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The Road to Golspie

Club Member James Bell recently undertook a mammoth ride from Dunfermline to Golspie. This is a great example of the initiative and tenacity our members have within DCC. There was no competitive angle, no trophy to win, just a personal challenge and a cracking day to be in the saddle. Here it is in James's own words -

"Warning....long post. I wrote this primarily for my own benefit, but since I have, some might be interested in my cycle on Thursday....

Never before had I leapt out of bed with such enthusiasm at 4am. Today I did, I was cycling over 200 miles to Golspie. Target cycling time: 12 hours. After a two-course breakfast and 3 cups of coffee, I left the house at 4.45am, excited like a kid at Christmas. Leaving in almost complete darkness, I started with my usual mobile disco of flashing lights.

With hardly a car on the road, I bypassed Dunfermline and started climbing out of Dunfermline. With the roads completely to myself, it was beautiful, peaceful cycling. Soon after taking the turn off for the Cleish road, I was met by four deer standing in the middle of the road, facing the opposite way. As I drew nearer, I had to whistle at them so that they scarpered from my private road, only for a fox to then run across in front of me.

I crested the top of Cleish at 5.30am, and what a view! A deep orange glow from the east was starting to light the sky, with early morning mist lingering around Loch Leven and clinging to the top of West Lomond. It was such a great feeling to be on top of my favourite road so early in the day, with not a sound or a soul nearby.

The deserted roads continued past Kinross, Milnathort and the single track road to Glenfarg, with the sun now burning low in the sky to take away the morning chill. Onwards to Bridge of Earn, the skies now clear blue, the miles ticked by without a thought. Passing through Perth before 7am, I had even beaten the commuting rush and headed west towards Huntingtower and then the single track cycle network route through Almondbank. Another single track road to myself, gliding along in the morning sun, feeling smug! My only gripe was the lack of forecasted tailwind, which seemed to be more of a cross headwind. Being picky, my treaded tyres also felt sluggish compared to the usual slicks. Telling myself to get a grip, and that cycling doesn't get much better than this, I turned my attention to my Garmin battery and calculating whether I would have enough power to reach Golspie. Starting to doubt it, I turned off my route to hopefully save some power.

After almost exactly 50 miles, I reached Dunkeld at 7.58am. This made me smile as it felt ridiculous to be there so early! I had not beaten the Japanese tourists however, who were swarming out of two tour buses to take bazillions of pictures.

Making sure I got myself into as many as possible as I cycled past, I stopped for a picture of my own on the bridge over the River Tay. Wow, what a view, clear blue skies, some mist lingering above the trees, and the brightest blue sky, it was picture postcard material. Stopping only long enough for a quick Mark Beaumont style social media update, I pressed on towards Pitlochry and Blair Atholl, where I stopped at a local shop for an all day breakfast sandwich and water stop. A forestry commission worker clocked my club jersey and started chatting to me outside the shop, asking if I had cycled "all the way from Dunfermline". I confirmed this, and that I was also cycling to Golspie, at which point the chap thought I was an absolute maniac. I smiled in agreement, gunned my sandwich, and got on back on the road.

As I passed Bruar, the dreaded Drumochter Pass cycle path was in my thoughts. Out of the 200+ miles, this 15 mile stretch was the sole reason for me dragging round some heavy Marathon Plus treaded tyres. Absolutely essential however, but I still had 3 tubes tucked away in my saddle bag just in case. As it happened, my biggest concern was actually becoming my Garmin battery and took further steps to reduce power. By turning down the screen so that I couldn't really see it, my "Apollo 13" power saving challenge began in earnest.

Starting the climb from Calvine, I entered the cycle path/gravel path/mountain bike route, climbing steadily and gained 1,100ft in about 6 miles. The weather was still grand, however I was soley focused on the ground a few metres in front of my front wheel as I tried to pick the smoothest possible route through the bumps and sharp stones. To be honest, I was having kittens about being on my new Mavic wheels on such a path, so I was picking my way slowly along the path, passing a few long distance touring cyclists on my way. Still miffed about the increasingly strong crosswind, the miles seemed to tick by at snails pace.

At 11.05am, I reached Drumochter summit and was actually still making good time. Most importantly, I had not punctured and was nearing the end of the dreaded cycle path. At last, the predicted tailwind kicked in, and started blowing me down the path, which wasn't ideal due to the cattle grids, patchy deep gravel, and frequent bridges over drainage channels. My average at this point had slumped to 16.1mph. With a massive sigh of relief, the cycle path ended and I rediscovered the 'old A9', puncture free, with a tailwind, and started hammering it past the Dalwhinnie distillery. Progress was suddenly rapid on the superb deserted road from Dalwhinnie to Kingussie. I passed through the 100 mile mark at 11.38am, which was a major boost. The legs felt great and I now had the wind behind me. I pressed on to my next target of Aviemore, and the 120 mile point at 12.35pm! Feeling most chuffed with myself, I stopped at Coffee Corner for my first proper break, and promptly ordered a black pudding roll and large cappuccino. Adding a further update to social media, it was great to see so much interest in my journey and words of encouragement. I felt like a "poor man's Mark Beaumont", the man who inspired me to start cycling on the road, and who continues to inspire me every day with his adventures.

As soon as I had inhaled my food, I was out the door again and back on the bike. I was looking forward to the next section from Carrbridge to Culloden, which I had previously cycled 7 years ago on Lands End to John O' Groats.Leaving the comparatively busy roads of Aviemore towards Carrbridge, I was soon back on the cycle network single track roads again, and climbing slowly again towards Slocht summit.

There are some absolutely cracking sections of road on this stretch, and I stopped on a bridge that I had stopped at 7 years ago, to take the same picture for comparison. A couple of light showers attempted to spoil the party, however they passed by quickly without much substance. Again, my main worry was not my legs, bum or bike, it was whether my Garmin would last! Rough calculations indicated that it should....just! This certainly occupied my mind up the cycle path to Slocht summit, before joining the sublime B9154 through Moy towards Culloden.

Following the cycle network route 7 signposts, I was loving this section of the route, perhaps the best of the whole ride. Single track roads, great tarmac, sun, tailwind, and was often cruising at 20-25mph, absolutely loving the journey and the ever changing landscape. Approaching Culloden with the average creeping up all the time to 17.3mph, I descended steadily towards the out skirts of Inverness. At 3.30pm, and 157 miles, I reached Inverness, and a glamorous Spar pit-stop near to Raigmore. It was rewarding to have cycled to Inverness, but I still had another 50 miles and around 3,000 feet of climbing to go! More fuel was required, and I duly spied two massive snowballs reduced to £1....done. With a can of Irn-Bru to wash them down, they lasted about 3 minutes. Checking the calorie content, I noted that the snowballs were 650 calories each! Perfect, epic energy boost there!

With the sun still shining, I then cycled over the Kessock Bridge with a very strong crosswind tugging at my front wheel. Shortly after crossing the bridge, I turned east onto another B road and signposted cycle network route. As per the theme of the cycle, this quickly turned into quiet single track roads, with a fair few ups and downs for good measure. With the legs still feeling good and remarkably fresh, I could concentrate on worrying about my Garmin battery instead. Note for next adventure, fit an on bike charger! Cruising the beautiful single track roads of the Black Isle, I then ran out of water about 8 miles from the Cromarty Ferry. Expecting to pass a village or shop, I didn't think I would have to wait long. Instead, I only passed the Black Isle Brewery, which wasn't really what I was after at this point. My thirst was largely forgotten about however due to the stunning coastal views from the deserted single track road, looking back over the Moray Firth towards Nairn and the Moray coast.

I eventually arrived at the Cromarty Ferry at 4.55pm and 178 miles, with around 20 minutes to wait for the next crossing. Lying down on the grass for a quick stretch, I enjoyed chilling out by the sea and resting the legs for a few minutes. Still a bit parched, the "ferry" rocked up, which only holds two cars and a handful of passengers. After watching a motorist almost make a complete arse of reversing off the ramp into the sea, I successfully walked up the wet ramp onto the ferry without face planting. The views over the short crossing to Rigg were absolutely stunning, what a day! Disembarking at Rigg, it was foot down again on some smooth, fast tarmac through Arabella, well aided by a tailwind.

Now cycling hard to get to Tain as fast as possible, where Asda would meet my needs for some fluids and another sandwich. I then had a short section to cycle on the A9, my first "main road" of the entire route, after 185 miles! Fortunately the A9 was quiet, the margin was wide, the sky was the clearest blue and visibility perfect in the evening sun. After crossing the Dornoch Bridge, I turned off onto another single track road to Dornoch. Again, what a road! Sun, sea and sand in all directions, I was flying along, yet the miles were starting to drag, probably as I was watching them tick by on the faithful Garmin, which was clinging on to life well. Passing through Dornoch, and cycling north towards Skelbo, the views in all directions were incredible. My single track road then took me along the shores of Loch Fleet, where I had herons to watch and seals sunbathing on the rocks along the loch. I could have taken a million pictures, but I could now see Golspie and wanted to finish, see Laura and have a beer!

I passed 200 miles on this stretch of road, at 6.50pm. A fitting moment to pass this milestone for only the second time. This was definitely one of the best roads I have ever cycled, an absolute pleasure. All good things come to an end however, and I re-joined the A9 for the final 6 miles to Golspie, which was actually equally as scenic, albeit on a trunk road. Back on the drops and mashing the pedals, I probably averaged well over 20mph for the final few miles with minimal traffic to contend with.Entering the town of Golspie and flying through the 30 signs was a magical feeling. I have driven to Golspie before, and it's a trek in a car! To cycle it was such a cool feeling, especially since it had been such a beautiful day, and via a route containing such brilliant roads and so little traffic.

At 7.20pm, 11 hours 56 minutes cycling time, and 209 miles, my work was done and I turned into Golspie Mill and Laura's mid-week HQ. I was instantly met with a cheer, hug, kiss, and handed a bottle of Black Isle beer. Again, very fitting since I had cycled passed the distillery about 2 hours prior. It was probably the most refreshing beer I have ever tasted as well! To my amazement throughout the cycle, my legs never felt like dying, I never had any major "I can't sit on the saddle any longer" moments, and can honestly say that every single mile was an absolute pleasure. I have done a few bike rides in my time, but this was definitely the best and most memorable to date. Within a few minutes of finishing, I was already asking myself, what next?A real day to remember and my furthest cycle to date by 4 miles!

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