Friday, 24 October 2014

Bennachie Hill Race

Bennachie sits on the horizon visible from Greenmoss, where Berit grew up and her parents still live. Its distinctive profile acts as a beacon telling us we're nearly there whenever we ride up there. Every October there is a hill race, so we often take the opportunity to visit Berit's parents and do the race.

This year we swithered about cycling up to Aberdeen on the Saturday - we haven't done it this year - but decided just to get the train.  Until recently you had to book your train tickets and then phone to book the bikes on - hoping that there would still be space.  Now you can book your bikes and tickets at the same time Scotrail's website.  If you can find the bike booking tick box.  It's about three pages in to the process and below two levels "more options" expanders, but it is there.

Greenmoss is between Aberdeen and Inverurie and we decided the latter would provide a nicer cycle.  On the Saturday morning the weather had been foul, but by the time we got off the train the sun was shining and it was warm.  We had a lovely ride on quiet roads.

We set off in bright sunshine...

...and arrived at Greenmoss under similar conitions

Afternoon races always present a nutrition challange, one both Berit and I totally failed to rise to on this occassion.  You don't want to eat much within two hours of running but just before that is too soon after breakfast.  Cycling there complicated things further.  We went for a late-ish big-ish breakfast and then nothing.  We should have had some gels or bars with us, but we both neglected to bring any so by the time we'd cycled 17.5 hilly miles to the race we were feeling pretty empty. 

Bennachie's distinctive profile. (It means 'hill of the breast').

The race is pretty brutal and completely exposed my lack of hill fitness and energy. By the end I was losing place after place and recorded my worst ever time.  Oh well, next year.

We hadn't been able to book our bikes from Inverurie to Aberdeen, so rather than chance it we decided to ride back to Aberdeen.  Despite two visits to the cake table I was feeling pretty empty and we set off slowly.  We'd thought we'd had plenty of time to catch the train but our pace soon had us frantically calculating our ETA and trying in vain to keep the speed up.  The headwind piled on the misery and when we both found ourselves wondering if there was anything left in a Lucozade bottle in the gutter we knew we'd have to do something.  Luckily we soon came to an open shop in Kemnay.  Berit minded the bikes while I went in and got us some jelly babies and Lucozade.  Not something I normally buy, but perhaps the sight the bottle in the gutter had trigger a craving.  It wasn't litter - it was guerilla marketing.  Anyway, it tasted  good: a sure sign that I was in trouble.
Not so bright on the way home.

We managed to pick up the pace from here and as we approached the city the standard of driving deteriorated enough to give us that extra adrenaline rush to pick it up further and we made the train with half an hour to spare. Plenty of time to get some beer and sandwiches for the journey.

Friday, 3 October 2014

The Rousay Lap

Rousay, in the Orkney Islands, has a road that happens to be pretty much bang on 13.1 miles round.  Each year the local development trust hosts "The Rousay Lap" and invites you to walk, run or cycle round the island.  In truth they're not terribly fussy how you get around the island: I've heard tell of a unicyclist and seen a skateboarder or two over the years.  Berit's father is from the island so the lap provided the perfect excuse for the whole Inkster clan (and me) to head north and join in.  One of Berit's university chums has also settled on the Orkney mainland, so this gave us the perfect chance to pay her a flying visit too.
Runners, cyclists and walkers gather for the start of the Lap

Berit and I would, of course, like to cycle the whole way there (except for the over the water bits) but we just didn't have enough annual leave this year.  We tried to book trains but there were no spaces for our bikes on all the required journeys so we  were left with driving most of the way.  So we drove up in the van, parked at the ferry terminal in Gill's bay, unpacked the tandem and pushed it onto the ferry for the short sea crossing to St Margaret's Hope. The ferry route and our ride is made possible by the Churchill Barrier - a series of causeways linking some of the islands built during the Second World War to keep German U-boats out.  Italian prisoners of war were heavily involved in their construction and built the famous Italian Chapel - I'd heard of it before my first visit to the islands.  It's only just off our route, but we've still never stopped to take a look.  Maybe next time.

There are two ferries to Orkney.  We've always opted for Pentland Ferries with its short crossing rather than the more expensive and longer P&O offering.  The story is that the P&O ferry is hugely subsidized and the Pentland has been started by a local farmer who saw an opportunity.  It's cheaper, quicker and by all accounts more reliable. He reckons if he got the subsidy the other ferry got he could run it free for islanders. He also does a pretty decent bacon roll onboard.

Heading away from the ferry.
There's not an awful lot to be said about the ride itself - mostly because I've been too slack in writing this and it was a while ago.  On the Friday we rode from the Ferry to visit Berit's friend Fiona and her husband and dog. We stayed the night with them and then rode to get the ferry to Rousay on Saturday morning. I didn't win the lap this year, but I did get a PB.  Berit was pretty happy with her time - and she was first wife, as the say round these parts.  The next day we rode round the island to watch Berit's brother surf, visit Berit's cousin and get our lunch in the restaurant.

I pointed the camera backwards for one leg of the journey and its mostly these photos I've included here.  It was set to take a photo every 30 seconds.  Berit wasn't aware when it would take a shot - she was just grinning like that all the time.

Head down, working hard for a change.

What's going on?

Nope still can't see.

I'll just hide here and grin

Indicating - a key job of the stoker.

It's like everyone on Orkney has been replaced by aliens who are trying to blend in and think that people actually follow the highway code. 

The dunes on the left have built up since the barrier was built during the second world war.

You can just see some of the rusting wrecks of sunken German ships.

Still grinning
Taking a break from the grinning to get us up a hill

Snot rocket

Indicating arm getting some more use

Quick direction check

Gunner always
goes mental when he sees us on bikes, or a bike in this case.

I rode the tandem solo the last section while Berit walked with Fiona and Gunner
We overhauled a couple of roadies on the way to Tingwall

They sat in our draft and then attacked on the last corner.

Waiting for the Rousay ferry

Rolling on

St Margaret's Hope to Fiona and Andy's
Fiona and Andy's to Tingwall
Banks to St Margaret's hope

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Leith to Gala (via the Bike Shop)

Berit still has her flat in Galashiels so we decided on a weekend of running down in the borders - the Cademuir Rollercoaster race on Saturday and a long cross-country point to point on Sunday. I've done the Gala trip many times over the past year and have refined the route to find the best balance of quiet roads and speed.
Quiet roads

Two things were different about this trip from normal - I had to visit the bike shop on the way and Berit would be joining me on the way down. The reason for my bike shop visit was not a happy one. A couple of months ago I crashed my trusty single speed commuter into a wall on Fishwives' Causeway. This left the front fork rather splayed and I was worried about what it had done to the frame.  The prognosis was not good - it bore the tell-tale signs of irreparable damage. This frame was older than me - it has always been such a joy to ride in the various configurations I've had it. This isn't the first time I've crashed it - that was in 2007 in Glasgow when the handlebar snapped as I raced through Charing Cross. I had a moment to wonder wtf had just happened before the half of the bar dangling from the brake cable found its way into the front wheel and I hit Sauchiehall Street hard. A  fractured elbow, a comedy pinky dislocation and the frame being reborn as a single speeder were the results. This time my injuries were less severe than the bike's and I popped in to Eastside bikes on Friday evening to take a look at a possible replacement frame. It was exactly the same size and also made of steel. Probably not the Reynold 531 credited with make the old frame such a comfortable ride, but I guess we'll see how it goes.  I think now the stem, the right crank, and the chain ring are the only parts left from the bike I bought from the Bike Station for £50 in late 2006.  Is it still the same bike?

From the bike shop I headed east to Musselburgh and then up Carberry hill towards Pathhead. It seems like the wrong way, but I've found that this is the quickest way to get on to nice roads and avoids the Sherrifhall roundabout. I only started going this way when they closed the A6106 Millerhill Road, but I reckon I will stick with it when that re-opens unless a better route is opened following the completion of the railway works. I thought I'd be behind schedule for meeting Berit, so I put the hammer down.
Berit was waiting at the rendez-vous point

By the time I got to the meeting point Berit had been there for a wee while. We continued together on to Pathhead, where I always convince myself the climbing is mostly done. In reality there's plenty more until we hit the A7 at Falahill. From here we are on the A7 for a short section - made slightly longer by the railway works - and then it is the old coach road until we are just a few miles outside Gala.

Side by side on the old coach road

Over the last year we've really seen the railway take shape along this route. On one of the windiest days of last winter we accepted a lift from a manager on the project. He told us how they were cleaning the lead paint off the old bridges: blast them with high speed jets of tiny ball-bearings. Both the bearings and lead paint are highly toxic so this was done under a sealed low pressure tent. The workers had to wear special suits and go through a decompression routine before and after each shift or risk the bends. He was a lovely chap whose chief concern seemed to be that no-one should die building a railway. It comforts me to know that he is running the show and I must report that most of  the works lorries I encounter have always given me plenty of room when overtaking - and none have been so bad that I've been worried. The tents have all gone now and the bridges have been repainted in one assumes a more environmentally sound manner. Sleepers are stacked up waiting to be laid and piles of ballast are visible along the route - it's looking good for the trains to be running in autumn 2015.
Ready to support the railway

It's not all quite so picturesque
After the old coach road, the last few miles into Gala along the A7 are pretty fast, before we know it we're at the thirty sign and rolling down the hill to the flat in time to have a quick shower and grab dinner in The Golden Lion. The food here is suprisingly good. The menu looks like stanard wetherspoon's fayre, burgers, fish n chips, generic curry etc, but the curry can be spiced to your liking and the chips look and taste like they've been cut from actual potatoes on the premises.

On Saturday we rode to Peebles and back for the hill race and on Monday morning we rode back to Edinburgh. I forgot to take the charging cable for the camera, so no pics of these rides I'm afraid.

Elapsed Time: 2:34:00 (including about 5 mins in the bike shop).
Distance: 37 miles

Google says:
(including stop at bike shop)
Driving: 1 hr 8 mins [unlikely at 5pm on a Friday to be fair]
Public Transport: 2hrs 10 mins


Thursday, 14 August 2014

Leith to Hillend

We had another midweek hill race last night - just up the road at the Hillend ski centre this time. For a race as short as this one there is no question of how we'd get there.  It simply isn't worth driving any distance to run for only 25 minutes. This would never be such a fun ride as last week's out to North Berwick: through the city at rush hour on the day the schools went back.

All routes to Hillend will end up going through Morningside and up Comiston road, but there a few options in getting there from Leith.  Google recommends some bike path and Princes Street madness, but I opted for Holyrood park and Grange Road.  The most direct way would be Leith Walk and the bridges, but from Leith Street all the way to Chambers street is always unpleasantly busy and is pretty much at a standstill at rush hour.
When in Edinburgh, even a ride through the city offers some decent scenery

Nothing terribly much to report on the ride itself. Pretty much all uphill and busy traffic, but riding through it sure beats sitting in it.

My first glimpse of the race route
At the race I registered and wondered where Berit was.  She'd set off before me and had a shorter ride.  A quick text solved the mystery - she'd ridden all the way to the top car park. Registration was at the bottom of the hill.  It was great to see that we were far from the only ones who had ridden there and that a good few folk ran there too.
No bike racks.

On the way back Berit nearly dropped me going through Morningside - she'd got a nice draft from a delivery van and was taking full advantage on the uphill.  I'd been sensibly taking it easy through the junction and found myself gapped.  Despite us keeping up with the van all the way up the hill, I could feel the cars behind becoming increasingly desperate to overtake, which they did at the first half-chance.  Of course we saw them again at the lights.

We popped in to Hemma for our dinner on the way home. I'm not sure if the short ride and shorter race justified the bacon and cheese burger, but it was rather nice and the service in Hemma is always great. It's a vast improvement on The Tun that used to be there but was rarely open and always quiet and a pretty good rival in burger quality terms to the Holyrood 9A up the road.

Getting There:
Riding Time: 38:13
Distance: 7.8 miles

Google says

Driving: 29 mins (round the bypass at 5:30? Hmm... )
Public Transport: 1:05:00

Getting Back:

Riding Time: 23:24
Distance: 5.7 miles

Google says:
Driving: 17 minutes (pretty quiet by then, so probably about right)
Public Transport: 47 minutes.


Thursday, 7 August 2014

Edinburgh To North Berwick

Berit's year in exile is over and yesterday she started back at the Royal.  To celebrate we decided to do the North Berwick Law race, a short midweek hill race from the harbour to the top of the Law and back.  It starts at 7:30 so we knew we'd have to leave work sharp and just meet there rather than trying to ride out together.  I'd spent most of the afternoon hoping Berit would text to say she'd been held up at work and we could call it off.  I'd been out the night before and arrived home after 11 with a 14 inch pizza. Berit wasn't interested so I ate it all.  Then there had been a lunch time talk at work - more pizza.

Five o'clock came without a rescuing text from Berit, so I climbed onto the bike and headed east. I usually leave work a bit later than this and forget how mental the traffic is at five o'clock.  Leith was a carpark most of the way to Seafield Road.  I nearly came a cropper while filtering through it.  There'd been some kind of oil spill in Great Junction street and I could feel my wheels start to lose traction before I found a grippier section of tarmac.  Once out on Seafield road the traffic was free flowing but I felt strangely good and had no trouble keeping up with it as we headed round to Portobello.  The traverse of Porty always presents a Morton's fork: prom or high street?  Porty High Street is daft. Drive or cycle down it, doesn't matter: someone will pull out on you. In good weather the prom is mobbed so you are reduced to walking pace.  While the weather was fine, it had been very wet earlier so I figured the crowds wouldn't have had time to form so opted for the prom.
The council have got rid of the conflict inducing "Cyclists Dismount" sign from here.
Through Musselburgh via the shared bridge  I was soon on the relatively quiet coast road and making good time. By rights I should have been taking it easy, but there were other riders about - including one who'd come past me too fast on the prom so I had to show him that I was riding slowly there for a reason :-)
Road markings encourage good bike position through the pinch point
Navigation to North Berwick couldn't be easier - keep the sea on the left and point at the Law - and the coast road was nice and quiet.  I'd soon forgotten how shabby I'd felt earlier and was glad that Berit hadn't texted to call the whole thing off.

Through Aberlady and I discovered that I still can't take that right hand bend back onto the coast road properly - I must go back and repeat it till I get it right one day.  After Gullane I overtook another  cyclist going for the drop bar and panniers look. With a cheery hello I passed him and he promptly sucked my wheel all the way to North Berwick.  I upped the pace a bit to try to drop him, but he wasn't to be shaken.  He even tried a cheeky attack for the 30 sign, but I wasn't going to allow that and took it by half a bike length. He was just going along to watch the race rather than take part.
The sun on my back and my hands on the drops.
The final run to the Harbour was uneventful and I was well in time to get us both registered and chat to a few folk before Berit turned up from her ride with a smile on her face and cramp in her leg.

Now it was just the small matter of the race, followed by a steak roll, then fish and chips, a cheeky pint and the train home where good chat was provided by couple of our EAC clubmates who had been marshalling the race.  All in all a splendid way to spend the evening after a day's work

North Berwick

Total Time: 1:17:00 (forgot to start the garmin, so added ~6 mins to the recorded time
Distance:  22.5 miles

Google reckons:
Public transport: 1:15:00
Driving : 0:44:00 (without traffic)


The race?  You can see Bob Marshall's photos here: