Journey to the Roof of the World (well, nearly)

Discussion in 'UK and Europe' started by Simon Brooke, Oct 18, 2004.

  1. Simon Brooke

    Simon Brooke Guest

    There was a thread on this group not so very long ago asking which was
    the longest continuous climb in Britain, and the answer turned out to
    up Mannock Water to Wanlockhead and thence up to the radio mast on the
    Green Lowther. We did not do that climb today...

    Sometime last week Big Dougie phoned up and asked if I fancied a ride up
    to Wanlockhead, saying he and Andrew were planning to do the run today,
    both being off work. I swithered. I did want to do the run. I thought
    it would be a good test of both me and the bike. But I also seriously
    doubted whether I was fit for it. Eventually at yesterday's club run
    (Dalbeattie Forest, bits of Red Route and bits of mucking around -
    great fun) I committed to going. So at 9.45 this morning Dougie's van
    rolled up at my front door, we loaded the Dolan in, and set of for
    Andrew's house in Dumfries. At twenty past ten we rolled out from
    Andrew's house, heading north. Big Dougie, the time trial animal, also
    known locally as 'the bus'; Andrew, former Scottish Junior Champion;
    and me, who am at best a leisure cyclist, and who had never taken part
    in any organised ride before this year. Ooops.

    Andrew didn't want to cycle the A76 (and small blame to him - it is
    ridiculously narrow and twisty for the amount of very fast HGV traffic
    it carries) so we went out by back roads through mostly rolling
    countryside via Terregles and Dunscore. On the flat I was keeping up
    fine but on the climbs - as I has expected - I could not keep up. That
    was OK partly because Dougie and Andrew were good about waiting for me
    at the tops but also because I was descending faster than they were.
    Even when we were all free wheeling the Dolan seemed to pull ahead,
    which is a credit to Mavic hubs; but on steeper descents I was also
    braking less. At Keir Mill we stopped to pay homage at the forge where
    Kirkpatrick Macmillan built the first pedal powered bicycle. This
    section was also notable for wonderful autumn colours. We saw two red
    squirrels and interrupted a middle sized raptor (not a buzzard or a
    kite and definitely not an eagle; possibly a harrier) stooping on a

    Past Penpont we hit some fairly noticeable climbs and I was beginning to
    think I couldn't do it, and ought to peel off to give the other two a
    chance. And then quite suddenly my legs started to work; and for
    several miles of (admittedly fairly gentle) climb I was leading the
    group at a steady 18mph. Then down a tearing descent, across the river,
    and up onto the A76. Apart from one wazzock in a gold Citroen Saxo the
    traffic wasn't a problem, and very soon we came to the right turn over
    the railway and up onto the Mennock Pass.

    Well, I had been expecting it to be tough. And sections of it were
    tough; but not actually that tough. Certainly there were quite long
    sections where I was down to six miles per hour, gown in my 39x26
    lowest gear; certainly there were corners I went round dreading I might
    find it steeper the other side; and certainly Dougie and Andrew were
    climbing faster than I was. But the Mennock is a sort of stepped
    ascent, with quite short severe bits interspersed with much longer,
    much less severe bits on which I was quickly up to 18mph again - which
    is a high speed for me, and when Wanlockhead came over the ridge I was
    surprised and almost indignant. It wasn't supposed to be so easy. It
    ought to have been further. It should have been harder.

    I broke the speed limit coming into Wanlockhead and quickly caught up
    with Dougie and Andrew. Through the village and right onto the road to
    Leadhills, which quickly led us up to the Lanarkshire border, where we
    stopped briefly for pictures and I put my buff on. It was decidedly
    cold up there. We looked up at the radio mast which marked the real top
    of the climb; it didn't look far and it didn't look _that_ much higher
    (although it is in fact another 250 metres). But none of us felt it was
    our day to go up there.

    There was a time when you went over the border from Dumfrieshire into
    Lanarkshire and the roads got worse; not any more. The road through
    Leadhills to Elvanfoot, though a curious red colour, was extremely well
    made for a little used high mountain road. The scenery was amazing in a
    completely different way - a lunar sub-arctic tundra littered with the
    spoil and wreckage of four thousand years of mining, very wild, rugged
    and bleak. We passed through it surprisingly quickly; past Leadhills,
    although the descents weren't steep, we were holding 40mph for
    considerable distances. Somewhere in this section my seat wedge bag
    fell off, nearly taking out Andrew... Ooops oooops!

    At Elvanfoot, with the M74 in sight, the question was whether to go down
    the Dalveen Pass or go through under the motorway to Greenhill Stairs
    and down by the Devil's Beeftub. I voted for Dalveen, and the others
    agreed. And as we turned right towards Dalveen, the reason for the last
    section being so fast and so easy came quickly apparent. We had a wind.
    Not a wind of the sort Jon and I encountered on our Journey to the
    Bottom of the Sea, but sapping nonetheless and remarkably cold. Once
    again I was not able to stay with the others and dropped back. The
    first time they stopped for me to catch up Andrew commented that the
    sooner we got down out of the wind the better, and I uttered the
    immortal words 'it's not far now'. The second time they stopped for me
    to catch up (when I put on the windproof fleece gilet Juliette made for
    me) he was asking me were we nearly there yet?

    And thus to the top of Dalveen, where the road rolls over and plunges
    200 metres down across the face of the hill in under three miles, down
    to a valley floor so deep it never sees the sun. I had been looking
    forward to it, building up to it. This had been, in my mind, the high
    point of the trip. I tucked. I spun. I put everything I had in to it,
    everything I know about making a bike go fast, and at the first steeply
    downhill corner I had just managed to get the bike up to 20 mph. Dougie
    powered past with his steam engine pile driver rhythm, pumping down the
    hill at least two or three miles an hour faster than I could achieve.
    For the first time in the day I couldn't stay with him on a descent. I
    burned my legs trying to get a little more, and as the altitude reeled
    down and the wind grew less somehow managed to find 26 mph. And then
    Andrew went past in a ridiculously low tuck, his legs practically

    I felt, frankly, gutted. I'd also badly burned my legs. I eased up, dug
    out a hanky, blew my nose, and settled down to the sort of 17mph I
    could sustain. There really wasn't any point in doing anything else.

    Once off the hill and into the bottom of the valley I settled down into
    a comfortable 18-19 and quickly came up with the others. As we rode
    down through Durrisdeer Andrew was listening to the remarkable rattling
    that the Dolan has made since I assembled it, and which was now
    noticeably worse. Once I'd said I was confident it was transmission
    related and demonstrated it went away when I free wheeled he was
    quickly able to diagnose an insufficiently tight cassette.

    And thus back down to the A76. The plan there had been to cross and go
    back over Keir and thus by the back roads down to Dumfries but Dougie
    and Andrew were concerned that I was running out of legs (which was
    pretty much true). I was confident that I could make it back to
    Dumfries along the A76, which is mostly fairly flat and overall
    slightly downhill, without difficulty, at probably about 10mph, which
    seeing it was only sixteen miles would see me into Dumfries before

    So I suggested to them that they go on and I'd meet them back at
    Andrew's. They both rejected this solution and agreed to accompany me
    back along the A76 (a road which, as I've said earlier, Andrew very
    reasonably dislikes). Once we were on a clear open section of the road
    they started teaching me to chaingang, something I hadn't done before,
    and soon I was pedalling along concentrating so hard on Dougie's red
    rear tyre that I was really unaware of artics hurtling by my elbow,
    while Andrew followed behind as tail-gunner. After we'd been doing this
    for a while I gained sufficient confidence to glance down at my
    speedometer... to see 24 mph. I was staggered. I had been really
    struggling for legs and twenty-four miles an hour is a speed I simply
    cannot sustain for any length of time. And yet here we were, sustaining
    it, on an undulating road, for mile after mile. Admittedly I sometimes
    couldn't hold Dougie's wheel, particularly on slight rises - he has an
    amazing ability to hold the same speed almost irrespective of gradient;
    but once up the rise I would get back on the back of the bus, and we'd
    go hurtling on.

    It couldn't last though - I was out of water and getting low on energy.
    Eventually in at Closeburn I pulled up, and bought a bottle of coke and
    had my water bottle refilled by a very pretty and cheerful lass in a
    little shop. And then on for three of four more miles to Amisfield,
    where we turned off onto back roads and slowed down. I was still
    managing 17mph on the flat section, but on every least rise my speed
    was down to ten or twelve while the others accelerated up trying to
    outsprint each other.

    And thus back into Dumfries just at rush hour. I've always been an
    'assertive' rider in urban traffic, but probably due to sheer tiredness
    I was having trouble unclipping my pedals, so I negotiated the
    roundabouts and traffic lights using techniques learned in days before
    clipless pedals - engage low gear, coast up until you can see a gap
    developing, sprint like buggery and be quite prepared to just
    intimidate motorists out of the way. At the roundabout where we crossed
    the ringroad there is apparently now a cyclists underpass but I didn't
    know about this and I wasn't going to risk trying to unclip in heavy
    traffic so I just muscled through...

    And thus back to Andrew's and some most welcome cake and tea, and a fair
    bit of mutual joshing. Distance 77.9 miles, average speed 13.6mph, time
    rolling 5 hours 43 minutes, and seeing we scarcely stopped at all,
    elapsed time under six hours. The climb up the Mennock alone was 360
    metres vertical; total climb on the whole trip cannot have been less
    than 500. And, apart from the headwind on the top, the weather was fine
    - excellent in the morning, not bad in the afternoon, and despite
    forecast rain, apart from a few drops of rain south of Elvanfoot, dry.

    A most excellent day.

    [email protected] (Simon Brooke)

    'You cannot put "The Internet" into the Recycle Bin.'

  2. Jon Senior

    Jon Senior Guest

    Simon Brooke [email protected] opined the following...
    <snipped - an awesome tale!>

    Hmmm. I'm gonna have to start getting some miles in or you'll be
    dropping me next time we ride together! ;-)

    I love the description of chain-ganging. My first experience of this was
    club rides when I was younger and it preceded my starting to consider
    long rides on my own. I found it very strange that I couldn't go out on
    a ride on my own and average 19mph+ over 55 miles without it hurting!

    Great report. I bet you sleep well tonight!

  3. KakenBetaal

    KakenBetaal New Member

    Jun 14, 2004
    Likes Received:
    That's awesome, thanks for the tale!
  4. Simonb

    Simonb Guest

    Simon Brooke wrote:

    > After we'd been doing
    > this for a while I gained sufficient confidence to glance down at my
    > speedometer... to see 24 mph. I was staggered.

    Interesting, isn't it? Drafting saves huge amounts of energy.

    It's no wonder recumbents are unpopular with committed upright riders! I
    suppose the only thing to benefit from the slipstream of a recumbent would
    be another recumbent?

  5. Jon Senior

    Jon Senior Guest

    Simonb [email protected] opined the
    > It's no wonder recumbents are unpopular with committed upright riders! I
    > suppose the only thing to benefit from the slipstream of a recumbent would
    > be another recumbent?

    Hence the ever-lowering recumbent. "Thou shalt not draft" enforced by
    design methinks! :)

  6. Simonb

    Simonb Guest

    Jon Senior wrote:

    > Hence the ever-lowering recumbent. "Thou shalt not draft" enforced by
    > design methinks! :)

    "Thou shalt not draft *me*." Shurely?
  7. Danny Colyer

    Danny Colyer Guest

    Jon Senior wrote:
    >>Hence the ever-lowering recumbent. "Thou shalt not draft" enforced by
    >>design methinks! :)

    and Simonb corrected:
    > "Thou shalt not draft *me*." Shurely?

    I love drafting roadies. They don't seem to bother much drafting me,
    even though my Street Machine's not particularly low.

    Danny Colyer (the UK company has been laughed out of my reply address)
    "He who dares not offend cannot be honest." - Thomas Paine
  8. Simonb

    Simonb Guest

    Danny Colyer wrote:

    > I love drafting roadies. They don't seem to bother much drafting me,
    > even though my Street Machine's not particularly low.

    They probably don't know you're there!
  9. Call me Bob

    Call me Bob Guest

    On Tue, 19 Oct 2004 06:51:26 +1000, KakenBetaal
    <[email protected]> wrote:

    >That's awesome, thanks for the tale!

    Agreed, great report, thanks for sharing.


    'The people have spoken, the bastards'

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