The F.B.R.O.T.Y is always a hard one, regardless of terrain or weather. For us, the ‘first big ride of the year’ came into being many moons ago and represented the transition from the limitations of winter to the promise of spring and summer. Over the years, more often than not, the F.B.R.O.T.Y has involved a route in the Trossachs and so it was yesterday.
It would be fair to say I am a little nervous of being fit and tough enough to do some of the things I am aiming to do this year, on the bike. The reason is that it seems very difficult for me to coordinate the time and effort to plug in long enough rides to gain the endurance in the legs, the far sightedness in the eyes, the resetting of the passage of time in the mind and the resistance to friction of the nether regions.
Others seem to manage this by heading out very, very early in the morning or in all weathers. I seem incapable of this.
Perhaps earlier than other years, with the sun shining, I took the bull by the horns and headed out for a long-ish ride yesterday. The aim was the ‘mangrunt’ loop. Named by Chris, if i rememeber correctly because of the amount of grunting required the first time we rode the route, it consists of a loop up and over Conic Hill, then Loch Lomond side, to the rather spooky Inversnaid Hotel, origin of the worst chips in Scotland. Next, it tracks around Loch Arklet into the Queen Elizabeth forest park and takes the ‘mustard’ loop into the forest plantations before finishing somewhere near Conic Hill again. The whole is ~63 miles/100km (100.9km according to my gps) and usually takes 6-6.30 hours.
The aim yesterday was to slip in under 6 hours, thus proving to myself I can still ride a bike and acting as an early season confidence booster.
Fo me, riding up to 4 hours or so is manageable at all times of the year. The first ride of the season that extends beyond this is usually fairly tough, but then I find it possible to gradually extend this to the 10-12 hour rides that will allow me to take on the slightly more daunting routes up north and indeed, the H.T.R.
Having started at Garadbhan, I made it up the improved Conic Hill track and then along Loch Lomond side in quick time, staring in awe at the super-charged waterfall next to the Inversnaid within 3 hours. As I wound round Loch Arklet, the temperature fell and with it my energy levels. Re-fuelling became almost constant, the cold draining energy from my limbs as fast as I could replenish it.
Then the long, winding climbs began and it was with a grim determination that I followed wandering vehicle tracks in the snow.
For the development of strength, I had brought the Krampus. It is by far my heaviest bike. Fortunately, the fat tyres gave me some reasonable purchase, at least initially and I made good progress.
Unfortunately this was not to last. The high route around the mustard loop was covered in 4-6″ of snow. Normally this would be somewhat rideable, however, the surface had frozen into a delicate crust that shattered immediately any weight was brought to bear.
This made for around and hour of on/off post holing and lifting the bike. I tried at times to ride in the drainage ditch alongside the forestry access road, but the frequent sink holes were frustrating. Occasionally, with a roar, I would charge the bike into the deeper snow, clicking up a few gears and using a slight downward gradient to aid my passage.
As with all things, the sun set and the worst of it was over and as I pedaled the last miles on tarmac, I breathed a sigh of relief: the clock showed 5.50hrs.
Tired, but content.
Now – for the rest of the year…