A few weeks ago my partner decided to use the fact that she was on maternity leave to visit her family in Croatia for a few days with the kids. Despite her best efforts to fill my days with DIY I still had a weekend mostly free and I intended to use that time for cycling. In a reflection of how times have changed, I phoned my friend to see if he was free for a cycle. In my youth I would have concentrated solely on the drinking potential such an opportunity brought
He was in so I started to plan a route that would make it worth his while driving all the way up to Aberdeen. This important task took priority over any and all work. When it was finished it was an eighty mile masterpiece with the Suie climb taking centre stage. This was a climb I had long wanted to do but had never had the time. It had a fearsome reputation from the numerous blogs written on the subject. You know a climb is epic if people are willing to write about it and I will now add to that canon.
The profile on my Garmin told me we were getting close and before I knew it we took a turn to the left and we were on the climb. It was less of a climb and more of a wall really. I immediately searched for an extra gear, desperately trying to force the chain onto a cog that only existed in my imagination. After accepting the brutal fact that I was indeed in my easier gear I settled down into something of a rhythm, visualising myself cresting the peak. It was like my whole winter of inactivity and sleep deprivation was represented metaphorically by this hill. In my fragile mental state I saw myself go past me, the version of me that are these climbs for breakfast only a year ago. He was barely out of breath and dancing on the pedals. I didn’t even try to stay on his wheel.
This climb is typical of most climbs in Scotland. What we lack in long, steady alpine climbs we make up for in steep, unforgiving lumps. Think of the bergs in Belgium racing just without any of the history. The sort of climbs that make stopping a real possibility. The sort of climbs that make starting again impossible. The sort of climbs that make you question if even a car would struggle to get up them. No hairpins to give you brief respite from the gradient. No sense that you are following in the footsteps of cycling greats. No relief until you reach the top so your only choice is to grind up no matter how inelegant your pedal stroke might be.
In a boost to my shattered ego I noticed that I was pulling away from my cycling buddy. Despite the lack of any exercise I was still a waif and that counts for something when fighting against gravity. The top was in sight. A couple of my turns and I was there. King of the mountain against my friend but probably low in the Strava pecking order. Definitely low in the Strava order.
We didn’t stop long to admire the view before descending back down the other side. The descent was fast and non technical. We were flying towards the cafe stop. Calories were required to get us home.
A roll and sausage and flat white later I was feeling just about ready to hit the road again. I believe this is the stuff that fuels the pro peleton. Back on the saddle and those first few pedal strokes out of the village alerted me to the fact that it was going to be a long 40 miles. Instead of muscle in my legs, there was fat. I started to play psychological tricks; “40 miles is nothing! That’s just a normal day out!” and “Dont worry, Smurph will be feeling worse”. There was not a flat section of road to be seen and with every hill my legs were reaching the point of their absolute maximum elasticity. Soon they would snap and I would be spending the night in a field trying to keep warm. Ten miles left. Almost my old commute home. You can do this. You know the turns and the roads to keep you away from anything too steep but no matter how you navigate it, the only way to get to my house is upwards. Smurph pulled me the last few miles. I am forever grateful.
Without even changing into civilian clothes, we went straight to McDonald’s we ordered everything on the menu. We sat in my garden with a beer and didn’t talk for half an hour with only the energy to eat.
Regular readers of this blog will know that no cycling trip of mine finishes with bed. Of course we went out and drank and told war stories of our cycle. Despite the inevitable hangover that followed I resolved to get more time on the bike and shake off the last winter of inactivity.