I awake early with a drouth. Is it an accumulative effect from the last two days of endurance and exertion or is just from last night’s rather tasty Venison Burger at Ben Macduis washed down with three pints of San Miguel? Part 1 CLICK HERE Part 2 CLICK HERE Part 3 CLICK HERE Part 4 CLICK HERE
Anyway who gives a flying fuck, it’s the final day of the Tour of the Highlands and I need tae get ‘knacken wi the cracken’.
Tae the kitchen I bound bare footed in bib shorts (did I sleep in them or put them on in a tired funk? Better have been the latter?). Turning the tap, I fill a pint tumbler, still stained with tide marks of yesterdays recovery drink with Highland council juice and chug it. Hydration and recovery is king after all!
The boys excluding Stu crashed at my gaff in Aviemore last night. Stu, the missing amigo, had previously booked into the Macdonald resort before we became acquainted on this adventure. Regardless , it would have been a tactical manoeuvre on his part, as he’ll probably be on his 3rd pass of the breakfast buffet by now anyway.
Anyway, long story, long: Aviemore is literally a second home for us. I’ve been coming here for the best part of 20 years now. Originally with our bands, ‘Lokus’ and then ‘The Citisins’ for what we would loosely frame as ‘song writing weekends’. Thereafter with the proliferation of that nasty affliction- Girlfriends, these then evolved or devolved intae group snowboard/skiing get together weekends thereafter.
For Eve (the missus) and me, this quickly escalated into a passionate ‘Nicky’ ménage e trios’. The big booty’d great outdoors of the Cairngorms as the love interest between us. Year after year, we were getting addicted to the place and the seed was blooming. (Not human. Yet).
Quickly we found ourselves re-directing oor attention and hard-earned savings from a prospective apartment purchase in Ibiza (another yearly pilgrimage at the time), to Aviemore. We had a decision to make. Ibiza Versus Aviemore? We weighed up the pro’s and cons;
Las Salinas V Loch Morlich Beach?
Hippy Market V Farmers Market?
Pacha V The Vault?
Cafe Mambo V eh Cafe Mambo?
Finally the kicker- Carl ‘3 decks’ Cox V Gordy ‘one tape deck’ Peters?
No brainer really. Aviemore won hands down and we have since spent the majority of weekends and school holiday weeks here since.(yes human seeds grew)
Being Basil Fawlty
Anyway back to matters at hand. The logistics of it first appeared ‘nae bother’. Easy ball I thought! “Come stay at mine” I said. “Got enough beds” I said. “Easy transfer tae La Taverna the next day” I said. “It’ll be nae bother” I said. In reality, it’s a hospital pass (P.S. If Day 2 was Golf metaphors. Day 3 is going to Football metaphors) where over sleeping has rendered me BASIL FAWLTY like- Nae time for pre-race stretches, foam rolling or 8 minute workouts this morning.
Time to raleigh the dudes “RrrrrRight, WAKEY WAKEY RISE AND SHINE….who’s in the shower first? I’ll need tae wash and hang towels so no dicking about, with your dickery about bits please? C’mon up the stairs you go. Follow Manuel, chop chop”
RrrrRight Breakfast, Breakfast, Who wants breakfast? Anybody for breakfast? Today in Fawlty Towers, we have an exquisite selection of A) Porridge or B) Weapons grade Porridge? Come on hurry, hurry please. Place your orders with Manuel! “Que”
Mark and Sherpy decline the highly enticing breakfast offer. They’ve got their eyes on a bigger prize! A slap up breakfast at the >>Mountain Cafe . An Aviemore institution wi the best cafe grub I’ve ever tasted. Luuuuuucccckkky bassstards.
Slowly but surely we get closer to the front door. A shepherding job made harder as I’ve enslaved myself by our own golden house rule! ‘Leave the place as tidy as you find it’. This has me spinning round the kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms and living room like a Tasmanian devil on speed. Mr Wolf the sweeper in Pulp Fiction would be proud of this clean up job.
Burdened once more with weekend bags, Tank and myself clumsily mount our bikes. We look more like velo-snails than Rouleurs. Sherpy and Mark are considerably lighter with their overnight back packs.
We briefly stop at The Mountain cafe to say oor ‘ta-tas’ tae Mark and Sherpy who’ll be catching the train back to Pitlochry after their feast. We feel sorry for the departing One Day Classics men to be leaving this adventure.
We approach La Taverna car park just in time tae hear the last call for bags before the bag truck departs. A quick dismount and charge through the eager crowds ensues. Our snail houses are lobbed in the general direction of the awaiting truck driver who skillfully re-directs them intae the back of the truck. Got to admit, the organisation of the event is excellent.
We hear a faint holler of “Tank/Daz” coming from somewhere near the back of the amassing flock of riders. Stu, we presume? We languidly weave our way back through the crowd tae retrieve the bikes and sure enough he’s limbering up. That’s if you consider ‘leaning over your bike’ surfing Tinter-Web on your phone as limbering up right enough?
Time to slowly regain our composure and our puff. It’s back to waves of thirty starts today. On current positioning i.e. stragglers at the coo’s tail, it’ll be a wee while before we are off. Good in the fact that it gives us a breather, bad-in the fact that it reduces the likelihood of free big peloton energy-saving miles today.
Traffic leaving Aviemore is intermittently held back Lollipop style as groups of thirty are started from La Taverna car park. Final checks of equipment and stretches are lethargic today in comparison to the previous two days. Learned my lesson from yesterday though on the clothing front and adopted Mark’s ‘pack like a Peruvian drug mule’ methods. Gilet, arm warmers, rain jacket and cap all in the pockets today.
We shuffle forward making it intae the second last wave to go. We steal some motion forward and tackle the instant ‘road furniture’. Listen I’m nae Carlton Kirby or Ned Boulting so let’s just say what I see. It’s not road furniture , it’s – a- ROUNDABOUT son. Bye-bye Aviemore. Kincraig, Kingussie and (King) Newtonmore beckon.
The breeze is being shot and chat is free-flowing and playful. We are mid pack as the road weaves past the beautiful Loch Alvie
Tiredness from the last two days is evident in this pack as the pack concertina’s with every little rise in the road, inducing nervous, sporadic and unnecessary use of the breaks. Similar lumps and bumps would have been taken fast and free of breaking the previous two days
No sooner has this cloud of tension lingered over the group that it starts to precipitate out a commotion from the back of the pack. I don’t like what I hear, It’s that unwelcome sound of body and bike meeting road.We are on a downhill bend at this point, slowing and breaking will only exacerbate events. Once through the bend a quick head count confirms Tank and Stu are still in this pack and safe. Metaphorical wipe of the brow, but word soon filters through that someone is indeed down, but no need to stop as the back half of the pack have held back to assist. Our front half of the pack regains speed and the MAMIL migration continues southwards.
Reduced in numbers, the pack is labouring and we move up to inject some momentum. Only one other rider filters forward with us, to assist. He goes by the name Kevin; A bike mechanic from Aboyne and on his second Tour of the Highlands. Little did we know at this point that we would spend the next forty miles in his affable company.
The Derny Brigade
We head through Kincraig and then into Kingussie, our group further erodes as the pace winds up. Between the four of us now, including our new amigo Kev, we cover the lion share of pulls on the front. Instant Karma is goni get you eh? John Lennon firing down a little lesson after yesterday by any chance? We encourage some other riders forward, but not in a fud like way or with any hissy fit histrionics. A pair of older geezers who have been getting dragged along at the back enjoying the free miles, take the bait and move up, joking as they go. They pass like a pair of mock Derny riders sitting up all proud with exaggerated bandy legs and take their position at the front of the group.
Like a well rehearsed Saturday night TV comedy duo, they soon have us in stitches. The road ahead forks. We go right following the race signs and they go left ‘off route’, oblivious to their error and they keep pedalling .
“If yi didnae want tae take a turn at the front you should have said!” Stu bellows after them. They turn and panic sweeps across their faces as they see the remainder of our peloton forking away on an adjacent road.
Back at the front of the group now after only about 50m respite, ya beauty! We now head out towards Loch Laggan. I have always wanted to cycle this road ever since driving it en-route to stay at >>The Lovat in Fort Augustus The amazing hotel and restaurant ran by our celebrated Hotelier friends Caroline Gregory and Sean Kelly (not the cyclist). Highly recommended on any visit to Fort Augustus. Great Hotel & great food. Check it out.
The road hasn’t disappointed on two wheels. Scenery of Loch Laggan and the beaches of the Ardverickie estate are stunning. The road ebbs and weaves as it skirts along the side of the Loch. There’s a few lumpy bits to contend, but in general, a nice quick road. There’s a good fast rhythm to it, so much so that we don’t realise the group has further whittled down to four. Tanks fallen back into the a group behind and we have a wee convivial South African fellow with Goatee beard and full triathlon kit in tow. He is also taking part for the first time, yet obviously not his first endurance rodeo. He confesses to taking part in Iron Mans over the world and we soon realise we are in the company of exulted endurance royalty.
As we approach Loch Laggan we pass the entrance to the Ardvirickie Estate. Movie watchers will recognise it from movies such as ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ starring Ewan Macgregor and ‘Mrs Brown’ starring Billy Connolly.
As we roll through the lumps of The Highlands we are further distilled in numbers and now only three. Surprisingly our wee Iron Man friend falls back and rides his own pace. We read absolutely nothing into this or take it as any sign of our own form as these Iron Man are different animals indeed. Masters of will, self-control and pace. The embodiment of a quote from the revered Italian Cycling Legend Fausto Coppi
It is like wrestling a gorilla – you don’t stop when you’re tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired” – Fausto Coppi
The Midgie Slayer
The first feed stop approaches at the head of Laggan dam. We stop and the tuck shoppers are holding a Kit Kat amnesty, crashing out their surplus Kit Kats with gay abandon. Music tae Stu’s ears as we know he is developing a crack like addiction to them. Tank comes rolling in on the next wave of riders.
I’m clip clopping from one foot to the other. A pennie needs a spending! I deftly head back across the road into the cover of bushes and, hoik doon the front of the bib shorts and let the steam machine begin. A relief that is arrested when I suddenly feel nips on ma nether bits. This invokes a hurried look doon, and holy shamoly batman! There’s a kinky afro of the wee scurrilous scourges of Scottish summers around ma D.I.C.K! Man, it’s like a Midgie Microphone(Thats midgie not midget!!). Must be the chamois cream!!! I try to swat them away by flailing and thrashing as close as I can go without hosing myself.
After this weekend I was hoping the cycling Palmares would read: Finisher of Tour of the Highlands, NOT ‘dick slapping Midgie slayer’. I swiftly get covered up, yet I can still feel a few on them still on the munch as I flinch, scratch and jive back across the road. Nae morals have the wee fekkers. (bet you have just scratched yourself tae?)
The Midgie infestation has expedited our stay at this feed station. Only just eaten but our next mission is tae find a lunch stop, part of ‘Tanks 40th’ celebratory game plan from Day 1. We get on our way and soon find ourselves climbing the hill out of Spean Bridge towards the proud and impressive Commando memorial. Stu and myself head in for a nosey. Kev keeps rolling, and we wish him well. Dudes been great company the last 40 miles but he’s not on a tourist nosey like us. Tank likewise shouts that he’ll scout ahead for lunch venue. He must have caught a waft of chip pan fat in the wind?
Legend has it that prospective commandos would arrive at Spean Bridge railway station after long journeys and then have to cover the last remaining 7 miles to the Commando training centre at Achnacarry Castle fully laden with thirty-six pounds of kit on a speed march. Anyone not completing it within sixty minutes would be ‘Returned to Unit’. I think that’s similar to Elvis’s ‘Return to Sender’!!
No sooner do we wheel our bikes towards the war memorial when we become camera fodder for a bus load of Koreans. An advert for the bling-iest tech and clothing I’ve ever seen this side of the Clyde (I check to see if they have came off the same floppy eared bus from >>Day One). In return for the non-sanctioned photos, a elder statesman for the group agrees to take a photo for us in return. He hunkers and moves from side to side MC Hammer-like tae get the perfect shot for us. Obviously done this before. The small, medium and large cameras around his neck is also a bit of a tell right enough.
He gets the shot set up and then instructs us ”a-say ka-MA-do pwease”
We look at each other with playful compliance “eh AYE OK… co-man-do pwease” we say in return whilst simultaneously being ‘papped’ by at least another dozen cameras.
He returns my phone with a smiling confident nod that screams ‘trust me that’s the shot you’re looking for’. I bizarrely turn and proffer a half karate kid styli bow in gratitude, ( cause i’m all over my Asian customs!!) before swiftly turning tale.
>>The Commando sculpture is proud and impressive. Views of the Spean River and further to Ben Nevis can be gained. There’s also a Garden of Remembrance used as final resting place for the ashes of WW2 commandos and a seperate Ashes scattering area for contemporary commando units who have fallen in more recent conflicts. Huge respect and debt of gratitude gentleman, but for fear of this turning completely into a procession (of which we’ll rue) we really need tae get marching ourselves.
We now head away from the memorial on the quiet road to Gairlochy. Tanks got a head start but with a two-man pursuit team we should catch him. We don’t.
The road rises up as we cross the Caledonian Canal. The ascent is short-lived and we now cycle from a commanding position overlooking the winding River Lochy en route to Fort William.
The promise of something tasty that does not include jelly beans or a Kit Kat dangles the biggest transparent carrot you’ve never seen. We proceed tae munch up the next six scenic and meandering miles. Our progress however is soon halted by a frantic body waving from the road side. He looks like a Rebel fighter who has just got his hands on the plans for the Death Star ……or it could be Tank and he’s found our luncheon venu? He redirects us off the road into The Moorings Hotel car park.
“A hotel?” we fein with an air of disappointment.
“aye, but just wait, follow me” He has a twinkle in his eye “take your bikes for a walk” as he leads us with our bikes around the side of the building for the Grand reveal. “here it is”….A swanky Bistro café perched on the edge of a lock gate on the Caledonian Canal
“Ya beauty mate”
Nothing better than a Pheasant, Champagne and a Woman.
Patrons are lounging outside enjoying the afternoon sun. Majorly, elderly couples. You know the ‘House of Bruar’ well-to-do type. Adorned in a mixture of Alan Partridge Blazers, pastel shirts and White blouses. Both with matching stay pressed Chino’s. All in a convivial relaxed or sedated state as they sip from their oversized wine glasses? So this is how the other half live on a Monday. Languidly teasing lobsters from shells and washing their innards with Chardonnay. Nice.
We weave our way between their tables. Our progress tracked by the bespecled bug eyes of the old GILNTF’s and neighbour hood watch dudes. Suddenly we feel like three young Juice Bigelows. We quickly find privacy and shelter from the prying eyes in a booth and wait for service. A service which is not forthcoming.
service is slow if nearly non existent. This is clearly not a fast food joint and maybe over stretching our hopes of some good quality food at a reasonable clip. A business model of ‘once there in, keep them in’! Which is fine if you have a pension to spunk on Lobsters on Chardonnay, but not when you are ‘meant’ to be racing.
After ten minutes of being ignored by the languid lethargic waiter, our patience is wearing thin. My malaise finds me clopping from the booth blocking his path as he attempts to faint another ignorant pass.
“Excuse me, can we place an order……TODAY please” breaking the golden rule of being rude to the waiter BEFORE you receive your food. Think i’ll give the side salad a miss when it’s delivered.
He rolls his eyes and pulls out his notepad. Flips the pages in disdain and then looks down (both literally and metaphorically) to await our first order. Starting to think maybe stopping for lunch wasn’t a good idea after all.
However first impressions to the side. What they lack in service, they make up for in quality of menu. FUCK IT, We throw caution to the wind and go all in on the menu. We order Salmon and Cream Cheese Panini’s, Steak and Onion Baguette, Chips, large Coke’s, and Cappuccinos. Doubling up on the carbs and caffeine. The only marginal gains here are around the waistline.
This is a total throwback tae the classy Cycling nutrition of the 50’s cycling culture. I’m thinking Jacques Anquetil era here….
To prepare for a race there is nothing better than a Pheasant, Champagne and a woman. Jacques Anquetil
Eventually our food is delivered and conversation ceases as we wire in.
We finish with satisfied groans and slurp up the remnants of our Cola’s. Still, all the while I can’t help but think, We’ve been here too long and I’m starting to get a bit antsy in ma pantsies! Although that might still be a lone surviving Midgie. I hasten proceedings with a “need tae get back on the road dudes”. We chase down the waiter and square the bill….rather than wait till Tuesday for him to bring it to us.
We were the back markers on the road today as it was. We are now at least another one hour behind schedule. Just as we leave, we start to feel drips of rain.
Some parts of Scotland are surprisingly the driest in Britain but hot here, not Fort William. This is where the warm air of Gulf stream meets the cold mountains, condenses and all too frequently goes all WET WET WET on you. Locals say if you can see Ben Nevis, then its goni rain. If yi cani see it then it is raining. Well we cani see it, so go figure what’s in the post for us. Out of Gairlochy we go and now find ourselves on the very rapid (with other traffic) west road to Arisaig, lashed by the now heavy rain and splashed by heavy traffic spree. The last three hours on the bike have been some of the most enjoyable over this tour. However, the next three hours prove to be the most uncomfortable, testing and enduring.
We pull off tae the side of the road tae get the rain jackets on. The sooner we get off this road and onto The Corran Ferry road the happier we’ll be. For the first time this tour we see no other riders. I fear we have over extended ourselves with our languid lunch. Urgent action is required and we go time trial mode. Time to convert the Panini’s, chips and coke intae WATTS on the pedals. Urgency married to fatigue resets my focus and self-talk becomes succinct ‘need tae get tae the Ferry, need tae cross the water, need tae cycle intae Glencoe, must get finished‘.
The single track road to the Corran Ferry is draggy and we inevitably string out in a constant cycle of energy decay and resurgence. Progress is slow due to the second scourge of Scotland- ‘wind driven rain’ and Tanks flagging, but just like day one he urges us to ride our own rhythm and he’ll ‘just keep fucking pedalling’. A bonafide commando of the road.
Let me Introduce you to Don Curly-Wurly
Eventually we see another rider, but he is at the roadside with bike upside down and looking severely pissed off, his fluorescent rain jacket covered in chain oil and grease. We stop to assist.
Turns out fella is Italian and only armed with broken English. But luckily we have Stu who is fluent in broken Ital-glish!! We survey his bike and the prognosis isn’t good. The chain is totally mangled between his derailleur and crank and looks beyond our skillset for repair. Also looks like he’s had a proper go by the looks of his grease monkey splattered cycling gear
And here comes Stu’s onset of Ital-glish
“can we-a helpa you?” Stu ask’s. For info this isn’t deliberate on his part, this is purely subconscious.
“Didnae ken you spoke Ital-glish, Big yin?” I mutter oot the side of my mouth tae him.
The Italian dude reply’s in proper Ital-glish.
“No, I-a-try but now I-a-feenish wit eet. I call-a-make and he-a-come-a ta get-a me” He states using a thumb and pinky, phone to ear gesture.
The ‘he’ in reference, we presume, must either be the event mechanic or the Broom Wagon driver.
“Are you-a sure, we could-a try-a do a some-a-thin with-a da chaaaain” reply’s our own resident Don Curly-Wurly with increasingly Italianesque flailing hand gestures.
Seriously, I had to turn away to prevent pissing maself laughing at this point, as he still doesn’t realise he’s parodying this geezer.
” NO, you go, YOU GO” Mr Italia asserts, schooshing us away up the road.
We wish him well and get back on the road. You think once you are on this ‘ferry road’ it’ll should just be around the next corner, but bay after bay, turn after turn we take and there is no sight of the ferry port. This constant is-it is-it no game is starting to take it’s toll on Stu. Then we see a ferry like boat in the distance crossing over to the Glencoe/Fort William side.
The Corran ferry port eventually comes into view. This is meant to be the last feed stop, but as we are so behind schedule we are further disappointed to see it’s now gone. Too late. Fuuuuck. Further confirming my fears that we stopped to long. There are a couple of punters loading a car and we recognise them as feed stop ‘energy baristas’ from previous days. They clock our desperation and flagging energy levels and proceed to re-open their boot asking if we would like anything that’s left over. I look skyward….Hallelujah! We get wired into the left overs then Stu enquires about the Broom wagon. He wants to take it!!!! At first I thought he was joking. He’s not. Totally blindsided me. His perennial smile, is noo a up-a side-a doony. All that flailing Italian hand gestures must have taken it out of him.
“Naw, naw …NAW C’mon man, we’ve cycled 99% of this together, we’ve got tae finish it noo, only 20 miles!” I assert, albeit with hints of my own fading motivation.
The feed stoppers also cajole and encourage him and he slowly comes back onside.
There is an impressive queue of cars waiting for the ferry to dock. Stu heads for the public toilets, I on the other hand have my eyes on ‘The Inn’ winking at me from across the road. “Fuck it” The Ferry’s just leaving the other side, a warming imbibement from the bar will light us both of up and put some much needed heat in the bones for the last assault. The only problem is I don’t tell Stu this, with the view I’ll intercept him on his way back fae the toilet.
Two Glayva’s = Popeye on the Pedals
I enter the pub, a quality wee boozer, however the solitary barmaid is being held hostage by an American family spread out along the bar and they have her in full inquisition.
I have my eyes on a >>Glayva, that warming tasty whisky liqueur. I’ll get two. That’ll get big yin back on board for the final 20-mile push. A couple of minutes pass and this American family are still quizzing the barmaid on almost every draught and every whisky in the bar. The bar maid looks at me apologetically, acknowledging the unnecessary wait I have to endure. I keep a check on the window for a passing Stu and also for cars alighting onto the Corran Ferry. After what feels like a week the family order and the waitress dispatches them as quick as possible, aware of my pressed for time disposition.
“Two Glayvas please” and I turn from the bar and look out the window. “Shit”, all the cars are gone. I go to the window to double-check and Stu’s bike is also gone. The ferry workers are doing their final checks before pulling up the ramp. FUCK how did that happen so quick. I chug one Glayva, then leave Stu’s on the bar. I head for the door before having a second thought. ‘Waste not want not’ I return and chug the second Glayva . A calculated but worthwhile risk as it hits my belly with the same impact spinach has on Popeye. I bound across the road to my abandoned bike, pick it up with my pinky and slide down the slippery ramp like Torvill and Dean, my chest on fire from the swirling Glayvas.
A large exhalation from my puffed out red cheeks as I make it onboard just before the ramp is lifted up. Thats the cheeks on my face. The other yins were firmly clenched together there for a minute. Across Loch Linhe the ferry sails.
I rest my bike and head tae the heat of the steamed up passenger area. I enter and immediately need tae wipe my eyes. Tanks nonchalantly holding court with Stu and the remaining riders. A handful at most.
“Yi made it?” Stating the abundantly obvious.
He recounts “Aye, I saw they ferry about five miles away and realised if i didnae catch this yin I would be waiting about another 40 minutes. Fuck knows how I did it” he triumphantly announces. This further bolsters our flagging state of minds.
We make the other side and the rain is pelting now. The wash from the road making it feel like every vehicle has passed in hyperspeed. it just doesn’t get any more miserable than this. Scotland on split personality form.
We stop briefly at the foot of the old Glencoe road. Time for another gel amnesty before the final push. This time I crash one from Stu and quickly neck it. Back on the pedals and this old road is welcome respite from the whipped up rain wash from the main road we have just endured. But all good things must pass. The road ends and we are forced to join the main Glencoe A82 for the final leg back to the Ski Centre.
The two faces of the Scottish Highlands
The imposing mountains on either side and desolate skies gives a distinct feeling of isolation. Excluding the road we are on, there is very little indication of the human touch or even signs of life here. This is the great outdoors at its most impressive and yet at its most ominous. Mother Nature further exemplifying her untamed ways. We may have ridden a circuitous route around the Highlands but the mountains from east to west are wildly opposing in looks and character. The Cairngorms further inland and to the east are rolling, grandiose, welcoming and drier. The Nevis Range in contrast, is sharp, jagged, steep, epic and wetter.
They said in the race brief today that this would be the fastest one hundred miles you will do! well aye, but not if you take an industrious Captains of lunch and tourism approach to the final leg that we have. An approach that is coming home to roast as we hit the A82 climb to Glencoe Ski resorts at it’s busiest…oh if only we were an hour earlier!
We know have two very important yet disparate goals.
- Get to Glencoe Ski centre ASAP.
- Dont be used as speed bumps before we do.
Flirting with the latter at 20 second intervals as the passing lorries are oppressively close and fast. I feel hunted and vulnerable for the first time ever on a road. I’d rather be tackling The Lecht again on a fixie wearing stilettos than this runway. A lorry whores past and the turbulence shoves me off the road onto the stones and grass. Some mountain bike skills are required here tae prevent a crash and to get back on the road. A change of tact is required.
A quick assessment of the current situation is carried out. It dawns on me! Before I was forced from the road I had been riding defensively, too near to the road side. This was merely an invitation for the vehicles to buzz me at high-speed with undue care or attention. Some resolve and road savvy is now needed and I take up a more central position on the road forcing the vehicles to slow and pass with consideration. Instantly the passage of vehicles slows and I feel less vulnerable, less of a target(as long as I don’t turn around to see the queue). I can now focus on spinning my way up the long climb with the highest cadence I can muster this far into the game. A faster bike is a steadier bike after all.
In times of stress our minds conjure many weird and wonderful coping mechanisms. For me and especially on the road, my monkey mind often wanders into a songwriting maze of chord progressions, melodies and nonsensical lyrics. Easy to get lost, hard to find my way out off. As I spin away up the road I become oblivious to my state, my position on the road as I slip into the maze. The last 3 days’ start flashing behind my eyes, the images transposing to lyrics. My mind starts playing a finger picking capo 5th chord progression and lyrics float in and out of my increasingly calming state of mind.
The wall, the wall you take me to the wall- I try to climb there’s nowhere else to hide- I hide we ride the wheelers in your line. You heal the peace commandos to the field-until we feeeel hist-o-ry’s appeallll- A thousand cuts just to feel alive- we wind and rise this serpentine incline, to kiss the breach of mother nature heals, we ride to find the emptiness inside. we try we try under three moons…. and as many skies
Some melancholy Country that definitely wont be winning any Grammies but serves it’s purpose of distraction as I now find myself transported to the crest of the climb where I can now distantly lay eyes on the flags at the entrance to the Ski Centre. They are waving back violently in the wind, welcoming me home.
I do a quick recce for Tank and Stu. Like every other climb on this adventure, it’s march to the beat of your drum time; every man for themselves. The road now quickens as it gently falls from me.
Now within touching distance of the longest single ride I’ve ever undertaken. Onto the winding ski entrance road I go. It seems like a million years and most definitely four seasons have passed since we came tearing down this road under a perfect blue sky only three days ago. The bustle, activity and excitement that once echoed in the mountains is all but gone. Now there’s only an odd scattered car and a few random souls dotted about destructing equipment, but thankfully not the finish line yet.
Here we come… the last grains of sand falling down the hour-glass. The last slaigers of beer in the tumbler. The last scrapings of butter from the tub……..so on and so forth! you catch my drift. We are not at the Coo’s tale per se, WE ARE THE COO’S TALE!
Yet within my flagging reserves there still lies a determination to finish with some semblance of pace and dignity. I shift up the gears for the last sprint for the line, even if Its only in a race against pride
I cross the line and timing strip to congratulations from the weary hard worked organisers. I remove myself from my bike, barely able to raise my leg high enough to clear the saddle. I steady myself. I look down, I’m soaking wet and mauckit from the road wash. A few minutes pass and a rejuvenated Stu nimbly climbs up the road. He crosses the line with a broad smile and takes a few high 5’s as he goes.
The greatest Show
We await Tank. there is a lone dot, a red beacon, a fire fly, a lantern rouge making its way along the road. That dot is now on the ski road “just keep fucking pedalling, just keep fucking pedalling ” His stem cap message will be ping ponging around his nugget right now. He approaches the line and Stu cups his hands and jokingly shouts
“c’mon Tank, Wheelie” Not for one second envisaging what was about to unfold before our eyes. No sooner had the words left Stu’s mouth when Tank channels his inner Peter Sagan. He rears his bike upwards onto its hind wheel. Hand thrust in the air, front wheel angled 45 degrees- A scene of pure wild west showman. He holds this position for nearly all of… 1.2 seconds. We go wild in rapturous applause at this amazing feat of showmanship and bike handling. Then it all goes horribly, horribly…. fucking, awfully horribly wrong.
Down comes the front wheel tethered by only one hand and jerks from a 45 degree angle to 90 degree angle. It slams and brakes against the road surface. The rear wheel now rises and bucks in sympathy, catapulting Tank over the handlebars and finish line. We look away in tandem as he face-plants the tarmac. His bike somersaulting onto him. What was fleetingly poetry in motion is now torture on the tarmac….kind of like a rock version of Sofie Ellis Bextors ‘ Murder on the dancefloor’!
“oh ya fucker how sair did that look” I say peeking through my fingers….
“Tell me you were filming that” Stu implores
“Naw…aw fuck…naw i wisnae,”
” dyi think he’s awrite?”
“Think we better check he’s awrite”
“aye lets check he’s awrite” and clip clop clip clop over we go.
But no sooner had Tank hit the deck that he was rebounding back onto his feet as though it was all part his half man/half bike act. He dusts himself down and is now accepting huge congratulations from organiser and Whisky comedian Alan Anderson, who still can’t believe he has completed this full escapade in a pair of trainer(albeit his trusted New Balance Trainers) and not clip in pedals.
We congratulate him whilst absolutely making sure he’s awrite and not just punch drunk.
“am awrite, am awrite” he announces as though nothing happened. We stop for a final picture and then like droont rats we grab our weekend bags for the final time. We head into the cafe where the welcome of food and warmth awaits us. We dust ourselves down , change clothes and grab the last post stage meal. A bowl of pasta. There is an absence of words around the table. At first it feels anti climatic, but then I realise that it is a sense of disappointment, a sense of loss that this adventure has finished. It slowly sinks in that our wee play at living the cyclist on-the-road life has just came to an end. No cycling back to the digs, no foam rolling, no recovery pints of shakes and then some little harder stuff.
We delay the departure from the cafe as long as possible as we now have the foreboding gloom of a two-hour drive home on very weary legs to go.
We dismantle the bikes and re-load them into the back of the van. We then say our goodbyes tae Stu with that Band of Brothers style high 5’s and hugs that acknowledges that this experience, camaraderie and journey has transcended a normal bike ride and will be forever forged in our memories.
And so it’s with a heart almost as heavy as my finishing legs, that I now reminisce and feel a sense of accomplishment. Yes it has been tough and you shouldn’t go into a multiday sportive lightly, but any pain or suffering along the way has always been in concert with the meditative healing cycle of pedal strokes, stunning countryside and a never wilting sense of kinship.
To which I proffer a massive chapeau to the boys I had the honour of riding this with. I think back to Tank’s opening salvo, cramping not even 50 miles into the Tour and then finishing with a Wheelie. CHAPEAU. I think of Stu’s relentless pull into Pitlochry and wicked descending. CHAPEAU. I think of Mark finishing The 3 piste challenge when he was dead set against starting. CHAPEAU. I think of Sherpy- Il Pirata riding out solo for 20 miles en route to Glenshee. CHAPEAU. Big Graeme piecing his bike together then catching us at the first feed stop. CHAPEAU. I think of Rus Kesley cycling from London to do this. CHAPEAU. I think of Stu and myself riding with new road amigo Kevin Burge for 40 miles, as if we had been riding together for years, never mind strangers a few miles before. CHAPEAU. I think of the amazing fun of our group descent from Cairngorm to Aviemore. CHAPEAU. I then get introspective, I cast back to my own suffering up The Lecht, the death by a thousand cuts up Glencoe and a little more abstractly, at the twisted satisfaction of riding away from the chasing pack at Glenshee. I’ll not CHAPEAU myself cause that would just be utterly dick like, but what this does make me think of is, pop psychology. Particularly “where the mind travels the body follows” Or to put that in Braes City Rouleur parlance ‘ Where the wheels roll the arse doth follow’ . All of these aforementioned examples all paying Creedence Clearwater Revival to either aphorism . Yet what has really surprised me over this weekend, both from my own experiences and that of others, is just how much more range we all seem to have in our own central governors. Even when we think we are beyond exhaustion, we can still kill that unicorn!!! ( I’m sure I’ll work out what I mean by that one day)
So Cycling, in the grand scheme of things, I could never teach you the hows of cycling but hopefully through this story you now understand some of the ‘WHY’s. For some these are obvious and Instant. The rush, the race and the pitting yourselves against man or land. Where for others, it’s a little more abstract. The discovery, the creating stories, the going fast enough to get a thrill but slow enough to enjoy the scenery. Whatever your WHY may be, one things for sure? Once you get this cycling malarkey, it’s a beautiful sport.
There is something totally humbling and satisfying to propel yourself vast distances under your own steam, but to have the pleasure of doing it against the grandeur of the best mountains, climbs and especially on the roads we call home, is a true blessing. The Parcour was billed as a sportive on the finest roads this country has to offer. They never missed the target.
So I now bring this story to an end. But before I do so, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Tour of The Highlands team led by Alan Anderson. They worked tirelessly to make this seamless. I cant say painless as there was plenty of that. I highly recommend this event to anyone that wants to try out a multi-day sportive. Amazing parcour, well organised, great feed stops, hilarious road graffiti, post race meal master strokes and the genius coffee cups. I can’t forget the coffee cup, I still use it everyday. To find out more about this amazing event click links below
To enter The Tour of The Highlands 2018 CLICK HERE
To enter the 3 Piste Challenge 2018 CLICK HERE
Where wheels roll Stories grow. The BCR
We now drive off, Tank as my co pilot, down the same road that only three days ago (yet feels like a life time) was the stage of Tank’s opening cramp inducing attack-attack-attack salvo. The stage of our near miss with the floppy eared bus and the scene of the early resignation from Stu and myself that we weren’t quick enough to ride with the big boys( yet we found out we were..If only for a shortwhile). As we now drive past our ghosting memories; we are tired, we are weary, yet somehow we are still hungry and desperate for more. I now question myself
‘Was crossing the finish line, really just the start?’
The day in STRAVA numbers