exo : rides

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Fri, 30 Aug 2019

frontier

“Everyone knows that the route isn’t way marked and you need to use a GPS?”

I am clearly not alone in regarding this as news. I do have the route on my GPS but I might have looked at it a bit harder if I’d know I’d be relying on it.

The day had already got off to a bad start when I realised I’d left my camelbak at home so I’d be heading out with just a water bottle and whatever I could fit in jersey pockets. The likelihood of fairly toasty weather isn’t entirely welcome given the water situation.

However, we head out and initially it’s all fine. Fire tracks and some reasonable climbs make me think my four and half to five hour guesstimate is going to be about right. The first sign of trouble is a large bunch coming back down the track, claiming the trail just runs out. A bit of discussion occurs and we all head off again.

The trail does not run out but the GPS track is a bit out. However, it’s fairly clear where we are meant to go so we press on and the plaintive “off course” message on the Garmin soon goes. There’s a few more occurrences of this before a fast grassy descent takes us to a farm and we head up a small valley on what seem like a decent enough road.

The road runs out at a cottage and it’s on to a bridle way which is fine on a mountain bike but is clearly a bit more challenging in places for the people round us on gravel bikes. It also goes on for a fair old way.

The end of the bridleway coincides with the bottom of one of the stages of the Enduro that’s taking place on the same weekend. It is insanely steep and I am reassured that I made the right choice not to enter. After a bit of boggling we press on and are back on to gravel and another hill. At the top the event photography people point to a farm a bit down the valley and say it’s all down hill to the feed station there.

It is not all downhill.

The staff at the feed station are full of tales of navigational chaos and people arriving from all directions. They point us up a reasonably steep grassy climb with the reassuring words that most people are walking up it. It certainly doesn’t look ideal for a gravel bike.

It’s at this point that one of our group decides that enough fun has been had and heads back down the road to the start. The rest of us, or at least the other two of us, press on up the hill.

It is quite hard work and I can see why you’d not make it up with the somewhat taller gears of a gravel bike. We get to the top and it’s obvious that it is not the top. There is really quite a lot more to go.

After a while we’re reduced to pushing. Quite a lot of pushing. We’re only half way round and already getting on for four hours.

There’s a cairn at the top, some sheep and two people we recognise from earlier. The odd thing is that they were behind us, didn’t seem to pass us and are now in front. We all agree that the GPS maps have not been stellar.

We head off more or less at the same time and before long the Garmin chirps up to say we’re off course. It’s not obvious where the other path is so we press on a bit, especially as one of the other group has a GPS that says we are on track.

At the point where the choice is a substantial downhill or a short backtrack uphill to check for missed paths we turn back. The other two head off down the hill. It turns out there was a trail we missed and it seems to be the right one as the Garmin is happy again. I don’t expect the two who headed off down the hill are.

The path is pretty boggy and the already slow progress takes a hit. After a bit we hit a junction with another bridleway which looks like it might be headed back in the direction of the feed station. A bit of checking of maps on the internet in one of the small windows of phone reception confirms this and we make the decision to cut our losses as there’s clearly a big chunk left to get back to the feed station on the proper course and water is becoming an issue.

It’s still a good forty five minutes across to the feed station on the shortcut and by the time we reach it we’ve been out for getting on seven hours.

We head back down the road before we lose our sense of humour.

posted at: 21:50 #

Thu, 01 Aug 2019

sevens

A year off is long enough for me to forget how much I dislike the final descent at the Glentress 7s. About two laps is how long it takes to remember. The top is all off camber roots and the bottom is all dusty blown out corners that I can never quite hit right, and steep enough that I’m on the brakes a lot so it destroys the arms. It’s just not my thing.

This is a shame as I like the rest of the course. The change to the main climb since my previous go is definitely an improvement and the rest of the downhills are lovely. I’m even beginning to get the hang of the steep chute after the cake stop.

My legs do not like the first lap though. I spend most of it hoping this is just me taking a while to warm up and not a sign for how the rest of the day is going to go. Fortunately the former turns out to be the case and the second lap goes better. As do subsequent laps till I get to number six. It’s at this point that the rain settles in to a light but steady pattern that means by the end of the lap my bare arms are freezing, my descending has got sketchier than I would like and the notion of having a nice relaxed final lap sets in.

Seven laps is about par for me so I’m not unhappy with this. There was a brief moment earlier when nine had seemed possible but that turned out to be bad maths. I am, it turns out, not great at adding up average lap times while also putting in a reasonable effort to get up a hill.

It’s good to finish at an easy pace. Pottering up the hills, as much as that’s possible after six hours, and lazily coasting the descents. There’s also the traditional last lap cake stop which allows time for food photography rather than the hurried pre sketchiness scoffing of some years.

The last descent remains no fun. The corners are still blown out and the previously grippy roots now have an unhelpful layer of dampness. But it’s quickly done and in plenty time for post race tea and whatever is the most appealing option left from the food van. As ever I am comfortably mid pack results wise which I’ll take.

posted at: 23:35 #

Sun, 21 Jul 2019

threshold

Every now and again I decide that an hour or two of trying to ride at threshold is a good idea. Afterwards I remember why it’s only every now and again; it’s quite curative in that regard.

posted at: 17:10 #

Sat, 06 Jul 2019

the coast road

It’s always longer than I remember. I know this and despite this it’s still always longer. I know where all the bits are and none of them are “I’d forgotten this road went this way”, it just always takes longer.

It’s not something I ride that frequently because it’s a bit busy and in some ways a bit boring. Fairly straight, fairly flat and even a fairly consistent feel to it. It’s nice every once in a while because it has a lovely wind-up to cruising speed and then just keep on it quality.

And on the right day the tailwinds are fabulous.

At least they are until they are not. It bends round enough on the run in to home that you usually end up with a cross head wind, which coincides with the stickiest bit of road so the hour of joy comes to a sharp stop with twenty odd minutes of grinding. There is at least a downhill in to town though.

posted at: 17:21 #

Sat, 15 Sep 2018

lunch

I don’t really need an excuse for a bike ride but it’s nice to have a reason. In this case a voucher for a free cake/pastry from a bakery. In Dunkeld.

So, lunch in Dunkeld it is.

The nice thing about this is it means new roads. There’s the usual run to Dundee and then it’s North and West and new roads all the way to Dunkeld. There’s a stop in Longforgan for water, which is a bit early, but a squiz at the map the night before didn’t turn up anywhere obvious between there and Dunkeld, and it’s moderately toasty.

It turns out the new roads are lumpy. Nothing substantial but constantly up and down, and a bit twisty too. Quite pleasant though and quieter than expected. Not entirely free of shops either which is useful to know for the future. Not entirely open either.

With closed roads that I know I’m usually willing to chance it, especially at the weekend when there’s not likely to be anyone working on it. On unknown roads though there’s always the chance that it’s closed because they’re fixing a bridge so the diversion it is. Quite a long diversion meaning my lunch by 12:30 goal isn’t going to happen.

As it turns out ten to one is lunch, and very nice it is too.

Post lunch I could just turn round and head back the same way but where would be the fun in that? Instead it’s under the A90 and off towards the Sma Glen. It’s also towards some not very pleasant looking weather. I’m sort of hoping that it’s just cloud hanging on to the top of the hills as I’ve gone a bit minimalist and only have a gilet and arm warmers for bad weather. Fortunately I seem to be skirting the edge of the grim so there’s wet roads but no rain.

The one disadvantage of new roads is not knowing where the hell you are so if the computer gets confused there’s a chunk of stopping and looking at phone maps to work out whats going on. And either the computer is very confused or it doesn’t have the route I thought it did; there is a lot of checking the phone between the bottom of the Sma Glen and Auchterarder. It doesn’t help that the roads aren’t at all what I was expecting. I grew up near here so I had an idea of what the roads would be like and, well, they aren’t. The run over the hill in to the back of Fowlis Wester feels impressively remote, not at all the pastoral farmland I imagined.

The rain hits at Auchterarder. It’s more of a strong drizzle but it’s a bit grim. The plan had been to head up and over the Ochils from Dunning but the top of them looks even more grim so I bail on that in favour of the run along the side of the Tay. That it avoids the 15% plus hill out of Dunning is something of a bonus.

Despite having done this more times than I can remember it’s a pleasant surprise to remember I don’t need to go through Wormit etc but can cut across the corner to St Michaels. Feeling slightly refreshed by this I pick up the pace, as much to see if I can and it’s not too bad. Not super quick but I’m a hundred plus miles in and it’s just nice to know I’m not too ruined.

It’s a nice loop. And even the road through the Sma Glen was pretty quiet which I wasn’t expecting. The run to Dunkeld is certainly worth repeating and there’s quite a few options to get back from there. A post ride look at the map makes me think that Dunkeld and then up to Pitlochry and then back over the hills from there is something to pencil in for the future.

Of course the weather the next day is lovely.

posted at: 11:44 #

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 #

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