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Monday, 18 July 2011

Final Training Ride: up and over Mt Keen

So I have now conquered my third Munro! That to me is satisfying enough but I'm feeling particularly pleased with myself as I did this one by bike. Sounds good doesn't it?

Well, to be honest with you there was a fair amount of walking involved either due to the loose, bouldered inclines or, in the latter part of the ride, simply down to pure exhaustion! So, here's a brief account of the final training ride before I embark on what now seems like a somewhat ambitious task!

Driving through the heavy rain it seemed like a spiritual sign as I saw a small window of blue sky right above Aboyne. Nevertheless, I had still packed some layers, an emergency kit including fully charged spare phone (as if I'd get a signal!) and my waterproofs. After driving past the start of the route I decided that parking in the town centre would be best although the poor woman jogging through the park as I was standing in my underpants would possibly disagree. After some amount of faffing around and repacking I finally set off at 11am, only two hours later than I had planned.

The forest track through Glen Tanar was a really nice warm up to the ride. Only a gentle incline the whole way and the trees provided shelter from the few showers that occurred. I passed two other mountain bikers who were stopped at the misleadingly names 'Half Way Hut' (depending on where you were going!) both of whom seemed very under dressed for a trip up a 3000ft mountain. Perhaps, I thought gauging their facial expressions, it was me who was over dressed. I waited until I was further up the road before stopping for a banana and taking off the jacket that I was wearing.

Surely I wasn't naive enough to think that this gentle track would lead me to the top of Mt Keen? No, I knew that soon I'd be faced with a bit more of a climb and when I saw the red, dusty-looking path carving it's zig-zagged line up the mountain side I psyched myself up for some hard peddling in the little ring. Did I mention the word naive?

Naive sums up the next few hundred vertical metres of my trip. Firstly, the little ring was not going to forgive my technical ineptitude and I found myself slugging the bike up the rocky path, inanely commenting about my naivety to two walkers who were sitting and actually enjoying the mountain.

As if pushing the bike up wasn't enough of a clue in itself, it was only after deciding to give it a go to the summit (damn the draw of showing off via Facebook status updates!) that I saw the sheer cliff (exaggeration) that I was to scramble up both pushing and carrying my bike all the way. It was horrendous and had their been any families with children down wind of me, I'm sure the expletives would have carried quite well.

Anyway, having stopped for a sandwich and a pat on the back, I left the drizzly, cloud-covered summit and headed down a much easier path. It occurred to me that climbing up from this side would be the way to do it. However, the descent on the other side would be treacherous. Having said that, the descent I took tripped my up. Riding alone I was very conscious of my vulnerability and the walkers I passed were still a long way behind me and I had no way of knowing whether they were following the same route as me. I took it easy and walked some of the rock ladders and even lifted the bike over some of the high drainage steps. However, as my upper body got more tired, a mistake was inevitable and I misjudged the height of one of the steps as it swallowed up the frond wheel sending my over the bars and landing hard on my shoulder. A little lesson from the mountain reminded my of the need to be careful. I still had a fair distance to go.

I soon realised that the bar ends, as useful as they were for climbing, were really impeding the wide grip I'm used to. After taking the bar ends off, the rest of the descent was a flowing, fast roller-coaster ride down loose, rocky tracks. Having used every muscle in my body to ensure I avoided any wheel-grabbing rocks whilst lifting the wheels over the majority of the loose stuff, by the time I got to the bottom my whole body was aching. I now found even more admiration for the downhillers who through their bodies and bikes around much more technical descents.

The track evened out and carried my to Glen Mark and then I arrived via tarmac into the village of Tarfside. By this time the phone battery was very low and I new I wouldn't be tracking much more of my trip. Mind you, with hindsight an average speed of 4.1 mph isn't hugely motivating anyway! I listened to my phone beep a few more times whilst eating the rest of my sandwiches, a banana and a cheeky chocolate bar and headed up the Fungle Road towards the Forest of Birse.

To be honest, the first half of the Fungle Road is boring with little in the way of beautiful scenery. Lots of sheep, some mountains and lots of red, sandy landrover tracks. It was these red tracks that sent me off course and yes, I admit, I was lost for a while. I had not considered that the FungleFungle Road.

Another rocky climb walked and I reached a welcome sign pointing me towards Aboyne. As I entered a much lusher looking hillside things become much more interesting. Traversing around the side of Tampie, Gannoch and Auchnashinn I swooped along the track, bouncing over drainage ditches and splashing through fords. This was an uplifting reward for what had been a bit of a hard slog.

With energy levels running very low, my water finally ran out as I passed Birse Castle. Actually, I was quite pleased with how I'd gauged my water for the trip. I had only filled my reservoir 3/4 full as I didn't want the extra weight in what was already a pretty heavy day bag. Only a few miles to go.

What I didn't expect to find was the single track path that entered the forest. On a normal day, this singletrack would have been welcome. But today, with no energy in my legs and no strength in my upper body, I was like a dummy being led by the bike. I slid off every root, I clumped heavily off every drop and toppled over several times. I even managed to catch a thick root with the top of my foot. Travelling quite fast at the time, I managed to stay on but the root stopped the pedals, the bike, unclipped my shoes and really hurt. Two days on and I'm happy to say I've had no problems with my foot since. I really don't know how I managed to avoid braking a bone!

Reaching the bridge into Aboyne I was in automatic. I reached the car, checked the time, changed into my dry clothes (in the toilets this time) and headed towards Inverurie to be reunited with family, food and a hot bath.

This really has been an eye opener. It follows what looks like the 2nd hardest day of the coast 2 coast trip and although knackered, I was not put off a short cycle the following day to get the legs moving again.

From the time of writing this, there is now only 3 days until we leave for the West and 4 days until we begin pedalling.

Thanks to everyone who has sponsored me so far. If you haven't already, please click one of the donate buttons at the top of the page and make a contribution. Even just the amount that you might spend on a pint, give to Cancer Research or Macmillan instead. Cheers :-)

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