Our cunningly arranged early breakfast was somewhat spoiled by there also being a similarly early one organised for a bus load of tourists. Never mind, at least we had a ring-fenced pot of porridge only for our group.
Van loaded, bikes quickly cleaned up and eventually we hit the road. The sun trap that was the hotel car park lulled us in to thinking there was fine weather ahead, but the haugh was rolling in over Loch Ness and the air chilly as a result.
We powered along the loch-side, sun now coming out, for a rendezvous with my brother Dominic, astride a mountain bike that had seen better days – slurry lubricant on the chain was the teams’ best guess.
We headed slightly off-route, using Dom’s local knowledge to get to a decent bike shop for a fix for Mark’s front mech’ – Jerry from Bikes of Inverness to the rescue and we were soon back on the road.
Leaving the city, we made our way towards Beauly then on to Muir of Ord, meeting the van for a fuel stop. Dominic turned back at this point (Olympics telly to catch up on), around 15 miles done with us (and another 15 into the wind and uphill to get home).
On we went passing Conon Bridge, through Dingwall, a slight mismatch between mine and Sam’s Garmins causing a bit of a stir before ‘this way is north’ lead us on to Evanton and towards Alness.
A brief stint on the A9 came to a welcome end as we turned off on to the B9176 and a great climb up and over Struie hill – fantastic scenery, views and not a bad hill to cycle up – just a slow, steady incline with very little harsh gradients.
We soon reached the top, and after a brief stop at the view-point, headed down, a glorious descent, passing through Ardgay before meeting Cameron and Mark in Bonar Bridge for lunch. Bridge Burgers and macaroni cheese and perhaps the odd pint were consumed, bought from the pub where a local lad Ben threw us a few quid for the charity (thanks!).
Just before we were to leave for lunch, a Canadian couple, tour-cycling asked about a local bike shop (none for miles) as they’d no spare tubes. We gave them a couple, Michael assuing them that the thinner road tubes would be ok in their slightly wider tyres. As a thanks, they donated to our charity (thanks Paul & your wife – we didn’t catch her name).
Off we went, Inveran and Invershin, another climb through to Lairg an then Altnaharra, now on single-track roads, stopping for our final refuel at the Crask (?) Inn, fellow cyclists Ally from Skye and Axel from Germany applauding from the beer garden as we pulled up.
We chatted briefly before starting of on the final 20 or so miles between us and the end, the wind in our faces. We dug in, switching to single file to minimise the work as we made our way up and down the seemingly endless hills before us.
At the top of the final hill, we stopped to take some photos, the clouds hanging low over the distant mountains. We rolled down the hill to meet the van, Tongue barely a mile away, to be told the hostel was not up to scratch, so a quick negotiation was made by Mark with a local B&B and we were sorted.
Day 8 done. 113 miles done.
Only 65 to go.
A fine nights sleep in the hostel for some, a night in the van for David (snoring avoidance) and a slight change to our routine to become more efficient (and to fit in with hostel breakfast-time policy) by packing the van first, then eating breakfast. Today we were met by Epilepsy Scotland’s Robyn, a companion via email over the last few months, to see us off in person. The swarming midges outside forced us inside for a few quick photos, but not before we were their breakfast. Robyn headed off, we got on the road soon after, a few of us circling round the hostel driveway in a vain attempt to avoid being bitten while the last few folk pumped tyres or grabbed essentials from the van.
We hit the A82 with our new domestique, Michael M, fresh from a 36 mile cycle to meet up with us. Sam took the lead as we single-filed it along the busy road at an easy pace, taking in the miles as the day started with sunshine looking likely. We’d not gone far when the first incient of the day was to occur. Moving out slightly to avoid the bulging cats-eyes at a parking spot, front-man Sam was cycling towards a large crow , which appeared to be resting on the road – normally such beasts will quickly fly out of the way, but this one seemd to have a grudge of some sort and barrelled into him instead of flying in the other direction. Bouncing off Sam, it hit the deck, and the following train took evasive manouvres, narrowly missing it. As we moved on, comments flew forward – “you pull that out of your pocket to throw at us Sam?”, “hmm, does that mean I’m the only one to have pulled a bird on this trip?” came the reply.
Onwards. Next issue – stopping at a contraflow there was a bang, this time Sam’s rear was flat. Gio ran a quick recce, and reckoned nipping through the lights, we could perform bike surgery on the coned off side of the road. He and Sam went to work, fixing the tyre and we were on our way. The road was damp, but the occaisional splash of water couldn’t change the fact that the weather was turning out to be near prefect for cycling.
Next stop – second breakfast (or first lunch) at the Green Welly Shop at Tyndrum, where we ran in to some JOGLE cyclists (North to South). Nice lads from Devon, raising money for Macmillan – we exchanged a few cycling pleasantries, swapped tales of each others road ahead and got Cameron to take a quick set of piccies.
Scones, soup and various other cakey consumed, we got back on the bikes and on up the hill beyond to Rannoch Moor. The climb was taken easily (big ring not quite all round), the occasional passing car or parked up tourist cheering us on.
Once at the top, just as we were going to start our descent into Glen Coe, Sam’s rear tube went bang again. Repair, this time replacing the (torn it was discovered) tyre.
Just as the repairs were done, a large squad of Hummersknott CC, also on a LEJOG, pulled up alongside us.
Hello’s and chit-chat ensued before we all moved on downhill, DIFDers nipping by the ‘knott guys and gals on the descent – we were in more of a hurry than them, covering a few more miles per day.
Our next target – Fort William, and second lunch. The promise of a fine feast lay ahead of us – Cameron’s sister Isobel had agreed to feed and water us, and we soon arrived to an excellent spread of sarnies, cakes & pancakes which was scoffed down in short measure “the best lunch we’ve had” – many thanks Isobel.
Off we set – well, nearly, Big J had a front puncture. Fixed in quick time, we headed off for the last 50 miles of the day, revived from our hefty sandwich consumption. A brief stop at the Commando memorial was our only pause as we piled on to the last planned van meet-up at Fort Augustus. A quick cakey break and back in the saddle, the realisation that we were running behind resulting in a blistering pace being set – the team stepped up and everyone took their turn at the front, the switches smooth and methodical allowing us all to work the train along at 20mph+ on the flats and lesser hills. We covered the last 20 miles in under the hour to be met by friends and family in the hotel car park.
Day 7 done. 135 miles (171 for Michael!).
Another day, another ton+ miler ahead of us. Rain. Looking out of the hotel room as we headed down for breakfast did not make the day ahead appear to have much promise on the weather front. Regardless, breakfast was consumed, complementary coffee from the proprieter was well received by the coffee fans in the team. Our host, Ian from the Towenhead Hotel, was generous enough to get up and make breakfast early as well as offering us complementary coffee and cake and even knocked £50 quid off the stay just for us – nice one! End to Enders get this establishment on your accomodation list – a great team who really went the extra mile. Truly appreciated by all.
By the time we got out to the van to pack our gear, the rain had pretty much stopped, so we got on the bikes and headed off.
The road ran alongside the motorway (the old A74 – great fro cycling as it’s almost car free), and we made solid progress, only stopping to switch to waterproofs on/off and the essential occasional toilet stop. The few hills were long and steady rather than anything to tax us, so the miles flew by, and before long we had reached Abington. The rain was still on so a quick coffee stop was called for, the van parked up next to a bike friendly hotel, the Abington. We dived in, coffee, hot chocolate and scones ordered in swift measure. The chap who served us fired on the heating to help us dry off, so bonus points to them.
Second scones ordered and demolished, the rain easing off, we headed off again, traffic quiet roads all the way, our trek only broken by the inevitable jackets on/off and toileting.
Galston was soon reached, our lunch stop for the day with extra company in the form of Mrs Bryan and his dad, Charlie. A quick scout around town and we settled on the Aroma cafe, piled in and ordered soup, sandwiches, baked potatoes and similar fare, coffees, cappuccino and irn bru.
The friendly staff swept into action, providing our grub with only minor issues on a coronation chicken panini, quickly sorted (and eaten by us anyways). And then cakes. Oh what cakes – baking heaven. Excellent lunch.
Mrs Brian had brought more cakey to see us through the next few days, which were loaded onto the van and our goodbyes said.
On and up we went, the hill out of town not posing any issue, the weather clearing up as we went. Over the top and down, now on familiar roads round Stewarton and on to Paisley, and the finest descent of the week – a great speedy downhill from the Glennifer Braes into the town. We filtered through town, out onto the Erskine bridge, where Gio got his second puncture of the trip.
Puncture soon changed, and only a few miles to our end point, we moved on, mixing with the rush hour traffic along the A82.
Young Davo was meandering along behind the group when Turbine offered to tow David and Big J back to the main group. Turbine nearly got a toe in a delicate place as Young Dave motored onto the main group.
Keeping it tight, we climbed the road through Dumbarton, Alexandria and Balloch to the nearby youth hostel. As we turned in to the driveway, a surprise was in store – Mammy Mary and Davo’s kids Emma & Lucy with friend Olivia, along with Mark and Cameron waving flags and cheering our arrival.
Our two day domestique, Mark D was thanked all round for his help over the previous 2 days and we said our goodbyes (with a few nipping to the pub to see him off properly) as we said hello to his ‘stand in’ for the last few days, friend Michael M who’d arrived to drop his bag.
Pub. Dinner. Blog. Day 6 done.
[garmin link will follow!]
Quote of the day – “I was never out of the big ring” (most of us, but in reality I reckon we all used the wee ring once or twice)
Food of the day – tough call between the Townead Hotel breakfast, Abington’s scones and the fine Aroma cafe – my suggestion, take in any of them if you are in the area
Blog fan of the moment – Fino!
Downer of the day – Gio’s puncture only 10 miles from home (noisy bridge with no 3G)
Day 5. The day that would see us hitting the overall halfway marker at just shy of 500 miles. As usual a target time of early o’clock was planned, and as usual we didn’t get going for a good 30-40 minutes later. Never mind, Today we had Mark D joining us – a keen cyclist and for the next couple of days a ‘domestique’ for the team (in pro teams the domestiques help the ‘top’ rider win the race by drafting them and generally doing the work).
We set off in high spirits, the previous days 140 miles seeming to not have had any major effects on the group, except for a few aching limbs, par for the course on this LEJOG. Our route out of Lancaster took us down some quiet country roads, Mark D earning his place leading the pack for the most part and before long we were passing Kendal and heading into the Lakes proper, climbing as we went. This constant climbing was soon met with our reward, a long descent into Ambleside. A stop was called, ice cream, photos and toilet break taken.
The road onward soon began to rise again, the toughest climb of the day on which we were joined by a local mountain biker. Everyone made it up without too much trouble, and the descent into Keswick was a joy, fast downhill and easy bends allowing us to pick up terrific speeds as we went.
The van was parked up in a pub just outside of town, and we screeched to a stop to decide our next move (lunch). Some quick tinkering was required, so a visit to the local bike shop was first, then lunch in a pub (baguettes or baked potatoes all round), some cakey and then a return to the van (now parked at the Pencil Museum (oh if only we had time to visit) to resupply.
Half a mile up the road and a bang signalle d a puncture – Big J’s front, again. A failed tyre wall, so a quick swap of tyre and tube. Well, quickish. Off we went again, target Carlisle, making excellent time on the A591, minor detour off to catch the planned route (Garmin arguments again) but eventually arriving in roughly the right spot.
A decision to keep rolling to Gretna unless we rode by a coffee and cake shop kept us moving through the town, a maniac in a white van the only incident of note – impatient with the black car ahead of him, behind us, he undercut us all at set of lights in a left only lane, nearly taking Gio out, leading to an exchange of colourful language. Deciding not to give chase, we let the idiot go, the couple in the black car amazed as we were at the van drivers actions.
On we rode, again on quieter roads, I was in the lead position when a tractor pulling a massive trailer squeezed by me. Bus-chaser Daly let out a cry to draft it, and the whole team burst into action, tagging on to the vehicle and getting an amazing tow. For a half dozen or more miles we hung on to his tail, topping 30mph on the flat and 27+ on the upward hills – “dig in lads” was the cry as the road rose, no-one wanting to drop off the free ride we were getting as to do so would mean quickly being left behind. On we hung into Longtown, locals looking on in bemusement as 8 cyclists clung to the back of the agricultural behemoth. Sadlly we were to turn off, Young Davo declaring he’d have happily followed it all the way back to Land’s End.
The path to Gretna was soon made, and the traditional End to Enders stop by the Welcome to Scotland sign was made. A quick (by our standards) van restock made, we piled on to the last 20 miles to the end of todays route.
Travelling 2 up, we made excellent time, swapping a few at the front along with the tireless Mark to drag everyone home up the last couple of hills before a welcome final downard run into Lockerbie and the hotel.
Day 5 done. 114-ish miles out of the way.
embarrasing moment of the day – getting left behind by a lady cyclist just oustside of Keswick (John was “taking it easy” on his new tyre)
best moment of the day – hitting the half way mileage-mark
most frustrating moment of the day (other than lack of sleep and cakey) – 2nd tyre death on Big Js front wheel
Day 2. When it dawns on you that you’ve still got an awful long way to go and you don’t have a day off to recover from the 100+ miles of the previous day.
Breakfast was quickly despatched, cereal, fruit and yoghurt for most. The van packed, last minute room checks, a swithering over whether to take or ‘call in the van’ for waterproofs and we were on the road at just after 7:45. The first section of road was flat, followed by a few smaller hills, where my chain locked up switching rings – a mechanical crunch which seemed to sort itself out, so on we went. A nice downhill, topping 40mph, followed by rolling hills allowing the team to work well in our mini-pelaton, passing a lone cyclist as we went. However, we soon hit a stop, my front derailleur had actually snapped in my chain crunching episode, so I was effectively stuck in the ‘big ring’ (the harder to pedal/ faster gears). This wasn’t a major issue, as the ‘profile’ for the day (essentially how the hills look) was showing a mostly flat day until the last few miles (big hill). This would allow us to stop at a bike shop around lunch for a fix. Nicely worked out.
So off we went, making good time, pausing only if/when the GPS got confused and at Tiverton, just by the Whilrliwash for a van catch up and bottle fill and to phone ahead to a bike shop in Taunton to see if they could sort my bike.
We set off, soon missing the intended route, heading along an unmapped road instead of the dual carriageway A38 – probably a fortunate error, avoiding the busier road. Taunton was reached, a phone call to Cameron and Mark to establish the location of the bike shop, and we headed over. The nice folk in the Bicycle Chain came up with a new part for my bike which they would fit while we went to the Kings Arms for lunch. A fast lunch watching a bit of Olympic telly – the road cycling naturally, and we returned to collect my bike, but not before a couple of folk in the pub donated to our charity – thanks Kit and Beverley!
Bicycle Chain had sorted my bike – good as new (the part was new, cannabilised off another Canondale bike the same as mine), so off we went, taking the road to Bridgwater through heavy traffic. This turned into a serious jam, allowing us to overtake the cars, filtering our way carefully by the often stationary cars. Highbridge, Southwick, Wedmore were passed by, a brief van catch-up stop our only pause as we moved swiftly to Cheddar in the Mendips. Here the road was to climb, steeply – our support team at the ready to grab a photo as we toiled up the steep incline, myself at the back, though barely a gap was between the team. Fortunately the severity of the hill did not last, and a gentler slope lay before us (and a queue of cars behind us) when we finally reached the top. And turned back, as we’d missed the turn off. A few more miles of confused GPS following, a run in with the van team to determine which way to go and we were soon flying down the hill to our accomodation for the night. But not before another “we’re lost” moment and about turn for the last couple of miles, finally reaching the Bristol Road and a beaming Cameron waving us in to the hotel carpark.
Day 2 done. 102 miles.
Best near-bonk moment of the day – Big J asking for a sweetie/ gel 400 yards from the hotel.
Scariest moment of the day – numerous run ins with oncoming traffic on narrow roads and in the traffic jam, especially a bus or two.
Best moments of the day (other than finishing) – the many beeps and waves from friendly motorists, Kit & Bev donating to us
Worst moment of the day – my camera is bust, so no photos after lunch 😦
The first day of actual cycling was preceeded by the night of a thousand squeaks – the hostel bunks had the charming feature of making a terrible racket every time you made any movement. Result – not a very good nights kip for many of us. Still, up at 6-ish, showered (optional), breakfasted, bottles filled and some last minute mechanical tweaks before heading down the 3/4 mile to the ‘start’ at Land’s End.
John, Sam and I filled in the ‘End to Enders’ book in the hotel, then a series of photos at “The Sign” for the whole team. Then to the ‘start line’ – yup, there is an ‘official’ start line painted on the road. Striking a quick pose for camerman Cameron and we were off.
Problem #1. We’ve only ever ridden as a group of 7 once, months ago, so the ‘system’ we regularly use to change the ‘man at the front’ which works fine for a single file line of 3-5 folk wasnt really going to cut it with the ‘peleton’. Three systems came into play, which made for a fun few rotations while we worked out what was what. Eventually we got into a rhythm, merged the 3 into 1 system, and the DIFD train was 2 abreast and working well, swapping the lead pair every mile or so.
On we went, taking it reasonably easy, aiming for our first break (and potential cakey stop!) at Redruth. Mark was having some problems with his gears, so a quick stop at a bike shop (no use it turns out) meant we missed the van rendezvous. A phone call re-arranged a layby stop – van, cake, bananas and water refills. On we went, toiling up a hill or two, making good time and only having to play with the traffic a few times on the busier parts of the A30. A silver van tried to take us out, but missed us all as he zoomed by, giving us at least 3 inches of room (why would we need more?) and nearly causing a peleton pile-up.
Target 2 – lunch at Wadebridge (60 miles) and rendezvous with McGivern cousins Gary & Claire. The only issue between us and there/ them, the haybale challenge. It must be some new Cornish cycling test. Local farmers block the road with haybales and us cyclists need to negotiate the resulting slalom to prove we are true masters of the bike.
Slalom test passed, we arrived in Wadebridge, located pub, van support, cousins and something solid to lock 7 bikes to.
Lunch demolished in quick time (for those that got it on first order, something of a wait for tables 2 and 3), chat with one and all, then we were back on the road for the last 40 miles. Should be easy enough but for problem #2 – the bikeroutetoaster courses and Sam’s and my Garmins were not playing nice, making dealing with route and direction changes ‘fun’ – wrong turns and roads aplenty. Still we got the right one eventually, only to discover problem #3 – the last 40 miles (no problem) contained 2 hefty hills (potential problem). So far Cornwall hadn’t quite presented the 25% inclines we’d anticipated and in the end nor really did these two. We took the first at pace, a long gradual ascent rather than a torturous steep affair, the team now well used to such challenges. In between this and the next, a road with new ‘loose chippings’. Or, in my humble opinion, a pile of gravel threatening to have you off the bike if you dared to move at any pace, pretending to be a road. For miles. And up hill, making it even more fun. In the end, no issues, but a nervous few miles.
The last hill took its first victim – Bryan going for the cadence record of the day, as his chain jumped off the sprockets, me narrowly missing running right into his back wheel. A short stop to fix his chain back on, resulted in the group stringing out and Bryan playing catch up. After a bit of climbing, it seemed he wasn’t catching the group, Gio, then myself eased off allowing him to regain contact with us, then a quick tow to Mark and David ahead. Sam and John had vanished into the distance, so the 5 of us got a train going , eventually catching them up at the roadside. We reformed the full group, hoping for an easy last 10 miles. This hope was dashed, most of the remaining miles taking us up hill, passing the 100 mile mark (and David’s first century ride) before a final fast downhill into Okehampton.
A last ‘where’s the accommodation?’ conflab – turned out it was just round the corner, up a ‘nice finish to your day’ bit of road according to a local. In other words, a hill. Not quite a killer, but did offer the opportunity to do a ‘Cav’ and childishly sprint by the rest of the team from the back for the first ‘stage win’. Day 1 in the bag. Lets see what tomorrow brings.
Garmin link to follow… and here it is:
LEJOG day 1
up and at em at silly o’clock cos I couldn’t sleep – a mixture of nerves and excitement about the adventure (ordeal?) ahead of us. David came to mine, Bryan’s dad picked us up and kindly took us to the airport. We met the other 4 DIFD cyclists and slowly made our way to security where David was relieved of various toiletries not under the 100ml limit. An uneventful flight followed, but a harsh landing added a little excitement to proceedings. First time I’ve been in a plane landing at 15° roll.
We piled into the minibus for our transfer down to Land’s End, stopping briefly at the services to grab lunch. An uneventful journey, with brief moments of gadgetry use as we checked email and tweeted a bit.
Arriving at the hostel, it seemed we’d made a slight misjudgement, the owners on the understanding that we were not going to be there til 5pm.
It was just after 3pm. Result – a walk to Lands End to meet up with Cameron and Mark Snr, Mark and David hopping back in the minibus for a lift to the nearby “Last Inn”.
Our support met, a few photos taken and then return to the hostel, bikes unloaded and assembled and the lady owner phoned, soon then arriving to let us in for the inevitable fight over beds. The accommodation resolved, a short warm up/ bike check ride for 10 miles introduced us to our first Cornish Hill. A mere 17% incline. This ascent topped, we turned to get back to head out for dinner. The Last Inn, fine ale, decent pub fare, but a long wait to actually see the grub arrive.
Home. Fireworks at Lands End in the distance and a check of email to see dozens of ‘justgiving’ donation alerts. Much twittering of thanks, then a quick blog post before bed – a 6am start likely for our first acutal day on the bikes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wow! Today we exceeded our £10,000 fundraising target on justgiving.com, a week before we head off on the LEJOG cycle itself. We’re all amazed at the generosity shown by family, friends, neighbours, colleagues and even people we’ve met during training and events over the last several months.
As we’ve not even begun the cycle (yet – 9 days to go!), we’ve decided to up the target to £12,000. Knowing that every hill, each mile, all the hours we’ve put in throughout our training and soon the LEJOG itself has lead to such kind donations, makes it all worth it. Every little bit extra we raise will go towards helping those with epilepsy or brain tumours, as well as those around them. Both these conditions have such an impact on those who have them. I know our efforts and yours will make such a positive difference in their lives.
Thank you all for giving to the charities we chose to support in memory of Dee.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
is now installed on my bike. A custom headset cap. You know you want one too. A mere $12.99 from http://kustomcaps.com/ And it makes you go up hills faster ‘cos its red. Honest.
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.
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.
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).
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
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
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.
Solo training for me this weekend – the rest of the team had sorted out a Sunday cycle (most doing a Stirling loop of 50-60-ish miles, Mark M mistakenly signing up for the Trossachs Ton thinking we were all doing it), but I was meeting friends on Sunday, so Saturday was the day for me. The weather was up to expectations – constant drizzle/ rain and driving winds – a fine Scottish June day. I’d planned on just doing a 50-ish ride, heading to Eaglesham and Stewarton and back. So, winter gear on (waterproofs, overshoes), a few treats stuffed in my pockets and I headed off. The first few miles heading out of Glasgow started with a minor mis-hap – my bottle jumped out of its cage on a rough bit of road, though I hadn’t noticed until a car following me gave me a beep, wound the window down and let me know. I headed back to recover it, only to find it had split, spilling all its contents away. A quick stop at a newsagent to grab some lucozade and I was on my way again. However, the lucozade bottle was rattling around in the cage, not very secure. So, a quick stop at Clarkston cycle centre for a new bottle (£4, with a free tube of ‘Zero’ electrolyte tabs) was in order. Bottled up, on my way again, and the rain was coming down, the wind picking up as I made my way through Waterfoot and in to Eaglesham. Luckily for now it was a tail wind, so I forged on, slowly getting wetter as the rain worked its way through the not as waterproof as I thought gear I had on. Undettered by such nonsense as a bit of water (it wasn’t that cold) made my way up to Eaglesham moor, the hill no longer much of a challenge. The wind farm was lost in the drizzle, and had a bit of fun with my glasses steaming up on some of the short climbs. Had to stop a couple of times to de-mist before the fast descents to avoid complete loss of vision, and had a few dicey moments with some aquaplaning on the wetter sections of the road.
I was soon on the A77, hitting the cycle path running parallel to the main road, finding my brakes had lost a fair amount of their effectiveness when I came to a not very quick halt to avoid a Range Rover coming out of a junction. Tempering my speed for the next few miles while I adjusted to the extreme wet braking required, still made reasonable time to the turn to Kilmaurs. The road to this small town passed quickly, but as I turned northwards to Stewarton, discovered that the wind was now right in my face. The wind and driving rain made the next few miles hard work, my speed dropping to below 10mph on some flat sections due to the strength of the wind. Fine training I suppose, but not good for the average. I made my way beyond Stewarton, through Dunlop and on to Lugton, hoping to get a quick refuel at Pat’s Pantry, only to find it shut – no roll & sausage or cakey for me today. Bah.
On to Barrhead, passing the Balgray reservoir and a gentle climb into Newton Mearns, soggy shoes by this point, but not a big issue as the rest of the ride was mostly downhill. Racing buses down Pollockshaws road is always a fun way to end a ride, weaving by queuing cars as I went, knowing a hot shower was not far away. Finally I turned on to Clyde street for the last stretch home – in to the flat, out of the rain, out of the wet gear, most of which needed ringing out over the bath. Wettest rider ever, but strangely fun. At least it wasn’t freezing.
Not a blistering quick run (15.7mph avg), but a good workout and preparation for the inevitable fine British weather we’ll experience on the LEJOG.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.