First a mouse. Then a lion.
‘You know something is not impossible once you’ve done it – so what’s stopping you?’ Graeme Obree‘s words need no further explanation, this is one of the most motivational quotes I have ever come across. It might have been a coincidence that I watched ‘The Flying Scotsman‘ back in 2006 on my way to new Zealand on the plane. Thinking back the last five years and watching the trailer for the film again (which is screening at macrobert on 23 July), I ask myself how much subliminal influence it had on me.
There is Graeme Obree, a Scotsman with an iron will to break the world record in cycling as many km as possible in one hour with a bike he designed and built himself, and devoting all of his life to it. There I am, having pushed my limits further every year as I grow older, but yet there is no border in sight. I felt honoured when I requested my GP’s notes the other day which began with ‘mad cyclist’. I am, in a good way I think. I wasn’t bullied as Obree was as a child, I had a happy time in my life so far, so I cannot compare me in any sense to him. But there is one thing that might have been stuck unconscious ever since I started cycling long distances, which I think was in 2004. So far I have never given up, no matter how worse the situation was. Maybe this iron will is what is common between me and people like Obree. There have been personal milestones I have achieved on two wheels for myself over the years, and it became more and more apparent that I am able to push my legs over long distances, gradually upping the miles. I made it to a total of 300k last year in July, cycling from . With clocking about 1400km in only 6 days recently with to Newtonmorecycling home to my parent’s home in Germany my appetite for more was huge, and I could not think about any reason not to tackle such a distance again. In addition I am not one of those people who make a big fuss about things like this, neither do I plan much in advance. With currently training for the epic LEJOG on the singlespeed in July, I had about 400km already in my legs from Monday until Thursday last week, but I felt I could do with some more on the weekend.
So a rather spontaneous decision on Friday evening was made: To cycle from Edinburgh to Perth, then on passing Britain’s highest main road at Glenshee and descend into Braemar, only to climb over another epic road through the Lecht Ski area to Tomintoul, then over another climb at Bridge of Brown to Nethy Bridge, and on to Newtonmore, but this time continuing over the A9 via the Drumochter pass to Pitlochry. Pretty much the same route as last year, but with the bit from Newtonmore to Pitlochry added, and without getting lost in Fife, which added an unexpected 20km last year. According to Google maps the total was about 335km, which was a scary number the more I thought about it. As thinking is the wrong thing to do for such trips, I didn’t check the weather forecast and went straight to bed. An early start was necessary. Getting up at 4am wasn’t the easiest start, and I kept asking myself in bed why I would get myself out of bed at this time of day. I kept pushing back for the first five minutes, then another five and so on, but finally managed to convince myself to get up.
The first coffee did an all-right job, and packing was easy, as I was experienced now and knew what to take. There is not much thinking and decision-making involved if you only have a small saddle bag. By 5.30am I was on the road to the Forth Bridges, and kept counting miles after Edinburgh already. Again the question ‘Why?’ was still there, but somehow I had decided what my aim for the day was, but is seemed ridiculously far away at this moment. Having just recently cycled down on minor roads from Perth I knew where to go this times even without a map, as last year I got lost completely and ended up adding unnecessary miles. By 8am I was up in Perth and kept pushing on, with a short stop for some food in Scone, as I had missed the turn-off to the A93 I was originally supposed to take. In the end that light diversion saved me valuable energy, as the road to Coupar Angus was less hilly than my chosen one, and added only some miles to the route.
After passing Blairgowrie I was up for the first major climb for the day, on Scotland’s highest main road. The weather slowly got worse and worse, but the rain that started was not heavy enough to justify getting my rain jacket out, which looking back, was a mistake. Cycling gradually up the hill I cooled down more and more, and the last leg to the top was a real slug. It wasn’t the steepest of climbs in Scotland, but with temperatures around 5 Celsius it was freezing up there, and I couldn’t feel my hands anymore. After a short stop to warm up, I was back on the bike negotiating a long descent down to Braemar, still with temperatures below 10 Celsius, not the most pleasant temperature for cycling. After surviving Glenshee I had another tricky experience here, as my body was slowly but surely running out of energy. For a little moment I drifted away on the bike, not focussing on the road at all, I was just tired and worn out. I almost fell asleep, but fortunately I managed to stay awake, anything else would have resulted in cuts and bruises. But still I had the hardest bit to go. Braemar was good to fuel up again, and I almost changed my plans, as the lovely lady in the TIC made me aware that rain was forecasted for the rest of the day, sometimes heavy. But when I came to the turnoff to Tomintoul, I decided to stick to my original plans, which in the end was the right decision. With the Lecht Road I had another gruelling climb in sight, with 20% climbing in places. Fortunately the descends gave me enough time to rest and recover from the strain of those big climbs, and by the time I had passed another big one, Bridge of Brown, I was all up for getting to Pitlochry on a bike. I had got used to the now constant rain, to the low temperatures, but most of all, I had a clear feeling that my body was working well and was up for the challenge. Passing Aviemore, Kingussie and Dalwhinnie I finally climbed a rather easy pass to Drumochter Summit, the last big hill before a long downhill into Calvine. It was a good coincidence that I passed the 300km mark right at the top, from here any kilometre would add to my recent personal best from last year. Coming into Pitlochry I had a big smile on my face, and there would have been another two hours of good daylight to carry on, but I decided not to. Sometimes it is better to stop at the right point, and I had a very pleasant evening chatting to nice people in the Pitlochry Backpackers, before finally hitting the duvet at 12.00am. I was glad on how the day turned out in the end, as I had overturned the problems I had in the beginning successfully and had one of the best days on the bike so far. I had managed from being a mouse on the Glenshee climb to a lion when tackling the rest, especially the big climbs up the Lecht and Bridge of Brown. In the end I had cycled 340.34km in 12hrs 5o min with an average of 26.5km/h.
The next day was slightly more relaxed, with taking a different route out of Pitlochry over Kirkmichael. After that I had the pleasure of cycling some, in stages steep, minor roads in Perthshire, which was taking loads of time, but adding pleasure in return. Hardly any cars on the road made for a welcome change from the day before, and I decided to check out Dundee on my way back to Edinburgh. Maybe it was due to the fact that I was a bit exhausted still from the day before, but the stretch between Dundee and Dunfermline through the Kingdom of Fife didn’t do the job for me. It more felt like the Kingdom of dull roads, most of them badly maintained and boring. With the Forth Bridges in sight my motivation was up again, and the last stretch into Edinburgh was a pleasant cruise, this time with much more sun than the day before, which was mostly miserable. With adding another 189km to the weekend I had also managed to break the magic 500km on one weekend, which only happened once last year, and had roughly 920km in my legs from Monday to Sunday, not a bad start for training for my next adventure, tackling the epic British cycling ride, Land’s End to John O’Groats. This idea, again, had some time to grow in my head while I was cycling through Germany, and I finally decided to do it. I didn’t really plan to coincide with the London 2012 Open Weekend, but I will be setting off from down south on 23 July, with 6 days to go to the north-east corner of bonnie Scotland, to arrive there on 28 July. And to make things a bit tougher, I am planning to take the singlespeed again this time, as I hopefully have my wheel fixed now. Due to problems at SRAM I I was waiting for weeks for my broken Torpedo hub to get fixed and hope the wheel lasts longer than the recent one, I can’t wait to be back on that bike. And for the this weekend there is something in me that keeps saying that even 400km in one day are an achievable target. The decision is made, with my knee only being sore from sitting around too much behind my desk at work, I think there is a good chance that I will be able to crack the 400k mark. More soon.