LEJOG: final thoughts

And in the end…

I hope it’s obvious that I had a great time on our LEJOG trip, and I am hugely grateful to the motley crew of cyclists you see below for helping make it such fun. One of the pleasures of the trip was that I was taken out of my biomedical bubble, and the motley nature of this band of brothers and sisters was a big part of what made it a success.

 

DSC_0073 copy.jpg

(Motley is not to be interpreted here, as it sometimes is, in any pejorative sense! Here is what Wikipedia says of its etymology; it’s an interesting word.

Motley from 13th-century Middle English means composed of elements of diverse or varied character. In the 15–16th centuries came the “motley”, the official dress of the court jester. The jester was an important person in court circles, who could speak the truth without punishment even when it was contrary to the king’s or senior officials’ opinion. Their uniforms were generally lively and multi-coloured.)

I have covered our trip in some detail in my daily blogs, but one of the things that struck me quite forcibly, and James Briscoe said the same thing this afternoon, is how long we spent in Scotland.

Scotland

We got into Scotland on day 9 of our 15-day trip, having covered 588 miles out of a total of 1051. Thus, 44% of our time and of the distance we covered was north of the border. This is a lot, especially when you bear in mind that we were going north-east, rather than north, at the beginning of the ride. So the message is that Scotland is big! The map below, from the Bike Adventures web site, kind of makes this point, but it is still a little hard to credit.

lejog-map-for-website.jpg

There is a web site that discusses the size of Scotland and how it is depicted on maps. In agreement with my statement that Scotland is big, it makes the point that the land area of Scotland is 30,414 square miles, while that of England is 50,346. Along similar lines, it points out that Scotland is almost exactly a third of the area of the entire UK.

The site says that a few years ago the BBC weather map used to depict the UK as if from a wide-angle lens floating above northern France, and that this vantage point emphasised south-east England and diminished Scotland, both because of perspective and because of the curvature of the earth. This misrepresentation has now been fixed by the BBC, but it provides an example of the potential geopolitical effects of cartography. At the time, this was relevant to the referendum on Scottish independence. How could such an apparently small country make its own way in the world?

I had wondered in a previous blog whether the nature of the map projection—Mercator versus Gall-Peters—might influence the apparent sizes of Scotland and England. It doesn’t, significantly, but the use of the Mercator projection does exaggerate the size of the United States and countries in Europe and it under-sizes Africa, and this led to an earlier controversy about the political implications of map design.

Advice

Having got through Scotland, I’m back in one piece. We all love giving advice, so what advice would I give someone taking a supported tour of the kind Bike Adventures do?

The bike

  • Do get some bike riding in before you go. This is partially for fitness, of course, and in my wisdom I would say you should, at the very least, be comfortable doing two 50-milers on consecutive days. But it is also to hone your bike-handling skills. Most of the accidents we had were from mistakes rather than outside agencies.
  • Service your bike (or have it serviced) before you go. A bike in good condition should be able to handle a thousand miles easily enough.
  • Stick to Shimano. You may love your Speedplay or Crank Brothers pedals, or your Campagnolo Chorus groupset, but if anything breaks you’ll find it much harder to find replacements or spare parts in provincial bicycle shops. All you’ll be able to do is get Wiggle to express something to your next hotel!
  • If you insist on using something weird, take spares. I took spare spokes for my Hunt wheels, so naturally it turned out that I didn’t need them. And of course, take some spare inner tubes, a pump (or CO2 cartridges), tyre levers and a multi-tool.

Clothes

  • Don’t take too much in the way of clothes, but make sure that what you do take is of good quality. Bike Adventures said I didn’t need more than two cycle jerseys, two pairs of shorts and two pairs of socks. They were right. But they do need to be good. My Rapha shorts, I have to say, were terrific. The same advice with respect to quality goes for arm-warmers, leg-warmers, shoes, over-shoes, gloves and a waterproof jacket. And a ‘base layer’ (vest).
  • You don’t need much for the evenings. I wore a light T shirt, Ron Hill Tracksters and running shoes. In colder weather a sweatshirt would be useful. I am very fastidious, but even I felt the need to wash these only once every three days.

Food

  • Eat well. Breakfast is the important meal. I found that as long as I had a good breakfast I could keep going with a light lunch and an energy bar or two and then really chow down again in the evenings.
  • That said, do make sure you have some extra food with you in case you’re stuck in the back of beyond in the pouring rain for a few hours
  • Make sure you have plenty of water, too. I added electrolyte tablets to my bidons, but more for the taste rather than for any concerns about hyponatremia.

General

  • Keep a record. I persuaded myself to do so by writing this blog. I took a decent camera as well as an iPhone, so the photos are of high technical, if not aesthetic, quality. But the camera (a Sony RX100M6) doesn’t have GPS, so I don’t know exactly where I took the pictures, which is a pain. To overcome this I could have linked the camera to my iPhone, apparently, but this would have drained the iPhone battery. The alternatives are to use a notebook, get a camera with GPS, or just take photos with your phone. Or (complicated, this) I could have used the time at which the photo was taken in conjunction with my Garmin/Wahoo data to see how far along my course I was when I took the picture. First world problems…

In my end is my beginning

A crew less motley at the end of the trip…

DSC_0075.jpg

What next?

I have caught the bug, and next on my list, if I can persuade Ian and Oli to join me in the Spring, is Mizen to Malim, the end-to-end of Ireland. It’s about half the length of LEJOG, but looks like great fun.

And then, in the Summer, to Europe. I quite fancy the Alps, and there is an interesting tour that takes in some of the classic cols, including Semnoz, Forclaz, Tamie, Madeline, Glandon, Croix de Fer, Mollard, Telegraph, Galibier and Alpe d’Huez. That’ll be a challenge!

Finally

Thanks to my fellow cyclists and to everyone who read and commented on this blog!

 

Day 15

Bettyhill to John O’Groats

Avoiding tempting fate

I am writing this on the train home from Inverness, and there are two things I have not said until now for fear of tempting fate (I know this is not a very scientific approach to life, but it is a little-known fact that scientists are also human beings).

The first is that my bike has been brilliant. Others have had problems great and small, from punctures to pedals to spokes to cassettes and to derailleurs. My new Mason has been faultless, and I have not had a single puncture with my tubeless Schwalbe Pro One tyres.

The other concerns that part of my anatomy that contacts the saddle. The combination of my Brooks saddle and the frequent and liberal application of Assos chamois crème has, I am sure, made all the difference. I have used Brooks saddles for many years, but this is my first foray into chamois crème, and I am grateful from the bottom of my…well, bottom…to the person who gave me a tub.

DSC00371.JPGGreat stuff!

The ride

The first thing we all noticed when we woke up was the wind. It was strong and, to our relief, it was blowing from west to east. I can’t imagine how much more difficult our final day would have been had we been cycling into the wind rather than having it at our backs.

Our bikes had been held secure for the night in one of those containers that go on big ships, and it may have been that they were packed a little too snugly, because Andrew had a broken spoke, and Nigel B a recurrent puncture (as soon as you repaired it, it blew again). I didn’t realise this, and set off first, assuming everyone would follow in short order. Here is a photo taken as I climbed out of Bettyhill.

DSC00372.JPGBeginning the final leg

As I cycled I got talking to George, who was doing the North Coast 500, and who had bivouacked overnight. In this weather, rather him than me.

I began to get suspicious that no one was following me when I was held up by a herd of cows coming down the hill in front of me. The farmer made it very clear that these animals were frisky, and that on no account should I try to speed past them. I moved to the grass by the side of the road, but rather than acknowledge my politeness with a grave raise of the hand, as do (some) motorists, they continued to bear down on me.

DSC00375.JPGAre you looking for trouble?

Rather than go further down the valley to my left, I toughed it out, and eventually the animals saw sense and returned to the road. Some of them were pretty big!

DSC00381.JPGA big cow

To my surprise, no one had caught me during this hold-up, but I carried on anyway, past the Dounreay nuclear power station, now long decommissioned and in the course of being cleaned up and demolished.

DSC00386 2.jpgDounreay

I would be letting the side down as a blogger with an eye for the ironic if I didn’t also show a photo of the nearby wind farm.

DSC00388.JPGWind farm

Eventually, at Thurso (at about 30 out of 58 miles), Rob caught me in his van. His hands were covered in grease and oil, and he summarised Andrew’s and Nigel’s woes. If we were all to arrive in John O’Groats at about the same time, it would be sensible for me to take a break! So Rob and I headed for the Café Tempest where I had a cheese scone and a coffee, and quite soon along came Max and Andrew (he of the broken spoke). Rob offered to have another go at Andrew’s spoke, but he was frustrated by not having a spare nipple and by not having a spare spoke of the right length. Even when he just tried swapping wheels, the spare could only hold ten cogs, and Andrew’s bike ran on eleven (or it may have been the other way round).

Nigel B, meanwhile, he of the recurrent puncture, was in better shape, because Rob had lent him his own bike.

While Rob and Andrew tried to fix Andrew’s wheel, Max and I set off for Dunnet Head—we had agreed that most of us would make a short detour to visit this most northerly point in mainland UK, and if Andrew were delayed too much, he would just skip it.

It was great cycling—the wind was behind us, and Max set a really good pace. It wasn’t long before we turned off north for Dunnet Head (see map below).

Screenshot 2018-08-19 15.08.21.pngThe route and the diversion to Dunnet Head

There were quite a few of us at various points on the ride to and from Dunnet Head. As well as me and Max, there were Allison, Dan, Jack, Karen, Lisa, Michael and Father Paul, and also the Whippets, by now well ahead of us all (and there may have been others as well). It was unbelievably windy! As we cycled north, we all had to lean far to our left to avoid being blown off course and off our bikes completely. And the other way round as we returned.

But it was worth the effort, and in fact I found Dunnet Head more fulfilling, in some way or another, than getting to John O’Groats. The power of the wind, and the view, made everything seem very elemental.

DSC00389.JPGMy bike at Dunnet Head

DSC00391.JPGThe lighthouse at Dunnet Head

DSC00393.JPGLooking west from Dunnet Head

But enough of this romantic stuff. Having returned from Dunnet Head, and failed to find Andrew as arranged, it was full speed ahead for JOG, and I covered the remaining 10 miles or so in about 30 minutes, I think. On the way I passed Andrew, who wisely had been nursing his ailing rear wheel. I could see it oscillating quite dramatically as I approached him.

And then it was into John O’Groats. Photographs, congratulations, champagne, and more photographs.

DSC00396.JPGMade it

We had coffee, and I took some photos of people who have not featured much in these blogs…

DSC00399.JPGAnn and Justin

DSC00398.JPGPete

DSC00397.JPGJack, with Nigel behind

DSC00404.JPGAnd roomies Allison and Lisa

Immediate aftermath

No sooner had we finished than we cycled the 400 yards to the hotel that most of us were staying in. Our bike boxes were produced, and it was pedals, saddles and front wheels off before we squeezed our machines into their boxes. I managed to add a few more bits and bobs too, to make my other bags that little bit lighter for the journey home. Most of us were staying in the John O’Groats Hotel (apparently the only licenced premises in the whole of JOG) but Andrew, Max and I were in a guest house another half-mile away, and very nice it was too.

We met for dinner, we had a few more drinks, and we went to bed. I, for one, was very tired.

Presentation1.jpgDinner

And this morning, Sunday, we set off for home!

Day 14

Alness (roughly) to Bettyhill

The ride

The penultimate day of our ride. As I said yesterday, we didn’t stay in Alness but in Evanston, so to get onto the official route we couldn’t just use our Garmin/Wahoos, we actually had to listen to instructions and obey them. The instructions were simple enough: turn left out of the hotel, turn left at the T junction, and then you’ll be fine. I did manage this, but when it’s two miles to the T junction, and then two miles (at least) before you pick up the route, and it’s a bit hilly (downhill, so if you’re wrong you have to go back uphill), you do begin to doubt yourself.

Fortunately, Dan was behind me and, with the confidence of youth, reassured me, and we did soon get on the right track.

We started by cycling through Ardross and climbing towards a beautiful view over Dornoch Firth. Here is a view from the climb.

DSC00325.JPGClimbing up to see Dornoch Firth

And here is me at the top, taken by a German tourist (I have met lots of German tourists in Scotland; I hope they continue to come in the future).

DSC00328.JPGJim turning his back on Dornoch Firth

I have been conscious throughout the ride that I am clad mostly in black, either in black cycle shirts or in the rain jacket you see here. The rain jacket, apparently, is like the Ford Model T—any colour you like, so long as it’s black. According to Cycling Weekly “the highly sophisticated Active Gore-Tex fabric can actually only be manufactured in black”. This is why I bought the helmet light that you can see in some photos, which I kept on during the day, and it’s why I think I’ll get some daytime running lights. There is a very persuasive Global Cycling Network (GCN) video about these.

DSC00332.JPGA view of the Firth

The benefit of all climbs is the descent afterwards, and the following ride down to the Bonar Bridge was brilliant. Here is a view from the bottom of the descent, at three different focal lengths.

DSC00341.jpg24 mm equivalent focal length (EFL)

DSC00340 2.jpgAbout 50 mm EFL, in black and white

DSC00343.jpgAbout 200 mm EFL. The little white arc in the middle of the hill is the road we came down

So far so good, and we headed towards Lairg. On the way we all stopped for coffee at the Falls of Shin, an amazing sight. The great thing at this time of year is to spot salmon heading up the falls, and we all congregated to see what we could see.

DSC00345.JPGThe Falls of Shin

DSC00349 2.JPGSalmon watching…

Fake.jpgSalmon leaping?

And we did see some! Karen saw three, I think, and I definitely saw two and maybe a third. It was hard to believe that any fish could have made it up past the falls, but I guess many do. We tried really hard to get a photo or video, and Dan captured one on his iPhone. As for me…see above.

As a scientist, I want to make it perfectly clear that the image above has been Photoshopped, deliberately badly, for comedic effect. Max and some other cycling chums will appreciate the significance of the joke.

The river was really impressive, and provided great photo opportunities.

DSC00351.JPGPhotography

And then it was north again, through rather bleak and desolate open moorland and young forest. It wasn’t clear where the road was going or even why it was going there. But we were heading for the Crask Inn, perhaps Scotland’s most isolated Inn, a place that gets great reviews, and where tradition has it that Bike Adventures customers take lunch. By the time we got to the Inn the weather had turned again, and it was raining pretty hard.

DSC00353.JPGThe road to nowhere, but which leads to the Crask Inn

I took a photo of Father Paul, and he asked me to take a photo of his soup (what?). Here it is, Paul.

DSC00358.JPGFather Paul in the Crask Inn

DSC00359.jpgPaul’s soup

We left the Inn in the rain, and I was keen to get shifting. I met Jack and Pete at a photography pointDSC00361.JPGJack and Pete

And then, for the last 20-odd miles I went as fast as I could for Bettyhill. As I have said before, I like the run-in to our destination, and I find I can get up quite a speed, so I really enjoyed this last part of the ride, especially as it was drying out by now. Although during this last section I didn’t increase my maximum speed, I did manage to increase my maximum average speed for a day, up to 15.8 mph. You can see from the stats below that my heart rate was increasing quite a bit during this period, and especially at the very end, during the steep-ish hill up to Bettyhill. (I realise this is of interest only to me!)

Screenshot 2018-08-19 12.27.05.pngStats. Note increasing heart rate towards the end

Profile.pngThe route and the profile. You can just see the climb into Bettyhill at the end

Bettyhill is a beautiful place at the mouth of the River Naver, made more beautiful by the fact that it is so close to John O’Groats…

Screenshot 2018-08-19 12.38.43.pngGetting there!

Here are a couple of views from the Bettyhill Hotel, where we stayed.

DSC00367.JPGBettyhill from our hotel

DSC00366.JPGBettyhill from our hotel, zoomed out

After a shower and my usual clothes-washing rituals I settled into the bar to finish yesterday’s blog, and enjoyed a large Highland Park. The mobile cinema was in town tonight, showing (I think) Mamma Mia. I was surprised, but nevertheless pleased, that in these days of YouTube and Netflix there is still a place for mobile cinemas. We had dinner in the hotel itself, perhaps the best food of the trip so far.

Bettyhill (and another excursion into etymology)

As for Bettyhill itself, the orginal village in this area was Farr, about a mile to the east; Bettyhill was only built between 1811 and 1821 and came about as a direct result of the Highland Clearances. The Strathnavar valley to the south of Bettyhill formed part of the one-and-a-half million acre estate of Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, Countess of Sutherland, and her husband, the Marquess of Stafford. During the Clearances, the by-then Duke and Duchess of Sutherland employed Patrick Sellar as a ‘factor’ (a trader who receives and sells goods on commission). Sellar cleared 15,000 people from the area as he forcibly replaced the old-style crofting communities with a much smaller number of sheep farmers. This accrued much higher rents, and at the same time greatly reduced the estate’s administrative burden.

In response, and ususually, the Countess Elizabeth had a replacement village built for the displaced crofters, on a hill at the mouth of the Naver. Hence Bettyhill.

Day 13

Fort William to Alness (nearly)

I first heard the expression “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes” when I was a postdoc at Harvard Medical School. The person I was speaking to attributed the remark to Mark Twain (most bon mots are attributed to Mark Twain or to Oscar Wilde, in my experience). It turns out that there is rather little evidence that Mark Twain did actually say this, and indeed many US states seem to have appropriated the expression to suit their own needs. Will Rogers, for example, is said to have said “If you don’t like the weather in Oklahoma, wait a minute and it’ll change”.

Anyway, whoever said it, and about where, it’s certainly true of the Highlands of Scotland. We had breakfast at 07:30 in the Wetherspoons beneath our hotel, and on my way inside I had to sprint the 10 yards from the hotel to the door of the bar to avoid getting drenched. After an overly hearty breakfast, Rob assembled us outside at 08:15 for our morning briefing (below), and by this time things weren’t too bad, although you can see we were prepared for it to be cold and wet. I felt snug enough in (i) arm warmers; (ii) over-shoes; (iii) Rapha Pro team winter hat; (iv) clear shades; and (v) (a new one this) my Rapha base layer, worn beneath my cycle shirt. The last of these is what my mum would have called a vest, but that’s a bit prosaic for the 21st century cyclist.

IMG_4398.JPGMorning briefing

We rolled out at about 08:30, following a slightly complicated route to get us eventually onto the A82 to Inverness. We went alongside the railway and here is a photo of the bridge, with moody clouds in the background.

DSC00302.JPGRailway bridge

It struck me as we were leaving (this is a slightly extended and muddled metaphor, so forgive me) that we slightly resembled a mutlicoloured train, a little like Lance Armstrong’s Blue Train. If this were right, Tim would be the caboose, who would sweep up members of the autobus, or gruppetto, who found it impossible to continue. (Not that anyone is allowed not to finish in our adventure!)

So onward and upward in our journey. After a few miles we were on the open road, heading east. That’s Lisa and Allison putting the hammer down.

DSC00303.JPGAfter two or three miles. Weather not too bad

It wasn’t long before we were cycling along the Caledonian Canal, parallel to the River Lochy, and we quickly made a right turn and a left to follow the eastern bank of Loch Lochy. And it started to rain. It rained buckets. It rained, to borrow an expression from Levon Helm, speaking about The Band’s concert at Watkins Glen, like a cow pissing on a flat rock. My jacket did its job pretty well, but my hands were cold and wet and my feet shipped water from below, up through where you screw in the cleats, and from above, with moisture seeping down my legs and into my over-shoes. I have no photos of these weather conditions, because my camera was misbehaving, and I didn’t want to exacerbate things by getting it wet. And because I didn’t want to stop.

But then, suddenly, the rain did stop, and as I cycled I could feel the water evaporating from my body rather than accumulating on it. I can’t remember distances or times, but I felt a strong need for a cup of coffee after about 25 miles, and found a hotel which didn’t mind my leaving the bike in their entrance and having a sopping wet cyclist sullying their sophisticated decor. As I sipped I saw The Whippets go by (one of them had had a puncture) and then I saw the main peloton, so after a few minutes I jumped on my bike and headed up the hill behind them. I didn’t want to join the autobus.

Cycling relatively quickly I came to the cycle path along the Caledonian Canal. This was excellent riding. The surface could have been smoother, but it was so tranquil I had no desire to go terribly fast. Besides, there were walkers and cyclists coming the other way, and there was a speed limit of 15 mph. Here is the beginning of the path. You can see that it’s still a bit overcast, but it brightened up very quickly.

DSC00307.JPGCaledonian Canal cycle path (1)

And here is a photo taken further down.

DSC00309.JPGCaledonian Canal cycle path (2)

From here it was an easy ride, past an old bridge, through some beautiful weather on the banks of Loch Ness (no, I didn’t see it), past Urquhart Castle, and into Drumnadrochit.

DSC00310.JPGBridge

DSC00312.JPGWeather on Loch Ness—how it changes

Drumnadrochit is a rather undistinguished village, but it makes the most of its proximity to the Highlands, to Urquhart Castle, and (especially) to Loch Ness.

DSC00314.jpgNessieland. Give me strength

But then! It was The Climb Of The Day. You can see it on the profile below, at 55 miles. The profile is slightly exaggerated—it’s not quite straight up—but it’s 15% or so for 1.6 miles, and it’s no joke.

Screenshot 2018-08-17 06.41.12.pngToday’s ride, with profile

I was determined not to walk up this hill, and I succeeded, although I did have to stop at one point. At the top I took a break to take a photograph, of course.

DSC00315.jpgThe view from the top of the climb

Nigel soon joined me, saying that the other Whippets were on the way. And then a very nice woman in a very nice car stopped and said that if we were waiting for our friends we’d have to wait a while, because they were walking. I have no further comment to make.

I continued, adopting my usual strategy of going faster at the end of the ride (I don’t know why I do this). I did stop to take a photo of a Highland Cow.

DSC00320.JPGHighland cow

And later we passed Conan road and rail bridges.

DSC00321.JPGConan Bridges

And then the Cromarty Firth and the very impressive Cromarty Bridge.

DSC00322.JPGCromarty Firth

DSC00324.JPGCromarty Bridge

We were supposed to go to a hotel in Alness, but there was some sort of misunderstanding about accommodation, so we ended up in Evanston. As the end approaches, we are having more and more fun at dinner…

IMG_4407.jpgAllison

IMG_4404.jpgFather Paul

It was a long day but a good one.

Getting fit

Rob says quite frequently that by the end of LEJOG we cope with hills much more easily, or begin to look at a ride of 75 miles as routine, because we are getting fitter. Is this right? Can we really get fitter in, say, ten days?

I’m not sure we can, and indeed my sense is that after ten days the ravages of cycling LEJOG—shoulder and back pain, numbness in the hands and fingers, knee trouble, saddle sores—make us less able, physically, to cope with the challenges of long rides.

However, I confess I don’t have much real data about how long it takes to get fit, beyond personal experience (marathon training, for example), a scan of the internet (for example, this), and the understanding that what counts in getting fit is rest days, when the body can recover (we have had no rest days on our trip). Maybe Bike Adventures should collaborate with a sports science department to take measurements from its customers every day, to find out what the truth is. I’m sure there is some excellent science to be done.

For what it’s worth, I think it’s all in the mind. I don’t feel much fitter, and I am so tired by the evenings that even writing this blog is sometimes beyond me (I am writing this part of the blog the morning after our Fort William to Alness ride the afternoon after our ride to Bettyhill because I fell asleep with my laptop on my lap and had to go to bed). I don’t think I have lost any weight, and I certainly don’t have muscles like steel hawsers. But I do know I can do long rides now, and I do know I can get up some steep hills, and I do know that I can hold a particular level of intensity for a particular time, and I think it is that knowledge that keeps me going.

If anyone reads this I’d be interested to know what they think.

Stats

Here are my data. Top speed of the trip so far, at 42.5 mph.

Screenshot 2018-08-17 06.42.18.pngMy data

Day 12

Inveraray to Fort William

We are on the home straight now. Here is what we did today (in red), with our next destinations marked: Alness, Bettyhill and John O’Groats. A casual glance would suggest that tomorrow is a long ride, and the casual glance would be correct. It’ll be our longest yet, at 84 miles with 4209 feet of climbing. Friday and Saturday come in at 74 and 58 miles respectively.

Left.pngWhat’s left

Today was another wet day, but not as bad as Tuesday. It started with a long cold climb (see profile below), but I am getting used to long cold climbs now, so I wasn’t phased, especially because the descent was pretty fast and fun. At first the route took us along the banks of Loch Awe, and the views were as wonderful as always, if you like moody images of clouds hanging over the tops of hills and mountains.

Screenshot 2018-08-15 18.00.41.pngThe profile of today’s ride

DSC00286.JPGA moody view over Loch Awe

As I went round the head of the loch (I was riding alone today) I crossed the famous Bridge of Awe. The original bridge, completed in 1779, was destroyed in floods in 1992, and I rode over the concrete replacement, built in 1938. It was a sad day when the old bridge was lost. I understand from Wikipedia that it featured in the 1959 film The Bridal Path with George (‘Minder’) Cole and Gordon (‘too many films to mention’) Jackson. Actually, I will mention some of Gordon Jackson’s films and TV appearances, because they were so great. His films included Whisky Galore, The Navy Lark, Mutiny on the Bounty, The Great Escape, The Ipcress File, Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie; his TV work included Upstairs Downstairs and The Professionals. Here is a photo from the 1938 bridge.

DSC00287.JPGFrom the bridge of Awe

As I went on, I reached Connel, where we had a family holiday two years ago. We stayed in one of the cottages on the right-hand-side, looking over the estuary.

DSC00288.JPGHoliday destination, August 2016

It was pretty gloomy today, but the photos below, from 2016, show that the sun does shine sometimes.

IMG_1872.jpgA view from the cottage

IMG_1904.jpgA sunny holiday panorama

I met fellow cyclist Jack here; he was hurrying to get to Fort William before 17:00, when the bike shop closed. The hub on his rear wheel was giving him serious trouble and I think he’ll have to get a complete new wheel. I’ll find out at breakfast tomorrow.

From this point I was following Sustrans Route 78, the Caledonia Way. Sustrans do a great job—everyone should support them. Here is a typical view of the cycle path. It’s such a good way to see parts of the country you’d never otherwise see.

DSC00292 2.JPGTypical section of cycle path

I soon reached Appin, and the remnants of its railway station, a victim of the Beeching cuts.

DSC00294.JPGAppin used to have a railway station

But the great thing about Appin is Castle Stalker, known to Monty Python fans as the Castle of Aaargh. You just can’t take a bad photo of Castle Stalker (well, you can…). Here it is with a wide-angle lens and then zoomed in.

DSC00296.jpgWide angle

DSC00297.jpgZoomed in

The weather was getting grim again, so I took one more moody shot of clouds over hills, and with 25 miles to go I put the hammer down/dug deep into the suitcase of courage/got on the rivet/went as fast as I could (choose your own description) to get to Fort William.

DSC00298.JPGFinal moody photograph

Most of the ride was on the Sustrans route, and very nice it was too, but there were a few points where I felt distinctly uncomfortable. The first was crossing a road bridge—I have no idea where it was because I was going so fast (for me) and because I was concentrating so hard on the road immediately ahead. The cycle path was narrow enough that a wobble to my left would have taken me into the path of oncoming traffic, and a wobble to the right would have brought me very close to the edge of the bridge and a watery grave. The path was similarly narrow at other points on the way to Fort William, and it was all a bit scary.

Not as scary as when the cycle path ran out, however, and we were sharing a narrow two-lane road with lorries and trucks and fast cars. My tactic was to try to minimise the difference in velocity between me and the cars by going as fast as I could, but it really wouldn’t have mattered if I had been doing 10 mph or 25 mph; being hit by a lorry doing 60 mph would have been curtains.

Anyway, I made it early into Fort William, and went immediately to the bike shop. Waterproof over-shoes, a helmet light that flashes to front and rear, and some gels and energy bars to see me through the next few days. Fort William is an interesting place—it’s clearly the hiking centre of Scotland, if attire is anything to go by. If you’re not in Jack Wolfskin or North Face, you’re in Berghaus or Craghopper.

And now, as soon as I post my stats, I’m off to see what food it can offer.

Screenshot 2018-08-15 19.32.28.pngMy stats

Day 11

Motherwell to Inveraray

It wouldn’t be LEJOG without a spot of rain, and the few spots we had on Day 5 in Wales didn’t really cut the mustard. But trust Scotland, and Glasgow, to do the business. It bucketed down!

We set off early from our hotel in Strathclyde Country Park. The hotel wasn’t brilliant, but they let us take our bicycles into our rooms, which is always appreciated.

55587201338__7C6D298B-32EA-4E3A-A37E-2F52B02ECA41.JPGMy bike in my room. Note how the saddle is moulding itself to me

Breakfast was early, at 07:00. I’m not sure why, unless it was to allow Rob to give us our instructions for the day without scaring everyone else in the dining room. He spoke of confusing junctions, places to eat, potential hazards, and things to look at along the way.

But before we went anywhere we had to get into, and out of, Glasgow. This was not simple, and it took four of Rob’s famous yellow A5 sheets to cover the intricacies of the route. We spent a lot of time following the Clyde:

Screenshot 2018-08-14 21.18.19 copy.pngFollowing the Clyde

We saw several bridges…

DSC00269.jpgBridge

And as Rob predicted, we saw a very big bicycle.

DSC00270.JPGA big bicycle next to my own machine

It was during this time that it began to rain. I quickly donned the aforementioned Gore ONE 1985 Gore-Tex Shakedry jacket, and we carried on. I desperately wished I had a pair of waterproof overshoes, though, as my feet began to get very wet indeed. I also discovered that hydraulic disc brakes are very good (if a little squeaky sometimes), but that in bad weather you can sometimes get something jammed in the mechanism, which makes an extraordinarily annoying noise as you go along. I eventually realised you can fix it by taking the wheel on and off. A bit like everything else in life.

Soaked through, we had lunch on the Maid of the Loch, a paddle steamer now being restored at Balloch. Here is a picture taken below decks.

DSC00274.JPGBelow decks on the Maid of the Loch

And here is a view from the deck. Boy the weather was ugh.

DSC00273 2.jpgThe view from the deck of the Maid of the Loch

The rain eased off (briefly, as it turned out) as we left the Maid of the Loch, and we headed up the west side of Loch Lomond. It was wet, but it was beautiful. We cycled parallel to the main road, and I remember thinking how lucky we were to be so close to the loch and to travel at the right speed to appreciate it. Even if, by now, it was tipping it down. Here are two shots of the loch.

DSC00277 2.jpgEarly in our ride along the loch

DSC00278.jpgA little later

Loch Lomond behind us, I broke away from the group. It was still pouring with rain, and I was drenched; I couldn’t imagine being any wetter, so it really didn’t matter any more. I soon reached Ardgartan, and began to go up towards Rest and be Thankful, the highest point on the A83 (just by the small lake in the centre of the image below). This was a tough climb. Long, wet, windy, and unremitting. The traffic came past too closely, and the traffic on the other side of the road kept spraying me. One car came really close, and he when he stopped at a roadworks traffic light a few hundred yards later I thought of having a stern word with him. But then I thought better of it.

Screenshot 2018-08-14 21.58.51 copy.pngToday’s climb

At the top I stopped and had the breakfast bar I had taken from breakfast at last night’s hotel forgotten to eat that morning. This was a real case of having to re-fuel; I was starving.

Here is a view from the top, looking back the way I came.

DSC00284.JPGView from the top, looking back

And this is the beginning of the downhill stretch. The lake is the one at the centre of the map above, and is in the photo on this web site, referred to above.

DSC00285.JPGLooking downhill

From this point, 14 miles from the hotel, I went for it as fast as I could. There’s very little to report from the perspective of the cyclist with his head down and his bottom in the air. I do remember, though, a period of calm when I was doing about 22 mph with a 22 mph wind behind me, and all I could hear was the noise the tyres make on the road. That was pretty cool.

Aftermath

I really liked the rain today. And I especially liked the wet slog up the A83 towards Rest and be Thankful. I felt like an extra in the Rapha web site. And check out Allison’s Tweet for a photo of Inveraray.

Stats

Screenshot 2018-08-14 22.46.53.pngNumbers

Screenshot 2018-08-14 22.54.54.pngProgress!

Day 10

Ecclefechan to Motherwell

I’m not going to make a habit of this etymology thing, but Motherwell does not refer to your mum’s state of health, but to a well originally dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

The ride

Our cycling party was split into two last night, and I was fortunate to be placed in the rather fancy country house hotel. My room was spacious and had a huge sofa, a desk, and everything I needed (except decent wifi, so I couldn’t finish writing this, or post it, until now). The staff were helpful, and when we arrived they gave me and Nigel a bucket and some cloths to clean our bikes (I am very bike-proud). Here is the hotel and my bike shortly before departure:

IMG_4386.JPGBike outside hotel—a study

The morning was overcast, and the first part of the ride headed north (obviously) towards Moffat, passing close to Lockerbie, one of those names like Hither Green that for my generation will always sound sad. There were lots of cows and sheep in the fields as we cycled along. (What a boring sentence. It belongs in a beginner’s English-as-a-foreign-language text-book. Nevertheless, there were plenty of cows and sheep, and to be honest there wasn’t much else to look at for a while.)

DSC00223.JPGCows and sheep

DSC00224.jpgClose-up of the same cows and sheep

And the clouds were low over the hills.

DSC00225.JPGClouds

As I cycled into Moffat I came across Father Paul, who was trying to get his bike working. He had a bad case of road-rash, and it turned out that he had had a disagreement with a car. I didn’t get the full story, but it involved Paul, who is used to cycling in America, veering the wrong way when he met a car in the middle of the road—that is, he steered towards the car rather than away from it.

The axle of the rear wheel of Father Paul’s bike had been dislodged from the drop-outs and wedged between the chain stays, so the wheel didn’t turn. I managed to fix this, but I wasn’t able to fix his pedal and cleats, so he limped into Moffat where Rob took him to a bike shop and as well as selling him new shoes, pedals and cleats, they cleaned up his wounds—yesterday’s as well as today’s. That’s what I call service.

After Moffat we had the climb of the day, from about 22 to 27 miles, and after that it was a slight downhill gradient all the way to our hotel. You can see the climb in the profile below.

Screenshot 2018-08-13 21.41.16.pngThe profile

This was my kind of climb. No more than 5%, so I could just sit in the lowest, or next-to-lowest gear and just keep going. Here is a view on the way up (I love the way clouds hang over the hills) and another one from the top. If you looked carefully, you could see someone had dumped a car at the bottom of the valley.

DSC00226.JPGOn the way up the A701 to Peebles

DSC00244.JPGAt the top

DSC00242.JPGI should have put this on webuyanycar.com

And then we entered the Borders, on a downhill run which would have been more fun if the wind hadn’t been against us. I reached Broughton for lunch at about 1:00pm, and met up with Allison and Lisa. A quick Diet Coke and a sausage sandwich, and we were off—38.5 miles to Motherwell.

In the cycling vernacular, we put the hammer down for this part of the ride, so not many photos. We saw a bull in a field, our passage was interrupted briefly by some cows (again), and as we cycled into Strathclyde Country Park, where we are staying, we saw a nice view from a bridge.

DSC00262.JPGA bull in a field

DSC00263.JPGSome cows, having just got out of our way

DSC00264.JPGA view from a bridge

We checked in, and I had my first dinner at a Carvery. It cost £5.95 for virtually all you can eat. And on which subject…

Calories

I have to admit that I was hoping to lose a couple of pounds during this ride, so that I could fit a little more easily into my dinner suit. But how many calories do you use when you cycle? Might I realistically expect to lose some weight? Simple questions, complicated answers.

I first turned to Strava, the app that records every detail of your ride, and you can look at today’s ride here. You’ll see that we did 84.27 miles, and climbed 4062 feet. By most people’s standards this is quite a long bike ride, but Strava tells me that I consumed only 625 calories. That’s the equivalent of fewer than seven Milk Chocolate Hobnobs, or two-and-a-half Mars Bars, and I can assure you that to make sure I get through the ride I’m consuming much more than that—just at breakfast!

My anxieties were reinforced by Rob, who said (at lunchtime, of all times) that most riders return home a couple of pounds heavier.

But people who know better than I have been more reassuring. Ellie, a very experienced cyclist, works on the basis of 500 calories per hour. I don’t cycle as hard as Ellie, but on the other hand I am heavier, so my figure can’t be terribly different from hers. This would give a figure of 3200 calories for today’s ride of 6 hours 25 minutes. Even I cannot add the equivalent of 35 Chocolate Hobnobs or 14 Mars Bars on top of my usual diet, so on this basis I would lose some weight.

In addition, Matthew Freeman gave me a link on Twitter to an article in Cycling Weekly (as opposed to cycling weakly, which is what I do). This says that someone cycling at 13 mph (which I was) and weighing 75 kg (which is  a few kg more than I am) uses 600 calories per hour, so this is similar to Ellie’s estimate, and I think I can feel reasssured. Of course, as the article points out, the actual figure will depend upon aerodynamics and wind resistance, the width of your tyres, the road surface, and so on. I suspect it also depends on temperature—if it’s cold outside you’ll need to use energy to keep warm.

So which is right? Everyone I have spoken to says that Strava’s numbers are too low, but Strava know my gender, age, weight, height, resting heart rate and so on; they also know my cycling speed at any point, the gradient I’m climbing, and my heart rate. Can they really get it so wrong? We’ll have to see if that suit fits when I get back.

Depilation

Having mentioned wind resistance, I should mention that we discussed one more thing over dinner—the vexed question of shaving one’s legs. The serious cyclists in our group all shave (or wax, in one case—no one electrolyses, or will admit to doing so). But why do they do it? Everyone was adamant that it has nothing to do with aerodynamics. Rather, there was a view that if you have a massage after a race, then the hairless appendage is easier to pummel. As an additional advantage, if you take a tumble, like Father Paul, it is easier to remove grit from a smooth leg than from a hairy leg. There is a third reason, of course, which is that people think it looks good, and I suspect this is the main reason most people do it. I did ask one of the Whippets how far up he shaved—was it to just above the shorts line, or did he adopt the cyclists’ version of the Brazilian? There is no need to record the answer.

Finally, I’m not convinced about the aerodynamics answer—I think shaving might well make a difference, and I propose to test the idea by shaving just one leg. My theory is that I’d then tend to cycle to my left or my right, depending on which leg I shaved. A bit like the way James Anderson swings a cricket ball. I’m sure it’s an experiment worth doing.

Stats

You can see my stats on the Strava link above, but for the record…

Screenshot 2018-08-13 22.16.16.pngNumbers

Screenshot 2018-08-13 21.17.52.pngHow far we have got. I can imagine we’ll get to JOG some time!