Home 2 Home – A 200 Mile Bike Ride

By Micky Ross

So the alarm went off at 4.45.  I’m supposed to enjoy this, right?

Being June 23rd and the height of summer, the sun was already up, so it didn’t feel as bad as 6am on January 23rd and I was keen to get going.  Who doesn’t want to get on their bike when the temperature is above 10 degrees and the sun is shining?

The car was packed with food, water, energy drink, more food, energy drink, iso tabs, spare wheels, energy drink, iso tabs, bike repair tools, extra food, energy drink, iso tabs, spare tubes, extra, extra food and emergency food.

Then a surprise.  Your common or garden Sunshine Appeal chairman appeared at the door.  With a big flag.

H2H 1

Pictures were taken, handshakes were made, family were kissed.  No chairmen were kissed.  I swung a leg over the saddle and …..  immediately swung it back off again.  When I’d put the repaired crank back on the bike two days ago, I hadn’t realized that it was possible to have both cranks pointing down the way.  It was a 50/50 chance and I’d lost the crank lottery.

Predictability obliges me to describe my new state as cranky, however it was more like anxiety.  The timings for the day were carefully calculated and I’d already screwed up.  John waved his goodbyes and said he’d meet on the road somewhere.  It was the EU In/Out referendum day and I assumed he was on his way back to Houston (that’s Renfrewshire) to vote.

Luckily, having so very recently put the crank on the wrong way, I knew it was a quick job to put it on the right way.  So at 0612 I was properly on my way.  However, despite knowing that the key to the day was not going faster than I could handle for 200 miles, it was really difficult not to want to try and push it to make the time up.  Perhaps the fact that a large portion of the early miles were uphill helped in that regard.

It only took around 15 minutes for the feeling to go away and for me to settle into the ride.  The whole thing was planned around stopping every 10 miles, resting a little, eating and getting a new bottle.  However, this wasn’t necessary for the first 20 miles.  I started the day with my usual bowl of porridge.  On a Sunday club ride that’s usually enough to see me through 50 miles. However, that’s a different thing when you can eat when you get home and there are no more miles to cover.  Today I knew I’d need to be eating after 30 miles to be fueled up for the miles beyond 50.

I had my first pee stop of the day at a (by now) traditional spot between Denny and Bannockburn.  This is where it all went wrong on my last training ride – the zipper on my Boardman waterproof completely failed and I had to bail out in Stirling (almost literally).

H2H 2

The first arranged food stop with Claire and Ellie was at Kinbuck – 37 miles in.  The first stop I had planned to begin eating at was the Bannockburn Visitor Centre after 27 miles.  I stopped long enough for a photo of the Bannockburn sign which I posted on Facebook along with the note: “Feeling up for the fight”.

Soon enough Kinbuck arrived, but there was no sign of our Skoda Octavia at the pre-arranged stop.  I could see John further along the street though, so carried on.  I checked my phone to find that C & E had been caught up in rush hour traffic and were going to head straight for my natural mother, Tina’s house in Crieff instead.  My two bottles were empty and while I could easily make it to Crieff with no more water, I was seriously concerned about the long term effects.  So JD was instructed to head off and search for food and water to tide me over until I reconnected with the official support vehicle.

H2H 3

We made time for a quick photo at the Kinbuck town sign first though.  At this point I noticed my front wheel was a little soft.  Bugger – a slow puncture.  I pumped it back up and persevered.  Only a couple of miles down the road, my 2nd call of nature arrived and I swung over to the right hand side of the road.  The sudden change in direction of my front wheel seemed to deflate it really quickly, and after I’d had a pee, realized it wasn’t going to pump back up this time, so accepted that a tube change was inevitable.

I hadn’t long started the process when John appeared again with a bottle of water and a couple of bananas he’d got from Braco.  He folded my punctured tube back up and helped as we looked in the tyre for the culprit.  We extracted a small piece of glass which at least gave me peace of mind that there would be no repeat.  Later, he would get a replacement 80mm valve tube from a bike shop in Pitlochry when I figured it might be wise for me to have a couple of spares before tackling the gritty section between House Of Bruar and Dalwhinnie.

It took about 20 minutes to get back on the road which meant I was well behind schedule.  Claire and Ellie passed me on the back road to Tina’s and all three were waiting as I arrived.  It was a 16 minute stop – again longer than it should have been, but reasonable in the circumstances – Tina had stayed at home that day after all.  I used her facilities for pee stop number 3.  She also mentioned that she’d given C an envelope which was to be opened whether I made it to the end or not, but if I did make it, she would double the amount!  She wasn’t just true to her word, she quadrupled it!!

All too quickly, I had to say goodbye and head off again.  The next section had the most climbing and the mile 60 stop was just before the Sma’ Glen.  For these stops, C had set up the foldable seat and I had to get into the habit of connecting my Garmin to the charger Andy Dobinson had lent me.  There wasn’t enough battery in a Garmin for that length of ride and this was capable of charging the computer without resetting the device – which is an issue when you just connect it via a normal USB to a computer.

More climbing to come, but when I spotted a small portaloo just before the Sma’ Glen, I took advantage.  You’ll note by now that stopping for what they call “un besoin naturelle” in the peleton was a common occurrence.  This is a sign I was hydrating correctly!  The Sma’ Glen itself wasn’t as long or steep as I’d remembered when descending it in the opposite direction during the recce, so slow and steady was fine.  JD appeared again at the A822’s junction with the A9 and he warned me of a tailback.  We took some photos and I jumped back on again.  Luckily, I was able to go up the inside of all the cars – this was still preferable to going through Dunkeld and taking a terrible riverside track.

Soon enough I was off on the Dalguise Rd and one of my favourite sections of the entire route.  It’s a lovely quiet back road – a complete contrast to the A9.  The mile 80 stop was opposite the village hall and probably the most relaxing of the day.  We had a little routine worked out where Ellie would note down my arrival time on a spreadsheet I had prepared, and then I’d tell her the stop duration as I left.  This would allow me to see my progress against the schedule.

The next section was tougher than I remembered – quite a rolling section, more up than down. (which would have been the opposite on the recce).  The day was heating up too, so I arrived at the car park by the café in Pitlochry at mile 89 quite tired.

Pitlochry to House of Bruar was again on lovely roads and I spotted JD at the entrance to Killiecrankie.  I took the opportunity to stop for another pee in their facilities.  We took a few more photos and he handed me the spare tube.

JD was there again as I approached the House of Bruar.  At 100 miles, this marked the halfway point.  It was pretty warm and Ellie covered my head with a wet flannel as I relaxed.

H2H 4

It was a longer stop than usual, but then the next section was a 20 miler.  I almost forgot to change my wheels to the hardier winter ones before I left.  The first section of the path was on the old A9 and so was a reasonable surface and fairly flat.  Eventually it started to gradually rise as it headed towards the Drumochter summit and hit the gritty surface I’d brought the wheels for.

At 110 miles I decided I needed a stop and had a wee stretch, a pee and a lie down. This was the worst I’d felt all day.  Hot, de-hydrated and tired.  The slow going on that terrible surface was a little demoralizing.  I started to feel that I was well behind schedule.  I spotted that my friend Euan had texted me to say he was already in Grantown-On-Spey.  That was still 50 miles away.  He’d have a long wait!

H2H 5

I saw JD again at the Drumochter summit – another photo op.  At that point, I’d had enough of the terrible surface and the slow progress, so hauled the bike onto the A9 and went for it.  Gradually down-hill for the full 5 miles to Dalwhinnie distillery, I never dropped below 25 mph.  The 5 miles took 10 minutes – a bit of a contrast with the previous 15 miles which had taken the best part of an hour and a quarter.  That average of 30mph gave me even more respect for the 34mph average that Bradley Wiggins managed for the whole of his World Hour record.

Dalwhinnie was the end of the road for JD – he had to get back and vote – he hadn’t gone home to Houston in-between after all.  I’d been soaked by a heavy rain shower while doing the next section during the recce, so it was good to enjoy such wild terrain in decent weather.  The Glen Hotel at Newtonmore represented 130 miles and it was here I started to give Euan regular updates.  Too early for a pint of real ale inside though.

I stopped at the North end of Kingussie to try and take a selfie with the town sign.  It didn’t work too well.  Thank goodness for auto-correct….

H2H 6

I then stopped at the start of Aviemore for another town sign selfie…

H2H 7

I carried on to the designated 150 mile spot at a wee primary school on the turn off to Boat Of Garten.  I checked for CCTV cameras before going for a pee round the back – paranoid I’d end up on the sex offenders register for getting my tackle out in a school playground – despite the fact that the schools were closed for the summer!  I also put up a Facebook post about reaching the ¾ mark.

The Grantown Road was fast and I could have done without the turn-off through Skye of Curr and Dulnain Bridge – especially as it went straight uphill.  I did contemplate missing it out but knew I wouldn’t hit 200 miles without it.  On the outskirts of Grantown I spotted my mate Euan in a car in a layby.

As we sat in the car park in Grantown at 160 miles, he seemed to be in genuine awe!  He patted my calves and said something I didn’t really make out.  Soon we were off again and Euan took my photo by the old distance marker sign on the Northern edge of Grantown.

H2H 8

The next section was a lovely back road but after this distance, undulated far too much – some of the steepest sections of the whole 200 miles and I was regretting not sticking to the A95 which would have been pretty quiet at this time of the evening.

There was no definitive stopping place for 170 miles, just “somewhere on the B9102”.  This turned out to be the shortest main stop of the day at 7 minutes as the midgies were out in force.  Euan was behind me again after this and pretty much chaperoned me up to Blacksboat and back on the A95 at Marypark.  He eventually went by and was waiting in the layby on the corner between Glenfarclas and Aberlour ushering me on.  A lovely downhill section saw me sweep into Aberlour.

In my dream scenario, I was so far ahead of schedule and in such good shape that I had time to stop for a half pint of real ale at the 180 mile stop – The Mash Tun.  However it wasn’t far off 9pm when I left Aberlour and I wanted to get to Buckie without having to bother with lights.  It’s funny how close to Buckie, Aberlour actually feels when you’re approaching it from the Glasgow side having already covered 180 miles.

I enjoyed these last two sections because they were pretty flat, quiet and on roads I knew well.  The 15th and final scheduled stop (after 190 miles) was at Inchberry Hall.  On the recce, there had been a car boot sale and it was heaving.  Now, at 2138 in the evning, it was deserted.  I couldn’t handle any more food, so I just had a quick caffeine gel and was on my way within 2 minutes.  It was starting to get dusky and I just wanted to finish.  But I still felt fine.

The route took me along the back roads of Inchberry and out by the Spey Bridge.  I was flying.  I hit the Spey Bay road then turned up the Nether Dallachy road and passed Euan in a layby again.  He gave me the thumbs up and I afforded myself a victory shake of the fist.  The sun was setting over the Moray Firth and I just had to stop for a few shots.

H2H 9

Earlier, Euan had said it might be worth my time stopping at The Lennox pub in Portgordon.  This had been playing on my mind.  I didn’t really want anything to stop me that close to the finish and it seemed unlikely there would be a welcoming party at a pub I hadn’t visited in about 20 years.  In my best case scenario, Euan would have persuaded them to have a wee whip round.  At worst, no-one would know why a stranger clad in black lycra was standing dripping sweat all over their pub floor.  So I was pleased to see Euan already outside it as I approached.  This had taken all the anxiety out of going in and not knowing what to say or what they knew.  He had persuaded two people to come out and witness the “historic event”.  I spoke to an old guy who appeared to be just about as non-plussed as I was.  We chatted about the weather.

So thankfully, soon enough, I was heading through Portgordon.  I felt good and along the coast road I was doing 20mph with Euan following on behind.  I didn’t expect to be going so well at this point.  I stopped at the Welcome To Buckie sign and Euan took a few shots.  It was just starting to get gloomy.

H2H 10

On we went, through the Yardie and right onto the Brae up North High Street.  I thought this might hurt and it did a bit, but I was on a roll and so close to the finish there was no need to protect the legs anymore.  Along West Church Street and left into Pringle Street.  After crossing West Cathcart Street, I could see Claire and Ellie waiting by Buckie Thistle’s ground, Victoria Park at the top.  I broke into a sprint as a finishing celebration.

I’d done it.

Hugs all round.  Arrival time was about 10.25 pm – almost exactly what I predicted if you took off the puncture time and late departure.

Claire had brought some small bottles of prosecco to mark the occasion so we put some party hats on, had a wee glass each and took a few photos.  It was starting to get dark, so we loaded the bike onto the roof of the car and after waving goodbye to Euan, headed off about 11pm.

H2H 11

I posted a few pictures on Facebook and after the caffeine gel had worn off, I suddenly felt really tired so finished off by posting a “That’s it. Lights out”.

I loved the day.  The question, “How far can I cycle in a day?” had inspired the ride.  And I’m still left wondering.  Well I suppose I haven’t yet tested myself over a day yet – only 16 hours so far!  Must get in touch with that excellent support team…