Up into the Scottish Highlands and the challenge of the Cairngorms – Day 13

Posted: February 20, 2013 by Ben Weber in Cycling, English, Training
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
The Cairngorms await us

The Cairngorms await us in the distance

From Blairgowrie into the Cairngorm mountains in what may have been the toughest full day of cycling. This was the day which I was probably most worried about, with 100km or so of cycling planned, of which most would be going up hill. Not just up hill, but up hill in to the Scottish highlands which, as we could clearly see in the distance on the previous day, were well and truly snow-covered.

Brian cycled out with us in the morning, in spite of it being cold and, for want of a better description, darn miserable. There was low cloud and drizzle, and it just wasn’t very nice to go riding through. It was straight forward enough at first, going from Blairgowrie in a westerly direction to join the A9, the main north-south trunk road, connecting Edinburgh with Inverness. Though it was drizzle, it was still lovely country side, passing Loch of Drumelli, Clunie and Loch of Lowes before reaching Dunkeld. There, we said goodbye to Brian, and he pointed us to the cycle path that ran along the A9, and said that it really would be better to go along that instead of the main road which is the centre of a debate about whether or not it should be re-classified as a motorway and is accident prone…

Detour at BallinluigWe took his advice, though it got a little a confusing south of Pitlochry about where the actual path ran. We ended up asking a couple of people about how to get to the path, and we ended up going what seemed to be all around the sun to meet the moon to continue along it in the hills above the main road. Indeed, taking the cycle path as a whole along the route probably increased our total journey by about 10km or so. If it was summer and if we didn’t have pretty heavy panniers it would have been great – it was a lovely, desolate kind of beauty going over those hills; however, occuring on an already challenging day going up into the Cairngorms, the detours weren’t always particularly welcome…

It is worth remembering that on the preceeding day, coming up to Blairgowrie, I mentioned that my bike was making strange clunking noises. Brian had a quick check in the morning as well, though wasn’t able to see what the issue was, though certainly recommended that we get it checked out once we got back to Brazil. As with me, he thought that it should be okay to get up to John O’Groats. However, the noise from the bike gradually got worse and worse, and much more constant (though still on a kind of random basis). So it was with relief that when the cycle path eventually came down from the hills and we got to Pitlochry. There we were able to find a  bike shop, and not just a bike shop that sells, but also repaired bikes. They had a look at it while we had lunch and when we got back, the guy said that some of the ball bearings in the back hub had broken and replaced them – had they gone unchanged, it would indeed have got worse and worse, until the wheel would have pretty much broken completely. So I was very happy testing the bike again and not hearing or feeling any noises at all.

Tricky conditions

Tricky conditions along the A9 cycle track

With time ticking on and us being quite significantly delayed with this problem and the cycle path taking longer than we wanted, we were thinking of continuing along the A9. The guys at the shop, however, advised us to keep going along the cycle path that went alongside it, and also suggested that we stop earlier. Unfortunately, not many other places were open to stay, or had any vacancies, so we had to keep with plans to proceed to Newtonmore. We continued along the cycle path for a while, and it was good for a whole 25km or so, however, with it being a cycle path / B-road, it had not received any salt from the gritters that pass along the A9, and as we got higher, the amount of snow and ice in our way increased, making life harder for us. We eventually gave in as the amount of daylight we had left was quickly running out, and we just wanted to get to Newtonmore, so on to the A9 it was.

It was surprisingly easy and not as terrifying as we were preparing ourselves for. Okay, there was steady traffic, and that traffic was fast, though just about everyone gave us a nice wide berth – am absolutely certain that our good Hi-Vis jackets and multiple back and front lights helped with this. For me the important thing is always to be as visible as possible even during the day. Furthermore, the remaining uphill was extremely gradual and we hardly noticed it, then, with 26km remaining it was just a nice gradual downhill – not too steep to cause us to worry about losing control, though with a nice gradient which allowed us to cruise at a good 25-30km per hour with no problem at all. In spite of all the delays and everything, we still managed to get to our guest house in Newtonmore for 6pm, just as it turned pitch-black outside.

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