I also aim to do the Gullane Triathlon. I’ve said this every year for the last five years but every time I try to do it something comes up that gets in the way.
Hopefully this year Ill finally do it!
My main reason for wanting to do the race isn’t sporting but is instead culinary. The Old Course Inn in Gullane ( http://www.oldclubhouse.com/ ) does the best Nachos in Scotland. I’m always looking for an excuse to visit and have some!
It shows I managed to cover just over 3000 miles of swimming, biking and running which is enough to take me to Monrovia in Liberia.
I googled Monrovia to see what it is like. According to a map of the town there is an area inside it called Chocolate City. Which sounds delightful. I imagine its a wonderful place to live. Everyone loves chocolate.
I then Googled how Chocolate City got its name. It is not as delightful as I thought. Chocolate City was a place where people went and defecated. Families riding in cars along the highway would smell the stench of human excrement but instead of telling kids what it was they would instead say it was chocolate. Hence the chocolate area became known as Chocolate City.
I looked at my info-graphics from previous years. It revealed I did less distance this year than last (4,500 miles) That is about 1500 miles less. I like to think it was higher quality. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
I had learnt my lesson from my DNF in 2012. This time I trained for the race, I wore the correct cycling kit and I had bought a new bike – a hybrid! It was a mix of a road and mountain bike. Surely that would be perfect for climbing hills on roads?
At registration I had to fill in a release form stating I absolved the organisers of any blame in the event of an accident. I assume this was due to Malcolm’s accident as I was not asked for this in 2012.
I lined up at the start. I felt confident. I tuned to Andrew and told him that “I thought it was going to be a great day.” I spoke too soon. It started raining.
This time the climb was much better. I made it half way up before I had to get off and push my bike. There was no camera crew at the top this year. There was no one at the top. The conditions were miserable – wet and windy. Nobody wanted to hang about in that type of weather.
I was pleased when I biked past Applecross. The climb was done. The rest of the course would be easy!
It wasn’t. The miles after Applecross are an endlessly undulating series of small hills. There is more climbing in this section than during the Bealach climb.
By the time I hit the umpteenth small hill I had to get off and push my bike. My legs had run out of puff.
Andrew was on a road bike. He felt fine. Maybe when Lance Armstrong was wrong when he wrote “Its not about the bike.” I felt it was definitely about the bike.
I made it to the second last village on the route – Shieldaig. It’s a small coastal town. The organisers had setup a feed stop here. They were packing it away into a van. They looked surprised to see us. A man approached us and said “I didn’t realise anyone was still biking”
I assume that means we are last. Very last. He opens the van and says “Help yourself to anything you want”
I take a packet of crisps, a can of coke and unusually I spot some cheese slices. I’d never seen cheese at a food stop before. I ask the man if I can have some of the slices. He says yes.
I try a bit. It is delicious. The best bit of cheese I have ever had. It was probably the cheapest cheese imaginable but after cycling 75 miles my taste buds must have craved the milk and salt goodness. I’ve never had cheese as good as that again!
To this day I still salivate at the tastiness of that cheese.
Powered up on the three C’s – cheese, coke and crisps we head off to tackle the last section of the course.
It was horrific. For the the last 12 miles we had to ride into a strong headwind. I had to stand up on my pedals to move my bike forwards. It was like biking through heavy mud.
At last we spot the finish. It’s getting dark. We’ve been riding for nearly nine hours.
I’m spent but elated. We are going to finish. We have done it together.
With 100m to go Andrew sprints off. He doesn’t believe in doing it together. He believes in winning. He is the only one at the finish line. We are so late. Everyone else has gone home.
We drive home. He spends the five hour journey telling me how he is the winner of the Bealach na Todd.
The Bealach na Ba, in the North West of Scotland, boasts the greatest ascent of any road in the UK. It begins at sea level and rises to a height of 626m. It takes six miles to get from sea-level to the top.
The name means ‘pass of the cattle.’ It was originally a gravel track used by crofters to move cattle between two parts of the Applecross peninsula. It’s now mostly used by tourists. The route is part of the famous North Coast 500 which has been named one of the top coastal road trips in the world.
It is 2012 and I am at the start line of my first ever bike sportive. I look at the other riders.
They are all using road bikes. I am on a mountain bike. I am the only one on a mountain bike. Why are they not on Mountain bikes? We are going to ride up a mountain. Surely a mountain bike is the most effective way to do that?
They are all wearing skin tight lycra. I have wearing a thick winter jacket and a pair of baggy shorts.
They are all clipped into their bike using proper bike shoes. I am wearing trainers.
They all have a bottle on their bike. I do not have a bottle on my bike. I have a backpack containing a sandwich, a two-litre bottle of water, and a map in case I get lost.
It is fair to say I do not know what I am doing.
Andrew is here but he is not on the start line. He has the flu. He has offered to drive a van around the course in case I need him. I spot my friend Malcolm who is also doing the race. I say to him “Good luck.” He says “You’ll need it more than me” and he then rides off. All the other bikes whizz past me.
I now realise why they are on road bikes. Honestly, up until this point, I thought there was no difference between a road bike and a mountain bike. I had assumed road bikes did not go up hills.
I honestly do not know what I am doing.
After two hours of cycling I have cycled further than I ever have. I realise it is two hours back to where I started so I will need to the do the same again to get home.
I stop and eat a sandwich. I wonder how the other cyclists are getting on. They must be starving. They don’t have any sandwiches.
I try phoning Andrew but I don’t get a signal. The race is too remote for mobiles to work correctly.
After another hour I reach the climb. The sign at the bottom says
Road to Applecross (Bealach Na BA) This rod rises to a height of 2053 ft with gradients of 1 in 5 and hairpin bends. NOT ADVISED FOR LEARNER DRIVERS, VERY LARGE VEHICLES OR CARAVANS AFTER FIRST MILE
It does not mention bikes. That means I’ll have to do it.
I start the climb. Within 100m I have started to heat up. I start to sweat. I decide to take off my jacket. I put it in my backpack. I restart the climb. It doesn’t feel too tough yet.
The road gets steeper. I try to switch to a lower gear. I am already in my lowest gear. No wonder the start was easy.
The road climbs higher. I struggle to turn my pedals. I haven’t even done one mile of the climb. I’m still at the part safe for learner drivers, very large vehicles and caravans.
Maybe a bit of food will help. I stop and eat the rest of my sandwich.
I restart the climb. I feel heavy. The sandwich has not helped. I struggle onwards. I stand up on the pedals to make them turn. I stop and admire the view. I consider quitting. I don’t have to think twice. I decided to quit.
I wish I could say I have the stomach to battle it out when things get hard but I don’t. I try phoning Andrew again. He can come and rescue me. There is still no reception. Feck. I’ll have to keep going. Mainly because I assume I’ll get a phone reception at the top of the hill.
I push my bike all the way to the top of the hill. A film crew is waiting for me. Probably not me specifically but anyone doing the race. They are filming for BBC Two Scotland’s The Adventure Show. The reporter approaches me:
– I can’t believe you’re using a mountain bike!
– It’s my only bike
I take out my water bottle to have a swig.
– You carried that all the way up the mountain?
– Yes. I thought I’d get thirsty.
– You do know the organisers supply water and food at regular stops?
I thought I had to supply everything myself! DOH!! I try my mobile. It has a signal. I try Andrew but there is no answer. I send him a text saying. “I quit! Come and get me at the bottom of the hill in Applecross”
The descent of the other side is great fun. Six miles of fast downhill with treacherous corners. At one corner an ambulance is tending to a rider. I think to myself how glad I am that it is not me.
At the bottom of the hill I reach Andrew. There’s 40 miles to go but I’m not doing any more.
I’ve achieved my race by cycling further and higher than ever before.
We head to the finish to wait for Malcolm…and we wait…and we wait…and we….
As it gets dark there’s no sign of Malcolm. I approach the race organisers and ask if they have seen him. They go to check their list of riders. When they come back they have bad news – Malcolm was the man I passed on the mountain who was getting tended to by the ambulance.
The news got worse. He was taken to hospital. Great. He must be in Inverness as that was the closest one to us. We need to go that way to get home. We’ll pick him up on the way but the news got even worse. The hospital was not Inverness, which is close by and on our way home. He was sent to Broadfoot on the Isle of Skye which is miles away and nowhere near our route home.
We head to Skye to collect him. He is sitting on a chair with his arm in a sling. His brakes failed whilst taking a corner on the descent. The bad news was that he had broken his collarbone and will be off work for six weeks. The good news was that it coincided with the Edinburgh fringe. He spends the next six weeks partying.
Instead of taking the west coast route, I decided we‘d go along the eastern side of the island. The west coast has some great beaches but the landscape of the east looks like the moon. If the moon had brown heather.
The other reason for choosing this route is that Santa lives on the east side. He stays in a bus shelter near one of the small towns. Although I am worried about him. I think he might have lost his head
Thankfully he was still there when I biked past.
Unusually for the western isles the weather was amazing. The sun was out and there was absolutely no wind.
I managed a couple of hill reps of the highest hill in Harris – clisham. The north side was pretty straightforward but the west side was a 300m climb from sea level up a 12% slope!
As the weather was so good my wife decided to cycle for as long as possible. She managed 100K. She stopped near an an alpaca farm at the Callanish Stones.
They claim they sell Fish and Chips but I bet its actually Alpaca and Chips.
Guess what day 3 started with….yup – torrential rain!
At least the days were consistent. Thankfully that was the last we saw of rain until we finished the Hebridean Way.
We started at the Lady of the Isles statue. My wife and her sister headed off following the Hebridean Way but I decided to take a different route. I’d spotted a road heading up a local hill to a radar station. It looked like a fun climb so I parked up and took my bike for a spin.
The view from the top was superb. I could see all across South Uist, Benbecula and onto North Uist.
After the ride I drove through Benbecula. It was very flat and surprisingly ugly. Sorry Benbecula but you are the elephant man of Hebridean islands. The only redeeming feature was the Co-op. They had amazing cinnamon donuts. They were so good I ate two even though it wasn’t yet 10am.
I sped through quickly and caught up with my wife in North Uist. The sun had come out and it was a very pleasant day. I would have offered her a cinnamon donut if I had any. I offered her an oat cake instead.
North Uist was very nice. Quite roads and nice scenery. We could even see St Kilda in the distance. The people of Uist thought folk in St Kilda were a bit dim. They say one St Kilda man came to the island and spotted a lighthouse. He ran towards it, flung open then door, ran up the stairs and looked at the big bright light and said “is that you God?”
I don’t know how true that is but it makes for a good story.
We finished cycling in Berneray and were treated to a glorious sunset –
– Which was nearly as good as the sunrise the next day.
Eriskay is famous for three things – whisky, horses and football. Which sounds like the ingredients for a great night out.
Whisky – In 1941 the SS Politician ran aground off the Isle of Eriskay whilst carrying a significant cargo of Scotch whisky. The incident inspired the film Whiskey Galore. One Christmas I bought my dad a £250 bottle of whisky. I thought he would save it for special occasions so he could savour the taste. Instead, he tanked the bottle in three days. At least he enjoyed it.
Horses – I have only ridden a horse once. It was in India. I sat on the horse. The horse bolted. I tried shouting “woaaaaah” to slow it down. It didn’t stop as it only understood Hindi. Since then I have never trusted horses. Eriskay is home to the Eriskay pony, an endangered breed of horse unique to the island. They roam free but they seemed to enjoy hanging out at the pub.
Football – Fifa recognised Eriskay football pitches as one of “eight remarkable places to play football in the world”. I used to play football in Lewis. It was remarkable any of our pitches could be used for football. One pitch was so slanted I needed climbing equipment to make it out of my own half.
The journey from Barra to Eriskay takes 40 minutes. Luckily some dolphins appeared and swam alongside the ferry
Eriskay is very small. It only took the cyclists 15 minutes
to cycle through. They missed all three of the things Eriskay is famous for because
they followed the official Hebridean way route exactly.
One of my complaints about the route is that it does not point out interesting diversions. For example in South Uist the route passed a side road that lead up a small hill to a magnificent view of the whole island. It only takes a couple of minutes to cycle up but there is no indication on the road that it is a diversion worth taking.
We stopped for lunch at the Borrodale hotel. A recent Tripadvisor review described it as “tired looking…like the rest of South Uist” That must have been written by a man from North Uist.
I thought the place was nice and the food was tasty. In fact, It was so good we went back in the evening.
The riding in South Uist was very easy. The only problem occurred when a funeral cortege approached us on a single-track road. We stopped to let them through but it took 15 minutes for everyone to get past.
We finished the day at a statue called “the lady of the isle.” It was commissioned when the Ministry of Defence was planning to build a missle testing range on the island. The statue is a reminder of the power of church and community. I’m sure its intentional that it looks a little bit like a rocket.
I was in a bike shop in Oban. In ten minutes time, I was due to leave on a ferry to the Isle of Barra.
My wife and her family were going to cycle the Hebridean way – a 185 mike ride from the Isle of Barra to the Isle of Lewis via the Isles of Eriskay, South Uist,Benbecula, Berneray, Harris.
My role for the trip was to drive a support car. It was a nice change not to have to be the one doing an event. My only responsibilities were to ensure they didn’t get lost, that I had carried their supplies and luggage in the car, and that I could fix their bikes if their was an issue.
There was only one problem. I forgot to bring any spare bike tubes. If any of them got a puncture they be walking rather than biking the route.
“What size do you need?” The bike shop worked asked.
“700×25 or 700×28” I replied. I was confident he’d have some. They are the most commonly used bike tube sizes.
“Sorry. I don’t stock those sizes!”
I was shocked but I didn’t wait around to debate the merit of a bike shop not stocking the one tube most cyclists need. I ran to the other side of Oban to see if the only other bike shop in town stocked them.
Thankfully they had some. I made it back to the car just in time to board the ferry.
I spotted a number of cyclists waiting to board. They were all female. The weather forecast for Barra was wet and wild. Does this mean male cyclists are wise or does it mean they are big girls blouses scared of a little rain?
Despite all the cyclists boarding the ferry, we didn’t see a single cyclists whilst doing the Heb way route.
The ferry was the one that used to do the Stornaway to Ullapool route. I’d taken it many times. It was looking a bit tatty compared to when I was last on it.
There wasn’t many passengers on board. I had the dinning room area entirely to myself. Mainly due to it being a rough crossing. Nobody wanted food, they were all lying down seasick.
What folk don’t realize is that the dining room is actually the best place to be. They were all in the observation lounge which is at the top and front of the ferry. The place which experiences the most ship movement.
If you want a smooth journey sit in the middle of the ferry on the lowest floor. Where the dining room was.
We arrived in Castlebay in time for dinner. My wife and her sister are both vegan. I looked at the menu. It was very meaty and fishy. There was only one vegetarian option and that had cheese in it.
I asked the waitress if they did any vegan options. “Yes – we do chips”
After dinner we checked into the bed and breakfast. I asked the owners what the vegan breakfast options were available? She replied “toast”
It’s fair to say the Hebrides has not yet embraced veganism.
Other vegan options we were offered on the trip were
Blue cheese and broccoli soup. Cheese isn’t vegan Lentil and bacon soup. Yes – really. Bacon! Smoked salmon. What do you mean fish isn’t vegan?
An episode of the channel 4 house hunting program “Location, Location, Location” featured a flat in Glasgow that was described as a desirable two bed home, in a quiet neighborhood, with stunning views across the city.
I recognized the flat because I lived around the corner from it. The flat was not at all desirable. It was next to a very busy noisy road and the only view out the window was of MacDonald’s drive in restaurant.
The flats location is on Crow Road. So when I heard cyclists say they were off to cycle Crow Road this is where I thought they were going. I couldn’t understand why they said the climb took them 30 minutes. I could walk it in 5. Maybe they stopped for a MacDonald’s McFlurry?
It was only once I got a road bike that I discovered the other Crow Road was on the outskirts of Glasgow in Lennoxtown.
The first time I saw it I didn’t think it looked too hard. Little did I know that from below I could only see half of the climb. The first section up to a car park. Then there is a big right turn over the hill.
One year I decided I was going to be the quickest man up Crow Road. Now this is quite a challenge because allot of good cyclist use the climb for training. The Scottish Tour De France Cyclist David Miller used to ride a dozen reps of it as training in preparation for the Tour.
So my choice was either train hard and smash it or be smart!
I choose to be smart. So one new years day I got up early and became the first man up the Crow that year. Which also meant I was the fastest that year….as long as I didn’t check Strava again for 12 months.
Its not a steep climb. I’d describe it as steady. Although when the wind is in the wrong direction it can be a bit of slog!
Great views on both sides of the Campsie hills. Ona clear day you can see for miles around.
Its normally a quiet road. Especially on Sunday mornings or weekday evenings.
It is two years since I last did a standard length triathlon. Which is my excuse for why I forgot to take my bike helmet to transition. Thankfully, someone spotted my mistake. I ran back to the car to get it.
It wasn’t my only mistake, I lost my swim cap during the time it took me to receive my swim cap and then walk the short distance to the loch to put it on. I still haven’t worked out how I manged to do that.
The swim temperature was announced as 15C so I was surprised when I got into the loch that the water felt much colder. I swam a little distance to warm up and water suddenly became warm. I assumed it was just a cold patch at the start but the fluctuating temperature was present throughout the swim. On one stroke my hand would enter warm water and on the next the next it would enter freezing cold water. Very strange.
I enjoyed the 2 lap swim. The loch never felt too busy and I was happy to swim round with no one near me. I think swim drafting is cheating so I try to avoid it. I’d rather do the swim using my own power than be dragged along by someone else.
I got into transition after the swim and discovered the socks I had left there were inside out. I had to correct that before starting the bike. A gentleman has got to have standards!
The organiser had warned us that the roads might be slightly busier than usual because there was a classic car rally taking place nearby. There was also a beer festival on. Beer and cars. What could possibly go wrong?
Thankfully the classic car drivers must have been sleeping off their beers as other than a Model T Ford I didn’t spot any classic cars.
The organiser said no-one had ever got lost on the route. It was easy to see why. There is only one road and no option to take any other route.
The route itself was on a decent road surface. The road was undulating rather than hilly but there was a draggy climb near the end.
The race manual describes the course as “It’s almost completely flat (really!) – a couple of small undulations – maybe 5m climb on each. “
Not according to my watch. It shows there was 70m of climbing. Which is not allot but it definitely is not flat course. The trail means there’s lot of small up and down sections.
I like running off-road so I really enjoyed the run but it definitely did not match the description of the course.
It was a great race. I got a PB for the distance and its definitely a course I’d do again. The race gets a bonus point for its t-shirt which is a snazzy baseball style affair.