Best day of the ride, again. Still have pain, still have soreness. So what?
Floating through the centre of Edinburgh just after 7am, we caught the city asleep and stole out to Queensferry and the Forth Road Bridge before the city could rise. Calum’s navigation was faultless this time, guiding us down yet another of the great, almost hidden, cycle routes that seem to pass through our towns without ever touching them. We could have been out on a tree-shaded country lane.
Crossing the road bridge was fun and from that point on I think Tom and I started to realise just how far we’d come. This time last week we were working our way around Okehampton and onto a stretch of the Granite Way. All familiar territory. In seven days, under our own power, we’ve moved almost to the other end of the country. Seeing the hazy sun trying to break through over the Forth, it really seemed like we were suddenly a long way from home.
Calum is like a guided missile on his bike. Years of naval commando training have left him strong, compact and efficient in his movements, the perfect engine for a pushbike. A couple of times he seemed to forget we were behind him and effortlessly upped his rhythm, stretching away in the space of a few seconds.
Once we’d cleared Dunfermline we were in open country, but this now the human influence began to fade and the wild began to take over. With gathering grey skies helping to create the mood, the hills began to darken and grow, with ranges of huge peaks beginning to march on the horizon. Following Calum as we climbed quickly through the Glendevon to Gleneagles it felt like were were a team of three on a mission into enemy territory. I half expected to see a roadsign reading ‘Mordor 23 miles’.
We picked up Rob and said farewell to Calum in Auchterarder and set about the route to Aberfeldy. The hills are huge now and the road the only sign of civilisation. We rode along roads where, had we all suffered double punctures we would have had to walk for hours to find anyone who could connect us with help. Although we struck a couple of Devonish hills, bracing 14% rises, we were struck once more by the difference in terrain. I’ve been telling folks at home for weeks that in Scotland the roads go around the hills rather than over them, so getting through the country won’t be too bad. I was concerned that Scotland might call my bluff. Instead it has made us do the work but over much longer distances. Today’s ride ended with effectively two climbs spread over around 20 miles which took us from sea-level to 1200 feet. Because the pitch was rarely more than 4% these climbs were pretty quick. On the second long stretch the road surface was smooth and blemish free – we’ve become quite the connoisseurs of tarmacadam – and we each built our own pace up to 14 or 15 mph. Climbing steadily at that rate is, it turns out, a great feeling. Rather than sapping the legs it seems to strengthen and embolden them. I loved it.
In between the two, Tom and I stood on a bridge over a chattering stream between towering mountainsides. We talked about the ride and whether we’d ever felt like we would prefer to do anything rather than get back on the bike. Tom said that from Day 6 he’d started to feel like that moment wasn’t going to arrive and that he’s make it to the end. I guess I started to feel like that today.
I have an altitude reading on my bike computer, which comes from a barometer in there somewhere. Seems improbable, but there you go. I know it doesn’t give an accurate absolute reading but it’s fine for working out roughly how many feet we’ve climbed even if only relative to what we’ve been doing throughout the rest of the day or week. Watching the numbers slowly tick upwards on a climb or plummet down as we do, I can’t help but see the height number as credit gained either to be saved or spent. A sharp uphill might gain us 300 feet of credit. The next corner and a couple of whoops downhill might spend all that and a little more and we’ll know that, sooner or later, we’ll have to buy ourselves some more.
The climb to the top of the hills above Aberfeldy gained us about 1000ft of credit. We cashed it all in on one amazing, joyful, very, very fast downhill into the town. No regrets. As far as I can remember, the last couple of hours of today’s ride, and perhaps most of all the big, relentless climb, were the best i’ve ever had on a bike. We arrived in town 30 seconds before Jo and Karen. They’d been frantically chasing us along the road, knowing from Endomondo where we were. Although it would have been great of them to see how much fun we were having, the fact is they couldn’t catch us, and that’s even better. They saw the smiles on our faces while they were still fresh.
732 miles down.