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JOGLE – The Scenic Route: Day Five

In-depth
1 Feb 2021
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We always knew our ride from one end of Britain to the other wouldn’t be sunshine and scenery all the way, but that doesn’t make a grim day in southern Scotland any easier

Words Marcus Leach Photography Gavin Kaps/Osprey Imagery

‘You’re brave,’ says the grey-haired man behind the counter, gesturing to the bleak scene on the other side of the shop window.

‘Brave or stupid,’ I reply, water rapidly pooling at my feet as I stand shivering, waiting for my change.

‘Well, that was my first thought,’ he says, ‘only I didn’t want to offend you.’ With that he passes me the washing up gloves and wishes me luck.

I pause at the door, reluctant to leave the warmth of the shop behind but ultimately knowing I have little choice but to brave the storm once again. At least now my hands will be dry, I tell myself as I pull on the bright yellow Marigolds, laughing at the absurdity of the situation. It’s not quite how I had imagined events to unfold when planning this trip.

Water, water everywhere

While packing I’d convinced myself I wouldn’t need waterproof gloves at this time of year, reasoning that at worst there would be a few showers along the way, and thus opted for lightweight windproof gloves instead. But August in Scotland, as I am now discovering, can be just as bleak as winter.

Rain has pelted the motorhome roof all night and shows no sign of relenting as I reluctantly drag myself out of bed. Not even the buzz of caffeine can boost my dwindling morale. My mood matches the dark skies that hang overhead as I finally step out into the teeming rain.

‘Only nine more days to go after this one,’ Harrison, my little boy, shouts cheerily behind me. I smile at him but right now I’m struggling to imagine riding the 200km that lie in front of me on Day Five of my JOGLE ride, let alone the many hundreds more that still separate me from Cornwall and my ultimate destination of Land’s End.

Once outside I waste little time in getting moving, fearful that any further procrastination could be ruinous.

It doesn’t take long for the feeling to start draining out of my hands, the chill of the wind amplifying the ill effects of the rain. I panic. My mind floods with thoughts of previous rides I’ve been forced to abandon in similar conditions when the bitter cold has left me unable to control my bike. With such a tight schedule there’s no room for error – every day has to be completed as per the plan.

That’s when the thought of using washing up gloves comes to me, having previously used this tactic during an ultra-race in Corsica. While it’s not a look cycling’s fashionistas would approve of, it certainly does the job as far as keeping hands warm goes.

Thus resplendent in bright yellow gloves I start pedalling again, pushing hard to try and generate enough heat to raise my core temperature.

A series of haulage lorries pass me by, their headlights glistening on the sheets of water that are flowing over the road. The last in the line hits a pothole, sending a great wave of filthy water washing over me, completing my misery as it finds its way inside my waterproof and trickles down my back.

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It’s in that moment I realise I have two options: sulk and suffer for the duration of the day or laugh and accept it for what it is and try to have fun. At least I’m riding my bike and not stuck at home in lockdown.

In an effort to embrace the latter approach I lift my head and take in my surroundings for the first time. Raindrops dance on the murky surface of Loch Awe; dark wisps of cloud hang suspended in the air like evil spirits stalking their prey.

The antiquated ruins of Kilchurn Castle complete a haunting scene that feels fit for a horror story. Keen to avoid any mental demons of my own I press on, the road gradually rising as it leaves the loch behind and wends its way through long corridors of dripping trees.

On and on it goes, never too steep but never shallow enough to power on in the big ring. My mind warns me that what goes up must come down, and sure enough the brow of the climb soon appears and the road drops away into the forest.

The descent to Inveraray is cold and treacherous. At the bottom I find myself longing for another climb, but instead I settle for sprinting along the water’s edge in an attempt to warm shivering muscles.

No respite

Still the rain falls, even heavier than before, whipped by a swirling wind and lashing into me. Long crooked fingers of water reach down the sides of lush green hills, stretching out onto the road at regular intervals. The entire landscape is saturated, myself included.

I pass the occasional stone cottage, plumes of smoke spiralling up from their squat brick chimneys, filling the air with the unmistakable scent of coal fires and transporting me back to my childhood and visits to my grandparents’ farm. With every cottage I pass I’m reminded that this is a day for being cocooned up inside.

In my haste to reach Dunoon, from where I must take a ferry across to Gourock, I realise I’ve neglected to eat or drink anything for over four hours. It’s only when I stop, my mind free to focus on something other than maintaining forward motion, that hunger hits me.

Fortunately there’s a small cafe next to the ferry port, allowing me to indulge in a mix of fried food, sweet pastries and hot coffee in a bid to replenish dwindling energy reserves.

It’s a challenge to get moving again after the ferry crossing, the period of inactivity leaving me cold and damp. I long for the warmth of the motorhome – even more so now I find myself on busier roads, forced to contend with a steady flow of traffic as well as the incessant rain and wind.

It would have been remiss to expect the entire route to be picturesque, yet as I ride through forests of dull concrete buildings I can’t help but wish to be back in the mountains that hosted the first few days of my ride.

Not for the last time on my journey south I have to accept that for all of the miles ridden through landscapes of raw beauty, for all of the moments that leave me in awe of what Britain has to offer, there will be moments like these where there’s little joy to be taken from what my eyes are seeing.

But unappealing as they might seem, they are an essential part of the journey for they make me even more appreciative of the days where I wish the road would never end. Our pleasure is heightened by such contrasts.

Right now there’s little to appreciate about a road that’s morphing into a dual carriageway. I have no option but to join it and a flurry of vehicles flashes by, leaving me feeling exposed and concerned.

I pull over in the next layby to double-check komoot and see if there are any alternatives. There’s one, but it’s not for another 10km, the saving grace being that most of that distance is on a gradual descent, allowing me to quicken my pace and find the sanctuary of a smaller road reasonably quickly.

An array of takeaways and fast food outlets lines the road I now find myself on, leading to inevitable cravings for hot, salty food. I even contemplate stopping for pizza until I realise I’ve left my money in the motorhome. I settle instead for a couple of energy bars that, while effective in boosting my flagging stamina, fail to satisfy my tastebuds’ desire for something altogether more comforting.

I notice I’m back alongside the sea, although a string of factories blocks the view, their tall chimneys belching thick clouds of dirty grey smoke into the damp afternoon air.

The end is nigh

Towns come and go, blurred into one long line of blinking lights, dreary streets and the sullen faces of those trying to escape the weather. Maybe my opinion would have been different had I been riding under clear blue skies with a warming sun on my back, but after eight hours of unrelenting rain it is difficult to find any redeeming features in these nondescript coastal towns south of Glasgow.

The stop-start nature of riding through densely populated areas soon becomes irritating, my desire to be done with the day growing with every passing red light.

With 30km to go I spot a possible shortcut. It means rejoining a main road, but by now I’m happy to contend with increased traffic just to get to the finish. My sunny disposition and desire to see the best in the day was lost in the plumes of exhaust smoke some time ago; now I just want to be off the bike and under a hot shower to wash away the day.

True to the old adage that the closer we get to our goal the harder it becomes, I’m forced to toil along a sluggish Ayrshire road that rises continually just enough to rob me of any rhythm in pedalling.

A series of loud hoots on a horn startle me, and I’m just about to remonstrate with the driver when I notice it is my wife in the motorhome. She slows down enough for me to see her smiling face, a look that soon turns to one of confusion when I wave and she sees my makeshift gloves.

For the briefest of moments I attempt to chase behind and get in her slipstream before my legs remind me I’ve ridden the best part of 200km and anything other than a steady pace is out of the question. I sit back down and watch them disappear down the road, content that it hopefully won’t be long before I catch them again.

When I do finally make it to the campsite I’m greeted by Harrison, rushing towards me, about to embrace me when he suddenly stops, takes one look at me and asks, ‘Daddy, why are you wearing washing up gloves?’

• Fancy completing one of the greatest cycling challenges of the British Isles? Check out the Cyclist Tour Finder for bucket list guided tours including the classic LEJOGgravel riding in Scotland, or road cycling in the Yorkshire Dales

Mapping powered by komoot

Komoot tips to stay on track

No5: Know what surfaces are coming

When you hover over the surface and waytype profile on your komoot map, the categories show up in white on the Tour/Route line. This way if there is an odd bit of 'unpaved' you can easily find a way to avoid it, or you can see where all the fun gravel is on your route.

Essential JOGLE kit

No5: Ribble CGR AL e-bike, from £2,399, ribblecycles.co.uk

How do you keep up with a cyclist on a tough climb while carrying two cameras and thinking about where to get the best shot from? By riding a Ribble CGR AL e-bike. Our photographer, Gavin, found the ride so smooth he was able to shoot while on the move at times. Equally it had the added power assistance to let him scoot ahead and get in position for the perfect picture.

The hub-based motor provides three simple-to-use power levels that can either push you over a tough summit or provide a gentle hand on your back on the flats, and Ribble reckons it will keep going for up to 100km on a single charge over variable terrain. 

The battery and motor are so neatly integrated that it’s hard to tell this e-bike apart from Ribble’s standard gravel bikes. Add in Shimano 105 gearing and hydraulic discs, a robust Mavic Aksium Elite Evo UST wheelset and clearance for 50mm tyres on 650b wheels, and you’ve got a bike that can take you pretty much anywhere. And with models starting at £2,399 it’s not going to break the bank.

Thanks

Riding from one end of Britain to the other is a major undertaking, and Cyclist had help from a number of sources.

Firstly, thanks to komoot for help with creating a route that takes in many of the best parts of the country for riding a bike.

As the ride took place during the period just after Covid-19 lockdown, we couldn’t use hotels or B&Bs, so many thanks to Bailey of Bristol (baileyofbristol.co.uk) for the loan of an Autograph 74-4 motorhome, which proved to be an excellent moving base for the trip.

Thanks also to Mercedes (mercedes-benz.co.uk) for the loan of a Marco Polo campervan, as used by our photographer for the duration of the ride.

Good kit choices are vital on a challenge such as this to avoid unneccesary stops, and I couldn’t have asked for better than the Factor O2 Disc bike (factorbikes.co.uk), Castelli clothing (saddleback.co.uk), Giro helmet and shoes (zyrofisher.co.uk), Sungod eyewear (sungod.co), Wahoo Roam bike computer (wahoofitness.com), Garmin Vector 3 Power Pedals (garmin.com) and Supernova lights (supernova-lights.com).

Nutrition was supplied by Named Sport (namedsport.com) and post-ride recovery came courtesy of Reboots (reboots.de). Thanks also to Hutchinson (windwave.co.uk) for the spare tyres and inner tubes in case of blowouts, and to Ribble for the loan of the e-bike, which allowed our photographer to keep up on the hills when the going got too tough for the campervan.

Finally, thanks to my wife and kids, who proved to be the perfect support crew.