Can’t live for tomorrow, tomorrow’s much too long

“The busy bee has no time for sorrow.”

-William Blake (Proverbs of Hell)

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William Blake seemed to be a firm advocate of embracing our desires and our freedom, which is absolutely an ideology I’m willing to adopt.  I’d like to imagine that the proverb above goes deeper than the idea of being so consumed with a task that you have no time to worry about things.  Instead of a task – with its connotations of being something burdensome or unpleasant or necessary – I’d like to think the bee is consumed by something beautiful, exhilarating, fulfilling.  The bee hovers over a flower until it has taken its fill, then moves onto the next.  For me, each flower is a unique experience and, like the physical beauty of flowers, their existence is ephemeral, but memorable.

My takeaway from this particular proverb is that Blake encourages us to fully immerse ourselves in the moment – to live in the present.  We should open ourselves to experiencing every moment without distraction or fear that we aren’t doing what we think we’re meant to be doing.

I find I’m at my happiest in nature, and I imagine that’s the truth for most people.  This summer I had booked a flight to Seattle with my friend Lauren, initially with the plan of hiking the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier.  After her debut camping experience about 6 weeks before we flew over, however, she decided that she hated camping, and upon discovering there were no hotels along the trails in the Washington wilderness, started dropping hints that she would bail on the hike.  Considering the hike was my main motivation for visiting Washington, I wasn’t about to let the prospect of being a lone wolf deter me, though in a strange place – where bears roam free – I did want some company.

Against all my friends’ advice, I met someone from Portland on tinder, and arranged to go on a 3 day camping trip along some of the trails in Mount Rainier National Park.  We met in a bar in Seattle the night before, armed with a map, and tentatively planned our journey (which we had to reconsider the next day due to campsite availability).  We left the next morning and spent the following three days walking the trails, and generally existing in some of the most beautiful alpine meadows with the snowy peak of Mount Rainier as our backdrop, and wildflowers, animals (including bears), and the low hanging haze from BC wildfires surrounding us.  Although it wasn’t the original endurance death-march I had mentally planned, I couldn’t have asked for a better hike (or hiking partner) for the limited time I had, and I relished being disconnected from the outside world completely, being around so much beauty, and getting to know someone new in an intensely concentrated way.  The whole thing could have been a complete bust.  I could have been pushed off a cliff or eaten by a bear or strangled in my sleep.  But I choose to believe that people are inherently good, and so far that has served me well.

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After Mount Rainier, and some time in Portland and the surrounding area, including a day hike to some of the waterfalls along Eagle Creek (with my now-established hiking companion), I flew south the Houston to visit my family.  For the first time in several years, my brother was clean, and it was so comforting having the one person who has had the same life experience as I have had be present and lucid and calm.  I told him about hiking in Washington, and he mentioned that he wanted to do more stuff like that, so we decided to get up early one day and drive out to Enchanted Rock.  Apart from his piece-of-shit car breaking down 10 miles outside of Austin, having to hire a tow truck, and being forced to hire a fancy SUV because there were no smaller cars available – it was a fun day trip.

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When I initially began having issues with my sight last October, I began a string of tests to try and determine the cause.  It was mentioned that there was a (small) chance that it could be the first presenting symptom of multiple sclerosis, but ‘that was getting ahead of ourselves’.  However, further tests revealed lesions on the white matter in brain, which meant even more testing.  Last month, upon returning from my holiday, I had follow up MRI scans on my brain, as well as a spinal tap, which I thoroughly do not recommend.  Yesterday, 11 months after this whole ordeal began, I was given my results: my body is an asshole.

Although I was fairly convinced multiple sclerosis would be the eventual outcome, it still came as a shock to hear it confirmed from the specialist, and I’m not entirely sure I took in everything she said after that.  I do remember mentioning my plans to leave my job in April and thru hike the Pacific Crest Trail, terrified that she would in some way try to dissuade me from doing it.  Thankfully my conversation with her only reinforced my gut feeling to go for it, and she fully endorsed my view that the disease is unpredictable, and manifests itself differently in everyone, and that it would be nothing short of tragic to sit around and wait for something to happen at the expense of experience.  She did drop into conversation that I’d probably have to pay a little more for health insurance, but what is the value of money?

So what’s the plan now?  I’ve bought a one way ticket to San Diego at the beginning of April next year.  I’ve upgraded my tent to something roomier and more lightweight.  I’m off to hike the Great Glen Way in just over a week.  And I’m seriously looking into dropping bank on a personal satellite messenger and locator beacon, mostly to stop my parents and friends from worrying, but my secondary reason would be for safety.  If my legs decide to stop working when I’m days away from civilization, it might be useful to be able to contact people to let them know.  Overall though?  I’m pumped about my upcoming adventure.  It may turn out to be a catastrophic bust, but that’s a future-me problem.  Besides, as Blake says, “Exuberance is beauty.”  And it looks like I’m using his proverbs as mantras right now.

 

Prudential Ride London 100 2017

Ain’t found a way to kill me yet.

-Alice in Chains, ‘Rooster’

Time: 6:08:36

Medal: Yes.  Feat. the Dorking Cockerel! 

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Following my LeJoG disaster, I was keen to reestablish myself as a competent rider of bikes, and even more  keen to conquer the event Roz had encouraged me to sign up to in the waning days of blindness, and the waxing days of getting-the-fuck-on-with-it.  Once the medal design had been shared on facebook, and Roz drew my attention to the chicken on it, no sprained wrist or split helmet was going to prevent me from facing my spiritual nemesis.  I was gonna own that chicken.  Physically.  Metaphorically.  Completely.

Taunted by the ghost of crashes past, and rarely one to believe in ‘signs’, I temporarily became a believer.  This ride was my Magnum Opus.  I could feel it.  Once I crossed that finish, I’d be drawing a line over the past 8 months and getting on a flight towards the rest of my summer adventures, lighting a match destined to blow my life onto a whole new (weather beaten) path.

Breaking up the journey south with a stop at Roz’s brother’s, we breakfasted with chicken adorned glasses before setting off for registration.  Back at our city apartment, we decided to remedy the start wave situation (I was due to start about 45 minutes later than Roz) by plastering her luggage sticker over my race number, and neglecting to put any other identifying paraphernalia on my bike.  We’re stealthy bitches like that.

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The plan provided us both with a seamless entry into the black wave pen the following morning, and we managed to pass the time before we were released by trying not to freeze to death, and eye-rolling at boastful conversations occurring in the vicinity.  The guy with the microphone was asking someone at the front of each start wave to suggest a song to set off to, and some asshole in our wave picked PJ and Duncan’s ‘Let’s Get Ready to Rumble’, a grievous aural assault considering he had a choice of basically any song in recent history.  Things could only improve.

And they did!  We stuck in behind snakes of lycra-clad men and kept up a very respectable average speed with relatively little effort on our part.  In fact, I was so busy going fast that I failed to notice cycling by famous landmarks and my old place of residence.  Yes, I missed my own home, but I paid extra close attention to anyone’s wheel in front of me, because as much as I trust my own ability to ride a bike, I don’t trust an amorphous clot of cyclists varying in experience in the winding veins of London.

In typical Roz/Rachel riding fashion, I found the first 60 miles or so a bit of a slog, and let Roz do a lot of the work, but when she started to tire my legs decided they were sufficiently warmed up.  We hit a couple of ‘hills’ (laughable when you consider Scottish terrain) and took in a couple of the water stops.  At one point we became separated, but a quick location stalk on our phones solved that problem pretty quickly.  And then we were into the final, fast, downhill 20 miles where I always seem to find a turbo boost.

Just over 6 hours after we set off, we were finished.  And I hadn’t crashed!  Until approximately 7 minutes into our gentle cycle back to the apartment when I was momentarily distracted and ended up going over my handlebars into London traffic, staving my left pinky and adding to my collection of bruises, cuts, and grazes…

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Before the crash

I refuse to believe it was the hefty weight of the chicken medal that pulled me to the ground, because if I know anything, it is that the chicken has no power over me anymore.  2017 may be the Chinese year of the Rooster, but that curse has been lifted, and I am free.  Good riddance, motherclucker.

Day 4: Bristol -> A&E

The day started so well.

A sunny brunch (avocado toast and coffee). A gentle walk around Bristol. A short trip over the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Today was gonna be a great day.


Lisa and I cruised along the road out of Bristol chatting in the sun. I had opened her eyes to the joy of cycling! Though we had some miles to put in through an industrial estate (with a few brief stints on a cycle path), it would all be worth it once we hit the quiet country roads of Wales. We even got to see the bridge we’d be crossing in the distance! 

And then, one minute I was freewheeling downhill, the next I was lying face down at the side of the road, my bike a few feet away, in quite some discomfort. 

As I lay there, coming to my senses and trying to mentally register the damage, a white van did a U-turn and stopped to help, phoning an ambulance. Well, fuck. 


I had come down pretty hard on my left side, particularly on my wrist and shoulder, and I guess I was in shock as I couldn’t stop shaking. I surveyed my belongings and realised I’d cracked my helmet. Lisa, who was behind me, arrived and tried to calm me down as I answered questions over the phone. When I asked her if there were any deformities to my face, she replied with, ‘None, apart from the obvious.’ At this stage the white van driver and his colleague laughed uncomfortably as they didn’t realise we knew each other. When they found out that we were in fact friends, and I was off the phone, they left us to wait for the paramedics.

“Lisa. I can’t feel my face. Or my left arm. What if I’m having a heart attack?”

“You do know you landed in a pile of stinging nettles, you dumbass.”

I did not. Just super. 

We waited for nearly 2 hours before I ended up phoning again, only to find out they had no record of the previous call, and an ambulance was eventually dispatched. I assumed they’d just clean me up and check me over, but when they arrived they wanted to take me in for an X-ray on my wrist, as I couldn’t move it without sharp pains running the length of my arm. When we told them we were about to cycle into Wales they toyed with the idea of taking me to a hospital there, but couldn’t really justify it. So back to Bristol we went, with bikes safely strapped in.


Instead of a pleasant afternoon in the Welsh countryside, we spent about 4 hours in A&E to confirm there were no breaks, just a bad sprain, amongst some of Bristol’s finest drugged criminals and law enforcement officers. As it was Pride weekend, we had to shell out an extortionate amount for likely one of the last available hotel rooms (a disabled room)  which we got to around 11pm. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and the only thing nearby was a KFC, so we filled up on boneless chicken pieces, I had a bitch of a shower, and we went to bed.

“I’m so glad I hired a bike and hauled it miles away from the comfort of my home to enjoy this experience with you, Rachel. Best holiday ever.”

The following morning, it was apparent that I was not going to be riding any significant distance on my wrist, and I decided to return to London with Lisa. We left the hotel before 09:00 and arrived at her flat roughly 12 hours later having dragged our bikes several miles around two cities. Thankfully, we decided to treat ourselves to a refreshment in Regent’s Park on the way to enjoy the summer sun, and we ordered sushi, watched shit TV, and re-organised her bedroom to continue the theme of ‘crappiest holiday weekend’ (but secretly I enjoyed that). 

Bristol – before everything went wrong


As I write, I am on the sleeper train back to Scotland. As a glass half full kinda girl, I’m hoping a couple of days might be enough to allow me to ride my bike again, in which case I’ll aim to complete some of the Scottish leg. However, I might take my road bike, and I’ll definitely pack light. I should probably get a new helmet too…

Day 3: Taunton -> Bristol 

I hold my hands up, the cheating continued. Plans with Lisa were rejigged to accommmodate unaccommodating train options, and we decided to meet in Bristol instead. This would mean a mammoth journey from Plymouth on my part, so I caught the train to Taunton to travel the more manageable 60-ish miles towards Bristol. 

I arrived just after 10am and set off on one of the national cycle routes. Traffic free and following a canal for several miles towards Bridgewater before cutting off onto quiet country lanes on my original planned route.  If motivation was zero after the Cornish hills, it skyrocketed today. Warm but pleasant temperatures and flat cycling to begin were fabulous. The air was thick with humidity so close to the water and it reminded me of Arkansas summers visiting my grandmother. As I was cycling along, the ground flickered and rose into clouds of dragonflies that disappeared as quickly as they were startled, and I smiled despite the kamikaze bugs meeting their demise on my face.

Once onto quiet lanes, the route became more undulating, and I opted to lunch in Glastonbury. I wanted to get a photo of the quaint English high street, but the police were in the middle of raiding a hotel full of squatters, and that really didn’t lend itself to a stunning photo op, so I set off again towards Wells and the bitching climb that followed. 

Before too long I could see Bristol on the horizon and managed to safely reach our hotel, despite dicing with death briefly on the motorway. Thankfully rush hour traffic meant the cars were going slower than I was, otherwise I’d likely have panicked and phoned for roadside assistance. 


I prioritised with a beer before checking in and grabbing a shower to await Lisa before we hit up a local Caribbean joint for dinner and checked out some live jazz along the waterfront. 


Tomorrow we venture into Wales, and I anticipate a bit of exploration in our village destination before a beer in a local pub!

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. 

Gross


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

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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 warmshowers.org (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.

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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.

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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.

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Summer Solstice Sunrise…

Midsummer Beer Happening 2017 – Undo

Time: 4:29:10

Medal: No, just another Beer Happening glass!

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“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.

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