Group Therapy

All three groups together

All three groups together

Our club organised their first Reliability Ride for August from Dumfries across to Bridge of Dee, Loch Ken then Corsock. It was a bit later than the traditional time in Spring but enjoyable nonetheless and different from our usual club runs.

We divided into 3 groups – 15, 17 and 19mph average over 55 miles. It’s definitely different riding in a group to a set time. Unlike club runs you suddenly become aware of a collective goal driving the pedals around which everyone in your group is responsible for – MAKING YOUR TIME!

Group One looking rather pleased with themselves!

Group One looking rather pleased with themselves!

I rode in the 19 group and I never felt we were on top of our average speed…it seemed to constantly elude us. It certainly made for an interesting ride and I found us talking more tactics than we ever would on a normal Saturday. We tried through and off, someone at the front riding tempo and, for the final section, two guys at the front drilling it. We certainly sounded like the crossest cycling group in Scotland at times with some choice expletives especially along the Loch Ken section.

anxiety eased - we made our time

anxiety eased – we made our time

Unbeknownst to us at the time, our anxiety was nothing compared to the 17 group who suffered 4 or 5 flats. This would be enough to have you heaving your bike over a dyke but it didn’t puncture their resolve or their motivation and they arrived with 17.7 on their garmins…chapeau. They had the biggest group which can bring its own problems.

f*** another puncture!

f*** another flat!

Cool as cucumbers were the 15 group who we passed on the Loch Ken. They seemed to be gliding along unworried and well organised.

We finished the official part of the ride at Pringles Pub in Corsock – great grub and I discovered people more fond of cake than myself. I enjoyed the day and the way that your own efforts are part of a bigger purpose.

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Bicicletas Bonitas!

Cycling with Club Ciclista Aluche turned out to be one of my most memorable days on a bike.IMG_1233

I contacted the Aluche club last year with a view to riding with them in the spring but as the time drew nearer it was looking pretty doubtful. I was only staying in Madrid for 5 nights and it was going to be difficult to get my bike from the airport onto the busy metro and then find a space in the hotel to set it up for cycling. Also I had had a bad winter with a virus and chest infection – I didn’t feel particularly fit.

I decided nonetheless on a Plan B – hire a road bike in Madrid for the day. The bike hire shop Rutas Pangea was excellent. They set the bike up with SPDs and a small toolbag etc. It was an old Macario frame with some tiagra. It might’ve been from the 1990s but it was a nice, firm ride.

So with a map to the meeting point and my Dumfriess CC top on I set off through the ‘calles’ of Madrid for a 100k cycle. Luckily it was the Semana Santa and the roads were very quiet. As I cycled towards Aluche I was hoping I’d followed the directions properly. I had – I heard them before I saw the club riders. The noise of their laughter and chatter filled the area. What followed was really humbling. There were over 20 riders assembled and each one of them came over, shook my hand, introduced themselves and welcomed me. It was a wonderful gesture. As we made our way out of the city, their joking and banter made me feel like I’d been cycling with their club for years.

The one with the red hoods and MMR from Asturias...extremely cool!

The one with the red hoods –  an MMR from the Asturias Region…full dura ace or ‘durache’ as they say in Spain – an extremely cool bike!

A very smart Pinarello!

A very smart Pinarello!

On one of the long drags into the Spanish countryside, I had the chance to check out the Aluche bike set-up. I was expecting to see a peleton of Orbeas but there was a wide variety of brands – Giant, Felt, Pinarellos. The MMR was a little bit special and could well knock the Van Nicholas off of my wish list. All the guys used standard doubles with shimano (although at our cafe stop there was the time-honoured debate about shimano versus campagnolo). Most rode 11-25 sprockets but judging by the mountains surrounding Madrid I’m guessing those sprockets will get changed depending on the route.

On the road the ride divided naturally into two groups A and B. Given my poor winter and the old Mercario, I opted for Group B. When the hammer went down it went down hard. The road landscape outside Madrid was long and draggy at times with a brutally nagging headwind. Pretty soon the Spanish/English barrier was replaced with the universal language of cycling – through and off. The towns and villages came and went –Pozuelo, Boadilla del Monte and then a cafe stop in El Alamo. Here we met up again with Group A after their extra loop – a great way to avoid two separate rides!

wine, coffee, tortilla and jamon

wine, coffee, tortilla and jamon

The cafe stop was incredible. Once again the warmth of the club was striking. Every rider came over and asked how I was getting on. I wasn’t allowed to pay for anything. After we’d eaten I was presented with a small coffee liqueur which we all downed then cheered. Amazing!

This wee nip certainly helps fire up the legs!

This wee nip certainly helps fire up the legs!

We assembled outside for some photos and were told firmly by a policeman to keep it down as a Semana Santa procession was taking place!

Think my old tin machine is ruining this pic

Think my old tin machine is ruining this pic

Heading back to the city we picked up some tail wind and the kilometres ebbed away on the widening roads. 100k of pure cycling enjoyment was coming to an end. As the centre of Madrid shimmered opaquely beneath the mountains, I wondered what was different about this club.

I think their bond of friendship was tangible. The way they spoke with one another and rode together showed their closeness as a group. They seemed at times more like brothers than a cycling club. The rider I’d contacted last winter, Domingo, was not present as he had had a really bad fall in the mountains with the club and had been airlifted to hospital (I remembered what that was like). He emailled me from hospital saying ‘the boys will look after you…trust me…I owe them my life.’ Something about this statement seemed very real and true about CC Aluche. I could see that clearly as I could see it in my own accident 2 years ago.

At the metro they all stopped to say goodbye and shake hands. They called me friend and ‘hombre’. After a bleak winter in Scotland, this ride was a pure tonic, a celebration of everything brilliant about cycling. I’ll be wearing my Aluche top as soon as it arrives!

Later in the week I persuaded Mrs McG and Miss McG to visit the famous Otero bike shop in Madrid (muchas gracias guapas)! Photos below.

IMG_1254

one of the old Otero frames

not much from the outside but a tardis really

not much from the outside but a tardis really

Otero Team Time Trial Bike

Otero Team Time Trial Bike

would love this frame

would love this frame

Into The Valley

In the shortest days of the winter our fifth long winter run took us to Scotland‘s highest village, Wanlockhead via 3868 feet of climbing. I won’t even pretend the scenery was magnificent but on the other hand, after a week of immersion in Quality Street this ride was a welcome relief from decadent over-indulgence.DSC00608I was doubtful for this run all week. On Boxing Day I joined the club for some post turkey miles and pulled a spoke through the rim of my back wheel. No readers I don’t think there was a connection…they were very old rims!

I got myself some decent open pros as a replacement and fitted them just as the stormy weather was gathering on Friday, stoking up the crumpled leaves about my garage door. I set the alarm for 8 a.m. and listened to the wind and rain outside. At the last minute it was the bike or more Quality Street. I went to meet the guys for 9.

Elvanfoot in a hostile headwind...

Elvanfoot in a hostile headwind…

Low cloud hung over the hills and the valleys all day except for the last 20 miles. As much as I love the scenery in the South-west of Scotland, these conditions were grim. We were blown up the Dalveen and once over the top we rode at 25 mph average. However we knew what was coming…turning onto Elvanfoot, heading for the Leadhills, we went from 25 to about 9 mph.

In the absence of splendid scenery (the hills around Durisdeer excepted) there was plenty of interest in the 12 man peleton. There were two guys riding the route in the big chain-wheel and highest gears as part of their training regime. Andrew our route-master told me he broke his front-mech and found a replacement in the drawer of his kitchen (that’s quite something)!

When I said to Ian, a young Doctor at the Hospital, that I had a medical question he replied ‘Oh is it your prostrate?’ The guys thought this was hilarious.

waiting for the grub!

waiting for the grub!

Highlight of the run was our cafe stop at the local pub just before descending the Mennock pass. Mein Hostess single-handledly fed and watered 12 hungry cyclists, most of whom were huddled round a small fire with steam rising off their wet clothes.

fireside chat

fireside chat

waiting for the burgers

waiting for the burgers

Since the food would be a while I wandered round and took some snaps. I found myself in what looked like a play area and nearly jumped out of my longs. On a shelf was a human head…that’s what it seemed like in the gloom of the mid-afternoon.

yep...strange but true

yep…strange but true

the boys pass the time until the food arrives by...watching a programme about food..

the boys pass the time until the food arrives by…watching a programme about food..

We left the pub in a downpour and descended Mennock with its huge valleys of mist and nothingness. The truth is I’d rather climb this brute any day than descend it –  the Tour of Britain ventured up here a few years back and we went as a club to watch them grind up. Everyone suffers on that climb, the great leveller.

The wind chill and surface water on the Mennock were potent hazards but not the greatest danger – that was left to the Taliban ambushing sheep who’d launch themselves sporadically at your bike. I was glad when it flattened out and we wove our way through the Drumlanrig estate. By the time we were on the Clone Hill, the murky clouds were gone and the winter sun was nestling in the hills.

With so much climbing there were tired legs at the end but I think the general view was that everyone felt glad they’d done it. I certainly was and it was good to make contact again with the bike and the weather and the wild…when I got home the Quality Street were finished.

Mossy perks up on Dunscore Hill for a photo!

Mossy perks up on Dunscore Hill for a photo!

Crossing The Winter

Today at mile 93 of our Club’s 3rd long run I drowned in a dark, lactic ocean. The winter is upon us and the road to full fitness will be long and lonely.

After a tanking cafe stop at the Clachan Inn, Dalry – 17.11.12

As I have said in previous posts, the Winter is not the end of cycling. The cycling continues but these cold, wet months are about training to maintain fitness, to rest a little and to prepare for next year. Also they are about weight. You might put on a few pounds or  take the opportunity to lose a kilo or two. Non cyclists are usually surprised when you say that the winter is a good time to lose weight.

Hunger but in a good way…and of course the caffeine!

Filling our boots before the slog over to Corriedoo

The common view is that weight can be lost in the summer when you’re more actively outdoors. But if you’re a cyclist trying to lose weight in the summer, you’re probably behind the rest of the riders in the club. The winter gives you control and a plan and a regime as does early spring. The summer is too busy a time for that kind of focus.

However the focus comes at a price since even with the social side of long club runs, your winter regime is essentially a lonely pursuit. The challenges are only for you and are only set by you. You can’t lie to yourself. Everything must be true and accurate.

our winter bikes – a means to an end…but what end?

On today’s long run which took us along the Solway coast, followed by the spectacular Loch Ken then over to St John’s of Dalry, I spoke to a few guys about their winter. Everyone does it differently but whatever they’re doing, they’re doing it solo. My personal preference is to cross train. This means running, turbo, club run and core. Like all my club mates I have a plan for the winter. I don’t share my targets with them. Why would I? Why would they? But isn’t it amazing how we pursue those targets religiously? There isn’t a cyclist who lies about their winter regime. Well…why lie to yourself?

Many years ago my old cycling mucker Ian handed me a tattered thick booklet. It was called ‘The Blue Book‘ by Peter Read. Here’s what a fellow cycling blogger said about it-

‘When I started turbo training I bought Peter Read’s “The Blue Book”. Peter is well known in cycling circles as a guru of turbo training and his books have been used for many years to good effect. I have only read The Blue Book and can vouch for the effectiveness of the sessions. As well as helping you plan your sessions there are specific sessions to help overcome your weanesses, be it top end speed, power, endurance, etc etc.’

He goes on to add some pretty good advice about the book, saying…

‘…keep the steady rides for the road and use the turbo for interval training, easy recovery sessions or for when the weather is really bad. For interval training, the turbo becomes a different beast, an instrument of torture known in some cycling circles as “The Rack”, but it is fabulously effective as such and if you have the means of measuring power output then you can accurately repeat sessions and measure progress. Boring? Never, especially when the figures tell you you are improving…’

Ian always impressed on me the positive aspects of turboing which has meant I still enjoy it. Lots of guys don’t (yet they still do as much as me). When you’re on your turbo it’s sad but true, even though it is a chariot of pain, it is without doubt, the bike of truth. Those intervals are measured to the exact second as are the pyramids. Cutting corners or poor efforts on the turbo do you no good.

sharing a joke with my cycling buddy Ian Harkness, the man who introduced me to the systematic torture of the body a.k.a the turbo!

Yet the turbo also means loneliness. Perhaps this is why a lot of guys buy themselves ipods or imagic turbos; there’s some company in music or a little animated cyclist smashing you on a simulation of the Galibier! I stopped using my ipod recently. My only company is the whirr of the back wheel and the digital clock crushing me relentlessly. The garage is a lonely place, killing yourself between the lawnmower and some old tiles. But it is also a place of self-determination and ambitions.

As I said at the top of this post, lactic got me today but as the boys pulled away, something made me keep on turning those pedals even though getting back on the group was futile. I’m not sure what it was: trying to reach towards something or was it keeping something at bay, the body’s pain? Irrespective of what it was, there’s no crisis, no plan changing. The lonely crossing of the winter will continue and who knows, next time I may well pull clear of the lactic kill zone!

One Day in a Hundred

Every now and again you have a day on the bike which turns out to be the opposite of what you expected.

Criffel brooding in the distance

Alert! This morning started with a change in the weather forecast. Not admittedly on a par with Michael Fish and the great storms in 1987. But wrong enough for you to think twice about cycling. It was supposed to be dry and cold but this was undermined by the torrential hale storms battering the roofs as I toasted my bagel. The weatherman was saying things like ‘this thick cloud is snow’ and ‘long icy stretches in the south-west’ as though he was surprised. One day I am going to take those guys to court for the amount of times they’ve made my heart sink an hour before a ride.

A quick rethink of cycling clothes and I made my way down the road for early miles with some of the boys. The Bankend road was different from what I was expecting. Huge floods from the fields left the road submerged. I was wishing my bike had a persicope! As well as the standing water which made our route resemble a drowned world, there was fast running water everywhere and riding parallel with the swollen Nith, it was hard to tell where land ended and river began.

The watery flatlands of the Solway

I had a feeling in my creeking knees that somehow today was going to be different. We then had two punctures in quick succession. As always, puncture repair always brings out the best repartee from cyclists and this morning we were blessed. We had one cyclist who worked on the nearby Caerlaverock wildlife Reserve and the other a Farmer. Plenty of conflicting comments on wild life. I tried to chip in by telling them I could do a great Hooper Swan call.

Hooper or Whooper?

The problem was…no such bird exists but the Whooper swan does! These elegant birds were then described by the farmer as ‘huge footed vermin…’ So it went on.

With the double puncture blow, we missed the main club run by over 15 minutes. Was the next 3 hours going to be spent exchanging wildlife insults? I suggested we rode the route sensibly as cycling can be a funny old sport and you never know what’s up the road. Perhaps the main group were having similar problems (with punctures and flooding as opposed to Autumn Watch trade-offs).

Having coped with the deluge around Bankend we then headed over to Beeswing ( a quiet road punctuated by a serene loch on our right). No deluge but unbelievably we encountered snow. We could see the main group’s tyre tracks woven ahead of us as we rode in single file. This bitter enemy of the cyclist helps improve your butt clenching muscles. Luckily it was turning to slush when we arrived.

What? flooding, snow, sun and then a massive flock of oncoming sheep…are you making this up?

Then the sun came out triumphantly. I said to the boys we’ve seen it all today and one replied ‘Except fire.’ Let’s not tempt it. Trying to stuff a flapjack in mouth at the time I noticed red markings round the foil. My mouth had started bleeding. I know I’m a glutton but I didn’t realise I needed my jaws re-configured.

We met up with some of the Club near Corsock including my old cycling mucker, Harky who told me he’d ordered his new Cervelo. I was pleased for him but readers please also see one of my previous posts on Bike Envy.

We rode down Corsock Moor. I don’t dislike anything in cycling apart from the descent off that moor. Why? Well the bike busting cattle grid, the stones, leaves, blind corners and creeping verges are reason enough but the biggest source of dislike must be that in the many years I have cycled over that descent, the road has NEVER been dry.

after the sheep attack…Brian and Ian

Just as we reached the bottom we were met by a bizarre sight; a huge flock of sheep funneling up the narrow road towards us. We jumped up onto the high verges. Our journey was nearly over. I said it was not so much Three Men in Boat as Four Men on a Bike except that one of us was missing. Colin had got ahead of the sheep attack. We battered along Irongray to catch him but he had literally disappeared! Missing poster needed.

Cycling into town, the dark clouds were gathering again for another ration of rain. I got home before the afternoon showers arrived. Over a bowl of homemade soup I could only laugh. Every one in a hundred days do you get a ride like this – all the seasons rolled into one, punctures, a bloodied mouth and wildlife up close – an entertaining way to cycle those winter miles. We’ll be on time for the next Club Run!

Grinning on the way home through the lens flare – John, Alex, Brian and Ian

Jelly Bean

My fourth centurion ride of the year was without doubt the hardest but the panoramic scenery and camaraderie helped me out of the lactic kill-zone.

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.

some of the group on the moor road into Gatehouse – hills and sea behind them

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.

a little break before Mutehill and the tormenting headwind. Alex (right) and myself helped each other on the last 15 miles…

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.

We had a few of these – one of those days. We always feel good when Les (left) is out for a run – that man can change a tyre with lightning speed!

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!

What Would Buddha Say?

We started our longer runs for the Autumn and Winter with club favourite – Samye Ling in Eskdalemuir. A great ride in which I inadvertently clocked up another Centurion.

Re-fuelled with cake and coffee beneath the Victory Stupa

Just because the summer has ended (much like it began with torrential showers) doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your bike. As always with a cycle run over to Eskdalemuir, the scenery and company make for a great day.

Including some early extra miles and the club run itself, I spent six hours on my bike. I’d say whole heartedly that was six hours of pure unbroken, enjoyment. You can’t say that about every sporting activity…or about many activities for that matter.

My cycling buddy, John Andrew and I decided to go for a spin in the early morning round Caerlaverock and Bankend. Initially this seemed a little mad as it was pretty cold. However the winds were very light and this meant areas of pure white mist shrouded the Nith as it opened out into the Solway. This with the soundtrack of wintering birds above us made the early rise seem worth it.

Early light with mist across the low road at Bankend

As I said earlier the Samye Ling run is a popular long run for our club and as I expected there was a great turn out for the start. The sun was beginning to warm us but was still low in the sky which made riding in a bunch of 30 quite tricky at times.

meeting point for the run to where east meets west

Blinking in the sun we hit the hills just outside Lockerbie and myself and a fellow cyclist managed to get ourselves detached from the group (always ask the patron of the peleton for permission to pee). Re-grouping is essential on longer runs and no one is trying to rip anyone’s legs off.

It was not far from here where we hit a minor directional hitch, namely getting from the Langholm road onto the roads for Eskdalemuir. To cut a long story short, it involved a small place called Corrie. We ended up on the long, undulating but nonetheless spectacular road into Langholm. Someone joked that had we taken any further detours we might end up in the actual Corrie, the fictional one in Weatherfield, Manchester!

Following the road from Langholm to Eskdalemuir brought back some great memories of the excellent Ken Laidlaw Sportive which travels through that area. Our detour quickly became irrelevant amongst the hills and rivers which surround you as you cycle and chat.

With a mile or so to the Samye Ling centre I tried a cheeky jump on the group claiming I wanted my soup first. I was quickly chased down – never kid a cyclist about his soup and cake.

As I’ve said in a previous blog, Samye Ling is a fascinating incongruity. It’s brightly painted stupas, cloutie tree and flags sit bravely in the Scottish countryside. It all seems to work together somehow.

Gary and Brian – taking a break with a coffee

Back on the road we swept down through Boreland and then onwards towards Lockerbie. After the lumpy hills around Banks Hill, getting the chance to spin your legs freely for 10 miles was a great feeling.

Murray (centre) looking a little like a Mafia Cycling Don with the shades

By the time we reached Millhousebridge a couple of guys had cramped up a little but being close to home on roads you know well, lifts the morale and we managed to keep a steady pace in the sunshine as we rolled through Templand.

Birthday boy Gordon, his wife Gill and my old cycling mucker, Ian Harkness – great to see him back into the long miles and at the centre of the micky taking!

It always amazes me with club cyclists how after 80 – 90 miles in their legs they’re still game for a 30. There were several of these as we neared Dumfries, so we finished the ride with some leading out and sprinting shenanigans.

Alison and Jim with Mikey (big miles) in the background

Sprinting into Locharbriggs on the outskirts of Dumfries meant the day was drawing to a close. The detour meant I’d completed 104 miles. I wasn’t complaining. It won’t be long till winter (will it be snow or storms this year?) so I would easily have cycled another six hours that day for the pleasure it brought.

My early morning buddy, John A. with Andrew beside him thinking about more caffeine perhaps?