Cycle Scotland, Loch Ness – Inverness to Fort Augustus, 36.33 miles.

Nick, a colleague from MSRC, and I decided to attempt a ride from Inverness down to Spean Bridge. As it turns out, we only made it 2/3 of the way before Nick’s chain snapped! However, we did get to have lunch at scenic Loch Ness. Anyway, on to the ride!

GPS Log via MotionBased:
Nick and I started the day at Inverness, after a 3.5 hour train ride up. Initially we were worried that we wouldn’t be able to get the bikes on the train, as the guy at the ticket counter said the racks were all full. But there was no problem… we just arrived early, got our bikes on, and nobody came to boot ’em off!


We took a bit of a scenic route out of Inverness, but eventually found B862, the Loch Ness Loop. We got drenched in Inverness, but then the sun came out and dried us off. It was quite scenic, although we were sure the loch was “just over there” and couldn’t wait to see it. We did however see a number of covs, who all stopped to look at us.



Trucking down a bit, we came to the town of Dores, and there it was – Loch Ness! And you can see how big it is… or rather, you can’t! It’s narrow and just goes into the distance. It’s actually about the size of Lake Washington — only about 20 or so miles long. Just with some cooler scenery and a monster.


There’s a nice stop for lunch right at the top of the loch at Dores, the Dores Inn. It has a nice outdoor patio for eating, and we decided to chance it as the sun was out. Here’s Nick and I posing at the loch:



Here’s another shot of me a little later at a scenic view… we’re a few miles down the loch, and still can’t see the end from the mist and rain… mostly rain, as we were about to find out!


The road leaves the side of Loch Ness about the town of Foyers, and sadly that was the last we saw of it. However, we did see the Falls of Foyers, which I thought were quite spectacular!


We then started to go up a fairly steep uphill section… and saw some gorgeous scenery. Something which doesn’t come out as well in the picture were the silver rocks — the sun had come out and was reflecting on several wet rocks on the other side of the glen. But it’s still a pretty picture.


For example, some more falls. I’m still trying to figure out where the water is coming from — there’s a lot of it, and there doesn’t seem to be any snowpack left on the mountain!


There’s also a scenic guide to the area we came at… this was at the 20 mile point or so.



We proceeded cash out our uphill and bombed downhill… halfway down, we found Loch Tariff, which was looking quite scenic in the sun.


We’ll now stop the photo journal and dive into the bit of catastrophe. At Fort Augustus, as we were determining whether to take the A82 to Spean Bridge to ensure we made the train, Nick’s chain snapped. Bad luck… especially as he had already had a flat. Now, while Peter at Cycle Scotland had furnished us with a spare tube, we didn’t have a chain tool… d’oh! So we ended up at this Gulf petrol station to try and figure out what to do. Plan A was to take a bus, and the woman at the station was sure that the coach could store bikes in the luggage compartments under the seats. Turns out they don’t carry bikes. D’oh! Now we’re getting panicked, as it’s 6:30 and we need to get 20 miles to Spean Bridge in an hour and a half. We eventually get a hold of a cab in Fort William, about 40 minutes away. They’ll come and get us, and hopefully we can make it to the train in time. Along the way we also talked to Peter, who told us to lock the bikes up somewhere safe and make an issue of them — that was at least generous of him. So the gas station manager agreed to store the bikes in her propane storage area, which is a locked area behind the station. The cab arrived at 7:55… no way we were going to make the 8:00 train. So, we called ScotRail to find out what times other trains were leaving for Edinburgh… and since it was Sunday tomorrow, what times the Sunday trains ride.
Well, to make a long story short, we weren’t going to get in to Edinburgh before 1:30 if we took a train. And we were pretty sure our flights to Cambridge were right around there. So, we ended up taking the cab down to Edinburgh, for 200 quid with a 40 tip for the guy who was going to have to head on back on the 3 hour drive. Oof… a bit more expensive of a bike ride than we had thought!
But hey, at least we did get to see Loch Ness! And I did burn 3900 calories in doing it… so a pound gone isn’t bad, especially considering what I’d been eating and drinking during the week!

Cycle Scotland, Pitlockry Loop. Day 2

Well, after a good night’s rest, it was time to get up, load up on some fruit and whole grains, and head off again! I got off to a bit later of a start than I wanted, but as I didn’t have anywhere to be that evening aside from making one of the later trains, all was good.

Day 2, Fearnan by Aberfeldy to Pitlochry via Glen Lyon and Loch Tay, 75.80 miles.

GPS log via MotionBased:

Day 2 began with a scenic ride through the center of Glen Lyon, up to the eastern side of Loch Lyon. I was getting worried, as I knew I was turning south at some point and the mountains to the south didn’t seem to have a natural break. They were quite spectacular, however.


Towards the end of the glen, I spotted a few local deer… they had scampered off a reasonable distance by the time I got my camera out, but proceeded to display for me so i could get a good shot in! I also saw a couple herds of yaks about, although certainly it was predominantly sheep with some cattle mixed in.


The route turns south at Loch Lyon, and while there was a traverse, it was still fairly steep — 1700 feet at the summit! Fortunately, I was already at about 900 feet, so it wasn’t that horrible, but still a healthy climb. Along the way I noticed some ruins of an old Scottish stone house… there were a number of these scattered throughout the ride. For some reason, when I saw this one I just couldn’t help but wonder who had lived there and what finally caused the last person to abandon the house. It’s a marvelous location for a house, with a great view and ample access to fields for ranching.


I then bombed down the hill to Glen Lochay, which wasn’t nearly as fun as it should have been. I was on a narrow access road, and while it was paved, there was only room for one vehicle — car or bike. And it was windy with blind turns and summits… so I couldn’t go very fast as I never knew if a car would be coming up. Used those brakes pretty well though! At the bottom, I had a great view of Glen Lochay and then up through Loch Tay — some gorgeous scenery of local farms and homes.


After an hour or so, I came to Loch Tay and rode along the southern edge… I ended up on Cycle Route 7, which is just a normal back road that is labeled on maps as good for cyclists. I actually prefer B-* routes, which are bi-directional secondary routes. On the single-lane roads, every time a car passed in either direction, I had to slow down to pass carefully. On the B roads, I could actually get some momentum and cruise between 17-20mph.


Past Loch Tay, I passed by Castle Menzies, a small Scottish castle nestled against a hill. Quite a sight, and the view on the other side was also rather impressive. It turns out that “castle” doesn’t necessarily imply huge walls and moats… but a 5-story stone mansion isn’t shabby!


The sun came out towards the end of the ride near Pitlochry. Along the way I passed by this house overlooking a field filled with sheep and pheasants. I can only imagine the view from the house on the valley, which I took from my level. But I have to say, it wouldn’t be that bad to live in this countryside with such gorgeous scenery all around. I suspect the winter months might be where you pay for it, as it was still chilly in May, but still, gorgeous scenery.


I finally arrived at Pitlochry about 7:40, about 40 minutes from the next train. I plopped down on the bench, took off my helmet and gloves, and ate my last bit of food — an orange! There weren’t great places to stop for lunch around lunch time on the route, an issue with my timing I suspect, so I ended up snarfing down string cheese and PureFit bars — 3 PureFits and 4 string cheeses per day! Was reasonable enough to get me through lunch. 🙂


Anyway, the train ride home was uneventful and quiet, and finally got back to the Balmoral around 10:30 at night. I did some quick analysis… over 10,000 calories burned over 130 miles, with some 12,000 feet of elevation gain over the hills and occasional peak. Huh… maybe RAMROD isn’t so out of reach as I thought!


Cycle Scotland, Pitlochry Loop. Day 1

As I’ve mentioned, I and a number of colleagues are busy training for STP, a 204 mile bike ride from Seattle to Portland. Not wanting to skip training for the 3 weekends I’ll be away at WWW 2006 in Edinburgh, I located a nice local bike rental shop (or cycle hire, as it’s called here in Britain) to rent a bike and do some distance rides. I find Cycle Scotland, run by Peter Butterworth, a very engaging fellow who in addition to renting bikes also plans scenic tours of Scotland.

I arrived on Saturday afternoon, and Peter had a 59cm red 1997 Dawes Galaxy touring bike ready for me to go. This is a reasonable drop-handle road bike; the geometry sits me more upright than on my Bianchi Eros frame. The one thing to notice, even on the 2006 model linked, is that Dawes uses lever shifters on the end of the handlebars… which is surprising, considering both Shimano and Campy have been making break shifters for some time (at least since 1996, as that’s what was on my Eros!). But Britain is a country of tradition. One nice thing is that the bike did come with the back rack, which turned out to be the perfect size for my camera bag.

Peter and I sketched out a two-day ride that would take me all around the Pitlochry area, through some scenic glens and lochs. I took the bike back up to the hotel (the Balmoral, quite close to Peter’s shop on Blackfriars Street), had the concierge store it in their luggage room, and went to bed for an early morning rise and hop on the 9:25 train to Pitlochry. One note: in summertime, you should have a reservation to take your bike on the train, but during rainier months (like May), there aren’t too many. I was the only bike on the train both directions.

Day 1, Pitlochry to Fearnan by Aberfeldy via Loch Rannoch, 61.23 miles.

GPS log via MotionBased:

The day started uneventfully with a 2-hour train ride up to Pitlochry. The biggest challenge was getting into the Edinburgh Waverly train station… there’s an entrance right next to the Balmoral, but it was closed for construction, so I ended up wandering around the block trying to get in. As you can see in the photo, the train just has a metal bar where you rest the bikes… it looks like it might hold 6 packed tightly, but more like 4 reasonably well.


I then started cycling from Pitlochry to Tummel Bridge, passing by River Tummel on some quieter backroads. Along the way, there were several green fields filled with herds of cattle and sheep.


The early route was quite flat and very scenic; for example, I was frequently on the side of the water as I toured west. Along the way, I passed by the lovely Loch Rannoch Hotel, seen here after I had circled Loch Rannoch. Looks like it’d make a lovely place for a holiday! Along the loch were plenty of small powerboats, sailboats, and kayaks… looks like quite the spot!



After Loch Rannoch I began a rather steep climb (up to about 1200 feet). Along the way I saw this amazingly green tree… not sure what its genus is, but it was the most brilliant green and quite striking.


Once I had made the summit and was cycling along a plateau, I came across one of many long rock walls. This one extended from the top of one hill to the top of the other, with the road I was on smack in the middle. I assume that the wall extended out on both sides as well. Apparently, as I found out later, over years the local shepherds and farmers would clear the land of rock, and built the walls as they needed to put the rocks somewhere out of the way. Plus, it helped pen in the sheep, which is always a plus.



Right before the final stop I stopped in Fortingall, home of the Fortingall Yew. This is a 5,000-year old yew tree, reputed to be the oldest in Britain (if not the world). It’s nothing too spectacular, but pretty cool nonetheless. Apparently the tree is in great health, so it should keep going for some time.


I then arrived in Fearnan, a few miles down the road from Fortingall, and stopped at Culdees Bunkhouse. Peter had made a reservation for me the day before. It’s an eco-friendly place that serves vegetarian breakfasts and dinner. It was a bit full, so I was in the 4-bed bunkroom. I ended up sharing it with two retired gentlemen named Dave and George, who were out to do a few Munros. A Munro is a particular type of peak, named after Sir Hugh Munro who surveyed them, that is at least 3,000 feet high and has at least a 500 foot dip between it and the nearest peak. There are currently 284 Munros in Scotland, and Dave and George had done over half, and were looking to bag another 5 or so the next day. We had a lovely time chatting about this over a pint at a local pub in Kenmore, another local village close to Fearnan.

Tour De Cure

Today’s ride with Scott, Julie and Lauren.
I have to comment about one thing here: riding on Route 203 sucks. Riding on West Snoqualmie Valley road is BEAUTIFUL and I would do that again in a heartbeat. But I’m staying away from 203 whereever I can…

What to carry on your bike

On your bike

  • White light for the front
  • Red light for the back
  • Water bottle cages with at least one bottle of water
  • Bicycle computer
  • At least one small bag (like under the seat) to contain stuff below

At a minimum

  • ID (see previous post)
  • Snacks
  • Money
  • Small bicycle repair kit (allen wrenches, screwdrivers, etc)
  • Inner tube
  • Tire patch kit
  • Tire levers
  • Pump
  • Medicines
  • Cell phone or money to make a call
  • First aid kit

Good idea to have:

  • Lock and key
  • Tissues
  • Paper towels or wet wipes
  • Electrolyte drink or powder
  • Seattle bike map
  • King county bike map
  • Sunblock
  • Chapstick

Weather dependent (usually in a panier)

  • Shower cap to cover the seat if the bike is parked.
  • Knit cap or band to cover your ears
  • Spare wool socks
  • Jacket
  • Gloves (Long fingered if cold)
  • Long pants
  • Shoe covers

ID while riding

When riding, we should all have a piece of paper or an ID tag that lists our information and emergency contact info when we run/bike etc. PARTICULARLY if you’re running/biking for distance or when going out by yourself or in a group where you’re not familiar with all the people.

When I run, I have a 3×5 index car in my fanny pack that has:

My name
Emergency contact name and phone
Physician and preferred hospital
Any known medical allergies/issues.

(Additionally I run with my driver’s license, 1 credit card and about $20 in case of emergencies. I bike with more but that’s because I have the paniers)

You could also get one of these:

I highly suggest by your next ride: at least get a 3×5 index card and put your information on that card. It’s small enough that you can keep in your seat bike bag with your spare tube etc

Bicycle trainers

Here is a compendium of answers to my question re: bicycle trainers

  • Two of my friends have Cycle-Ops fluid trainers and say that they are good and worth it. One thing that you can use to deal with stability issues is It will hold the wheel in place better than the old school telephone book.
  • We have an old Travel Trac from that works just fine.
  • The trainer that I’ve borrowed is this one: It’s stable. I have no complaints. It does what it needs to. It’s a little loud, but I don’t know whether other trainers are quieter. An alternative to a trainer is rollers. There, you actually have to work to stay upright and balanced, and to not ride off them. It’s more like real riding. It takes more focus, which can be good or bad depending on what you’re looking for. Note that a bike trainer will wear down your tires more quickly than riding outside or than rollers. If you’re going to be riding your bike on a trainer a lot and not taking it outside, you might considergetting a cheap tire for the rear to avoid wearing out the hopefully-nice tire that you have on there now.

Lauren is not allowed to bike to Alki with the group Any More. Period.

[This was written on 4/29…]

Why is Lauren not allowed to bike to Alki you ask?

Because just like last time [on 4/8] it started to rain… no … POUR on the trip back. Oh and there was a headwind. Shall I describe the headwind. No. I’d like to show you what happened, but I’m having trouble posting the info from the GPS. So I’ll have to tell you. We bailed at Tully’s on West Seattle. A special round of thanks to the folks at Tully’s for putting up with three wet soggy riders and all their wet soggy gear. Another kudo goes out to the Goddess of a ferry worker-woman who gave me a black plastic trash bag to wear coming off the ferry.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

The day started out really great. Megan and Scott met me at UZ and we got a quick cup of coffee. Well it should have been quicker. We left a little after 7:30. Mistake.

We hooked up with Kate on the trail – she had ridden from downtown. We then hooked up with Marc at Gasworks.

Our path went up and over Dexter – which wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be. (The elevation data from the Garmin seems to be a little off in some places, particularly down town.).

We scooted down 2nd, and cut over to Alaskan via Yesler. That was all great – there is very little traffic that early in the morning. The trip across to Alki was much like last time and we were … but I was starting to get worried about making the 9:15 ferry. I didn’t think we’d make the load time (20 minutes before)… but I thought we could still make it. Mistake #2 was a goof on my part: I thought the trip to the Fauntleroy ferry terminal was 15 miles, not the 20 miles it actually is. Ooops. Bad Ride Leader. The other problem is that there are two fairly significant hills about a mile from the ferry terminal. They’re not that high (around 175ft), just one is pretty steep. It slowed us down.

We missed the ferry literally by minutes. I couldn’t find Joan so I assumed she went on the ferry. I only hoped we could hook up with her on the other side. Marc and Megan turned back at the ferry and headed back. They can make any comments about their return trip separately.

Well it was great. Waiting on the other side was Joan and her really cool new bike. I have bike envy now.

The first hill off the ferry is a long one. Not too step, but very long and it gets you (according to the GPS) to about 400 ft. But I didn’t even have too much trouble with it.

The first downhill is pretty steep though.

There are a lot of rollers on the bike trip. We didn’t fully follow either of the suggested route. We road along the west side of the island, and decided at Cemetary road (where the 21 mie route cuts off) to continue South instead of cutting back to town. We went Wax Orchard Road to SW 232nd – there’s supposedly a stand that sells juice etc, but apparently they are closed on weekends. So we pressed on.

232nd meets up with Vashon Island “Highway” and we turned north. This is were the routes suggest you take a right on 222nd, but we kept going straight.

At the I think 204th we debated about stopping in a bakery/cafe there…. But it was at the bottom of a hill. So we pressed on. At the top of a hill (At Cemetary road) was a coffee roaster and we thought maybe a bakery. Nope. Apparently that restaurant is a good one, so stop there if you want a sit down meal. We pressed on and found the “Town” of Vashon. Across from the town park (and there was a Saturday market), there is a place called Bob’s Bakery with some hand held savory treats.

Oh.My were those good. Scott and Kate had a pizza type one with pumpkin seeds on top. Scott also had a Salmon one that he said wasn’t quite so good. I had one that was filled with tofu, peanut and spinach that was to die for. MMMMMM.

At this point Kate – who was getting very cold during the trip, borrowed Joan’s extra coat. Good thing. Kate, Scott and I all had issues with our clothing choices. I didn’t wear a long sleeve under my jacket. Kate needed an extra jacket to keep warm. And Scott needed socks that weren’t cotton. Joan, the mountaineer, was very well outfitted for the trip 🙂

From there it was a few more rollers and the big downhill that we earned at the beginning of the Vashon ride. We felt a few drops.

We got on the boat and it was still fine. I did notice a lot of rain on the windows, but I figured it had to do with the fact that we were moving in the drizzle.

I was wrong. It was POURING rain that was blowing sideways when we got back to the bikes. Fortunately the Ferry Goddess gave me a big black plastic garbage bag that I fashioned into a waterproof sleeveless Jacket. Note to self: Always keep one or two larger plastic bags in the panier from now on.

The plastic bag kept my body VERY warm. However my legs and arms below the bag were soaked in about 2 minutes. Biking glasses were a MUST, but even still you could barely see through them.

The headwind was attrocious though. And the bag … while keeping me dry, was also essentially a parachute no matter what I did. I could only do about 14 miles down the hill from Fauntleroy to the beach road.

We managed to make it to the point of Alki where I just realized that I could make it to the north point of Alki and the tailwind, and even across Spokane street, but then we’d hit the headwind… and there was no way I could even make it to Kate’s. I also realized I was now litterally stepping in puddles of water in my shoe. BTW, the toe covers and wool socks work wonders at keeping my toes warm, but not dry.

We called Ruben and had him meet us at the Tully’s – they have a fire place. Ruben and Elias came and rescued us…

And that’s the story.

So there were a few lessons learned… I think it’s worth the extra weight on your bike to carry appropriate all weather gear. You never know when the weather will turn like that. I did have an extra pair of socks (which helped Scott once we got to Tully’s) and a spare pair of full fingered gloves. But I didn’t have a warm enough top.

Vashon is hilly, but even I was ok with it. You will go *very* slowly up some of the hills and there are two pretty steep downhills.