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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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