Maybole. 53 miles and 4,000 ft climbed.

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I have said this before, I am map mad. If there is one thing I would shoplift, it would be OS maps. But if you are in the UK there is a way to get your fix that is free. You read that right. My pal Kenny showed me this for which I am eternally grateful. Go along to Bing Maps on the WWW. and up in the right hand corner you will see an oblong small box – click on it. It says ‘ ROAD’ and when it opens out, down at the bottom of the list, there it is ‘ORDNANCE SURVEY’.

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You just clicked on it and nothing happened. Well no, not until you zoom in a bit, and there you are, those familiar contour lines and cartographical beauty that will make your heart race. So, why am I telling you this? Well I use this system, along with Ride With GPS to plan rides and walks and often just to daydream.

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I was immersed in map daydreaming at the kitchen table during the dark weeks of the world of pain that were my days following the operation. I think I was looking for stone circles or cup & ring marked stones in the Glentrool area. Then I noticed a road. This is where it is useful to click on Aerial and zoom in to check what type of surface it has. We used this often when we rode around the world and it worked a treat.

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The road heads North from Glentrool and is marked route 7 on the OS Map. Up through Glentrool Forest and out onto open land with views up to Merrick. At Carrick Forest route 7 takes a left kink and starts to climb Nick of the Balloch. It became obvious that you could use the road you just left as a way of making a loop. Using Ride With GPS I put together a route of just over 50 miles with 4,000 ft of climbing.

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The map has more than enough wonderful names to get you out on your bike Loch Riecawr and Loch Macaterick, Big Meowl, Nick of Carclach all within a few grid squares. Maybole promised an open cafe at the half way point. It linked together a whole area that we have no knowledge of but had seen from the top of Merrick on our recent climb.

Any winter day you plan to ride will go through a set series of weather patterns. Perfect forecast to get you to circle that day in the desk diary and ask pals if they want to ride. From that point on the day’s weather will deteriorate, often requiring a lot of rescheduling. This is where a small number of people on the start list is an advantage. We had 3, which is 2 too many.

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The days are getting lighter. noticeably so if it is a sunny afternoon, and a sheltered spot can make you think you feel some warmth in the air. Rooks are starting to take more interest in the Rook Tree and Blackbirds are calling at first light as they wait for porridge scraps in the garden.

We parked at the visitor car park in Glentrool with the car showing a temperature of 4’c. More importantly there was no wind at all and a red squirrel was on hand to greet us as we put the bikes together. Bags were bulging with coffee flasks and reduced price Christmas cake. We were on the gravel bikes as I still did not trust the surfaces.

What a route, stunning. I use that word too much, but only because if I use the word epic you will close the page and go elsewhere. The best time to take a photo of a mountain is when you can see it. I am glad I did as Merrick was looking 1,000 ft higher as clouds curled around it.

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There are some days when you find a long ride easy. This was not one of those days. It could be the weight of the flask, the cake or the wider Panaracer Gravel King rubber, but I was struggling. My pal Jimmy would always describe a hard ride as ” I was going like an old coo “, well that was it exactly.

Maybole I think is a lovely name. We had arrived during school lunch time which today was a treat for the kids. To a man and girl they gave us menacing stares as they looked up from their bags of chips. We found a cafe. We carry what in the peloton we call a ‘ cafe lock ‘. It’s purpose is to buy you 20 seconds of time if someone is wanting to walk away with your bike. The trade-off is that it weighs almost nothing. We needed a D LOCK today and not a flimsy one either.

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We rode on, closing the top of the loop and heading for Straiton which has a wonderful but firmly closed cafe. It was a great plan and we even found a bench on which to sit and eat cake.

Straiton is beautiful. Everything except Maybole is beautiful, which makes it quite strange and quite abrupt that they are so close together. There are long views of big houses and estates up driveways with big gates. You get a lot of Scotland for your money here I guess.

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Up we climbed. It was one of those circular routes that do that MC Escher thing of always climbing yet returning to the start point. The weather was closing in, which is when you need to be cheered up by a Christmas Tree miles from anywhere. Merrick was now shrouded and had lost all of the height it had gained. It started to rain. Not enough to need a coat but too much not to wear one.

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The light was going and we pushed down on the pedals putting legs into the lactic hurt zone that usually ends with cramp in the evening. Down on the drops and fingers lifted to mop rain from lenses every mile or so. Bad weather can be such a thrill.

Back at the car we pulled on dry thermals and coats. We were buzzing. Buzzing hours later when I tried and failed to drop off to sleep. What a day. Now to dig over the veg patch, snow is on the way.

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Merrick, our local Corbett.

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I  made a bucket-list of goals in hospital, one of which I did not tick off. But it was my list and only Esther knew that I had a list that included ‘climb Merrick’ on it. It was rubbish weather the day when I should have climbed it, and for a good few days after. So I dropped it.

But Merrick is our mountain, the one we can see from our village and the one we have not got around to climbing because it’s a bit of a faff to get to. It should have snow on it now and be standing out on the horizon on crisp mornings. No snow yet, but we had a perfect forecast after a night of mind-spinning clarity and a sharp frost. So we made a flask, cut sandwiches and slabs of cut-price Christmas cake and set off. Everyone should own a flak, they are so liberating.

That is all of the list ticked off now. I can return to not being a list person. I drank a long cool drink from the first ice fringed burn I could find as we walked back from the summit to mark the event. Now get out and do stuff people, hello 2019!

 

December, the shortest day.

_1360309I had my final ‘ all clear ‘ from the hospital, and yes indeed everything works as good as new. I can ride a bike, swim and sneeze without pain. It was the sneezing that was the most difficult. I am a loud sneezer and always a tryptic. I think I remember playground warnings of eyes popping out if you held in a sneeze. I just looked it up and for ‘ kid wisdom’ it is not far off.

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The pain levels involved with sneezing when you are held together with pins is off the scale. You are told to hold your chest tight and clutch a pillow if you have one handy. Well, try telling a donkey to hold in all that braying and hee-hawing. It is not going to work. I had weeks of horribly painful sneezing and now at last all is well. A cold could have put me back in hospital at any time.

If you have never visited a stone circle for mid winter’s day, then it is to be recommended. The solstice is of course one of the festivals that was rather taken over by Christianity and given a make-over. Cairnholy is one of our local sights with an alignment for sun rise. A scan of the local OS map gave me the idea of visiting two other stone circles on the same day and starting after sunrise at Cairnholy.

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I did my longest ride yesterday, a 44 mile one-third gravel loop. Christmas Day is always a good day to ride a bike if for no other reason than the feeling of superiority. If there is one day in the year to get one up on the opposition it will be a hard ride on the 25th. I last pinned a number on my chest and chip on my bike years ago now, but still it feels wonderful and still rather thrilling.

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The weather was not the quite so perfect. Just above freezing and with dense fog, you could have found excuses. But there was nothing on the forecast that was life threatening, not even when you averaged out the 3 weather apps that I run on my phone. Living where we do, you have to obsess about weather. We had a warmshowers guest staying a month or so ago and all power to her solo ride and the first tour ever. But she had a cavalier attitude to weather I could not believe.

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In the UK we have started to give storms names so that people panic and clear the shelves of bread and milk. Taking an average of as many apps and websites as possible she was still going to be heading the wrong way into a storm that she knew nothing about.

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We have three friends who have taken up cycling at the end of the summer and have yet to see the link between which day to ride a bike and the weather forecast. The Christmas Day ride could not have been done the day before. One app said +3’c and another -3’c which would mean too much ice on the roads for a safe ride. The app that gave +3’c is usually the pessimistic one, so that was strange. An almost full moon that night with the brightest of stars and geese flying over the house gave early signs that -3 was going to win. It did, proving that you have to use more than one apps.

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Esther has a sketching project at the moment – to do a sketch every day of December. Now, these are not trying to push back the frontiers of western art. Esther has a style she used on our world bike ride – just 10 minutes with a biro to get the outline and fill it in that evening. She uses a plastic brush and ultra small water colour box. It is all about the moment, the essence of place. As a way of communicating with people when you do not have language it is perfect.

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