Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Old roads - new experience

Yesterday's ride was something new, but something old as well. I'd travelled the roads many times but always by car apart from the ones close to the cottage where my Significant Other and I are having a week's holiday. We are long time visitors to Skye, something I make no apologies for as it the most wonderful place I know. But a good holiday can't get in the way of training and I determined that I would make a pilgrimage around some of the roads I'd only ever seen by car.
We arrived on Saturday and on Sunday I did a quick training ride up and down to Dunvegan. The weather was lovely and the bike and I felt good. After that it was just a case of waiting for a decent day to come along for a trip around the north end of Skye. Monday's weather forecast for Tuesday indicated that it would be the best day for the attempt and so that's what we went with.

The Ride

The plan was for the SO to meet up with me at various points along the journey to provide fluids, food and support. So we agreed on the stops and off I set.

Bracadale to Portree

Now Skye isn't exactly flat; in fact that's one of the reasons I love the place. So, setting off, I was almost immediately confronted with the first steep incline of the day. Long enough to test the legs, but not long enough to break the spirit, I was still happy to get over the top without using my lowest gear. I was sure there was time for that later. I wasn't wrong! The rest of the road to Sligachan was ok; a few inclines and some nice descents. Also the breeze was pretty much behind me so it was a great start to the day.
Turning north at Sligachan I knew I was going to be facing the breeze for another 27 miles. With nothing I could do about it I resolved to enjoy it as much as possible. A long hill took me from the famous hotel to Portree where, although I was early, the car was already waiting. 21 miles down, in good spirits and with fresh supplies it was time to be on the road again.

Portree to Staffin

From Portree another long hill took me up to the rolling moorland of northeast Skye. And as I reached the top of this section here was the view of the Storr. Cycling is a lot easier when you have views like this.

The Storr
The road is flat for a while until it climbs to the walkers' car park underneath this hill. The landscape has been created by great landslips and is an amazing place to wander about in. The hill itself is an easy enough stroll; well worth it for the views. Just watch out for the ever present winds as the cliffs are not far away from the summit.
The road rolled on with the rest of the Trotternish ridge providing many fantastic views. With scenery like this how can you not enjoy cycling?

Trotternish Ridge
That being said the road does roll on, very rarely flat and the inclines are just steep enough to get the legs working hard. Especially into the breeze. The western coast of Scotland was in evidence on my right obscured every now and again by rain showers that I was very glad to be avoiding. One last up and down saw me arrive in Staffin where I met up with my support once more, and very glad I was to see them too.

Staffin to Uig

This short section was always going to be hard. I had decided to take the short-cut to Uig, but that meant climbing over the pass just south of the Quiraing. The Quiraing is another fantastical landscape created by more landslips. Pinnacles and towers abound and exploring this area by foot is something everyone should do. Short of that, search for it on-line and look at the fabulous pictures.
For me, though, it meant a climb of around 800 feet in 2.75 miles. For me that's steep and I wasn't looking forward to the single track road either. I wasn't encouraged by the short climb up to the turn-off. I didn't even remember it. It just shows how you don't notice things in a car. Once on the single track it was still steep and I just tried to relax and enjoy it. Early on I had a lorry coming down that didn't want to make it easy for me but I managed to unclip and get off the road before they ran me over. If they had stopped on the corner I could have popped into the passing place and had a nice flat restart; but no, that's not how the driver wanted to play. The gradient eased off for a while which was nice but I could see the headwall approaching. 15% the sign had said at the bottom. Where? Well, that comes right at the top. For the last half mile or so the road just steepens all the time and then when you turn the last hairpin it is really steep. Did I use my granny gear? Oh yes, of course I did! But I got there and that's all that counts.
My support was there again for a quick congratulations before agreeing to meet properly in Uig. I was too pumped to remember to ask for a photo to be taken, so I took one of the view after they left. Even this is pretty spectacular.

The Quiraing
Going down should have been easy and was apart from the Mercedes driver who didn't want to wait for a cyclist. Dismounting wasn't so fluent this time and I lost time fixing my cadence and speed sensor which I managed to kick into my spokes. Amused, I was not!
For anyone else going this way the surface of the single track road is pretty good. Only a few potholes to worry about. It was made a lot easier by only a few cars. In the summer I suspect the road would be far busier which might makes things more unpleasant.
Meeting my support in Uig meant lunch and the fortuitous ability to shelter from the short sharp shower that chose that moment to pass by. The bike wasn't so lucky!

Uig to Edinbane

This ended up being the toughest section of them all. It didn't start that way. Refuelled and slightly rested the climb out of Uig went well, and the views were lovely over the harbour and out to the outer Hebrides. The run down from there provided one of the flattest sections of the day and with the wind now helping a little spirits and speeds rose.
Of course, such things never last. My route turned off the road to Portree and headed to Dunvegan. Unfortunately it also turned into the breeze. I've driven this road many times and I've never thought of it as hilly. But let me tell you that it is. A seemingly never-ending series of downs followed by ups would describe this road nicely. And each up was harder than the last. I kept thinking, this must be the last climb before Edinbane and then each time I got to the top I found it wasn't. I suffered on this section and seriously considered cutting my losses when I met up with the SO.
Then, at last I, was there. Up at the caravan site above Edinbane. A lovely drop down picking up speed and then a short climb to the car parking place that was our rendezvous. I flopped down onto the picnic bench. I think my face says it all.

Here - just!
Still, the view was good.

From Edinbane
And so was the company and with another sandwich and more supplies taken on board I was for the off again.

Edinbane to Bracadale

One climb and one short incline before Dunvegan and the turn for home and, more importantly, the turn to put the breeze at my back again. That's what I had in my mind. The climb was a brute! Roughly 400 feet in 1.6 miles. I just couldn't believe how long it went on. Never stupidly steep it just kept coming and coming. Little turns kept false hopes of the summit topmost in my mind. I'm not quite sure how I got to the top but eventually I did.
As ever the road dropped again and I feared the short incline would prove to be worse than that but in the end it was as advertised and soon the view to the west opened up and I knew I wasn't far from Dunvegan.

Macleods Tables
This road twisted south giving me a taste of the breeze behind before cruelly turning again making it more difficult to cruise down into the village. A last road junction (there were only 5 on the whole trip) and then it was the run for home. This road rolls up and down a bit but is relatively gentle and with the breeze behind it really wasn't difficult at all.
I still had to stop for one more photo opportunity. The Cuillin that had been notable by their absence earlier in the day were showing under their cloud blanket. These are the most fabulous hills in Scotland and if it weren't for this bike training lark I might well have been walking and scrambling on them this week.

The Cuillin
And just to prove that my bike was here too.

For those worried about such things, it isn't leaning on it's derailleur; it's leaning on the saddle. Normally it wouldn't even be drivetrain side in but I was on the right hand side of the road.
A quick blast home and then, all of a sudden, I was there. Here's the evidence.

Rider. Done!


The day was good, no doubt about it. The SO and I managed to meet at the appropriate points, which is great. That's the first time we've done a multi-stop route and it went well. However the day confirmed some other things to me:

  • The lighthouse to lighthouse route is going to be hard, very hard. Especially the 2nd day.
  • I need to get my nutrition sorted out before then. Feeling sick on the bike isn't good.
  • I need to believe in myself more; I can cycle these routes.
  • In case you didn't notice I think my support is great!

Idiot Road Users of the Day

No competition here. 1st place goes to the Mercedes on the Quiraing road who nearly ruined my day. And 2nd place goes to the lorry driver who was obviously too wrapped up in his own day to consider mine. 3rd place goes to me, who lets things like this get up my nose. But they did manage to take a very small amount of the gloss off an otherwise very, very good day.

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