Paula Regener set up a route of 900Km based in Glasgow calling it the Alba900, set at the perfect midge free time of early May it was a great chance to do a full TransAm test run, see some great country, and meet up with old TransAtlanticway adversaries Paula and John Suter.
It was a bit of a chaotic week having ridden up to Mike Halls memorial in Harrogate with a speedy group of TransCon riders, home then back up to Glasgow. The weather forecast was amazing with predicted very cold nights. A perfect test of varying temperatures ahead I packed the Tripster up as if I was on the start line in USA, all that was missing was a passport and 4th bottle holder.
Paula set a challenging route and a Friday morning start so most riders could finish on Sunday. As expected the fact it had no entry fee, or “race” tag meant the level of interest dwindled as people dropped out as the start approached. At 8am me and four other riders, Paula, John, Sean and Stuart set off from the impressive Roberts statue in central Glasgow.
Glasgow looked splendid in the glorious unbroken sunshine as we battled through the random start of the route; it was quickly apparent that this was a definite “click points on ride with GPS” rather than a pre-tested route. Eventually it was a direct path out to the countryside and quiet roads, this was a great day to be on a bike. Despite some random cycle paths and dead ends, all five riders ended up on the same ferry at Gourock. £4.50 paid on board and 15 minutes to chat over snacks before we split up on departure.
The road off the Ferry at Dunoon was amazing; a ribbon of brand new tarmac, even the fact it was single track which meant some stoppage for traffic didn’t dampen the excitement of riding into such great scenery. The sun started to burn and the wind light on the West.
The views of the fingers of sea locks and endless skies were stunning, glorious blue everywhere, words cannot convey just how uplifting the ride was, despite the 14% climbs. Me and John both doing TransAm style steady riding let the other three pull away, briefly seeing them stopped at view points ahead, and for the last time parked at a shop.
The others with local knowledge stopped at the shop at Tighnabruiach , there was a big area without services coming up. We were lucky and tempted by an ice-cream sign found an Oasis in the wild a marquee full of snacks and drinks. The owner fired up the griddle and haggis burgers soup and great cake powered us through the day, one to remember.
Tip 2: Make sure you get food on this peninsula, it’s a long way to Inveraray (sic!)
After a long hot afternoon around Loch Fyne we hit Inveraray after 134 miles and 12 hours in the saddle it was perfect timing for a fish supper and a sit down. Sean was here already ordering, having dropped off the speedy Paula and Stuart. Shoving lots of food down has never been a problem for me, a big climb directly after and then a very testing long rough road ride into the evening round Loch Awe was tough. We dropped Sean early on. Seeing all the wild campers setting up and drinking on the shores of the Loch had us wondering where we would end up tonight, I calculated we could make Oban by 10pm but when we had to turn North into the wind this seemed optimistic.
The extra daylight up here kept spirits high, but the bitter cold wind was wearing us down. Rolling roads meant some fun fast descents and the views as the sunset over the sea locks ahead of us were truly magical. Finally the drop to Oban and familiarity after being here last year at 10.30pm. The cold drove us to check the backpackers Hostel, too late, and the town too busy to bivy here we cracked on. Riding on our wits over rough exposed highland we both knew it was Taynuilt or bust.
The sparse train station was our salvation, crossing the line to the further isolated platform we set up in a large exposed outside waiting area. It was Baltic the wind was rising and these shelters have no cover at ground level. A voice carried over from the other platform, it was Paula, pretty random but an obvious quiet common choice at these hours. A solid sleep but not long enough as by 4am it was time to get going to get warmth in aching joints.
Riding off together along the north shores of Loch Awe we then let super strong Paula go again over the Glen Orchy ascent, here we noticed Stuarts Bivy at the side of the road. It was bitterly cold into the head wind from the North sea. having no morning food or hot drinks, Tyndrum was shut and in despair we sat in a bus shelter at Crainlarich 45 mins too early for the shop or railway café here. Stuart rolled up and as I was chilled to the bone heading on to Killin rather than waiting was the only option.
After nearly 5 hours riding on empty we stumbled across a chef just opening the doors to the Capercaillie, Paula and Stuart returned from a Co-Op raid and we all had a wonderfull full Scottish and thawed out. That was a tough shift and went some way to reminding me it was a tough weeks riding already. Here we waved goodbye to Paula and Stuart who then rode the rest of the route together.
Tip3: The sleeping bag would have been a good idea, and don’t get up too early round here.
The bitter headwind continued round Loch Tay and another bit of random cycle path over a narrow bridge lined with couples engraved locks led us into Pitlochry and a coffee stop. Soaking up the warm sun in the garden it would have been so easy to nod off, it was clear we were low on sleep. This was borne out when at the top of the next climb I realised I’d left my shades at the café, no way I was doing that again so left them.
The big climbing starts here, after Aberfeldy and into the Cairngorms with a 1000ft continuous climb before approaching the ski station at Glenshee. This is one of the “100 climbs series” the Cairnwell the final section of 2 miles averaging 9% with a long section over 14%. This was tough, I felt I was climbing well but into the headwind at 14% my gearing was to high for a comfortable cadence. This was the test I came here for; it’s ok to stand for the odd climb but it was a reminder that day after day it wears down the knees, back and feet. Decision made to MTFU and admit the triple crank is the right choice, my secret weapon.
A free show of hot cars giving it full noise on a Cannonball run out of Ireland heading to the NC500 route entertained us while we rested at the ski lifts. Then it was time for the dullest 1000ft descent I have ever done. It says something that todays fastest speed was 33mph, done 2 hours later on a small forest road. the drop down to Braemar was tedious, long open drops pedalling into the headwind. Over food we made the call to book a room and cut over to Aboyne having had enough of the wind, we didn’t consider this a race and I was on holiday ;-). A good meal and a few beers and definitely no regrets at not #beingmoreMike
The Relive video representation of today does look cool showing the valleys passed through.
It wasn’t all cushy though, we skipped the cooked breakfast to get out early into the rain, call it a penance as we wondered where our compatriots had wild slept out last night. Back to the climbing up the 1000ft Cairn O Mount but this time wind assisted. Oh and the descent now we are talking, 52mph smoking brakes and a hoot.
Soon after we met Sean in Fettercairn who had just stopped for breakfast, he was surprised to see us having cut short and stopped in a bus shelter last night. It was to early to join him and we cruised on all the big climbs behind us into Kirremuir and a great little coffee shop.
At Dunblane it was clear from the GPX trace that route planning software was trying to have fun with the route again, I spotted it and ignored it, this was the end of the line anyway. A good proof of visiting here could only be the Gold Olympics post box of Andy Murray. A great 3 days riding and just the final pre USA test needed my kit list and gearing finalised, the Kinesis Tripster riding a dream.
Overloaded for a long weekend as I like to take a change of riding kit on long epic trips, it’s set up with sleep kit in the rear bag, riding clothes and waterproofs in the front. Frame bag holds spares, odd bits and food, while the new waterproof Alpamayo cafe grab bag worked great on the tribars. (review of that and top tube bag soon) An extra waterbottle in a feed sack worked well too, that’s an easy 4 bottle carrying capacity for 100 deg F days in the States. The magazine stuffed in the front won’t be required though.