No, it’s not a reminiscence about the glory days, 1980s Scottish music and bouncing around the Barrowlands. Although my mental soundtrack did have a lot of Fields of Fire going on.
We had been in Portpatrick for a couple of days enjoying the warm hospitality and fabulous food of Knockinaam Lodge. The plan had been to get the bikes out for a short loop after the cliff walk, but that didn’t materialise. The cliff walk is a bit brutal just after breakfast. It feels like a vertical start, made more tricky by the mud at this time of year. But soon the skies were blue and we walked into the cold North wind watching the waves pound the coves below. The came the clouds and the needle like hail driven straight into our faces. Ouch! But a few minutes later and the clouds passed again and we finished our walk in sunshine.
So on the way home we decided to stop at Glentrool visitor centre and head out on the Big Country loop. 58km it said. Nothing technical, minor roads and some forestry track but some climbs and sharp descents. Sounded ok given our 50km last weekend.
It turns out maybe 40km is on forestry road with the challenges of mud, sand, hardcore, gravel and water. So our speed was low and the effort was high. My skills on the soft stuff are also low, so there was a very hairy 15 seconds or so as I hit some slippery stuff on a downhill when my focus was on the view rather than on the path. Thank goodness for the chunky tyres; I’d have been off if I’d been on my other bike.
Its a really remote route, I think we passed two people going in the opposite direction. Even the bits on road don’t pass much in the way of civilisation so no scope for refilling the fuel supplies. We stopped just over half way for a quick feed; slightly stale sandwiches eaten quickly to prevent us getting cold in the wind.
From here it seemed uphill for a very long way. We ended up in among the remaining snow patches near recent logging work. The trunks were piled high on the side of the track and the air had the strong scent of pine. We did ignore the diversion sign, fearing that diversions could add time and effort we weren’t ready for.
The signage was excellent throughout the route and as we got back down to Loch level we found this national cycle network marker with 8 miles to go to Glentrool Village. So I reckoned 6 to the car park. And JT guessed most would be on tarmac. He was wrong about that… some of the last sections were really challenging; steep downhill and uphills which eventually had me off the bike and walking. My calves were screaming while JT found it was his hamstrings complaining the most. But then we found the last bit of road back to the car park. And we were off! Speed back up which made me realise just how much harder the off-road sections were. Suddenly we were both cruising. Just as well, one car passed us near the finish and with its lights on we realised how close to dusk we were getting. And the bike lights were safely in the car… maybe not charged (like the Garmin…)
I think it’s fair to say it wasn’t all unmitigated joy. There were bits I could have given up had there been the option. I kept thinking about the run blog I read where the motto was that you should always take pride in what you’ve done and say “one day I will not be able to do this. Today’s is not that day.” Well, today was bloody near to that day. In retrospect I didn’t eat as well as I should’ve done, so my own fault for being a bit undercooked.
Final result? Great route, fantastic scenery, 58km, 1000m of climbing plus a real sense of achievement.
What did we learn? Off-road is much harder than on. Chunky tyres likewise. Notes for future. Sort out that first aid kit with silver blanket and always take with us. Should probably have had another layer in the bag too. Always take lights, even if you think you’ll be home in daylight. We were one mechanical away from dusk. And in February it would be sensible to have a flask with something warm in the car for return. We were both really thirsty and had finished the water. It was 1 hour of challenging driving to get to somewhere that we could buy drinks.
Now to plan when we go back in warmer weather and finish it faster…