One gear, one winter, 160km a day
I am now officially hooked on cycling in winter! Even more than when I returned from my epic trip down to Germany fighting and enjoying the odds of the hardest season to cycle. Or is it really? Or is it just the perception of some marketing people that tell us summer is for cycling, not so winter? Answer that questions for yourself, my answer is pretty clear. I could not wait to get up to the Scottish Highlands again, it’s been a while since I last managed to cycle there. My cycle through Torridon on a geared bike in the beginning of November was the last stunning adventure with some great pictures still in my head (and for you to browse here). And as Ian’s and my last attempt to get to Crianlarich was snowed in, we only made it as far as Callendar, a new trip up there was long overdue. I have stayed in the SYHA hostel in Crianlarich quite a few times, and last time I got asked if somebody had stolen my two wheels as I was in a car. And as things had changed in the meantime and I am a sole supporter of simple one-gear bikes now that work in winter, I was curious if I can actually cycle up Glen Ogle on a singlespeed. The cycle from up the glen is a route I dearly love and the snow made it even more picturesque than any other time of the year. So after checking the weather forecast on Thursday, the plans were set: Cycling from Dunblane to Crianlarich, and then somewhere further north or west, wherever the sun would be. Only this I’d know where the sun would be at different times, thanks to weather forecasting services such as Weather Underground I’m able to look at real-time weather data uploaded by other users, as well as the Underground team, while also being able to upload my own weather statistics in any given place (and I don’t even have to be there!). So I no longer have to cycle to unknown places where the weather could come as a bit of a surprise!
There was one problem to be solved when I woke up on Friday morning: my motivation wanted to stay in bed that day, I was not looking forward to cycle for some strange reason. I felt I needed a break, but as I had just fitted new break pads on the singlespeed the night before, I really had no excuse. The bike was ready to go, so it was up to me to bring myself into the same situation. After sorting a few things that needed sorting first I was on the bike around 11, to cycle to Waverley station and catch the train. Believe it or not, it took me 50 metres on the bike and I was hooked on the Swobo again. It is just pure fun to ride, and the best investment I have done so far. With the sun coming out I changed my plans and continued past Waverley towards the start of the Union Canal, which I hadn’t cycled along for quite a while. It was the perfect start for a perfect weekend, cruising along a frozen wonderland with some good music in my ears, truly enjoying the freedom of cycling again. Not to spend too much time riding in the dark that day I left the canal path in Broxburn, continued on the road to Linlithgow to take the train to Dunblane. I know that bit of the country in-between too well from commuting, so there was no need to explore that further. Getting off the train in Dunblane brought the memories back from our rather crazy cycle there 1.5 months ago right in the middle of a snow storm. This time the weather was cold but pleasant and the roads clear. On my way I passed a frozen wonderland with frozen trees, lakes and rivers; a bizarre landscape I had not seen before, it was pure magic. Coming to Callander the magic question was if I would manage to cycle up Glen Ogle with only one gear, which was quickly answered with a yes. A gentle ride finally brought me into Crianlarich where I was welcomed by Fiona, the hostel manager, with some great short bread, cakes and yoghurt, perfect. As a side note, if you are interested in taking up cycling after reading this article (and hopefully having been inspired to do so), but don’t own a bike, then you could always take a look at these Gear Cycles under 6000 here.
An early start allowed for riding into the sunrise the next day, making my way up the next obstacle, the climb to Rannoch Moor summit. Covered in white with almost no wind it was a perfect day for crossing one of Scotland’s remotest bits, or at least it feels like this. There might be areas in Northern Scotland that are much more remote, but the sheer vastness of Rannoch Moor always impresses me time and time again. I was lucky this time, after having had tough times here already, I only had to stop myself from taking pictures when my hands become numb from the cold, but the brilliant shots were worthwhile the pain. Cycling up the final metres to the Pass of Glencoe and cruising towards Ballachulish yet again remembered me that Glencoe will always be one of the most scenic places in the world I have been too, regardless of the weather. During a short visit to the visitor centre I had lunch and a plan ready for the rest of the day. Originally I was trying to catch the boat to Skye, but with no ferries running on Saturdays I had to find an alternative, which was heading east from Fort William. The early start gave me the advantage of having quite a bit of time left to cycle, and after securing a bed in a hostel in Newtonmore my plan was set: to tackle the 100 miles for the first time, in winter. A couple of weeks ago I wouldn’t have thought about it at all, but with the training from my recent trip I was ready to tackle yet another personal goal, and it was quite easy this time. Leaving Fort William I was on another lonely road again, with no signs of any civilisation at all for 28 miles between Roy Bridge and Laggan, but yet again an amazing winter landscape to enjoy. The last few miles were ridden in the dark and cold and I was quite looking forward to a warm place and some dinner. So far I had not used my warm Montane Flux Jacket, however in a hostel with a room temperature hardly above zero it was time to use it. After a while the fire managed to warm the place up a wee bit and Radio 7 had a special half hour dedicated to play bicycle music, followed by some great Scottish music on Radio Scotland. It was a perfect end to a great day, and I was already thinking about the next day as the forecast was for snow.
It was an early start again, over the night the room temperature in the kitchen had managed to plummet again, so breakfast was a rather short affair. After quickly heading the wrong way I was back on cycle route 7 which run across Scotland from the south up to Inverness. It was great to start on with a solid snow cover from the night before and some pretty icy stretches that needed some sharp attention. But disappointment came soon as a major bit of the cycle path was closed due to road works and the sign suggested dialling a mobile number for help. The likeliness of somebody picking up a phone and a bike at 8 in the morning on Sundays was low, so I was back on the A9 as it started to snow properly. Within minutes to road was covered in snow, minutes later there was a solid cover on it and I was truly enjoying the madness. Traffic was light, and to my surprise nobody gave me odd looks as I fought my way through the storm an finally reached the cycle path again. With more and more snow on the path it was hard work cycling over the Pass of Drumochter, but with the snow showers clearing soon I enjoyed every minute of it. Mine was the only spur on an empty path and later on the street, and with the snow crushing under my tires I was cruising towards Pitlochry. After Pitlochry I left route 7 in favour of route 77 and headed towards Perth, my final destination. The long distance the day before left one of my knees with slight pain, but with lowering the pace I managed to arrive ok. The last bits were proper snow ploughing, none of the side roads I took were cleared in Perthshire, no surprise at all. With coming into Perth at 5.15 I had to wait another few hours t be finally home, but great pictures and a new personal made up for the wait. Looking back I had roughly cycled the route I had taken in May when I started my race touring weekends, and I was more than pleased with the distance I had managed to cycle in those wintry conditions, 360km, with no signs of getting sick of the frosty weather and only one gear. The pictures can be found here.