Manxcat cycling for her life at the Etape Caledonia 2011!

Why oh why did we think this was a good idea!

Well, in November 2010 the Etape Caledonia ride in May was AGES away, and we had HOURS as yet to train for it. I could already cycle 100 miles, and I had proved I could cycle 80 miles a day over several days, therefore 81 miles one day, one trip…. Easy peasy right?


The Etape Caledonia is a bit special see. It certainly isn’t an Audax, and I was trying to treat it like it was.

It was a cycle route of just 81 cheeky miles, with a really big hill in it. Less than 2,000m of climbing though. ‘Cept there is also a time limit on it – I’ve worked on time limits before, but not like this one. To get potential cyclists in the mood back in November, about doing the ride, the organisers say…. “You dont need to finish in the time, you can crawl back on open roads….”

So it was duly entered. But, did I read the small print back in November? When I get a new piece of I.T. kit, do I read the instructions? Well, no usually I don’t And the small print for the Etape Caledonia said something like……..

“…Cept you dont get ya medal….if you canna keep up with the speed’.

Oh, no, medals were just for proper cyclists who can average 13mph or more!!! But it was November, and I didnt bother to read the small print so, off my hard earn’t cash went. Tina not being one to be put off by a challenge threw her hat to the wind and entered it as well.

Now the gauntlet was down, we were girls on a mission, once that small print had been read, because you see….
medal collecting is important to us: We are girls, and like a bit of metal and ribbon 

My hubby sent me this link… this is YOU he said!

Not that we are competitive that is… cos of course we arn’t. Na, not one tiny bit…. besides no medal wasn’t the end of the world, as I would still get an Audax run for me. So a win, win situation. Plus we would both get the fun and enjoyment of a grand day out on the bikes in the glorious fantastic Scottish landscape with other cyclists and best of all…. no traffic to worry about for a change. Magic or what?

One week to go, and Im bricking it, Tina is bricking it even more than I am. I am bricking it mostly because Etape Caledonia team like to remind you with regular e-mails just how far behind you are in your training programme. We need to be able to knock off this ride in less than 5hours 30 minutes, when I usually take 7 hours to complete a 100km (63 mile) Audax ride.

Thats a lot of cadence! A shed load of peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and I am expected to wear way more lycra than I usual!  (I’m a M&S top and shorts kinda gal)

The event draws ever nearer…. to the point that my panic at being able to do this ride really starts to kick in… I read one of Chris’s posts on CycleSeven about being overloaded, and then I committed the ultimate cycle tourer’s sin… I stripped my beloved bicycle of her rear rack and her panniers…. During Edna’s final service, I replaced her brake pads, scrubbed her with rubbing alcohol, cleaned her chain, cassette and front ring until they gleamed, looked worryingly at her Gaterskin tyres – as punctures were something we had yet to experience… And then I took off her rear rack, and replaced the Carradice Long Flap with a tiny weeny Barley bag. Couldn’t talk myself into removing her mudguards though, na they were to stay. There is really only SO much a tourer cyclist could not ride without. 

“Where is everything gonna go!” I ask exasperated to Tina… “In ya lycra Mary, its what those LARGE pockets are for”.

So, its not my bum that looking big in the pictures OK!

For this trip I was treating the Enigma (Enid) for a change. Reason: Sad but true… Hettie Hetchins is too valuable to me, I have great sentimental love for that arrangement of pipes, poles and chainwear. There were LOTS of cyclists also riding at the Etape, and not being used to cycling in large numbers meant I was seriously scared of falling off. The titanium frame of the Enigma weighs more than the Hetchins, and with its over-sized frame and bars she looks positively chunky in comparison. But, should we both smear ourselves across tarmac, she is strong and less likely to frame damage than Hettie is who would need a re-spray at the very least and a whole lot of TLC should this happen. I wish I did not convey this message to Tina, but me being me, I did… 

Pitlochry and the Etape Caledonia 2011

This is the view from the Hostel breaksfast room

We arrived in Pitlochry Hostel – ‘cept there arent any youths using it, which might have been a good thing, cos Tina and I made up for that fact by getting the giggles on a regular basis and behaving like school girls every time someone made a funny noise – you get the picture – but it was clean, and the showers were hot and plentyful and it was very comfortable to be honest, but very much like being back in Uni. We registered our rides and set off on a run immediately.

Only sad thing about the entire weekend was this. In this event there are over 5,000 cyclists. We have had a few incidents recently on the island with cyclists coming off their bikes, plus we heard about that dreadful death of the Italian rider in the Giro Italian, and neither Tina or I had ever ridden in a proper peleton before, this coupled with an incident that happened to us, and poor Tina freaked and she bailed from the ride after registering. Instead she became my support team! So, I would still be cycling alone, as Tina made arrangements instead, to meet her brother – they had family stuff to discuss.

OK, so what helped Tina change her mind… This did:

My puncture on the way to Aberfalby caused, we believe by a drawing pin

We cycled to Aberfeldy to see the pretty village, watch part of the bike fest (I was hoping to catch up with Mark Beaumont and get a book signed by him), and pop into the world famous distillery for a bottle of glorious ‘joy and headaches’ (whisky for the rest of you). We were very nearly there, our route took us along the final miles of the Etape Caledonia riding on the route in its reverse direction. Turning a corner, something caught in my rear mudguard and pinged out. The next thing was a flat.

Ah well, best be philosophical about this and get on with it. The day was still with us, Mr Sun was snoozing in the sky and I had my gear with us.

No sooner had we done this, and rejoined the road and Tina shouted from behind. She had one too.

WOW, 2 visits from the Pun**ure Fairy in 2 minutes! Most unusual. Until Tina dug out from her front tyre a brand spanking new drawing pin. Strange … and a bit de ja vu from 2009… Anyway we did our job and replaced her tube not finding this one quite as fun as mine, but continued to the event. Missing my usual HUGE travel bag on Enid, I slung the two tubes round my neck for disposal in Aberfeldy. We arrived, and had a coffee, one of the organisers came over to us, and how friendly were the locals! Everyone talking about the BIg Day the Etape in the morning. He couldnt not notice the rubber necklace I had, and so we told him about the incident we had experienced. And without a second word, he replaced our tubes immediately! How GREAT was that! We were a bit worried about the return to Pitlochry as our tube supplies were of course much reduced. I told him, I was handing in our drawing pin to the organisers in Pitlochry.

We had a great time at the wee festival in Aberfeldy. Lots to do but all very much in a vein similar to home – family based, and laid back 

But look at what we had a go with… and yes, I know Im a wee bit big as a stoker here, I was hoping I could stay on, make the bike go forward and we managed it rather well I thought!

We took another route back to the hostel and found this! A womens paradise, and certainly we were pleased to have found it. I had a huge plateful of Scottish Cheeses with hand made oat cakes. It was a brilliant little shop, had gifts, MOUNDS of home made chocolate in a specially cooled off section of the shop, and one of the prettiest cafe/tea rooms Ive ever been in. We were recommended this place, from a keen woman cyclist at Aberfeldy, and was found on the road back to Pitlochry.

Tina feeling full outside our FAVOURITE tea room in Scotland – so far….

Sunday 15th May 2011. The Etape Caledonia Event

If you like a Sunday lie-in folks, dont go to the Etape Caledonia. The event, to help be less of an incoviennce to locals starts EARLY! My start time was 07.13am, and we had to be at the start one hour before the ride.
The morning of the event was cold. Weather was over cast 100% cloud, no wind, and no rain. The worst part of a ride like this is the waiting. I was getting excited, but kept telling myself – no chance of a medal, treat this as an Audax. Because I knew the medal was out of reach, I had instead written up controls along the Etape route and forwarded them to Audax so I could claim my Audax ride for May. According to Etape Caledonia the route holds 1900m or so, if this is true, I should get 1.75 AAA points. So all good.

The horn sounded after each wave of cyclists. It is a VERY well organised event. My number was 2880, and I was in wave O.

The Start

Riders walking their bicycles to the start

There is quite a few of them

My muscles were shaking with the cold by the starting time, but that hour was totally necessary to ensure you managed to find your wave. No cyclist could go early, but at the same time, we all had a timing chip that was activated once you left the start, and so late arrivals could leave in any wave. It was the most organised thing, regimented and accurate. My leaving time was 07.13am and that is exactly the time I left the start at.

Here I am, looking all excited and ready for the off

And she’s off….

Oh, to be setting off feeling so COLD. I was wearing my Merino base layer, my cycle jersey, and my Isle of Man Laughton Loaded Ladies Mountain Bike cycle top. I was freezing, shorts beneath longs and waterproof socks did not stop my muscles from telling me 3 miles out of Pitlochry that this was not a good thing….

But I dunno, something clicked…. about 8 miles out of town, maybe it was the excitment of the moment – certainly adrenaline was flowing fast, I was smiling the entire way round…. Audax only…. Hummmm Na, Im going for that medal. The legs started to pound the pedals. It did help that this route is not as hilly by any means as I was expecting it to be. In fact, most of it was either flat as it was besides the loch, or ascending. My average speed increased, and increased. I was so switched onto this ride that I ignored the feeding stations. The entire route is signposted (unlike Audax rides) and every 5 miles you had a miles ridden sign too.

The roads were narrow, no wonder they were closed to traffic. The back drop of the loch and its surrounding countryside was breath takingly beautiful.. not as dramatic as Garry’s Ireland, but stunning all the same. I left my camera were it was, as I became more and more engaged in completing this ride on time. I was surprised how many cyclists I over took. One, then another… as the miles continued, the little bike began to feel much lighter. I started to find a ‘zone’ to cycle in. Keeping the bicycle at a steady pace mile after mile.

Then I went around a corner and experienced my first crash.

Luckily for me, I wasn’t involved in it. Up ahead was some poor chap lying across the tarmac. His bike in a tangle next to him. The shock to me, wasn’t the fact he had fallen off, it was the fact that cyclists were simply staring at him and continuing to cycle past… Dreadful…. No one would do that on a tour, or an Audax ride. I stopped my bike and crossed the road to ask him if he was ok. Luckily apart from being a bit shocked at the cyclist who had come into contact with him, and then sped off, he only had surface grazing and road rash. His bike looked ok too. He said I could go as he was ok, but sore and cross.

As the roads are closed, if you break down, your stuck until the roads open. There are regular motorcyclists who sort of sweep up mishaps, and sort out cyclists with their mechanicals. I past at least 4 cyclists with broken chains for example – maybe they forgot their spare links and chain breakers that day?? Who knows, I didn’t mind stopping for someone with an injury, I wasn’t stopping for someone with a mechanical. Its important to bring the emergency number with you which is given to you prior to the ride, so someone can come to your aid.

Food wise, I wasnt going to stop. By now, I was on a real mission, and into a good zone. I had bought with me smooth peanut butter and marmite sandwiches, plus 2 Marathon bars (I refuse to call them Snickers….), and as I cycled I discovered that peanuts in a chocolate bar are hard to chew without choking on, oh, and open packets of food BEFORE you set off next time… Even a Marathon is hard to open with one hand.

There were 4 feeding stations. I only stopped at the one at the 60 mile marker or thereabouts and only because I was desperate for a wee by then, there are a LOT of chaps in this ride, and not many private places, so I waited and used one of the port-a-loos at the feed stations.

OK, lets discuss that hill.

I was not impressed… Sorry and all that, but I was really expecting a HILL, one that would tax my cycling to the limit, one that perhaps I would get off and walk on. A hill that would give me cramps etc, as a result, I reduced my cycling power to ensure I had fuel in the tank for this hill, the organisers even had a feed station at the base of the hill at either side to make sure you were fuelled for it.

Started up it, rode up it. The next thing I was cycling down hill, and I thought ‘Ah, one of those cheeky numbers that gets you part way up, throws in a valley and then another up hill’. Cept no. That was it. The BIg Monster was a sleeping lamb. In Manx terms (For those of you who are considering this – cos, I know you are out there!)  It was like riding from Ramsey swimming pool (the old one) to the top of the Hibernia on the coast road. Thats it. Not the Sloc, like I was expecting. Just two climbs and then about 5 miles to total dropping off the edge of the world, then flat back to Pitlochry.

I had power in my legs, and along the flat to Pitlochry I was cycling between 18-20mph for a good bit of it.

Anyway… Guess what? I did it.

Here is the Garmin info for those interested.

And…… I got my medal… 

And next year, Tina is going to get one too!

What a day! What an experience! What made it so brilliant for me at least was the welcoming from everyone in Pitlochry. All the well wishers along the route, small children rushing out with Giant Red hands for the cyclists to ‘Hi Five’ as we all passed. The pretty villages with thatched roofs looking like they had stepped off the lid of a chocolate box. The scenery was simply second to none.

It was wonderful, magical and so far it is counting as the best cycling experience of my life!

Lastly I need to thank my cycling pal Tina. She felt very intimidated by the sheer number of cyclists in this event, worried about the possibility of a crash – which after the drawing pin incident caused her to back out of her decision to ride on the day incase of a tyre blow out – a great shame, as she is faster than me, and would have got a great time for this ride on her super dooper carbon bike.

Thank you Tina, for helping me on the day, for supporting me, listening to me moaning about the speeds that were expected, when I should of listened to you to start with and just get out there and ride for my life!

Tina on the way to Aberfaldy