With ‘Herman and the Hermits’ support band, ‘Fud and the Fuckwits’ trundling into the horizon, we can now relax. Play it as it lies, as we now head onto the next two climbs creatively titled on Strava; A839 climb 1 and A839 climb 2 . To the locals they are BH1 & BH2(Bloody Hard 1 & 2 by any chance?). We are only starting to climb, but already I don’t think another change to FH1 & FH2 would be remiss, as we are brutally slapped by a 4-5 club wind on clearing the tree line.
Anyhoo, upwards and backwards Intae the eastern flanks of the Cairngorms we must go. What BH1 & BH2 lack in gradient, they make up for in exposure to Mother Natures ‘Sleight of Hand’ and just how quickly she can turn on you in a heartbeat. It appears we have hugely under-estimated these precursors to the Lecht.
For the next 4-5 miles we are thrashed, whipped and chilled by her huffy temper tantrum. With lack of organisation in the wind, our group implodes and fractures. Riders are scattering to the wind like confetti.
Progress is slow, two pedals forward one to the side, half to the back and a meter is gained…Just keep fucking pedalling and maybe she’ll crack a smile later?
In such challenging conditions, Pro’s would form an ‘ECHELON’. A diagonal line across the width of the road in order to gain some kind of shelter and protection from the side wind. However, us mere amateurs? NO CHANCE! We wouldn’t have the skill-set to form a Chocolate Eclair never mind and Echelon.
After what feels like an eternity battling head down against these climbs, we eventually crest BH2 before unceremoniously descending. Stopping roadside at the bottom of the descent to answer oor own calls of nature. No buses today though ( as I metaphorically mop thy brow).
Only another couple of miles to the next water stop. Ya beauty, there is a café next to it. In my minds eye I see an oasis of Vegas style neon lights promising warmth, food and comfort. With hope in oor bellies, bikes are discarded to the side of the building and we comedy barge by each other to get through the door first. Heat and food beckons, or at least thats what we were hoping for
No sooner are we in, than we are back oot in disbelief. Coffee-less , food less and comfort-less. They only do table service and place is hoatching. A farcical highland hospitality hoaky coakie ensues!
you put one foot in
you take both feet out,
do the highland hoaky coaky, and yi turn and go out
thats what we’re all about. hey!
Oh Highland hoaky coaky, oh Highland hoaky coaky, ohhhh Highland hoaky coaky
coffee-less, food less, ra ra ra.
It appears on this very busy day, with a cycling race passing their door step this switched on establishment only do table service, totally missing the cash cow called, transient trade! Not even temporary sanctions for one day only, on a coffee or roll tae go. Naw, “table service only…next”? A business model that can only be based on the Warren Buttplug school of commerce. We wait in the doorway exasperated before Stu turns tail and heads back in towards the toilet. “Don’t worry. I’ll leave a Dumoulin! A token of appreciation for their hospitality you understand?” he quips in reference to Tom Dumoulins roadside ablution, the day previous in the Giro D Italia.
Dyi know what though? To this day, I still don’t know if he was joking or not? ‘Better mess wi the deil himself than a bairn o Fawkirk……deprived o a bacon butty’ !!!
Oor spirits are lifted by the sight of Mark, Sherpy and Graeme riding into the car park. The boys are back in town. We all set off together again, anxious, as the spectre of The Lecht lays in wait. To add further tension to proceedings, the clouds are a hue of nuclear winter grey, as they form menacingly over the climb in front of us. (Think, end of Ghostbusters minus a marshmallow man.)
We take a turn right and here it is, The Scottish version of the infamous Vuelta D’ Espana climb- The Angliru.
We stop dead in our tracks, mouths agape as we survey our toughest enemy too date. This isn’t a climb, it’s a fucking wall with white lines painted up the middle.
We approach gingerly, like we have just been kicked in the baws? And just like a boot tae the baws- we know the pain is in the post. Better getting it over and done with. Mark makes a break from the trenches and goes for it. We join the attack, trying to carry as much momentum onto the climb as we can. We hit it. One by one we are picked off by imaginary sniper bullets.
Gears are slammed straight to Grannie gear, before spinning furiously to make some progress. I now wish I had put a 32 on the back. The gradient is vicious and my 28 cassette isnae liking this one-wee-bit. With every heave on the pedals and on the handlebars, my front wheel lifts from the ground in a sympathetic wheelie. (not any Sagan-esque showboating). This is ‘man V laws of gravity’.
We are being pummelled like boxers on the ropes and a quick change of tactics is required to save oor cleats from hitting the deck.
‘Don’t dismount, JUST KEEP MOVING’. I scream at myself as I almost succumb to hill.
Bent over like a banana, I resort to zig zaging and zag zigging across the fall line. Lurching from side to side in desperate pedal strokes. But I’m slowing and buckling.
‘’DON’T DISMOUNT’ (don’t think of pink elephants eh?)
My inner monologue goes schizo, Half fight club/Half Lance Armstrong drill sergeant.
- First rule of fight club. Don’t dismount
- Second rule of fight club. Don’t dismount
- 3rd rule of fight club. Only dismount if there is a feed station nearby.
Then from nowhere Drill Sergeant Armstrong gets in on the act in his Texas drawl
”So you think this is a fucking climb bro, I’ve humped bigger mounds than this.”
“Pussies like you don’t deserve to be riding on this road. Whats it all about bro. You’re cycling the square root of fuck all, all day long. Look at cha, face like Voekler. I bet you even have the most sophisticated and elaborate system for sooking a RICE BALL THROUGH A BIDON STOPPER the peloton has ever seen. Well step off boy, get the fuck off my peloton”
Smeaton resilience kicks in ‘Fuck you cunty cunt face’ is my imaginative and articulate mental retort. I dig once more putting every last ounce of energy from my head to toe intae the pedals, ‘CMON break the back of this section.’
Eventually the gradient on my Garmin slowly recedes back into the teens and the fire in my legs starts to cool. Temporary relief. I steal a quick side glance back down the road as I take the bend to the left and it’s a war zone.
Riders all over the road punch drunk, weaving from left to right or suffering the indignity of the dismount and push. This climb is a total weapon of mass cleat destruction(But don’t tell George W).
We’ve survived it, but the legs and lungs are well and truly shook up. Ahead of us now, the road rises serpentine like, before disappearing into the cloud and mist cover.
Slowly we MOVE ON UP into the clouds. Wind chill further dropping the temperature with each meter of elevation gain. My motor responses are #trending with the falling temperature. My toes cold, knees cold and hands cold. All bereft of feeling as my nervous system is saving the good claret for the vitals. A colder engine needs more energy to work, so I force another energy bar intae ma gub hoping it will be the catalyst to heat generation in my body.
This climb just keeps on giving as visibility thickens and reduces down tae pea soup. The eeriness of riding through the low slung clouds is further heightened as the wind appears to have pulled a sound vacuum all around us. Windy yet eerily silent? Like we have cycled into a nature noise cancellation force field.
We continue to pass lone riders, or they pass us. All the while, silence. Right now, we are a disparate peloton of lost ghost riders on the bad ship Lecht forever bound to pedal into oblivion. Colder and higher we go almost in a dream like state of suspended animation. Eventually we see a feint outline through the mist. It’s the Lecht Ski Centre. The thought of warmth spurs me on and I find new energy and kick to break from the ghost peloton.
Cresting the final hill, the ski station comes into sight. It’s a short descent followed by a final small climb to the next feed station. I quickly flick up the gears, All the while, knowing that I’m bypassing the feed station and heading straight to the café bar for something warm!!
I enter the building and the normal café is closed, but the café bar, up another flight of stairs is open. Stairs- Great! Legs aching with every step. This is two parts fatigue one part cold. A heady, yet bitter endurance cocktail. I quickly scan the culinary delights on offer from the bar menu and then have a rummage in my pockets to see if I have the change to cover it. A task made more difficult as my hands are so cold they are operating like lobster claws. I eventually clamp three pound coins. Enough to cover a scotch pie and lentil soup- Waitress disappears intae the kitchen. I imagine to fill a freshly rolled crust with spiced minced meat and baste with egg yolks before placing in oven for a fresh bake. Then again she’s probably horsed into a microwave and hit 1minute rendering it soggier than a full house shout at Gala Bingo.
I pace back and forth like a caged animal from the bar to the window that is overlooking the mamil zoo outside. I don’t want to miss the boys. Every chance they will grab some Scooby snacks, then get the fuck out of dodge.
The food eventually arrives. One sip of the soup and it lights me up like the ready brek kid. In the other hand, I cradle the Holy Grail of Scottish delicacies in a polystyrene takeaway crypt -‘The scotch Pie’.
I head back to the window and see the fluorescent jackets of Big Stu and Mark. Perfect timing. I bang on the window motioning them tae come inside. Stu can tell I must have something for him, as he’s on the scurry like a prize truffle pig. They arrive in the bar.
Whit you got there Daz”? Stu enquires quizzically, drooling from the mooth like a St Bernard dog in heat.
right now I could go tattie for tattie wi a pig. (Stu)
I hold aloft my sacrificial offerings tae the sun gods. Lowering, I pinch the polystyrene crypt releasing the lid from its slot. A Golden crusted brilliance emanates from the boxes seam, illuminating their faces in brilliant light. All the while Stu has got his eyes on the prize. Totally Fixated. He holds a look of miracle and wonder. I choose my next words carefully. These will be the most important ones he hears all weekend.
I deliver them slowly and deliberately
” Big man-would- you-like-a-scotch-pie?”
He looks at me like I have just delivered his first child into the world.
Right now I could go tattie for tattie wi a pig” He triumphantly announces. He quickly closes the lid to conceal his culinary loot from any nearby cadgers. He tucks it under his arm and wobbles to a nearby table, like a cat that’s been given keys to the big fat canaries house.
We sit down. Mark and I split the soup. Stu regales us with his comedy fall of the bike in between mouthfuls of quickly disappearing golden crust and meat. “ Aye my gears kept jumping (munch) tried tae peddle ( munch) chain slipped ( munch, munch) lost ma balance (munch, burp) dude pushing his bike, almost breaks ma fall (munch, munch and wipe of the lips) and that was that, on the deck!”
“Aye yir right, that was that” I reply in reference tae the obliterated pie.
I’m curious, but equally concerned to see how Mark is fairing after my part in coercing him to partake this morning.
“Done the hard bit dude, how you feeling? “I encourage.
“Aye feeling surprisingly awrite just noo. Just cani seem tae get the right clothing combination right enough. One minute I’m roasting, the next I’m freezing”
With renewed warmth and enthusiasm, we stride outside. We grab some more jelly beans and Kit Kats on passing the feed station. These are fast becoming our staple diet on the road. We wait tae see if Sherpy, Tank or Graeme appear. They don’t. We turn our attention to Stu’s bike and have a play with his indexing. He doesn’t want any more jumping gears induced comedy falls. A couple of tweaks and it’s running smoother than Sherpy’s bald heed! (pot and kettle, Mr Moorray I can hear Sherpy say) Still no sign of the boys and it’s too cold tae hang aboot. let’s get on with this.
The descent from the Lecht is steep with only a few turns. I try to maintain contact with Stu and Mark, but this is the perfect terrain for their ‘gravitational’ advantage. They are like an Olympic bob sleigh team. Soaring down, huddled together, getting faster and faster through each curve. I on the other hand, feel like cool runnings, having missed my chance to jump in the back of the sleigh. They are uncatchable. The descent finishes with a turn tae the left into the tree line where I regain contact as they sit up.
Now en route to Nethy Bridge via Tomintoul we cycle through the wilderness in the Glenlivet estate. For whisky lovers, welcome to paradise. We are now on the Speyside Whisky Trail. Home to over half of the Whisky’s distilled in Scotland. Including the lauded beauty’s; Glenlivet, Glenfiddich,Macallan(My favourite), Tamnavulin, Aberlour, Benriach, Cardhu to name a few.
The road sign at the junction before Tomintoul reads; Right tae Glenfiddich, Left to Glenlivet. Ohh decisions, decisions. I could murder a nip of either o them right now. Who knows? Maybe later we’ll have a wee celebratory nip of Macallans back at the hoose? Although I’m pretty sure I arsed the bottle the last trip up!
The next ten miles are winding and undulating. The boys think they are in the clear, with no more difficult climbs until Cairngorm. But there is! I leave it as late as possible to tell them about a sting in the tale coming up at Bridge of Brown, saving them from the mental water boarding. There is a short, but steep descent (+20%) with a very spicy downhill chicane bend, made more difficult by its reverse camber. Followed by a steep winding, grinding climb up and out the valley (past the worst positioned public phone box I have ever seen on the edge of a hairpin bend at the end of 13% descent). We hit the valley. Luckily we are in the dry today. Still this steep reverse camber chicane deserves respect and It’s the heaviest the brakes get squeezed all weekend. We then crossover said Bridge, before starting the steep,yet short (in the grand scheme of things) climb. It plateaus as it passes the Bridge of Brown tea room before the final rise in the road. Mark stops to dispense of another layering of clothing before progressing. Dudes had more costume changes than a Kylie Minogue show (so I’ve heard!!) today.
But he’s given me an idea as we spin up this hill. What if climbs were instead, categorised based on the number of layers worn to tackle it in? As opposed to the french story. See cycling folklore has us believe that the current categorisation of climbing i.e. Cat 1, Cat 2, HC etc. is derived from the iconic French Citroen 2CV car and the gear in which it could tackle a climb. Cat 4 = It could make it up in 4th gear. Cat 3= 3rd Gear etc All the way to ‘Haut Cat HC’ or ‘beyond categorisation’ reserved for the climbs which a 2CV couldn’t make it up at all.
The idea amuses me and helps dissipate any pain the climb is creating. So I start having a play with it in my noggin. Let’s apply a healthy dose of Mark’s layering for each climb today and see how if it holds, against the French 2CV story.
Mark’s ‘Tapps Aff’ Categorisation
Cat4 = 4 layers of clothing (vest, Jersey, Gilet & arm warmers or jacket)* Bib shorts are mandatory and will not be included* Monument
Cat 3 = 3 Layers (Arm warmers, Jersey & Gilet) Glenshee
Cat 2 = 2 layers (Vest and Jersey) Bridge of Brown
Cat 1 = 1 layer (Jersey) The Lecht
TA /Taps aff **= Cairngorm.
**However cycling Tapps aff whilst not on a BMX stealing purses from old ladies is not cricket , so the Road cycling equivalent is the ‘The Flapper jersey’. Totally unzipped, flapping by the side revealing bib shorts braces and an excessively oversized cross hanging from a chain(BTW are they really oversized chains or just look huge on the emaciated bodies of world class climbers)**
There we go apply a healthy dose of the ‘TAPS AFF’ factor the next time you tackle a climb, see how it fairs. Thus Mark my friend and fellow Rouleur, you have written yourself intae Braes City Rouleurs folk lore. Chapeau dude. Granted the 2CV story has a lot more romance to it, still The TAPS AFF factor sounds better tae me.
We stop at the top of the climb to regroup, fuel, swig and photi. View is stunning along the valley.
We now pootle towards Nethy Bridge. A slow moving group joins us and we all take our pulls. We are at the front of the group doing a pull, when a a marshal appears on the road ahead. He is red-directing us onto the 5 mile tae Nethy Bridge road(Have you noticed: no matter where you are in Strathspey there always seems to be a 5 mile tae Nethy Bridge road sign.)
I’ve cycled this road into Nethy a few times. From this direction it’s a hard left, down a quick descent onto a seriously open and exposed road into Nethy.
You’ll have gathered by now, that we don’t like being hampered on descents. I sense a Machiavellian opportunity tae jump off the front of this group and get into the descent un-impeded by the guaranteed bottleneck thats about to occur. I push on and a gap quickly appears. Approaching the marshals I swing out right and take the hard left. Just as I thought, the pack is slamming the anchors creating a bottleneck at the hair pin. Open road ahead of me though and it doesn’t take long before I’m spinning out top gear. No cars ahead either so corners can be taken hard and fast on the wrong side of the road.
I’m now closer to a pair of riders out in front of me, than to the group behind. I press on and catch them(Have a wee play at the breakaway game and awe that!). I approach the pair, whom are resplendent in red kit from yesteryear and a bike with foreign decals unbeknown to me. The only thing missing from their Eastern European state sponsored doping program look, is an Andy Brehme permed mullet!
To preserve the cyclists bond and also to enhance international relations, I engage in some small talk or ‘Kleine Sprechen’ as I approach. I lay down the entirety of my standard grade German in one go.
“Guten tag, Wie gehts, wo wohnst du…. links geradeus” I enquire, hedging my teutonic hunch?
My inquisition Is met by two blank non plus expressions. Obviously never understood my pronunciation?
Plan B- I Adopt the Brit abroad approach by saying everything louder and slower, leaving absolutely no room for misunderstanding, yi understand!!
“WHERE ARE YOU( pointing at them) FROM(pointing at the sky, fuck knows why)?”
“eh, Kircaldy” is the answer,
I stop peddling. The answer has caught me a little by surprise.
Well fuck me, An East Fife council sponsored doping program eh. Seen it awe noo? I think to myself. Luckily the group swarm us at this point, saving me from any further embarrassment. Still it could have been Wurst! (see what i did there?) they could have been from Dunfermline!! (preserving any opportunity tae indulge in a bit Fawkirk v Fife banter)
We casually spin through the upper-side of Nethy bridge. A beautiful wee village. Streets are home to some stunning houses, surrounded by a network of great Caledonian pine woodland walks (some of my favourites)
We roll down the brae towards the Nethy Bridge Hotel(sadly another dilapidated building that’s had better days) to the final water stop before Cairngorm.
It’s busy as we pull in. Riders regrouping both physically and mentally before the final push to Cairngorm. I head for the portaloos where lo and behold, who comes strolling out? None other than our own ‘ Il Pirata’ and just like a bygone pirate of the high seas, he too has been appearing and disappearing into the mist all day, plundering feed stations as he goes.
“wait a minute how the fuck dyi get here?” I ask all confused.
“awww it was too fucking cald to be dicking about up the Lecht. I grabbed some sweets fae the station and left wi big Graeme straight away.” Said Sherpy in his own inimitable machine gun rat-a-tat-tat styli. Just at that a chirper big Graeme ambles also around the corner.
Fuels are running short within the group, so we have a gang gel amnesty. I not a huge fan so travelled light on that front. But some secret sauce for Cairngorm would help. Sherpy produces a variety.
“who wants yin?”
“Aye deal me in, whit yi got?”.
He crashes me a Cliff double espresso energy gel
“perfect. I’ll Save this little wonder for later”.
We climb back on and roll out of Nethy. The pace casual at first, gradually quickens as we all start pulling at the front. Along the way we hoover up Mr Clarion, Hans and Ivan fae the East Fife council sponsored doping program into our group.
It’s a rolling road as we pass the outskirts of Boat of Garten. Home to one of the finest hidden gem Golf courses in this fair Golfing land. (some real high caliber club champions in the past their as-well !) The road is lump and our group thins out as we head into the Rothiemurchis estate. The majestic culmination of the cairngorms comes into sight. Where the Lecht was to be endured; baron, cold, windswept and plagued with low cloud cover. Cairngorm is here to be enjoyed; clear, warmer and only a gentle breeze.
The junction at Coylumbridge approaches. A right here will take you to Aviemore. A left up to Glenmore where the final challenge of the day beckons; The climb to Cairngorm day lodge. On decent legs it’s about a ten-minute cycle from here to the foot of the climb. My Garmin alert goes off. Gel time. Oot comes the double espresso wonder gloop. The viscous gloopy globule of the gel is forced from wrapper and into my mouth. It’s thick and viscous. Chewing is required as opposed to the normal, squeeze and swallow. Needle in-damage done.
I love this ride up through the Caledonian forest to Cairngorm. For me this is the kingmaker of roads on this tour. Some may argue The Lecht? Fuck no! Up from Coylumbridge to Cairngorm base station is where it’s at for this rouleur. The full house; Good road, trees, heather, hills and……red squirrels!!
The road winds and climbs through the forest where the floor is blanketed by heather and gorse. The Caledonian pines sway in the wind, sprawling and reaching skyward with centuries of wizened grandeur.
We approach Loch Morlich. Home to frolickers and fun-seekers On a still day she has the length to hold these humpbacked hills and exploded rock formations in her crystal clear and mesmerising gaze.
The giant of Ben MacDui towers from the range. To it’s right Flat topped (like a top gun haircut) sits Braeriach. Then to the left, the the wingman; The blue mountain of Cairngorm poses with gallous swagger. This mirrored reflection curated by mother nature herself is stunning. Even more beautiful when they adorn their winter coats.
“You love this place don’t you” states Stu. I realise I have been banging on about the walks, Lochs and hills for ages on the ride up.
He’s right, every time I leave the frustration and despair of industry behind and arrive here, to the Cairngorms, I’m alive. There is beauty, wonder and fun to be had every minute, regardless of weather. Stresses melt, but most importantly, life just slows the fuck down. Which is mucho needed fae time to time. The place is a true magnet to wanderlust souls, adventure seekers and admirers alike.
“yir right, every day I love her more and Morlich” I whimsically reply. Pun intended.
Not far to the snow gates of Glenmore and start of Number 67 on the Official 100 climbs. I’ve been romantically wishing I would get to this point and still have enough in my legs to give this climb to Cairngorm a proper go. This is my test climb after all. The Cairngorm Cycling Club have a recognised time trial from Mikes bikes (shop) to the base station. My own Rocacorba is from my gaff a further mile back. I try to do it a few times a year. Benchmark my fitness and then scribe my time on the kitchen blackboard as a dangling carrot to beat the next time.
However, today is different. I’ve never done it with over 200 miles in my legs. One more honest effort, no matter how fatigued my legs and arms are?
Soon as I hit Glenmore snow gates, in about 500m, these tired legs will be getting pushed beyond any exertion point ever experienced on a bike. Something weird but i’m looking forward to the sadistic pleasure and the pain this effort will bring.
I give my legs a shake to drain some lactic in preparation. ‘Cmon gel, ya gloopy mutha fucking beauty yi. Time tae get tae working’ encouraging the synthesis of fructose and caffeine into ma bloodstream. The amazing scenery also helping mine into some hidden well of energy.
The gates approach as I pass the hayfield on the right.
I sing the faithful arches chant “Here we, here we, here we fucking go” tae prepare myself for the sufferfest I’m about tae indulge in.
In my head I have split this climb into four phases.
PHASE 1 starts now. The first few twist and turns up, are not steep, so my plan is to hit this section hard. I ramp up the cadence, some gears in the pocket as insurance. The road turns right and steepens sharply up to the switchback at the sugar bowl car park. All gears are now utilised Spinning the pedals furiously, I’m picking off rider after rider, further enhancing my gel induced –LIT state. Passing the sugar owl carpark, there is a steep switch back. I hold middle of the road where the camber is more friendly. The next 300-400 yards is flat
PHASE 2 the shortest section. ‘Out the saddle-up the through the gears-move-fucking move it’ (you would never talk to anyone else the way you talk to yourself eh?). I’m blowing. Road then takes a quick right then left at the road sign with the snowboard stickers. This next phase is critical.
PHASE 3 To the untrained eye the next 400-500m looks flat, maybe a slight rise, but it’s an optical illusion, an electric brae, a total fucking false flat like no other.. You think you should be picking up speed, instead it drops off the edge of a cliff. It wasn’t until I got a GARMIN that I realised just how much this landscape fools yi. It’s a real draggy 7-9% gradient. This is without doubt the hardest bit of this climb and you’ve just got tae grind it oot. Keep a good rhythm don’t get fooled again. Gains can be made on the next section.
PHASE 4 I hit switchback at the skiing overspill carpark. As I turn, it’s only now you get tae soak up and fully appreciate the stunning view below. Loch Morlich cloaked in forest with a hazy cloud inversion resting on top. If I wasn’t on such a tear, now would be the tourist- take –a- photo moment, but I’m moving up through the gears as I wind my way round the ski road.
I await to see if the prevailing wind is ready to smack me in the face like the Lechts temper tantrum. The wind channelling down the white lady can be ferocious when you unwind to face the base station. Today it’s not there. A gentle breeze. Ya beauty. My quads are on fire with lactic, but I can hear the music from the finish line. A final surge required. I see riders knackered and milling about the back of the finish line. ‘Head down-keep going- your fucking almost there-push’. I take a hard right around the parked cars and then a gentle left into the ticker tape finish funnel leading me over the FINISH LINE.
I hit the speed bump/timing strip hard and have to hit my brakes harder to prevent a blue on blue attack with the beer bench’s just beyond the finish line.
Gasping for breath, sweat is pouring from me onto the tarmac below. My legs tremble and falter as I climb/fall off the bike taking myself tae the deck and wait for a soigneur tae hand me a can of coke. None come! So I wrestle my bike to release my bidon. I’m totally rinsed, but utterly satisfied and elated. One honest effort. That’s all I wanted tae give.
It’s not long before the next Braes City Rouleur appears and its Stu! Looking like he’s a tourist that just taken a wrong turn into a pub that’s on a happy hour. Smiling and thumbs up as he crosses the line tae cheers from the organisers, MC and myself.
I wonder where Mark is. Cmon mate.Then I see a jam tart maroon top bobbing from one side to the other 200m away. Every pedal stroke a personal war. Every breath of air temporary salvation. Excitement overcomes me and I find the energy to run out from the finish area, clapping and screaming, only realising I’ll impede his progress like a grand tour supporter if i don’t get the fuck oot his way. “ cmon Mark cmon, you’ve done it” He emotes a half baked mouth smile, before forcing the last lurching pedal stroke transporting him over the line, coming to rest immediately after the timing strip.
I feel emotional and genuinely more excited to see him accomplish this than I did for myself a few minutes back. Stu and myself bound from opposite directions as he stops. Big back slaps all round are well deserved. From time to time, these carriages of life, we call bodies, can still surprise us…but only when we let them.
He staggers unsteady from his bike. Smile broadening.
Between gasps of air “aye a didnae think I could dae that last climb, but I stopped and took off my base layer, then I was fine”
I let oot a chuckle as he has completed the last piece of our hill recategorisation, thus verifying the status of climb Number 67 as ‘TA’ ‘Taps Aff’ category.
Big Graeme comes spritely round the corner saving a surge and sprint for the line, all the while holding huge smiles of satisfaction. A superb ride from the big fella.
Next around IL Pirata armed with a smile from ear to ear, Spinning his pedals with a grace and cadence that is deceptively slower than it’s image has your eyes-a believe. A stylistic action. A true Pedaller De charm. We are now five out of six. We wonder how Tank is fairing. But truth be told, we are hungry, so head to food station, grab a table at the balcony overlooking the finish line and await his arrival.A round of beers is offered. Mark the only like minded soul whetting his whistle with me.
We see Tank approach, we rise to oor feet, shouting and screaming at him like football supporters with their team on the attack. Effortlessly he glides over the line. Il pirata bounds down the stairs to greet him, embracing as he nonchalantly gets off his bike, like he’s just nipped oot for a pint of milk. What a difference a day can make eh? No throwing it to the ground today. It’s done, in the bag. We wallow a while to let the group satisfaction sink in. Then the bad news. It then dawns on us, that we still have another 10 miles cycle, back to Aviemore, to pick up weekend bags and then a further 2 mile cycle back to my bit.
The good news, its a proper good descent. Food and beers are finished. Back to the bikes. There is now a Coffee mugs mountain at the finishing line being handed out. Another homegrown masterstroke from the organisers. Better than a medal kept in a drawer anytime. However, the one day classics men, don’t have a day bag, my bag is then stuffed and used as courier to Aviemore. With a healthy collection of ceramic mugs in my back pack now, one crash on the way back down will render me like a Stegosaurus with 3 Piste challenge decals.
Before we go, I want a group photo to mark the moment before we hurtle back down to Aviemore.
As I retrieve the phone and secure my bag, the rest disappear down the hill quicker than a new scud mag in a prison toilet.“cheeky bastards, I think” I fumble my stuff together and make chase, slapping my glasses from atop my helmet onto face to shield me from the quickly developing dsecending tears.
I see them ahead. Tank and Sherpy at the back leisurely chewing the fat. Upfront the three man bob sleigh of Graeme, Mark and Stu, careening down the hill.
I make chase, buzzing around Sherpy and Tank. Much to Sherpys amusement as he see’s what i’m up tae
“Cani fucking resist, can yi?” he shouts after me in my desperate pursuit.
Dude’s right though. Thrill of the chase. I’m blessed and cursed in equal measures by my inherent competitiveness .
We fly past the snow gates going the opposite way and big Graeme pulls off intae Glenmore caravan pack. Rolling fist bumps before he does and we continue the race to Aviemore. We have just done 103 miles of seriously tough cycling, yet we are like kids on their bikes for the first time, tearing towards Aviemore. Just like my favourite Hot Chip song OVER & OVER, we too, are like monkey’s with miniature cymbals. Good times indeed. Bags are retrieved from The Cairngorm Hotel drop and we amble back to the house, get the cafetiere loaded up and have some rather satisfying coffees from our new mug’s.
Good times indeed
Part 5 to follow- The boys are on the last Leg. Aviemore to Fort William
To enter The Tour of The Highlands 2018 CLICK HERE
To enter the 3 Piste Challenge 2018 CLICK HERE
The day in STRAVA numbers