Aim for the Impossible - Part 6
Monday 25 April 2022
Last week we had a couple of nights away in Evie the Campervan at the lovely Blair Athol followed by a Makers’ Market in Larbert on the Sunday selling Mother Murphy’s cakes and my book, so my cycling had to be delayed until Monday.
After smashing Duke’s Pass on my last adventure, I was now ready for a few extra miles and fancied cycling further North towards Crianlarich. Maps, books and AA autoroute gathered, I planned my route, eventually settling on cycling from home and returning on the train from Crianlarich.
The train that runs from Crianlarich to Glasgow is the Mallaig or Oban train and you must have a reservation for your bike on this line. I checked the times from Crianlarich – 15.58 and 19.30. Heck, the 19.30 would have me home very late, but could I really see myself getting to Crianlarich in time for the 15.58 I wondered?
After a bit of calculating and soul searching, I decided if I had a very early start from here, I should be able to cover the sixty miles in time to get the train. A phone call later to the lovely Scotrail booking system when I was even able to speak to a real human person, I had my bike booked on the 15.58 from Crianlarich.
Now I just needed to tell Mr M of my plans. This went something like this…
“I’m going to cycle to Crianlarich”.
Mr M’s eyebrows were raised.
“It’s thirty miles to Callander then thirty miles to Crianlarich. I’ll know by the time I get to Callander whether I have enough time to cycle to Crianlarich in time for the 15.58 train. If I think it’ll be a push, I’ll just cycle from Callander to Dunblane instead”, I said, smiling sweetly at Mr M.
“If your bike is booked on the train, which I’m guessing it is, then so be it”, groaned Mr M.
“I’ll have to have an early start on Monday morning though,” I whispered.
Mr M’s eyebrows were by now creeping over the top of his head. “How early?”
“Erm, leaving here at 7.30 am”, I said in my cutest voice ever.
A big sigh from Mr M. “I’ll set the alarm for 6 am!”
Monday morning soon arrived and yes, we were up by 6 am. Despite the ridiculously early morning, Mr M still made me my porridge, my picnic and a flask of tea. By 7.30 am I was leaving home, with Mr M and Beatrix waving me off.
“Phone me if you need me,” he shouted as I cycled down the drive.
Did I just see Mr M and Beatrix putting their pyjamas back on!
In previous episodes I’ve told you that I avoid the cycle track that leads out of Kirkintilloch through to Strathblane because of all the sleeping policemen roots popping through the track. Today though, 7.30 am on a Monday morning, it was like wacky races almost as soon as I left home. As you leave our cul-de-sac to join the road leading down towards the canal bridge, there’s a series of traffic calming measures. We all know that these are intended to make traffic slow down and make the road a safer place for all. In theory. In practice it just makes drivers try to rush through these, creating more near misses and road rage than an open road would do (just saying if any road planners are reading!). Deciding I didn’t want to be held responsible for the delay to some drivers on their way to work if they got held up behind me for a minute or two, I felt I should risk waking the sleeping policemen and take the cycle track out to Lennoxtown.
Today, I very nearly enjoyed this track. Being so early there were no runners or dog walkers, allowing me to tootle along avoiding the biggest of the roots. After a short, easy cycle I left the track at Lennoxtown and took the dreaded Crow Road up towards the Campsie Fells.
I was pleasantly surprised how easy I found this road today compared to my last trip up here. There’s something lovely about cycling early in the morning. The birds are singing their songs to each other, the lambs are just waking up and there’s a peaceful feel to the world. The Crow Road was very quiet today and I was soon approaching the carpark. I thought about trying not to have a stop at this carpark today, but the cold early morning air was getting to me. I knew I’d need to put my gloves on for the descent to Fintry and I also had a bit of an urge for a call of nature. As I pulled into the carpark, there was just one single car in it. Taking a glance into its window there was nobody to be seen in the car so I found my spot behind the wall and did what I needed to do. As I came back around the wall, the car’s engine started and the driver, who seemed to appear from nowhere, reversed and quickly left the car park. I felt slightly embarrassed but you know how it is when you need to go, you need to go. I chuckled to myself thinking, “At least my bum’s a bit smaller now if anything was seen”.
All sorted and my shame lifted, I continued my way up the hill with my hands now toastie in gloves. Again, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the hill was not getting the better of me and I could actually feel some power in my thighs. Today was going to be a good day, I could feel it.
The views as always on this stretch of road, never fail to disappoint. I wonder how many people living in East Dunbartonshire realise just how close they live to these hills and how a short journey could give them a taste of the Trossachs. Meikle Bin on your right stands proud, a mountain in its own right, but not quite a Munro, more a Marilyn, at just 5570 metres (1879ft). On a clear day, the views at the summit of Meikle Bin are simply amazing and stretch out as far as Ailsa Crag on the West Coast and Bass Rock on the East.
Beginning the sweeping descent, I was glad of my gloves and zipped my jacket right up, pulling my bandana down over my ears. It was cold!
Ever since I moved to Kirkintilloch some seventeen years ago, two houses have been under construction on this road. Seventeen years to build a house! I wonder if there’s some sort of financial benefit to keeping scaffolding outside your house, perhaps lower council tax? There must be some reason why these houses look lived in but never seem quite finished.
Continuing with the descent, avoiding the increasingly numerous and larger potholes, peering through my now watering eyes, I was still able to admire the ever-opening view of the Trossachs with Ben Lomond looking proud as ever. It was still early and I don’t think I saw more than one or two cars all the way from Lennoxtown to Fintry.
Arriving at Fintry with cold feet, I was glad to be finished with the long descent but knew the hills to come would soon warm me back up. Taking a right at the village crossroads I was now heading towards Kippen, just short of seven miles away. Don’t be mistaken though, the road up from Fintry is a bit of a climb, not as steep as the Crow Road, but still a test. Today I was blessed with bright yellow gorse lining both sides of the road. What a sight! What a smell! We think we’re fabulous as humans with the things we create, but Mother Nature beats us hands down every time.
As you reach the summit, there’s a large layby where you can pull in and admire the views once again. A little road veers off to the left down through Arnprior, but that’s killer of a road, so I’m following the road to the right to sweep down all the way to Kippen.
Kippen is a pretty village with a number of little shops and a tearoom, but I wasn’t ready for a stop just yet. My aim was to get to Callander, my halfway point, where I would check how long it had taken me to get there before making my decision whether or not to continue to Crianlarich.
From Kippen I was heading out on the B822 to Callander, through Thornhill, ten miles away. There’s a bit of a busy junction to cross the main A811 but it’s now a roundabout and not too bad, so long as you keep your wits about you. As I described in my last blog, the area around Thornhill is very flat and you’re passing alongside Flanders Moss. This stretch of road was dream. There was bit of a head wind but nothing too strong. Passing through gentle farmland, including an alpaca farm, it really was a peaceful Monday morning. I could feel all the weight of everyday life falling off me as I made my way easily along my route. There was little bit of climbing just to keep me on my toes, but before I knew it, I was making the final descent into Callander.
First stop was the toilets. Cold air, cycling and an age thing! But to my horror, I found the ladies’ toilet locked. There was a crowd of people outside the gents’ toilet who informed me that everyone was having to use the gents’, but there were only ladies in there at the moment. So, I risked it. I can honestly say this was the first time I can think that I’ve been in a gents’ toilet. I quickly headed into a cubical but on leaving, to my horror, found that it was no longer just females using the facilities! I averted my eyes and quickly washed my hands before escaping the strange and weird situation I found myself in. At least this time it wasn’t my bare flesh on display!
However, the good news was that I’d made excellent time and still felt good so could continue with my plan to cycle to Crianlarich. I was now at my halfway point. Thirty miles done, thirty miles still to do.
Callander today was quiet and I easily found myself an empty picnic table to sit at. A brief rain shower forced me to put on my waterproof jacket and the cover onto my saddle bag. Cycling gear has two purposes really. The first is to keep you warm and dry and the second to make you visible, especially in poor weather. My yellow jacket and yellow saddle bag cover both have luminous strips on them so not only are they bright to be seen, but they also light up when headlights shine on them.
Of course, once I’d got my bag and myself covered, the rain promptly stopped.
Being well ahead of time, I allowed myself a good break to rest but only half of my buttie. The rest I’d have at the station or on the train but don’t worry, there was cake in the form of lemon, rosewater and pistachio to go with my half buttie and flask of tea.
Now even though I was feeling quite good, if I was honest, the thought of doing another thirty miles was quite daunting. I decided I’d cut the second half of my cycle into manageable chunks. You know the saying, “I couldn’t eat a whole elephant, but I could manage to eat it in chunks”.
Let’s make it clear though for all those people now dialling animal welfare departments, I will never attempt to eat even a little part of an elephant!
My first chunk was Callander to Strathyre, about nine miles. Leaving Callander, I joined the now familiar route 7 cycle track. I know this section fairly well and enjoyed the gentle cycle, slightly uphill in places, alongside the Falls of Lenny, which should have been impressive, but were worryingly almost non-existent in places. We clearly have not had enough rain this winter.
Once you reach the carpark for those aiming to tackle Ben Ledi, the track continues beyond Strathyre lodges but becomes quite rough for narrow tyres. I re-joined the main road here by cycling along the metal bridge and taking a left onto the A84. This is a busy main road so if you’re a bit nervous in traffic, just stay on the cycle track if your tyres can cope.
Today the A84 was fairly quiet. This is a lovely stretch of road, following the banks of Loch Lubnaig. The views are awesome and at times you can hardly tell what is real and what is reflection. It’s also a bit like a mini roller coaster, great for cycling but not so good for travel-sick passengers in a car.
Shortly before reaching Strathyre, you pass the Immeroulin Caravan and Camping Park, which is where last year we had our very first trip away in Evie the Campervan. I’m writing a book on the first year of being a campervan owner and might call it “It takes a year to grow a new thumbnail” as I trapped my thumb in the van door that day and it’s still not fully recovered.
Arriving at the village of Strathyre, there’s a lovely new stretch of cycle track that leads onto my next port of call, Lochearnhead. I had a little stop and a bit of chocolate as I checked the mileage for my next chunk. Easy-peasy I thought, just six miles to go. Breaking my journey up the miles were flying by quite easily but it was always in the back of my mind that I couldn’t take things too easy as I need to reach Crianlarich before four o’clock.
The next stretch of cycle track is great. It’s relatively flat with just a couple of ups and downs. What makes it so special for me is how the scenery changes. Gone are the gentle farmlands as they give way to hills and mountains. The highlands really are calling to me now. I was looking forward to the views I’d get on the final stretch to Crianlarich once I’d reached Glen Ogle.
But I had to get to Glen Ogle first. The cycle track continues from Lochearnhead to Glen Ogle and Lochan Lairig Cheile, with a mere four miles to go. But this section certainly isn’t flat. Leaving Lochearnhead the cycle track takes an immediate hike up a series of very, very tight S-bends. Given that I was tired, I decided to have a little walk (or hike) up this ridiculously steep, narrow path with its twists and turns. It did give me chance to take in the rapidly appearing view of Loch Earn as I quickly gained height. Mountains were beginning to appear in all directions.
Fortunately, this stretch only goes on for half a miles or so before normality is restored. What follows is an amazing three miles cycling up the old railway line. From the main road across the valley, car drivers miss out on the scenery as they concentrate (hopefully) on keeping their vehicle on the road going up the hill. If they dare take a glance over to their left, they’d see the fantastic viaduct looking something not dissimilar to a scene out of a Harry Potter movie. I was now cycling on that viaduct.
You’d imagine that climbing up the hill to the top of Glen Ogle would be a tough challenge, but it’s really not, honestly. It’s one of those hills you don’t know which gear to use. It’s not flat, hardly seems uphill, but you know you are going uphill. A couple of gates break the cycle as you need to open these. You could risk cycling over the cattle grids, but I’ve seen too many mishaps with cyclists and cattlegrids so never even considered it. It's quite an amazing experience cycling up the track as you enjoy the peace but looking across the valley to your right you can see (and hear) the traffic trundling up and down the A84.
I was feeling quite chuffed with myself. I knew I was making good time and would be able to have a short break at the top before the final twelve mile stretch to Crianlarich, allowing me to make the train in perfect timing by my calculations. As you reach the top, you can see the track change slightly and a sign warns that there’s vehicle traffic ahead as you will be joining the main road again.
Thud, thud, thud.
Any cyclists reading this will probably be sighing in sympathy with me at this point.
Thud, thud, thud.
I didn’t even need to look down at my tyre to know I had a puncture. And of course, it had to be the back wheel. Walking the last few yards to the fence at the top of the track before it re-joins the main road, I have to admit to saying a few swear words to myself.
Punctures and basic repairs don’t bother me, but I was cross with myself that I’d not cleaned my bike before setting out today. Oh well!
So, bike upside down and back wheel out, I set about taking the inner tube out of the tyre. Pumping it up again once out of the tyre, I was able to look to see where the tube was damaged. Yep, there was a tiny hole. Identifying the position of the hole on the innertube allows you to find any damage to the tyre in the same position. You might find a bit of glass or a thorn in the tyre. But no, nothing was visible today. I ran my fingers all the way round the inside of the tyre and checked the outside too. I also checked the rim of the wheel to make sure nothing was there, including perhaps a spoke head poking through. Nothing. Sometimes you never find the cause of a puncture.
Of course, being the ever-prepared girl I am, I carry both spare inner tubes and a puncture repair kit. It’s much easier to just have an innertube you can use and repair the damaged one when you get home, especially in cold, wet weather.
Spare inner tube in and tyre pumped up. Only to go down again. No! More X-rated words. I was by now also conscious that the spare time I had to get to the station on time was quickly running away as fast as the air from my tyre.
I huffed and puffed and had another piece of dairy milk. By now I had oily hands and was getting a bit chilly. I phoned Mr M to let him know what was happening.
“You’ll be fine. A puncture is no problem for you”, he said.
I had a bit of a rant and discussed with him the merits of obviously carrying around old inner tubes that were as much use as chocolate fireguards. I told him I’d try once more and see what happened and also what time I had left.
By now, several people had passed me and commiserated with me the fact that it’s always the back wheel. I assured them that everything was in hand and I was fine.
Third inner tube pumped up but I couldn’t seem to get enough pressure into it. Maybe I was just rushing. Maybe I was tired. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. There was one clear fact. I knew I wouldn’t be in time for the train at Crianlarich now. Should I just try again and then wait for the next train three hours later. But my bike reservation was for the 15.53. There was no guarantee there would be room on the next train for my bike.
So, I did the only thing I could think of. I phoned Mr M and told him of my dilemma.
“Shall I come and pick you up?”.
Relief that I now didn’t need to worry about either my tyre or the train, I got out my spare jacket and my waterproof jacket, along with woollen gloves and hat. It was a fine day, but don’t forget I was now at the top of Glen Ogle with a chilly wind blowing.
My other disappointment was that I hadn’t quite got to the very top of Glen Ogle to have the view I knew was waiting for me of Munro after Munro. Next time!
Knowing it would take Mr M the best part of an hour and a half I did the only sensible thing and found a comfy spot to finish my picnic and flask of tea. I might be disappointed not to finish my planned route, but I wasn’t going to be cold, hungry or thirsty.
Before I knew it, the magnificent Mr M was appearing up the hill in our car. My very own knight in shining armour (well a red car). Before too long, we had my bike in the back of the car and I was settled in the passenger seat with strict instructions from Mr M that I had not to touch anything with my oil covered hands.
A couple of hours later, I was home, showered and Mr M was cooking tea for me. I know. Spoiled.
As we were sitting relaxing later, Mr M calmly said, “No doubt you’ll be doing this route again next week”.
He knows me too well.
Just short of fifty miles today though, so not too bad after all for a failed adventure.