Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Wells, Mells and Old Rail Trail 100km Audax Saturday 11th March 2017

This year Audax Club Bristol, aka ACB, are organising some new Great Western Randonnées showcasing the West Country. The first one is Wells Mells and Old Rail Trail 100km with 1.5 AAA points for climbing. My entry was in back in January and I saw it as a lovely day out after the tough test of Gospel Pass Audax last weekend. A walk in the park. A stretch of the legs. Only 100km. OK there are some hills lumps in there. Also the small matter of 15km each way to start and finish.
Painting of St Alfred's Monument (by local artist hanging in Red Lion Pub, Kilmington) Pic Russ F
For various reasons I mapped my route on Ride with GPS at nearly midnight on Saturday night, I find my Garmin works better at route finding if I trace any provided routes, so I am far less likely to get lost, and breaking into sections means I know where the controls are. Flipping heck we're going as far south as Dorset and into Wiltshire. This is the official route:

Stage 1 Whitchurch to Wells 26km 347m

I managed to leave home by 8 as planned, slightly concerned about finding the cycle path on the new Bristol South Link Road. The signposted gate was open from Festival Way near Ashton Gate at the cow crossing place, and other than negotiating a couple of farm gates, as the route is also for cows to get to their fields, it was all quite straightforward. A nice wide separate cycle path, steady climb, far easier than the haul through Ashton Gate and Hartcliffe Way. Not too much urban sprawl after this bit 15km done and we haven't started yet. I am having problems with my gearing again, stuck in the small ring, not a big deal would be a none starter today if I were stuck in the big ring again.

I've arranged to meet Lynette and Pete at Whitehall Garden Centre where the start and finish controls are. The normal routine of picking up the control card, a little self seal bag to put it in and greeting fellow audaxers from BRCC (Russ, Julian, Lynette, Pete, Robert and Yann) and other familiar faces from previous audax.  The Weston Wheelers were out again. It is lovely to feel part of the audax "club" now. Everyone is open and friendly and not at all cliquey like some cycling sportives and events. Everyone is respected for turning up and taking part, never mind what gear or how fast you are. Lots of encouragement, and mechanical help if needed from fellow "daxers."

We're all under way at 9, it's nice to be out of thermal trousers and wearing shorts and leg/arm warmers today although it is overcast. We are lucky with the weather, no rain today.

The first ten kilometres are quite sociable as we head south to the familiar territory of Chew Magna and down the west side of Chew Valley lake. Familiarity means you know the first serious test of the day, West Harptree Hill and I am deliberately plodding. I know from experience that trying to push anything early on is a disaster for me, it takes me hours to warm up to my best.

Thankfully up West Harptree with no walking and it's a pleasant yomp across the top of the Mendips before the sharp drop down to Wells. It's Saturday market day but with plenty of other riders about and the Garmin working well, there were no worries about getting lost, just temptations to stop at the lovely varied stalls as we were walking in the throngs. I find the Love Coffee stand in the market melee. Coffees purchased and consumed, and a gold star sticker in my control card. Hang on, the guy says everyone was getting one, I thought I was extra special! Time 10.30
Love Coffee on Market Day in Wells Pic Pete H
 Stage 2 Wells to Kilmington 33km 534m

Now we are going out of familiar territory. We walk through the Bishop's Palace by Wells cathedral and pick up the bike path through the town city in a south easterly direction. Lovely lanes but we skirt Shepton Mallet and push on to Bruton with Redlynch being our most southerly point, racking up some more stiff climbs, and we turn north easterly towards King Alfred's Tower.
King Alfred's Tower Stourhead
Some cheery soul (ACB organiser!) had chalked encouragement on the road, mentioning something like gradients of 15%, "come on audaxers you can do it."It's a very tough climb, and a fair few cars and riders on the lane.I bottled at the nasty final kick and managed to walk up. Heroic Lynette cycled the lot. What a great spot, but flipping Alfred did get a few swear words flung his way. A pause for group congratulations, picture taking, chat, admiring of scenery and gulping water and bananas.
Yann Pete and Lynette at the top of that blooming steep hill
Lynette and Pete posing
King Alfred'd Tower
Pete Lynette and I, we made it half way round. Pic Pete H
We were relieved to coast down to the Red Lion Pub at Kilmington, nearly missing it. Pete was having such fun up front he shot off and ignored two women hollering his name, for some unknown reason! The pub looked very nice, the food looked good but unfortunately so many people were ordering we thought we could wait a very long time. A fossil stamp on our control cards, more cereal bars and bananas. I have not been able to shift onto my big front ring all day, Yann kindly has a go at fixing it, but diagnoses something like grit jamming in my internal tubing (ohh err missus) and we leave it as being stuck on granny ring all day is not a problem today! It was a bad move to wash all that Welsh mud off Doris yesterday. A group decision was made to push on to Mells Café. Time 13.05

Stage 3 Kilmington to Mells 19km 222m

Woo hoo, swoopy downhill bit. Well for 1/2 a mile. What a lovely part of the country. We wound our way up a steady climb and then a nice easy run into Mells, past Nunney Castle. Our cunning plan worked well as we had left many people, who had arrived at the pub ahead of us, in the pub waiting for food, and the lovely community run Mells Café attached to the Post Office and village shop, had empty tables and only a couple of others waiting. Get in.

Soup, sandwich and a huge pot of tea was perfect. I had got to the stage of needing real food, bananas, nuts and Nakd bars were not doing it for me now. The soup was spinach and purslane. I have never come across purslane before, but full of omega 3 and combined with spinach, meant Popeye and Olive Oyl had a very healthy lunch. I loved it! Not so sure of Pete's opinion mind. Yann kindly let me steal some of his leaves for my cheese sandwich, perfect!
Mells Café Spinach and purslane soup as green as green can be.
Yann enjoying his panini and 'leaves'
Back outside and the Weston Wheelers rolled in , we had jumped ahead at the pub,

Weston Wheelers joined BRCC
There is even a bike pump at Mells café. Stop here if you are in the area and support a worthy community enterprise because it's a great shop and café! Time 14.30

Stage 4 Mells to Whitchurch 26km 392m

Not far now, but the last stage was lovely but quite punishing. We were glad to have eaten. This is the section incorporating the "Old Rail Trail" aka Colliers Way Route 24 of Sustrans National Cycle Network. What a find! I had no idea this off route trail was here, not that far from us, and unlike the Strawberry Line the surface is smooth tarmac and not grit. It was also downhill the whole way. We were careful as plenty of groups, families and dog walkers also out enjoying the traffic free path. It will connect up to the Bath Two Tunnels route, if it doesn't already.

After that came the last 3 1/2 hills. A good test of the legs and I failed again at the top of the last one. Legs and lungs on strike. Oh well, not too much shame.

The last few kilometres back to the Final Control at the start in Whitchurch. We beat the Weston Wheelers again by being cunning, not that audax are races or anything. Lynette beat me in the final sprint, grr. That was tougher than Gospel Pass audax last weekend!

The garden centre staff were now packing up. All those people who have spent the day garden centre visiting and gardening, how knackering. I'd far rather do what we did. Tremendous day.

Our final congratulatory stamp on our cards, we thanked Will and the fabulous team for organising and manning controls, Wells and Mells audax 2017 DONE! Time 16.55
Wells and Mells and Old Rail Trail Brevet card complete with motivational stickers and stamps.
Lynette and I rode back home together in the drizzle, well to my house, she did an extra 10km on top again. Ride w GPS indicated 1300m climbing, we did 1900m! A well lumpy day over 130km.

Postscript - The Sunday Recovery Ride

There is this theory about recovery rides, to stretch out after a long ride. I am not so sure. I had decided I was going to do half the BRCC Sunday Club run the day after the audax, as Steve was playing golf anyway. I was seeing it more as muti-day training. After all we rode day after day after day of hilly riding in Scotland last summer, and I need to get fitter, stronger and faster. It took 5 miles warm up to get my knee to rotate properly again.

I load up an amended route and as I am awake head off out to Backwell at 8 to meet the BRCC crew. Lynette turns up on foot, declaring that I am crazy, but Julian is there, he did audax plus extra to make 100 miles yesterday and is doing the full hilly route today. Julian is a machine!

After buying more bananas, and sharing them out as I couldn't carry a whole bag, off we set, at a leisurely pace for the others and a lick for me. 25km chasing round the Yatton flatlands.

The test is Burrington Coombe. Off they all shot, I set a record, for my slowest ascent ever. My right (replaced) knee is very swollen and sore and I have burning legs. I said goodbye to the others heading off to Wookey Hub café, and looped off round from Charterhouse and descended down West Harptree Hill (reversing yesterday's route) to Chew Stoke. I had meant to reward myself with coffee and cake at New Manor Farm cafe on the eastern shore of Chew Valley lake, but in my haste I shot down the west side and couldn't face going round. Not even for cake. That is two cycling weekends on the trot I have not eaten cake. Heroic or what? My legs were not co operating so I went the fastest way home, the drag up to Winford was painful and slow. Last whizz down to Barrow Gurney and along the shocking state of Wild Country Lane and home. Pleased I went out, but not sure I achieved any extra fitness nor recovery! I spent the afternoon in the bath recovering properly.

190km and over 2000m climbing this weekend. not too shabby. I did 66.6% of BRCC ride in terms of distance, height climbed and speed of the others!

Monday, March 06, 2017

Gospel Pass Audax: The Hares and the Tortoises Saturday 4th March 2017

Summit Gospel Pass 2017
So here I go again. Setting the alarm for 5.30am on a Saturday. Why?! One of my girls asked me "why do you do it mum?" The good thing about a lovely cycling friend offering me a lift to Chepstow, and wanting to ride with me at my slow pace, means I cannot let Lynette down. I cannot lose face either after publicly announcing I am having another go at Gospel even though I now know what is coming! Here come the BRCC Gospel Girls Tortoises (Backwell Road Cycling Club)

Lynette picks me up at 6.15am, bikes are already loaded as I took mine round to hers on Thursday night. The dreaded porridge has been consumed (with chia seeds and blueberries) and the sun is coming up as we drive over the old Severn Bridge to Chepstow, with winking red bike lights on the cycle lane as the tough hardy souls riding to the start roll across.

No crises as bikes are unloaded, control cards collected, but all day parking tickets purchased and displayed and fellow BRCC members Simon, Stu and Kate and James are spotted and chatted with. Unfortunately we are one intrepid member down who is very definitely ill and has turned home, get well soon Russ.

A mass start of around 130 I think. The weather is looking good this morning, with forecast showers and increasing south westerly winds this afternoon. No snow.
7.30am departure from Chepstow Castle Picture courtesy of Audax Club Bristol 
Stage 1 Chepstow to Monmouth 28km 404m includes the only info control point. All other evidence of completion will be our control cards being stamped at the 3 control points (cafés and pubs) and at the end. The two sharp ascents out of Chepstow do not allow for a nice gentle warm up. Again I am very slow and steady and Lynette is somewhere off in front. A gathering of the distinctive yellow and royal blue Weston Wheelers jerseys in a lay by indicate a puncture already, or early hedgerow breaks? Of course that was the info control point, we forgot about checking the signpost for the Offa's Dyke long distance path. Kindly Weston Wheelers divulge the answer so all is well.

We chug along, up and down and admiring the beautiful scenery through St Briavels to our first control at Henry's Café in Monmouth. An early stop at just 28km, but I didn't make the same mistake as last year and we made sure to stop for coffee, even if we were already well back in the field <audaxes are not races> Very nice latte!
1st coffee stop - Henry's Café Monmouth
First stamp into our control cards and chatted with Chrissy and Katie from Weston Wheelers who I have "seen" on Strava but never met, they are inspiring cyclists and ever so lovely and friendly too. I dubbed the Weston Wheelers chain gang the "hares" as they shot off, stopped at the info control and we all came into Monmouth at about the same time.
Life Audaxes begin after coffee
So now our audax can properly begin after coffee! The sun was appreciated, felt silly having heavy winter waterproofs stowed away at this point.
Sun shining on Lynette in Monmouth
Could you do Gospel on that?
Stage 2 Monmouth to Hay on Wye 55km 648m

Not quite as much ascent on the Monmouth to Hay-on-Wye section, but it is steady, and we get into the groove. Lynette is off again and I resist the temptation to keep up, I will not make it if I go too fast. I tend to get stronger as the day goes on, but not faster!

We can see Hay Bluff masking Gospel Pass over there:
Hay Bluff from the north
The lovely lanes dip too and from from England to Wales and back again several times.
Looking towards Hay on Wye

Gospel Pass for later!
The wind is getting up and we do enjoy a bit of a tailwind into Hay but not much compared to the headwind for most of the rest of the day.
The best Cherry and Almond Cake, allegedly. Tic 674 is for my beans!
A nice surprise in Hay. My parents are down from Cumbria for a few days, and said I was to carry on with my plans, so Steve did bring them over for a drive and they arrived at The Granary Café in Hay on Wye just before us. Steve did say he thought we should have been making better time, as I had texted to say when we arrived in Monmouth and he thought that was leaving time. Smug git!

We rolled in with the Weston Wheelers again, and also saw Kate and James who had already consumed beans at another café as Granary was heaving. Fortunately the rush was easing and we did wait and order a selection of cakes (everyone else) tea and sensibly I ordered beans for me.  Mum dad and Steve set off to mooch in the book shops and Lynette and I head off out to find it raining, but the road is indicating we have just missed a very torrential downpour. The majority of the field will be up on Gospel Pass, it does pay to be tortoise like sometimes.
Heading out from Granary café with my mum and dad wishing us well.
Section 3 Hay on Wye to Abergavenny via Gospel Pass 34km 555m

With dropping temperatures and strongish winds even in the valley, we set off through the high hedges and past fields with newborn lambs as the climbing starts in earnest. There was a fair amount of traffic and other audaxers and getting up in one go without stopping may be a tall order. It was hard going, at one point several cars halted on the steepest bend and somehow I weaved round everything and kept going, there would have been a slow domino effect of everyone having clipped in falls otherwise. The hares were slowly passing us.

Knowing that the climbing eases up after the treeline made me a bit complacent but the strong headwind hit us as we pulled up and it was a long flog, the last steep pull nearly finished me off, as my parents passed by with a cheery wave from open windows. I was very giddy by the top, and annoyingly hadn't realised that the official Strava segment finished 100m down the other side, I should have kept on going to get an accurate time. Never mind. Lynette arrives seconds later (she had to unfortunately stop for those darned cars) and the Weston Wheelers, and a large walking party gave us all rousing applause. I wondered where the Gospel Choir was, but it was lovely that it was more of a joint celebration of achievement. The highest road pass in wales, Gospel Pass DONE!
Lynette at the top of Gospel Pass
The Gospel Girls
Cereal bars munched, all our layers on for the chilly, wet and cold descent. I lead the hares and the tortoises, glad to have a free view of the road and nice that no idiots came screaming past descending at speed. The road was like a river bed, and my chain was grinding and crunching in an alarming manner on the occasional turn of the pedals. We met a tractor, several cars and a very scary incident of a quad bike with a sheep dog running free alongside coming towards us at a lick of knots. The sheep dog was unflappable and no incidents other than passing other folk with punctures.  We continued through the trees towards Abergavenny and turned the corner onto the main road, still into the wind. The Weston Chain Gang chugged past and Katie said "get in behind" I just managed to hang on for a tow into Abergavenny, or more accurately Mardy. I did not miss the pub this year like I did last year, and we pulled into the Crown and Sceptre, hares and tortoises together. I could not feel my feet at all. Lynette is very slight, a real athlete, she was feeling the cold even more. Large mugs of tea and we slowly came too a little.

Section 4 Abergavenny to Chepstow via Usk 43km 446m

I'm getting quite concerned that it is nearly 4pm and Lynette doesn't have lights. The next 25km are OK ish but then there is one heck of a long grinding climb for 10km before the final descent. I have had helmet lights on all day flashing away,and make sure my industrial commuting lights are fixed on now and used for extra safety as the light is very dull.

The pleasant 25km are dispatched efficiently enough, taking it in turns to lead out. Our Weston pals left before us so we were fairly on our own now. We turn left at Usk and eat something (me) and Lynette downs a caffeine laced gel. I could not revisit gels. I have still only ever consumed one gel in my cycling career, at this point in the audax last year!

I shield Lynette from the traffic (because I have lights, illuminating her reflective stripes on her legs) up the long steady climb. We do not have sufficient daylight time to turn off and do the extra bit on the lanes at the top and stick to the main road. The descent is exhilarating, smooth fast and crud free the road has dried out and there is very little traffic.We havd passed the tandem at the bottom and know we are not last.

We arrive in Chepstow, turn into the Three Tuns pub bang on 6pm. The latest finish time, so we are legal (ish) Reunited with the Weston Wheelers who did the little extra (and then ride back across the bridge after final control) A great day. We thanked the lovely patient organisers, got our cards stamped and left them for validation. We should get them back in the post in a few weeks. I love my collection of audax cards with fun stamps.

A quick wobbly selfie in front of the castle a the sun sets. We are very pleased with ourselves. We wrestle the bike rack back on to the car, load the bikes and we're on our way.

My right foot finally thawed out in the shower at home two hours after the finish. Left foot pink, right one white. No lasting frostbite. Chinese takeaway and red wine devoured.

The Gospel Girls had a great day out, and I was relieved we were not last, and we had no mechanicals or accidents. Thank you Lynette! March Strava Gran Fondo also completed, that's 15 months in a row now.
We made the arrivée at Three Tuns Pub next to Chepstow Castle by dusk 18.00

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Gospel Pass Audax lumps and bumps 12th March 2016 actual with 2017 preview

Of everything scheduled for the first half of 2016, "Gospel" was the biggest one for me. The guys at BRCC (Backwell Road Cycling Club) love the 100km audaxes, but they are not such a big challenge for seasoned cyclists, they regularly do 200km, 300, 400, 600 and sometimes 1200km audaxes. However, although "only" 150km or about 100 miles, Gospel Pass is not that extreme in length but...it goes over Gospel Pass, at 550m the highest road pass and longest road climb in Wales. There is 2000m of climbing in total. It often snows as scheduled early in the season, and 'The Pass' is climbed from the steep side ie Hay on Wye to Abergavenny on this Audax. The "big one" is two thirds of the way round. A bump in the lumps.
Doris resting at the top of Gospel Pass
I knew the other guys would be a lot faster, and I did not want people feeling like they had to wait for me, so I roped Steve in to "support" me. Technically against audax rules but he did not follow me round in the car, nor give me 'stickies', or indeed supply me with anything in-between control points. His intention was to watch the exciting final Six Nations England vs Wales match in the pub/s! Importantly, I knew that if it all became too much, or I had a mechanical, or fell off and hurt myself, that I could be rescued. 

I made a few enquiries, and everyone's answer without fail was "Gospel is a toughie" It's a long way, it snows and it's not just 'The Pass'. Their body language did imply that perhaps 'I might not be up to it'...and 'was it wise trying?' Unspoken, and all kindly meant, but it did become a matter of pride. As long as it wasn't icy or totally ridiculous conditions I was going to give it my all, I owed it to Steve dragging him over to Wales for the day to drive round in the car and hang about for ten hours, and then to give up wasn't fair! 

The Garmin is helping with the small matter of route finding. There is no way I can read route sheets going along, but the Garmin seems to not work sometimes, and seize up. All my fault generally but it always happens when you most need it.

Kick off is 8am from Chepstow Castle Car Park. The BRCC guys were riding over from Aust to save the bridge fee, but I needed every last leg mile for the route. I rode a 200km event called 'Break the Cycle' last summer, that was 1750m of height, but I had not done as much prep as I'd like and March is not July weather wise! We passed some cycliss riding over the bridge as the sun rose, arriving at 7.40 to find it was allowable to start early, so already I was behind. Fortunately the very lovely Pete (he of the exploding tyres and congenial company on Jack and Grace and Flapjack Audaxes) had waited for me, deciding that chasing Russ, Gary, Simon and co was not his idea of a pleasant day out.

Pete had the disadvantage of knowing exactly what was ahead.The weather was as good as it gets in March, almost into double figures by midday, dry and a light breeze. Absolutely no excuses to back out and blame the weather either.

So the first half is Chepstow to Monmouth and up to Hay-on-Wye, about 90km. I started off even more ploddier than normal, I know if I start "fast for me" I will never make it. So Pete was a few hundred metres ahead, and I huffed and puffed up those initial and not insubstantial first few "lumps." Steve's plan was to drive up to Hay, have a decent breakfast 'full English' and then ride back until he met us coming out of Monmouth, so he had had a reasonable flat ride as he hasn't been riding during the winter.

Monmouth was too soon for cake and coffee, we pushed on. Boy was I to regret that decision later! The cake cabinet was stunning.

The next bit was relatively OK up to Hay. We spotted Steve riding towards us and teamed up as a three, but Pete and I were struggling. We needed food. So a quick downing of cereal bars and life improved quite a bit. We pulled into the control at Hay on Wye. Our mileage was at 90km (yes I cycle in kilometres not miles!) or just over half way, in horizontal terms, not really started on the vertical. We passed all those lovely book shops but no time to stop and read today.

A three quarters of an hour break for the best beans on toast ever in Hay on Wye. Perfect audax food. We marched off at 1pm for the "big one". The climbing started straight away, and we had to pause to let some cars past, and take off boil in the bag jackets.

I stay in granny gear and chug, and chug some more. At some point Pete stopped, I carried on chugging. Five minutes later our car, with Steve, Pete and Pete's bike on the back too pass me with a cheery wave from a relieved Pete that he may get to see the rugby after all. I stand up for a short while, sit back down again. I am mesmerised by the couple on the yellow tandem and their efficient cadence, they pull ahead.

But it is opening up into moorland. In the deepest recesses of my brain I remember someone saying the worst is over once it opens up above the tree line. They were right. I kept on going, not daring to stop. A much younger rider strolls past me, I have a suspicion it is Janine, who is a BRCC member but I haven't yet met in real life as opposed to online, she tends to ride speedy with Bristol clubs. We exchange a few words, and I pass her when she stops to take photos. I still cannot decide if keeping going was the best decision. I have so few photos of the day as a result. I make it to the top!
Top of Gospel Pass, tiny patches of old snow
I am on cloud nine literally and figuratively speaking, but I am not with anyone to celebrate which is quite sad. No sign of Steve (I later find out that all the parking spaces were taken so they couldn't stop) I ate something. Janine arrived and offered to take a photo, I had taken my decent jacket off and had an old shiny jersey on which is mortifying. But I suppose I look like a #ThisGirlCan picture with my great belly rolls.
Doris and I at the summit of Gospel Pass
Now the small matter of the long descent into Abergavenny. It went on and on, I was very cautious, with wet, gravelly and pot holey surfaces I did not let rip. A few people shot past. We had come up the steeper side. It was wooded valley, and the Garmin had frozen. I followed signs for Abergavenny and eventually arrived in the town centre around 3.30pm. I could not find any evidence of a pub with lots of bikes outside. I walked up and down the high street asking. A few cyclists shot past, obviously audaxers but not looking like they were stopping. I asked a couple of guys outside one pub who sent me up to the pub at the other end of the high street. Nobody there. I was angry, but it turns out that that was the pub used last year so they were not being vindictive!

Finally I call Steve. They are sat at the pub a few miles back up the road at the control point. No way am I retracing my steps. All I want is tea and cake, The organisers say I can produce a receipt instead of stamping my card at the control, so I try to find a cafe and fail, well any where I can see my bike and there is a seat. so I go to the take away place at the bus station where the bikers congregate and buy a Styrofoam mug of tea, use the public toilets and eat some cereal bars and nuts, carefully stowing the receipt.

Steve and Pete turn up as I'm finishing up, having wasted a huge amount of time. I am very despondent but decide that the worst is over and after all these highs and lows I am going to show some spirit and bloody well finish. It would have been so easy to have got in that car. It was 4pm already and a good 40km plus to go, including a long hill between Usk and Chepstow, cruel in the last 15km.
Towards Usk
I tried as hard as I could to keep my speed up as I knew I needed to finish by 6 to technically be in time, a tall order. It was hard work and lonely, I didn't see anyone else, I presumed I was last by miles and felt a bit useless. Even though it's not a race pride is at stake. The lack of proper food in Abergavenny was showing. I stopped in Usk on a corner and decided there was nothing for it, I was going to have to have a dreaded gel.

I have always carried gels for emergencies, so far in my cycling life I have never got to a serious enough situation to warrant one. I'm a real food person. Electrolyte drinks on long rides fine, but gels do not appeal. The sickly sweet gloopy consistency. Ugh. Perhaps today I am finally trying hard enough. I try to squish it down like medecine, it makes an utter mess, tastes absolutely disgusting and I nearly retch as another audaxer goes past. Hurrah, I wasn't last when I thought I was although I probably am now, but how embarrassing if I had thrown up!

I push on and grind up that hill, it was steady and relentless and I actually felt OK, I kept going, singing to myself. The gel did work, but my stomach felt horrible.

I hate to say I cheated a little and didn't take the last pull up to the top on minor roads, but stayed on the main road and back down to Chepstow. 

I rolled into the pub, utter relief, walked straight past Steve without seeing him in my rush to get my card stamped, it was 6.15.  Kindly they did so, my receipt was fine and a few more people came in behind me so my spirits were back up there again. After all that suffering I had done it and wasn't last. I'll never be first, I can take not being last.

Back to the car park by the castle and Steve snaps a few photos, after a lot of hassle he finally gets the whole castle in. He wanted to get home!
Gospel Pass Audax - Done
Walking backwards to get one with whole castle

Not too shabby in the end, I finished.
I have now finally written it up to persuade myself that I can do it all over again this Saturday. Totally sure I can't at present as I've had less preparation and this year I'm at the disadvantage of knowing what is coming! But I managed 15 days of riding like that in Scotland on Tour d'Ecosse, same height over less miles. I should be able to do it.

Watch this space, A gel may have to be utilised for a second time!

12th March 2016 Gospel Pass Audax 160km  1978m climbing

Friday, February 10, 2017

Tour d'Ecosse Day 15 Tarbert to Ardrossan via Isle of Bute Saturday 16th July 2016 THE END!

Tour d'Ecosse Day 15 Tarbert to Ardrossan via Bute 97 km 940m ascent THE END!
Cumulative: 1 207 km 15 327m ascent Ferries 15 Islands 16 Bridges 1
The End...shall we get the boat to Arran and do it all again?
Our final day. It was supposed to be a day of two halves, contrasting the Secret Argyll Coast with the industrial Ayrshire coast, which could not be avoided if we were keeping the route a complete loop, by finishing in Ardrossan where hopefully the car is still parked!

In fact it ended up being a day of three thirds as we decided to go a bit off piste and disobey our carefully planned route properly for the first time! As we had had plenty of time yesterday we thought squeezing in another island could be fun, and were puzzled as to why the original (and as it turns out absolutely excellent and spot on about most of it's advice) guidebook we based our tour on did not do this (Cycling the Hebrides Richard Barrett Cicerone Press) I even messaged our good friends back home who had been cheering us on remotely throughout, to ask permission, and was given the green light.

We had checked the ferry times. This was the original plan for the first half of the day.

The new plan was to:
a) follow the original route from Tarbert/Portavidie to Auchenbreck;
b) then divert south to Colintraive and catch the ferry to Rhubodach on Bute. Complete an ad hoc circle of Bute and catch our last ferry from Rothesay to Wemyss Bay back to the mainland;
c) our very last stint, back en route, down the industrial Ayrshire coast to Ardrossan.
Waiting for Ferry #13 at Tarbert (the Loch Fyne one)
We left at 7.45 to snag the 8.00 CalMac Tarbert to Portavidie, aka Ferry#13 We purchased CalMac Hopscotch 4  Bute, Cowal & Kintyre tickets for our three ferries today:  Tarbert (Loch Fyne) - Portavadie (Argyll); Colintraive (Argyll) - Rhubodach (Bute);  Rothesay (Bute) - Wemyss Bay (Ayrshire). Three ferries for £6.75 per person, as ever bikes are free.
Secret Argyll Coast
The little hop on the ferry transported us to a secret world, cut off from everywhere, it felt like an island but was the mainland. it really was lovely, even with dank and grey weather. Hey it's not really raining! A stiff climb was dispatched in a solid fashion and we followed the coast until we came to this great bike. Unfortunately there was no time to stop and actually eat King Scallops. We had only had all in one porridge (blah) pots for breakkie at 7am
Colintraive, Argyll
The quick pop ferry to Bute was every half hour so we hailed the 11am one. No coffee or tea available at the ferry terminal aka portakabin! Here she comes...
CalMac Ferry #14 Colintraive - Rhubodach (Bute)
I presume this is Rhubodach?
Steve had had enough and wanted to take the shortest way to Rothesay. He was very happy to wait whilst I looped round the island. So we had an argument, I stamped my feet and said after all this adventure why spoil it by not doing the last day justice, and doing it on my own would really spoil it for me, a true diva moment. I got my way and he trudged along. It was, embarrassingly, at this point we came across a father/ teenage daughter pairing out for a bimble round Bute. We sort of rode with them, sharing some mixed nuts and a bit of chat.
Ruined chapel on Bute
OK, we made a mistake. Bute is boring. Not boring in most people's terms, but not a jot on the scenery and landscapes and wild places we had travelled. Empty but not wild, all rather tame. The top half is very flat, and the bottom half fairly flat. Brilliant for short loops and family rides. Lovely bimbling on a sunnier day.
Off piste
We even ended up on our only totally off piste path, basically a track across a meadow. I fell off on a tussock. The only fall of the holiday, I plopped sideways about a foot. Nobody saw so it didn't happen really.
Pretty flowers
Back on track and Steve put his foot down, refusing to continue to Kingarth, he was right we were running out of time if we wanted to get back to my parent's house in Penrith in sensible time tonight. We still had 30km down the coast to do, back on the mainland after a half hour ferry.

So we looped back north alongside Loch Fad towards Rothesay. To be honest honour was done, we hadn't abandoned the day and that cut up north was decidedly lumpy. We were also pretty darned hungry by now and were dreaming of fish and chips.
Satisfying whizz down towards rothesay
At least it was downhill and suddenly we were in suburbia. Not a pleasant quaint Scottish seaside town but a brash, trash down at heel tacky seaside town. There was a ferry at 1pm, we could see it pulling out of the harbour. So we had an hour until the 2pm. Fish and Chips!
East Bute
So there was a fish and chip shop with an Italian name. It didn't look very nice and a local outside told us it was pretty manky, or words to that description. Vague hand waving as to where there may be other fish and chip shops. Surely one every 50 metres? Very much a "past its glory" town since it's heyday in the 19th and first half of the 20th century, before Glaswegians could get cheap flights to proper sun in Spain! Strava was off, but we cycled up and down the prom, to no avail. Gave up and returned tho the Italian Chip shop in centre of town. not recommended. We bought a large fish and large chips and rode down to the ferry to share romantically. It wasn't that bad as we were so hungry we could have eaten almost anything, but oh my the grease.

We did have an amusing exchange with a ferryman directing the cars. He wondered if we'd had a nice little ride round Bute. I told him about the rest of the tour. He looked us up and down, and grinned, and said in a very broad accent that I cannot capture on paper, "what the heck did you do so wrong to get community service like that?!" I took it as a compliment, I do not like being predictable and boring. He had us down as stark raving bonkers. Especially as he had realised the awful weather/gales the previous week that had disrupted ferries and when he found out we had done the outer Hebrides on those days he shook his head in disbelief.
Glamorous breakfast/lunch in very last ferry queue, #15 Tour d'Ecosse Day 15 Secret Argyll Coast and Bute, Rothesay (Bute) to Weymess Bay.
Our very last Ferry #15 back to the mainland, 2pm Rothesay - Wemyss Bay. We wish we had waited and had CalMac fish n chips on the boat!

We had only cut out 10km of the tedious but necessary coast route down the A78. 30km to go.

Just to test our metal there was a very stiff southerly wind and drizzle trying to blow us back north. In the best peloton mode we can muster, we took turns grinding it out back down south. Through Largs, getting lost in lots of cul de sac car parks surrounding blocks of flats, tying to stay on the bike path rather than the main road. We admired the yacht club, and Hunterson A Power station and went back on the road.
Largs Yacht Club
Industrial Argyll Coast it certainly is
The last 20km was the longest 20km ever. we made it, into Ardrossan, riding along the road we had driven exactly two weeks earlier. It was pretty emotional. We had made it. It seemed like months and minutes since we caught that first ferry. We had not suffered any injuries, our hearts and knees had made it.

Round the corner, and along the last few metres to the end of the line at Ardrossan ferry terminal for Brodicck.  The ferry was in, jaws wide open, loading for the trip to Arran. Yes I would have boarded and done it all over again. We detoured to the loo, bought a takeaway cup of tea in the terminal and took the cheesy end of trip selfie.
Cheesy selfie again.
Tour d'Ecosse finished at 4.20pm.  The car was still in the dodgy car park alongside. Frozen we shovelled panniers into the car, took quick release wheels off with frozen hands, upended the bikes into the back and pounced on clean dry warm clothes left in the car, shamelessly changing in the car as a run to the terminal would have meant the dry clothes would get wet.

We still did a 100km and 1000m today, and after 1200km and 15000m can mention we had no punctures whatsoever and the only ongoing mechanical was Steve's bearings grinding that got worse and worse. Two days later his back wheel gave up the ghost on his 2km commute to work. How lucky were we?!

We drove south, caught up in the tail end of the Troon British Open traffic, back in the hurly burly world. Crossing back into England the sun was out and the temperatures were over 20 degrees. What a shock. Back to mum and dad's in Penrith, contemplating not getting on our bikes tomorrow. It was strange. I just wanted to keep on going. 

Mum's garden in Penrith
 Touring Tips in Scotland, or anywhere else for that matter!

1 You can do it.
2 Be ambitious, take advice, but be your own ultimate guide as to how much you can achieve.
3 Ride sensibly, accidents scupper everything.


We did it. Even more amazingly I have finally finished writing it all up on the blog.

1200km and 15000m Steve finally had his heart expert exercise physiology appointment at Bristol Heart Institute in September, the one we had been hoping for before the trip. The doc just said "listen to your body, be able to talk whilst exercising" and he wished more of his patients had our approach. Turns out he was "an ageing slow triathlete" in his words, so he "got it". Steve had a Type A aortic dissection in Jan 2015, the reason this trip didn't happen last summer.

This year we are trying to decide between (all two weeks): 
The Upper Danube (flat and dry and warm) Steve's vote!
The Wild Atlantic Way up the west coast of Ireland (wet, lumpy, windy and wild!)
LEJOG Land's End to John O'Groats. I Got the Cicerone guide out of the library and a route I had had no interest in at all is now appealing. To explore over two weeks and not sprint.

Never mind New Zealand dreams!!

Tour d'Ecosse quick links:

Day 1 Isle of Arran and a little Mull of Kintyre
Day 2 Inner Hebrides: Isles of Islay and Jura
Day 3 Inner Hebrides: Isle of Jura-Tayvallich to Oban
Day 4 Oban to Outer Hebrides: Barra and Vatersay
Day 5 Outer Hebrides: Isles of Barra Eriskay South Uist Benbecula Grimsay North Uist Beneray and Harris
Day 6 Outer Hebrides: Isles of Harris and Lewis to Callanish Stones
Day 7 Outer Hebrides: Butt of Ness to Stornoway and Ullapool
Day 8 Ullapool to Gairloch
Day 9 Gairloch to Shieldaig - Applecross Peninsula
Day 10 Bealach na Bà from Applecross to Plockton
Day 11 Plockton to Inner Hebrides: Isle of Skye Armadale
Day 12 Inner Hebrides: Isle of Skye Armadale to Ardnamurchan
Day 13 Ardnamurchan to Inner Hebrides: Isle of Mull to Oban to Loch Melfort
Day 14 Loch Melfort to Tarbert, Loch Fyne
Day 15 Tarbert Loch Fyne to Ardrossan THE END!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Tour d'Ecosse Day 14 Loch Melfort to Tarbert, Loch Fyne Friday 15th July 2016

Tour d'Ecosse Day 14 Loch Melfort to Loch Fyne and Tarbert 58km 811m ascent
Cumulative: 1 110 km 14 387m ascent Ferries 12 Islands 15 Bridge 1
Elevenses in a layby. It's pi**ing it down!

It rained, it poured. It slugged it down. You know there are over a 100 words for snow in Icelandic, there must be that many acronyms for rain in Scottish English/Gaelic Ohhh look, isn't google wonderful, take your pick from this blog. Scots: More words for rain than Eskimos have for snow

But slugging it down isn't in there. It was slugging it down this morning. Going out in it was hard. Not far to go but a lot of climbing in the distance. A "get on with it and get it over with" day. Which was terribly disappointing as tomorrow is our last day.

The breakfast at Melfort House was delicious, we lingered, chatted to the other guests that hadn't eaten in last night. Generally prevaricated and put off going out in the stair rods of rain lashing down cats and dogs. Nothing dreich about it at all!
I presume it's just foxgloves we can see
We are heading back to Tarbert, where we weren't supposed to go on our first night but needed food after Arran.

We plod up the big hill and are very relieved to find Kilmartin Museum and Café after the summit. It was a fabulous café, being warm and dry may have warped our opinion. However, it was clean, warm, dry with welcoming staff not a bit perturbed by the puddles forming around us, with excellent coffee and cake to boot. Other visitors in dry cars agree with us too so it wasn't a warped view!

Eventually we have to go back out, the rain hasn't eased off.
More weather
Unfortunately, the next bit of the day was almost the worst of the holiday. After the final climb, we were descending in torrential rain on the A816 towards Tarbert, Steve was behind me. I was being very careful and holding my line as it was a narrow A road and bendy. A lorry drew up behind, very close and started hooting and flashing me. I did not look back, I was on a bend and there was nowhere to go. As soon as a layby appeared I indicated, pulled over and carefully stopped.

..and I gave the lorry driver the one finger salute with plenty of gesticulation. I was quite shaken but I think he got my anger. Steve drew up alongside me, the lorry had passed him on a wider part so it was only a minute or so he was behind me being held up. Other than that incident we barely had another incident, except for incongruously highly polished white sports saloons of the Audi and Subaru variety on sections of the North Coast 500 route who all seemed to be inclined to be driving too fast/showing off. Local traffic was exemplary, battered farm pick ups, tractors, land rovers who must be sick to death of being held up always patient and smiling.
Tarbert - The Loch Fyne one
We roll down into Tarbert for our second visit. What a relief, a bit of a fraught day for such a short one, although still plenty of lumps. It was early afternoon.
Loch Fyne
Tarbert (the Loch Fyne one!)
Just off the high street we quickly found our accommodation for the night, over the acclaimed Starfish Bistro and rooms. I had made sure to reserve a table here when I booked the room as they book up weeks in advance for Friday/Saturday nights apparently! No cycling home this time unlike our previous visit to the chippy on the first night after our day on Arran.
A welcome spot of colour on a dank and dreich day
We chained our bikes to the railings under cover in the alley and were shown to our room. Freshly renovated with the all important convector heater. We were so wet and so cold. Guiltily we had very long hot showers, made tea and draped our stuff around half halfheartedly to dry. We had one dry set left for tomorrow so no stomping on lycra in the shower required. No hope that our shoes would dry. Ortilieb panniers are good, and Steve's ancient leaky ones were fine when everything is wrapped in bags for life inside anyway.
Starfish Bistro with rooms in Tarbert
We realised the rain had stopped and having warmed up a bit we went for a stroll to buy a picnic. Good old Co op, we actually sat on a bench on the harbourside and feasted on mini Scotch eggs, the ever popular falafel salad with houmous they do, and a very extravagant box of blueberries.
Tide's out!
We strolled along and admired the working harbour, not prettied up for tourists but a good and honest hard working place.
Not so sure about the oil film :(
Although there was a flotilla of yachts in town for a festival, so not just a working harbour.

The weatherbeaten colours on the boats in harbour are stunning.
The weather beaten paint on the fishing boats is beautiful
Scotia Star is obviously a hard working but beautiful fishing boat resting in her home harbour of Tarbert, Loch Fyne
We went back to our room, unfortunately no view but we read, and knitted and looked forward to dinner, our final night.

We changed into our evening gear, laughing at the novelty of the same outfit yet again for the 14th night in a row! It's a good job only we know that.

Dinner did not disappoint. Absolutely superb seafood as you would expect. We had three courses and after being good all holiday and rarely photographing our food, I did. The flash was off though!

My starter, it had to be Scallops with chilli, ginger and lime butter.
Loch Fyne Queen Scallops with chilli ginger and lime butter
I then had Seafood Stroganoff for main, it was delicious too. Fresh and smoked haddock and salmon, mussels and queenies in a white wine, cream and smoked paprika sauce
Seafood Stroganoff
Washed down with my favourite gin, Botanist from Islay. Oh and water from a recycled Botanist Gin bottle, isn't it just gorgeous?
Botanist Gin Bottle...it has water in it!
Can you get better than rhubarb and ginger crumble with proper home made creme anglaise. I almost couldn't eat it all. But I did.
Rhubarb and ginger crumble and creme anglaise
It was a lovely leisurely meal that made our day. Fortunately nobody was hurt in the hideous weather. Another turn round the harbour on foot after dinner to stretch and to work out where to go for the ferry in the morning. This is Scotland in July, still light at 10pm!

Touring Tips in Scotland, or anywhere else for that matter!

1 There are over a 100 English words and phrases relating to rain. Visit Scotland and you will no doubt encounter 96.3% of them in any fortnight. I put "slugging it down" on my Strava notes for the day, not in the list so that's 101!

2 Eat local food

3 As long as no one is hurt it is a good day.

Tour d'Ecosse quick links:

Day 1 Isle of Arran and a little Mull of Kintyre
Day 2 Inner Hebrides: Isles of Islay and Jura
Day 3 Inner Hebrides: Isle of Jura-Tayvallich to Oban
Day 4 Oban to Outer Hebrides: Barra and Vatersay
Day 5 Outer Hebrides: Isles of Barra Eriskay South Uist Benbecula Grimsay North Uist Beneray and Harris
Day 6 Outer Hebrides: Isles of Harris and Lewis to Callanish Stones
Day 7 Outer Hebrides: Butt of Ness to Stornoway and Ullapool
Day 8 Ullapool to Gairloch
Day 9 Gairloch to Shieldaig - Applecross Peninsula
Day 10 Bealach na Bà from Applecross to Plockton
Day 11 Plockton to Inner Hebrides: Isle of Skye Armadale
Day 12 Inner Hebrides: Isle of Skye Armadale to Ardnamurchan
Day 13 Ardnamurchan to Inner Hebrides: Isle of Mull to Oban to Loch Melfort
Day 14 Loch Melfort to Tarbert, Loch Fyne
Day 15 Tarbert Loch Fyne to Ardrossan THE END!