Shooting the Crow

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.

With Jacky, Sandra and me all entered into this year’s event, we decided we’d have a practice run a couple of weeks before the event.  And I have to say that I was very pleased to note that I did it a helluva lot more easily than last year which I am taking as a sign of progress.  I remain not a very good climber but I am certainly much improved on previous years.  I did however, look a tad deformed as I hunched up over the bike. The pic is taken just after that turn I mentioned, so you can almost see the words “Oh ****!  There’s more!” on my lips.  😉

Shooting the Crow 1

Shooting the Crow 1

This was also the first outing for the Ruby and I have to say it handled itself very well. Pity about the rider.

So, armed with the knowledge that I could get up the Crow Road in a oner, I was looking forward to the actual sportive. And then of course the fickle finger of fate intervened with a chest and throat infection that saw me unable to speak for five days and unable to eat anything other than ice cream and lemon popsicles for two.  Sod’s Law indeed.

Although not by any manner or means 100%, I was feeling better by the Friday before the ride so decided “What the heck? Let’s just do it.”  Apart from anything else I was going a little stir crazy and the worst of it was past.   Jacky and I set out from the start point at Stirling High School at just after 8.15am and we made decent progress over the first 20miles despite my untimely episode with an escape attempt by my bottle cage.  There is something a little strange about having the “lunch stop” at 10am, so we decided to forgo the pasta and settle for a roast beef roll instead.  Replenished, we set off on part two of the route which we know well from our rides with the girls.  On this occasion we had glorious sunshine and only the slightest headwind, which was a pleasant change from our last two encounters with that stretch of road.

And then came the Crow.

I had decided that I was just going to take it gently and concentrate on getting up it – a sensible plan given that I wasn’t fully lurgi-free. And I did.  I have no doubt it wasn’t bonnie to behold but I made it. Jacky had gone on ahead and to add insult to illness, Sandra, who was doing the longer route, overtook me just at the summit.  And it has to be said that on my way up I overtook two blokes, one of whom was at least half my age (and was tall and skinny) so that did give me a rather perverse feeling of satisfaction.  By the time I got to the top of the first stretch I was able to flash a grin at the official photographer and I looked significantly less deformed that on the previous occasion.

Shooting the Crow 2

Shooting the Crow 2

The ride down was not as easy as I’d hoped as I had been left feeling a little shaky after the climb.  Jacky was waiting at the bottom and we had a decent rest to let me recover before embarking on the final stage back along the Carron Valley to the finish line.  Now one of the things about this particular ride is that you think you have cracked it once you’re over the Crow and everything else is plain sailing.


There are at least two steepish climbs on this stretch and I must admit they did for me.  I suddenly felt like a wee 54-year old with a residual chest infection.  It didn’t help that I was so busy swearing a potholes in road at one point that I missed a turning and added a good ten or fifteen minutes to my time before I realised that I didn’t recognise the road.  Ah well. Wont do that next year.

But I finally limped back into the high school, only about 20 minutes after Jacky. I didn’t do it in under 5 hours like I’d wanted. But I did do it in slightly less time than last year which was good given that I was well below par and that I’d given myself that extra section.

On the day I felt that I had let myself down and I was quite despondent about it. Now when looking back while writing this, I feel I should be happy that I notched up a better time than previously and that while I am not improving in leaps and bounds, there is some evidence of better performance.

Notch it up to not being my best ride  but by the same token neither was it as bad as I’d felt on the day.


N+ how many?

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.

Good choice.


Bike 3

Parliamentary Pedalling

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.)

The event was the second Pedal on Parliament – a “protest cycle” of some sorts in which cyclists (of all sorts) converge on the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh to lobby for change.  This is usually a call for more cycle lanes, better driver (and cyclist) education and this year, the campaign for strict liability.  Just how much success the event enjoys is debatable but it certainly forces the issues into the public spotlight and that in itself can’t be bad.

Along with some friends from the Glasgow Road Cycling Meetup and the Spokes groups, I set off from George Square Glasgow on a coolish morning though mercifully at this point dry. Our plan was to head straight out along the A89 to Bathgate and then to head to the A8 approach to Edinburgh.  This was the straightest route and was also less hilly than the route chosen by some other groups.  We encountered a slight drizzle along the way (what we’d call “dreichness” over here) but little in the way of headwind or real chill.  Our journey across was marred somewhat by an accident to one of our party who tumbled (still no explanation of why) on to the tarmac. Fortunately she suffered only a concussion but no broken bones, but it just goes to show how an accident can happen in the blink of an eye.

By the time we were ready to head back to Glasgow, the sun was beginning to sneak through the cloud. So much so that I had removed my arm and leg warmers before we left the Edinburgh boundary. Some ten of us had opted to cycle back rather than take the train and we held together as a group until just around Broxburn  – averaging around 17mph along the stretch from Edinburgh city centre.  Two members opted for the train at this point and the racing snakes were eager to blast off at the front, so we let them just  go ahead, leaving myself, Andrew, Jacky, Ian and Jim E to bring up the rear at a more gentle pace.  Ian had just got back from a walking tour and was tired (and was also beginning to feel the pinch of riding an MTB on tarmac) so he nipped off to catch a train at Bathgate.  The rest of us grabbed a quick carb intake courtesy of Mickey D’s before completing the final miles to Glasgow at a reasonably comfortable 16mph.

All in, a decent day’s cycling and a worthwhile event to attend.  Our average speed over the (nearly) 100miles was 14.6mph which is close enough to my target speed for this year of 15mph average over moderate terrain.  I am attributing the slow sections to having done the decent thing and held back for about 25miles on the outward leg to keep a slower cyclist company.

And you won’t shift me from that excuse reason.

Rain? In Scotland? Well I never.

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.

So there we were, standing on Brodick pier hoping that the brief glimpse of the yellow thing would materialise into a heatwave.  And it did – for about ten minutes.

well, the sky is ALMOST blue

well, the sky is ALMOST blue

This lasted all the way round Sannox Bay just up to the point where we started climbing up the lower stretches of the Boguille – that’s the FGH between Sannox and Lochranza – a mere 7% at itseasiest point but a 14% in places. What then struck us (literally) was just how much headwind we had. So much that it made us forget all about the constant drizzle.

welcome rest at the top of the Boguille

welcome rest at the top of the Boguille

It was certainly a triumph of willpower over wind that got us all up, and it made the descent into Lochranza all the better. There is then a fairly flat stretch along the west coast of the island and I allowed myself to go for a good blast along here. I was trying out a Giant Defy with a view to purchasing an Avail and it handled the road rather well. My efforts were rewarded by a nice lunch at Blackwaterfoot and a chance to dry myself out using the time-honoured method of standing under the hand drier in the Ladies for about fifteen minutes.

Off we went again after lunch, all buoyed up to do the hilly stretch of the route. I have to admit I found this quite challenging and lagged behind on several occasions. It was, however, markedly better than the previous attempt. The rain was falling quite heavily at times now so i was probably going a little more cautiously than usual given that I was on a borrowed bike. The descent into Lamlash coincided with a rather splendid rainbow over the Holy Isle but no apparent pots of gold were strewn across our path.

rainbow over the Holy Isle

rainbow over the Holy Isle

The climb out of Lamlash was held up for a while as we attended to Mandy who had injured her wrist. It is a fairly brutal climb at the best of times and again we had the wind in our faces. There was a fairly undignified dash for the ferry which we made almost literally as they were pulling the gangplank up, but we made it for a well-earned seat and a coffe.

So did we enjoy our day in the rain?  Well yes we did. it was good company and everyone was united against the adversity of the rain.

And I do have to say that Caledonian MacBrayne have exceedingly good hand driers in the loos.

…and again

One of the biggest benefits of the Scott Contessa school is that it has given me  new circle of cycling friends to go out with, most of whom are of my own ability level or slightly better.  I have managed to go out on several occasions now with all or some of them at a time and I honestly believe tha my own ability has increased because of it.  This includes the marvellous occasion a few weeks back when we set off from East Kilbride in glorious sunshine only to pass across a definite snow line an hour later. Quarter of an hour after than I realised that I could not get my left cleat to engage. A closer inspection reveal a hard-packed lump of ice which just would not come out.  An early coffee stop allowed me to remove the shoe and heat it up over the cafe heater long enough to then prise out the ice block with the end of my coffee spoon – none of which was at all hygienic.

But I digress.  Sunday’s “girls’ ride” was from Sandra’s house outside Gartocharn heading over to Aberfoyle and then up over the Duke’s Pass to Loch Katrine.  Thereafter, we did the full circuit of the Loch before returning along more or less the same route as our outward journey.  Duke’s Pass is one of the better-known climbs in this part of the world, and while it is not by any means the fiercest, it is nevertheless challenging.  And for once I managed to get up in one go – not bonnie to watch but I got there. The trip round Loch Katrine threw up a few slopes which were steeper grades than I’d remembered, but the coffee stop (another one?  Will people think this the real reason I go cycling?) soon put life back in the legs that by now were getting fairly damp as the rain had started to come down.

A ten mile stretch into a headwind saw us back at Sandra’s.  The Garmin stats showed 4000 feet of climbing with a maximum grade of 18%, a couple of 11%s  and an awful lot of 6- 9%.  And all that at an average speed of 14mph which made me no end pleased.

So, this ride went some considerable way to making up for the previous week’s disappointing Arran trip.  Good. Must have been the jet-lag after all.

Climb every mountain …

Well after the buzz and great cycling of Texas, I came down to earth with somewhat of a bang on Saturday. Our club had arranged a trip over to Arran – 56 miles round and a fair bit of climbing – and I had suggested that I led a slower group round. So far so good. What I hadn’t anticipated was having probably the worst ride of my cycling life so far, an event which culminated in my “leading£ the slower group from the back.  It may have been the journey and the lack of sleep catching up with me, but I struggled up even small hills and often had to pause to gather strength or, as happened on too many occasions to mention, just get off and push.  I managed to get sufficient second wind after the lunch stop at Blackwaterfoot to make a decent fist of the second section of the ride, including the hoick up over the Boguile hill.  I even managed a decent 20mph sprint at the end into Brodick, but I rather suspect the sight of the cars piling on to the ferry in the distance provided the real spur for that.

It was, for all that, a good day out, despite the intermittent hailstones we encountered. I am heading back to Arran soon so hopefully I shall give a better account of myself then.  You can’t win ’em all.


Impressions of Texas

Below are just a few of the impressions of Texas that I gained from my brief but productive visit. It is of course easy to see through rose-coloured spectacles when you are a “tourist” on a short visit, but I came away with a very positive view of the lone star state.

The Ride

No negatives at all about this ride. It was extremely well organised given the massive nature of trying to manage 12,500 people on one route.  I was especially impressed by the ride marshalls who rode the route with the competitors and who ensured that road etiquette and discipline was maintained at all times. If you go back several posts on here, you will find my rant about the bad cycling I have encountered on two successive Pedal for Scotland events where running red lights was the least of the cycling offences. The organisers of that event would be well advised to to follow the lead of MS150.   The volunteers at the food stops were also a great plus in the event. Those marshalling the entry and exit points made sure that no snarl ups occurred by moving riders up into the food area, and those serving food were enthusiastic and supportive.   And a word of praise has to be offered to the legion of police, state troopers etc whose traffic control ensured fluid transition across intersections and at other junctions.  Most riders made a point of thanking them as they rode past and I hope those officers accepted this as genuine.

The route itself was good and I cant really hold it against Texas that it has no real hills. 😉


One of the things that I noticed early on in the ride was just how well-maintained the Texas roads were.  Although a lot of them were concrete, there was little in the way of potholes or cracks to worry me and this allowed me to ride along in the confidence that I wasn’t going to need my ski slalom techniques that have been honed on Scottish roads.  In fact, the only real road hazards I encountered were occasional gravel patches and a range of road kill that looked like some sort of bizarre zoo.   I also noticed, outwith the ride itself, that Texas roads are all arrow straight, big and feature a lot of overpasses .  I also noticed that there was little in the way of public transport as we’d know it over here and I doubt if you could catch a bus or a passenger train from Pearland into Houston city centre.  This in turn creates a dependency on cars which of course we’d heard of and, if we’re honest, have sneered at over here.  It is too easy for us to overlook the vast distances that many Americans have to travel to do something as simple as get to work or go to the stores, so maybe we should cut them a little slack over this.


I have to confess that I do pull an American friend’s leg a little every time he tells me he and his wife are off to eat out. It does seem, however, that this is in fact the norm so my apologies for assuming you are just a greedy b*****.   When I asked my ride buddies about this, they all said they ate out about three times a week, some of them more than that.  And why would you not? Not when you have the choice that I saw wherever we went. My abiding memory of Texas would probably be that wherever we were and whatever time, there was always a pervading aroma of food from the vast number of outlets.  Spoiled for choice is an understatement, and it certainly made me realise the sheer paucity of places to eat that we have over here – certainly outwith the major cities. We seldom eat out as there really just isn’t anywhere we could go that isn’t McDonald’s or one of the other majors.  I ate at Gringo’s and at Outback while we were over and on visits to Kemah and Galveston, we could have taken our pick of many eateries – with all of them reasonable in menu choice and price.  We eventually selected Joe’s Crab Shack in Galveston and a small pizza restaurant in Kemah, both of them offering a good range and with excellent service.

Ah yes, Service

We also laugh a bit at the Americans’ use of phrases such as “have a nice day” but I do feel that everyone we encountered that used such phrases, genuinely meant them. I found service in stores and restaurants to be generally of a high standard and most of the people we encountered displayed a level of basic manners that is sadly lacking in the service industries in the UK.  And service was always delivered with a smile.  What a novelty.

There were other aspects of Texas that I enjoyed but I will keep them for another time.   That’s quite enough adulation for one post.  :-0