We got to Balloch, about 5ish on Saturday, and found our hotel - our room had a window looking out onto the Marina of Loch Lomond. Balloch seems to be the kind of place the well to do of Glasgow and Stirling go for a weekend. The marina was full of new well kept boats - and a few cruisers - and the place did have an air of preservation about it. It's a small place but kind of like walking into 1950's Scotland with short sandstone houses and neatly kept gardens surrounded by rolling hills and the odd snow topped Munro. Judging by the amount of BBQ they seemed to be have a spate of sunshine weather, and the amount of midges they hadn't had any wind. We walked through Balloch Country Park that sat on the Loch to the Castle - which was more of a grand home than a turret topped behemoth and scoped about. Initially we couldn't see anything - they hadn't put up a tent and there was no sign of anything being prepared for the morning - a 7 am start for the 100 milers - but there was a string of chemical toilets so we assumed that was where the start was (we met with pals for drinks later, and they agreed so that was reassuring). We were concerned there wasn't much going on to the point I checked the date to make sure it was the right weekend.
We saw a few groups of cyclists in our hotel, but we were expecting to see folk rolling up and down the street. The place was busy but not with cycling, and we were growing concerned that it may not be much of an event. Only on the road in did we saw one or two scant signs for the morning, but about the town there was nothing. Even in the local co-op we didn't see any advertising. I think though on balance we've been spoiled with Etape Caledonia which has about 6,000 entries every year as later we discovered 800 people took part.
The morning start was pretty easy going (with the exception of me forgetting my Garmin and having to go back to the hotel... Oops.) They had Grahame Obree with a mike, standing at the start chatting to people as they waited for their beeps to be set of. When we got there was maybes 60 odd people waiting to go. We weren't kept long though (it was very cold).
The weather and the ride was quite simply beautiful. The sun laughed all day, and the scenery surpassed clichés. As a Glasgow Girl, or in any town in Scotland pretty much, there will be - as in most countries with hardly any one in it - I'm used to public parks and quiet spots. Places to sit, listen to the birds, and imagine you have it all to yourself. Even in the biggest towns it is guaranteed that you can head in any direction and you will be met with rolling farm hills and woodland, but this was something else. When you headed up the way, you could see down into the valleys to rivers so clear and blue it looked like the sky had lay down in strips on the land. On going round Loch Katrine where you shared the path with walkers , the mountains felt so close you could touch them, then you climbed up again and raced young deer along country roads, to eventually be moo'd at by proper highland cattle for disturbing their peace.
That's not to say the ride was easy - because of the loop that we were in we knew every down hill on a certain point was going to be an uphill on the way back, and the last 5 miles were the longest 5 miles of my life! They didn't have ANY signage. No count down on the last wee bit! I think the terrain shocked a few people though - there were quite a few fit guys walking up the hills, whether they misjudged the terrain and had spent themselves going out the way but despite my 10 mile/hr average I think it's a moral victory I didn't get off to walk up a hill once.
Despite the sunshine I was glad and cold when it finished. Usually, at events, you'll get a complimentary bowl of pasta or chilli and rice, with all the tea you can drink, but they only had a 'posh meat van' selling pork on a spit which I thought was tight of them. Our goody bags consisted of a bottle of water, a 'bike floss' - which looked like a thick bike cleaner - and some gumph about prostate cancer, so I've decided to treat myself to a jersey since I didn't get a medal.
After showers (and I had a lie down) then went for an indian and a few drinks with friends for a post match analysis. Here's what it breaks down to:
|Departed:||Apr 14, '12, 08:22pm|
|Starts in:||Balloch, Scotland, GB|
|Elevation:||+ 4272 / - 4318 ft|
|Max Speed:||30.6 mph|
|Avg. Speed:||10.9 mph|