last updated September 18, 2012

Laughing at Walls

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BRAEMAR - GRANTOWN-ON-SPEY
(the hardest) 46 miles (of my life)

So we realise after three days on the bike that we a) need to stretch before and after cycling and that b) Autumn has arrived. Which is fine as Braemar has a nice wee outdoors shop to pick up hats and gloves. We decide against the detour to Ballater to pick up cycling specific stuff as the staff at BRAEMAR MOUNTAIN SPORTS are so friendly and honest (there was also a sales bucket). They tell us how many proper ascents we have to climb and, crucially, where the best place to stop is. Firstly though we need to stop for good coffee in the village and plumb for TASTE... which is positively avant garde for the Highlands. There is no tartan and no carpet: controversial stuff. The coffee though, is not bad, and we march on our merry way.

We cut off the quiet A road and climb up the first hill north making pronounced changes in landscape and elevation. Having climbed out of Angus and only descended slightly to Braemar, we now climb out again and up a level toward the Lecht. We batter through our morning, enjoying a fast descent to Corgaff and stop, somewhat aptly, at the GOODBRAND & ROSS cafe. It sells tat and looks iffy but the broth, cakes and coffee are all good so we are content. I resist stealing my 2nd espresso cup as ballast wasn't something I was keen to tow.

By this point in the tour we were getting some interested looks and not just due to the smoker - we were getting pretty high, the temperature was dropping, winds gusting and, until a few hours ago were dressed like we were out for a spin on the Costa del Sol. Some helpful customers described the coming pass - "you'll come around the corner and it's like facing a wall" said one. "which way are you going?" ..... "Oooof, well, good luck." said another. It was all quite encouraging.

We hit the wall pretty quickly and a third of the way up I could tell my standard race gearing was ill thought through. Climbing at 20% is pretty hard on a carbon fibre bike - it get harder the heavier you go. Cut to a steel frame and full panniers and it's just ridiculous (the feeling of damaging muscles was very much at the fore). I stop to try and catch my breath as Ross spins up behind me looking like I feel. We batter on and I stop for more breathe and water (it's all I care for at this point) as Ross marches on.

After a few more summits we hit the Lecht rd and we become very exposed: I'm not sure if I'd rather be in one of the high-sided Dutch camper vans that are coming the other way, or on the bike. I soon realise that that is a stupid statement as we are thrown about the road in storm force winds. The main mental note I made of the weather report on leaving was that there was to be very little rain - I knew that there would be a time of day when I'd need a positive driving me on. There turned out to be little rain but by the time we were apexing the Lecht, it was all weather and lots of. Stopping to try and tame my pack-lite jacket in the wind was almost impossible (whilst trying to balance the bike with weak legs), Ross came up behind looking like his soul had left him on the hill. There wasn't much conversation. A mile on I was glad to see the Ski Station but made the call, given conditions, to keep moving whilst we were warm.

The descent was slow but we soon hit Tomintoul and were more than ready for lunch - I stopped at an alright looking place but this time Ross made a good call on heading for an open fire across the square. We got in and proceeded to hang all our clothes on antlers and fire-guards as we sat with a chap who had Altzeimers (I'm not surprised he was confused to share a table with us), and his very friendly carer. The staff and locals at the GLEN AVON HOTEL were chirpy and accommodating - much more so than tourist information next door who wouldn't entertain sheltering our dripping bikes. We got fed and watered and hung about to dry and meet a new sitting of fishermen who had driven north from Yorkshire way: hilarious, friendly guys who knew how to have fun - their week away sounding as if it would involve a lot less purgatory than ours.

Aware we were only three of the 4 climbs down, we got on the undulating road and bobbled along happily until another wall which was so ridiculously steep (20% again) we just laughed our way onto it. Grantown eventually came and, despite the Hostel and suggested pub and restaurant being unsatisfactory, still managed to have a good laugh at our ridiculous day - recounting the internal conversations we had with ourselves on the final climb.

Posted by stupot at September 18, 2012 04:08 PM