Medal: No, just another Beer Happening glass!
“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.” – F Scott Fitzgerald
There is something restorative about a day spent outside in the sun, and there was certainly no shortage of light during the Midsummer ride this year. In fact, in many ways it was reminiscent of the Katy Flatlands 100km I rode last summer – the heat emanating from the asphalt, the film of salt and sun cream on my skin, the summer motley crew of insects meeting their demise on my sunglasses… Unlike the Katy 100, however, I began as a part of a group and broke off as a lone wolf in the final miles. Also unlike the Katy 100: it was not flat.
My friend Lauren’s budding romance proved beneficial as her delightful new bed-friend happens to be a cyclist. With a car. And space to carry me and my bike to Stonehaven. And so at 06:30, I was making a stellar first impression on him en route before joining the amorphous throng of lycra waiting for registration to open. Race pack in hand, Velodees and other familiar faces began trickling in, and soon we had a group of about 8 ready to tackle the Cairn O Mount together.
We managed to set off in the same wave (after some stealthy manoeuvring), and began the rather unkind uphill start. Straight into the granny gears, we opted to try and conserve a little energy for the ‘proper’ hill, and found a comfortable pace for everyone. About 10 miles in, just at the top of the Slug Road (and before the first blissful descent), we passed Natalie at the side of the road having suffered a critical bike malfunction, and beginning a long wait for pick up. She seemed in reasonable spirits, so we kept on.
Before we knew it we were back into the granny gears to climb the Garrol, regrouping at the top by the stone circle, then descending into Strachan, and the first feed station. It was here that the group fractured slightly, and Aneeka (the birthday girl) and I decided to get a head start on the Cairn, as the rest of the girls are part human/part mountain goat, and we didn’t want to keep them waiting at the top.
Though some of the group were struggling with the heat, my cold, dead soul welcomed the summer thaw, and I summited the Cairn just behind Pamela, feeling pretty good. We hung about for everyone else, before I warned them that my brake pads were pretty worn, and it’d probably be a good idea for them to set off behind me on the steep drop to the Claterrin Brig (and feed stop number 2). We hung out there for a while enjoying the sun (and salted pretzels) before Aneeka and Rocio set off together (they were both doing the 70 mile ride and wanted to get going).
Eventually we were on the road again, briefly, before Pamela lost concentration and came off her bike. Luckily she only suffered a few scrapes and bruises (and the bike was unharmed), so we were soon moving forwards again. This section of the course is largely gently undulating, and I found myself pulling away from the group, along with Lynne. We rode together along the closing miles until I was in familiar territory.
The final 10 miles follow the Stonehaven half marathon route, and I knew the road well. I could also feel my exposed arms, rarely out in the light of day, start to sting, and regretted my earlier decision to try and cultivate an ‘authentic cycling tan’ by only applying sun cream to my face. Partly in an attempt to lower my skin cancer risk, and partly because I felt strong, this is where I pulled away again, lone wolfing the final drag past Rickarton, through Fetteresso Forrest, and back down the Slug Road to the finish.
The remainder of our group arrived in drips and drabs, and we enjoyed a couple of the beers on offer, resplendent in our salt-encrusted lycra. Although the plan is always to stay and enjoy the rest of the festival, I always find the urge to go home, shower, and rest too strong, and after a couple of hours Aynsley and I cycled to the train station to catch a ride back the Aberdeen.
I found this ride much less grueling than I did last year (and the year before, when I did the 72 miles route), and I expect a lot of that is down to some of the tougher recent sportives I’ve tackled, as well as the fact that I’ve tried to make Cairn O Mount my bitch in the last couple of months by relentlessly adding it into any free weekend training ride. I know exactly what to expect, exactly how hard to push at different sections, and exactly how much I hate it. After the shitty winter I’ve had, this did indeed feel a little like life was beginning all over again; hitting a giant ‘RESET’ button. Goodbye shadows, hello sunshine.
Now all I have to do is get on top of my sunblock game, and I’ll be on fire.