I recently read 'The Year' by Dave Barter, a history of the year cycling record i.e. the furthest travelled by bike in one year. Its a fascinating read (this was my second as it happens) for anyone interested in long distance cycling. After a succession of ever increasing efforts in the early part of the 20th century, it was smashed by Tommy Godwin who just made it to the finish as the second world war kicked off. 75k miles in one year equals a daily average of 205 odd miles. That's every single day for one year, rain, snow or shine. Of particular interest was Tommy's routes which took him all over the country. In recent years the record, having stood since '39 and after a long abeyance in terms of anyone trying it, was finally broken in 2015 and again in 2016. It now stands at over 86k but Amanda Coker who took it, stuck to a short local circuit which she lapped to the tune of 237 miles a day average.
I've bashed a fair few miles out over the years and done some awfully long days (and nights) in the saddle. But the most I've ever done in a year is 7000 miles - my bumper year of 2015. I've no intention of trying to go more than this as my riding these days has to strike a fine balance between distance and injury prevention, however the long daily distances these year riders were doing set me thinking of how far I could ride in one day and where I could get to. My longest distance in one ride to date was midsummer 1992 when myself and three fellow Watt Wheelers members (Heriot Watt Uni cycling club) did our annual solstice ride. These involved leaving Edinburgh at about 6 and heading off which ever way the wind was blowing, pretty much until we dropped; relying on a train to take us home again. That year the north easterly dictated a ride south. We ended up in Lancaster some 190 miles from Edinburgh via a fine route through the borders and the lake district. That was the longest I did, with subsequent rides heading north east and generally running out of land before we ran out of time.
At this years Yorkshire Dales 300, there was an option to do a 200 mile road ride which I was mightily tempted to do, eventually sticking with the 300 on the basis that this would be much harder.... But a seed was sewn and reading 'The Year' motivated me to go for a double century, in order to beat my own daily mileage record, see how far north I could get from the house in a day and consider how feasible it would be to do such a thing twice in a row. Or even 365 times in a row.....
After some thought and a bit of map appraisal I plotted a circuit which would take in Loch Rannoch via an off used route west and north; followed by various (hopefully) quiet roads east and back south. It would take in roads I'd not cycled in many, many years (over 30 years in one case), pass through a range of scenery and views, but not be too hilly, given the distance. Saturday looked liked it was going to be sunny, possibly the last sunny Saturday of the summer, so I was all set. The route went into the GPS, primarily so I could keep track of my miles and ensure I hit the 200 target, rather than for nav purposes. I knew the route well and would easily follow it without re-course to any form of mapping. I stashed a modicum of food, on the basis that there were several Co-ops en-route, removed the mudguards off the Straggler as it was to be dry (less than 5% chance of rain all day and evening) and also went with just a lightweight windproof by way of additional layers.
7 am saw me spinning at a leisurely pace west. Typically the sunny forecast had deteriorated to cloudy although still dry; but in the event, the early morning mist lifted to reveal blue skies and even sunshine. I was still sporting bare legs but had gone with long sleeves and a light base layer in a bid to keep my pace low. Using a bike with single speed for such an undertaking may seem slightly odd, given my equally capable Pacer had gears. But the straggler has a far more upright riding position, a comfier saddle and 40mm tyres that would allow stress free riding over some of the rough road surfaces I would encounter, as well as the gravel of NCN 7. My 2:1 ratio had proved to be ideal for the two long rides I'd done on this bike last month and in July allowing easy pedaling on the flat and hill climbing without too much strain. I had two climbs pegged as requiring a push but that would just give my dodgy knee a rest.
Traffic was light at this early hour so I reached Callander at 9 with zero hassle. I made use of the public loos (this would be yet another ride where my attention seeking digestive system dictated my pace) and then headed up the cycleway, 21 miles of traffic free riding to Killin.
On the cycleway between Strathyre and Lochearnhead. This bridge was a key part of the project and caused me a certain amount of stress. Not because I'd designed it, but because the contractors made a mess of assembling it and the route nearly didn't get finished in time for the midsummer ride through planned for the whole NCN that year (2000). The plaque commemorates Nigel Hester, a cyclist who was killed in a collision on the A9 the previous year. Sad to say but it was this incident that pushed the Scottish Government to get behind the NCN and do the route up the A9.
Onwards and upwards. The route switches from the lower rail line to the upper above Lochearnhead via a series of steep switch-backs and my first push, or so I thought. In the event I got up without too much in the way of gurning at my perfected low cadence grind. Once on the higher line, it follows a constant 1:50 all the way up the glen. Afterwards when eyeing up the vertical profile of the route, this section almost looked like the GPS had interpolated between two points rather than tracked them as the line was perfectly straight, a testament to the skill of those Victorian Engineers.
The highlight - Glen Ogle viaduct and the glen below.
Hmm, there has been a burger bar at the car park at the top of the climb for years immemorial but it wasn't there today. No real problem as Killin Co-op was my targeted first stop. I'm nearly a regular here given how many times its provided breakfast, lunch or tea on various trips. I sat out in the cool air eating food and stashing more for later. The sunshine hadn't lasted and I'd even had the odd spot of rain but at least the cloud level was high enough to get plenty of views. Riding up Glen Lochay soon got me warm again and the sky to the west looked brighter. Then the crux climb of the day and my next walking opportunity.
I'd last been here on my LLTL ride (going down) so the climb was fresh in my memory. It's a big one to be sure, 275m from the glen bottom to the top, but once again I was able to keep the plot moving by pedal power alone, my super slow stood up cadence in flat contradiction to accepted wisdom for such things. Then it was into Highland Trail country. After a careful descent round some fearsome potholes (this road is technically private and Scottish Water don't really maintain it to any degree) I joined that route at the end of Loch Lyon and cruised down the glen into a stiff breeze. Talk about a change of fortunes. That day in May it had been cold, fairly bright and breezy. Snow covered Schiehallion and I was decidedly nervous about what was coming. Today it was warm, with some most welcome sunshine driving away the chill of earlier, I was pedaling easy and I felt fairly relaxed about what was to come.
I did consider a cafe break at Bridge of Balgie but a fair few other cyclists had taken up the outside seating and I had plenty food on board, a desire to get home before dark and the urge to just keep going. Heading down the glen I encountered numerous cyclists coming the other way, many with the look of the Audax crowd all on lightweight tourers with full 'guards, dynamo lights, extra bags and the look of the long distance rider. Maybe that's why I got plenty of cheery waves off them as they saw the same in me. A subsequent look at the Audax UK site indicated this was the 'Lyon, Lawyers and Moors' 200k. Nice to see a few others riding well beyond what would be considered 'normal' distances!
I was approaching a possible bail out point but felt no need to take it, despite feeling a bit weary. Not ideal seeing as how the second substantial climb of the route, over the hill to Loch Rannoch, was approaching. I've been up here a few times over the years (most recently on the Jones last summer) so knew what was coming. In the event I again made steady progress upwards to my final point of no return. But I'd made it this far so saw no need to bail, especially seeing as how 'bailing' would still put the days mileage at 175. Instead the Schiehallion road beckoned. A club ride was coming the other way, once again leading me to wonder about the appeal of such things. A couple of largeish groups went by, all shiny carbon and immaculate kit. Then came the stragglers, on a variety of machinery with maybe just the club shirt rather than the full monty, and all looking a bit glum. And that's where I struggle to see the appeal. The girl who was tail end charlie looked like she wasn't having a good time. Doubtless struggling to keep up with the run, feeling no connection with the pocket rockets up front (who in turn would be miffed at having to wait for the stragglers) and constantly battling beyond a comfortable pace to avoid being lost. My advice? Go on your own and ride at your own pace, in your own time.
The final descent is a beaut with some wicked hairpins and a good surface. No traffic lead to proper racing lines and minimal braking, all vital when you are well beyond your maximum pedaling speed. Above me Schiehallion had her head in the cloud so the crowds of people walking up it wouldn't be having as nice a time as me! On the flat road beside Loch Rannoch I took stock. My first look at the GPS indicated I was at k170, 10k over half way, and it was 2.45pm, pretty much on my notional schedule of 15 hrs total ride time. I was definitely feeling the distance and generally feeling quite weary so the easy tailwind assisted pedal was just the job. I turned off to go to the FC campsite, in order to use the loo and get water, but before the site I came across firstly a small trackside burn for water then a handy portaloo provided by P&K council to discourage all the roadside campers from leaving bodily waste the length of the loch. As I left, the views west opened up and I knew I'd done a very good thing in doing this ride.
Ben Alder looking a bit gloomy bereft of snow.
Ah yes, road side campers, those horrible nasty people who are the scourge of the covid world. Its always been a problem along here but covid has been a perfect excuse for landowners to put 'no parking' signs up everywhere, fence off every bit of land by the road and to bully the council into putting a clearway in. I'm not sayings its not a problem but its back to foot and mouth. Any excuse for these vultures to stop the plebs from enjoying themselves on their land, without them making a fat profit it out of it. At least the council have tried to manage it, with the loos and other bits of parking set aside and various helpful signs. Of course I cruised past all of this feeling maximally smug, as no cars had been used in my day trip and I would have happily bivvied in the woods away from the shore with impunity if I wanted to. Hmm. Thinks. This would make a good winter bivvy trip, when all of the masses were hidden in their centrally heated homes!
Approaching the end of Loch Rannoch, the bumps in the far distance are the Glencoe hills with the Old Road to the isles just to the left of the lower bump centre.
The HT route swept in from the south, near to the head of the loch. No-one was on it although I'd bumped into a bikepacker doing the Badger Divide at the public loo at Bridge of Balgie who would have come this way (she was heading south.) Lucky women, as she would have had a dry week and dry trails, with north easterly winds keeping midges at bay and providing a nice tailwind. Why can't I pick these weeks for my bike packing trips! I paused where the Highland Trail route heads up to Ben Alder. This point had been the start of my day one woes so I was pleased to note that my earlier slump was gone and my legs were back to full capacity. The north side road is a bit lumpier but nothing of note. What was a surprise at this hour was an endless stream of traffic coming the other way - a car every few seconds on this road to no-where. Of course this was rush hour to get all of the lochside camping spots. I was glad I was leaving this place behind.
Soon enough the track out of Duirnish was passed and Kinloch Rannoch reached. I was tempted by a cafe again but kept going knowing the Pitlochry BP garage would fulfill my nutritional needs.
View west along Loch Rannoch to the hills of Glencoe, some 50k away.
More hills up past the Glen Errochty turn which I hoofed up in defiance of my 120 mile legs. At Tummel Bridge I spun out to exceed the 20mph limit and started the long climb towards where I'd been some two hours before. Turn off after a bit on a road I had last cycled in the early '90's along the south shore of Loch Tummel. So why is it that along all of the east / west lochs in Perthshire, the main road goes along the north side and the minor road along the south. I don't know. More roadside campers indicated that the clearway was being ignored. I didn't see any parking attendents....
Its a great road though descending to the loch shore and then undulating along until a climb past the dam, the lush woodland of the Garry / Tummel / Tay valley below me. Finally a long but steady run down to the A9 crossing and into the back of Pitlochry by a short cycleway. The garage was a fine place to stop. I could have headed into the town for the Co-op, chippies and cafes but all I wanted was right here - a sandwich, crisps, coke, cakes and water. I sat on the pavement by the paper rack and finally checked watch and GPS. 17.45 and 236k so 94k to go and two and half hours of daylight. Fine, I'd have an hour in the dark at the most. Best of all I was leaving the tourist haunts behind and my exclusively back road route would be largely traffic free on a Saturday evening in September.
Bloody hell. A few miles out of Pitlochry I got a view down the wide Tay strath and saw... a large rain cloud. This quickly advanced towards me and delivered a fine but dense dreich entirely at odds with any weather forecast I'd seen the previous day. Given my bare legs, lack of mudguards and lightweight jacket, this was of concern. Two hours of cold and wet after 13 hours riding was a recipe for a very unpleasant finish to what had been a near perfect ride. Not that I had a choice so it was (as usual) simply a case of keep going, grin (or grimace) and bear it. It came and went and the road was mainly under tree cover so it wasn't too bad. I was also plenty warm so only the spray round my legs (and up my behind) was a bit unpleasant. Dunkeld and its Co-op was ridden straight through as I had enough on board for the last of the ride. One last bit of cycleway and then the old road to Bankfoot, empty of traffic. Finally after Bankfoot the sky started to clear. The sun was heading for the horizon to my right but blue sky was above so I could take my jacket off for the final miles. All on familiar terrain now and the last of the significant climbs. I've been up the Dunning glen road on many different bikes over the years and know every inch of it. Not sure I've been up in the dark though....
As I rode along bats flitted in and out of my light and kept pace with me, attracted by the many moths also attracted by my light. Every so often I came across a frog sat on the road, obviously enjoying the warmth from the tarmac. I implored them to move, having seen many flat frogs on the roads of my rides in previous weekends but I don't suppose they paid any attention. Such wildlife encounters make these rides as you are seeing things which a car driver would miss (or squash). The very few on coming vehicles showed faces looking at me with surprise - who could be out on a bike after dark up here? For me riding through a long day, watching the light fade from the sky, finally putting lights on and then focusing on the beam in front of you is now so familiar and yet it always makes me smile.
Finally the miles counted down and home was reached after one final pull up Knockhill and the village main street. The time was 9.45, 14hrs and 50 minutes after departure, 202 miles done. Into house, shower, microwave chili left out earlier, crack open a beer, lie on couch eating and drinking, reflecting on a fabulous day out. Sleep for 10 hours.....
Some thoughts whilst I was lazing around on the couch today....
The time passed quickly, despite being out for nearly fifteen hours. A lot of this was down to the ever changing scenery, transitioning from the rich farmland of Fife and Clacks, to the green hills of the Trossachs, bigger hills of Perthshire and then the high peaks of Glencoe, Ben Alder and the Cairngorms; and then all the way back again. At no point did it feel like a drag, even when the rain came on. Compare to my drive up to Lairg in July - about 180 miles in 5 hours - which felt like purgatory.
The bike was comfy. For a while I got a real ache between my shoulder blades but this seemed to pass after k 200. Odd.
I'm now looking at where else I could get to from the house in a day. Sight seeing is far better on a bike, even if you don't stop (which I only did for an hour in total despite several loo stops) as you are going at a pace ideally suited to sight seeing.
Singlespeed worked perfectly. If I'd had gears, there would have been a temptation to really push on, on the tailwind assisted flats, likely burning me out.
The thought of doing another 200 miles this morning (and tomorrow, and the next day etc.) was not something I could remotely consider. I guess if I had to I could have but I'll not be challenging the year record in this life.
Now then, what next - 250 miles?