Forres Gump

There’s hectic and there’s hectic.

There’s pushing the boundaries and there’s pushing the boundaries.

Then there’s being tired and sore, and being too tired and too sore.

As I’m writing this it’s two days before the start of The Highland Bike from Forres to Glasgow, and I’ve decided I’m resting up after today and giving my body 36 hours away from this relentless workload. I’m working on the basis that even a short rest is better than none, especially when this seven day week is set to return 330 miles, the most by far in any LifeCycle week.

The issue is that I normally use the weekends to try and recover some strength before Monday comes around again. I need my weekends. But this weekend has 80 miles, 85 miles and 60 miles scheduled on three consecutive days from Saturday.

Why am I so tired?

Well the back end of last week didn’t help: down south on the Stella Express to visit the family on the evening of the General Election, followed by a night out in Glasgow upon my return two days later, meant 4am, midnight then 1am bedtimes, and that’s far too late, even on non-LifeCycle nights.

It was the first time I’d seen my mother in a while, and certainly the first time since I acquired the flag. It was always my intention to get her to sign it but my brother said “she can’t write anymore. She’ll never manage it”. “Let’s let her be the judge of that” I thought to myself…

To put you in the picture, she’s 89 not out, frail and has been living in a residential home for the past five years: every extra year we get is basically a bonus. I think she just about remembers who I am but conversation is basically one way. Anyway, I told her about the bike ride, and one or two of the (still) mentally active ladies in her company took notice. Then I got the flag out and the permanent market pen. “Here mam, write your name on the flag using this”. It was a piece of pure art. She remembered her name, wrote it as beautifully as she could and even applied a wee flick underneath. Like I say, literary artwork.

I mention it because (a) I was proud of what she’d done and (b) it made me realise that here she was, almost the last in the line of the generation above on my side of the family, yet she’s now got six grandchildren and three great grandchildren. From small, humble beginnings doth inspiration flow and grow.

Then I compared that scenario to this bike ride. Chris and Connie Riddle had Vanessa. Stephen and Leona Knox had Oscar. And those children and those families have inspired thousands all around the world. It’s the nature and the stature of their achievement. I’m an admirer, a fan and a supporter. And fervently so. And now, following in their footsteps, we have Gail and wee Eileidh.

My tiredness has been exacerbated by the horrendous weather that we’ve had this week. The wind on Monday and Tuesday was so strong it actually forced me to change my route for the home run on both nights. The Fenwick Muir route is a desolate one at the best of times, but when it’s blowing like it was on those two days, the 77 option is off the menu. It’s a case of just picking something else that gets you home in one piece.

That one piece route on Monday was to avoid the Giffnock/Newton Mearns A77 route altogether and go Thornliebank/Whitecraigs/Neilston/Uploawmoor/Dunlop/Stewarton instead. It worked from the max windspeed point of view because that route never exposes you fully to the open landscape at altitude. The route tends to hog tree lines and contours which at least affords a little more shelter than the A77. The downside however, is that you’re forever climbing and descending. And the outcome was that instead of climbing 1100ft as I do on a normal day, I had to do double that. And when I got up on Tuesday morning, my knees were reminding me of the fact.

Tuesday was every bit as bad, except it was raining most of the way home. This time I cashed in the Ayr Road/A77 for a rat run through the posh houses of Newton Mearns, then up the old Mearns Road before taking the Little Loch Fisheries road just past the infamous Red House. God, it was so windy, so cold and so wet in patches. And this is supposed to be early summer. 10C feeling like 5C.

And so to this coming weekend…

The Highland Bike squad, or at least, four fifths of it, is heading up the road on Friday evening. With an overnight stay pencilled in at Pitlochry to enable the Celtic contingent to watch their team at St Johnstone on the BT Sevco channel, we need to be back out on the road at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning for an 8am Olympic breakfast at the truck stop in Newtonmore. That’s where we rendezvous with our final team member, Robbie fae Spean Bridge. By 9am, with four bikes on the motor and a full squad of riders inside, we’ll be taking the scenic route from Aviemore via Granton on Spey to Forres.

A media scrum is scheduled for half ten at Mosset Park, home of Forres Mechanics FC, the Highland League outfit, before the Highland Bike rollout at 11am. We’ll be joined at the Mechs by the star of our show, three year old wee Eileidh Paterson, and her mum Gail, assuming that is, that this week’s treatment at the Aberdeen Sick Kids’ Hospital is a success. Any delay will see Eileidh in over the weekend and we’ll have to set off without a hug and a wave.

It’s 30 miles from Forres to Inverness and we’ll be led out of town by Callum Finlayson. “Who’s Callum Finlayson”, I hear you asking.  Five years ago, Callum was a budding 36 year cyclist when he was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, a rare condition that attacks the brain and lungs. In Callum’s case, it introduced itself as a stroke and he was advised that it would probably be three years before he could manage normal tasks again. Any kind of future on a bike was unlikely. So it’s at this point in the story that we, #TeamOscar, really, really like and admire Callum. In 2014, four years after becoming ill, Callum was crowned Scottish 100 mile time trial champion, and in the process recording the second fastest time in the history of the event. That’s the kind of comeback that wee Oscar would have approved of, and certainly the kind of comeback we wish of wee Eileidh, albeit that she’s only three. Maybe she’ll be the nursery 100m time trial champion by this time next year.

The forecast for Saturday is pretty grim if you’ve got a 30 mile east to west cycle to do because the wind’s gonna be blowing at 30mph from the opposite direction! A cold headwind: deep joy!

Once we get to Inverness, the Bikers will join forces with the Marchers for the traditional Highland March presentation before the final home game of the season against Dundee United. At the final whistle, whilst the Marchers set of on the 160 mile trek to Glasgow, the Bikers will hit the road the second time that day, exposing themselves to severe cross winds on the climb out of Inverness and again at Slochd Summit on the 50 mile expedition to the overnight rest stop at Newtonmore.

Maybe it’s just as well the rest of the guys don’t know what lies in store south of Inverness. Culloden Moor, site of the famous battle, sits high up above the Moray Firth and that climb’s lying in wait before five miles are under our belts. Then there’s the hill at Moy: not that long, but it’s a nasty piece of work. Then no sooner have you ticked that one off and the interminably boring Moy road that follows it, than the hill up to Slochd summit sits just round the corner from the Findhorn Bridge at Tomatin. I tell you, Slochd may be only 20/50 of the way to Newtonmore, but once we’re scaled the Slochd climb to the railway bridge where the cycle route runs alongside the A9, it will feel like that leg’s in the bag: no more big climbs for the rest of the day!

The forecast for Sunday is arguably worse for the long leg to Crieff than it was on Saturday. There’s a very strong probability that we’ll see extended periods of rain during the day, and if one leg is guaranteed to characterise the difficulty of completing the Highland Bike in just three days, it’s this one. 85 miles in driving rain coupled with a biting strong wind will make it feel  more like three degrees rather than eleven or twelve.

Monday will present a relative short hop of 60 miles from Crieff to Celtic Park. We had hoped to call in at the Celtic training complex at Lennoxtown to get the LifeCycle flag signed but we’ve learned in the last couple of days that Ronny Deila has given the players a few days off after the St Johnstone game on Friday night so there’ll be no one there. In that case, particularly if the weather’s inclement, I suspect we’ll leg it straight to Celtic Park by the shortest route. I might take them over the Tak Ma Doon road just for the hell of it…

The next few days are going to be difficult, very difficult. And the weather’s going to be challenging, very challenging. And to top it all, if I make it to Celtic Park in one piece from Forres, I’ll have done more miles, many more miles, than in any other week since I started this adventure.

A sort of modern day Forres Gump…

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