Tour of The Highlands – Part 1


wee burl

It’s 5am on a Saturday at the end of May and we find ourselves in a Wig-Wam in the Trossachs.

My phone is playing a piano arpeggio. It’s cheesy but better than those needle to the eyeball beeps of the default alarm.

I bolt upright, Frankenstein like.

It’s here, day one of the Tour of the Highlands.

My hand pads the bed to find my phone.   I thumb the home button and stop the alarm.
It’s been a shit night’s sleep; tossing and turning all night long in this Wig-Wam/sauna. I am half-baked with excitement, half seared by the heat. I remember being fully compes mentis since four am. At least that is when the cockerel started cocka-doodle-f*****g-doing.

Anyway, sleep deprivation wont rattle me; I’m used to it.  In fact, It’s almost become my normal operating mode.

Love for your kids is unconditional, but f**k me, we have a pair of wee sleep terrorists on our hands. Forever waging a jihad against our circadian rhythms. Rarely does a night go past in our home without one of the following nocturnal disturbances.

“Mummy/Daddy I need the toilet”

“Mummy/Daddy ‘I’ve lost my dummy”

“Mummy/Daddy the devil was chasing me in the garden but Captain Underpants has just swooped down and given him a wedgie!!”

“Sorry, whit was that last one, son?” The list goes on.

Tank (my wig wam mate and fellow Rouleur), on the other hand, is still purring like a baby in his sleeping bag. How can he still be in his sleeping bag? Its like 40oC in here!

“Tank, Tank, Santa’s here” I mumble, somewhere between quiet and loud with excitement.

“whit times it?” He responds wi a groan

I swing my legs roond and out of the bed.  The newly fitted door of the wig wam judders as I shoolder it open and stumble outside.  I’m in desperate need of some cool crisp highland air. Instead, it’s clamy. An atmosphere more akin to Salou than Strathfillan washes over me.   May has been a very strange month in Scotland this year.  Strange in the way, that we have saw very little of the rain and lots of that big yella stranger.

Ma gaze is drawn to the surrounding hills. Lush green and cloaked in a scarlet dawn  blending into a beautiful blue sky. Two words ‘No bad’.

The surrounding wig wams are quiet, but the guff of cindered wood is still hanging aboot in the air from last night’s ubiquitous fire pits and BBQs.

Groaning, I raise ma arms up and stretch from side to side; Lengthening and pulling ma side and back muscles “oaaargch”. This is followed by ma own personalised version of an 8-minute workout; Tweaked to stretch and strengthen( cough, cough) ongoing biomechanical deficiencies afflicted through, (over)Golfing, (over)Snowboarding and (over)Running. Nae half measures in this hoose.  This workout is now so ingrained and automated in ma morning boot up routine, It sits higher up the heirarchy than the constitutional slash.  Cani whack a good blast of endorphins first thing in the morning. Sets me right up for the day. Totally recommend it.  Try it.

Getting loaded or unloaded at Strathfillan wig wams

Next order of affairs for the day; Breakfast and coffee.

I re-enter the wigwam.  It’s too warm to dick aboot, so I quickly grab the two bags I prepared last night.

“You coming for breakfast Tank?”

‘Nah mate, I got stuff heret tae eat on the way’

“You sure” .

“Aye, I don’t feel like eating straight away anyway” He casually remarks.

“Nae bother, I’ll be back in half an hour”

Let us rewind a bit. Twelve hours before. ‘Tank’ the instigator of this grand cycling Fondo-reanie and maself checked into to the All American Wild West styled wig wams in Strathfillan in the almost wild west of Scotland. Well, tae be exact; on the outskirts of Tyndrum.  The site has a quirky Wild West styled reception that also transmogrifies as a cafe & shop or tae keep in with the ‘Wild West’ theme, a Trading Post!  Weekends are popular here with families, walkers (easy access to west highland way) and for one night only, two Braes City Rouleurs.  The real kicker for us, It’s only a thirty-minute transfer to Glencoe. Not a two-hour drive from the Braes of Falkirk that we call hame.

Strathfillan’S Wild West Trading Post

I head for the communal kitchen opposite the trading post.  Inside I dump both drawstring bags on the table with a thud. I rummage inside the first bag .. my Team kit!   A dolly mixture of cycling apparel sourced from all corners of the internet over the past few weeks.  Yip, I decided tae use participation in this event as a green light tae upgrade not only ma bike set up but ma cycling wardrobe also. ( shhh the wife might hear)

The second bag is muy importanti.  It’s the ‘endurance bag’.  EPO, Cortisone, Tramadol, Dynepo, Blood bags, Saline bags. You name it, NONE of it in here! Sorry tae disappoint, I know it’s ‘de rigueur’, but unfortunately Dr Fuentes doesn’t run the Therapeutic Use Exemption department at Wiggle.  However, I do have a cheeky wee breakfast concoction that would certainly raise a few eyebrows at the UCI. I call it Grannies EPO.  An evolving culinary experiment. Now on version 1.7 and certified weapons grade!

Nope, plain old porridge just disnae cut it in this kitchen of enhanced performance. Got tae give it, the ‘Ben Johnson’ treatment!  It now includes; Scots oats, pumpkin seeds, cacao powder, raisins, chia seeds (if its good enough for the Tarahumara tribe in ‘Born to Run‘, then they’re good enough for me) and Manuka Honey.  Fling in a nice healthy dose of salt as It’s gonni be a hot yin today. Finally, tae turn this wonderful concoction into an even more easily digestible mulch, I wash it down with some good old fashioned Chaga and Cordyceps coffee! (WTF i hear yi say)  Power to the shrooms. A mighty fine way tae start the day me thinks.  In the bag for the rest of the weekend; Energy gels, Fig Rolls, Electrolyte tabs, salt sticks, Ibuprofen, Bananas, Bagels, Peanut Butter and Avocado (Yes avocado, I’ve taking a right shine to the baw sack looking fruits of late).  Can you tell I like tae go All-in?

Next stop is the shower room. Even in the land of endless precipitation, a shiny new pound coin is required to kick the shower to life.  A thumb sized spider is chilling in the basin corner and catches my eye.  I’m no arachnophobe, so as longs as he’s happy listening tae me sing, then he’ll be left in peace. Being a big WHO fan, nae guessing The song sang.  Johny Entwistle ya genius yi

Look, he’s crawling up my wall
Black and hairy, very small
Now he’s up above my head
Hanging by a little thread

Booooooris the spider
Boooris the spider

With bib shorts pulled up to the Knees, out comes the Chamois Butter.  Not recommended for your sandwich. The glamorous side of cycling, that seems to evade 99% of story’s.  Probably for good reason, but anyway. A healthy dollop is applied firstly tae hand and then onto the chamois pad.  Spreading and rubbing it in like I’m applying factor 50 tae a kids face. Not wanting to miss a millimetre. For the uninitiated, ‘Chamois Butt’r’ is the brand name for one of the many available emollients commonly applied by cyclists tae their chamois pad and derriere thus reducing friction and the potential for sores during long days in the saddle.  Bib shorts are then fully hoiked up( the cool sensation of the butter tae the nether regions always brings a smile to the face.)

Heart rate monitor is strapped on and blinking away. A beating heart has been picked up. Always encouraging! Next the final piece of  race kit and the central item that really ties this amateur cyclist look together ( just like the rug in the Big Lebowski); Yes, yes, my brand new black and white ‘La Passione’ cycling jersey. I had never heard of the brand before, until a push feed advert popped up on my social media feed. Ten minutes later I’m clicking the pay with paypal. The missus say’s I’m a marketers dream. Possibly, but It’s smart as f**k IMO. It’s black, with white stripes on the sleeves. Totally dialling in on that racing Panda look. Putting it on proves tae be a little bit more difficult than it should be. It’s seriously tight, even though it’s a medium, like all my other cycling jerseys?  Then the penny drops, devils in the name. ‘La Passione’. Italian clothing!  The Braggadacio of the national identity, rendering their apparel sizing ridiculously undersized. What the f**k is that all about? Italy where a large is really a small, An extra large a medium. Some serious ego massaging going on. “a yes, a-lika-a to wear my extera largo…..joos lika-a ma baaalls!”

I stretch it down, suck it up and just manage tae get this size medium zipped up.  Hadn’t planned on going aero today, but it’ll need tae dae. Suddenly I get the fear.  A flashback. .  comes, well. . .  flashing back! A memory from the trauma vault has been dragged up.  I should know better than wearing brand new gear on race day. Course I should “Ya fuuuuc-king Idiot Daz!” I mutter. (I once completed a half marathon on a cold winters day wearing a brand new white T shirt.   By the time I had finished there were two big saucer sized marks of Claret where my moobs used tae be. I had plasters on my nipples for a week!)

New kit on race day fail. I had cones like Madonna for a week

Now fully geared up, I sling the drawstring bags over my shoulder and swagger back to the wig wam cowboy styli, albeit a cycling cowboy!

Tank is packed and ready to go when I return.  We load the van and peacefully roll out of town. Next stop Glencoe, where we will rendezvous wi big Stu, the third rider in our peloton this weekend.  The road en route to Glencoe is quiet and the scenery is breath-taking.  Scotland in its finest glory.  Car advert material, or in this instance, van advert material.  It will be a different story in 90 minutes though, when it will be resonating to the thrum and bustle of 300 plus excited cyclists, tourist busses, hill walkers and day-trippers. . .  All looking for a good reason to take the easy way out.

The Emerald Vista of Glencoe

After twenty minutes of tourist driving and scenery admiration, the Ski centre comes into view in the distant expanse of the emerald vista that is Glencoe.

The base station, sparkling like a jewel as the morning sun reflects and glares off the windows and car windscreens.

We arrive onto the entrance road, braking hard, causing a momentary skid on the scree that is scattering across the road.

We slowly cruise up to the car park, surveying the throng of activity unfolding before us.

Organisers are busy organising.  Yi know: setting up start lines, timing system’s, signing in riders, loading bags and sound checking PA’s etc.

Equally as vibrant are the nervous riders, unloading vehicles, building bikes, checking tyres, filling pockets, fastening race numbers, applying sun tan lotion and forming orderly British queues at the café and toilets.

We have only driven for 20 minutes, yet it still merits the full ‘I’ve been driving for hours stretch’ on exiting the van!  A final calming breath before we enter the frey

Big Stu pulls up just as we jump out.  We check in, get our race numbers. I wrestle and fumble with mine as I attempt to fasten it with the supplied safety pins tae my jersey. On first two attempts I only succeed in fastening it painfully to my fingers.

I lift the tailgate  up and jump Intae the back of the van.  I roll out the bikes to a waiting Tank. I give my bike a final once over; brakes, gears and finally a tyre pressure check. Tank, on the contrary, takes a more laid-back approach, confirming his has two wheels and a saddle.  “Good to go” he announces!  Not his first rodeo, you understand.

A few tabs of electrolytes are dropped into my water bidons. Jersey pockets are then loaded till they are bulging like saddle bags. Not quite adopted the minimalist approach yet. In go gels, bananas, fig rolls, energy bars, electrolyte tabs, phone, a fiver, a credit card, Ibuprofen and finally a rain pack. Weather is great just now, but it’s Scotland, rain is expected later. The weekend bag is checked in, for onward despatch to Pitlochry.

Tank and Stu head for a coffee’s.

I’m still feeling the ‘GLOW’ from my Chaga and Cordyceps!,so no ta, “Knock yirselfs out”. Instead I head for the toilet queue which is bloating with nervous cyclists.

I stand in line.  The tip and tapping of cleats on concrete floor make it sound like an audition line for a Michael Flatly show. With just as much spangly lycra on display

Bladder emptied.  It’s now twenty minutes before the off and excitement is ramping up as adrenaline drips into the veins. We regroup post spent penny and coffee shots outside the base station.

“Group photo time boys” I shout, as I scan for someone to be our official photographer.  One of the events medical team, is casually propped against the wall flicking through his phone nearby.  I accost him.

“haw neebor” (a Falkirk term of endearment).

“Take a photo mate?” I shout, thrusting my phone in his general direction. He duly obliges.

The BCR at the TOTH

I suppose I should explain who the main protagonists of this yarn are?  The riders and rouleurs of the Braes City Rouleurs.  The name is a play on words of the 70’s tartan clad flag waving Bay City Rollers combined with The Braes:  The area of Falkirk the majority of us live.

wee burl 2
Me, Stu & Tank

So anyway, front right of photo.None other than the man with the tan( excuse the B&W photo), cause he’s always on his bike, we have; Tank’ aka ‘Montgomery Cliff’ aka ‘Graham McQueen’. By day; a manager with Stirling cycling hub.  By weekend; a pure no frills old school Rouleur. If ‘all the gear with nae idea’ is one end of the spectrum, then Tank is the polar opposite end; ‘All the idea and couldn’t give a fuck about the gear’. Proven by the fact that he is planning to undertake this full tour in a pair of trainers (His trusty New Balance) with strap on pedals! We also spotted that some of the tyre wire is showing on his back tyre as we rolled it out the van.

“hope it lasts” he nonchalantly remarks. Me? I would be freaking out at this point, probably phoning around Pitlochry bike shops to plan a tyre change.

Like I say.  Couldn’t give a fuck. What happens, happens. ‘Cest la vie’ Rodney. He is also a dab hand at cycling fantasy leagues. The Patrick Lefevre of the Velogames, always besting the rest in our leagues

Centre photo; the latest member of the band (but already feels like he’s been gigging with us for years) Stuart Millar.  By day a Mechanical Planner. By weekend; a real classics puncher. Powerful, yet with climbing and descending skills tae boot. An all-rounder with a taste for high end cycling apparel and even higher end bikes.  The contents of my back pockets probably weigh more than his bike.

That leaves me. An Operations Specialist by day, but by night and weekend;  The wannabe athlete and creative type. With the right drugs, I mean training; I could fit the GC mold.  Light enough tae be lively on the hills and reckless enough tae be dangerous on the descents.

Post photo we turn our bikes and casually roll down tae the growing peloton of riders. At the start line we await the pre race brief.

My mind drifts tae a line from David Millar’s book ‘The Racer’ 

in it he said ” If you’re not racing, you’re waiting to race”

Hardly comparing apples with apples here. After all, our race is tae finish the 3 days, yet I’ve been waiting for this day ever since Tank’s call tae arms for a 40th Birthday adventure (yet he’ll dispute this).

Opting for  the Tour of the Highlands. A circuitous anticlockwise route around Scotland’s 5 Ski Centre’s that will see us tackle some of the most celebrated climbs and Kingmaker roads that bonnie Scotland has to offer.

Tale of the Parcour

Day 1: Roll out Glencoe, on a rolling route tae Pitlochry via notable climbs at Ben Lawers, Shiehallion and Trinafor.

Day 2: The ‘Queen stage’! A one day sportive in its own right. The epic 3 Piste cycling challenge, hosts 3 climbs in the top 100 climbs in the UK.  A leg sapping and lung bursting foray into the highlands. Climbs include Glenshee, BC1, BC2, The Lecht, before scaling up tae the summit finish (or close enough) at Cairngorm base station.  Surviving those two days will see us complete the route on a flatter Day 3.

Day 3: Quick roll out of Aviemore, targeting a return to Glencoe via Nevis range and the Corran Ferry.  On paper the easiest day.

A beautiful parkour that will push north of 300 miles in total and + 6500m ascent.  Taking in two of the highest roads in the UK and eight categorised climbs. (If only another 2300m of climbing and we would be ascending the equivalent of Everest!!)

The Sportive Zoo

img_2679I survey all the cycling species engulfing me.  Cycling sportives definitely throw up all the shapes and sizes?

The full spectrum is in attendance; Young tae old, thin tae wide, grizzly tae erudite. Colourful to the chromatic. Full team kit wankers tae baggy shorted flankers, you name it. A cycling kaleidoscope.

Stu interrupts my whimsical look through the cycling kaleidoscope with a tap on the shoulder. He directs a’ walloper’ nod in the direction of a character a few rows in front of us.  A ’nod’ he will take back in a few minutes’ time.  Said rider is sporting a cornucopia of attention grabbing pink & floral print.  A look that’s finished off with pink handlebar tape on his bike.  Only thing that appears to be missing is the menagerie of Mary Popins-esque cartoon birds fluttering around his head.

Dude’s standing out like a sare thumb amongst….well… less sare thumbs!  Personally I think he’s carrying it off well.  Pinks cool, if you’ve got the kahunas tae wear it that is.  Some of my favourite things are pink after all  😉  …….Flamingos!!!

Get myself connected ( Not a Gomez song)

Tank getting himself connected or checking how much of  a lead he has in the Giro Velogames.

Time tae get connected. I switch on my Garmin, the central operating system for all the sensors that come with weekend warrior wannabes.

One by one they are picked up. Speed, cadence and finally heart sensor.  Reading just below 100bpm elevated above normal resting.  A good sign.

Alan Anderson, comedian, curator and tour organiser, takes tae the mic from the back of the truck.  He gives us a warm welcome before getting down to the keeping yirself safe, tips and instructions piece.  He introduces the masses tae a couple of notable riders in our midst.  One in particular whom has cycled all the way from London to be here.  Who could it be?  You guessed it, Mr Pink!

“Well fuck me with the blunt end of a rag mans trumpet!”  I mutter under my breath.  That’s mental . All the way from London tae then dae this? Chapeau dude.  I turn tae Stu who’s giving it his best ‘Venus Flytrap’ impression .

“Un-walloper that nod matey”

“absolutely” he reply’s

Mary Poppins is our new hero and now Strava friend.

Alan informs us that we will all be setting off in groups of 30 at 2-minute intervals tae ease road congestion. The crowd bottlenecks as it shuffles forward eager and raring tae get going. Two groups have gone and we make the cut for Group 3. I’m ready, ready tae start the biggest test of ma Sunday cyclist career.

“Give us a sign before we go Daz”  Said Tank                                                                                      “aye, awrite…that any good?”

We are set off, but I don’t even get my supporting foot clipped in, when the starter calls us back. False start.  Reason; an unsuspecting driver in an old school caravannete turns into Glencoe ski resort and has started bumbling up the single track road towards us, completely oblivious to the peloton almost pissing all over him.  Organisers jump about arms waving trying to grab his attention. He suddenly jerks to a stop, realises he’s in a losing battle and reverses into a passing bay to let the next wave pass. The first of a few traffic issues we will experience today!!

Second attempt and we are off! Ya beauty! Quickly and effortlessly we are hurtling down the uneven windy exit road. No sooner are we started and I’m almost off the bike as I take far too tight a line.  My bike momentarily leaving the tarmac onto the loose gravel, wobbling before regaining my balance and hopping my bike back onto the road.  Rein it in Daz, settle doon, almost off in the first 400m. FFS! We are then shepherded onto the main road.  Sitting mid pack and the pace is quickening.  Tank starts moving up the group at a serious clip.  I follow with Stu in ma wheel.

The group holds together for a mile or so, then the invisible elastic that has fleetingly held our group of 30 together, bursts. Our group irreparably exploding in two.  Tank is still careering up the outside like he’s got a fast pass at Macdonalds.  Stu and myself in pathetic pursuit. ‘Fuck sake Tank’ I think tae myself, he went into that Wig-Wam as Tank, he has come out as Floyd Landis!  So, this is what the start of a breakaway must feel like. I don’t want to but I’m being stretched and have tae move up another gear to hang on.  A gear, taking me well away from ma happy place. Gear 14 is ma sweet spot. A sweet spot I planned tae ride for a good while until I found my legs. That plan is now burst.  Not even five minutes in and the sweat is lashing off me and stinging ma eyes.  I shoot a worried look to Stu. Two sharp worried eyes dart back from a contorting face and we shake oor heads in unison.  Words are hard.  We cani sustain this pace. Three days tae go and alarm bells are going off in my heed and by the numbers on ma Heart Rate Monitor, also in my chest.  North of 170. Almost maxing out. We try tae shout down Tank. But he’s gone, oot of ear shot. I was thinking we would be riding this together, but now I’m thinking.  Got tae ride my own race.  Using ‘race’ in its most diluted definition yi understand?  Our race is to primarily finish this event, but at this rate we may not even finish today.

“we are gonni blow up if we continue at this pace”. Stuart splutters

Good he’s in the same boat.  I think.

I acquiesce. “Fuck this, lets fall back and ride at oor own pace”

Like injured buffalo, we silently slide off the back of the herd, only serving to quicken the pace of the group we have just left. Pride is dented, but savvy is fully intact. We convince ourselves, it’s best for the long game (we hope). This is a marathon no a sprint and efforts will need managed if we want to make all 3 days. Tank will be a lone ranger today. I’m sure we’ll see him back at the ranch or a hill, whatever comes first.

Settling down and back on gear 14. This is more like it.  Heart rate and legs fall into a more comfortable pace and we pick up stragglers in our group of racing misfits and miss-shapes.  The pace is lively, yet sociable.  The next 20-30 miles pass in a blur.  A beautiful blur of Scottish scenery and warm air, it has to be said. We breeze through Tyndrum and onwards towards Crianlarich.  On a long stretch of road, there is a lone rider on the horizon, with a silhouette and lurching style, similar tae Tank.  Have the tortoises caught the Hare?  We catch up. Yip. It’s Tank and he’s suffering from his greyhound out the trap exertions.

“You alright dude”

“Aye man”, (his face contradicting his words), he coughs “went out too hard and then took a big drag at the front of that group, fucked noo””

“Too right you did Floyd”

He joins in on oor more manageable pace, although obviously suffering from his opening salvo.  All is well in the world as we mosey for miles and then I catch a glimpse of something off my right side peripheral vision!

“Fuck a duck and win a giant teddy! whits this eejit up tae?” I blurt as a 52 seater tourist bus; the type with the big floppy wing mirrors like a cartoon dug, comes creeping and I mean CREEPING alongside our peloton.

As I turn, the bus windows are like an advert for every photographic instrument known to man; SLR’s, phones, tablets, camcorders, Go Pros and I’m sure I even saw a sketch pad and pencil tae name but a few.  This in itself does not concern me!  What does concern me is the road we are on and the creeping pace of this bus.  Has the driver done his Sean Kelly-esque  “KAHL-KOO-LAAAY-SHINS” and decided to overtake on a long wide stretch of road that’s as clear as the eye can see?  Naw the fuck he’s no!  This is a long sweeping bend right, the type of LONG, FAST sweeping bend that speed merchants come whoring along for fun.  Naw, nae judgement has been deployed here, this is a blind luck “MIS-KAHL-KOO-LAITED” overtaking manoeuvre, probably egged on by the swarm of snap happy chappy’s on board his bus.  Fucking nice one dick wad, you’ve just put a peloton of 30ish, 52 passengers and potentially N+? passengers of any oncoming vehicle in pearl.  No sooner had I done MY own “KAHL-KOO-LAAAY-SHONS”, that my fears are realised. A small red Ford Focus, packed to the gunnels with passengers comes buzzing round the corner and its right of way is blocked!!  By a big bus with floppy dug ears.

At this point my two buttocks once partially separated by a saddle are now firmly clenched together.

The driver has a snap decision to make. He’s between a rock and a hard place (and a slighter soft place). The heed on collision with the car, ditch the bus off road right or a sideways wipe out of our peloton.

Put all these connotations through a crash model and it would ruthlessly calculate that the heed on with the car is likely to incur the least fatalities (Sean Kelly again). Deserving of a metaphorical wipe o the brow.  Still this bus driver on evidence thus far has not been blessed with the best decision making skills.

Milli-seconds pass in slow motion as we await fate’s hand tae be played.

I can hear the hydraulics of the bus brakes compressing and groaning as it pitches and leans down onto the road. The bus driver does not deviate from his line (maybe he’s a sprinter after all) Not sure if this is sound decision making or has he frozen in fear?  The cars brakes start squealing like a shit feart cat and the tyres are smoking like a working mens club in the eighties.  Within oor peloton, the fight or flight motor skills are manoeuvring us sideways away from the bus.  Hauns are squeezing hard on the brakes

I await the crunch and clang of metal on plastic on metal on bone(Yes Scottish roads cater for all Porn tastes). At this point my body is cowering and curling away fae the imminent crumplage thats about tae happen. The dice stops rolling. Then all goes silent. Far too silent.  But i’m still seeing and hearing, but without sound. It’s like the collective fear has pulled a vaccuum from the road.

Is this the journey tae the broom wagon in the sky?

But I can still feel the road below my wheels!

I un-squint my eyes turning tae look over my right shoulder and see both vehicles nose tae nose.  The Big dug rubbing noses with the cat that know has eight lifes. The roof of the red focus is barely reaching the front window of the bus, the inside of which frames a  ghostly white and very lucky driver. There is a momentary collective silence in our peloton.  Not the Lance Armstrong OMERTA type, but the scared shitless type. The silence is then suddenly smashed as the peloton erupts in an outpouring of relief fuelled  fury.

If the bus driver didn’t know many Scottish swear words before this trip, he has the full dick/fuck/wanker thesaurus now. The crescendo o abuse fades as a wave o flailing arms are hurled in his general direction.  A gesture I can only think tae call, ‘the pissed off cyclist’. C’mon, every cyclist who has been cut up or knocked on the roads will have done this move at some point when wheeling away.  You know the move; Half turn, opening up right shoulder and leg, followed by a huffy throw of the arm in the general direction of your antagonist.  There are many variations to this. Some more effective and evocative than others!

For example

A) Palm opened, raising the arm skyward. ‘what are you doing?’, Jose Mourinho type gesture

B) Point to your head. The ‘Are you fucking daft?’ Alex Ferguson type gesture

and my personal favourite. . .

C) A cusped and strategically angled hand , followed by rapid dorsiflexion’s of the wrist. A  universal gesticulation that needs no further description.  The Roy Keane type gesture

After that shenanigan, let me tell yi. The needle has well spiked up tae a Spinal Tap eleven. It takes us another 10 miles or so for the adrenaline tae recede.  I start thinking about the first feed stop at Killin and how it would be a bonus to get tae it in one piece. Spirits are lifted when riding into Killin. We are greeted with applause, cheers and waves from the locals.  We pull into feed stop numero uno with a sense of relief.

Bikes are scattered  everywhere and the riders are like bees around a jam jar.  Ya beauty. An adults tuck shop awaits. I approach to survey the fair laid out. Whit we got, let me see, LET ME SEE??. I have to muscle my way in.  There is a fuck-ton of pretzels, a skyscraper of cookies, a swimming pool of jelly beans, a wall of Kit Kats, a Marathon of Snickers!! Basically, enough sugar to put an elephant in a sugar coma for a week and this cycling panda… a month!  Decisions, decisions. Jostling between the hungry cyclists, my first scan was deciding on my prey. The second scan, working back the way; nae dicking about. In for the kill. Snatch and grab, SNATCH & GRAB. . . Banana, Aussie bites, Kit Kat and a handful of pretzels are liberated with the precision of a clinically obese sociopath. We mumble, chew, drink, swallow and repeat tae fade for the next few minutes.  Got tae keep the energy levels up!

Obligatory feed zone selfie. Happy to make here after some crazy driving

10 minutes later and feeling the glow of the sugar boost, we set off from the food station at a pace that wont encourage any  regurgitation of oor foo belly’s. A small climb greets us as we head out of Killin en route tae Ben Lawers; oor first big test of the day. Time to shift down some gears and casually spin up the hill.  Talking of gears? Alot of pre-race thought and ‘What’s App’ group chat went into the gear selections for this race. A few of our boys, Sherpy & Mark, joining us tomorrow for the 3 piste challenge, opted for super Granny set up. A 32-11 chain set.  From what I have witnessed already, they’re not alone. I’ve saw some fairly hefty pizza plate sized back cassettes already this morning.  Some dudes must be serving up margaritas on 36’s or 40’s later. I was in two minds maself; however, I resolved tae go with ‘what my Mama (Raymond’s bike shop) gave me’?  A standard 28-11 set up. I reconciled this by convincing maself, that training had went well and I should just MAN THE FUCK UP! ( then secretly cross ma fingers and hope I have enough range in ma gears for the challenges ahead)

Stu informs us that the first few hundred meters into Ben Lawers kicks like a mule  +20% gradient!(gulp) We see the arrow directing us up onto it.  Here we go.  This is where the challenge officially starts. The steep ramp is approaching and there is a concerto of derailleurs crunching, clunking and rapidly re-distributing chains ontae the lowest o the low gears.  The road rises and so do we, Out of the saddle and digging in. The steepness is short lived and soon we are at a happier gradient.  Regaining my breath, I look up tae survey the Ben Lawers climb, rising and winding up in front o us. Ant like riders and cars crawling their way up. Narrow my eyes and I’m sure I could convince myself I was in the mix on a grand tour stage climb. Cars trailing, riders ebbing and flowing.  No devils or mankini’s in sight though.

I’m growing into this climb.  It’s steady and nicely pitched.  Decent road surface as well.  Stu and maself are working a good rhythm here.  I check my Garmin. I want to keep my ticker below 150BPM. Keep some matches to burn tomorrow. Pace myself Is my mantra. This is about making it back to Glencoe and not bursting myself today( This mornings learning from Tank). I don’t know much about the science of heart rate monitors, but I do know from the short two weeks I’ve had it; when I go north of 150BPM I’m starting tae blaw and efforts there-after will be short lived. I tell Stu my highly scientific, back of a fag packet BPM game plan and let’s just say, it is very badly timed on ma part?

Stu checks his “Well I’m fucked then, I’m banging out 187BPM ” he blurts out with sweat cascading from his chin. Wish I had kept my masterplan stoom now!  Anyway it has landed and he’s slowing. I don’t know whether it’s deliberate or psychosomatic.

I’m not worried yir at 187bpm! I’m worried about the OJ gloves!
You look Great big man… 187Bpm is fine!.  Duno about the OJ Simpson gloves right enough.

Not wanting tae upset the climbing rhythm I’ve got going, I start tae slowly edge away from him.  We turn a corner and the Lawers Dam comes into full view, but just as it does I see a photographer hunkered down beside a big rock. A long range lens pointing doon the road towards us.  Fuck knows what happens, but a switch in ma heed is flicked and I come over all Berty Contador. Springing up out the saddle, shifting up through the gears. In ma mind I’m like a gazelle, prancing across the Savanah, aw languid and loose. A vision o pure poetry in motion. In reality.  I probably look more like Dan Martin chewing  a highland toffee trying tae put a fire out wi his bare feet! Never did see that photo.

Ben Lawers Dam.  I could have jumped in by the time I reached it.

Click here for Day 1 part 2  The descent from Glen Lyon, The Grand Fondle in the Dolly Tights and the road to Pitlochry.

To enter The Tour of The Highlands 2018 CLICK HERE



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