Saturday 24th November 2018

The day dawned driech, and surprisingly cold. A chill mist lingered in the air, but the forecast was for a dry, still day. Many amongst the large crowd at the roundabout had believed this, and arrived without waterproofs. Elvis had left the building (his house) unusually early, thus allowing him to provide support (backing vocals?) to the Sneckie girls, and the three of them arrived as one, having narrowly avoided a difficult-to-explain incident with a prostitute and a policeman near the Tore roundabout. Doctor John, noting a milder temperature, had ditched his winter shorts in favour of his summer long trousers. Also present were El and Ella Parrot, the Boatman, Captain Jim, Ali, Innis, the Hammer and Ian. We were going to need a bigger pavement at this rate. President Ken had been spotted in undergrowth nearby, and he kept us waiting until he felt ready to make his grand entrance.
The Captain, unhappy at reports of whistle-less anarchy during his lengthy absence, blew his whistle and immediately took charge. His informative briefing covered the weather in Kilmuir, estimated altitude of cloud cover, and detailed instructions for a split group. Tomich was the route. Group 1, we shall call them the elite, as that is what they are, was to be led by the Hammer. They set off, with El Parrot bravely joining their ranks. Group 2 gave them a 200m head start, and then we too set course for Dingwall. Atop Kinnairdie Brae, however, Katrina assumed the role of a spanner in the works of Jim's carefully laid plans. El Parrot had found the early pace with the Elite a little warm for his liking, so he reformed group 2 to comprise the Doctor, Ali, Ian and myself, thus demoting Katrina, Jim and his whistle to Group 3. Hope you're following this, as it gets more complex later...
Group 1 had not stopped at Mount Gerald for us, so we didn't bother either. The mist had lifted enough to allow a steady rain to fall, the four of us receiving an even coating of mud and salt from Ali's mudguard-less bike as we rotated in a loose 2, 4 or 20 minute pattern. Keith was finding it harder work than usual, but we stuck together - if only we could think of a metaphor for an unwell parrot....
A call from the ranks to take the first Tomich road was shouted down, but there was also no appetite for the full-fat route taking in Balnagown and Invergordon, so the middle way of Delny it was. In the distance we saw the flash of hi-viz as Group 3 took the shorter route and emerged just ahead of us. Giving chase, we arrived at the cafe at the same time, just a few minutes behind the elite Group 1.
After coffee, with the Captain slow to leave the restaurant, chaos reigned. The Boatman, along with the Parrots, formed a sub-splinter group, let's call it Group 4. I joined it, and we set off up the hill. On the run to Alness, Group 4 were overtaken by the Elite Group 1, and the Boatman and I jumped ship - pleading with Donna matrix to go easy on us, we thought we would see how long we could stay with them for. After Alness, shouts of "mechanical!!" went up, and we pulled over. Lady Rapha was in difficulty some way back down the road. The Boatman immediately suggested leaving her behind, earning himself the new title "Callous John". When we forbade this, he rode back to her, trying to make out that it was us who wanted to leave and that he alone had suggested we wait. Lynne, however, was not fooled by this - with the ever-chivalrous Innis already helping her, she told Callous John to "off" back to his real mates, which he did with his tail between his legs. By this time, Group 5 had arrived and Jim also stopped to help Lynne. Relieved to be separated from the acme thunderer, sub-group 5b carried on without their Captain and, with appointments to keep, Callous John and myself formed sub group 6a and set off after them. We eventually caught them on the climb to Mount Gerald, at which point a further split ensued, with group 7 now comprising El Parrot, Callous John and myself, with Ken, Ella Parrot and Katrina now comprising group 8.
Playing Callous John at his own game, I managed to box him in behind the Parrot on the run to Dingwall to claim my first (and probably only ever) victory in a 30 sprint. John then returned the favour by turning "amber-gambler" at the next lights, nipping through to leave myself and El Parrot behind.
Home at last, soaked and covered in mud, but with another 47 miles in the legs and the sweet taste of victory over the Boatman - another cracking ride with great banter and an excellent group.

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