Day 2: Eden Project -> Plymouth 

With a little cheating. Plymouth was not my end goal today, but sometimes you have to roll with it. 

So I didn’t mention, but last night, a few miles from my hostel, I was climbing up a busy A-road into St Austell, and I was a little uneasy with the amount of (fast) traffic flying by. Before I knew it, a sidewalk materialised to my left, and I thought ‘Bonus! I’m getting in on that action!’ A little brain  dead  from exhaustion, I attempted to bunny hop up onto the curb, forgetting the fact that I was steering a fucking tank. It was very quickly established that I could not, in fact, bunny hop something that, all in, probably weighs about half what I do. Face? Meet sidewalk. 

I shook it off once I’d made sure all bleeding was superficial, and made it to the hostel, putting it firmly in the past. Until this morning, when I was faced with a steep climb as soon as I set off. On day one the easiest gear was pretty much unusable, but (reluctantly) I managed on the second easiest for the climbs. Today, the second easiest kept jumping, and the third easiest was unreliable at best. With 20+ miles of undulating road on the menu, I decided to cut my losses and seek out the nearest train station. I told myself if there was a bike space to Plymouth, I’d take it. If not? Well, that was fate giving me the middle finger.

To my surprise, there was one spot left, and I handed over my £6.80 with a Cheshire smile. Once the train arrived, I loaded my bike into the store … and then caught my arm on the door lock on the way out. 

So much blood

During the journey I essentially bled all over myself to avoid sullying the interior of the train, and hit up a pharmacy at my earliest convenience once I’d disembarked. What followed was a trip to the bike mechanic, who fixed me up free of charge, the post office (where I sent unnecessary items back to Scotland), and a late lunch. 

A box of mistakes

By this point it was about 6,000 degrees, so I decided to just hang out in Plymouth and be a tourist. As well as do some washing, because stale sweat is grim.

Tomorrow, Bristol beckons, but right now it’s bedtime for me. Touristing in the sun is draining!

Day 1: Land’s End -> Eden Project 

The title is slightly misleading, as I actually began in Penzance and gained ten ‘bonus miles’ for shits and giggles. From Land’s End I retraced my steps, so after 20 miles of cycling I was right back where I’d started. In case you were wondering how motivational that was, I can clear up that mystery. Not at all. 

Thankfully, pathetic fallacy was in the air, and the sunshine, blue skies, gentle butterflies, fragrant flowers, and nature and shit helped lift my spirits, which is just as well as this section was billed by Sarah (LeJog conquerer) as the toughest stint. I don’t have anything to compare it to at this stage, but I’m inclined to agree. 


The hills were unrelenting and plentiful, and the flats were downright non-existent. On a road bike it would have been rough enough, but when you’re hauling a 7 tonne (perhaps a slight exaggeration) uphill, to start to think maybe you’d welcome death.

When you don’t pay full attention to things, you can occasionally get a pleasant surprise. Today, on weary legs, it became apparent that I had incorporated a ferry crossing into my route, which provides a pleasant 20 minute enforced break. 

The final miles ticked by at a painfully slow pace, but eventually I snaked up a narrow road just after St. Austell to a backpackers’ hostel near the Eden Project. After a shower, some dinner, and some homemade food I’m feeling a little more chipper about what tomorrow will bring. Or I’m drunk. Potato, po-tah-to.

Day minus-1

Goodnight Scotland!

If you thought cycling the entire length of Britain was going to be the only demanding part of the trip, you’d only be forgiven if you’ve never dealt with relying on public transport. Though the sleeper train went without a hitch, when I went to collect my pre-paid tickets in London they were churned out of the machine. Without a bike reservation. Despite the fact that I specifically booked over the phone (I couldn’t see an option to reserve a bike space online) and was assured no less than 5 times during the course of said phone conversation that I DEFINITELY had a bike space reserved. 

Good morning London!

I was less than impressed when the teller at the information desk told me, when I explained my situation, that it was, “a bit last minute to try and reserve a bike space for a train today.” Motherfucker, I booked it weeks ago. Before the conversation could get too heated, it was resolved, and I had 5 hours to kill in London. 

Naturally, because I’m efficient, I had already set up a tinder breakfast date, and he met me at the station at 09:30. We decided to just wander the streets nearby until we stumbled across somewhere that looked good, and casually walked past Noel Gallagher en route to scrambled eggs on toast (me) and blueberry pancakes (him). From there, he walked me to my friend Lisa’s work, where we parted ways, and I spent an hour in the sun sipping orange juice with my friend. 

Lisa is due to join me in Glastonbury this Friday in order to cycle into Wales on the Saturday. I was giving her a hand by writing an itemised list of everything she’d need. I think she’ll struggle with the “packing light” aspect, but I’m looking forward to the company on the road! 

With American blood running through my veins, it would be downright blasphemous not to celebrate the 4th of July by sinking a cold beer, so after the interminable train journey to Penzance, that was priority number one, after checking into the Backpackers’ hostel. A shower is probably on the cards as well, considering nobody was willing to sit next to me during the latter stages of the journey… Nothing but luxury for this girl. 

Land’s End – John O’ Groats

“To live is the rarest thing in the world.  Most people exist, that is all.” – Oscar Wilde

I don’t think I’d raise any eyebrows if I said I am on board with making bad decisions and throwing myself at them completely.  They don’t always work out the way I’d intended, but flexibility seems to be one of my strong points (except in the context of yoga).  After all, as Oscar Wilde would say, ‘experience is simply the name we give our mistakes’.  And I’m all about making mistakes.

Armed with a little more wisdom after my short stint along the NC500, I decided not too long ago that I’d like to cycle from Land’s End to John O’ Groats – a classic touring achievement that would command respect and adulation from my cycling friends.   Instead, when I began telling people of my summer plans, I got responses such as:

‘Your funeral.’ – Roz

‘Ha.’ – Sarah, who cycled LeJoG last year with her partner

‘You’d better be back in time for my wedding.’ – Ronnie

‘Can you give someone my cell number so they can contact me if you’re in an accident?  I obviously won’t be able to do much, but at least I’ll know.’ – my mom


I find brass tacks planning a real chore, unlike my father who is a spreadsheet fiend, so my first step was to book the overnight train to London with a bike reservation.  Once the initial seed is planted, I tend to find I’m committed, and plans branch off from there.  I’m actually rather impressed at my organisation so far, because I’ve managed to arrange accommodation for all but 2 nights on my 14 day adventure, thanks, in part, to a chance tinder encounter who suggested I check out a site called (You guys all use tinder to talk about bikes, right?).  Warm Showers is essentially billed as a ‘free worldwide hospitality exchange for cyclists’.  You can search an interactive map for people who are willing to open their home to you while you’re touring, offering anything from a spot in their garden to pitch your tent to a bed and a family meal.  And, obviously, you are expected to reciprocate when you can.

When I explained the premise to friends, the standard response seemed to be, “You’re going to be raped.  Or murdered.  Or both. You know that, right?”  Such a scathing, heart-breaking view of humanity.  I prefer to think of it as an opportunity to meet new people, get insider recommendations on places to see and things to do, and, though obvious, I would be remiss to omit the fact that it is totally free, which very much appeals to someone on a tight budget.  That person being me.

I made my account and fired away some e-mails to an overwhelming sense of welcoming from everyone I got in touch with.  In addition to the homes of strangers, I’ll be recovering in backpackers’ bunks, youth hostels, and – where none of the previous options were available – a B&B.

Averaging about 70 miles a day, I am hoping to complete the trip in two weeks.  This should allow me (hopefully) sufficient time to recover after each day, but I guess the only way of knowing is to just go and do it.  I’m celebrating Independence Day evening in a hostel in Penzance, having a cold beer and preparing to set off early on the 5th.  Because I am a strong, capable, independent, [insert more stereotypical adjectives here] woman.  I’m doing this largely alone (my friend Lisa is joining me on Day 4 from Glastonbury to Monmouth, despite zero previous distance cycling experience), but am hoping I might get some familiar company once I make it back up to Scotland.  If I make it that far.  I mean, last time I tried something like this I went blind.

Thankfully, I’ve managed to shift a rotten sore throat almost definitely picked up from an infected child during the final week of term, and I have sensibly had a restful weekend by attempting bouldering on Saturday and climbing a mountain yesterday.  What could possibly go wrong?

Let’s go make mistakes!

Summer Solstice Sunrise Ride

“Three o’clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do.” – Jean-Paul Sartre

Are you sure about that JP? Because the way I see it, the diem ain’t gonna carpe itself. And I want to ride my bike to the top of a hill and watch the sunrise in a middle of a stone circle on the longest day of the year.  Here in NE Scotland, sunrise on the Summer Solstice is at 04:12, so three o’clock is actually just right for doing what I want to do.

Technically, 02:18 was the time I set out from my apartment in town along silent, dark streets – deserted but for the occasional drunk on their way home – but 03:00 was the designated time to set off from the traditional Velodees bus stop in Peterculter.  Slightly bewildered that anyone had actually decided to take me up on my offer to lead a solstice ride before work, I met Karen, Doris, Angela, Marsaili, and eventually Aneeka, as we set off towards Banchory, picking up Paula and Trish along the way in Drumoak.


Before long, the sky morphed from black to misty shale, and we turned off the main road, climbing towards Nine Stanes Stone Circle in Mulloch Wood, or what is left of Mulloch Wood after recent felling. We reached the top by 04:02, with ten minutes to spare before sunrise.  Steeling ourselves for life-affirming views, the low morning fog that had threatened to spoil our vistas maintained its dominance, and we had to make do with admiring a slightly pinkish hue on one of the thick clouds skirting the horizon.


Still, it was a rare treat to be out in the country at the crack of dawn, surrounded by like-minded people, and enjoying some hot drinks and cinnamon buns courtesy of Trish.  There are few other ways I’d have preferred to spend my Solstice morning.

Refuelled, and starting to feel the morning chill, we set off down the hill towards Strachan before circling back towards Banchory, then beginning our homeward journey along North Deeside Road. One by one, the groups peeled off, until I was back by myself for the final solitary miles.

By three o’clock in the afternoon, the time was perfect to have a nap.  And as the forecast rain hammered against my living room window, that is precisely what I wanted to do.


Summer Solstice Sunrise…

Midsummer Beer Happening 2017 – Undo

Time: 4:29:10

Medal: No, just another Beer Happening glass!

FullSizeRender (2)

“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.

Midsummer Beer Happening elevation

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.


3 Pistes Sportive 2017

“Find what you love and let it kill you.” – Charles Bukowski

Some men like fishing.  Some like to hear the cannonball roarin’.  Thin Lizzy likes sleeping, especially in his Molly’s chamber.  I like riding my bike (with or without blasting ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ from my Bluetooth speakers, though admittedly it helps with morale on tough climbs).  And so last August, before everything went temporarily down the drain, I signed up for the 3-day, 300 mile Tour of the Highlands, riding Sarah’s infectious enthusiasm.

Fast forward to this May, and as I didn’t feel I was fit enough to complete the full 3 days (and because my sabbatical plans are on pause, meaning I did not have the Monday off), I ‘downgraded’ to the 3 Pistes Sunday event – a 100 mile journey that, according to “takes you past 3 ski centres, over the UK’s 2 highest roads, through some of the UK’s most remote countryside, ascending eight categorised climbs (4 of which have gradients of 20%) – and finishes by climbing the UK’s 4th highest road to Cairngorm Ski Centre in the heart of the UK’s only Arctic plateau.” Casual Sunday ride, then.

Natalie had arranged accommodation, booking a family room for 5 of us in the luxurious Athol Palace Hotel, and we all had grand plans of arriving early, enjoying the spa, walking around Pitlochry, and having a relaxing Saturday.  The reality was an afternoon arrival, registration, and bed-hopping in the hotel room catching up before fuelling up on pasta and beer at a local Italian, bartering for a ride home from one of the waiters at the end in his tiny car because of the torrential rain that was hammering the area.

The 05:30 alarm was not music to our ears, and although we all joked that this was indeed a ‘casual Sunday group ride’, we were all very aware of the onslaught out quads would soon face.  There was a loosely agreed plan to stick together, but individually our strengths on hills varied so it would be a case of allowing smaller groups to form naturally.  Unless you’re Emma S., in which case just blast your way to the end, towing a bunch of dudes.



Just after 07:00, we congregated at the start for our briefing before being released onto the initial uphill slog out of Pitlochry.  The memory of King of the Mountains was still fresh, so I kept quiet at the back of our group and administered restraint, keeping a close eye on my heart rate, and going straight for the granny gears.  These hills don’t fuck about.

Once over the initial slog, we formed a chain gang for much of the opening 20 miles, beginning to form into smaller groups as soon as the climb up the Cairnwell started.  A photo op at the summit next to the Glenshee Ski Centre was the last time we were all together, before Natalie and Emma P., later joined by Emily. pushed on ahead.  This left myself, Sarah (who had ridden 100 miles the day before as part of the tour), Katherine, Aynsley, and Charlotte to motivate each other at the back.

We progressed at a steady pace until the two lumps that comprise Garinshiel, before a quick descent where there was a water stop at a café.  I stopped off here to buy a tin of Dr. Pepper as I waited for the rest to catch up, and then began the climb to the second ‘Piste’ – up the mighty Lecht.  At this point the weather turned rather foul, and blustering headwinds combined with low visibility due to cloud cover was perhaps a blessing in disguise, as it saved us all from witnessing the behemoth we were to climb in its entirety.  Instead, we weaved up the first steep incline, and then battled simply to stay upright – head down, legs (slowly) turning, grunting into the unknown.  Without being able to see much, it was a pleasant surprise when the sign for the Lecht Ski Centre appeared in the mist on the left, and it was conquered.


Once everyone had made it to the top and had a chance to eat/put on more layers, we enjoyed the blissful donwhill section of about 6 miles to Tomintoul.  After the Audax 200km last year, Sarah and I were both aware of the nasty little climb that was to follow, and with morale low we decided to stop for a coffee before tackling Bridge of Brown.


Spirits lifted and warmed by coffee and soup, the lady train began the gentle climb preceding Bo’B, but at 70+ miles into the ride a few of us were beginning to suffer.  This is where, for the first time all day, I seemed to perk up, and I was happy to take most of the time on the front, blasting out tunes and singing along in an attempt to inject some enthusiasm into our group, with mixed results.

Coming into Aviemore, and just before the final climb up to the Cairngorm car park, the group split.  As I was feeling strong, I pressed on ahead, followed by Katherine, with Sarah staying with Aynsley for the final push.  My second wind lasted until approximately 2 miles from the end, when my body started to strain against the uphill battle, and the fear from hearing the low warning battery on my speaker was my raison d’être.  Finish before the music stops was the only thing I could think about, and – as a sign I had given everything of myself that I could have – Metallica’s rendition of ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ cut out mid-chorus within sight of the finish line.  

Beyond words, I unclipped and ditched my bike before limping back to the finish to watch everyone else come in.  It was over.  And we all felt great.


Tour Series: Aberdeen (Women’s race)

Position: 15th (let’s not dwell on the fact that there were only 16 female competitors on the start line)

I might as well start entitling all cycling related posts ‘Another of Roz’s dumbass ideas’, because yet again I found myself, on Thursday, May 25th, waking up with an overwhelming sense of dread.  The Tour Series was coming to Aberdeen, and as she had e-mailed suggesting a women’s race (but, like, IN THE FUTURE IF THEY WERE EVER TO RETURN), they obliged, which meant that SHE was obliged to sign up, and coerce as many victims fellow female cyclists into signing up as well, thereby proving the organisers weren’t wasting their efforts.  And because I am clearly incapable of saying ‘no’, I willingly entered, knowing fully that I was likely to face severe public humiliation.  But whatever, you know, support local shit.

As if to make up for my erroneous decision, the weather played nicely.  In fact, it was easily one of the most beautiful days Aberdeen had been graced with this year: glorious sunshine, blindingly blue skies, and temperatures that lured thousands of locals out as spectators (or, by chance, into beer gardens of the pubs surrounding the course).  I mean, I wore flip flops and considered removing my sweater – it felt like being on holiday.

As my teaching timetable is currently light, thanks to the fact that the senior kids are all on study leave, I was able to duck out early – which was just as well, as I had some bike maintenance to take care of.  During a social ride the previous evening, after casually commenting that I was still on the same tyres and inner tubes that came with my bike back in 2013, I suffered my first ever puncture.  And my second.  And then my third.  In the end, one of our group – Trish – had to phone her husband for roadside pick up as we were out of inner tubes and we were stranded.

Having never actually changed an inner tube or tyre before by myself, I wanted all the time I could muster to get things sorted.  I also had to remove my pannier rack, lights, bluetooth speaker…  As it turns out, I have a lot of junk on my bike.  I’ll cut the tension right now and let you know the tyre swap was a success, and it also became disgustingly clear that I need to clean my bike more frequently.  Or, you know, ever.


Once cleaned up, and with everything I needed in a rucksack, I cycled down to the AWCC support tent to meet Roz, Rosie (who had also been fooled into signing up), Katherine (who was taking part in the team challenge), and Eilidh (who was there to laugh at support us).

Fully expecting to make a fool of myself, I decided to play up to my role with some fancy dress.  However, the unseasonably warm weather dictated that I would have to ditch this idea, as I was dangerously close to overheating when I was standing still.  After all the effort I went to getting into the outfit, I felt disappointment as well as relief when I peeled it off again.

Before too long, Natalie had also materialised, and we anxiously talked tactics.  Chiefly, the conversation went something like this:

“Stick together and work as a team?  Then we won’t look so bad?”


Fuckin’ LIARS.

After a few warm up laps in a nearby lane, we found ourselves being ushered to the start line for the briefing.  We were to race for 30 minutes on the 1.2km circuit, and we’d be told when our final laps were.  There was an eye-of-the-storm moment in the 30 seconds before the start when nobody really had anything else to say.  And there was no way of avoiding the hurt that was to come.  Natalie, Rosie, Roz, and myself had taken our position at the back of the back.


And then it began.  I clipped in securely and pushed off with a mighty heave – only to have to brake as the two women in front of me struggled to get clipped in.  I was right on their back wheel and did think: Well, fuck, wouldn’t it be awesome if I crashed ON THE START LINE.  Thankfully, a pile up was avoided, and I tried to pick up speed, but Roz and Natalie were already specks in the distance.  I had been abandoned at the first hurdle!  I desperately tried to hold onto the wheel of the girls ahead of me, but those bitches are fast, and I was struggling.

My main fear going into this event was cornering.  Being notoriously terrible at turning (in particular, right hand turns, which dominated the course), I worried I’d either crash into a barrier or come to a complete standstill.  What I actually found was a newfound love of weaving in and out of the small side streets, as it actually seemed to give me a chance to catch up to people!  After a few laps, I could see Roz’s AWCC jersey looming closer, and made an effort to jump on her tail.

“Help.  Help.  I’m fucking dying.” -Roz

“Team effort?” – Me

The two of us, initially joined by Rosie, made up the back of the race, and worked together round the course.  Until Rosie sped off on a straight, leaving the two of us in her dust.  Still, a two man team trumps a solo death effort, so Roz and I took turns towing each other along and trying to keep morale high, despite the announcer commenting FREQUENTLY that we were not only in last place, but soon to be lapped.  He did comment we were still smiling though, totally unaware of the raspy ‘fuck you’ uttered between gritted teeth.


I don’t understand why I’m smiling.  Ignore the smiling.

If there is one saving grace to going balls-to-the-wall, it’s that, somehow, time passes in a flash.  Before we knew it we heard we were on our final lap, and we had a quick agreement that we would have a ‘champion’s finish’ (not my words) and cross the line side by side.  Cornering the horrendous 180 degree turn for the final time, we dug in for the final uphill drag amidst wild cheering and applause.

In the end, we had only been lapped by the three leaders, so I’m pretty sure we didn’t suck too hard.  Rosie finished two spots ahead of us, with Natalie just ahead of her.  We were basically champions.  But never mind that – we had beers to drink, dinner to eat, and, most importantly, the men’s pro race to cheer on!


King of the Mountains 110 mile Sportive

Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk.  That will teach you to keep your mouth shut. -Ernest Hemingway

If only.  -Me

Time: 9:13:19

Medal: No


Much in the same way I actively avoided anything to do with running when, back in September 2014, I picked up what I thought was a niggle, but was actually the death knell on my long distance running adventures, in the dark days of being housebound earlier this year I was creating draft eBay listings for my bikes, listening (and wailing along) to Nick Cave, and languidly sinking back liquor in a glass that was most definitely less than half full.  I hid every notification from cycling related groups, and aggressively declined facebook event invitations to social rides.  Any evidence that I had ever been on a bike was buried in the dusky corners of my hallway closet, shut out of sight, out of mind.  So when Roz took me on my tentative first ride back in February, I cautiously started considering the possibilities.

Naturally, this progressed to typing in my bank card details on an online entry for a punishing 110 mile sportive to the beat of Whitesnake’s ‘Here I Go Again’ in a dreamy beer fog.

Except this time I wasn’t going to be on my own when it came to undertaking this disgusting ride.  In fact, it wasn’t even my idea in the first place.  Roz had signed up for it (and booked a hotel room with beds aplenty) under the (false) assumption that a few others would sign up with her.  Instead, they did the sensible thing and booked a girls weekend in Aviemore with some social cycling and wine, and Roz, as a matter of principal, refused to abandon the event.  Not one to miss out on grievous genital harm, I decided to join her.

Following my entry in February, I completely forgot that the event existed until it loomed dangerously close.  In an attempt to ‘train’ for it, I went on a few rides out to the notorious Cairn o’Mount to prepare for some of the steep ascents I knew we would be tackling, as much of the route is similar to the Etape Royale that I rode last September, and which was not in the distant enough past for me to ignore memories of burning quads while climbing the mighty Lecht.

On the Saturday before, Roz picked me up and we drove out to Tarland where we checked in to our hotel (which was essentially a room above a bar), had dinner, and then settled in for a Eurovision Pyjama Party.  Disregarding the brief 01:00 drunken argument outside our window, we both got a reasonable rest, and were up at 06:00 to shovel food into our mouths and kit up.  The forecast had varied between sunshine and light showers to torrential rain, so a fresh mist and patches of clear sky was an acceptable sight to behold when we lumbered outside and into the car for the short drive to Aboyne.

Roz:  So.  This is occurring.

Me:  Yep.  Death or glory.

Wanting to get this shit-show on the road as soon as possible, we managed to squeeze into the first wave setting off at 08:00, tucking into the peloton of lycra clad dudes… until the first incline, when they pulled away and into the distance.  It was an early indication of what was to come, just in case the name – King of the fuckin’ Mountains – did not suggest strongly enough the kind of terrain we’d be facing.

KOM 110 mile

It might be telling that of the 225 finishers of the 110 mile route, there were only 11 females.  Roz and I had decided that in order to get through the day we would adopt a ‘casual’ pace and try to conserve as much energy as possible for the later, steeper, shittier hills.  In hindsight, considering the state of my legs in the final, dragging miles, this was a wise decision.

We cruised over Queen’s View and the Suie hill, also passing the turn-off for the shorter, 100km route with some reluctance.  After stocking up on water at the first aid station, we conquered the Cabrach, and descended into Dufftown.  I strongly suggested a pit stop here, and we had something to eat and drink from a local shop (and stocked up on painkillers for Roz), enjoying being swathed in the glorious sunshine that had wrestled through the thick morning cloud as we waved to fellow riders as they passed.  We were 50 miles in.  We felt OK. 3 hills down, 3 to go.

From Dufftown came the 18 mile stretch to Tomintoul, which I have only ever aggressively loathed.  This was no exception.  We battled against a vicious headwind on the net incline, very much looking forward to the next aid station (and the change in direction).  Sadly, upon arrival at the Tomintoul aid station, we were quickly informed that they had run out of water.  I had about a healthy gulp left in my bottle, but a couple of the riders who had decided to withdraw offered up what they had left, and one of the marshals procured a can of Coke for us.  Just as we were setting off again, the sweeper van came to collect the riders who wanted out, and it was sorely tempting to throw our bikes in and call it a day, but, you know, death or glory.  And we were still breathing.

We took it slow and easy for the few miles that lead to the bottom of the Lecht, and about half a mile before the climb began I switched on my bluetooth speaker and got my cycling playlist on in time for the ski centre to loom into view up in the distance.  

Once conquered, it was the death-grip descent in fierce crosswinds that made you really fear death momentarily before Gairnshiel sprung up in front of you.  Despite being less elevation, Gairnshiel actually felt tougher than the Lecht, but the thought of the third and final aid station at the top was motivation to just get to the top.  Thankfully, this time we were met by plentiful supplies, and after a quick rest, Roz and I were ready to plunge into our final 23 miles.  Piece of piss.

For the second time on the course, we were cruelly forced to pass a turn-off for the shorter route in order to take on one final climb – Strone.  Despite what the filthy, lying marshals had claimed, Strone did not, in fact, feel like a steady, gentle climb, fuck you very much.  The summit, however, did provide welcome relief, in part due to the knowledge that the course was – largely – all downhill from here.

We flew down the road, tailwind mercifully pushing us along towards Ballatar, where we both stopped for a comfort break.  There is only so much an undercarriage can take, after all.  Gingerly getting onto our bikes for the final time, we began the death march home – 10 miles of grunting, swearing, and accepting delirium.  

After a few moments of doing nothing but standing still in silence after finishing, we wordlessly made our way back to Roz’s car to load up and get home.  Kudos to her for managing to drive us back, because I was drooling in the passenger seat by this point.  

24 hours later, still breathing, no longer aching from everywhere, and the glory is starting to soak in.  We are Kings.  Kings of Mountains.

Ride London 100

My saddle’s waiting

Come and jump on it.

-‘Pony’ by Ginuwine (admittedly taken mildly out of context)

In the wake of my initial success on the road, I decided – inspired by an unseasonably mild, sunny, and calm day, and further cajoled by my frustration that rose exponentially with every minute I had to stay behind after the bell because kids hadn’t finished their work – to try my first solo outing.

IMG_4965Conscious of limited daylight, I had nipped home at lunch to lay out my cycling kit, pump up my tyres, and charge my lights. And my Bluetooth speaker. As my work day ended, I entered my flat in a Bruce Almighty-esque bluster, and poured myself into the familiar lycra second skin that had been tucked away in a drawer since October. Charged, dressed, and wearing my ever stylish green specs, a harbinger of my traffic fortune, I set off grinning, catching every green light on my journey out of the city.

The outward journey was spectacular: I felt like I was flying into the countryside, noticing subtle variations in the once-familiar landscape and filling my lungs with fresh air. After about 10 miles I had the option to turn back, with guaranteed daylight to guide me home. But I also had the option to keep going, and, weary of being a caged bird, I ignored every internal warning bell telling me I should turn back, take things slowly, be cautious.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Hell no. I kept cycling.

In hindsight, the body might give you these subtle, internal warnings for a reason. The second half of my cycle was marred by overwhelming regret, and trepidation about my homeward trudge, largely due to the ominous clouds closing in, the icy rain stinging my face, and the headwind gathering momentum as mine flailed. It also become apparent that the green glasses are highly effective at cutting out glare from bright lights and the sun, but there is a reason you’re not supposed to wear them while driving at night – with dusk rolling in it was, quite frankly, downright dangerous for me to be on the road. Thankfully I know that particular stretch of road pretty well, and was able to avoid any of the hazards that seem to be the norm for a cycle lane in the city.  I eventually arrived back at my front door tired, cold, wet, and relieved. And elated.

What I did not mention as a prime motivator for my independent jaunt was the fact that I was encouraged by Roz about a month ago to take on a charity place at the Ride London 100 mile cycle in July.  Although I have entered the ballot for the last few years, it would seem my luck was on par with that of the London marathon.  I must have entered the ballot last year, because after work one day I arrived home to the ‘commiserations’ version of the magazine, and I thought just as well.  Roz, however, had fared better, and was excited to see who else she’d be riding with.  As it turned out: nobody.

“You can get a charity place.  I can be your guide.  It’ll be fun.”

She sent me the link for the charity place, and I realised I’d only need to pay £25, and raise £500 for the MS Society.  In a fit of reckless abandon – who am I kidding, that has been my general emotional state for a while now – I entered, and set up my fundraising page.  Incidentally, that can be reached by clicking here.

IMG_5024Since my initial outing I’ve also enjoyed my first group ride with the Velodees to Stonehaven and back. Even the persistent rain and overly curt waitress at our coffee stop couldn’t drown the thrill of being back doing something I love. I’ve also braved a slightly earlier, second solo stint, which would have been perfect had it not been for the 40+ mph gusts. With spring on the horizon, I’m hoping to start clawing back at my bike fitness, and start incorporating longer rides in.

And what better way to do that than on a sunny April day with my guide cyclist, Roz?  She planned a route, and I basically ignored it, opting instead to venture blindly into the outing.  Our journey took us from Aberdeen to Aboyne, where we were joined by Jon Entwistle for a coffee and avocado on toast.  We had initially intended to head straight back to town, but – encouraged/bullied by Jon – we took a detour through Lumphanan and Torphins before the crotch-ruining return to our start point, rounding off the day at just a shade over 70 miles.


100 miles seems within reach, and I’m ready to rise to the challenge.