Islands on the edge
Day Three involved riding down through North Uist and Benbecula, and this should have been the easiest part of the trip as it is not a particularly hilly route apart form a lump at the start of North Uist. We thought that we’d make use of the hour and a bit we had before the ferry to take a run down to a picturesque church at Roghdal which had been recommended to us by a club mate. The trip was in fact essential as we’d been told that it contained a rather risqué artwork. At this point there was a strongish breeze but enough sunshine and warmth to let us overlook this. The ride to the church was only 3 miles but it contained an enormous hill (15%). Because I had just breakfasted well, this section was about the slowest 1mile I have ever ridden. But the church was worth the effort although the naughty artwork took a bit of finding. We rode back at speed because a stiffer breeze had got up behind us, which meant that we got to the ferry terminal a lot earlier than we needed. I say “terminal” – it was really just a slipway with little facilities other than a waiting room which, mercifully, had a toilet. You’re picking up the idea that toilet stops were as frequent as coffee stops on this trip are you? And they weren’t always for my ageing bladder either it has to be said.
Day Two was scheduled as a bus trip up to Stornoway (with the bikes in the boot of course) and a cycle right up to the top of the island and a return via the Standing Stones of Calanais. The total mileage for the day would have been in the region of 110. I say “would have been” as the whole plan hinged on that crucial bus link. Unfortunately Hebrides Transport saw otherwise and had put a minivan on the route instead of the coach and the driver sailed somewhat arrogantly past us. We decided to start cycling with a view to catching the next bus at whatever point it passed us. And yes, “passed us” it indeed did, although I managed to get it to stop a few yards on. The driver was less than helpful and omitted to tell us that if we got as far as Tarbert, the coach would take us up to Stornoway – a fact we only discovered over a coffee in the splendid and extremely well cake-endowed First Fruits café at the pier in Tarbert. Faced with a wait of an hour, we revised our plans and decided that Calanais was a must see and we’d just have to cut short the day’s ride. This turned out to be a good choice as we were able to spend slightly longer at the stones than we might have otherwise, and it cut out the Cleisham hill. It also allowed us to spend quarter of an hour oohing and ahhhing at some cute little piglets which were about the only type of wildlife on the islands that didn’t attack Laura. More of that later.
I have done several cycle tours over the past four years, most notably to Amsterdam and back where I made several friends with whom I have kept up thanks to that modern-day pen-pal system – Facebook. When my Walkers club-mate Laura suggested a tour riding the length of the Outer Hebrides I was instantly interested – not just because I had been watching a documentary about them but also because I thought “200 miles? Pfffft. Piece of cake after Amsterdam.” I will admit to being a little daunted by the fact that my travel companion to be was half my age (literally), twice as fit (literally) and half my body weight (don’t go there). However, with that customary difficulty I find myself having regularly, the word “No” somehow became Yes” by the time the air had travelled from lung to vocal chords and there I was committed. Or I should have been. One set of borrowed panniers plus rack and a lot of trying to stuff in clothes and other necessities later, I was ready to go. Now it was up to my legs to do the rest.
The Crow Road is one of the legendary cycling climbs in this part of the world. It is not the steepest of hills – there’s a section of 12% at the bottom which lasts for about a quarter of a mile but after that it is just a long drag of a constant climb of between 5% and 9% that goes on for about three miles, going in that distance from 280feet to 1380. What makes it ouchworthy is that you get to what you think is the top only to turn a corner and be confronted with another half mile of up.
My first encounter with this entity was last year during the Trossachs Ton event and it was yet another of my classic comedy cycling moments. Just as I was priding myself on not having stopped, I noticed that the sheep in the field beside the road were actually overtaking me. And the wee buggers weren’t even running! I do have to confess that my “not having stopped” came to an end fairly soon after that as I ran out of steam and had to put the foot on the ground for a breather before resuming.
Well I’ve done it. Bought another bike.
The Dolan has served me well for a first road bike, especially since it had never been my intention to get a carbon framed one that early in my cycling life.
But things move on and I had been very impressed with the Specialized Ruby that I hired in Texas. It had come down to a choice between that and the Giant Avail Advanced, but with the latter being now unavailable until 2014, I went with the Ruby.
Seems like I’ve fallen into my old ways of “forgetting” to post again, so it’s time to redress that. Since returning from Texas my cycling has been a bit fits and starts – partly because of the weather, and partly because at this time of year work is a tad hectic because we are winding up classes for the academic year. This is always accompanied by students you have seldom seen suddenly materialising and expecting to be able to do twelve weeks’ work in a day and then getting huffy when you suggest they can’t just copy what their pal has written. But that is another story, and no doubt one that is universal.
Cycling events in May were mostly local, but involved my first century ride of the year. (It was actually only about 97 miles but that’s near enough and I am claiming it on the basis of not having switched the Garmin on while I searched the length and breadth of the Royal Mile looking for a toilet.)
Now many people are put off doing outdoor activities by a little rain. Even cyclists in fact. And most people would be put off doing outdoor activities by a lot of rain. Even cyclists. So when I woke up on Saturday May 11th to an absolute deluge going on outside my window, why on earth did I then yawn, stretch and think “Time to get ready to go and cycle round Arran”
Now if you have been paying any sort of attention on here, you’ll have noticed that I had a less than successful trip round Arran not but a few weeks ago, where I used the excuse of “tired after my Texas trip” to justify cycling like a five year old girl. So what possessed me to think that I could do any better in torrential rain? Well actually it was probably the thought that I couldn’t do any worse that made me head off on the 8.43am train. That and the knowledge that the company would be good.