The view from Strahlubnaig.
December 21st, 2013, at latitude 56 ½ degrees North, a little before 9am, and of course not fully light yet in this small corner of north west Europe, where the shortest day grudgingly gives us 6h 50m of what can be loosely described as ‘daylight’.
Of course, the Great Cloud Belt which seems to perpetually loom over Caledonia in winter gives a dull and watery light, even in the middle of the day, no wonder there are so many SAD bastards in this country.
So the scene is set, complete with a persistent rain which varies from icy cold to plain wet snow and sleet. And did I mention the wind ? Aye, we had wind and quite enough of it, thanks for asking.
I initially missed the meeting point, having failed to read the latest update from The-Farmer, but luckily spotted the other three brave and hardy souls as they were gearing up. It was great to meet the instigator of this merry midwinter jaunt, and of course there was the ever present Velomiscottie McCogal attendee, JohnB, who has failed to miss a single one (i.e. all four so far) and also present was all 6 foot five of CambellRae1.
Slightly disappointed at the turnout personally, but the last shopping Saturday before Xmas obviously had its attractions for some, or the VMHs had perhaps put their foot down, who knows, hopefully it was not the Neufesque weather conditions which was to blame ? A hardier bunch surely ?
So, promptly at V after 9 we rolled out, red lights blinking away as we left a wake in the sodden roads behind us. A fairly sedate pace to begin with, we ambled along for a bit letting the legs warm up and riding in two pairs, even the (shock – horror) fenders on the bikes could not fully limit the icy rooster tails behind, so we kept a decent gap.
It was pleasant to swap out paired riders as we went, getting to know The Farmer and catching up with the other lads. The route rolled up and down, traffic was fairly light, and the weather continued to keep us entertained. I stopped now and then to try and snap a photo, which was a challenge in the poor light and constant downpours. The odd comfort break was announced, the pace quickened and slackened, lights went on, lights went off. The kilometres clicked past, though for myself I was riding purely on V meter, and I always feel distance goes by a lot quicker when in a group.
Presently we approached the one main climb of the day up Glen Cochil, from the South, which tops out at around 405m, and is a pleasant 5km long, roughly. What had been a monsoon at the junction quickly became wet snow near the summit, adding to the enjoyment. The run down to Aberfeldy on the other side was a balance between speed and avoiding hypothermia, none of us having a dry copy of L’Équipe to stick down our fronts.
Reaching town a wee bit ahead of the chasing pack I went for some cash and then found a café, leaning my Focus on the front window, where the troops would see it, I thought. I ordered up some java and waited…..Seems they piled into a different café about 50m away, more fool me, they had found one with a log burning stove and better looking staff. Bugger. I eventually made contact (cell coverage was poor) and joined them for a hug round the stove, then we hit the road again for Part Deux.
As is normal after a decent stop like that, welcome as it was given the chill we all felt, it took a few km to warm up again, but the sky also brightened quite a bit, and what could be described as sunshine made an appearance ! This was a real psychological boost, along with us now following the mighty River Tay (the longest river in the British Isles) DOWN stream.
To avoid the busy A9 highway we used a combination of back roads, cycle paths and the odd CX inspired section, even coming across a closed gate. I was surprised JohnB didn’t vault it in proper style with his cyclocross rig on his shoulder.
Soon we passed through Dunkeld and could almost smell the mince pehs in The Farmers house. By this time were we ready for a wee seat and a seasonal snack, and upon approaching Meiklour I enquired about the distance covered, and was informed we would be shy of the 100 by about 2 or 3km. As a unit we all managed to find a bit of extra road, by turning around for a bit and also scooting past the finish point to circle back eventually, having surpassed the metric century mark. It would have been a shame not to.
A change of shoes, a dry fleece and a warm tuque on, we headed to The Farmers ranch, negotiating a few potholes on the track across his back forty, we were greeted by his best hunting hounds and a few chickens. Unfortunately we were all driving soon after, so no Belgian brews, but good coffee and festive munchies, we dissected the ride, congratulated one another on our Rule #9 efforts,and soon bid farewell and merry xmas. Cheers lads.