A late spring / early summer weekend in the west of Scotland. So the weather was pretty much as you could expect. There was sun, there was wind, a bit of hail and a short burst of pissing rain. In absolute defiance of the prevailing wind, we faced a stiff northeasterly all the way home. Which of course was pretty much directly north east of where we started.

But first target was get the panniers loaded. Since this was fact finding for a 5 day trip we didn’t under-pack. I stood on the scales which confirmed we each had an extra 7kg to carry. Still, at least it’s not body weight so you don’t have to carry it 24 hours a day. Second target was get the panniers on the bike. Straightforward enough, but then a bit of fiddling required to prevent kicking them. Problem number 1. One of the clips snapped off. That would be because we didn’t go for the expensive brand. Form vs function? Anyway, a cable-tie did the job and scissors in my newly packed first aid kit would free it at the other end.

The bikes felt really heavy all packed up and lesson number 1 was try harder to make the weight even. A definite lean to the left and I almost fell over at the top of the drive before we even started. Slightly tweaked my back, but nothing to stop us heading off at what felt like a steady pace. I’m never great at pacing, but given distance and weight and the hilly first part of the route I tried to rein myself in. Strava later told me I hadn’t with a few sections showing second or third best times. Pretty pleased with that.

Quickly, we got used to the slightly different handling and once in motion you forgot about the extra weight. We made our first stop in Troon for lunch in sunshine watching a bride arrive at the church opposite Blueberry Cafe. Not an overly fussy wedding, the bride and presumably father arrived in a new model VW Beetle with Herbie decals and mother and bridesmaids arrive in old VW camper van.

We followed the Sustrans route 7 from Lochwinnoch to south of Ayr. I love the whole sensory experience you get when cycling. The smell of gorse and seaweed and wild garlic. The colours of the sea and sky. The section before Kilwinning took us on quiet back lanes lined with ancient walls, trees and daffodils. Just the occasional cyclist passing or being passed.

Few sounds of golfers in Troon and Irvine and Prestwick and Ayr as the cycle path cuts through the course. Chatting at the tee, always one tall and slim and nattily dressed per group. The light blue tartan trousers and contrasting top, slender white belt to separate the patterns. And the thing that drove me mad about golf. Always waiting for the group ahead to putt out. The guy who lines the putt up, walks away, checks angles, lines up, walks away and performs the pre shot rituals. Then misses. And I notice that despite the fresh air and outdoor active pursuit, a surprising number were vaping sending billowing clouds above.

We were to add to the visible vapour. On the last ascent before we reached Dunure suddenly the temperature dropped and you could see the steadily increasing exhalations.

And just as we were beginning to get a bit cold, we hit the last downhill into Dunure and the Inn became visible sitting on the tiny harbour side. A picture perfect setting, ruined castle to attract the foreigners, Ailsa Craig on the horizon and the peaks of Arran across the band of water where Orcas played just a week or so ago. The picture was the next morning with temperatures well above the forecast 2C. I thought about swimming, but low tide had shown a very rocky foreshore so I decided it was too tricky for what would have been a very short dip. That and the fact that wet costume and towel would be heavier to carry home.

Day 1, 46 miles with a little climbing at either end. So the massive portion of fish and chips and beers was earned. Thoughts of the uphill start did somewhat temper our enthusiasm for the full cooked breakfast the next day, but well fuelled we took a slightly longer route home to pass the 100 mile mark for the weekend. JT nearly took an even longer route having missed the sign onto the cycle track…

The test was officially a success. Four weeks to the proper adventure.

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