Tour of the Snow Roads (305 km, 5000 m vertical)

This summer I had a few weeks in Scotland after the Alpine ski season and before heading to South America to work and ski. The UK was experiencing a heat wave that was long over due after the recent cold wet summers. Temperatures after work were very conducive to road biking and form started to come with hours spent in the saddle. I’d done the tour of the Cairngorms road ride a few weeks previously, a stunning 165 miles round one of the older Mountain Ranges in the World that had confirmed road bike fitness. I’d had a yellow fever jab that week and the words of the nurse created doubt in my head all the way round – ‘ just don’t do anything strenuous for a week.’ I felt pretty good at the end of that ride, and a plan formed to go ride the Tour of the Snow Roads before the reduced daylight hours in August would mean riding in the dark. I believe this Tour had been conceived by the Arbroath CC boys and had become a classic ride covering 305 km and 5000 m of ascent over some of Scotland’s high passes; Cairn o Mount, Glenshee, Crathie – Gairn Shiel, Gairn Shiel – Corgarf, Lecht and Cabracht.

I made a plan to go on the following Saturday as the forecast was good, if a little hot, and it would give me the whole of Sunday to relax and recover. The first part of the week was hectic travelling with work but I was back in my own bed on Thursday night. It had been at hot week and my apartment was still scorching long after sunset and it was around midnight before I finally drifted off to sleep. When the alarm went off at 5am I felt mentally tired from the week, not really ideal considering it was psych that would make the difference on a ride like this. Opening the curtains I was greeted with thick fog and a check the webcams on the route confirming the same weather. Not being motivated to ride for several hours in the damp until the fog burnt off, made it an easy decision to go back to bed. 5 hrs additional sleep confirmed I’d made the right decision and in the afternoon I went out a rode a 4 hour loop over the Lecht and the Cabrach. Scorching temperatures and melting tarmac reaffirmed that it wasn’t the day for a long ride.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and my work routine was developing into a major energy sapping grind leaving me wasted by the weekend. I realised a change of strategy was required in order to get this ride done so I planned for a midweek day while still feeling fresh and psyched. My alarm went off at 5 am and after a quick breakfast and 20 mile drive I was riding by 6 am. The heat wave had come to an end and been replaced by more typical Scottish weather meaning a low of 10 C with a high of 18 C forecasted. The first hour was a stunning start to the day riding past fields with low-lying mist lurking and first sunrays crystal clear. I wasn’t used to the cool air and my hands and neck were numb with the cold but fortunately the steep 12-14% climb up the Cairn O Mount got the blood going.

The next couple of hours went without incident except to stop for water in Kirimuir, plug in my Ipod, and get down into that committed rhythm and continue on quiet roads up Glen Isla. A ‘diversion – road closed’ sign was cause for concern as on a ride like this there was no way I could handle an extra 25 miles. I rationalised that it was probably due to flooding from the heavy rain earlier in the week and whatever the issue, it would be passable now. Approaching the Glenshee road the reason for the diversion became apparent and was due to a new junction under construction. Shouldering my bike across the neighbouring fields enabled me to re-join the main road.

Braemar came after 6 hours and with it the decision to have a sandwich or just a top up snack before the group of 3 climbs which formed the most prolonged mountain section of the entire route. In the end I was feeling good and decide just to have a coke, crisps and a double decker before getting going. Back on the road the temperature had dropped and even with my goretex I was feeling cold. That soon changed on the Crathie-Gairn climb when the sun came out and I had run dry by the time I got to the start of the biggest and steepest climb of the day over the Lecht. The temperature swings of the day were quite tricky, always hot and sunny on the climbs then cold and shady on the descents. Arriving in Tomintoul forty minutes later at the 8 hrs 30 mark it was definitely time to rehydrate and all that stood in the way was a woman in the shop that wouldn’t stop talking and get one with paying! A litre of water and 1.5 litres of coke disappeared into me and my bottles in preparation for the final 3-4 hours.

The road to Dufftown is one which I often ride and it was a case of getting lost in the music, sticking to my food and water intake religiously and admiring the scenery. An hour later in Dufftown I refilled my bottles and ate a pain au raisin before embarking on the last major climb of the day over the Cabrach. My spirits were high after crossing this pass and after the decent I mentally calculated that there was less than 30 miles to go. Approaching Alford the Lumphanan road heads off right before Alford. I didn’t want to make any detours for shops so I continued not thinking much of the 10 miles to Lumphanan sign. Having never been on this section of road it was a surprise bonus to find a fairly long drag of a climb which had me working hard as my body started to run hot and dry. A fast descent took me down to Lumphanan where I found all the shops closed! A few miles further took me to Torphins and I raided the shop for water.

The last 7 miles was all on the flat and the monument on Banchory’s Scolty Hill was a friendly familiar sight visible from several miles away and acting like a homing beacon drawing me back to the car. The bunions on my feet from skiing were pretty sore by the end along with my right shoulder and I was glad to finally climb off the bike and into my car after 13 hrs 10 mins car to car. The main factors in making this ride solo was a day with no wind and cool temperatures and keeping heart rate below 140 throughout with a 160 limit on the major steep climbs.

Fuel intake on bike

15 bars/gels, 1.5 litres water, 1 litre water, 0.5 litre coke, Double decker, Packet crisps, 1.5 litres coke, 1 litre water, 400 g chocolate, 1 litre water, pain au raisin, 0.5 litres water.

Tour of the Cairngorm Mountains

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The other day I went out and rode the ‘Tour of the Cairngorms’, a fantastic road cycling route that I’d been thinking about for a couple of years now. I started at Ballater and the route took over 5 passes; Gairn Shiel, Lecht ski centre, Drumtochter, Dalnavaid and Glenshee ski centre over 165 miles. It takes in some of the UK’s finest mountain and lake scenery, continuously varied from the moody Cairngorm massif (formed 40 million years ago), ancient Scots Pines in the Caledonian forests, lakes around Aviemore, barren Arctic tundra near Dalwhinne, and the broad leaf forests and craggy mountains of Perthshire.  The route also follows three of Scotland’s finest rivers, the Spey, Garry and Dee which is essential in making fine Malt Whiskey known by the Scots as the ‘water of life’. Several of the well know distilleries are situated along the route such as Enochdhu, Dalwhinnie,  Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, and Lochnagar to name a few. It would have been nice to stop for a dram but that would have been the end of me!

Heading West from Aviemore was hard going into strong wind for 4 hours and going over the Drumtochter pass at the 7 hour mark I felt pretty committed, a long way from home with no short cuts available. Arriving in Pitlochry at 7 pm and it was time to eat and I need some salt but also felt pretty sick. That feeling only got worse when I saw a roadsign saying 60 miles to go – whoops – I must have missed a leg on the paper map that I glanced at in the morning – I was banking on 35 to go. I’d also forgot my bank card as the idea to do the route was spontaneous that morning and it had been a bit of rush getting out of the house. Thoughts of a night out in lycra and being eaten to death by the midges spurred me on and those last 60 miles only took 3 hours. In the cool air at 9 pm I was working hard and running hot going over the Glenshee ski centre pass but the last 25 miles down the river Dee through rolling hills and forest was a treat. 11 hrs 15 mins.

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