Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Day Seven: Gretna to Strathaven...

It's dark, drizzly and damp - Mark who is alternating between running a marathon and cycling LeJog was on the same campsite as us last night - he got in long before us and had managed to get into Gretna for a Chinese take-away! - We had a chat, he said he was riding only 50 miles today - he didn't fancy being out too long in the bad weather.

It was with a grim determination that we ventured back onto the bikes today. For the first 15 minutes or so we were unable to find the road we needed, we rode around Gretna Green, past The Old Blacksmith's Shop - for a moment we considered getting married, but Gary's already married so that wouldn't work. As we paused to consult the map two cyclists passed - a man and woman, she was dressed in a flowing floral skirt with lycra leggings underneath, he in a t-shirt and baggy shorts, not at all suitable for the weather.  Both were laden with panniers, surely they were going where we needed to go?  We shouted out to them "John O'Groats" - "Yes" came the reply and we tagged along. It surprised us how quickly they were moving with a full load - we had our work cut out to keep up. Then, suddenly, I had a puncture - but at least we knew we were on route.

Soon we were off again, steadily making progress, it was windy but the early rain had subsided now and it was a tad warmer. Then, just after we had stripped off our rain jackets, the weather changed again - more rain, heavy rain, soaking rain, thick and syrupy, creeping into every orifice. I was wearing a pair of Seal Skin waterproof gloves - unfortunately the seal in question must have been harpooned because my hands were soaked, it felt as though my gloves had filled with water and my fingers were swimming - add to that the wind chill factor and you can imagine how uncomfortable it felt! I think it couldn't have been any worse if i'd dipped my bare hands into a bucket of iced water and held them there for two hours.

Breakfast and Gary looks in trouble! (No, I think he's asleep)
We suffered. Think back to the days of Scott of the Antarctic, Shackleton, Dr Livingston etc - we trudged and drudged our way along grey roads with grey skies, grey verges, grey houses - even the trees looked grey. The roads were easily the worst we had encountered, torn, gouged and bumpy - it was if they had been pebbledashed. Some of you may have heard of the famous French bike race, The Paris-Roubaix, which is raced over cobblestones each year in Northern France - it is known as the 'Hell of the North'. We had our own Hell of the North today, not in France, but on the rotten roads heading for Glasgow.

After three hours of torture we arrived at a road junction and the sun appeared. Not bright, not strong - more subdued, as if held behind a cloth sheet - it was a reduced warmth perhaps depleted along with everything else in this recession. But it didn't matter to us - it was a thing of great beauty - it kissed and cuddled us in our hour of need. I held my hands up to the vista as if before a warming fire. Gary was in tears at the very sight of it.

We decided to celebrate with a chocolate bar from Gary's cavernous back pocket confectionery selection. However our revelry was somewhat dampened when Gary found himself unable to open the packet, his fingers damp and numb from the cold, unwilling to respond to his wishes. He passed the bar to me, to no avail. My fingers too felt like they belonged to someone else. I could see the chocolate infront of my eyes but my fingers wouldn't work. This made us laugh. We stood there, two men at the end of a dirt-track road somewhere near to Glasgow - giggling - unable to open a bar of chocolate because our hands were frozen - in June.

As we moved on we noticed a charity bike ride - an organised event from Land's End to John O'Groats with six riders riding as a relay team - each one spending an hour riding then five hours resting/sleeping - they were riding non-stop. One of their riders came past us, wearing racing apparel, and riding a bike with aero-bars that gave him that 'superman' pose that the time triallists use. He didn't seem to be going very fast though and I decided to see if I could catch him - I chased him for maybe two miles and, more or less, caught up with him - I like to think if he had been through what we had he wouldn't have been so quick!

Now we were back in civilisation - at least a town anyway. We passed through a street with people in kilts and as we approached what seemed to be the town centre we stopped at the roadside to check our position and to speak to our support, we needed to know where the camp site was. As I looked around I saw a young man unconscious on a bench - his head resting on a foam take-away box, a pile of empty bottles and cans scattered around him, in front of me I could hear loud music and see people milling around in the streets, spilling from pubs, everyone appeared to be drunk, the whole place was a scene from a Hogarth engraving - I suddenly felt like I didn't want to hang around - it seemed a very aggressive place to be. We left, double-quick and arranged for the support vehicle to meet us.

Premier Inn - luxury!!!
When we finally met up and loaded our bikes into the van we asked what the camp site was like. I had visions of something awful, such had been our luck so far today. We were told that this would be the best yet. And soon after that we rolled up to The Premier Inn at East Kilbride, the girls had decided that we all needed a decent night, in a warm bed, with good food and perhaps a bottle or two of wine.

Gary and I were happy that night after all.

Gretna to Strathaven - 82 miles
Max Speed: 32.8mph
Time on bike: 7hrs 32 mins
Ascent: 4000ft
Calories used: 4970

1 comment:

    KEEP IT UP (the beer & wine) AND KEEP PEDALING TOO!
    Not far to go now - It's magic once you get away from the shit cities!