10:30 (CET) and Maryburgh roundabout was awash with a dapper looking sea of Nano-Flex attire and here was a good turnout for the day with 9 riders ready for the off. Full marks to those who had prudently checked the day’s weather forecast and dressed accordingly!
Now in the absence of Clifford there followed a brief discussion about where to head out to. Newcomer Matthew was blissfully ignorant of the exotic place names being bandied around and so wisely left the more informed regulars to it.
10:35 (CET) and having not reached an agreement the group decided that it was high time for a referendum…having not had one for several days we were all getting anxious.
The group were confident that the 3 seconds spent considering the options and likely consequence of a potentially life changing choice was sufficient (I think I am still on the subject of the club ride). The result was a clear majority in favour of a ride out to Cromarty, with the possibility of taking advantage of the free ferry (for those in receipt of a bus pass) to the place a bit further north (I am not sure of the name of this northern land. A place of myths and legends. But I have heard that it is always cloudy and rains a lot….so in my mind I have a vision of something like Mordor)
Off we went! It took a little while to form a group along the A835 and we welcomed Richard who had unfortunately missed the earlier referendum…. not to worry though as we can have another one next week…. or possibly at the café!
A steady pace was had along the B9163 and the group were enjoying the benefits of a slight tailwind. Crossing over an unusually quite A9 we continued along with a suggestion to head up the first Culbokie climb failing to get a seconder. A brief while later the head of the group missed the intended turn and it was decided not to complete a mass U-ey but to carry on a little further and turn into what transpired to be a pleasant leafy lane following the route and crossing over the Findon Burn.
At the top of the first climb we re-grouped and proceeded to stuff our jerseys with surplus warm weather clothing as the sun had made a showing on the ‘Black Isle’ and stood to overcook the peloton (in the distance Mordor appeared to be encircled by ominous looking clouds…this did not bode well).
The group made their way swiftly along the B9163 with a little extra loop around Balblair Farm before hitting the final leg towards Cromarty. Now the ominous looking cloud had transcended Mordor and reached the Black Isle. The cloud ghosted the group for a short while with the first heavy drops of rain hitting target just a couple of miles out of the sanctuary of Coupers Creek.
The inevitable drenching seemed to spur John along (who was acutely aware of his lack of Nano-Flex protection) because the pace stiffened right the way to the Cromarty 30 sign…with an unusually sharp deceleration thereafter…this was indeed unusual behaviour to a relative newcomer such as myself and I can only surmise that it was entirely coincidental that he had bagged another sprint.
We had forgotten to pack our paddles and so there followed a pleasant consumption in said Creek and the voyage to Mordor was off the cards (for now). A young lawyer (Barrister?) who was tasked to serve our table had made the faux pas of bringing out a ‘small coffee’ (now I do apologise for simply calling it coffee. I am sure there are much swankier descriptions. Like Americano for instance…or Caffe Macchiato. Being raised in the industrial north west (of Englandshire) anything hot was just ‘a brew’ and it is taking me quite some time to get with the new cosmopolitan vogue of café culture). This led to a mini debate on whether it is now acceptable to refer to any portion in a classy establishment as ‘small’ as the consensus was that it is now PC to refer to small as ‘regular’ or ‘mini grande’ or suchlike as a descriptive of volume. Needless to say he returned with a few ‘grande Americano’s’ (you see I am getting the hang of it!). Ironically I had to furnish my black coffee with what must be the world’s ‘smallest’ bottle of milk.
After a fairly eclectic mix of round table conversation, including politics; the merits of steering clear of gendarmerie when in possession of white powder; the meteoric rise of modern technology in education making the ink monitor redundant overnight (or indeed chalk and slate monitor depending on your vintage); and lastly Boris ‘top trumping’ Michael in the prospective prime minister fashion stakes, we had just time for a quick photo shoot before setting back out.
The group were met with an almost immediate incline and I regretted forgetting to fit my ‘climbing wheels’ and naively choosing the ‘grande’ portions at the café (presumably a small…sorry regular…. half caff skinny latte would save precious watts). As climbing wheels and climbing legs where is short supply the group chose to separate with Ethie being chosen by 52% of the turnout and Davidston by 48%. Thankfully this outcome was accepted with no further calls for a second (or would it be third?) referendum.
A little short of the Eathie switchback and ahead of the main climb the new guy chose to return to the support vehicle to grab one half of a bidon (suspecting it was of great sentimental value to one of the group) and was promptly distanced by the pack. The main group arrived at the summit several hours ahead of the new guy (remember his climbing wheels where at home). Julian had sufficient time on reaching the summit to make a few calls, take a nap and stretch out before returning to tow the bidon bearing domestique back to the group. Just time to layer up again and we sped back down the Ethie to double back up the hill towards the more level Killen leg of the journey.
Being one whole again and eager for the Killen stretch (headwind) the group made some good early progress only to have their rhythm shattered by a fertilizer carrying Massy Ferguson (possibly a John Deer - tbc). Stacey and Richard jumped at the chance of a spot of ‘mechanical drafting’ and tucked into the tractor with the rest of us having to rely on some ‘Julian drafting’. Fortunately, the tractor was not carrying manure as this would have been particularly piquant for our breakaway 2 and a high price to pay for some rapid PBs. Despite the difference in horsepower the group ‘sans tractor’ where just a few short seconds behind at the Mount Eagle junction. Well done to Julian. There were immediate calls from the commissaire for a thermal inspection of the bottom bracket area of the two leaders…perhaps this was a little overzealous as the ruddy huge tractor was probably more than sufficient. Now one other theory to explain the speed enjoyed by some is that the fertilizer being carried by said tractor had a similar (albeit more pronounced) physiological effect as glenbuterol. A letter is forward to Dr Ferrari as he is the foremost expert in the subject and I would imagine he loves to talk about it.
At this point the new guy (me) headed back up over the hill to the bosom of my family, they would undoubtedly be happy to see me earlier than expected…….as it turned out they had gone shopping and I did not have a key. Lesson being that I should have stayed out longer!
The rest of the group continued along the Black Isle with individuals peeling off home at the end of another enjoyable club run.
*the above is the poorly informed opinion and recollection of the day's riding from the ‘new guy’ who is yet to get a grip of everyone’s names, or the names of places, or indeed the subtle nuances of group riding. And so I apologies in advance for any offence that may be taken. I would also like to say that I will get better with names and faces but this is unlikely as I have spent a lifetime fine tuning a lack of perception. Nevertheless I look forward to many more ride outs!