Tall(a) Tales

 Scottish Borders Recreational Cycling Group recently named the Megget and Talla route as the best in the region. What cyclist would disagree? Even in old testament rain, Talla is a spectacular holy grail for cyclists in the south-west.

Dumfries CC organised a long summer run from Dumfries to Talla Megget and back for June 30th. 106 miles. This was a cycle run I didn’t want to miss but I also had a family commitment that day.

Negotiations ensued. Asking a road cyclist when he’ll be back is like trying to guess the size of the universe…we can only be approximate to within a few light-years. There’s weather, pace, punctures and cafe stops to consider. I finally received clearance to go but got the impression (mainly through the expert use of tone by my wife) that a certain private part of my anatomy was at risk of amputation and destruction if I was too late.

My fellow roadies were amused – they’d all been under the same ‘clearance threat’ from partners at some point. Perhaps, I suggested, lateness should be a Club responsibility. If I’m late then everyone’s certain private anotomical part should be removed? Of course I didn’t get any support for this idea.

The forecast for the day was a bad mix- some sunshine with heavy showers. You’ve got two choices – rain jacket on all day no matter what or jacket on and off. Luckily we started in dry weather, our back pockets stuffed like ammo packs – extra tubes, cafe stop money, extra food and some C02. For the first twenty to thirty miles we were definitely aided by a strong tail wind. The thing with tail wind is that at some point it turns into a head wind and cycling becomes a different matter. I think we all knew this would happen at some point probably when the legs were beginning to fill with lactic.

Our first serious bit of cycling came with the Beef Tub, a long, steady climb up towards Tweedsmuir and the Moffat hill range. We quickly organised ourselves into a big groupetto. Some rain drops splashed onto the handlebars and looking to the right across the valley, a monstrous dark cloud was slowly positioning itself above Talla Megget. Maybe it would move on by the time of our arrival….maybe.

Besides there were other things to distract us. Despite the security of the groupetto one of our long established members jumped off the front. We swept him up then off he went again and then again. Was this man trying for an imaginary polkadot jersey or was he on a cycling kamikaze mission? It’s a long way to the top of the Beef Tub on your own.

Talking of kamikazes we descended down into the Tweedsmuir side amongst some crazy drivers – the worst kind – high speed and impatient, throwing up waves of spray. So it was a relief to take the junction for the reservoirs. Some of the guys had never climbed up Talla Megget and they had been quietly extracting info about what to expect as the sun burst momentarily through the rumbling clouds. I thought to myself…jacket off…then the rain resumed. I wasn’t stopping  to put it on again.

There is a flat single track road which runs for a mile or two alongside the left side of the reservoir. Across the dark blue water, the far bank of Talla is a sheer, infinite hill almost like an ancient wall built by giants. And at the end of this mossy fortress and the flat road, was the climb itself. Cyclists get a prolonged view of its challenge. It glimmered dully like a pre-historic reptile, disappearing up into the mist and hills.

young Jack, conquered the climb at Talla with style

The pace at the front definitely slackened no doubt because of the downpour and the headwind but also because no one was going to drill it up to this climb. As we drew nearer we came across a curious sight. A female cyclist was sheltering under a row of spruce trees, smiling brightly at us as we passed. I was convinced she was an apparition whispering ‘Talllllaaaaa.’

Talla ramps up immediately. No searching for gears here, everyone is ready and pretty soon the guys are weaving about the road trying to keep that gear turning doing the silent cyclist dance. There aren’t any hairpins; look up the hill and all you see is more hill. The rain blew in sideways bouncing up to our knees. What keeps you going? Well at some point this climb is going to get slightly less straight-up brutal and more hill like! You daren’t look back down to see how the other guys are doing. You could lose precious momentum.

Caffeine!

Over the top and the descent for me is as daunting. The visibility is very poor and the run down to Megget narrows and twists with cattle grids and you need to be alert for oncoming cars or wandering sheep. At one point I was convinced my bike had no brake pads. The rain was so torrential I’m sure I was aqua-gliding. Near the high point of Megget my concentration was broken by the stunning sight of massed black headed gulls swarming above the water.

We re-grouped at St Mary’s Loch and as you can see from the photos, we paddled about in the cafe like beached seals. Caffeine in its many forms was the main order. Why bother with coffee or coke why not not just yell CAFFEINE NOW!

The next stage of the ride was by far the hardest. Our bodies were cold and wet and the 10- 15 miles to Wamphray were tough in a full-on head wind. I barely noticed the amazing Grey Mare’s Tail with the constant battering of the wind.

Sometimes the only thing to do on a big run is just ride your bike. And we did, riding quietly as a group onwards towards Lockerbie and Dalton. Just as I was thinking, a particualr part of my anatomy was safe, someone shouted ‘PUNCTURE!’ This is why we need to share the blame.

Joking aside I made it home with a great sense of achievement and my body parts were not removed. A centurion run is always memorable. It was a big turnout from the club and I don’t think we’ll forget that unrelenting downpour on Talla not because it was horrible but because battling hills in immense scenery in the darkest of weather elements is life affirming.

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