Big pale orb in the sky.

I’d been there before, a long time ago.  I’d been so close that I could almost touch it.  I hadn’t been back since though.  Other tempting trails had gotten in the way.  A memory of a wrong turn taken and a series of fences and gates ruining the flow.  Turning me away towards other things.

All of it a mistake that had denied me this particular sliver of dirt that sits under the big pale orb in the sky.

I spotted something on Strava that indicated that there was a proper line to the bottom after all and that my previous excursion was a mistake.  So, so the longer ride window available that day was dedicated to returning to the orb.

Most of the loop is similar to one of my usual options up in the hills, except that this time, on route to the high point I turn left instead of right.

The trek to the hills was uneventful until I reach the final ascent and find the trail covered in snow once you entered the treeline.  Things then get a bit iffy and I end up walking a stretch as traction is non-existent.  After a couple dozen metres I’m back on and reach the big pale orb.

Its not as big as I remember, it looks dull against the grey sky and it looks like someone has reached up and attached some stickers – one for Buff and one for Dirt magazine.   Whoever they were, they were happy to take a risk or two….

Anyway, I’ve reached the orb and pass under it on the way to the gate, then head to the cairn and down….

I see the trail snaking away below me and realise that its covered in ice and snow.  I lower the dropper and test things out on the first stretch.  I grimace as my rear wheel goes perpendicular to the front after a few feet and tumble into the snow.  I remount and try again and keep it together for a while before I come off on the approach to a steep section.  Better before the steep bit than midway down it I suppose……

So, I descend further and pass a hardy XC runner coming up the path and get to a gate.  A public right of way, signposted at various junctures etc but some sod has padlocked it.  Nice.  There’s an old swing gate to the side so I hoist the bike over and continue.

I hit a few options and pick the one that feels right.  The tyre tracks help me decide too….  :-)

There’s no more gates or fences and I spend precious minutes zigzaging to the bottom, just 180 after 180 down the switchbacks, finally getting spat out onto the street in the village way below the big pale orb in the sky.

The worst ride ever (since the last one and until the next).

You know its bad when you’re missing the mire….

I’m running a little late because I had to make a phone call, so I’m in a bit of a rush as I head to the garage.

I had to tweak the gears too, the shifting has went a bit crap and I can’t figure out why.  After about 20 minutes, they’re better.  I then find something else and give up.  Time for a bike swap.

Just under an hour later than planned, I finally get going and end up stuck in a queue of traffic unable to get out of the side street and into the high street.  I change my route and take a short cut under the railway and join my planned route, promptly passing the turnoff and ending up down a dead end.

I retrace my steps and get onto the gold course path and make up for lost time.   Well, I did until I came across the ‘improved’ path.

Aggregate that hasn’t been tampered plus days of wetness = a gritty porridge of doom.  Well done Fife Council.  Further on, its not even been been laid.  Piles of aggregate, left in the middle of the path.  No closures, diversions, no signage at all, so you’re almost at the end of the path before you realise its last section is a mess and can only turn back or head on through the last 500m or so……  (When I next go that way a week later, its finished but there’s ‘closure signs up’ that are a week out of date.   Looks like they did twig eventually and do signs. )

Its okay though.  I’m now on my way to the trail proper.  All I need to do is get a single road climb/descent out of the way then its game on.

I hammer up the climb, avoiding the single motorist who is determined to get to her destination at the expense of my personal safety and cruise over the crest of the hill and wonder why the rear of the bike is wandering about so much…..

I look at the rear wheel, its clearly losing air rapidly.  Damn.

There’s a good spot to stop next to the park, so I pause there and get the rear wheel off.  The tube (yes, this bike has tubes….its the only one) is out in a moment and I’m looking for the leak.

I can’t find anything.  I check again.  Nothing.  I pump it up again and wobble the valve, just in case.  THERE IT IS.

Damn.  Unrepairable.  The spare tube is retrieved and fitted, but the tyre won’t inflate.

Out it comes, there’s a hole?!  Dammit.  I patch it and pump it up a bit.  Its still leaking.  I check it again and find a second hole.  I patch it and pump the tube up a bit.

Its still leaking.  I check it *again* and find a third hole.  I patch it and pump it up.

Its still leaking.

I take the hint and start back towards home, alternating between wobbling about on a rear wheel with about 3psi in it and walking up climbs.

Some days it just isn’t happening.

Re-Make/Re-Model.

Time for a change.

I’ve drawn a line under the Canyon.  A year of constant hassles, warranty arguments over forks and so on left me fed up and finding it difficult to experience New Bike Joy.  Maybe it was a karma thing.

So, plans were made a while ago, derailed, remade, derailed, remade then derailed for a third time, revised down the financial scale, leading me to this.  A Genesis High Lattitude frameset, courtesy of the lovely Mr Simon Barnes at BikeShak ( http://www.bikeshak.com/ ).

Built up with the drivetrain from the Canyon, various bits from the spares box and the fork and wheels from the Scandal SS, its a fast bugger, made for hammering through the tight woodland trails of The Kingdom.  Its also slightly smaller than the Canyon, so can be manhandled a bit more.  It’ll be interesting to both get some proper miles on it and ride it in an endurance event.

A spec, for those that care about such things.

Shimano SLX crank, shadow+ rear deraileur and shifters.  Deore front deraileur. Thomson seatpost, Rockshox Reba RL fork.  Hope mix and match headset, Shimano XT UST wheels.  Funn XC stem, Answer Pro Taper XC Trail bars, USE carbon bottlecage, Maxxis Ardent LUST (F), Continental X-King (R), some random grips, spacers, saddle from The Box.

A new saddle and grips will be purchased soon, once I’ve decided on them and the rear tyre will be swapped out for something else.  The X-King doesn’t get on with the Shimano UST rim, leaving it feeling like its going to roll off the rim sometimes under hard cornering so its going, in favour of something from Maxxis.  An Aspen for now.

The only other change I might make is a longer stem.  Genesis spec a 90mm on the full builds in my size, but it feels a little short at times and a little twitchy so a 100mm or 110mm stem might appear in due course.

So, the Canyon.

Its been redeployed as some sort of multi-use beast.  It’s currently a rigid singlespeed, it might get a sus fork back at some point and come races, it will be graced with a 1×10 drivetrain and will be the spare bike.

I’ve done it with a half link and it’s pretty much bang on.  The chain needs to stretch a little and once it has, it should run smoothly.

The irony?  Its actually quite a fun bike now.

This just leaves the poor Scandal.  Now stripped of various bits for the Genesis build, it’s remaining SS but lacks a fork and wheels.  That said, there should be something in The Box, so it should be back soon enough……..

Nemesis.

I blame Simon, in part anyway.

“More training, come back in Spring and smash it :)”

http://app.strava.com/activities/23324229

Its summer, not spring but this was the first chance I have had to do this.

There was a disturbing amount of planning in advance. Trying to work out how to make the most of the day, get to the start early enough, what time I needed to hit key spots on the path, refuelling stops, what to carry [be it on bike or the backpack that fathers day brought], what to rely on the on-route shops for and so on.

I kept thinking back to what I wrote on Strava last time….

1) Getting an early enough start
2)Having enough daylight to do it without lights (or at least get to Kirkcaldy before dark)
3)Making some tactical diversions around the worst bike-unfriendly sections.

This is my nemesis and I need to beat it.

I set my alarm for 3:30am, with a planned 4am exit for heading up to Newburgh and the start. I allowed myself a coffee but took breakfast with me to consume in the park before kicking off the main ride at 6am

I left a little later than planned, but I knew that I could make the start quicker than the Cyclestreets claimed so I wasn’t too far behind schedule.

Riding the local roads before 5am was a wierd experience. Drivers that gave you room, pretty empty roads, the sun coming up from behind the hills. All good.

I made pretty good time to Newburgh and rolled into the park before 6:30, wiped the dew off a bench and settled down for a little breakfast.

Cold porridge with nutella is actually pretty good. Almost like cold ride pudding (with chocolatey goodness)

I ate half the tub, packed it away and set off.

I had decided that I would do the full route and not take the recommended cycle alternative. Off road route into the hills for a bit vs dull undulating road? Off road wins every time. Yes, it’s not brilliant but beats the Tarmac drag.

I kept up a reasonable pace and tried not to question the logic of the route extension. As I think I’ve mentioned before, a route that comes a fair distance inland is hardly coastal. I get the feeling that it was planned from behind a desk, not on the ground and that decisions were made without thinking about who will use the path.  Oh, there’s also the small issue of the return climb that leads to the final descent….

Incline

Anyway, I headed east and tried not to expend too much energy too early in the ride. The fork felt too stiff, but i let it go for now. Then, under the Tay bridges and through the villages until I reached Tentsmuir and my next brief stop for the rest of the porridge plus a red bull. Probably not the best idea but it was still too early for any local coffee shops to be open.

Tentsmuir was a slog. I’m not sure why as it was bone dry and there was no wind. I took 5 minutes to tweak my fork pressure and soften things up a little before the next section. A dull road drag to St Andrews and Boarhills that thankfully led to some singletrack.  I had planned a refuelling stop just after this, turned off the path (the next section was not bike friendly anyway) and as if on cue, I ran out of water.  So, Kingsbarnes saw water, more water, ice cream and Irn Bru.  Unfortunately the water hadn’t been in the fridge, but it was wet….

Of course, Kingsbarnes means the start of the hard sections and the continuation of the stream of golf courses.  Until now easy to bypass but from this point, something you have to ride alongside, past, through.  Last time saw beach slogs, golfist confrontations and something akin to a shitstorm of suffering.

I was determined that this time would be different so I got cheeky.  Possibly bending the meaning of the Land Access Reform act a little, I *cough* took responsibility for my actions and ensured that my route was to my benefit, rode the edge of the courses, kept my distance, backed off and didn’t get in the way and, you know what, made no enemies. I even chatted away to a couple playing and helped one of them find their ball.  Just saying that for the golfists benefit.

Heading towards the coastguard station, I kept making reasonable time even when the path turned into a rocky clamber and passed round Fife Ness, the most easterly part of the ride and the middle of the worst section. Turning back westwards, I remembered that there was more rocky riding to come, some more clambering, some gates on the way to Crail (so….many….gates).  I didn’t anticipate some sort of bovine standoff…….

So there I am.  Standing in a field, around 8 metres from a wall with a high fence and a stile and the small matter of the dozen or so cattle in the way, some of which are watching….waiting and appear to be wondering whether to come closer.

Some do.  Its starting to get a little freaky, one even seems to be trying to outflank me so I make a break for it and head for the stile, hoist the bike over and escape with a muttered WTF.

Golf courses have given way to caravan parks and stares at the idiot on a bike on a day like this but he’s not bothered.  Its getting hotter and hotter, fluid is disappearing from my camelback and bottles at a rate of knots and I need to find another shop.  Thankfully a path closure, a one way system and a forced diversion from the path dump me right in front of a shop, run by the unfriendliest woman in East Fife.  I can only apologise for wanting to spend money on water, irn bru, isotonic drink and ice cream.

I eventually got back onto the path and kept heading west towards Pittenweem, making reasonable time but still melting.  I was confident though – there was only one tough section to go plus after that, it was all plain sailing to the end.  I think it was about here that the thought of finishing at North Queensferry entered my mind but I put it to one side – it was a decision for later.

I reached Elie and battered along the road as the path didn’t go along the beach here before popping into Earlsferry for what I thought was the final slog.  There was loads mroe sand on the trail than last time, so progress was pretty slow but I got to the cliff, quickly hiked up then descended.  A brief detour to ride in a circle for 1/2 a mile then another sand-covered slog.

This was not good.  I could feel all my strength being sapped by the trudging through dunes and I was starting to feel really rough.  As I may have mentioned before, heat and I don’t mix.  I could see plan B on the horizon and it was looking like a tempting option….

Was it some sort of weird karma thing?  The only bit of the entire FCP I didn’t know, biting me in the ass so badly?  Who knows but I got past it and into Lower Largo, home of some mediocre sailor who’s main accomplishment was to get shipwrecked for years.  The path then took me to Lundin Links, more golfists and, to my horror, yet more sand.

I’d done this section before, it was never as sandy as this….  Now it wasn’t just my strength dissipating, willpower was going too……and the heat was getting worse and worse.  Through the golf course, along the sand then onto the promenade……..

….and I came to a stop.  A complete, full stop. There was a bench about 10 metres away and I made my way to it.  I downed the bottle of water/isotonic drink from the bike.  I tore open the bag of gel bloks I had stashed in the bag and consumed all of them.  There may have been Irn Bru involved.

I waited….and nothing changed.  Even plan B was looking unlikely but it was all eady going from here.  Surely I could push on?  anyway, worst thing I could do was stay still for to long in Leven.

I pushed off and reached the end of the prom, continued through town and got back up to some semblance of speed.  I was moving again.  woo, yay, hoopla.  Round the roundabout at the green energy place in the old Methil Docks and all life left my legs again.  I got off and walked.  I couldn’t believe it.

It was time to bail.  75 miles (plus 23.6 mile ride out).  I was hot, light headed, thirsty and sweating more than I’ve ever sweated before but also feeling cold.  This was not good.

I reached a flat bit and slowly ground along and hit the edge of Buckhaven and a junction. The path was just ahead, a coast road to Kirkcaldy and some sort of sanctuary to the right.

I looked at the GPS and found myself clicking the button.  Ride done.

Well, sort of.  I still had to grind through the seven miles to Kirkcaldy and only stopped about 4 times.  At the edge of town I reported in.

“Do you want me to come and get you?”

“You’ll kill me….”

“Do you want me to come and get you?”

“Yes”

I headed to my folks and crashed in their back garden for 5 minutes…..then let them know I was there.

2 cans of Irn bru and a bag of crisps later, I was in the car and heading home.  Bike stashed at my folks, kids wondering if I was okay.

Heat?  Sand?  Was the backpack too heavy?  I had to carry loads of water because of the heat so it was a bit of a catch 22 situation.

Was it just too much?  I’ve done more.  It was only a 1 hr 30 road ride then 10 or so hours on the coastal path.  A combination of multiple factors?  I’m not sure. I’d put a lot of thought into this, I had a demon to face and it went wrong.

Again.

 

Statistically, this means it will have to go right eventually, aye?

Done.

(Sorry, this post is a bit crap….)

I have a history of issues when doing events in the heat.

Suffice to say, it tends not to end well so when I woke up in my tent on the morning of the Selkirk MTB Marathon, I found myself quoting one of my favourite movies…..

“Are you telling me that you built a time machine… out of a DeLorean?”

No, thats not it.

“I have a bad feeling about this”

That’s better.

Team Doig camped, had a shandy in the bar and had a better night’s sleep than normal thanks to the recent purchase of some camp beds.  Waking up in a sweltering tent, my heart sank….but I thought that it might not be as bad as it felt in the tent/sauna.

By 11am though, it was clear that this wasn’t going to be a fun one so I concentrated on warming up on the bike and staying cool to distract myself.  Bottle policy was changed – swapping from 1 x 500ml to 2 x 750ml – and food adjusted a little too.  I still had a bad feeling.

Up to Selkirk town centre and I positioned myself in the uncharacteristic position of ‘the front’.  I think this was partly because I didn’t want to have to spend the first 15 minutes picking off riders again, to avoid getting caught in bottlenecks and partly because I subconsciously just wanted it to be over.  The heat continued to build and some idiot behind me kept hitting my wheel with his.

It was then time to go and we flew through Selkirk and past the rugby club.  I kept the car in sight and before I knew it, we were ascending the first climb.  I kept my pace steady, there weren’t too many riders to pick off this time out thanks to positioning myself at the start and I kept a sensible pace up as I climbed.

First descent was a bit of a downer though.  Loose, rocky, random holes, a ditch and loads of lost water bottles from the Champs race just ahead of us – not fun.  On the bright side, I hadn’t punctured like the multiple riders I passed on the way down.  From there it was through one of my favourite sections – woodsy singletrack just like home – and the first feed station, positioned just around the corner from its usual spot in order to scare people.

After finally getting some food and drink at the station (those manning it seemed almost reluctant to do the job at hand) I pushed on to the next climb.  This is where it all started to get wrong.  Apologies for the spoiler. :-)

Big exposed climb, clear blue skies, rising temperatures.  Not a good combination for me. By the time I finally got to the top of the second climb, I was in a bad way.  Well on the way to ‘Newcastleton – 2010′ for those familiar with that tale and possibly already beyond ’10 Under the Ben 2007′.

I decided to get down off the hill, try and cool down and make a decision at the next feed station.  The next sections flew past in a blur, I felt myself cooling down but it wasn’t enough.  I was making stupid mistakes on the bike and still sweating far too much.  I had drank 2 bottles between the start and the first feed station then another 2 between the first and second.  I also got distracted by the lack of dibber at the bottom of the ‘timed’ descent.  I stocked back up at the second station, but got stuck with some iffy energy drink, not water.  Partly my own fault.

I pushed off again but still hadn’t made a decision.  I got to the 50/75 split and spoke to the marshall.  He said three words that basically made the decision for me:  “You’re halfway now”.

That was it.  I turned to the 50km route and rode off.  Continuing on the 75km was stupid with the way things were going.  I ended up slowly grinding up the last climb then walking and chatting with a female rider.  Suffering in the same way I was, had done GT7 the previous week (2nd vet female IIRC), had dropped down to the 50km too.  It meant I wasn’t in this mess by myself.   I also reported in to Team Doig and let them know I was on my way back.

I left her at one of the junctions (her husband was waiting for her) and ambled on to the top of the last climb.  I just wanted to get home now.  I descended, didn’t really enjoy it and just to cap things off, got my way blocked by people all over the path around where the champs finished and had to stop to let traffic past at the rugby club.  Thats never happened before, the marshalls even commented on it – the odds of traffic coming from all three directions at the same time being slim.

I rolled into the rugby club, got my time and got rid of my timing chip.  The time didn’t matter.  It wasn’t a reflection of me.  Ironically, Similar time to last year over the same route (official timing has me faster this year) but I wasn’t bothered.  Not bothered about any ‘what-if’ scenario’s either because at the end of the day, even if it hadn’t been too hot, I’m not sure if I would have enjoyed it anyway as it felt like a different event at times.  The race HQ was different, there weren’t any activities there for the people waiting on us returning (no kids skills training for Jess – she was disappointed….) and the catering was rubbish.  There wasn’t a dibber at the end of the timed section (a few riders commented on this at feed station #2) and course changes compared to previous years were minimal (and thanks to how my day went, I never got to ride the few ‘new’ bits anyway.  It also looks like the official photographer only published pics of the champs race.  I was photographed a few times but the site looks like it only has champs rider pics on it.  Happy to be corrected on that point though.

So, all in all it was a bit roobash and probably my last Selkirk MTB Marathon for a while.  We all have bad days sometimes, but this was more than that.

Time to move on, do other things and specifically think about what’s next.