Ha well the name's not going at all, I'll even sneak it in when I can.
2017 started in Mar with a No Excuses Sportive in Falkirk, it was just a wee 100Km ride but most importantly it was "free", pay to enter and if you turn up on the day you get your money back.
I did this with Andy and some others who were preparing for a crack at the north coast 500 route; we set a pace for the first half that kept our group together, however eventually the others dropped off and when at the half way feed station Andy's Dad told us to crack on, it was game on time.
Andy was riding his MTB to slow himself down, and I was on my Synapse. This mean for the first time ever I could draft him if I got as low as I could possibly get on the drops! It was rather funny flying down hills with Andy on the front, me in his tow (I did say we weren't trying at the start) saying hi and watching peoples reactions as a midget on a 29er flew past.
We tired of this amusement and kept Ian and Pete company until that half way mark, and as I said from there on it was game on. This mean me on the front and Andy on the tow and I was well up for it, the only time I had to sandbag was on a sharp hill that caught us by surprise as we were preparing another joke overtake and hadn't spotted the turn, I honked up a 7%er in some ridiculous gear while Andy mashed through his cassette looking for a gear he could turn.
We finished in 4hrs 30mins, only moved for 4hrs 7mins which is a good speed for me on a 100Km ride most days but we'd taken 2hrs 20mins over the first section!
My First Audax
Next up was an Audax; I'd read about people doing Audax on Forum's in the past, often DIYs and panicking because they'd missed a control, or lost a receipt and looking for ideas of what to search for. A seemingly bizzare world back then. But I'd been increasing my distances on the road bike over the last few years and with a 300Km and a couple of 200Km rides aready done I was "talked" into doing the "Port Navigation" Audax by Dave. It was very easy for him to sell it to me; basically it's a ride between Ferries and Cake shops. Sold!
An early start saw us join other cyclists at Ballachulish village hall at some ungodly hour for a mass start to catch the Corran Ferry; before heading out across Movern and Sunart for the Loch Aline Ferry. At this point I discovered the concept of Advisory Route; the Audax organizer produces a route sheet and perhaps a GPS file to follow, however unless otherwise stated, the route distance is based on the shortest available route; if you want to take a longer route, or a hillier route, or even a muckier route, that's up to you; you just need to reach the route check controls; so at Inversanda, about half the riders took the shorter hilly route over Glentarbert and Doire nan Gad, and the other half took the longer but flatter coastal route.
I followed a nutter on a fixie, who had cycled up from somewhere in Englandshire... and rode home again afterwards (My first introduction to the concept of an Extended Calendar Event), yes that was up the hilly route.
Descending to the ferry and a check point there was time to purchase a roll and tea before boarding the ferry for Mull.
Once on Mull we once again set off en-mass from Fishnish through Salen and onto the infamous Giburn Rocks road, where the Atlantic crashes against the cliffs the road is cut into at a depth of over 10m! (Enough to make the MSA stop the Mull Rally from using this section of road). Of course we were heading for a food stop, the shop an Pen-Y-Gael had put on Rolls and soup for us and Audaxers congregated on the benches outside to eat before setting off over the Ben More road for Craignure.
At this point I was looking forward to a Calmac burger on the Isle of Mull... As we rocked into the pub in Craignure packed full of Lycra, Goretex and Caradice we ignored the chance to sup here and waited for our ferry... At this point I spotted the Courisk sailing past Duart Castle. Bollocks.
I'm no fan of the Courisk, it's an oversized Loch Class, with only a wee shop selling if you're lucky (and we wern't) muffins, sweets and sandwiches; we wern't lucky because everyone else who had made the same timetable reading mistake or hadn't had time for food in Craignure beat me to the coffee cabin.
After a wait for Heb Isles to get underway for Colonsay while Clansman sat in the other berth we invaded the first chipper we came across in Oban, there's a good selection but the first did the job.
We cracked on for Ballachulish knowing everyone else more sensible was ahead of us and few behind, the cycle route along here isn't too bad and we made good time up the coast, only now as we approached 162Km did Dave tell me he had never ridden a 100 mile ride! A wee celebration and we cracked on. while negotiating a wee chicane in the track Dave put a wheel off the side and only quick reactions stopped him from collecting me on the way down to the ground.
At this point we cut the pace, and it was getting dark, 200Km was approaching in the darkness and we were underlights on the last stretch from the bridge to the hall when the 200Km celebration was made before rolling up to the Arivee and a stamped Brevet card, cake and tea.
Not bad for a first Audax!
Tour of Ayrshire
Next up was a much shorter Sportive, only 112Km, and it started at 10am great, nice drive down from 7am I thought.
Not so, they wanted an extortionate amount if you were going to rock up and park between 9 and 10, not so much between 8 and 9, even less between 7 and 8 and free before that.
Now you may have heard about Fifers...
So there's me getting up at 4am to drive down for the free parking; great I'll get a snooze in the car, nope registration was a 20 minute walk each way... great. Not sitting in the cold at the start waiting, so walked up, registered, walked back, not enough time to sleep so rode up with 15mins to spare...
Except due to a fire out on the course the start was then delayed for 20 mins until the blockage was cleared. That done we were out onto the closed road course; and while nice, probably wasn't worth the entry fee or the early start... that said I've started doing Audax and they much cheaper to enter.
Anyway it was a nice day out, and a reasonable ride, but I doubt I'll be back.
Tour of the Highlands
Now for the event I had been working up to; 3 days, >100 miles each day; over the snow roads!
Starting at Glencoe Ski Resort (in the Back Corries on Rannoch Muir...) we set off down the Black Mount to Bridge of Orchy and then along to Killin where the first feed stop was at the village hall. The advice was to stay in groups for this, and I managed to hang on for a bit before dodging in and out of groups as they passed me at speed; Robbie on the other hand took a different approach starting at the back of the first start group (I was at the front) he passed me and everyone else before we'd summited the black mount; he wasn't caught until much later in the day! Along day on his own!
From Killin the first real challenge of the route arrived, the Ben Lawers road, I'd recced this road so knew what to expect as I dragged myself over into Glen Lyon, then it was onto the Coshieville to Tummel Bridge on the side of Schehallion; at this point the ride started to become sociable, a fellow Fifer Joady rode with me for a bit as we approached Fortingal but I was stronger over the hill and arrived at Tummel Bridge for a feed stop on my own; now that would be enough climbing for some people and there's an easy route to Pitlochry, but oh no not for this ride.
Off we set, up the Trinafour road and then onto Dalnachardoch, as we climbed to the high point of this section I saw ahead of me riders stopping to put on rain jackets; I looked at the sky and felt the precipitation drizzling lightly and knew stopping was pointless.
A final feed halt at Dalnachardoch and it's downhill all the way to Pitlochry, again I was occasionally swallowed up by faster groups on this, but rode into Pitlochry with a couple of other riders who clearly hadn't looked closely enough at the route profile. Yes the finish is at the High School and that's UP!
Round a corner and the final ramp laughs in your face, certainly more than the riders who seconds earlier laughed at you for dropping into the wee ring on a fast descent!
Chip Butty as a reward it was off to the hostel for the night.
Now we were joined by more sensible people out to do the 3 Pistes sportive.
Starting at the High School there was no time for an easy warm up as we head out the Moulin road and over to Kirkmichael before heading for Glenshee. Again I had recce'ed the main climb of this section and got speaking to a Dundee based rider called Derek who stuck with me for most of the day. He was one of the sensible ones, but our paces matched well on the flat and easier hills, but he beat me to the Cairnwell feed station.
Now I have climbed the Cairnwell from the South, and descended to Braemar four times; twice that descent has been made on an MTB and twice on a nice light fast road bike. My 2 MTB descents remain significantly faster, as both times on the road bike I've been presented with a North Westerly!
We worked in small groupts on the descent to Braemar and along to Crathie where we started the climb to Gairnshiel, I've also ridden this before but the NW wind made this brutal, Derek was off and I couldn't blame him, a stronger climber he would have just got cold either hanging back or hanging around. The climb over to Corgaff was similarly brutal in the wind but then at last we got shelter.
Yes that shelter in the woods north of Corgaff is where the Lecht road starts to climb, hairpins at 25%, people walking, a broken motorbike at the side of the road; but yes I kept it going.
The mist was hanging low and the Ski Centre normally seen way above you on that long final drag was hidden unable to tease, thankfully this was yet another food halt and the centre was open allowing us to hide from the cold if we wished.
But I cracked on, it was down hill from now to Coylum Bridge, I thought.
Of course I had forgotten about Bridge of Brown, bombing over the bridge too late I realized we were heading for yet another double digit gradient and I mashed the big ring just long enough for the slight easing at the cottage to let me change gear.
I picked up another rider as we neared Nethy bridge and rode together and with others through to Coylumbridge and the final climb on the Ski road.
I've ridden this a few times so was ready for it, I know the Sugarbowl corner is the only hard part, so a mental win was made as I got round here, and I started to pick up speed again, onto the oneway section and I felt like I was flying, the data says differently but I felt it.
Into the car park and bemused bystander tourists who were only up for the railway cheered riders into the finish.
As I stopped after crossing the line I Derek approached me with a cup of pasta and mince.
Of course you can't ride up Cairngorm without then riding down, and with my bag in someones car I made the best of it I could, unfortunately some of the drivers like dragging their brakes down here and I was held up. Stopping at the bottom of the hill by the Hostel road I was able to cheer on other riders.
Day 3 "The fastest Imperial Century you'll ever do"
Or so it was billed, erm right.
Now I was sore, I rode out to the start with Russ who had cycled up from London to do this, and knew my legs were not going to enjoy the day. I set off in an early group again and was regularly passed, but myself and 2 other riders managed to form a small group and battered on down the laggan road, a few more were collected to our pace on the way, but an unfortuantely timed toilet stop for me at wolftracks saw me looking for another group, I eventually picked up a rider from Dunfermline CC for the ride along to the Laggan dam for a food stop and onto Spean bridge.
Of course today I was wearing my cookie monster top, essential wear on a day like this and I was encouraged to try the cookies, regularly!
The hard dig out of Spean Bridge to the Commando Monument was the first real test of the legs for the day and by now they were going fine, before bombing along to the canal bridge which had stopped a good sized bunch of riders, here I picked up my earlier group again and rode with them until yet another badly timed toilet stop! No bladder synchronization today.
Another stop at Kilmallie hall and then onto Morvern for the Corran ferry, of course now was the time for the rain to start. 2 fantastic days and then this.
To make things worse as I cycled through Camusnagal my rear mech suddenly dropped into the 12t; exploration revealled a frayed cable, so that was me stuck with 2 gears; 34-12 and 50-12 not ideal with Glencoe still to come.
After a while I realized I was struggling too much on the small bumps and I had to think of a way to get the mech up a few gears, using the lower stop screw I was able to get into the 14T which was better than the 12 at least.
I just missed the ferry which gave time to contemplate the final last climb, 34-14T isn't too bad I suppose. The mechanic at Corran asked me if I was carrying on, silly question.
Hitting the road I knew it was fairly flat or downhill to Glencoe village before ramping up on the old road, and passing my accommodation for the night was tempting as I ground my way up the small sharp lumps, now it was out onto the new road, climbing in front of me sometimes shallow sometimes steep, I know the drag up to the Study is the steepest part and i managed to push on up there in the big gear, I was even overtaking people as I cut through the smirr at what felt like a good pace; I was passing more people than were passing me so it must have been good yeah?
Onto the Back Corries road, past black rock cottage, now it's getting tougher and only going to get worse, 5% in the middle one of the riders I roomed with in aviemore cheered me on from his van, into the car park, riders I'd met along the road cheering everyone in "come on nearly there"; I'm honking now, honking heavily, the bike being thrown from side to side looking for every bit of power left, and over the line "Is that it?"; "Aye it is"; "ace, ran out of gears"; "Looked like it!"
I'll be back in 2018.
Rannoch and a Ride to the Sun
With the bike in the shop being fixed I had 2 big rides not long after, the first a 210Km Audax from Forfar to Rannoch and back, and the other the Carlisle to Edinburgh "Ride to the Sun"
After the Port Navigation ride where I sandbaged for Dave it was role reversal time as I dragged my heavy touring bike over the hilly terrain of the Central Highlands, Forfar to Kirkmichael shop/Café, to Pitlochry, to Kinloch Rannoch Café, to Scehallion, to the Motor Grill in Ballinluig :-) and back to Forfar.
You'll see the food theme there!
Very tiring on the heavy bike and so soon after an epic sportive.
And onto Ride to the Sun, now I couldn't just get the train to CArlisle and ride back over night could I?
No of course not.
There's me driving down to Crammond Island car park early doors in the motorhome for a 9am start for a ride through the borders to Carlisle via Peebles, Innerleithen, Cappercleuch and Moffat before a bomb down the old A74 to Longtown and into Carlisle where Simon was sitting having just got off a train from Dundee (via Glasgow of course)
So with what most would consider a day of riding already in my legs we joined the masses for the ride north, retracing steps to Moffat where we joined the chip shop queue in the dying light and finished our fish suppers in darkness.
This ride is designed for fun, and with darkness out came the glow sticks and wheel light ornamentation. We climbed the Devils beeftub with the lights of houses down in the valley, and a line of red bike lights leading to the dark blue sky. The road ahead lit by small lamps and the blinking red light ahead of you.
The summit was presented only by the easing of the gradient and the sudden feeling of wind on your ears, the beef tubs is not a tough climb with an average gradient of around 4% but it was still a welcome relief, even better was we approached the Crook Inn where a DJ was pumping out Tunes and Bananaman was Dishing out water and Bananas!
from there it was a gentle ride into Edinburgh city centre before picking up one of the old railway lines out to Cramond where we arrived in time to see the sun rise over Mossmorran Chemical Plant.
And that was really the highlights of the year, after all this I lost some motiviation as I really just needed a rest, A cancelled Sportive in July saw me ride the route anyway on Cowal before heading to Bute for a day to climb the Serpentine road in Rothesay and explore the island.
August and September I abandoned the bike for all but one day of an epic holiday to Scandinavia before returning to do the Etal-U-Can and "Home in time for tea" Audaxes.
And it's into winter, I do have plans for next year.
But right now all I'll say is that it involves lots and lots of Audaxing.
I may even look at a Carradice catalogue.