Eight riders gathered at the roundabout this morning - the Ronnie MacDonald 10TT tomorrow possibly restricting numbers, for those wanting to save their legs. Of the assembled 8, only Elvis was entered for the TT, with DonnaMatrix having decided against competing, in order to allow Kyle and Mark a sporting chance of victory...
Of more concern was the proximity of TT-organiser Caroline's due date, with a record number of volunteers all intent on minimising her stress levels, and thus hopefully also minimising the chances of an unexpected arrival mid-event.
Captain Rabbit donned a hi-vis jacket and gave a lengthy safety briefing to the collective - The Hammer, Elvis, The Boatman, President Ken, Prima-Donna, Ali and myself - after recent events he was in no mood to take chances.
The Hammer could hardly contain his excitement at the bragging rights afforded to him by virtue of having been the guest of honour at the opening of the new Highland Farm cafe at Mount Gerald the day before. The owners had delayed the grand opening to fit around the Hammer's complex and lengthy holiday arrangements, taking the view that missing the lucrative summer season was a small price to pay to have our Julian cut the tape. No coincidence that only the day before, the London Crossrail project also announced a 9 month delay in opening, just to ensure he could also attend their ribbon-cutting event. Eager to share this new cafe experience with the group, a route was suggested through Muir of Ord, Altgowrie, Marybank, across the Meig Dam and through Strathpeffer, ending up at the new cafe after about 30 miles.
The Captain led us off, but seemed to be suffering periodic whistle malfunctions, which meant that the stints on the front were of somewhat varying length. As we turned off towards the distillery, a sobering sight - a funeral procession for a biker, with around 100 motorbikes following the hearse out to the church at Urray. With a few bikers, and indeed Muir residents, amongst our number, we took a quiet moment to let the procession go ahead of us, before we turned off at the distillery and continued on our way.
The road surface through Strathconon hadn't improved since the Marybank ride at the start of the summer, and in trying to avoid the holes, the group became somewhat fragmented. Stopping at the dam to let everybody re-group, Elvis was very much in the building as he peeled off his club top - the breeze gently parting his chest hair to reveal his heartrate monitor in the shape of a large gold medallion.
The Boatman is rarely able to tackle chainbreak hill without reminiscing about the afternoon during which he held the KoM on that segment, and today was no exception. However with the Captain, Donna-Matrix and the Hammer leading the charge, today was certainly not going to be the day he regained it.
The group kept a tight formation through Contin, but we split as we ascended into Strathpeffer. President Ken, slightly off the back of the peleton, had a very lucky escape when a car pulled out from a side turning without looking - Ken took evasive action and the car made glancing contact with his foot before stopping. The apologetic driver had his vocabulary enriched as Ken unleashed his inner Gordon Ramsay and made clear his views.
Perhaps in anticipation of a second visit from the Hammer, the cafe was beyond busy when we arrived, the queue almost stretching out into the carpark. An outside table was secured to take best advantage of the stunning views. Photos were taken over coffee, but some of the scone-eating techniques were sadly deemed to have breached club rules regarding decency. Talk of an Alex-Salmond-style crowdfunding campaign to fund club officers overturning their own rules was mercifully interrupted by the arrival of the cafe owner at our table - an interesting and thoroughly nice guy, he fell into the Boatman's carefully-laid trap and admitted under cross examination to being an airline pilot. The Boatman pounced and started firing names of former pupils at Kenneth until he was forced to admit that there were some flying connections in common. Eventually the first few spots of rain saved him, being our cue to head for home. Just home before the rain started, it ended up being a very nice 43 mile run on a different route.
Best of luck to all those riding the TT tomorrow, see you on the course....