Our club route master, Andrew, posted the second of our long winter rides around Gatehouse of Fleet and Kirkcudbright. Although in the completely opposite direction to our first winter outing to Samye Ling (our destinations today were westerly) it bore the crucial similarities of challenging hills and immense scenery.
As usual a few of us decided to ride some early miles before the main run in our (mad) pursuit of 100 miles. I was off my Tommasini cruiser and on my tank of a winter bike for only the second time. I don’t know about other roadies but I feel it takes a while to adjust the legs and energy to heavy steel. In addition, after much debate I’d opted to ride specialized armadillos this winter which were not my first choice tyre but that’s a long story. The feeling of these wired clinchers is akin to rolls of liquorice churning about in treacle.
Half way round our early spin we hit a nagging headwind which we felt would impact on the longer run. This combined with the tyres and a week in Spain gorging on Churos, meant ill omens for me.
We arrived at the rendezvous and once again I was impressed by the huge turnout (30 riders approx). Although dry it was the first very cold day of the winter but there was nonetheless a great buzz about the run.
By Crocketford which wasn’t far into the main route, I knew I was not going to have a great day. The zombie army of lactic was creeping into my legs when little extra efforts were required. I hoped the feeling would pass.
The star of the winter run in the South west is the scenery and the little gem on this run for me is that moment when you climb up from Laurieston and Glengap Forest onto the moor towards Gatehouse and on the last rise the Irish Sea appears in the haze resting amongst the endless rolling hills.
We had the first of several punctures on that road. If you’re going to have a puncture, I can’t think of a better place to have one, out in that unspoiled world.
Our usual cafe stop in Gatehouse was different this year with waitress service – very posh and also a bit pricier. However the soup and sandwiches went down without touching the sides and as usual all the roadies were hitting the caffeine like desperate addicts.
After Gatehouse we started with…another puncture. Some runs are just like that. Another day and another 100 miler there would be no stops. We made our way over to Kirkcudbright and what was the hardest part of the course: the climbs over to Dalbeattie. Lunch had only delayed my doom but before it arrived other riders and myself were struck by the great scenery around Mutehill. The tide was in and the bay looked calm and translucent. Then the climbing started. I survived most of it and was even able to offer encouragement to others who were toiling.
But cycling has its ways of shifting fortunes and as I encouraged others in the sapping headwind towards Palnackie, I knew the zombie army of Lactic acid had breached my defences. The knock was knocking and cyclists know that means oblivion. I threw jelly beans at my mouth as though shying for coconuts but the contest was being lost and by the Haugh of Urr I told the group to leave me to fall on my sword. Some of them laughed and said they wanted to hang around and watch the eyes bulge out of my head – I think those guys liked cycling pornography. But in the end they did the decent thing and left me and my ragged dignity.
But then something happened which says a lot about this brutal sport. I hooked up with fellow sufferer and between us we tackled the Military Rd back to Dumfries with its three little ball-crunching climbs evenly spaced to allow you to reflect on what they can do to you! We shouted out encouragement to one another and gradually we started to feel better. Had I really managed to vanquish the zombie hordes of lactic? Probably not but in cycling as with many sports, sometimes mind really can overcome matter.
Near the end another cyclist, Brian, from the run joined me for the last five miles and the big 100. The miles slid away as we chatted about wildlife, the amazing Red Kite we spotted just before Laurieston and the extraordinary legions of migrating birds who fly thousands of miles to the South-west and who are a big part of winter in this region. I bet they don’t get the knock!