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Tue, 26 Jun 2018

bealach

“That can’t be the road.”

I’m only about 10 miles in and across the loch I can see a road going improbably up the side of what appears to be a cliff from here. It’s in the right direction but surely it’s not the road.

Of course, it is.

However, that’s some time away and before that there’s the 30 odd mile run to get there. Largely into a headwind it turns out. And with quite a few more hills than expected.

The trouble with a ride which has just one very large hill is it skews the profile. You don’t notice all the other small hills because there is an enormous lump in the middle of the route. Or two enormous lumps because of course the lunch stop is on the other side so I have to go over it twice.

The hill in question is the Bealach na Ba, or “the toughest and wildest climb in Britain” as 100 Greatest cycling climbs would have it. In the grand scale of things it’s not huge but by British standards it’s quite a lump. It’s also half way up the West coast of Scotland so fairly remote. We’re on holiday nearby so riding up it seemed the obvious thing to do. Fortunately it’s not so remote that there isn’t a pub with a reputation for excellent food on the far side hence the “ride to the pub for lunch, ride back” plan.

The run in isn’t too bad, the odd sneaky 14% hill excepted. And there’s a decent chunk of tailwind back down the other side of the loch so I’m pretty relaxed when I get to the bottom.

The lower slopes are fairly gentle, helped by the tail wind, so it goes swimmingly for the first bit. Then I round the corner that starts up the glen proper and it all goes a bit Pyrenean. I can see the top and it’s a fair old way, both horizontally and vertically. More troublingly is that it’s got steep and looks to be getting steeper.

Its pretty constant so it’s a case of settle in to a rhythm and plod up, occasionally slowing at passing places to let cars pass; it’s a single track road and fairly popular. The drivers are impressively patient, probably because I’m a lot less trouble than the numerous camper vans grinding their way up.

Definitely steeper at the top. With proper hairpins. It’s great. In a hurty sort of way.

Also spectacular. There are towering walls of rock everywhere and the other side of the glen is an impressive distraction from the effort of going up.

The views from the top aren’t too bad either, although it’s a little cloudy and definitely a bit too windy to be hanging about. Plus, it’s definitely getting on for lunch time.

The top part of the descent is a bit sketchy thanks to the wind. It’s exposed and steep and the gusts make for the odd nervous moment. Further down though is a hoot and proper let go the brakes and effortlessly catch cars territory.

Lunch is chips by the sea because I’m not sure a full fish and chip lunch will be compatible with getting back up the climb. And they’ve not got any sandwiches because it’s been too busy. There is an outside tap for filling up with water which is impressively continental.

And then back up. Briefly steep at the start and then a long slow drag roughly into the wind, before the steep bits. This side might be a bit easier but the wind is definitely turning it into a draw. It’s also much less regular so a bit harder to hit your stride and stick to it.

Again the descent is tempered by the wind but it’s still a lot like fun.

At this point I’m still feeling pretty good although there’s a chunk of slogging into headwinds to come and this is where it begins to go a bit slow. As ever I suspect I’ve not done enough eating early enough so the frantic attempt to pour calories in starts. Not entirely successfully it will turn out.

Still, the run back up to the top of the loch is fine and the run back to Erbusaig goes well until the first of those 14% hills. It’s much longer than I remembered and progress is not quick. The next one is a similar slog.

Otherwise the run back is fairly pleasant. The odd bit of traffic but the great joy of cycling in the remoter bits of Scotland is that busy means several cars in a minute and then only briefly. There’s only one driver all day who seems irked to be held up by a cyclist, largely because I made way when I thought it was safe rather than immediately.

I do think if I was to be in the area again I’d not do the over and back but over and then loop round the rest of the Applecross peninsula. Partly because it’s also lovely and partly because I have a preference for loops over out and backs. Definitely up the East side and down into Applecross though.

posted at: 22:05 #

Tue, 10 Apr 2018

cold

Riding on a bank holiday weekend is a given. Terrible weather on a bank holiday weekend likewise. Hence I find myself two hours into an early April ride hoping the snow does not last.

My plan had been to go out the day before but the incessant rain just didn’t inspire me. Saturday was supposed to be better so I did all the organising and just went despite it still being underwhelming. Not actually raining but clearly thinking quite hard about it and clearly not inclined to manage more than a few degrees of warmth.

The first hour and a half wasn’t that bad: decent tailwind, no rain, nice quiet roads. And then the rain started and only really let up occasionally over the next three hours. Sometimes there was snow or hail instead but mostly rain.

Fortunately by this point I was far enough in to the ride that you might as well do the rest, plus I had a load of rice cakes to eat and they don’t keep. The far enough in was based on my estimate of five and a half hours for the ride. At some point I will learn that my estimates are bad.

One thing I will say for bad weather is it means you just get on with the riding. There is zero incentive to stop and look at the view or take a break because those things involve being colder and just prolong the time in the rain.

The cycling itself was fine and I was mostly pretty comfortable thanks to a small fortunes worth of clothing and a decision to keep a fairly steady pace. Quick enough to generate the heat to stay warm but not so much effort that everything is drenched in sweat. No matter what they say waterproof clothing is only so breathable.

About half way round I decide to change the route slightly because I figure that heading along the base of the hills just to the north of the Tay will be a bit more sheltered than the rather exposed roads closer to the river. It’s a bit more climbing but a chunk less slogging into a cross headwind. Plus it means riding roads in a new direction which is always good.

Five hours in and I reckon I’ve got at least another hour of riding left. Estimates. It’s all on known road though so at least the size and shape of the task is known.

The ten or so miles of tailwind once I leave Newport are a godsend. I’m still feeling pretty good but a bit of barrelling along with the wind behind you is always a joy. It means I reach the turn to home in better shape than I was expecting and the final grind into the wind isn’t too bad.

I stop the clock pretty much on six and a half hours and decide that eating all three of the hot cross buns in the house is justified.

posted at: 21:18 #

Tue, 13 Mar 2018

snow

Recently there has been a spot of snow here.

Given there’s not too much snow and there’s not been any fresh snow in a while I go out hoping for a mixture of hard packed and reasonably shallow fresh snow. This goes fairly well for the first fifteen minutes until I reach the cycle path. Here the snow is a bit deeper but not too bad, a bit more work that I would like but I figure ok for the duration of the path.

And then I reach the exposed bit and the start of the drifts. Initially these are small and surmountable with brute force. They rapidly increase in depth. It turns out above about six inches deep snow drifts are bad news for cycling. The pushing starts as I figure there can’t be much of this. I am also idiotically stubborn about changing plans.

Half an hour later I get to the end of the cycle path, having ridden maybe 50 yards and spent more time that I would like knee deep in snow.

The rest if the ride is pretty much fine. Right down by the beach there is more or less no snow and though the forest it’s only an inch deep. It’s slightly harder work than normal and a bit slippier but fundamentally ok.

Returning by the road is seems the wiser choice as I can’t imagine the single track is going to be much fun as chunks of it are pretty exposed. And even the road isn’t entirely plain sailing as it’s been half ploughed but there’s still a lot of snow. Certainly more snow than the SUV that people are trying to dig out can cope with.

Even the detour home up the hill is a bit more complicated as they’ve only cleared one lane through the snow so I have to pull over for cars.

posted at: 23:06 #

Mon, 01 Jan 2018

festive

Fifty fairly hungover kilometres is not the most promising start.

All the tips on successfully managing the festive 500 emphasise getting the miles (I know) in early. A 3am bedtime fuelled by too much wine says otherwise and it’s slightly surprising to get any cycling in. I will be glad of this later.

The fully committed ride on Christmas Day but not only does that seem somewhat against the spirit of the day, the rain sheets down all day. I don’t even leave the house.

Boxing Day is glorious and the real start to my Festive 500 and as befits any ride in Fife it starts into a headwind. And it carries on into the headwind as the plan is 30 miles mostly in one direction and then back the same way. Blue skies and sunshine make it reasonably pleasant.

What is not pleasant is the continuing faff to get through Dundee as they finish the V&A and do something to the riverside path. Today turns out to be the first of three encounters with this faff and each time I try a different approach, all of which are unsatisfactory.

The twenty seventh is also glorious but reserved for walking with cycling friends. I note the irony and move on.

After a couple of days of flat rides it’s time for an attempt on my standard 60ish mile loop. Once again I am hampered by the effects of a late and boozy night so it’s hard work. The cold isn’t helping but the sunshine is. It is not the quickest attempt but it ticks another hundred or so kilometres off the total. At least there’s plenty of good views, not too much ice and I’m pretty much at the half way point.

6 days in and I wake to the inevitable turn in the weather. What follows is four hours in the rain and cold with a homeward headwind. I am not filled with joy. I am also beginning to think of the lie ins and lazy mornings I am missing. Yet another hundred odd kilometres chalked off is beginning to make this look reasonably doable. It’s also past the point where bailing out would be more foolish than carrying on which is good as conditions for the next few days are not looking better.

Studying the weather over breakfast on the thirtieth makes it clear that I should clear as much of the remaining distance as I can face today as Sunday’s forecast looks interesting. A bit of thinking and 120 or so kilometres looks doable without much in the way of hills. This is both for reasons of effort and avoidance of snow. I am not remotely interested in picking my way down slushy descents.

The route thinking turns out not to have been quite hard enough as there’s a chunk of stopping to consult maps on the phone and some doubling back when roads turn out not to be. However, it’s extra miles and there’s some new roads plus a few ideas for future rides.

Five ish hours and 120 or so kilometres leaves me with 22 remaining which seems manageable regardless of weather.

Sunday morning and I am not so sure. It is more than a bit breezy. Despite this I know going out means I can tick the stupid ‘Festive 500 done’ box and never feel the need to tick it again. This is motivational.

Four miles later I am hiding behind a hedge fixing a puncture. #unimpressed.

Back up and running and the ‘just enough to get it done versus get to Tenstsmuir’ debate inevitably comes down on the Tenstsmuir side. This is encouraged by the jam today of the tailwind there. The headwind for the return leg is very much jam free. 20 minutes of hunched over lowest gear slogging in the rain follows.

I stop and take a photo at what I estimate is the 500 kilometre point. It is as prosaic a spot as you could hope for huddled next to the Wurst selling roadside shack. The shack is closed.

Posterity served it’s a bit more slogging to the turn to home and a cross tailwind fierce enough I have to brake while freewheeling to keep upright. It’s certainly invigorating, possibly a little too much so. It does all make for a fairly easy run back to town and celebratory hot chocolate. It’s hard to tell if the slight post ride giddyness is the effect of a couple of hours in the wind or relief that it’s all done.

After a bit of food and the hot chocolate I register for the woven finishers badge and put in an order for the Festive 500 musette that I promised myself as a reward, because you can’t buy that sort of thing unless you’ve done the ride.

I’m pretty sure that all this falls into the good to have done but not to repeat category. The riding itself was fine, because almost all bike rides are good, it’s the time taken away from the relaxing that’s the problem. Knowing that you have to get up and get out there rather than indulging in the small pleasure of an extra half hour under a warm duvet is wearing. Left to my own devices I’d have done fewer rides but they might have been a bit more adventurous, safe in the knowledge I didn’t have a target to meet.

It’s a nice flourish to the end of the year, but also reinforcement for making next year less about numbers and more about riding.

posted at: 16:01 #

Sat, 25 Nov 2017

a ton

There’s a certain psychological barrier about riding 100 miles. It just seems a long way. It is a long way on a bike. It takes a while. I can’t just decide I’m going to nip out and do a 100 miles, especially in this part of the world at this time of year when daylight is increasingly scarce. I need to decide the night before so I can set an alarm.

A bit of planning has to go into the route. I can throw together fifty mile rides reasonably easily but doubling that requires a bit more thought. Mostly to avoid half arsedly scrabbling together a few final miles to make it over the 100. There’s no point in going out to do a hundred and ending up with ninety eight.

It also helps not to put all the hills at the end. This turns out to be quite easy when you live by the coast.

Then we come to the eating. Quite a lot of eating has to go on to get you through that distance. More eating, and certainly more drinking than you can carry supplies for. Some of this is down to route planning; you don’t want a route where eighty miles of it fails to pass a single shop. Ideally the shops should be reasonably evenly spaced and hopefully at least one might have nicer things. They should also be open. Not unrelatedly I am developing an encyclopaedic knowledge of the village shops of Fife and neighbouring regions. Round this way the co-op is my gold standard for village shops because they usually have a decent range and have good mini pork pies.

Once you’ve done all that it’s just turning the pedals till you’re done.

posted at: 15:25 #

Wed, 20 Sep 2017

idiotic highland tour

Bikepacking, it’s the new big thing.

I’ve always fancied a bit of touring and bikepacking is really just touring but with a bit less kit. Or with the kit attached to your bike in different ways. Or with more bivy bags involved. I’m not entirely sure.

Regardless, a bit of shopping for a thing to attach a dry bag under the saddle and I’m all kitted out for a three day potter round the highlands. Accommodation is booked so I’m committed and a route planned around that. It’s at the ambitious end of doable but that seemed like extra motivation when I organised all this in the depths of winter.

Not long in to the first challenge of paring down the stuff I want to take to fit into a single bag and I’m beginning to see why people have multiple bags. The clothes aren’t so bad but the chargers and other less squashable things complicate matters. Still, further paring and some squeezing and it all fits.

I’ve done a chunk of the first day’s route before and that goes pretty well. The first lunch stop isn’t ideal as the food offering is a bit light lunch but it does mean I’m inside during a bout of torrential rain so that’s good. Plus a bit of a rest before the slog up to Glenshee is welcome.

I get about half way up before the serious regrets about not investing in some slightly lower gears start. Twenty odd minutes of really grinding up the slopes doesn’t do a great deal to dispel them. I’d also quite like to do this climb in nice weather. There’s also the lingering thought that this is just the start of the climbing for the day and that possibly this wasn’t a clever move.

Still, second lunch in Braemar and onwards to new roads and new hills. Actually quite a lot of hills.

I know the Lecht is the last climb of the day and it has a reputation as being not terribly pleasant which is unfortunate as I’m already a bit tired. I reassure myself that it’s probably not as bad as all that. Watching the camper van almost stall on the twenty percent ramp at the start goes some way to persuading me it is going to be that bad. Having to stop just round the first corner to have a talk to myself and scoff some food goes the rest of the way.

I should not have made this the last hill of a long day. Still, food and a bed are on the other side so industrial grade slogging gets me to the top and a nice swoopy descent gets me to Tomintoul. This is where my directions stop and I realise I’m not altogether sure where the hostel is. It turns out town is basically one street which I promptly head the wrong way down. Fortunately it’s not a very long street so course correction doesn’t take too long.

Shower, stodgy dinner and early bed plans are all going fine until one of the other people in the dorm starts snoring at some point in the night. I fish out the ear plugs. They are powerless against the noise. Suffice to say the alarm I set is not required and I’m on the road promptly after a light first breakfast.

I decide to continue with the plan of going the long way round to Granton and assume there will be somewhere for breakfast on the way. Apparently no one goes to Glen Livet for breakfast so it’s nigh on two hours before I sit down for breakfast. That turns out to be enough time that even fried egg is acceptable.

Another Coop furnishes me with water and snacks and I’m on the way to Kingussie for lunch.

This is probably the nicest cycling of the trip. Gently rolling hills through archetypal Highland scenery, and even a bit of chat with someone else heading for Kingussie. The rain starts just before I get there.

It’s still going when I finish lunch.

By the time I get to Dalwhinnie it’s been joined by a more than brisk headwind, just in time for the slog alongside the A9. I’ve often noted people doing this as I’ve sped passed in a car and thought it didn’t look much fun. I was right. It is miserable. Compounding the rain and headwind is the gentle upwards gradient and a path that is often very much at the un end of surfaced.

My knees are never great in the cold and I neglected to bring anything as sensible as knee warmers, largely as I don’t own any, so they’re beginning to protest. The left one increasingly vigoursly. Helpfully just as I get to the top of the pass the rain and wind ease. I try to free wheel as much as possible in a doomed attempt to rest my knee. It’s not working and pedalling with any force is pretty uncomfortable.

I’d planned to head over the hills to get to the end point of Aberfeldy but a mixture of the a protesting knee on any upward incline and the rather ropey looking weather in that direction result in a much more bucolic spin along the banks of the Tay through Blair Atholl and Pitlochry before heading across to Aberfeldy. Once again I’ve failed to research where I’m staying and as a result sail straight past the hotel. At least it provides an opportunity to size up the dinner options.

I’m staying in a proper hotel with a room and a shower to myself. They even do breakfast although express regret that they are unlikely to fit me in for dinner this evening. I reassure them that the nearest pub will do fine. A short walk later I’m at the pub where a burger and chips, a pint and sticky toffee pudding are safely dispatched and I’m out the door before the band finish setting up. It’s possible I’m asleep before they’ve started.

Breakfast is an excellent smoked salmon and scrambled eggs and all the toast they can provide. There’s also an investigation of bail out strategies in the fairly likely event my knee is still unhappy. There’s a train station at Dunkeld so as long as I can limp the 18 or so miles there I’ll be fine.

Among the slowest 18 miles I’ve cycled follow. Definitely getting the train. Not the next train though as I’d have to book my bike on to that and you can’t seem to do that on the day. Ideally I should book on to the next one but the very helpful man at Scotrail reckons I’ll be ok if I chance it. I spin gently into Dunkeld for an early lunch to kill time.

The man at Scotrail was right. A couple of hours, one change of trains and a bit of a wait at Markinch later I’m at Leuchars for the final six mile limp home. I’ve never been more thankful for a tailwind.

I’ve managed just about 250 miles over three days, with most of it on the first two. It’s this I suspect was my downfall. 100 odd miles is a good day out for me so why I thought it was a good idea to stick three of them together with the first including a big old chunk of climbing at the end is, retrospectively, a mystery. Next time I’ll try slightly shorter days. And maybe another bag.

posted at: 20:16 #

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