Category Archives: water

6 climbs and a few more

 When I wrote about 6 steep climbs round about here,  Jean (https://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/) suggested that some photos would have enhanced the blog. At the same time I was trying out an app called footpath, which is great for working out routes for cycling. I decided that I would link them together in a cycle/ photo bonanza. So I managed it, though some of the photos are a bit dodgy as they were taken on the move with the camera slung around my neck.  The weather was ideal, warm enough for shorts & short sleeve top, cool enough to not become dehydrated easily. What a ride, some of my favourite climbs here, and when the gradient was less than 10% it was a real bonus. First of all the boring bits for some, the route & profile:

   Over 110 feet climbed for every mile

  Quite a few ups and downs?

   

 Hill no. 1: Kippielaw
The first hill, not even a mile away, this is short but with a real lurch into the sky at the end. The hill in the distance is Traprain Law with the remains of an Iron Age fort on the top, complete with hut circles and a magnificent view over the Firth of Forth, north up to the Highland and south to the lowland hills.

   
 Hill no. 2: Up into the Beil Estate

After a fabulous colonnade of yew trees you cycle past rhododendrons till another wee steep ramp leads up to the top. Just after this a deer stopped in the road and gazed at my approach for a while before it sauntered off into the woods 

 Then on and up another a couple of ascents before reaching Pitcox, another good climb (though not one of the chosen) past the water bottling plant. Pitcox is a tiny place, but a couple of 100 years ago it had a religious house where monks from the refectory in Melrose who had misbehaved were sent. 

 The climb up from Pitcox past Findlay’s Water

Then it was past the Witch’s Stone at Spott, which often has coins left on it. I tried to take a photo but had nudged the dial of the camera on to the wrong setting. Just before this a fox had sauntered across the road in front of me, my day for wildlife? 

 Hill no.3: Starvation Brae – a local test piece 

 Then came the climb out of Spott – Starvation Brae, not sure why it is called this though. This one is hard – gradually steepens, then has 3 steep bits to the top. A real heavy breathing one by the top.

Onwards and downwards and upwards and downwards . . . . . . . . 

   
Hill no. 4: The Brunt – east side

Then it was across the ford, luckily dry but the road is a mess, then up The Brunt, another climb leaving you puffing at the top. 

 One of my favourite sections, a gorgeous half mile through a wooded dell, dappled in the sunshine. Then came the big one, over a mile long with an average gradient of 9%+ and several steep ramps double that.

   
  Hill no. 5: Elmscleugh, the first ramp  Hill no. 5: Elmscleugh, looking up to the second steep ramp, climbing at 5-8% here
  Hill no. 5: Elmscleugh, a sight I saw a few times  Hill no. 5: Elmscleugh, getting near the summit
 Hill no. 5: Elmscleugh, the cattle grid at the top usually a good descent now!Hurrah, a lovely swoop back down the other side to look forward to, but:

Roadworks slowed progress, looks like they are putting in a new track for the wind turbines.
   
Some climb? 

Then it was down for a while, this time slowed by gates. After the valley in the distance it would be another undulating climb back over the distant hills.  Up beside Whitadder reservoir dam

I was now on the section of the road that the Tour of Britain will come down in September. should be fun!  

Whitadder Reservoir, not too many cheering crowds this day.

 
  Another great section with lots of undulations over the moors, I would do this section a couple of times this trip. Many sheep, birds including oyster catchers some way from the sea and cows.
  Approaching Redstone Rigg  Hill no. 6: Redstone Rigg, another local test piece
So the last of the 6 hills loomed up. This is one spoken of in awe locally, though Elmscleugh is far harder, but being further away from Edinburgh is cycled less. I’ve already booked my place here for the Tour of Britain, fantastic views of the riders coming up from miles away, unfortunately it will probably be mobbed with other cycling fans.

Bog cotton and a butt for grouse shooting at the top of ‘The Rigg’   

The wonderful descent with Whiteadder Reservoir in the distance. I went down here at 46 mph, but on a good day have manage 55 so what will the Tour riders be doing? They will have to watch out on the cattle grid in the middle of the descent .
  Iron Age Green Castle Fort, with its 3 ring defence
So back down & up & down & up till home, passing a dead badger on the way. Well pleased and satisfied. And for those who still think Central Scotland is flat?

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Englandshire & Welsh ups & doons

Well then, a visit doon sooth to cat and house sit in an 11th century Grange (a farm run by monks from the nearby Abbey).
Stopped at my nephew’s overnight to perform my role as a gruncle as well. Unfortunately when I arrived at the Grange Rob messaged me to say I had left my cycle shoes at his đŸ˜±, but that they’d posted them off 😃.
So two days later, the cat stopped clawing me enough, in that tender way cats do, to allow me to thank the postie & get out on the bike.
There wasn’t too much time before sunset, so I thought a wee 15 to 20 mile spin would do the trick.
But . . . I’d forgotten a couple of things or more. First of all there’s a lot of steep hills in Herefordshire, at least four on the ride had sections over 18%. Then there’s all these little twisty turny lanes all over the place – more of this later. And it was getting chilly, luckily I had a laminated OS map section tucked down my front (lucky in more senses than keeping me warm).
So carefully down the steep, gravelly, pot holed, narrow road, up the steep road opposite, a lovely descent till the fences and defences round the base where the SAS are rumoured to train. The next day we were stopped in the car here as two huge plane bodies made their slow, slow way round the tiny lanes.
Then down the main road and off up and down, up and down, up and down the dodgy wee lanes (you get the idea?). Suddenly, despite the map, I decided I was somewhat mislaid. After a sweeping whooshing descent, through an icy shower, map time again and I realised that I’d gone a bit too far.
Decision time, back over different ups & downs or try to whizz back along the flatter valley, trying to race against the fading light.
So, the valley it was. I raced along and made it to the bottom of the steep initial hill and crawled up it before turning down the lane home in the gloom.
It was brilliant! I love those times when you get it all slightly wrong and haul yourself out.
So 30 miles instead of 20, and over 2,500 feet of climbing, so much for a quick wee trip!
😈

IMG_2207
The Cat being looked after.

What Do You Taste?

A bit of ice to keep me warm!

A bit of ice to keep me warm!

Another in my self imposed series of the senses.
Taste is closely allied to smell, take way your sense of smell and it will diminish the taste of food or drink. If you can normally smell everything OK and get a bad cold it can take away the taste of food and diminish your appetite.
So what about taste and the bike? It is certainly varied according to the seasons, the terrain, the atmosphere etc.
So it probably starts before you’re even on the bike. Maybe that breakfast taste of marmalade and toast, that hot butter and coffee all still weaving their spell on you taste buds?
Eventually it fades away and the taste becomes a background consciousness of saliva or mucus working away in your mouth. In winter maybe this will be all, though following the peloton could alter this, for better or worse. In summer other tastes will float in with things like the pollens from the fields or forests, such as the sweet sickly taste of oil seed rape, sticking in the throat once your long past the bright yellow field. Or the salt in your mouth as you past the sea front on a windy day, with a faint spray making contact. Or that dry dust thrown up by the wind.
Then there’s the winter with the others in front of you, especially those without mudguards. Yuch, that mud thrown up, that earthy taste. Double Yuch, you pass a field of cows recently herded in, just keep that mouth shut otherwise this just isn’t going to be the sensation you want in your throat. Sometimes though it’s just snow flakes melting on your tongue.
Then bliss, a stop for coffee and scones. That quenching taste of the hot liquid heading down the tongue, lingering again when you’re on your way once more.
But there’s one I hope doesn’t happen too often, that familiar taste. You hit a bad pothole or a bump in the road hard, the blood is in your mouth from biting down suddenly. So much for trying to be alert for 100% of the time, it just won’t happen.
Your water bottle can provide a bit of variety, the slightly metallic taste of some energy compound mix, or sometimes, in my case, sometimes a faint sense of that tiny, tiny bit of red wine I mix in before I go. Also the gels or snacks for energy may give you another thing to savour.
And then there’s that delight when a great smell from a gorgeous field, or pine wood translates itself into a taste that just lingers gently in the background as you cycle on.
So, what do you taste when you are out?

What do you hear?

Heading down from the Col du Galibier to Lauteret just before overtaking

Heading down from the Col du Galibier to Lauteret just before overtaking

Think this could be a theme coming on, wandering around the senses?

I was very conscious of the sound of my tyres on the road the other day. It was quite windy & I was freewheeling down hill with the wind behind. The tarmac was fairly smooth and a delightful hum came from the front wheel, with no other sound. It set me thinking.

Normal bike sounds, the usual sound of the freewheel, usually fairly quiet on my Shimano set up. The clunk of the gear change or horrendous crunch if, as I occasionally do, get it wrong. The rasp of the tyres in an occasional skid to stop or over-egging it, the squelch through a puddle or ford, the crunch through gravel, the click over the local train level crossing (which is far from level) or the thud over lumps of tractor mud.  The different noises from the brakes – a gentle rub of pads on the rim, a short squeal if there is dust around or a foul crunching if a wet day has thrown gravel onto the rim. The chatter of cycling companions around or beside you usually entertains you. Then there is the explosion of an inner-tube blowing or the hiss of it leaking.

Then there’s the traffic. The quiet hum of cars, or noisier deep throated rumble of a diesel vehicle, coming up behind. The click of a bike gear change that lets you know a fellow cyclist has teamed up. The roar of a boy racer’s car (not usually women) as it violently accelerates past you. The disturbing hoot of a horn sounding from an impatient motorist behind. There’s also the shout of an irate motorist from beside you, often for no reason, ah the joys of pathetic road rage. The sounds of trains running on nearby railway tracks or tractors working in the fields.

Then there are nature’s sounds surrounding you. The different wind noises is almost always a variable constant, sometimes the patter of rain, the crunch of hail or the crack of thunder. There is also the cries of birds and the flurry of wings as they fly towards or away from you. The sparking of the hooves of deer or sheep as they scamper out of your way, hopefully.  Dogs often bark, or sometimes growl as you ride past, sometimes giving you a doppler effect. Horses in fields or ridden along the road give a whole variety of snorts, whimpers coughs etc, with riders often shouting out a cheery greeting, or a quick ‘thanks’.

Also the welcome salutations of friends, other pedestrians or cyclists are an ever welcome part of the soundscape.

But, the worst is the sound of a fall or crash and the groans of the one who has come to grief, such a compendium of grating noises – hopefully hardly ever heard.

And the strangest thing of all, the fact that for those of us lucky enough to have hearing, we mostly just take all of this for granted.

So . . . . . . . . what do you hear?

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

Chilly Scottish mist

Chilly Scottish mist

Only event I’ve done this year – The Tour of Tweeddale down in the Scottish Borders, which I love. Friendly, magic soup at the food stops, good organisation, well signed etc.

I’ve entered this event for the last 3 years since it started. The first year it was just over 90 miles, last year 99 and this year 80, so looked like it was going to be easier.

Left home and it was 8ÂșC, so not too bad, had on two cycling shirts, the leg & arm warmers for the hanging about bit. Got down to Peebles, the car registered 3Âș – but I had on my down ‘gilet’ so felt good. Meet up with all sorts of friends and acquaintances and good chat with new faces.

Leg warmers off and set off into the misty gloom with the Haddington/ North Berwick crews, cruising along averaging about 17 mph. Instant freeze up of hands, strangely  the rest of me OK. The Garmin if I could have seen it registered 1Âș for the next hour and more. Luckily with all these fit people up front, apart from my occasional leads, it helped mitigate the wind chill a wee bit. Not only was the mist down, but my glasses were just about opaque as well and with lumps of frozen sausages for fingers I was finding it awkward to change gear, let alone the thought of having to do some emergency braking. Even when the sun came out the mist hung low & the faint glow wasn’t enough to warm things up.

We came up Loch Talla, which looked absolutely amazing. The mist was swirling across the water, breaking up and reforming with the sun  casting bright patterns everywhere and the hills behind coming and going. I had meant to bring my camera, but had left it in the car by mistake – damn! At the end of the loch came ‘The Wall of Talla’. This climb out of the glen averages 20%, ramping up to 30% in places so it’s a slow grind up, but in the sun luckily. A really good warming up process with a fantastic swoop down on the other side past Meggat water. By now I had about 8 working fingers and enough confidence in braking to ‘go for it’ with the rest of the faster folk. Total exhilaration.

A stop at the food station by now with hands operating as per normal, with thick, thick delicious soup and other goodies. The Haddington crew went off while Jo & I waited for Ronnie. The rest of the trip was good with a couple of good climbs, one long and progressive (Berry Bush), and the other (The Witchie Knowe) steeper, with the summit always in view, sometimes not seeming to be any closer, then through the gap & down, down, down.

Ronnie & I - Tour of Tweeddale 2013, cheery as ever

Ronnie & I – Tour of Tweeddale 2013, cheery as ever

Ronnie & I were sharing the lead with Jo doing her occasional bit. But at one point I looked back & there were 8 folk on our wheels, ah well. So as in the past a great event with fabulous scenery, great company and some challenging terrain and a few new PRs. Better get in training for next year?

Le Tour de Farce – 1st Edition

Brilliant!!

Brilliant!! Hope you like the not-a-go-pro hanging round my neck!

Last year was the 100th edition of Le Tour de France, so a group of localish riders decided to head out to Alpes d’Huez for this historic event + 5ish days cycling, especially as the Tour was coming up the hill twice. We named our group Le Tour de Farce, and Tour de Farce it was in some ways.

Edinburgh airport, we were all assembled for our flight, bikes at the ready, the queue kept building up, nothing was moving. Finally they came to tell us all the ticketing computers had gone down. Aghghgh, slight panic – cars to collect at the other end. After 2 1/2 hours things were sorted (manually) and we left the ground.

Arrived at Geneva, got bike off the carousel, wandered through customs & passport checks to wait for the others. No-one at first, then some came out – 2 bikes had gone astray and 1 set of luggage, complete with biking gear. Aghghghgh – more slight panic. Decision time, some of us were sent off in one car, while the rest stayed in to see if things could be retrieved.

A few hours later in Alpes d’Huez, we went for a bite, a pizza – darkness coming, so too late for that first evening cycle. Apparently after midnight the rest of the gang arrived having achieved not much.

Next day the bikes were loaned out, but I was left with mine. The gang decided to go down the hill & then pootle back up (if that’s the right word for a 3,00 foot, 21 hairpin climb averaging too many %)

So I got on my bike & climbed up to the twin lakes a mere 1,100 feet above. I had had a break in my riding as my granddaughter had come over from S Africa for a month and we spent so much time together, so I knew this trip would be a struggle – but slowly, slowly . . . . . .

Possibly the best descent of the trip.

Possibly the best descent of the trip from Le Col de Sarenne

The after noon arrived and the 2nd group set off with me in tow to climb over the Col de Sarenne & then Alpes d’Huez. Fabulous weather but hot, hot, hot. On the way up to the Col we had to take to grass riding/ pushing to bypass the folk laying down fresh tarmac for the Tour coming through in 2 days time. We paused at the top and I stayed behind to take photos & videos of the team tentatively going down, then wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!! A fantastic descent for the fools like me and with the temperature at 90 degrees + (32+C) a lovely cooling off period. I managed to overtake everyone on the descent so not bad for an old fool.

The it was into Le Bourg d’Oisans at the foot of the big one for a well earned drink & pĂątisserie. Then off to climb ‘The Hill’. I set off a tiny bit before the others, but most had passed me by about the 7th bend. Masses and masses of cyclist were toiling upwards. I then suddenly realised I was totally out of it, I was meandering all over the road & with not much between me and the drop beside me I decide recuperation was the order of the day. I later realised the temperature had reached 102 degrees (39C). So I hid under a bush for 20 mins, with a butterfly to keep me company. Once I continued I drank even more & doused myself with water under the roadside waterfalls. I’m from Scotland – we don’t do this sort of heat! But eventually made it back.

Then off for a pizza, now when in France I love to eat nice French food, in a lovely restaurant, but ‘the gang’ had other ideas. Not sure about the general Europop around the village either, but hey?

Breakfast at Boirg d'Oisans, French style

Breakfast at Boirg d’Oisans, French style

Next day the delayed bikes had arrived & it was the big one. The Col de Galibier beckoned. This time a mere 7,000 ft of ascent. At least the start was a a blast down from Huez and a lovely French breakfast in the village below.

At 13% a real sting in the tail

The team arrive up the final slope, at 13% a real sting in the tail

Several hours, 26.7 miles and 6144 feet later we were at the top, feeling fabulous.

La Meije, my acquaintance from 30+ years ago.

La Meije, my acquaintance from 30+ years ago.

Descending from La Meije Oriental summit 1985, maybe looking ovet to Galibier?

Descending from La Meije Oriental summit, 1985, maybe looking over to Galibier on the left?

On the way up we had views of the Meije Oriental, which I had climbed nearly 30 years ago. Then it was wooshing away back down. We stopped at La Grave for a late lunch and as we finished a huge downpour started. But, it was warm, so we set off anyway splashing our way down. I wimped out of the Huez climb again having already 70 miles and a car being available, but the others were braver than I. That night pizzas (though I opted for Lasagne), beer and Europop – no comment.

Next day, the great day arrived. Whizz, down to the bottom, breakfast at the cafe then the ascent before the Tour arrived. There were probably 20,000 or so of us peddling up those hairpins and 250,00 of spectators on the slopes. With my white beard & Scottish flag flying from the back of the bike I was greeted with cries of Ah, Le Diablo Ecosse (after an eccentric Italian who follows the Tour every year nicknamed Le Diablo). Loads of bravos, cheers, europop blaring out, manic Dutch corner, wee pushes and a wee diversion near the top away from the final finish. A really great but bizarre experience.

Alpes d'Huez - the leaders arrive first time round

Alpes d’Huez – the leaders arrive first time round

Alpes d'Huez, arrival of le peleton

Alpes d’Huez, arrival of le peleton

A quick sandwich & the down to the village to see Le Tour come through, accompanied by Europop, cheers that drowned out the music(?) and a fantastic atmosphere.

Le Pelton coming through Alpes d'Huez 2nd time round

Le Pelton coming through Alpes d’Huez 2nd time round

Then up to our apartments to watch progress on the TV & Le Tour coming through a second time beneath out balcony.

Then later, back down to the village for more beer and? (I’m sure you can guess by now)

Next day, up too late for a final ride, bikes dismantled the night before, then smooth progress back to Scotland.

An amazing if strange experience, would I do it again? Well this year it was the Giro d’Italia starting off in Dublin & I declined, But I’m glad I experience Le Farce & I’d try to be fitter next time.

Sharing my bath and other nasties

In Nambiti Game Park, South Africa, near Ladysmith,  winter sunrise

In Nambiti Game Park, South Africa, near Ladysmith, winter sunrise

I know, I know, ‘they’ recommend a cold bath, even with ice after a hard ride.

I know, I know a shower is the thing to get you clean and flush away the debris of a long ride.

But, I love to soak in a hot bath for a long time (topping it up occasionally), finishing a few chapters of my latest book.

But after a 90+ mile, very hilly ride I decided warm water relax would be just the thing.

It had been a hot ride (31 degrees for a while – and this is Scotland!), I’d been very, very slow. Dehydrated despite drinking litres of fluid, but legs felt OK.

So into the bath, ah bliss. Then a noticed the wee black dots around me in the water. The berry bug season has started. These tiny wee flies are not a good thing, they crawl into the tight areas of clothing and take a tiny bite out of you. The result – red, itchy spots for days after. Luckily when cycling they don’t seem to bite, just crawl, so maybe the induced wind keeps them at bay?

So ignore the things, with all that water they aren’t surviving anyway, make sure I rinse at the end and goodbye to my shared bathing experience.

In the middle of the ride I had got slightly off route. I came across this ford and started to ride across, slowly luckily. After a metre the bike started sliding all over the place. In a feat worthy of Danny MacAskill, I managed to regain my balance, unclip and get my feet on the ground. Then on foot I ploutered across the ford with the bike, still slipping & sliding all the way, but without falling into the river, just. So, it was soaking wet feet for the next 45 miles.

Finally, they’ve been spraying tar and gravel chips onto some of my favourite routes locally. One road was resurfaced about a year or two ago and was a pure delight, a ribbon of tarmac. It’s a wee quiet back road so now it’ll be a while before it will be properly rideable again.

Ah well.