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?
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
Long weekend, so what better to do than a few miles on the bike?
Friday. I’d checked the weather, and unusually there was to be a NE wind on the Friday, so a trip to Castle Douglas on the bike would see me getting the wind on my back most of the way, a nice 88 mile ‘warm-up’ for the Drumlanrig Challenge (62 miler) the following day and a chance to spend a few days at my Mum’s. I set out around 10.30, as little weight in my rucksack as I could get away with, and with an easy pace in mind. First target, Eaglesham, and the moor road – a bit of a hill, but it looked to be nice tarmac and low on traffic on Google streetview, so a fair compromise. And of course, the pay off from going up hill, is the descent. When I actually arrived in Eaglesham, which was uphill all the way, found that the initial ascent to the moor road was a bit nastier than I expected, but dug in, stood up and got up without any problem, except for a bloke in a camper van messing around slowing/ speeding up then trying to park right in front of me. The road passes a nice wind farm and has a few boy racers, but the single track road has a cycle lane most of the way, so there was plenty of room for me. The descent soon began, and hitting 30+mph was easy, slightly regretting still having my winter Gatorskin tyres on, their higher resistance slowing me a bit. The B-road ended at the A77, now quiet due to the nearby M77, and downhill most of the section I was taking, allowing me to easily maintain 20+ speeds.
I turned off towards Waterside and Moscow (yup, there’s a Moscow in Ayrshire) then on to Galston, where my el cheapo B-twin bottle holder rattled loose, the metal prongs working free of their plastic mounts – no chance of a fix, so I tossed it and put the water bottle in my ruckack. Not ideal.
I coninued along the 716 until it reached the A76 and my big mistake. I’d not checked this part of the route out, and it turned out to be a very busy road, with a disproportionate amount of bad drivers towing caravans intent on wiping me out. The closest near-miss I was virtually brushing up against the guys caravan! Still, the fear of being splattered kept my average up. Just beyond Cumnock I escaped the 76 onto more bike friendly B-road, low on traffic, but big on hills.
Throw in a bit of ‘road closed’ fun (duly ignored by pedalling me, gate across the road easily climbed and bike dragged over) and poor tarmac on some of the descents (bone shaking) and I was soon at Dalmellington and decided to take a short break for some eats.
The local shop didn’t have much choice, so a chicken wrap it had to be, a Twix for a bit of a calorie boost, washed down with the juice from my bottle and then I was on my way again. The climb out of this small town lead on to the A713, a road I’ve driven in the car a few times without realising how much of it was uphill nor how bad some of the surface is for cycling. Still, there was a welcome distraction from these issues from a load of Dutch rally drivers – all in Minis, some classic, some the modern version, all zipping by me, many appearing to be lost or taking circular routes and passing by me several times. It wasn’t long before I’d passed Carsphairn and the end of any significant uphill sections, but still 20 miles or so to go. The wind wasn’t being as helpful as I hoped, not that strong, but at least it wasn’t in my face for any significant time.
I could see Loch Ken ahead, so knew I hadn’t far to go, but took a quick break to refuel and stretch my back – carrying a rucksack messes with your stance on the bike a bit, so I was getting some stiffness which I kneaded out with my knuckles. Refreshed, I carried on, noticing my average was still over 16mph, so determined to keep it there and to get to Mum’s for 5pm, dug in for the last few miles. I was soon on the familiar roads of Castle Douglas, then on to the back roads to Gelston, the end in sight and pulled up bang on 5pm. 88 miles in the bag, not feeling too worn out and looking forward to the Drumlanrig the next day.
Saturday. I’d knocked the idea of cycling to Drumlanrig on the head – 34 extra miles each way was going to push things a bit far, particularly if the sportive was going to be ‘speedy’, and I didn’t really fancy a 5am start. So, I borrowd me Ma’s car and drove it. Just as I was approaching the Castle turn off, my phone buzzed away in my pocket – the others wondering where I was. I was nearly there, so left it until I was parked. A quick phone to David established they were in the queue for their numbers, so I headed over to the tent to meet them, watching the earlier starters head off. I spotted David and Bryan, our team kit easily picked out from the crowd, just getting the numbers as I approached. A few quick hellos and we returned to cars, attached our numbers, swithered about gloves and overshoes, then moved to the start via the ‘facilities’.
We got going, turning easily down a gentle hill away from the start line with our group stringing out as we went. It wasn’t long before a few words between Bryan and myself resulted in us pushing forward to the lead cyclists of our group, as they appeared to be a bit more organised and taking advantage of slip-streaming. We tagged on the back as we started to climb upwards, and the first serious hill appeared ahead of us. Clunking down to the small chain and standing up, we were packed a bit too close for comfort and it was a nervous ascent. One unfortunate rider just ahead of me skidded his back wheel, hit a pothole coming to a dead stop, ending with him toppling sideways with a groan as he was unable to do anything to stay upright. A quick ‘are you ok?’ from David and myself (Bryan had avoided the melee by surging ahead) with a resigned ‘yeah’ (poor guy would have to walk it up due to the gradient preventing restarting) and we forged on. The top reached, the descent was as bad – potholes, gravel and narrow, twisting roadway to contend with saw me sitting on the brakes all the way down, though one rider (fearless or stupid?) zoomed by us, less concerned with the road condition than us.
We continued, climbing through Craigdarroch with Lynne (I think) from Ayr CC making our group into a four, swapping conversation and our places in the road as we went. The route became a long sweeping descent, I tucked in behind our Ayr buddy to follow her lines round the bends, guessing she’d know what she was at (she did), helping me to keep a solid pace down in to Glenhoul.
We were passing a few folk, rarely were we overtaken until a shout of ‘on your right’ from behind and a swarm of Johnstone Wheelers overhauled us – the cry to tag on the back went up and we dug in to maintain their pace, with a dozen or more other riders who had taken the same initiative.
Our average began to shoot up, the train making it easy to keep the cranks turning, but forcing extra effort after any sharp bends – the slow in, fast out of the train requiring a burn each time – or on anything but a short incline to keep up with the trains momentum. I missed the ‘bump’ behind between David and another rider, so escaped any incident of note in the train, but once we turned off the A702 and hit a proper hill, the train began to out-pace my “done 88 miles yesterday” legs and I, along with many other of the ‘carried’ riders dropped off. David seemed to waver between digging in to keep up, or holding back to wait on me, in the end choosing the latter, giving me a target to work toward as he slowed and chatted to a fellow rider as the climb levelled off. I soon caught up, and the route headed downhill, offering some respite from the recent climb. This was short lived, another hill to tackle before a longer descent and levelling off. It wasn’t long before a cake stop came into sight, and Bryan had stopped to wait on us, about 15 miles from the end. I dove in to the jam and cream scones, a few egg sandwiches and grabbed a flapjack and a banana as Bryan had spotted a group approaching to tag on to. By the time I’d got back on board, David and I were playing catch up, each time we seemed to be nearly about to make contact, a hill or junction foiled us. A final hill (or so it seemed) with 4 miles to go and the group had out-paced us, so we settled in to the climb, over taking some tired riders as we went along. A bit of 2 man train saw us pass a few more folk, before the end was in sight – a slightly mean of them uphill section to the line, where a beaming Bryan snapped us as we crossed the line, happy with his 18mph average, and we too pleased to have completed the route without too much trouble in a solid 16.4mph average.
And then on to cake! Well, sandwiches then cake. I stowed my bike, swapped my shoes, said “Hi” to Lynne (parked directly behind me, refilling her bottles) and wished her luck with the extra 38 miles she was off to complete, then met the others at the food tent. A variety of stuff was on offer, with a friendly ‘take as many as you want’ from the volunteers pulling out extra tubs of grub to replace any getting low. We chatted to the Wheelers and thanked them for the tow, and to a few other folk we’d met on the route. Cake was consumed (millionaire shortbread, marble cake, flapjacks, and various other goodies of unknown name), then we parted ways, 3 happy LEJOGers having completed a fine event, vowing to return next year.
Oh, and my plan to cycle home on Sunday? It went a bit awry – my phone was out of battery, and a solo run with no way of calling in help if anything were to happen on some of the back roads resulted in me sat on train. Not quite the memory of Largs, as this time the carriage with the bike store was full of stag party drunks, so I and a few fellow sober passengers ended up dodging their shoe slinging antics and tutting quietly to ourselves at their general misbehaviour until they had the good grace to get off the train, to the reflief of all. Made up for this non-cycle by doing a 45 miler (16.8 avg) on Monday morning, avoiding the worst of the rain to give me a nice tally of 195 miles for the long weekend.
Emails sent mid-week trying to decide on a full group run had lead to a split of folk for Saturday and others for Sunday, so in the spirit of getting more bike miles in, I’d planned on doing both. So Saturday was to be Mark M, Mark C and myself, but Mark C had to pull out, leaving the two us. A rough plan of “40 ish miles” was made, with Mark calculating routes that would allow me to ‘escape’ if my knee injury resurfaced. We met at the BBC building, and headed towards the Paisley road to hit some countryside. We’d barely gone a mile before I showed my inexperience and messed up my stopping by forgetting I was clipped in and toppling over – at least I’ve learnt to fall left (saves the derailleurs from getting bashed) and realised that landing on my gluteus maximus is the best way to go. We soon got on our way, and approached the first hill of the day, a 200m or so ascent around the Glenliffer braes. Up we went in the pouring rain, the wind blowing, Mark sticking with me most of the time to offer advice and encouragement (and a bit of wind protection), but occasionally zipping ahead to get some challange and anaerobic workout for himself. Beyond the ‘summit’ the elements still against us, we picked up the pace a little, and I got some practice at ‘tailing’ Mark as much as I could, but the cross winds and wet conditions were not the best. The view lost in the mist and rain (I’m sure it would be very picturesque if only it could have been seen), I managed a few good stints of sticking to his wheel, but improvement is still required.
Mark was having a problem with his drive train, the chain making an occasional nasty clunk in a worrying fashion and not wanting to switch between the rings at the front, but we forged on to Howwod and then on to Lochwinnoch. Here we hit the second climb of the day, a more gentle incline of around 140m. The roadside ‘watch your speed sign’ picked our speed up as we passed, my regular 6mph climbing pace lit up as I slogged by, Mark flashing up a 12 mph burst. We soon reached the top and were rewarded with a long run down into Bridge of Weir, topping 30mph and making good time, with a fun, slam on the brakes corner to add to the mix. I was after a food break (still can’t eat and ride, need to practice that), so we escaped the rain in a small cafe for coffee/hot chocolate and cake.
Refueled, we headed back out, the chill from our damp gear soon gone with a fine pace being set, while playing with the traffic on a busier A-road heading into Paisley. Some stop-start riding while negotiating round-a-bouts and dodging cars – one who decided it was fair game to turn left right in front of me, missed it by inches. The final few miles went without incident, except for a mountain biker who had the audacity to overtake us at the lights, causing Mark to fly off, dragging me behind to ensure we regained our road-bike honour. We split a few miles further along, our homeward routes diverging, but a good 46 miles in the bag, and a decent (considering the weather) 14.2mph moving pace .
My plan for a 2 cycle-outing weekend didn’t come to pass, as Sunday I bailed, feeling worn out, having a slight head cold/ sore throat starting (excuse #145b) so decided to take a rest day rather than push my luck on the main group’s planned 60 miler.