There is an old adage in rowing circles to the effect that if a participant is able to walk the course, and is neither David Icke nor Jesus, then the weather is probably too cold for rowing. These sage words had presented Captain Jim with the perfect opportunity to organise a weekend boys trip to Amsterdam, under the pretext of seeking out warmer weather for rowing. Any group of male oarsmen travelling to Amsterdam would be lost without their cox, and hence the Boatman had nobly agreed to join the crew. With Julian also absent - the beast from the East (end) had been called away to London - hopes were not high for a large turnout at the roundabout.
This, however, proved not to be the case, as there were in fact 10 people in attendance - Katrina, Elvis, Ken, Iain, Lianne, Innes, Toby, Caroline and myself. Hang on, isn't that only 9 names? Thank God you aren't the club treasurer, you may say - but not so fast. Caroline, you see, had a wee announcement to make, and it wasn't only the fact that for once she did not have the dirtiest bike. She was indeed a glowing, expectant Mother, and our 10th participant for today was not going to need his (or her) own bike just yet, as Caroline would be pedaling for two. Whilst the congratulatory words from everybody seemed genuine enough, I couldn't help notice the silent tears from a few of our number who had placed significant bets on the first lady home in the 2018 Highland Cross...
The presence of an Easterly breeze was noted by Ken, and Cromarty was the instruction. Perhaps anticipating an outward headwind, both Innes and myself had paid a lengthy visit to a nearby cycle emporium the day before, hoping that our now-empty wallets would provide a useful weight saving as we headed East into the wind.
At the top of Findon hill, Katrina left us to head back. It then transpired that Toby had only joined today's group just to check that he was still significantly faster than everybody else, and having duly confirmed this, he also left us, reducing our numbers to 7. Sorry, 8.
We maintained a very tight, disciplined group as we approached Cromarty, so much so that nobody broke from the pack even for the 30 sprint. Iain, sharing the front with Caroline, chivalrously eased off fractionally to allow Caroline to take the honours in what could be her last ride for a while.
Over coffee, Ken immediately registered his disappointment at having been the only rider not included in the previous week's photo at the cafe. Despite everybody else at the table (and even a couple from another table, unrelated to the club) confirming that he was in the photo, he just would not have it. To placate him, we agreed that he would be the sole subject of this week's photo - and by sheer coincidence, Lianne happened to be on her phone at that very moment, to take capture the pic above. What are the chances??? Elvis and Iain showed remarkable restraint by restricting themselves to just the two courses today, so we were soon ready for the return journey.
Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, West Ham playing attractive football, and a tailwind home from Cromarty. Witnesses to any of these phenomena are few and far between, the myth being passed down between generations in whispered tones. But no more - at least for the latter! The signs were there, if you knew what to look for. Ken and me on the front, maintaining the ability to speak, even as the incline bit. The whole group together, nobody lagging behind. Speedo reading double figures even as we approached the summit. Yes, it was so - a tailwind home from Cromarty. Even the rain which had begun to fall couldn't dampen spirits. This is how cycling should be, I enthused to Ken as we flew along the Killen straight at a steady 25mph. Wind on our backs, good company, no cars - could it be any better? Well, said Ken, it could stop raining. And the sun could come out. And it could be above freezing. But apart from that...
It was at this point that we began to understand just how seriously Lianne had been taking her Etape preparations. Not content with 2 rides and 2 turbo sessions per week, she revealed her latest training aid. She had adjusted her rear brake such that it was in permanent contact with the wheel rim, to provide an extra challenge on the hills. Even folk at this hardcore end of the training spectrum eventually need a break, however, and a brief pitstop was requested to allow Dad to sort things out. At the crossroads, Elvis opted for the low road, and headed back towards Tore. The remaining group went right, but turning up over Knockbain was like entering a different country. Wet roads gave way to lying snow, which made for a slippery descent towards Culbokie. Caroline in particular was understandable cautious, but everybody made it down safely without incident.
On the final run home, we took it in turns to sit behind those without mudguards, to ensure everyone arrived back with an even level of speckledness, as the rain had reactivated the dried salt and mud on the road. Once again, great ride and great craic.