The rule of 3
It seems that there is nothing that I can do to properly prepare for a cycling event that prevents me from having to do at least one of the following:-
1. Have an insanely long drive at faster than light speed to make up time for some unfeasibly remote happenstance that has delayed proceedings at the last minute
2. Lose sleep as a result of a very late night either tweaking , cleaning or installing something that is just so incredibly urgent and necessary now when it wasn’t even considered just hours before
3. Get up insanely early after a late night from 2. above.
Sometimes, just sometimes, I even have to do all three at once…. This can’t be normal….can it?
It’s good to prepare
You see, I DO have a great routine for preparing in advance for any given cycle event.
I DO have a readymade schedule of items required – equipment to pack – items to buy – things to look out – smaller cycling trips or goals to achieve etc etc. It’s all there laid out in my mind in resplendent glory and in beautiful technicolor.
The problem is that it’s all just a bit too readily brushed aside by current events / work / family needs / tiredness, and even, yes , crappy TV viewing habits. Pick any three, but you have to include work, in order to keep it slightly real.
Lets do the Trossachs Ton I say…Ok.
Lets get it booked early in the year …Ok. I booked it on Jan 1st – great!
Its got few hills – lets do some training. OK…some sorties are put out there – much to my wives chagrin. (What about the grass?) Ah…
Reality keeps finding ways of getting me back out of my cycling world and into the grittier facts of life.
Things such as :-
Incredibly boring ironmongery or door schedules at work.
Weather thats great until I think “I could go for a cycle tonight” and then water pours out of the sky from 4.30pm onwards, and sucks the sun out of the sky just to taunt me.
Bills to pay.
Food shopping to be done.
Meals to be made.
and yet more work… yada yada yada …I could go on …Ho Hum…
But thats life I hear you say. We manage it, so should you……….
Yes, Indeed. That doesn’t necessarily endow it with the magical shininess that all things cycling have though eh?
So there I am Friday evening before the Sunday ride – checking things off my list……Friday – I have loads of time.
Cycling clothes? – collected together for washing – now in machine. Check.
Bike checked for maintenance? – dismantled, cleaned, Tyres and brakes checked and now fully together ready for test run Saturday AM – Check.
Food stuffs / Gels? – got already . Check.
Weather report? – already seen – looks good (amazingly) – Check.
Competitive athlete with lean figure, bulging muscles, ruddy complexion and healthy glow? ah …well…eh..no. Not Check.
You see – work had been REALLY busy….my Mum and Dad had had their 50th Golden Wedding Anniversary…the weather had been crap…I had been distracted …there were too many family birthdays…the sky had been falling down….the world was coming to an end…the printer had no ink, the dog needed company …or something like that. You get the gist.
In short, I had not got as much cycling in as I really, really felt was necessary to be Fully Prepared.
You can’t just get up one day and magically be Fully Prepared, you have to work at it and that takes time …and effort…none of which I had supplied sufficiently.
Let’s be honest though – I never, ever feel Fully Prepared .
Breaking the Rules
Ok – so I’m going to break my golden rule. The one that states that I should always have a rest day, the day before a main event.
Today however I’m deciding that I’m going to get out on my bike and go for a cycle Saturday. Sod it …. yes… I am!
A quick lifetime of text messages ensues and then I’m set. Me and my cycling buddy Sean are going cycling Saturday AM. Reality impinges enough to remind us that we need to be back by 1pm to get other things done around the house or whatever. (Remember the grass?) In Seans case , he is greatly in demand on Sunday (Fathers Day) so he’s scheduling a ride on Saturday to get one in before the weekend is over. Good idea.
Saturday AM and I’m hopping about trying to find things ( I left them there – honest), get my gear on , eat , shave and text simultaneously. “Will be with you in 5 mins” I lie when I’m still pouring my tea. Well, I need something in me before I go don’t I ?? 10 minutes later however I’ve whirl-winded my way to the start point and we’re off. Heading East- with no real plan in mind. The weather was good too. Lovely.
As it turns out, we ended up in North Berwick – had a good coffee and got back by 2pm. Not bad.
It was a very pleasant 45mile round trip – filled with good chat with Sean and good views over the Firth of Forth in the sunny weather.
My cycling computer display – a Wahoo RFLKT unit wasn’t buying in to the feel good factor however and went belly up during the time out.
Ok so it needs batteries – I’ll change them when I get in.
Early Saturday evening – I’m checking high and low for my CR2032’s. No sign of course.
Saturday evening -9pm sees me in the local supermarket buying CR2032 coin size batteries.
I get home – I try to fit the batteries to find the RFLKT has 4 tiny tiny tiny titchy small microscopic screws securing it’s back – which means I can’t get it open until I’ve got tiny tiny tiny microscopic screwdrivers and much better vision.
Another round trip to the supermarket for jewellers screwdrivers allows me to get it open. I still can’t see them too well though.
Aaargh! it takes a different type of battery? A CR2145 – much bigger and deeper in size.
ANOTHER round trip to the local supermarket reveals it is not a common size – THANKS WAHOO – and therefore not in stock. At 11pm on a Saturday night , I’m out of options.
Ever the bright one, I cobble together a felt infill shaped like a crescent moon to allow the 3V CR2032 battery to be used – and it works! yeah! 12.15 AM and I’m fiddling about with twitchy screws on cycling computers, filling water bottles and packing jersey pockets. I had previously stuffed myself with a high carbohydrate pasta meal earlier in the evening and had another set aside for breakfast.
12.45am I go to bed.
5.45AM I’m back up again. Yeay!…..See what I mean?
The Trossach Ton
I need to be in Stirling by 7.30am to meet my cousin and his son, who are newbies to the art of cycling long distances and are tackling the Ton as a challenge to raise money for charity. They’ve been cycling for about a year maximum and trying to build up mileage for it. Me? I’m just doing it because I want to – it feeds the sado-masochistic urge for sheer effort, bloodyminded stubbornness and a willingness to sweat lots. If you’ve cycled it – you’ll know what I mean.
I remembered that my cousin needed a bottle cage, so 5AM finds me in the shed wrestling with Allen keys to get a “spare” bottle cage off of one of my other bikes.
My neighbours must love me.
A quick dash in the car along the M8 and M9 gets me there on time – may the Lord bless the inventor of SatNavs!
My earlier wade through the long grass to get to the shed at of the bottom of the garden however (remember the grass?) meant I had soaked my socks and now my feet were freezing. I “borrowed” a shot of my cousins-sons tumble dryer to dry them off and warm them up.
7.45am saw the three of us cycling the short mile distance down to Stirling High School in time to register for an 8.15AM start. It was overcast, but still warm and with the occasional misting of water, as though it was going to rain, I was reluctant to put on my rain jacket but thankfully the “rain” stopped as soon as it started. I was relieved – I’ve cycled all day in the rain before and its a pain. The set-up at registration and the start line was impressive, there were about 20 to 30 cyclists being processed through in the few minutes that we were there – but the high school has a large atrium type entrance lobby so the place never felt like it was too busy. Another twenty or so were set-off from the start line as we were waiting for the mandatory 8.15am start time.
There were loads of riders , loads of bikes and the much longer 105mile riders “The Champion route ” had already set off before us. The “Classic route” riders like ourselves were all hanging about trying to keep busy and not look too nervous. There was lots of nonchalant-arms-draped-over-the-bars, glasses-on-helmets-poses going on that were the cyclist equivalent to an indifferent shrug stating “Do I look bothered? Me?”
We got ourselves set at the line, gave the event photographer a smirk and a wave (I’ll post it up when I get it) and listened to the inevitable last minute instructions about cycling to the highway code, not being on closed roads, taking responsibility for our own safety, cycling courteously whilst enjoying the day etc etc. A word about the weather, some stuff about the need to hydrate, some stuff about potholes and the worst part of the roads (on the most remote scenic downhill sections of course – where you’re likely to be travelling fastest and the risk of damage / carnage / injury is that much higher.)
Once the marshall had relieved his organisation of all of its legal liabilities and reminded us afresh of our responsibility to look after ourselves, we got the go and the tape was dropped. We were off.
The first mile or so was familiar – I had driven down it at speed in the car just an hour earlier after all, to get into Stirling in the 1st place. Early morning traffic was easy but we soon came to our first hurdle – a traffic light that would not change from red. There was a gaggle of about twenty cyclists and waited like the good boys and girls that we are. Patience however was in short supply and wise ass quips about jumping up and down – borrowing a car, needing an old age pensioner with a metal hip etc etc started almost immediately. About £50,000 worth of Carbon bikes and twenty humans in a row is not enough to get a car-centric traffic light system to recognise you exist apparently. After 20 loooooong seconds, it was clear that the main road was empty apart from us so we set off. Sorry – but there you go. The light never changed yet.
10 minutes saw us on the outskirts of town – heading south then south west past the Banockburn Heritage Centre and out over the M80/M9 junction.
The ascent started immediately we had crossed the motorway, with the New Line Road rising from about 150 ft elevation to 750ft elevation in a long but gradual gradient over the next 5.5 miles. We climbed up past Loch Coulter and then on to the B818 along the side of the Carron Valley reservoir. This is known as the Buckieburn climb in Strava-land and is a Category 4 climb.
The scenery was fantastically green – reminding me that the Stirling / Trossachs / Fintry area really was a very fertile agricultural landscape that helps keep the nation fed and watered.
The road dropped in elevation past the dam at the end of the reservoir and at the bottom of the hill we turned left onto the bottom of the Crow Road ascent heading south.
The Crow Road
This is where the proper climbing began – we would ascend from 360ft up to 1,107ft in a distance of 3 miles – a Category 3 Climb.
I chucked the bike into the middle ring and began the ascent with Mark and Scott along side.
Cyclists that had until now been quite separated by reasonable distances – started to clump together into rolling groups, and we passed a few of them on the ascent. The experienced club hill climbers and rouleurs were rolling past us at various intervals but we were making reasonable time. I wasn’t in a hurry.
The general chatter in the group I was in died down however, as more and more people focused on the climb and keeping their breathing regular.
Chatting was interspersed with heavy breathing and a lot of sweating, and you became much more aware of the hill gradients which varied from 3% to 6.5% in places.
The silence was interspersed with chain clicks, gear changes, the odd ruffle of wind and heavy breathing – all intertwined with my own heartbeat and blood rush. It was lie we’d suddenly entered an altered reality state for 10 minutes or so.
It was quite relaxing.
I was so focused in keeping my cadence up, that I hadn’t realised I had distanced Mark and Scott a bit – their conversation behind me had waned into the distance and it was the lack of general chatter that caused me to check over my shoulder and see the view back down the hill.
We had come up quite far, without really feeling it too much. We were however nicely warmed up by now, and I was glad that the weather was slightly overcast sand not too hot.
…..cresting the hill, you begin to pick up speed noticeably as you freewheel along the road towards the next valley and Lennoxtown …a tight left hand corner at a car park and viewpoint area took you round the shoulder of the hill high up on the side of the valley. By this time you were going so fast you really had to be careful, hunker low and make sure you weren’t overcooking your brakes and had plenty of braking distance . The view down the valley was great but your eyes had to be on the road.
Three and a half miles disappeared in a flash and with the wind whistle still ringing in my ears I was easing on the brakes and slowing down to free wheel into the village of Lennoxtown at the bottom. I had dropped 870ft, and covered 3.2 miles in 7 minutes and 29 seconds, maxing out at a sensible 44.7 mph. And all without a single pedal being turned – powerful thing this gravity.
I hadn’t gone too fast – it was my first time on the road and I didn’t really know the lay of the land – so I was trying to keep it sensible.
A few minutes later Scott and Mark appeared with equally big cheesy grins on their faces as I had on mine. “I want to do that again” says I.
Turning right onto the A891 the next twenty miles or so passed relatively quickly, and without any problems moving on to, and through, Strathblane and Blanefield and out past the Glengoyne Distillary.
Our first pitstop was at the Beech Tree Inn a few miles further on – it was good to get off the bike and stretch at that point
Some really tasty flapjack and bananas had been laid on, as well as copious amounts of High 5 carbohydrate drink to refill your bottles. There were other things too, but it was the flapjack stat got my attention – they were that good.
I’d sucked a gel and been taking on water as we came down towards the bottom of the Crow Road ascent, so I didn’t feel too bad and had nearly depleted a whole bottle, so I topped it up.
Amazingly, Mark bumped into an old friend, who just happened to have stopped off on a long distance walk along the West Highland Way over that long weekend…..It’s a small world.
15 minutes later – we were on the road again.
11 miles later we were at Aberfoyle and the bottom of Dukes Pass.
Aberfoyle – once spelt ‘Aberfuil’ – lies on the highland boundary fault at the very edge of the Highlands. The river Laggan, the source of the river Forth passes through the village at the foot of Craigmore hill. A road leads over a high pass to the north of Aberfoyle and it is known as the Duke’s Pass after the Duke of Montrose who replaced the old pony track with a surfaced road to allow easier access to the Trossachs at Loch Katrine. Tourism is now the main industry in Aberfoyle with the Tourist information centre and Scottish Woollens Centre forming an important part of the attractions, with the Duke’s Pass also being an attraction in its own right for its steep incline with various views and forest walks accessible from car parks accessed from it.
Aberfoyle’s most famous resident was the Reverend Kirk. He was the misister of Balquhidder before moving to Aberfoyle and was the author of a book entitled ‘Secret Commonwealth‘ in 1691. This was a study of ‘ the nature and social structure of supernatural beings or fairies’. The legend tells how the faery folk were so angry as a result of their secrets being revealed in the book that they imprisoned his spirit in an old pine tree on Doon hill near to the old parish church. The old tree on Doon hill is usually festooned with ribbons and scraps of paper bearing ‘wishes’ to be granted by the faeries.
Heading east from Aberfoyle over the Duke’s Pass involves a steep climb at first and it ramps up pretty much from the main street as soon as you turn right. We were quickly in the granny gears curving left and and heading up a long incline. The road turned back on itself twice in an alpine zig zag and then we came up to a broad turn to the right past the David Marshall Lodge and its small scenic lochan. I had dropped Mark and Stuart slightly so waited for 30 seconds or so until their small grupetto arrived and joined on at the back. The road pitched up again.
There was one final hairpin to the left, which is steep enough at the tightest point of the curve to require a significant effort to cycle through the sudden increase in gradient. I was so enraptured with the view from this point that I had naturally migrated to the flattest section of the curve (after checking for traffic) . I was about to remark on the view when Mark hit the steepest bit of the gradient , wobbled and went down onto his left side. He had been unexpectedly slowed by the change in gradient to 13.5% and couldn’t counter quickly enough due to the leg sapping nature of the previous 350ft of ascent. It’s a sore lesson to learn, not to mention a tad embarrassing so I really felt for him. To be fair, he got himself up , remounted and slogged on when a lot of others might just have given up at that point or decided to take it a little bit easier. Good on him.
The “final” hairpin that caught us out, however, was only about a third of the way up and we still had to slog on for a total of 23 minutes to get from Aberfoyle street level to the very top of Duke’s Pass – from 68ft elevation to 820 ft elevation on a gradient that maxxed at 13.7% and was rarely below 9%. I had tapped an easy granny gear rhythm all the way up and was surprised at how good I felt – the Scott CR1 Comp carbon frame bike I had bought from my brother in law really had made all the difference in the world!. I fervently hoped that tackling the slopes of the Etape Pennine to come later in July would be as good an experience – I had heard from others who had tackled it that it was rough – either up or down with little in between. I was glad that we had ascended on the short side – those hairpins would be quite hairy coming down, I reckon.
The pass undulated around for about a mile before descending down towards Loch Achray. I dropped 400ft in 8 minutes with Scott on my tail. The road was quite twisty and roller coaster like and unfortunately there were patches of potholes, rough surfaces or loose gravel just where you didn’t want them in the middle of the road or right at the apex you were trying to hug. Mark quite wisely took it slightly more cautiously and we re-grouped at the foot of the Loch before moving on. It wasn’t quite as quick as the Crow Road had been, but had been mesmerisingly green with overhanging trees, ground bushes and the like.
We skirted around the norther shore of Loch Achray – which was just beautiful – and stopped for our 2nd rest stop at the community hall next to the Brig O Turk Tea Room. I’m sure that many cyclists were to be found in the tea room over the course of that afternoon. It has to be said that Mark looked a tad buggered at this point and was unusually quiet. When asked however, he noted he was fine – good man.
It has to be said that we were slightly wearied when we got back on the bikes….
We skirted along the north side of Loch Venachar – which is again stunningly beautiful – but the view across the loch was often obscured by a depth of trees which meant we felt like we were riding down through a tunnel of green shadows .
We turned right on to the A81 and headed south ascending once more up to 475ft.
From there is was downhill into the valley that leads back to Stirling. W e had run through a small shower, bunt the sun was back out and it was quite warm. Thankfully there was a gusty breeze to keep us cool .
Unfortunately, the last ten miles of the route took us onto the main road (The A811) that heads east into Stirling. It was very flat – running along the base of the valley – which is in quite wide open at about 6 miles across. This meant we were riding into a headwind. The road was busy with traffic and the previous honeymoon period of stunning scenery, beautiful vistas, hardly any traffic and small windy roads ascending or descending through the hills had sadly come to an end. We were once more rejoining civilisation and it was boring and a bit relentless.
The last 10 miles were unfortunately a slog – you had to hunker your head down into the headwind and shove along as fast as you can just to to get it over and done with. Sadly, the intermittent passing of vehicles, the boredom of the long straight run in on a busy road and the headwind combined to make this stretch of road the least attractive part of the entire ride which had been fantastic all the way round up to this point.
Event organisers take note! It would be much much nicer to meander through some side roads to get back to Stirling – even if it is slightly longer. It would be a much more fitting end to what was a lovely day’s ride.
I became temporary Road Captain and lead-out man and counselled my two team mates to take shelter behind me and draft in my slipstream to save energy, as the head wind could wear us down. We cycled along at an easy to medium pace of 13.5 to 14mph. I’m not sure if my two travel companions could have pushed it any faster if they wanted to and we swapped around from time to time to take turns as lead out man.
Stirling Castle loomed on the valley floor horizon, and was slowly winched ever closer until we crossed over the M9 motorway and entered the town.
Our speed rose to a steady 19mph as we navigated our way around the outskirts of town ascending about 150ft in the process.
Finally, we arrived back at Stirling High School, crossed the line, were presented with a medal and entered the school building in search of food, drink and a loo.
The atrium that had served for registration in the morning had been turned into a refectory hall with a delicious buffet of salads, meats , pastas and cake with load of water and fruit juice available to aid our metabolic recovery. We sat and ate and chatted with the fellow riders around us and basked slightly in the warm glow of a Charity Challenge and a good days cycling now fully completed.
We had covered 75.7 miles in 5 hours 28 minutes and 40 seconds of cycling time (excluding stops) and had cycled up 4327ft of elevation in the course of the day.
A really, really good day – definitely recommended and one I will be repeating. Chapeau to the event organisers – Action Medical Research – who just made the whole day flow so well with excellent organisation.
You can check out their website and join me next year on the 2015 run here – http://www.action.org.uk/trossachs_ton