The romanticism of the 'epic' ride is something that still gnaws I am guessing at all of our hearts, I know it certainly does at mine. Recently the overuse of the word epic has turned it on its head and devalued those rides that are truly epic. If I put my hand on heart I can probably list my own epic rides over the last 5 years on one hand, it just doesn't work out that way. Family, time, work and time again conspire to eradicate any chance of 'epicdom' from my riding, something I both accept and reject equally. The problem is the further away from the big riding one becomes the harder it is to embrace it, the 2 hour rides I once took for granted become the pinnacle of my riding, it's all relative, I'm not complaining merely stating the facts.
And so I found myself with 5 days to ride with fellow Endura workmates, Matt, Dave and Kev, good guys all juggling their lives in a similar vein to myself, good riders and good fun the hang with. Accommodation had been booked, a cottage just south of Kyle of Lochalsh with the aim to do some riding, regardless of distance or speed, one thing we had planned though was an assault on the Bealach na Ba, that most infamous of passes. It is an account of this ride that follows.
We had ridden the previous day, nothing ferocious however a very frisky 45 miles (my biggest ride of the year!) that night I felt pretty beat up, not ideal prep for the next days undertaking. The plan to set off at 9am very quickly deteriorated and it was closer to 11 than 10 by the time we eventually got rolling, from the off it was straight into the first of many climbs, feeling good as I warmed though, it was a welcome surprise. The first big descent and into a nice tuck and whoargh, the computer was quickly rising through the numbers when bang around about 50kph the front end started to wobble, I gingerly feathered the brakes, nothing, I started hauling on the back brake and fumbled trying to get a foot out of my pedals in preparation for the worst. By this point the front end was oscillating wildly, I was nothing short of shitting myself. Somehow I got the bike under control and stopped at the side of the road to watch a timber truck come thundering by, I was shaken. I set off again this time a lot more steady, rounding the corner and there was Matt in a layby looking in a state of shock. He too had experienced a massive wobble and had managed to guide his bike to an ungainly stop, the conversation that followed was along the lines of "what the fuck?" Unsure what had caused it we tightened everything, skewers, headsets, stem, handlebars, we set off.
For the next miles we laughed, farted and swore;
"The vocabulary of the Peloton is a masculine one. . In fact, the vocabulary can suddenly become offensive and violent because it is resolutely macho and phallocentric."
Jean Bobet, "Tomorrow We Ride"
A coffee stop at Loch Carron quickly passed and all too soon we were at the start of the Bealach. I had ridden this before in fitter better prepared days, my memory served me pretty well, it was a slow climb that had a violent pitch towards the hairpins near the top, this was the crux. Matt and Kev set a brisk pace flaunting their compact chainsets while Dave and myself set about an altogether more controlled pace. The weather had continued to niggle with classic Scotch Mist conditions and a hoolie of a wind blowing over the pass, slowly and steadily the hairpins are reached offering a little respite before the final push over the top. By this time it was in fact raining and cold, any thoughts of photos, views or a blistering descent were quickly replaced with survival, I just wanted out of this wretched place. Tired, cold and hungry the road dropped us down to Applecross where tired, cold and hungry we hit the pub for food. The weather set in and the pub sapped our energy until the inevitable moment when we had to set off once more.
The road north is lumpy one, I remember hating it the last time I rode it and very quickly I was loathing it once more.
Shieldaig appeared and marked the turn around point as we headed back for Loch Carron. This stretch wasn't so bad, gentle climbs and fast rolling tarmac, in fact our first dry tarmac of the day, though not for long.
For the next miles we farted and swore.
Loch Carron was reached we knew the end was close but some big climbs were still ahead, a final coffee and cake stop and off we went, the fast rolling flat road out of town was welcome and allowed me at least to get my legs spinning, I was very wary of the climbs to come though and tried not to let myself get sucked into any heroics.
For the next few miles I farted and swore.
When the going gets tough, it's everyman for himself and that was the way the final 20 miles panned out, I couldn't see anyone in front or behind me, grind grind grind, it will be over soon. Finally I recognised the road where my wobble incident of earlier had occurred, this was the final climb, steady and relentlessly it rose until the gradient dropped and gears upped, hello big ring it's been a while and over the top I went, a brutal headwind mated to constant rain and a rough road were less than ideal for the final descent but it was the last of the day, reaching the main road I set into a more sprightly pace, still no one in front or behind, grind grind grind. One last turning and the cottage was in sight, on reaching the front door, climbing off the bike, I swore.
10310 ft climbing.
2 double espresso
1 bowl lentil soup
1 plate of Spaghetti Bolognase
1 Fruit Slice
1 Mule Bar