The Oven Bucket Challenge

A week like no other of late.

I needed something to kick my mojo back into gear and hey, I certainly found it on Tuesday. For a very, very long time, certainly a lot longer than since I’ve been doing LCFN, I’ve wondered about doing Arran from the house. As the crow files, it’s 15 miles to the boat, but crows dinnae fly round these parts: the detour is King.

Arran from oor hoose is intimidating: that’s why I’ve never done it before. Arran is a windy place. Ayrshire is a windy place. The wind is no cyclist’s friend, not unless he’s being chased by a lion and it’s behind you (the wind, not just the lion). The mere thought of tackling Arran on a windy day gives me the creeps.

People will be reading this and wondering what the hell I’m on about, particularly my Strayan friends. On the south west side of the island, there’s no flat road for 25 miles, bar the half mile straight in each of Lamlash and Whiting Bay. Back in the day when I was a runner at Cumbernauld, we used to take a crew over to Arran for the Round Arran Relay. The race used to start at Blackwaterfoot and ended at Corrie, just south of the pub at Sannox.

Arran is 56 miles all the way round. And it climbs 3,600ft back to the start.

Back then, first leg north was up a bit then basically flat. Second leg north was as flat as it gets on the island, which basically means up and down a bit. Third leg north is a massive climb out of Lochranza followed by a long descent to Corrie.

North is the easy side: south is a pig. First leg south out of Blackwaterfoot is flat for a bit, then it climbs, then there’s a longish descent before the fun starts. Up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down… before the end of that leg goes up, up, and up some more. Second leg south is even more more of a pig. From the top of that hill to Whiting Bay, the hills are utterly relentless. And don’t even start me on the hill out of Lamlash up past the golf course before the long descent into Brodick.

The chat up line for any cyclist heading over on the boat is this: “are you going left or right”? Excuse the pun, but I’ve been both ways. As things stand after this week’s adventure, I’ve done both ways twice. Right off the boat, ie anticlockwise, gives you a nice six mile warm up before you hit the Lochranza hill from the easy side. Halfway down the hill heading north, there’s a wee S bend at a stone bridge but you cannae be sure what’s round the corner so you can’t afford to take the direct line and take the whole of the road at speed. The first time I went that way, 18 years ago, I bottled it at the bridge and peaked out at 47mph.

Right off the boat is fine if you like storing up trouble. Y’see all those nasty, nasty hills that I just talked about on first, second and third legs south on the Round Arran Relay are lying in wait at the end: when yer knackered. Right off the boat is the choice of a masochist. But you need to do it just once in your life so as to experience the pain of the hill out of Lamlash.

Left off the boat means you hit all of those hills right at the start, and you’re guaranteed to suffer like hell for the first two hours, which is never ideal with a bit boat fry-up in yer belly. But needs must. Left off the boat is definitely the way to go.

So why haven’t I done this before?

Fear and trepidation. That’s why.

But isn’t that exactly why people have bucket lists? Things to do, things to achieve that are so random, so off the scale, that sometimes, just thinking about it scares the shit out of you. That was the relationship that I had with LCFN HQ to the boat, round Arran and back again…

90 miles with 4,600ft of climbing.

I knew, deep down, that if I didn’t do it this summer, when my fitness was at its peak, then likely as not it would never happen. But I was only prepared to take it on in favourable conditions: left off the boat in even a prevailing south westerly would be insane.

Cue Monday evening.

I work for myself: that’s important in this regard. I work silly hours to get the job done when need be, but essentially I work whatever hours I want and I need. 6am starts are not uncommon, nor are 10pm finishes, but when the weather’s in my favour, nor is a four hour timeout in the middle of the day.

Delivering the result is the only thing that matters.

So… Monday afternoon, I checked the weather forecast. I already had an inkling, cos Windguru is the boss, that Tuesday was gonna be good: I just didn’t know at that point how good. Light winds were key: whatever the temperature decided to throw at me I planned to deal with.

It turned out to be the hottest day of 2016 in Scotland by a country mile.

If left off the boat felt like a good idea before I set off, left off the boat became a necessity by the time we docked at Brodick. Those nasty, nasty climbs on the south side had to be done in the cool of 8 to 9am. I left the house before five. I even had to use lights which was novel: I haven’t done that for months.

18 degrees round the south side was sound. It was a bit blowy around Whiting Bay but that’s Whiting Bay: it faces south west.

I counted 15 cyclists on the 7am boat from Ardrossan and a dozen of them passed me and shot out of sight before we reached Lamlash three miles down the road. Y’see I’m not a pack animal. I’m just a workhorse that keeps going all day and every day.

Delivering the result is the only thing that matters.

The personal challenge for me was to make it round the island in time to get the 12:30 boat back to Ardrossan. Back in the day when I were a lad, the challenge was to do it between docking boats, which is three hours, but I’m not that bloke anymore. Four and a half is enough to catch my interest. In order to achieve that, the average speed needed to be 13.2mph. Faster is fine but slower meant sitting about, cramping up, for another ninety minutes. I wasn’t for doing that.

My interim goal was to reach Lochranza at 41 miles by 11am: that would leave me the last 15 miles, up and over the killer hill, in about 80 minutes, and ten minutes contingency to close the bow doors.

I got to Lochranza at 14.2mph and took a timeout. I needed fluid, fuel and motivation in order to tackle that hill. I got all three but perhaps the timing was flawed. No sooner had I come over the top of the climb than my right quad muscles went on strike. Ever had cramp? Ever had cramp in a muscle that you need to use? Ever had cramp in a muscle that you need to use for the next seven miles? Ever had cramp in a muscle that you need to use for the next seven miles in order to get on a boat before it leaves without you?

I cycled left legged in a lower gear.

And I made the boat by about four minutes.

The temperature at the boat was 26C.

Dehydration had set in.

I hit the Lucozade Sport bigtime on the boat, knowing that I’d only got 15 miles (aye right: King Detour) to get home but when I went to stand up, I couldn’t. My right leg from the knee up was concrete. I actually think that people thought I had taken a funny turn, as in bloke on bike is doubled up. And I was. But I know the routine and I hobbled down to the car deck. Back on the wheels and select a lower gear just to get home: detouriously.

The cycle route back from Ardrossan heads along the coast by Saltcoats, and after the beach bit, it passes alongside the railway line. My Garmin is full of gadgets, one of which is a temperature monitor.

The Garmin peaked at 33.1C. I got a photo of 32.3 but you cannae keep stopping to get a foati every time it goes up a notch.

So the job was done. I got home, safe but parched, and then proceeded to down seven pints of water before I needed a pish. I feel for those poor guys selected for a drug test at the 2022 World Cup.

But I tell you what: LCFN has plenty of energy left in those legs, and once the sun sets on this week, it will become the 68th since the ride started that has clocked up 200 miles.

Fun in the sun…

The Oven Bucket Challenge.