Monday, 8 April 2013

A great week in Scotland

After a slow start to the year, and not feeling great, I am happy that a level of fitness has returned and my cycling Mojo is back.

After the excitement of my day at Adidas, the week was rounded off when the family agreed that I could take my bike on our Easter holiday to Scotland.
When we went to Strachur in October last year, I was disappointed that I didn't take the bike, especially as I had ridden some of the roads the month before during the Asthma UK Loch to Loch ride. I had looked at some routes and hoped to get out a couple of times during the week.

All did not go to plan though! I packed the bike and all my kit into the car on Friday night, ready for an early start on Saturday. Unfortunately the car didn't want to play, and when Mrs P and I tried to swap the cars on the drive Mine started, stalled and than just sat there not wanting to play! I pushed it back, kicked it and swore a couple of times, and went to bed! In the morning, I was hopeful that it had all been a bad dream, and the battery fairies had been and charged it up for me, and all would be well. As you can imagine, I was surprised to find that the battery was still flat and the car wasn't going anywhere. We called Mrs P's Dad, who came on holiday with us, along with Mrs P's Mum and Nan, and asked them to bring some jump leads, hoping that would do the trick! No surprise then that they didn't. It was looking less like I was taking my bike, as it wouldn't fit in the other car! Anyway, after a quick planning session, Mrs P headed off to to find a new battery, while I kicked the car again and removed the offending item, and waited for her return. Luckily things were now going well, and Mrs P rounded the corner with a big smile on her face and a battery in the boot. We were on the road, 5 minutes later that we had originally planned. Well done family Palefish.

The first opportunity came earlier than expected. Easter Sunday morning, before everyone was up and active, I headed out for a quick leg stretch. I had an hour to play with so I decided to ride out for 30 mins, then ride back, aiming to get to a ruined Castle on the banks of Loch Fyne. I had forgotten how undulating the roads are in Scotland. My quick spin turned out to be a bit more of a leg stretch than planned! No huge climbs, but 258m in 15 miles was enough for someone used to a nearly pan flat Wirral, but the views are worth every pedal stroke.

The bike kind of spoils the view, but get used to it!!

There was only one problem with the cottage we had rented. It happened to be at the top of a lane that was about 1:10 for 100m. Not the best way to finish every ride!

The last test of every ride
I decided that I would then space my rides through the week, which would mean that we could plan in all the family stuff too!!

The next ride took me into Hells Glen, and onto the Rest and be thank full pass. This ride tested my climbing ability, with some testing 16% sections. The ride to the start of the loop was tough enough, finishing with a 2 mile climb at 3.5%. Again the view was great from here, and I saw some locals standing round a Tinkers wedding Circle.

The first part of the climb into the Glen was a 1 mile 6% ave slog, not unlike some of the Welsh climbs I hate! Have I mentioned before that I hate hills?

But What goes up, must go down, and the descent into the bottom of the glen, for nearly 3 miles, was fantastic. The Tarmac was smooth and the corners were sweeping.

In Hells Glen

As I was riding down, I also knew that although, as I had said earlier, what goes up must come down, in Scotland what goes down then goes up again, especially when you are riding into a Glen! After a quick gel and a nibble on an energy bar, more for my mind than my body, I started the climb back out of Hell to the rest And Be Thankful car park. The road meandered slowly up, steadily at first, at about 5% then for the last mile there were some tight hairpin bends and road signs warning of 16% inclines.

Half way out of Hell

Looking back into Hell ( the last hairpin in the distance)

At the top with another stunning background
I didn't break any records riding through Hell, but that didn't matter to me, as I had done it, at my pace and enjoyed the scenery. Whilst I was having a coffee in the Car Park, I realised that this week was the first time I had ridden solo for over a year! It is great riding in the club and with friends, but I also enjoyed just looking out for myself, not having to make sure everyone was together and shout and point out obstacles in the road! 
The ride back the the cottage included the descent from Rest and be thankful, where I saw a helicopter lifting cement to some works further along the pass. These sort of things you tend to miss from a car!

My third ride of the week turned out to be the toughest. I wasn't aware that the route I had chosen was as tough as it was until I bought the second book by Simon Warren "Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs"
while we were visiting Oban. If I had known this climb existed and I was about to ride it I would not have bought the book!!!  After reading about the Bealach Maim climb, scoring 8/10 in the book I decided to ride the loop in reverse, climbing the "Cinderella" side rather than the "Ugly Sister" side.
I rode the same route as Easter Sunday to the Castle then on to Otter Ferry. A beautiful spot at the end of a great 13 mile stretch of single lane loch side road. 

From the Beauty of the Loch side, it was straight into the Climb. Although this was the easy side of the Hill, it was still quite challenging for me. It is 3.5 miles long, and regularly hits 16%. There are lots of fake flats and false hope summits! There was an especially dodgy section by the side of some pine trees, where the snow and Ice hadn't melted, mix this with about 8% incline and it was a little scary for a bit!

I think this climb was tougher than the one out of Hell, as it was straighter, and there were less "easy" sections to catch a breath and give the legs a rest for a second. But as always, I was treated to a great view from the top.

I was looking forward to the descent, hoping for a similar road to the one into Hell. I couldn't have been more wrong! the surface was covered in either grass or gravel, and there were some nasty pot holes and broken surfaces right where you don't want them. There were other natural obstacles too!

I had to ride under this fallen tree! 
 I rode the brakes for most of the descent, and even with them on full I was still hitting 20mph in some sections. As I approached the "steepest corner in Scotland" I decided enough was enough and got off the bike. I didn't feel in control, and wasn't sure the brakes would hold out much longer. Sometimes you have to be able to know when to stop, so that you can ride another day!

According to "Another 100 Greatest Cycling climbs", this is Scotland's steepest corner. At least 30% on the apex, I certainly agree, and I was coming down it!!
You can follow the road climbing up through the centre of the picture, twisting round the trees and then up by the Pines.
The ride back to Strachur should have been simple by comparison with what I had just done, but I didn't account for one more climb, another 3.5mile drag at just over 4% ave. This did lead to a great descent back to the cottage though.

To finish off the holiday, I decided to ride round the loch to Inveraray, and have a coffee at Brambles Cafe.
When I did the Loch to Loch ride last September, Brambles provided lunch on the first day and it was great, especially the Caramel Shortbread (for those who did the loch to loch, it is still as good!) The sun was shining brighter and I wished I had taken my shorts with me as the temperature  rose to double figures! The weather had been great all week, we were really lucky, but even with the sun shining there was still a cold chill in the air.
The Road to Inveraray is busy, mostly coaches and logging trucks, but the road is wide and there are plenty of passing points. To emphasise how hilly Scotland's roads are, even their hump back bridges are excessive!

At least 5 meters high, straight up straight down! 
Sitting in the Sun outside Brambles in Inveraray

 I didn't stop for long, and was soon back on the road retracing my route to Strachur. It is difficult to comprehend on maps, but Lochs are exceptionally large! My cafe and back was 40 miles, and each point was less than half way down each side!

Nearly home, with Inveraray in the background
It was great taking the bike, and exploring the routes in a small section of the Argyll area. I can highly recommend it, even if you don't like hills, as there is always a great reward on offer for your efforts.

Ride stats for the week:

Count:4 Activities
Distance:121.25 mi
Time:8:51:33 h:m:s
Elevation Gain:2,336 m
Avg Speed:13.7 mph
Avg HR:158 bpm
Avg Bike Cadence:--
Calories:5,559 C

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