into Greenock, with a brief stop to sort a rattling bottle cage on Sammy’s bike. The three of us topped the hill together, then hit the drops for the fast run down into Greenock itself. I hit my personal best top speed on this section, 41.4 mph, so the day was looking good. The road out of Greenock climbs up the Old Largs Road, and soon has a very steep section which used to fill me with dread and required use of the Sharpova technique. But not today, I took it again closely on John’s heels, wise Sammy again taking it at his own pace. A brief halt at the top to chow down a banana, we regrouped and started on the rolling roads before the descent proper, with an increase in the normally traffic-free route due to the main road being closed nearby. This caused us a few minor slow-downs as we pulled in to passing places to allow cars to get by.

BigJ_largs

cake? whaddayaneedacakebreakfor?

We soon made Largs, for a toilet break and a few quick photos. My appeals for a cake stop denied (! don’t these guys understand the Majorca way of cycle training? they’d be telling me next no lunch stop for a beer n cakes…), we made our way to the next big hill of the morning, the Hairy Brae. We headed up in group, me taking a few snaps at the hairpin (Majorca one-handed ascent & camera handling techniques applied) and the climb was soon over. We passed a fellow cyclist near the top, the same chap we’d seen and left behind on the Old Largs Road, his confusion as to how he’d overtook us explained by a ‘toilet stop in Largs’ as I puffed by.

Big_J_ascent_hairy_brae

Big J on a big hill, and I’m keeping up. Shame it didn’t last all day.

Everyone was feeling fit, so the “normal” Largs loop back home direct to Lochwinnoch was to be extended – extra mileage taking the form of  a loop to Dalry then Stewarton, Dunlop and Lugton. At this point, my Garmin started to misbehave as we swept downhill to Dalry, reading 5mph as we belted downhill. I pulled over to restart it in the hope this fixed things, with Sammy suggesting I kill off the cadence/speed sensor which could be askew from the various bumps and potholes of the day. A second stop after a restart and this advice was followed, so there may be some oddities in my Garmin output for the day. This was the least of my worries, as around the 50 mile mark I was starting to suffer from my ambitious climbs earlier in the day. With no cake stop to off-set my energy sapping exertions, I was beginning to struggle to keep up with Sammy and John. I began to eat everything in my pockets and feed bag, sloshing down snack bars with my lucozade, but was still having a tough time keeping the pace on the inclines. I dropped back as we approached Auchentiber, one short climb resulting in me losing touch with the others. A mile or two on they waited for me. “Its definately cake o’clock now!” I cried, but to no avail, an energy gel my only solace as we moved on towards Stewarton. I was familiar with parts of this route, having done a 45 mile loop this way a few weeks ago. As we approached Lugton, my spirits were lifted – “there’s a place that does a mean roll and sausage near here!” but sadly we turned away from the chance of some greasy sustenance on the Neilston road, instead heading the other direction, on toward Beith.

I had no choice but to soldier on, Lochwinnoch and the hill up to Carruthmuir I was back to solo-ing, the others able to sustain the pace of the day, while my lack of cake was taking its toll. I was forced to eat the last of my “goodies”, a less than appealing pineapple and toe-clippings flavour Torq bar that I’d been avoiding for weeks, in the hope its meagre calories would boost me for the last dozen miles home. S&J awaited me at the turn-off to Bridge of Weir, no cake-stop to be had, but a promise of ‘cake when we are done’. We set off together on the mostly flat, remaining section of the ride. The Houston Road of last weekend, a tail-wind paradise was this week a slog, clinging to the back of the group after my turn at the front had me crying ‘no more!’, the others graciously letting me draft them the remaining miles home. Losing touch for the last half mile, I rounded the final corner a few minutes shy of the others, but good on his word, John produced a few cakes which were quickly dispatched. Not quite the day I’d envisaged, but still a good 92 miles (86 or so for the others missing out on my cycle from Glasgow to Renfrew) on a fine sunny and dry day.

After this proper (if a bit late) cake stop, I declined Sammy’s offer of a lift home, the 6.5 miles would see me close to the 100. I set off at an easy pace, hitting home without incident, but still 1.5 miles short of the hundred. A quick loop of the Green and the Garmin pinged out the 100 mile ‘lap’, and so ended my second century cycle.  A decent average too, assuming the oddities of the Garmin after Largs didn’t mess up things – 16.9mph average. No injuries, no mechanical breakdowns, just need to work out how to carry and eat cake on the move…

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/180331098

Preceding the Kneesome Threesome

“Dad, I read your blog.  It’s boring”.

Thanks to my dear eldest daughter, who is an avid reader – just not of my material.

Anyway, not going to get less boring as I sandwich in between the Majorca exploits of the “kneesome threesome” and the Maritime Alps of young Turbine – plenty of pictures please Tubs.

For  the Sunday ride from a couple of weeks ago, Turbine suggested focusing on the upcoming Etape Caledonia.  The plan was to go over the well known route of the Duke’s Pass, sticking tightly together as a foursome sharing the workload at the front equally, having no stops over the 75 mile route and obtaining an 18 mph average.

A good shout from Tubby who was feeling good in body and mind, clearly, after a couple of very promising rides in the past couple of weeks.

The upshot?  Tubs was feeling it on the Duke’s Pass – a worrying sign.  After a bit, he decided to sit on the back – too much too soon last week?  By Kippen he was well out the back door, and a decision had to be made.  Stop and wait or push on over the Crow road and homewards trying for the 18 average.  Considering the group consisted on myself, Sammy and Gio the decision will be no surprise – “he knows the way home” said Sam, and on we pushed as a trio (the Majorca boys would all have waited it must be recognised).

We fair belted on and Gio was beginning to go backwards up the final little hill at Torrance – always a nice feeling to crest any hill in front of the mountain goat – big Sam was clearly invigorated and powering on.  However, we waited on him and duly returned to the clubhouse with an average of 18.1 mph.  Mission accomplished (almost).  Tubs rolled in 10 minutes later.  Today was not his day – it happens.  He’ll be back bigger and stronger next time.

So.  Can we break 4 hours for the 81 miles of the Etape (requiring a 20 + mph average)?  Time will tell, but with the big chain gangs to be found in this route, we’ve got a chance.

Border Ride

The Easter holidays are upon us again, and the usual Waddell, McGivern, D’Alessio get together is once more upon us.  From Huntly to Mull to Fort William and this time down in the borders – Langholm to be exact.  Never been here before, but I’m sure it will be lovely.

So not time to cycle.  Not quite.  Gio hatched a plan and it’s me and him on the early morning train to Berwick with a vague route plotted to take us to Langholm.

Starting out from Berwick we hook up almost immediately with a local, just as we are contemplating a none too road bike friendly section of cycle path.  Our new friend, Alistair, ensures us it’s fine and just a quick means of crossing the A7, so on we go – and he’s right, it’s fine.  Alistair sticks with us for 22 miles to Kelso.  He’s good company and knows the roads well, so the miles pass by quickly, aided by the tail wind.  No big pushing going on here, but a healthy enough average, and very little in the way of hills until we part company in Kelso.

We continue on at a reasonable rate with the road beginning to rise and fall, and repeat.  It’s all good as the roads down here are cracking and the traffic almost nil.  Riding in the borders really is heavenly.

No mishaps, no big setbacks, no major incidents.  And from my viewpoint, no big memories of much of the route.  Suffice to say we end up in Newcastleton, anticipating 5 miles to journey’s end.  Hmmm.

We speak to a chap watching a game of football who tells us that we can continue on the flat road we are on and will hit Langholm in 15 miles, riding the A7.  Not a comforting prospect.  Or we can go in another direction (our intended route) which will be quiet and is 9 miles – “it’s hilly mind you”.  He lied not.  The road went sharply up, then went up and up and up.  Down a bit and then up and up.  Getting ridiculous now.  Eventually, it went way down and we were flying into Langholm, at which point we recalled climbing this very hill the other way round in a sportive last year – Never been here before.  Incorrect.

Nearly done now.  As ever, there is always a sting in the tail.  We hoped to have maybe a half a mile to roll to the holiday home.  In truth, still 7 to go and a couple of right good hills.

However, it’s not long until we pull up in front of the beautiful dwellings that shall constitute home for the next week.  A quick For Goodness Shake, a bit of Sandra’s diving malteser cake (or 3), and pull the shutter down on a fantastic 96 mile training run.  Life is sweet.

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/164240321

Models

A couple of weeks ago the official Do It For Dee kit arrived and was paraded on a team ride with 4 of the crew.  After some gentle cajoling from big Ian, I now present team DIFD.  The kit will never look more shiny than it does here (my long sleeve top was only minutes away from getting covered in oil, WHITE sleeve natch, cleaning a chain).

Enjoy.

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Sharapova goes to Largs

3 new tops, 1 new bike

ready to hit the road in the new threads

Sunday. 6am. The things I do for this cycle training malarky. Up and at ’em to get round to the starting point for the day’s cycle to Largs (remember the train?) – Big J’s house. So I’m getting in an extra 6 or so miles as a ‘warm up’ by cycling over to his place. When I arrive (a couple of minutes later than the 7.30 start time) everyone’s getting kitted out in the new cycle jerseys which arrived a few days before (John, Sammy and Brian). A smart looking team get lined up for photo’s, with poor Niamh (Big J’s 11 yr old) roped in at this early hour on Sunday morning as photographer. A few “drive-by” photos and we’re ready to go, except John is having some sort of issue, and is in and out the house for bits n bobs. The rest of us, getting a bit chilly standing (sitting?) around waiting head off, knowing he’ll soon catch up. I lead off, calling behind for directions as I’m not sure which way we’re going (Largs is somewhere I drive to. In a car on motorway/ dual carriageways. Which is sensible, its quite far away). We’re soon working our small train of 3 well, setting a good pace and its not long until we’ve left the more built up areas for the countryside. Brian and Sammy are not happy at the spatter from the occasional puddle/ damp stretch of road soiling their pristine new jerseys, but I’m not paying much attention as I’m starting to wonder if I overdid the training this week (3 pacey 6 mile runs and two 15/18 mile cycles). The first incline of any note and I’ve dropped off the back. They wait at the top, and we get to admire the view – the sun is out, though its still chilly – as John appears a short distance behind us. He goes to pull out his camera, but can’t find it in any of his pockets – he has the case though. Has it fallen out on the road? A quick phone call home confirms he actually left it behind, so camera phone it has to be. John’s new carbon Trek is ‘not feeling right’, swapped wheels and tweaked handlebars are not what they should be, but some road-side mechanicking from Sammy seems to do the trick and we’re good to go.

top of the hill

A short post bike fix break. And its sunny.

view

looking the other way, blue sky.
No clouds. No rain.

I take off a little ahead of the group (chance to go a bit slower til they catch me up), but have only gone a mile or so around the loch and there’s no sign behind, so pull over, grab my phone and take a few piccies at Loch Thom. Sammy and Brian round the corner, but John isn’t with them.

Loch Thom

Loch Thom

Sammy and Brian at Loch Thom

Sammy and Brian rounding the corner at Loch Thom (small/ far away)

He turns up moments later, something not right with his gears now. More quick fixes and we’re off again. The road gets a bit hilly and I’m starting to regret my sub-40 10k on Monday, and drop behind the rest again. But its not long before there’s a good downhill stretch and not being with the group is of little consequence – the road down in to Greenock is steep and allows for a good turn of speed.
We regroup at the bottom, and I refuel on a Torq bar, a gel, a few Zip-vit sweets and wash it down with some lucozade. There’s a nasty little ‘thigh-burner’ coming up and I want to be ready for it. We set off, the first left turn is up a fairly steep hill, then a right up a slightly easier incline (I’m dropped, again), left twice more before the wee bugger of a hill I remember from back in January. At this point, no-one is in sight, but I recall school shot-putting practice – I was rubbish, but a fellow pupil from my athletics club (a chunky thrower) recommended grunting will get you an extra few feet, so decided this must translate into hill climbing, go all Sharapova and grunt my way up the hill, putting in a decent (for me) turn of speed to reach the summit.

We travel on and down into Largs without incident, though I seem to lose touch with the group with regularity, we regroup outside the ice-cream shop. A snack break, then a few photos of us looking dapper in our team kit with the seaside behind us (though I’m too busy snacking to get my camera-phone out), and we take off towards the next challenge – the Hairy Brae. We are instantly put at a disadvantage, the lights are red at the start of the climb, forcing us all to start from a standstill before we can push upwards. I stick to the group for the first section, but am soon left behind, and a lorry gets between me and the group, causing a concertina of traffic behind it. I’m tempted to hang on to its trailer as it passes, but decide thats probably not the best plan in the world. No way am I stopping on this hill, so just keep plugging away, hoping the vehicles will get by without bumping me or the leading group. The lorry eventually gets by and the other traffic thins out, the climb continues, and I give a few brief attempts at upping my speed by standing on the pedals. This works out ok, so try and work in a few more ‘standy-up’ bits as I continue upwards. As the incline lessens, I start to speed up a little, trying to remember how long it is to the top (you don’t really pay attention to these things when you are driving the car along). I glance up along the now straight road, to see Mr. Whitevanman hurtling towards me on my side of the road as he overtakes a couple of small cars – I’m not liking the look of this, the road isn’t that wide, so move as close to the gutter as I can, and am missed by feet, though it feels much closer as I’m buffeted by the van as he zooms by and I offer him some unheard driving advice and a few choice words of abuse.

The top comes soon enough, and the rest wait in the roadside parking bay, arguing whether a 54/25 or 26 (28?) is the way to go. I’ve no real idea what they are on about (something to do with gears/cog sizes I gather), so just take the opportunity to slug back some juice while they come to any sort of conclusion. We set off in a train, the rolling of the road is such that I’m able to keep pace comfortably, and we pick up a roaring pace as the road takes on a combination of level and downward slopes, with few upward sections to slow our progress. At one point I find myself at the lead, zipping downhill and unable to keep up with the pedals and no bigger gears left. Realising the futility of continuing pedalling when I’m not actually achieving anything, and the slighly scary speed we are at (knocking on 40mph) entering a corner, I stop pedaling. Apparently this is bad form, to which John yells – keep pedaling! so I do, to little effect other than looking like I’ve a vague notion of what to do. I guess I need another cog somewhere for these odd speedy bits. 28?

The pace settles down as we pass Kilbirnie before another ‘hill’ is to come (around Lochwinnoch) after which I’m warned we take a right turn on the downhill. The “up” doesn’t take long to spread us out, and its not much longer before I’ve lost sight of the team again. The ‘hill’ seems to be over and there’s no sign of a right turn or in fact anything much other than traffic cones on various bits of ‘road closed except for access’ sections. I occasionally see road bike tyre tracks leading out of puddles so think I’m going the correct route, but begin to wonder if I’ve somehow missed a turning somewhere along the way. I’m not that bothered, as I’ve a vague notion of where I am, as I’ve a recollection of being round these parts in the pouring rain/ wind with Mark M a few weeks previous, so tootle along regardless, with a plan of working out a way back home solo if need be. My concerns are soon over, as I hit a downward section, and can see a few black and white jerseys ahead, as the three others wait in the promised right turn. We regroup, as a couple of other cyclists head down the hill I’ve just come down, the second yelling to his friend to ‘go right’ as he zooms on oblivious. We have a short conversation, offering ourselves as a target for him and his buddy once he realises he’s missed the turn. We set off again, and I’m struggling to maintain contact, but notice I’m averaging just around 15mph over the route as we head into Bridge of Weir. The road flattens out, the team keen to hit their target 17mph average, but I’m fading and not up to their pace. However, I’m still keeping my own pace well above 15, so am happy enough on my own, though regretting not hanging on the back a bit longer as I’m not really sure where I’m going. I soon see a junction ahead signed for Paisley to the right, Erskine left, can’t see the guys, so reckon Paisley is the way for me (it isn’t). As I close in on the junction, I see them on the left, so slow to a stop. Left it is. A squad of purple/blue clad cyclists come by as we discuss my proposed route (apparently the Paisley road way ‘wouldn’t be fun’ and ends up on the motorway), one of whom plays with the oncoming traffic on the wrong side of the road eliciting a few angry beeps from a car. We turn left, and I tuck in behind John determined to hang on for the last few miles.

We hit a roundabout, and it seems Brian has been left behind. In the team spirit of the moment (polite translation of what passes between the guys – “he’ll catch us up”), we forge on, but John and Sammy’s pace is proving hard to match. They leave me on a slow climb, but a dozen or so of our purple/blue friends appear behind me soon after, so I put in a surge to latch on to the last in the group as they come by (Mark M’s words of “closer” echoing in my head). Now this is more like it. I’m barely putting in any effort, and am cruising along at the back of this three-wide group. Bliss. Sadly this easy going is short-lived, as they all turn off, bar one, a short distance along the way. I thank them for the tow, and try to hang on to my new friend, who has spotted John and Sammy ahead, and has upped his pace to catch them. He reaches them stopped at a set of lights lights. I start to get into range just after the lights change and they’ve surged off, but 70-odd miles are taking their toll and I can’t match their speed. I drop off before making contact, but am not that far behind as we near the round-a-bout leading to John’s house. Purple/blue goes straight on, J&S turn right, but I’m not going to catch them now. I roll up to John’s slightly ahead of Brian – turns out he couldn’t get clipped in back at the Paisley/Erskine turn and was playing catch-up all the way, missing out on the tow-advantage of team purple/blue that I was lucky enough to get.

Top result for me – 15.5mph average, 72.08 miles. My best average to date and my longest ever cycle in the bag. And even better – no train-ticket required.

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/159597773

More photos (proper camera not my basic phone one will hopefully come via Big J), carrot cake (thanks Mrs. Sammy!) chit-chat about the day, and then I take a ‘recovery’ ride for the 6-miles back home.

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/159597731

Shouldn’t have reset my Garmin, got an extra 0.1 mph speed on this last 6 miles…

Wun Tun

Sammy, me and Tubs out today.  Gio drops out as he is allergic to runs that do not start from the Egasa clubhouse – his hoose.  The idea was to bag one of the hills from Simon Warren’s “100 Greatest Climbs” book – the Rest and Be Thankful.  Sammy and myself did this last year.  After I got home I had a wee look in the book and discovered that indeed we did NOT do it.  Yes, we got up to the Rest and Be Thankful from Arrochar but that’s not the hill in the book.  Oh Bother (1).

Fully researched this time, we knew where we were going.  A 60 miler planned taking car or cars to Luss and cycling from there.  Sammy mentioned that his brother was interested in coming – so a route change to start at his brother’s in Dumbarton.  An 80 mile route now.  Finally, after a chat with Sammy and a throwaway joke about just starting from mine (where we were going to meet in the cars), and yes, the joke became reality – the first 100 miler of the season planned – 107 miles in all.

Blowing

The first few miles match my commute until we head to Erskine.  Going down a I little hill just before the bridge I pull the brakes (with my new expensive brake pads on).  Nada.  The Mavic man Sammy comes to the rescue and we get the brakes infinitely better – in that they work.  Just as well that little hill was there.  If I needed the brakes coming off the bridge there could have been carnage.  Nice to prove that we don’t need Ian along (hangover) to have a wee mishap.

Once we leave the towns behind, the route really shows its class.  As soon as we turn off the A81 towards Gairlochhead and hit the rolling ups and downs the route is a cracker.  A lot of the road surfaces were brand new – we were all flying along enjoying the surfaces (especially Sammy with his new GP 4000 tyres in play – here comes summer).

Young Tubs is beginning to show some form – he drops back a bit on the hills but it’s no longer the dramatic collapses that he’s been known to experience earlier in the year – the fitness is coming as he ups the training.

Gairlochhead and Arrochar zip by and it’s up the Rest and Be Thankful the non-book way.  We met up with 3 chaps and make some kind of progress up the hill together.  I was grateful of the support of one of the chaps (Colin?) as we took turns towing each other up the hill.  Some tales at the top of upcoming trips to Alps had me misty eyed (still trying to get Mrs M to agree to a wee alpine sojourn in June with the Tubbys but she’s still not wearing it – I’ll need to have another go.  Better idea.  My lovely mother will be reading this – she can have a go at convincing Carol.  For your son, mother dear)?

Freezing by the time we went down the hill, but we soon warmed up as the mist and light rain abated.  Then we hit the road to Lochgoilhead.  An absolute cracker of a road – loved by one and all.

A little stop to regroup with the real hill just ahead.  We then encounter some muppet in a car doing his dinger because we’re ‘blocking’ his route on the road.  Aye right, pal.  Move 3 cm to the right and continue (or move 15 feet – you’ve got all the space in the world and not a car in sight).  Some choice language to send him on his way – not by me though, ’cause my mum’s reading.  At this point my GPS batteries gave up the ghost.  Oh bother (2).  I’m very anal about recording my stats so this is a bummer.  Teach me to upload the stats more often and get the device charged.  Surprisingly, it’s charging as I write this now.

And now the hill.  The other guys said it was a real toughie.  I wasn’t so sure.  There are lots of flattish parts to recover and only a couple of 16% bits to have you on the pedals.  However, it sure is a nice ride.  So, back round to the Rest and Be Thankful and the long descent to Arrochar and another regroup.

Only really one other significant climb on the way back, although it should be noted that Sammy and myself wait for our amigo Tubs two or three times when he has a rough patch on hills – remember this.

As we approach home Sam and myself are close to energy out.  No need for a gel – we’ll coast home and get something to eat.  We look round to make sure Tubs is still there – he’s not taken a turn at the fron to help his brothers for quite a while – no matter, he ain’t heavy.  And then the boy does it.  He shames himself by making a sprint in the last half mile.  Shameless.

Tubs outrageous behaviour apart this was a cracking run with some great roads.  A grand choice.

We’re faster than an Audi A6

Sunday’s training run – the Duke’s, Kippen and Crow Road hills – a tough 60 miler, and now a favourite route of the team was on the table. Gio, John and myself were the riders, with the rest out for various reasons. We set off, the roads drying out and the clouds clearing away, looking to give us a decent day for the ride. Section one (stealing Big J’s breakdown of the route), a nice section of rolling road to Aberfoyle, allowed me to get some good practice at group riding, taking turns at the front and resulting in a nice average speed of 18.7mph. I found myself falling off the back a bit if I took a swig of juice after my turn at the front, must work on the process of pedalling and drinking, but easily regained the group at this early stage of the ride.

We soon had our first hill ahead of us, at the ~16 miles mark, the Duke’s pass (section 2). A brief stop to refuel, and I set off ahead of the others, knowing they’d soon overhaul me. Determined to take this hill without falling below 6mph (speedy!), started steadily, trying to avoid dropping into my lowest gear, standing on the pedals at the steeper parts of the climb. The hardest parts of the hill still are still challenging, but at this point, have lost their full thigh-burner status as my ability to cycle and understanding of the gears have improved. Result – 7.95mph. Not brilliant, but pleased that I easily topped my 6mph target.

Section 3, rolling roads again and more group riding. Odd incident on the road (all the fun happens when I’m in the group it seems), as at one point we’re hot on the tail of an elderly driver in an A6 and we’re having to brake to avoid running in to them! Much confusion and merriment from us, but eventually the driver works out the pedal on the right makes you go quicker and we’re left behind, no longer sucking in their fumes.  This section saw us averaging around 18.8mph. Consistent stuff. We were soon hitting the 40 mile mark, the second hill of the morning at Kippen, and as usual, the others leave me on the first rise of the climb. I settled in to my own rhythm, enjoying the scenery and having mixed feelings towards the sunshine (nice for view, not so much for sweatyness). Its not long before two ‘pro’ cyclists zip by me, not muttering a word in response to my greeting as they tear up the hill, I guess saving their breath for whatever private competition they are in. Not much further on, another cyclist, sharing the previous pair’s team colours breezes by me, this time with a hearty hello. As I crest the final rise he’s not far off, so I clunk up the gears in a (futile) attempt to catch him – another short hill puts paid to my chase but shortly after I do catch them, as they’ve all stopped to regroup with another handful of their buddies. Average up the hill – 8.3mph. Not so bad. I press on, as John and Gio are not to be seen (no stopping at the top this time) and enjoy the downhill section solo. Well, up to the point some (hmm, family audience), so lets say “bad driver” in a Range Rover thinks driving up my backside and beeping me when there’s bags of room on the other side of the road to overtake (no other traffic for miles) is the correct etiquette. Must look that up in the Highway Code as I must have skipped that part.

13 miles to go. Shame there's a nasty big hill in the way.

Fintry. Chow stop. J&G already out of sight.

We regroup around Fintry, John and Gio wanting to hammer on to the Crow (aka section 5). I’m happy to let them go, and chow down on a Torq bar (ginger and pineapple flavour – who came up with that one?) and a gel before heading along solo to the 3 mile climb before me. I settle in to a I’m-pretty-knackered-don’t-care-how-fast-this-is pace (turns out to be 7.6mph average) as I’m hitting the limit of my current fitness and ability. As I climb slowly, a handul of riders come down the hill (oh how I detest their ability to freewheel at this point in the day) with a cheery nod, wave or ‘hello’ to which I attempt a similar greeting, its success dependent on how steep the hill is at that point. As I reach the ‘house’ on the hill, the weather decides that it would make my cycle oh so much more fun if it were to hail. How nice, tiny ice particles pinging off my face just to cheer me along. The hail stops as I crest the hill, and I clunk the gears into a more suitable ratio for the downhill section. More hail. The faster I go, the more it hurts, so I ease off the pedals until it subsides moments later. Top speed on the downhill, 33mph. Could have been quicker, but I’m shattered and don’t have the energy or confidence to risk much faster.

We regroup at the bottom (section 6), John and Gio keen to be off and maintain their 17+mph average. I agree to hang on to the back for as long as I can, but am doubtful that I’ll keep up for any length of time. My doubts are soon confirmed as we’ve barely gone a few hundred yards before I lose touch on a round-a-bout and the legs are just not interested in pushing the pedals to get back to the duo ahead, hunting down some fellow cyclist they’ve spotted. The wind picks up, as I check my watch which is showing around 3 hours 45, with 4 miles to go. I forge on, trying to work out what pace I need to maintain to get this done in sub-4 hours, but am foiled by the wind and my complete lack of energy. The last 3 miles offer little respite from the wind, my average drops to just over 11mph but I get back in one piece – a slight niggle in my left knee, but otherwise unscathed. 60 miles done, overall average of 14.9mph. 15mph and sub-4 hours next time…

Tubby vs the Big Beasts

When it comes to writing blog posts Ian is straight out of the blocks.  For the rest of us, not quite so good.  So here is the training entry for the Sunday that Ian was going to be doing until he was alerted to the condition of his tights – ripped.

Me, Sam, Tubs and David and the route was as the previous week.  Tubby was upset at the blog title – “Rolling with the Big Beasts”, so he came buzzing ready to give it some welly.  He also took the sheen off David’s new shiny bike with a new trimmed down steed himself.

Tubby and the big beast

The whole Duke’s Pass ride is a beauty on many levels.  It splits into comfortable, manageable sections.

Section 1 – Rolling to Aberfoyle.  Come July, 7 of us will be looking to sit tight together and share the burden of riding 100 + miles every day for 9 days.  Keeping it together and learning to conserve energy in the pack is a must.  The first 18 miles to Aberfoyle from Strathblane easily allow everyone to sit together, rolling at a nice pace and taking turns at the front.  This was only David’s second time riding amongst a group and I’m sure he appreciated this mainly flat, pacey section.

Section 2 – The Duke’s Pass.  A lovely hill enjoyed by all.  Why?  Is it the generally fine road surface (a bit gnarly at the bottom but

David and Tubs atop the Duke's Pass

really smooth further up)?  The welcoming flat sections after having to push?  The nice scenery?  The general absence of cars?  Probably all of the above.  Tubs, Sam and David pushed on up the hill and I came up behind them.  I passed and Sam came along with me most of the way to the top.  The big fellow remembers last year when he tried to stick with “the G Train” (Gio) up here and died a thousand deaths come the finale (don’t mention the fact that Tubs crested the Crow road before him that day – prickly).  Not long before David and Tubs joined us at the top.

Section 3 – Rolling up and down all the way to Callendar.  Again some great, quiet roads along lochs Achray and Venachar and before you know it we’re in Callendar.  All the team looking good and feeling fine.  (We really could have done with Ian along – he usually has some kind of issue, be it falling off or puncturing or having a bonk, which makes for more interesting copy).

Section 4 – Callendar to Kippen has a bit of incline.  David’s feeling it a touch and falls back a little.  After a quick regroup at Thornhill we push on for the last few miles before the next challenge of the Kippen hill.  It’s a straightforward 2 and 2 here.  Me and Sam push up followed by David and Tubs.  Big Sam looking good – as usual he mentions baked beans.  Apparently, he’s carrying 20 cans of baked beans on his back that I’m not – I should try it some day.  Perhaps instead of me bringing the beans along, he could try and leave them at home for a change?  Whatever – Sam and his beans make it the top and in good shape.  There’s a bit of breeze getting up now and it’s getting cold so we push on to Fintry and wait there.  Tubs rolls up and David a little bit later.  All set for section 5.

Section 5 – The Crow Road.  The wind is beginning to whip up now.  Waiting at Fintry a couple of riders go by – targets.  They get a good lead on us and it might be a push to catch them on the Crow, but I’ll certainly be giving it a go, by George.  At the bottom of the Crow, Tubs isn’t even interested in pushing on and Sammy shouts “too rich for me” at the first steep incline on the bend.  I’m on my own with the two riders ahead.  I give the legs a good squeeze (feeling much more energised that last week when the Crow was a real toughy) and pass one then the other with plenty to go.  Really windy now and a heavy fog up the top of the hill.  The average speed coming down the hill is a good 10 mph slower than last week.  All because of the wind.

Section 6 – Lennoxtown to Strathblane.  The last 5 which can be lovely or a bit torturous depending on your form.  It again ends up with me, Tubs and Sam with a couple of targets to pass.  Sam goes past me on the front, but I take over again on a little uphill section.  He assumes that I have  gone to the front to look the bees knees as we pass the ladies in front – not so.  Just using a bit of spare energy for the incline to help my fellow riders.

And so to a frenetic last mile as Sam powers on down the hill trying to show a little dominance.  However, Tubs and myself are wise to his game and it ends with the 3 of us pelting along almost side by side down to the final roundabout just by the Kirkhouse Inn.  David rolls up soon after, and another team 60 miler is in the bag.  Now for the cake stop (lacking the elegance of Ian’s Saturday stop).  Some of Julie’s (Mrs Sammy’s) mighty fine carrot cake and the always wonderful For Goodness Shakes.  Bring on the next run.

Agoknee

Another Sunday, another LEJOG training run. Not such a big turnout this time, but four of this summer’s seven riders made the early 8.15 am start (Brian, Gio, John and myself), and were joined by a friend & colleague of Gio’s, Stuart (or is it Stewart?); though Sammy turned up in person to give his apologies.  We set off from Strathblane at a solid pace, but had barely got going before we hit our first hitch – Brian’s cleat on his left shoe was just not engaging in the pedal properly. A bit of faffing around didn’t completely fix the problem, but his decision was to go on.  We soon got into a good rhythm, with each rider taking their 0.5 mile or so leading the train over a good 15 mile stretch.

dodgy cleat in the Trossachs

We reached Aberfoyle and our first hill of the day, comfortably under the hour – the Duke’s Pass – a new hill for me, and a new challenge. I took it slow, tucking in behind Stu and Brian as I got a feel for the slope. As the climb continued, Stu slipped back and the two of us chatted about running, work and my cycling experience (or lack of!) . The gradient was not so bad, no real thigh-burning sections, and we made the summit without too much effort, though Brian, just ahead of us most of the way up, was still having a bit of bother with that left cleat.  A quick respite at the top, with a waiting Gio & John, then a nice downward stretch skirting round Loch Achray. Well, nice except for the tourist filled bus that came at me round a blind bend – in the middle of my side of the road, half-way down the hill. My brakes worked well, so collision avoided.

We were now again on gently rolling roads, so back into ‘train’ formation all the way to Callander, where we attempted to find a bike shop, with no luck. We headed south, toward Kippen and the second hill of the day. I took up my command position at the rear, again with Stu for company and we worked our way up the incline, the occasional zipvit energy chew and drink to keep us going. Just as were cresting the last rise, I was the lucky recipient of my first puncture. A thorn (or something spiky) into my back tyre, flattening it instantly. Another master class in tube changing commenced, with Gio in control, taking care to ensure the last bits of the thorn were removed from the tyre (nothing would be worse than replacing the tube for it too to be damaged). Brian got to try out his new gas cannister toy to fill the new tube, then we were on our way, downhill for a good stretch, working the pedals to get the chill from our stop out of our bodies. We soon arrived at Fintry, and a quick refuel stop (I must practice eating on the move) before taking on the Crow Road (“the right way round”). At this point my left knee decided to join Brian’s cleat in not working quite right. After a few of the early turns in the ascent, every rotation of the pedals was causing a sharp niggling pain just under my kneecap. As the hill continued, so did the pain, so reaching the top and being able to freewheel down was a great relief. The last 4 miles back to the cars was less than fun for me, trundling along barely breaking 10mph (unless going downhill). Still, got to the end in pretty much one piece and just over 60 miles in the bag:

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/149188679

Stuck an ice pack (good old Birdseye frozen peas) on knee at home, and hoping it goes away with a couple of days rest. Seems ok today, but will give it until Wed to ‘test’ it on a run.

Train Training

Sunday. 9-sh. This week I was in town, so headed out with the team for a training run on the wheels. Cycled round to John’s (6.5 miles or so) without incident, barring John’s friend Joey’s cousin, Frank, who followed me for half a mile before jumping a red light to go by me – not that I was racing, as I was happilly pootling along minding my own, saving my energy for whatever was to come. My Garmin 205, strapped to the handlebars with cunning use of an old light mount and a rubber strap from a mudguard I never used, had my average on this pre-training section at 16mph, not too shabby. Three of us hit the road, John, Gio and myself, our exact route a mystery to me (as always) but starting with a steady run out of Renfrew and into the countryside proper. Bananas and sport gels stuffed in my pockets, along with a trusty Mars bar and a new, second bottle cage taking my on-board liquid count to 1.5L or so, I was prepared this week for refueling on route.  The pace was fine for me, taking one stint at the front, but spending most of my time behind the more experienced riders. This has one drawback – wet roads. If you’re thirsty and not fussy about what you drink, you’re well catered for, just open wide and you’ll get a steady stream of gunk from the wheel in front. If not, you’ll be steadily bespeckled with road mank. Still, its all part of the fun of winter training.

On we went, hitting our first hill of the day, me into the lowest gear I have and taking it easy, J&G zipping ahead as if the change in gradient wasn’t there. No real issues, taking on a bit of lucozade as I climbed on, knowing they’d be at the summit, wherever that was going to be. In the end, it wasn’t too bad, so on we went through Kilmacolm and skirting round to Greenock for a cracking downhill section, hitting a record-for-me 37mph (though the uploaded data lists it as 36mph, meh) . My euphoria didn’t last long as a quick break for refuelling had J revealing the ‘next bit has a bit of nasty climb, its not a long one though…’. Hmm. First bit of the hill was ok, leading to a thigh-burner, which was thankfully short enough to manage without running through all of the fine selection of expletives I’ve learnt from my many years in Glasgow. Past Loch Thom and I’m starting to enjoy this cycling lark, great views and the terrain, though undulating, a bit more forgiving and no more thigh-burners. The team slipped ahead, waiting for me at the top of the last rise, chatting to a local + dog, leading to another great downward section to Largs. Now, I’ve been to Largs a few times, in the car. The main road is a ‘select low gear’ type as you come down in to the town. We’d be taking that ‘slight incline’ out of the place. It was around midday, I’m sitting on 41 miles for the day and have arranged to be back in Glasgow for a 1.30-ish lunch. Not going to make 20-30 odd miles with that nasty hill to start in 90minutes, unless I can magically average 20+mph… So again, plan B kicks in, as Largs has a railway station. Annoyingly, I’m still feeling fresh-ish (unlike a fortnight ago where I was far from it) but time is against me, so a £7.20 ticket tucked in my jacket and I’m sat in the station waiting for the 12:56 to Glasgow. J&G head off with my best wishes to take that hill and I kick back and wait for my train.

fastest this bike went all day
fastest this bike went all day, courtesy of ScotRail

Train is bang on time, but turns out this isn’t an express – it stops at pretty much every stop along the line, turning what I thought would be a 30min ride into over an hour. Was impressed by the handy velcro straps for holding the bike in place, though I doubt the other passengers were impressed with my dirt covered self (I found mud still stuck to my ears after I showered – ugh) . Texting on route turns lunch to coffee, arriving at Central at just after 2pm, hobble out of the place  (clippy shoes are no use for walking) and zip home on the bike to meet my lunch-now-coffee friend. Maybe next week I’ll finally complete a full training cycle…

Garmin link http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/145706996