Sunday, 30 May 2010

Caledonian Etape Scotland May 2010

May 14 2010
Tommy’s clean, fully laden and raring to begin this year’s adventures. (As it turned out later, it was too laden up in the fridge and freezer, with previously prepared meals, at it took three days to get down to temperature, and so, shock/horror there were no ice cubes for the G/T!!!).
We called in and stayed on Col’s brand new drive, and he’d even installed an outside socket ready for the Websters so that we could plug in!  Thanks Col.  A visit to Mums and Dad- Granny Web’s going on a Med cruise this week, so packing was at the top of the agenda.  Dad’s recovering well and getting cross with himself that ambitious DIY jobs are getting beyond him now- but he doesn’t realise that they’re beyond most people significantly younger than him!!

May 15
Couldn’t sleep in- too excited! Away for 7.30am and in Pitlochry, on the Milton of Fonab site for 1pm!  The site was filling up all afternoon.  Because it is the event of the year for Pitlochry, we booked our 3 night stay in the second week of January. 
Sunday’s Caledonian Etape ( a 81 mile cycle ride for Macmillans Cancer Charity) takes over the town.  The roads are closed, visitors and residents are housebound or walking between 7am and 2pm. And the place is full of visitors, which prompted one bitter, narrow-minded “person” to throw tacks onto the road approaching Schiehallion, causing major disruption to the event.  Clearly the 5000+ entrants weren’t put off by this, and in fact the reverse may have been the case.
We had a brief walk to Loch Fiskally and sighted a red squirrel close by. We revisited the Dam and Fishing Ladder with its 30 odd steps that the salmon have to negotiate, in order to return to their spawning grounds in the River Tummel.  We went there on our honeymoon, nearly 33yrs ago!  441 salmon had climbed the ladder so far this year.  You could only marvel at their journey.
A lovely meal at Port-na-Craig, part of a historic hamlet over the river from Pitlochry, right on the banks of the Tay.  We’d called in last year and promised ourselves we’d go there. The year’s wait wasn’t disappointed- haggis and neaps, followed by beautifully-cooked salmon.

May 16
A day of rest for me, because cycling today would make no difference to the outcome of tomorrow!  Ian went off for a short 30ml cycle ride to unstiffen his legs!!

May 17 The Big Day!
OK so Ian’s aiming for a personal best of under 5 hours.  For me it’s a taller order than that!  Let’s get the excuses out of the way!  A knee op a few month’s ago, a winter of negligible cycling, fell off bike in Mallorca and damaged other knee, which is still very sore… the list goes on!!!  Bearing in mind I usually average 10-11 mls per hour, this would give me a finish time of approx 7 hours, which is about an hour after they reopen the roads, and presumably take your number off you!  The number of entrants might be reminiscent of the London Marathon, but there’s nobody coming in 10 hours wearing a nappy and sucking a dummy.  In order not to get “swept up” by the sweeper wagon, I would have to be averaging 13mls per hour, which I’d only ever done on a 40ml ride in the flatish terrain at the back of Alcudia!  So it wasn’t looking good.  Never mind, enjoy it!!
Friendly advice from neighbours on the site- you’ll get in a bunch and get swept along in the jet-stream.  Ian nods, taking it all in, and I’m thinking “shut up and leave me alone!”
The best piece of race organisation saw us fed down to the start line, all 5000 of us.  “I think I want a wee!”  Ben Fogle, James Cracknell and Graeme Obree are competing and starting us off. Ian’s start time means he’s way down the field with me, so he’s got to pass hundreds of cyclists just to get where he ought to be!
The weather’s cool, but bright and sunny, with just a breeze. Perfect.  The course wriggles up and down for the first 10mls to Tummel Bridge, with a trio of Pipers piping you up to Queens View on the banks of Loch Tummel.  At the next village, an elderly lone piper, popped out of his cottage to pipe you through,  At which point I really wanted to stop and thank him- pipes do that to me, but up against time and must press on.  The most beautiful views of Loch Rannoch.  15mls up one side and 15mls down the other to the next feeding station at 40 mls.  By now, I’m feeling good,getting great speeds up, for me, and lifted by the most beautiful scenery- I feel on top of the world and so fortunate to be in this spectacular event!
Now I stopped at each feed station- 20,40 and 60 mls for the all important go-faster gel and water, necessary if it’s going to take you as lo0ng as me.  It turns out Ian didn’t, no surprise there, apart from a timed 2 min wee stop!
I was dreading the climb up Schiehallion, but after the spring around Loch Rannoch, the climb was a welcome change of incline and tempo.  It wasn’t too bad a climb and the views made you soar!  A lovely cycle across the saddle, and a drink of water at a feed-station at 50 miles, before the superb dash down the other side to the Fortingall loop.
This loop could be a frustrating 10ml detour, if it weren’t for the fact that again the scenery is superb and you can get a head of steam up. Counting down now, into the teens of miles to go, and worried that it was too soon to be counting the miles to the finish.  Could I do it in under 6hrs!  In fact it’s a fast cycle all the way to Logerait.  At 70 miles we were warned that after a further 5mins the sweeper van would be along, and you would have to be picked up if you weren’t in the final stages by then.  The only cloud on an otherwise fantastic day.  As it was it proved to be an official, flexing his official muscles, but it had the desired effect.  Me and my pals at the back, who had been overtaking each other, with friendly banter for the last 5 hrs, mumbled that there was no way we were going over the finish line on four wheels.  We pushed on as fast as we could, towards the notorious tight left-hand turn at Logerait, which sends the front runners over the handle bars!
Sharp left and I’d been warned about the steep 100yd climb which has some walking, and pushed on by some guys yelling at me, I was really proud at not having to dismount.  I got to the top, huffing and puffing, only to see in the near distance, that there was more where that came from.  Cyclists just ahead were straining tired legs to climb again!  They hadn’t forewarned me about that.  At 75mls I was really angry with myself for having to get off and walk briefly. I told myself to get on with it and push on. Then the road was up and down all the way for the last scant 7mls, and this saw my hopes of finishing inside 6 hrs ebbing away.  Up the hill from the campsite to Pitlochry centre and the finish.  Not saddle sore, thanks partly to Chambuttter!  Exhilarated at having completed my first 81mls in, for me, record time of 6hrs 10mins.  Fantastically organised, supported by volunteers.  Great company all round- one lovely guy from Liverpool even stopped to pick up my glasses for me.  Fantastic support from locals and visitors, not at all resentful at having been trapped in their houses all morning, all out cheering at then end of their gardens and on the roadside.  Great weather.  Cycling fast along roads with no traffic, in magnificent scenery. I think I’ve died and gone to heaven!  Doing it again next year.
Ian achieved a superb time of 4hrs 38mins, and was amazed at how fast the course was.  We’ve both got our targets for next year and will definitely enter again.  Who wouldn’t?
Before we crashed into bed early, we swapped email addresses with a lovely couple we’d met in the van next door.  We found we shared many interests and aspirations.  Ron was in the race, and achieved a superb time.  He and Tricia were from Largs, though originally from the South of England, they’d lived in Scotland for about twenty years.

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