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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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 britishcycling.org.uk “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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?”

“Deal.”

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.

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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.

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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!

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