Joining the Giant Camden Team Liv Club has been an eye-opening experience. As a social and club cyclist, you can get quite comfortable in a routine of cycling.
Cycle to work, do laps in the park, do weekend club rides; it’s all very comfortable. Now and then, a friend will come along and mention a challenge, asking: “are you going to do it?”.
Instinct says: “No way! That looks tough. I’ll never be able to do that. But then you think about it you realise that you are fit, you’ve been doing all the training, how hard can it be? In my head, I always think that if I’m with friends and in a team, just about any challenge is possible because you rely on each other you challenge each other, pushing each other to get the job done.
Scotland was this adventure. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but as time drew closer, the more I doubted my ability. Covid had hit us all in so many ways, and Cycling Scotland seemed like a dream. As the time approached and for many reasons, personal and otherwise, I nearly pulled out. Boy, am I glad I didn’t!
Packing began. We worried about the Scottish weather, the Scottish midges, it seemed easier to focus on the small things to take our minds off the massive challenge that we were facing.
Hopping on a train with a group of amazing girls, we made our way to Edinburgh. Arriving at the station, it was warm, and the sun was shining, and we felt optimistic and excited about this adventure. A restful afternoon gave us time to unpack and go for a walk to see the beautiful city of Edinburgh.
This was not just any cycling holiday. This was a Liv Camden supported adventure. This meant that we had a support van. Not only did Mark and Bob drive our bikes to Edinburgh, but it also meant they would drive our bags each day to the hotel that we were staying at night. Bob would also cycle each day with one of the groups helping us along and just giving general support.
After an evening meal of pizza and pasta and a good night’s rest, we were up early the following day to begin our adventure.
Day 1: Edinburgh to Dundee 65 Miles, 4000 ft Elevation at least 4/5 hour of riding
Divided into our various groups with the route at the ready and, would you believe, the sunshine - we set off.
The first day is always challenging. You never know what to expect and how you will cope. But as you settle into the ride, you relax and start enjoying the scenery, start chatting to each other and realise you are finally on your way, there is no turning back, and the only way to the end is to keep peddling.
We crossed over the Forth Road Bridge, heading to Jamestown and in awe of the magnificence of these fantastic bridge structures. We then headed to the coastline, where we enjoyed the views of Aberdour Castle and lovely coastal pathways at Kirkcaldy, all the way up to Lower Largo that was easy to cycle and just wonderful to experience. Up to St Andrews with a lovely view of the town, the coast and, of course, the famous golf course. Then up and over the Tay Roa Bridge. What an exhilarating experience this was and then into the wonderful Dundee. Exhausted but delighted that we had made it through the first day. The climbing wasn’t too bad, and the day of cycling had been manageable.
Day 2: Dundee to Aberdeen 74 Miles 3000 ft elevation and 5/6 hours of cycling.
We started day 2 with a downpour, this was not great, and we tried to stay upbeat as we knew we had to get the day done.
It poured for the first 5 min and then ebbed into a drizzle, which was great. But it meant a day of raincoat on, raincoat off. However, the ride was beautiful, with more beautiful off-road undulating paths that we thoroughly enjoyed. Once we hit the road again, there were a few challenging climbs, each of us facing our mental demons as we pushed ourselves forward.
Mentally this was quite a tough day, hills to get our head around and at the back of your mind knowing the next day would be worse.
We had one crash. Yup, that would be me, bringing down poor Debi with me. We also had one close call with a tractor that knocked Mel off her bike and didn’t bother to stop. Mel, fortunately, was saved by the overgrown shrubs which she fell into. We were both a bit scratched and bruised but able to get back on the bike. After a slight detour near the end, we all landed up grouping and we then headed to Dundee for a lovely shower, dinner, and a good night’s rest.
Day 3: Aberdeen to Aviemore 95 Miles 6000 ft of climbing with 6/7 hours on the bike.
A silent undercurrent of trepidation ran through the group as we gathered ourselves for the hardest day of the challenge.
This was the day we were all feeling anxious about, realising there was a lot of climbing but unsure about what form that would take. This was the day all the park training with pace lines and chain gangs came into its own. Little did we know that we would need every bit of courage and strength we had to get us through this day.
We were up early, as we knew we had a long day ahead of us. Luck was on our side. The sun out(just about) and no rain in sight. The weather stayed mostly dry, but the clouds created great artworks in the sky contrasting with the greens and browns of the landscape.
Groups had shuffled around according to levels and speed, and of course, injuries. We had lost one and gained three in our group. We were ready for this mammoth day. The first hours were smooth going getting into our pace lines, making sure we each took a turn up front.
Pushing through, we were chipping away at the miles, and the scenery was magnificent. The green was lush, and the rivers were roaring along, filled with rain the day before, as we all pushed ahead feeling like we could do this.
Reaching Ballater for our lunch stop, everyone was excited that we had made it this far, all still feeling that we could get this day done, hills hadn’t been too bad, and our bellies now full, we were ready to face the hills ahead. Little did we know! A few miles after lunch, we hit our first 20% climb. We had this, it was short and sharp, but we could see the end. Done!
Hooray, we survived. Ahead was a lovely steady climb heading up. My favourite kind of hill climb, long and steady. Up we went and another celebration at our magnificence. Little did we know that was just the warmup.
After that, we spent a reasonable amount of the day climbing, and the mileage dragged, we started to doubt that there was an end to all these climbs. Reaching another tough climb, we pushed on, each climb, testing our legs.
It’s always tough to stay in one’s group on these steep climbs as each person needs to go at their own pace, they are climbs that take all you focus and will power to keep peddling, and occasionally you need to stop even sometimes walk. This is not a failure but a credited to one’s determination to keep moving forward and not giving up.
Rule of thumb: wait at the top, regroup, and do the same on the descent. The descents were phenomenal, but where there is a down, there is always an up, and so it continued for most of the day.
By the time we got closer to Aviemore, the sun was milder, and the wind picked up dramatically, making our tired legs work as never before. The joy of reaching Aviemore was one of the most contradictory in the emotion of exhaustion and exhilaration and the most magnificent joy. Look at what we achieved today, to see how hard we pushed, what an incredible adventure we endured today. One can’t underestimate the sense of achievement you feel after a day like that. Negative thoughts are part of this process, “I can’t do this”, “this is too hard”, “I want to give up”. But you look up, and look around you, see your friends and the beauty around you. How lucky we are to be here at this moment currently, to experience this adventure. You realise that a lot is achievable in this world if you keep pushing through the hard times and negative thoughts, find joy in the moment, succeed on this day, and it will be a joy.
Day 4 Aviemore to Fort William 62 Miles 2000 ft elevation 3 to 4 hours on the bike
We were all looking forward to this recovery ride, not a lot of elevation and a day of gentle cycling ahead, and as luck continued to hold on our side, the sun was out (mostly), and it was a lovely day.
Setting out at a gentle pace taking in the beautiful landscapes, we came across a stone marking the Centre of Scotland. We were on the back roads, so not much traffic and just continuous beauty.
Eventually, we hit the main road, but it was a great road surface and undulating hills. The mile passed quickly and even though groups split, we kept to our paceline and pulled each other along.
As we approached Fort William, there was some drizzle, but we made it in, found a great spot to buy some delicious food, glowing in the joy of a wonderful day of cycling to rest our legs and not have to think, just ride.
Day 5 Fort William to Glasgow 103 miles 4000 ft elevation 6/7 hours on the bike.
The end in sight, the last day, we knew there was some climbing to do but weren’t too worried. We had got this far and were looking forward to reaching the end. But it was the day with the most mileage. There was the sense of getting on the road to push through some mileage early in the day.
The sky was grey and overcast, but we weren’t worried and headed out, sticking to our paceline and pulling each other along, and once again in awe of the beauty of Scotland.
Sitting up front, I couldn’t understand why we were going so slow, why was this so hard, looking ahead we were going downhill. I turned to Debi, asking if she was also finding this section hard, she laughed, and she happily told me we were going uphill; I couldn’t believe the optic illusion in front of me. My eyes were telling me it was downhill. Clearly, I was more tired than I realised. But we pushed on, and our perseverance was rewarded with the undulating mountain views, the spectacular lochs, and rivers, glimmering the reflections of the mountains back at us as we passed by; you almost felt part of the landscape. The beauty was magnificent and breath-taking, and every direction is another view to absorb.
Before we knew it, we were at our lunch break, and everyone was smiling as we realised that this was ours to share. We would reminisce and talk about it for years to come.
After this, the road got hard as we tried to stay off the main roads; it became less about the views and more about finding the best route. And then the rain hit us as if it had been holding on to 5 days of rain, trying hard to give us the best experience, the belly of the clouds was full and could not hold onto the rain a moment longer, the heavens opened. As we fought the traffic and large lorries, spraying us with tons of water and coming so close, it took our breath away. We eventually found a side route, a beautiful path that led us off the main route and back to the beautiful scenery we had become accustomed to.
As we approached the outskirts of Glasgow with 20 miles to go, there in all its glory was a MacDonald’s, where we stopped for a quick break before heading into the city. And once again, the heavens opened to welcome us into Glasgow.
The ride was done, and the happiness and joy of this monumental achievement were beyond words.
You can’t underestimate the feeling of accomplishment, the knowledge of having taken on this enormous challenge without comprehending the magnitude of what it would take to keep moving each day.
There were many moments of doubt and feeling unsteady in one’s belief in our own strength.
Some days we roared and some days we cried but the feelings of achievement was our, not just overall, but each day, each time we sang a song as we cycled, whooped, and cheered, as we took the time to talk to each other, as we pushed through each mile, we took a moment from our busy lives, from the stress of the pandemic, to appreciate the larger picture. No matter what goes on around us, the world keeps turning and taking the time to look around is a medicine gifted to us from Mother Nature.
I hope that each of the ladies who took on this brilliant challenge will appreciate the sense of achievement that I certainly felt. I know that we have all made memories that no one can ever take from us. Hang onto those as we move forwards in these uncertain times. Know that if you just keep peddling, you can achieve anything.
I massive thanks to Giant Camden Team Liv for hosting this challenge, to Bianca and her team for all the time and effort that went into organising this event, for the support team Mark and Bob, who were unflinching in their task of keeping us all on the road and safe. To all the ladies, you are awesome and but more importantly, you are heroes who will have paved the way for others who will hopefully follow. If you want an adventure, then this is one you should consider.
I wanted to end with one of my favourite quotes:
Courage doesn't always roar.
Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day that says... I'll try again tomorrow."
by Mary Ann Radmacher
Written by Victoria Creer