I thought I would cover some routes in this blog that I have rode in Scotland to give you a flavour of some of the cycling we have here.
One such ride took me and two friends; together we form the three man breakaway splinter WhatsApp group, from Edinburgh to Aberdeen.
Ostensibly the cycle would actually begin in Glasgow to get us to Queen Street station and then on a train to Edinburgh. We would finish in Aberdeen since I lived there.
When designing a cycle route we have some strict criteria:
It has to be at least two days since this gives the opportunity for a few drinks in the middle and adds to the epic nature of the trip
It has to finish with a night out somewhere
As you can see, the criteria have less to do with cycling and more to do with drinking.
So we left our houses in Glasgow and made the short six mile ride to catch the train and lo and behold it was typical west coast weather. By the time we got to the train station we were soaked to the bone and dreading the next six hours in the saddle. Thankfully by the time the train left, the weather had vastly improved so our little corner of the train was decorated by various bits of clothing hung up in an attempt to dry.
Once we arrived in Edinburgh we stocked up on some food for the road and then made our way out of Edinburgh towards the Forth Road Bridge and it was here that the ride became epic. As we cycled across the bridge, to our right loomed the magnificence of the Forth Rail Bridge and its iconic girders. When driving, you don’t have the time or the concertation to take in all of its brutal beauty but on the bike you can admire its muscle. It is iconic of course for how it looks but also perhaps because of what it represents; a time of industry, of innovation and of Britain being at the forefront of engineering.
After crossing the bridge, the ride swung east and followed the coast all the way to St Andrews. As the Forth Rail Bridge receded from view we formed a chain gang to help keep the pace up and bring us faster to a well-earned lunch in St Andrews. We didn’t dwell for long over our bowls of pasta and before long it was back on the bikes to continue north to Dundee in what was to be a fairly uneventful and ordinary part of the journey.
Cycling through Dundee was easy but then as we were just leaving the city disaster struck. Some idiot in the council had only put 5ft of gap between a couple of bollards and one of the guys (who shall remain nameless) guided his bike not through the adequate gap but straight into one of the concrete bollards. I looked back when I heard the crunching of the bike and saw him lying on the floor. After we took some pictures to historically preserve this idiotic crash we assessed his bike and his body in case anything was broken apart from his pride. He was certainly a bit tender and for a short while contemplated ending his trip there by getting the train home but he knew that a couple of more hours of cycling would bring him to a night out and that was all the motivation that he needed to keep going.
And keep going we did, on the country road west towards Blairgowrie. As we cycled we would sometimes talk and debate and other times a hush would descend as we concentrated on our pace. We made it to Blairgowrie and stopped at a shop for some beers and snacks before making our way to the accommodation.
At this point you might be wondering if our plan was to rock up to the local pub fully kitted out in sweaty lycra but being seasoned pro’s we had come prepared.
Now, Blairgowrie is a small town with just a couple of pubs so we were working under the assumption that dress codes would not be an issue. So stuffed into our small saddle bags was what we felt was the bare minimum we would need to get into a pub: tracksuit trousers, t-shirt, sandals and hair gel. All lightweight enough to take on a bike yet functional enough to serve a purpose. This is a cycling blog so I am not going to go into detail on how much we drank that night and what larks we got up to except to say Jaeger bombs were involved and I think even a karaoke bar. We raced in wheelie bins on the way back to the hotel and ended up sleeping in the same bed. Suffice to say it was the exact opposite of sensible preparation for another 100 mile cycle the next day.
We awoke to the familiar fuzzy haze of a hangover, not entirely thankful that someone had remembered to set an alarm. This is a role we had each played many times before and we knew our lines off by heart; we just had to make it down to breakfast and the greasy healing power of the full Scottish breakfast could get to work.
It is Blairgowrie’s very isolation that makes it an ideal stop over on a cycle. If there was a train station nearby I am pretty confident that we would have completed the journey by train, propped against a window but we had no option but to get on our bikes and finish what we had started. We knew what we were signing up for. If the hills don’t punish you then the alcohol will.
But it was the hills that got their chance to punish us first, as we were climbing out of Blairgowrie almost immediately. Climbing and climbing and climbing until we reached the apogee at the ski centre at Glenshee which is about as desolate a place where you can still get a bowl of soup.
Suitably refreshed, we knew that it was basically sixty miles of downhill to Aberdeen. The descent from the ski centre at Glenshee is up there in terms of my favourite cycling moments; the road clings to the side of the mountain and barrels down through the glacial valley without any technical parts to slow you down. It is basically full gas the entire way and it was an almost out of body experience for me as I imagined I was watching myself on TV from a camera of a helicopter hovering off my shoulder in the valley. It was genuinely that much fun. When the road flattened out we got ourselves organised into a train and made hay all the way to Ballater. We still talk about this section of the trip regularly as we just clicked as a group and made unbelievable time. The hangovers were forgotten for a while and were replaced by the anticipation of an epic night in Aberdeen.
Like all good things, this feeling of flying came to an abrupt stop once we remounted our bikes in Ballater after a short break. The motivation to cycle the last forty miles was gone, for some more than others, and that last section into Aberdeen turned out to be the hardest of the entire trip despite the flat roads and generous tail wind. It was a case of all of us just retreating to that place in the mind you have to go to see it through no matter what. With the help and encouragement of each other we pulled into my street, climbed the stairs of my flat and dumped all the bikes in the kitchen.
I have spoken at length in another blog post about my post-cycle routine but this time the only protocol required was to open the fridge and grab three cold beers, sit on the couch and reflect on what we had achieved.
A few days later I talked myself into getting back on the bike only to discover that I had broken a spoke during the cycle. It was a fitting reminder of those two days; we were all broken but we still functioned and managed to finish.