Friday, 23 July 2010

First decent ride of the year: Tak Ma Doon & Crow Road

I haven't done a decent ride for nearly 2 years now. Work and home commitments with a sequence of episodes of ill-health and injury have pretty much stopped me dead. I managed regular commuting & the occasional longer trip, but nothing particularly hilly nor especially long.
Part of the point of next year's trip & of this blog is to give me goals and a way of measuring my progress.
So, just now, I'm in about the worst shape I've been in fitness-wise for about 10 years... Things are starting to improve: with having moved, my commute has tripled in length, to 14km each way with 62/126m of climbing. With the shifts I do, I still haven't managed a full week of cycle commuting though, so there's still a lot of improvement needed.
I had the day off today & the weather was good, so I thought I'd find where I was fitness-wise. I planned a 60km route with some of my favourite roads: the Tak Ma Doon & the Crow Road, with the Carron Valley in between. The climbs couldn't be more different, but I love them both in different ways.
The Tak Ma Doon is probably my favourite road anywhere. It starts with a wee turn off the A803 in Kilsyth & hits a steep ramp almost immediately, then levels off to about 5% for a kilometre or so. Then 100m at 13%, then 300m at 3%, then 200m at 14%. It carries on like this the whole way up, with a few short sections on bends topping 20%. It's a properly vicious climb.
I find climbs like this really difficult since it's hard to get any rhythm. It's also really difficult to get any recovery from the 13+% sections which almost inevitably put you into the red...
Climbs like this demand a degree of respect & even reverence. The climb also takes you from a very urban setting to a view point with amazing views, onto a rural & remote-feeling valley. There is a sense of transcendence, in both a physical and environmental way.
Then the views from the top! On a clear day, you can see both Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh & Goatfell on Arran: the whole of the central belt lies in front of you. Today, the visibility was OK, without being great, still, there are some stunning views:

The loch in the second photo is Banton Loch: a reservoir on the site of the last decisive battle of the English Civil war, yes, 150 miles from the English border....

The Crow Road, from the North, has very similar numbers: 238m climbing at an average of 5%, compared to 270m at 6%. The difference is the consistency of the gradient. There are a couple of bends where the gradient approaches 10% for a few metres, but it's pretty much consistent the whole way through. The main difficulty with the climb is already having done the Tak Ma Doon & being tired. I like this road, but it's a different thing entirely: outstanding road surface, lots of traffic, wide road, consistent gradient....

So, what have I learnt:
-I'm not as unfit as I thought I might be;
-I've a long way to go, however, in getting properly fit;
-The Tak Ma Doon is a properly difficult climb;
-You can't hide lack of fitness on a difficult climb;
-That SPD sandals are great as commuter shoes, but really poor on steep hills;
-That I'm descending ATM with the grace of Bambi... In roller skates.... On ice... Seriously, I could take lessons from Andy Schleck in descending just now, it's something I really need to improve;
-That I'm not a good climber;
-That, despite the above point, I love difficult hills;
-That, if I ignore the 20 mins of taking/making work phone calls when my mobile phone signal came back, I managed the route in less (just) than 3 hours, so held an overall average of 20+kph....

There is a oneness that you can reach on a difficult hill: the moment before it defeats you. That oneness with the bike, with the gradient, with the pain, is something almost spiritual & is uniquely beautiful. There are very few moments in life of utter unity of purpose & thought & intent. This is why I love the Tak Ma Doon: I can have those moments thereon.

Numbers for the day:
-57.9km distance
-926 metres climbing & descending
-high point of 338m above sea level

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