feathersandfractals: Leeloo Dallas, Multipass (Default)

avatarIt’s Solstice, which means I should have just finished riding from Kirkcaldy to Aberdeen, but a medial collateral ligament injury put paid to that. It’s also Father’s Day and my Dad’s birthday.

Last year was the first of his birthdays he missed, and things were so raw it was a speed bump in an ongoing road of sadness. This year it has been harder. The run up to Father’s Day, with the endless advertising to remind me of what we’ve lost, has been more difficult to handle than I predicted. There are all these things I want to share with him. My first pro sale as a writer. Our new house and my somewhat small dream of being able to host the family for Christmas in a home that we own and is big enough to accommodate them. His excitement and happiness on meeting my niece, his first grandchild.

I’m sad because we were only just starting to make up for all the years I was away and barely had opportunity to speak to him, never mind spend time with him; because I have scant few happy memories of him to treasure after the age of 16; because we had plans to do something about that which will forever remain plans.

I’ve cried a lot, at random, occasionally in awkward places, and hidden it not just out of that deep British reticence when it comes to expressing emotions or seeing them expressed, but because it’s deeply personal and he wouldn’t have wanted me to be sad.

This too shall pass.

A few years back we were riding the Dumb Run and it was his birthday on the Sunday, as it is this year. The route took us past my parents’ house and I made everyone stop so I could post a birthday card through the letterbox. In it was a nonsense poem about sorry to have missed him, but I didn’t want to wake him up because it was 6am and:

…we are just passing through
on a bicycle ride from Dumbarton to St Andrews

Missing you today, Dad. Missing you every day.

Me and Dad

Originally published at Singularity. You can comment here or there.

feathersandfractals: Leeloo Dallas, Multipass (Default)

avatarI know I owe a couple of race reports, however let’s ignore the triathlons for a moment and reflect on this year’s inaugural Aberdeen Assault.

I posted about it previously — as is usually the case with LGC events, the route was carefully thought-out, considered in detail and ridden in advance to ensure it would be enjoyable, pleasant and practical.

Oh, no it wasn’t. They never are. All LGC event planning consists of me, some maps, Google, a few G&Ts and an over-riding sense of, “Fuckit, what’s the worst that could happen?”

I arrived at Kirkcaldy station on my recently polished Pinarello (that’s not a euphemism), where I met with my two intrepid companions, M & V. They admired my bike (who wouldn’t?) while I availed myself of the facilities in the Platform 1 waiting room, knowing that all the coffee I’d been drinking that day would mean I was going to be counting the miles to the next set.

It was M’s first night ride, first century, first ride on a new saddle. It was V’s first overnight century. It was my first ride of more than 30 miles in about 3 years. What could possibly go wrong?

Dura Den Damage
Not much, as it happens. M & V showed an odd lack of desire to stop at The Ceres Inn for a wee dram, even though it was a beautiful evening and the beer garden looked friendly. (Can any Dumb Runners imagine not stopping at the Kirkhouse? It would be weird and wrong.) Dura Den was interesting — it has been closed to motor traffic ever since floods took out the road, but when I checked on the Fife Council website there was no listing for it, so I thought it would be open. Friends confirmed that it was closed to cars but bikes could get through. When we got there, the big concrete barriers left just enough room for a bike to squeeze onto what’s left of the road, and the signs saying “DANGER, KEEP OUT, UNSTABLE GROUND” lent a frisson of excitement. Bats swooped around our heads as we picked our way nervously past the orange fence lining the devastation, the gloom enhancing the prickling sense of moist verticality off to our left.

The waterfall, sadly, was invisible behind thick, verdant vegetation, but we could hear it.

Onwards, then, and up to Tayport and thence the Tay Bridge. I was pretty glad for V’s familiarity with the roads here — the car park I was expecting to appear on the right turned out to require a left turn first, so I’ll be adding that note to the route sheet for next year.

We stopped at the big Tesco’s on Riverside Drive for a rest break, where M bought snaplights and I bought beef jerky (having come amply provided with snaplights). After a slow start we’d got back on my tentative schedule, and were feeling good.

Swooshing through Broughty Ferry, we passed a few Herberts who had been pulled over by the police. I wasn’t sure if they’d been stopped for speeding or if it was a stop-point for random breathalyser tests. I asked the woman officer if we should stop too, but she waved us on. We were then onto the only part of the route where I wasn’t 100% sure of my directions, and, as always when the turn isn’t familiar, it seemed to take longer than I was expecting to reach the turn onto the Arbroath road.

There we found ourselves on a dual carriageway, but at 1am, in a group of three, with serious amounts of rear lighting, it was perfectly safe and probably one of the most enjoyable sections. Straight, clear, fast, and with the refreshing nocturnal chill that leaves your skin feeling like a shell over the thermonuclear core of your exercising metabolism. I love that feeling, and it’s one of the many reasons I do overnight centuries.

We stopped briefly on entering Arbroath to add some layers, as the chill was starting to become less enjoyable. M set his helmet down on the wall there, which was to have unexpected consequences later.

On the Dumb Run it was always dark, but with a faint orange glow just above the horizon. On this route the sun was a dirty stop out, and it didn’t ever get properly dark. We took the required jelly baby shot at 3am in Montrose, and the sky in this shot is only a little lighter than it had been an hour before:

Aberdeen Assault Jelly Babies

I’d raced in Montrose only a few weeks previously, and had driven home via most of the route we intended to take from here, so we were back on familiar roads. We stopped again just outside Montrose to answer the call of nature, more bats flitting around our heads. I disturbed a badger in the undergrowth (sorry!) and M made a terrible discovery: when he took his helmet off there were slugs on his head. It would seem they’d hitched a ride in Arbroath. I don’t think they expected to end up the other side of Montrose.

Slugs
The next section was a beautiful, undulating coast road up past St. Cyrus and Johnshaven, with bunnies fleeing from the verges. Into Inverbervie, then the slow climb up to the dual carriageway before a right turn and a fast, twisty descent into Stonehaven. Although Frood had agreed to come and bring us breakfast in Stonehaven, we agreed to press on in an effort to make it to Aberdeen before the rain hit.

The climb out of Stonehaven was the only serious climb of the ride. I made it with some swearing, and waited for M and V to catch up. M was suffering by this stage, not being the kind of person who routinely stays up all night (see, there are advantages to being an insomniac). V had gone into motivational mode, and I followed suit. I confess to a few little fibs about the lack of uphill bits in the next section (I’d never ridden it, but I knew we’d just done the only hard ascent, so the rest of it couldn’t count as proper hills). But we didn’t have far to go, and the rest of it was relatively easy.

Through the drizzle and the odd early morning lorry overtake, then down and down onto the South Deeside Road, where it was a flat run straight through to the beach. At the first sign that said “Beach” I started yelling “BEEEEEACH!” and kept yelling it every couple of minutes as encouragement, while biting back the urge to sprint hell for leather for the end.

We arrived at the Pirate Dolphin to find Frood waiting with bready comestibles and hot coffee, the absolute superstar.

Aberdeen Assault - DONE

Why do I do these things? It’s for that sense of cold skin around a hot inside. It’s for the banter. It’s for sights you would never see otherwise — noctilucent clouds above skittering bats, rabbits bouncing white and brown up the hillsides, hares accelerating across a field, a grown man wiping slugs from his head, crows calculating whether it’s worth stepping away from roadkill to let you by, bike lights shattering in dawn rain. It’s for the nocturnal silence broken only by the huff of breath and the ticking of freewheels, the hum of tyre on tarmac. It’s for running around a major supermarket at midnight in skintight lycra and socks, and no one paying a blind bit of notice because anyone shopping at midnight on a Saturday is a bit out of the ordinary anyway.

I do it because I get a primal sense of satisfaction from turning the pedals for hours on end. This ride provided all these things, and I’m definitely doing it again.

It’s a great ride, and with the regular Dumb Run crowd I reckon it would be a fast one. It’s an easier route, the scenery is fabulous, the midnight sun amazing, there are more bridges and the roads are quieter. It’s on a par with the Dun Run in terms of ride effort, and although we rolled to the finish at around 07:30, I think you could get to the end by 06:00 with fewer stops and more experienced riders.

I don’t know that I’ll never do the Dumb Run again — anyone who wants to do it can pitch up at LGC and ask for the route sheet, we don’t mind) — but the difference in light means that the Aberdeen Assault is now my favoured Overnight Summer Solstice Century.

Next year it will be on Saturday the 20th June at 8:30pm (20:30). See you there!

Originally published at Singularity. You can comment here or there.

feathersandfractals: Leeloo Dallas, Multipass (Default)

avatarIn previous years, we’ve done the Dumb Run, and it has been good. It has been great. I have splendid memories from those rides, from Will yelling “WILDFLOWERS AND SHAME” at the sleeping citizens of Linlithgow at 3am, to the little guy in hi-viz who threw a total hissy fit at us for taking pictures of jelly babies on the Forth Road Bridge at 4am.

But this year is different. This year I don’t have the motivation to ride a train all the way to Dumbarton, ride a bike to St Andrews, then ride in a car all the way back up to Aberdeen again. Frood doesn’t have the motivation to drive all the way down to St Andrews at silly o’clock on a Sunday morning, just so we can have coffee and beer at the side of a golf course. He’s not keen on being the calamity wagon if it’s going to take him 3 hours just to get there.

So we’re changing.

A couple of years ago, the LGC mooted the idea of the Aberdeen Assault – in addition to DR, not as a replacement. Well, this year it is the replacement.

Aberdeen Assault Route

If this is as nice a ride as I think, this is likely to become my replacement overnight Solstice Century. Most of the people who have done the DR in the past are either east coast folks or have been staying with me as a guest, so this is equally convenient. Aberdeen has better transport connections for the return trip than Leuchars, and the scenery will be much better.

I’ll report back and let you know how we get on.

Originally published at Singularity. You can comment here or there.

feathersandfractals: Leeloo Dallas, Multipass (hatstands insanity)

Well, the short version is: we made it.

This was year five of the Dumb Run, hence DRV. Of those five years, we’ve made it to St Andrews twice. Given that DRIV was a non-starter, that gives us a success rate of about the same as K2 summit attempts.

It is best described as an interesting year, I think. There was the damp, still, midge-infested start at Dumbarton Castle, where we were convinced it was going to be just the three of us before I received the welcome text message saying that another couple of riders were sheltering from the rain down the road. Then the first puncture as we hit Stirling Road, barely 2 miles into the ride. The border collie chasing us up the Auchencarroch Road, barking right behind me on my blind side and scaring me so much I nearly fell off my bike; and Munky doing enough of a dog impression a minute later to give me another fright.

Ready for the off

Merkins Farm

We had unexpected encouragement from the nightlife, when we are more used to heckling and occasional hurled stones. We didn’t get lost in Cumbernauld. THE COFFEE MACHINE HAD BEEN REPLACED. My gods. Actual hot coffee. Will’s singing through Linlithgow had to be heard to be believed (sorry, Linlithgow). We made pretty good time through the first half, notwithstanding the fact that I hadn’t done a ride of more than 35 miles in the last two years. I wasn’t left with no legs and lungs made of cream cheese. This was partially a result of Munky’s welcome pacing on the gentle side, and riding Peregrine the Pinarello instead of the fixed; nevertheless I was relieved that I wasn’t a shuddering, weeping heap by Falkirk.

At the Forth Road Bridge we met up with Dave Holliday, got our jelly baby shot and watched the sun turn the sky into molten copper over the Forth Bridge before winding onwards to the Wild Bean Cafe at Dalgety Bay for supplies.

Annual jelly babies

Liquid fire

Then through Fife, which is always bigger than expected, losing Scoosh at Largo because of time commitments and nearly losing Dave H near Crail when his rear wheel decided to throw five spokes, dropping our pace even further. We hit St Andrews after 10am, 200km after we started. Frood was there with beer and edibles and we all collapsed on the grass in the blazing sunshine.

Dumb Run V Done

It was a good year, although I think it’s the last I’ll be doing a Mother Hen impersonation. In future there will be a stiff warning at the start that anyone haring off into the distance will be expected to take responsibility for themselves rather than having someone chase after them if they miss a turn. There are route sheets for a reason, after all. I think I might also have to warn anyone thinking of joining in towards the end rather than doing the whole ride that people who have been up all night riding across country, especially in wet weather, tend not to be at the brightest and cheeriest first thing in the morning. It’s okay when everyone is in the same boat, but I suspect it’s rather off-putting for someone coming late to the party. My endurance was remarkably good, all things considered, so I am very pleased on that score.

Thanks to:

  • Will for the singing and the mood boosts;
  • Andy for the MTFU hipflask (dude, you so rock) and the P-P-P-POWAH;
  • HLaB for sticking with us at what must have been a painfully slow pace for him;
  • Scoosh for making me paranoid about my saddle height and defending me from Mr Angry;
  • DaveH for getting up at 3am to do something silly; and
  • Especially massive thanks to Frood for the support.

Here’s to Dumb Run VI. Dumbarton Castle, 20:00 (8pm), Saturday June 23rd 2012.

Originally published at Singularity. You can comment here or there.

feathersandfractals: Leeloo Dallas, Multipass (hatstands insanity)

At 20:00 hours tomorrow night, a number of cyclists equalling n, where 3 < n < 13 (as far as we know) will set off from the foot of Dumbarton Castle on our annual cross-country trip to the Royal and Ancient Golf Course of St Andrews on the east coast.

The ride takes after the much more famous Dunwich Dynamo, another annual nocturnal ride to the beach. A friend of mine, who runs the hugely successful Friday Night Ride to the Coast, observed recently that what makes a successful ride is the story, and the writer in me agrees. The Dun Run is successful because it has as its beginning the ultimate British conurbation of London, and wends its way through increasingly rural environs until it reaches the very opposite of a city: a village that no longer exists, having been swallowed by the sea.

The Dumb Run also tells a story, albeit a very different one. The divide between Scotland’s west and east is more than geographic. Dumbarton and St Andrews are the start and end point not just because they were handy. We travel from a place that both has the castle with the oldest recorded history of any stronghold in Great Britain and more recent industrialisation in the form of shipbuilding, to a quiet, picturesque town in one of the most visited parts of Scotland, which has the country’s oldest university. We travel from a land of grey ironworks and steel to a place of green grass and sandy beaches. The Clyde is nuclear submarines and religious rivalry played out on football pitches; the Forth is fishing boats, academia and princes falling in love.

The journey between the two travels a narrow corridor of quiet A-roads running through the heart of Scotland’s industry: further north it’s all tourism, shooting estates, salmon fishing and distilleries, with the exception of Aberdeen. Here Scotland’s population is concentrated, and we purr through in the night with nothing to show of our presence other than quiet laughter, the whirr of chains and the ticking of freewheels.

This isn’t the most scenic countryside Scotland has to offer, but it’s dark, so who cares? By the time the sun comes up we’re in Fife, which is prettier by far.

The Dumb Run is my favourite ride of all time. I love the Dunwich Dynamo, don’t get me wrong, yet the adventure has gone out of it. It’s not a question of if you’ll make it, but how fast. The challenge isn’t in making it from start to finish but in getting to the front of the queue at the feed stop, finding a place on the coach for the return trip, or getting your bike back without damaging it.

The Dumb Run is insanity on wheels. The first 30 miles has midges, the weather is cruel, the itinerant Buckfast Zombies more likely to throw stones than to cheer; the only feed stops are service stations — the coffee machine has been broken in one of them for the past 5 years and the other might not let you in at all.

We have only one rule: nobody gets left behind. That’s what makes the difference. This ride is a shared experience. It’s contending with the elements as a democratic collective; supporting one another with practical application of sugar and caffeine, banter and beef jerky, whisky and cake.

There’s no way for me to explain what makes this ride so good. You have to do it. You have to be there. You have to experience the highs and lows and the sheer preposterousness of it.

It’s not too late to join in. And if you can’t make it this year, check back on Sunday, when the date of DR VI will be posted.

Originally published at Singularity. You can comment here or there.

feathersandfractals: Leeloo Dallas, Multipass (hatstands insanity)

It’s nearly the end of May, which means that there are only four weeks to go until this year’s Dumb Run. I’m still holding out hope that I’ll be recovered sufficiently to do it, which means Frood’s on stand-by with the gaffer tape.

We’ve already got more takers than in any previous year, but in order to give a taste of what’s in store I’ve posted a retrospective of the rides so far, which you can find here.

By my calculation we’re up to ten now. We only need three more for Armageddon. Let’s see if we can do a better job than yesterday’s damp squib.

Sign of Six

Originally published at Singularity. You can comment here or there.

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