At AK architecture we enjoy a bit of cycling… Below is the ride report from Managing Director Ashley Keenon with a detailed account of events.
JOGABZ in a day challenge
For those who don’t like reading skip to the last paragraph, this is a bit of a short story. If, however you have a bit of time and are remotely interested, a more detailed account of the day starts below.
A windy tale…
After doing LEJOG 5 years ago, I have had my eye on another challenge for a while. I thought about doing the perimeter of Scotland, the NC 500 (before it became more congested), coast to coast, John O’ Groats to Aberdeen (JOGABZ) to name a few…. However, with time being at a premium these days, something that could be achieved in a small amount of time, but a bit more epic than the usual ride would somewhat satisfy the urge for now. So, with that in mind, I decided JOGABZ in a day would do the trick.
With the challenge now decided “Challenge Accepted” August seemed like a good month… The date picked was Saturday the 18th of August. The initial route planned and checked. Transport and the support driver sorted. Given the recent spell of fantastic weather I was feeling optimistic and even more so as the weeks ticked by and weather remained consistently good, however the wind had picked up… How bad can it be!!!
Friday the 17th quickly rocked around. As planned, my good mate Peter Dowswell turned up at the house in time for dinner. No fancy spread, he was offered an espresso and a croissant. By 12:30 Friday we were on the road to JOG via the A96. Like all good road trips, Pete brought a variety of 3 CD’s which consisted of Oasis. Good choice and that was the playlist for the journey to Inverness.
The Tesco Inverness crisp and sweetie isles were hit hard, a large packet of Kettle Chips was destroyed along with an assortment of sweeties by time we reached the Cromarty Bridge. Whilst passing through Tain, Pete wanted to stop off at some pottery place where he contemplated buying some expensive hand crafted and painted cups or a plate. After much deliberation over 4 cups at £60 we awkwardly walked out empty handed. From here it was on wards to Wick, Pete stepped up to the challenge of finding an Italian restaurant, there was only 1… it made the decision-making process easy. We were soon sitting at a romantic table for two. Using the big ride that was ahead of me as an excuse, I ordered 2 mains; pasta and pizza. Stuffed and fully carb loaded we were once again back on the road to JOG.
After driving through barren landscape for 16 miles we arrived at JOG and had a wee trip up to Duncansby Head Lighthouse. It was cold and windy, so after a few photos and a quick mugshot with Pete at the lighthouse, with the wind making Pete’s hair look like it was styled by Jedward (see photo) we headed off. The wind turned out to be a taster for what I was in for the next day.
Finally, it was a short trip to the famous JOG sign post and again it felt slightly anti-climatical with the fading light, wind, grey skies and more wind. Nonetheless a few quick snaps like a proper tourist and it was time to head to the hotel to check in and get some kip for the day ahead.
Having kept an eye on the weather forecast on the leadup, I had contemplated aborting the mission due to the very strong SW winds, which just happened to be the direction I would be travelling for 240km. The forecast indicated speeds up to 40 mph and gusts approaching the 65mph zone. On the plus side, the rain looked like at had been blown away. So, I decided prior to driving up that the weather forecast is about right 50% of the time and I would take my chances. Well it was spot on to say the least.
The route I had planned originally was to head down to Inverness via the A9, south again towards Aviemore, east across to Ballater via the Lecht and finally east into Aberdeen. After looking at the forecast a few days before I decided to come up with an alternative route that wouldn’t travel quite as far south as originally planned. This was to try and take advantage of the westerly wind as it swung round from SW to W direction late afternoon. Knowing that it would be tough going cycling 200km into a strong headwind, I really needed an easier finish.
I had decided from the start I was not going to exert myself and fight with the wind, I was just going to keep chugging along. Keep an eye on the power meter and HR monitor to ensure I wasn’t burning too much matches, as it was going to be a long day. However, this approach would come at a cost and meant progress was going to be slow and my time into inverness would be a lot later, but to remind myself I would hopefully make up a bit of time with the tailwind west to Aberdeen.
Doomsday had arrived far too soon at 04:30, subsequently snoozed until 05:00. Up, showered, changed, food down the neck, car packed and biked down to the signpost (tailwind) then it was on my way!!!
From the moment of leaving the signpost, I was faced with a headwind. I had hoped by leaving a bit earlier in the morning I would have less time battling the peak wind conditions rolling in at 10:00. Despite the headwind I was making ok progress and my target speed with these conditions was 25km/h for the first 100km and 20km/h for the remaining 100km to Inverness. This saw me in Lybster bang on 2 hours with 50km done by 08:00, this took Pete, the support driver, by surprise who was still in Wick. A quick pee, a top up of water and I was on my way again. The next destination was Brora at 100km and I was looking forward to a coffee and a bacon roll. The wind had been progressively picking up and I was now off pace arriving in Brora about 30 mins behind schedule 4 hours 30mins. Leaving Brora re-fuelled and ready to go it was back into the headwind and the forecast was spot on the wind had picked up considerably.
Being at the halfway point between JOG and inverness, I started to see some other cyclists who looked like they were on the last day of their LEJOG adventure. Tailwind envy kicked in as they passed going faster up the hill than I was going down it. On the exposed open stretches, the gusts felt long and fearsomely strong. At one point I was doing 230w traveling at 14km/h on the flat and going up the Berridale Braes I was down to 5.07km /h at 272w.
Anyway, my intensity factor (IF) average was still about 0.65, which is exactly what I was aiming for. The legs felt good. However, the constant balancing and fighting the wind meant I was feeling it in the upper body, along with loads more mental concentration, constantly thinking about open parts for gusts and passing cars etc.
Finally, I had reached Tain after 7 hours on the road. I treated myself to a roadside change of bib shorts, base layer and jersey. The change in clothes was a good moral boost before facing more headwind. Having already consumed a whole packet of MOAM’s Pete had kindly bought me another two packets on which the jersey was stuffed appropriately. More water, banana, coke and back on the bike.
Inverness, the big milestone, was now in sight… I opted to get off the A9 for a bit as the traffic picked up. Some quiet B roads were a treat, I even drafted Pete in the car for a bit, but there wasn’t much hiding from this wind behind the small A1. Now a high roofed Mercedes sprinter van would have been awesome for some reprieve from this relentless headwind. Despite its relentlessness, my legs were feeling good. As mentioned I wasn’t going to fight this, I was just going to go slower. I couldn’t even make up time on the descents as the gusts were just scary, anything over 40km/h felt terrifying and I’m not usually one to woose out on the descents (still not fast as Crazy Colin). With that being said, it was difficult to achieve any faster speeds due to the headwind.
After a nice quiet spell on some B roads it was time to join the A9 again headed for Culbokie. Despite being a SW wind, the Cromartey Bridge stretch felt like a wind tunnel. The other side of the bridge… refuel ritual water, banana, coke and back on the bike with a pocket of MOAM’s. It was still windy, but for the first time that day, I felt a cross wind with a glimmer of tailwind. This was certainly uplifting combined with a nice decent out of Munlochy, then greeted with the sight of the Kessock bridge. Finally, Inverness was on the horizon and I knew I was going to make it across the last bridge. Inverness finally achieved after 194km, 2003m of climbing, 9 hours 50 minutes since departure, with 8 hours 30 minutes of leg spinning.
This was where the Garmin route planner decided to start being a pain. Not knowing the area particularly well, I had put all my faith and trust in the Garmin course creator. I picked point to point main destinations and never had a chance to fully interrogate the last-minute route change. So, with that in mind, I was suddenly being notified about being off course, then navigated onto overgrown cycle paths (better than a dual carriage way I suppose), up some stairs, through someone’s drying green, over a flyover, back down stairs, through a college campus and finally to the middle of a housing estate.
The destination we were supposed to be having lunch wasn’t too far away. But with 8.5 hours of riding and nearly 10 hours on the road it was more like an early tea. I took the opportunity to charge the Garmin (battery nearly flat), then it decided to crash and finish my ride. This was soul destroying, as I wanted the whole ride to be recorded as one. However, the silver lining was least I wouldn’t be reminded of what I had just cycled, plus google confirmed you could join Garmin files, so all was not lost.
When I finally sat down for tea, it was only at this point I realised how mentally drained I felt, although the legs were actually ok. The upper body definitely had more of a workout than usual, presumably fighting against the wind to maintain balance. I scoffed a cheese and ham toastie with a strawberry tart that was eaten before it was paid for. I must have looked like an animal in the queue. A triple shot Flat white coffee and 30-minute break from the bike I was feeling good and ready to go. The sun had even made an appearance. So, after a quick wash in the toilets, the winter kit was peeled off, a new jersey was put on, and I was keen to go and chase this tale wind.
I was half expecting to feel awful starting again with café legs, but the coffee, sweet cakes and fudge had kicked in. Once warmed up, the legs felt remarkably good and I was on my way with an actual tailwind… It felt amazing I was cruising at 50km/h on the flat with not a lot of effort. The first 15km flew by, the roads were smooth and mainly flat, nice quiet B roads and unclassified roads with literally no traffic. Even the few lumpy bits felt good, the legs felt strong and just rolled up the bumps and hills. Even the Garmin started working and prompting me when to turn, the route had a lot of turns.
Things were looking up… 220km in out of 360km, 2400m out of 2708m, an actual tailwind and it had turned into a beautiful warm evening. All the hardest parts were done, the awful headwind and climbing was behind me. There was just the one lumpy climb after Dufftown over the Cabrach and all the rest was pretty much downhill with a tail wind. The average speed had creeped up to near 30km/h. Meanwhile another 15km soon flew past and the legs were still feeling good.
At this point I was beginning to think this might well be possible for the first time in the whole day. With my rough estimating I figured I could still do this and roll in at about 23:00. Abruptly the optimism soon ended when the tarred section of road came to a sudden stop. I was met with a forestry gravel track. I cycled up the gravel track for 1km and it was very slow. After stopping and deciding it wasn’t possible to cycle the next 13km on gravel I was left with no option but to stop. There were a few reasons… it would be painfully slow over the lumpy gravel, the risk of a puncture looked high, there was a locked gate, so Pete would not be able to follow me in the car should I get a puncture, or anything else happen and finally there was no phone signal either.
It was decided to put the bike on the car and drive back to the closest junction 5km back the same way. By this time, we had a signal and I was able to review the last-minute route and plan how to get to the other side of this forestry track. A quick assessment on google maps showed that it was some type of forestry trail and an actual route with roads would be a 30km diversion. I got Pete to drive me round the diversion and regroup at the other side.
Interrogating the route further as I was being driven to the drop off point at the other side, I found that the last-minute route was terrible. I did not have time to check all the roads, big mistake. The route to Aberlour was convoluted and partly on the Speyside way which was apparently a gravel path. Meanwhile, time was not on our side.
By this time, I was mentally drained, feeling really deflated about being driven to another part of the route. I couldn’t think of a route to get me back on course, the Garmin website was down, the 4G signal was patchy, the battery on the Garmin was at 20%, the battery on my phone was at 14% and my rear bike light battery had also died. It quickly went wrong after feeling so good. Before we knew it another 50 minutes had passed since the locked gate, with 130km to go. Time since departing in the morning was approaching 13 hours and darkness would be rolling in shortly.
This unfortunately was the pivotal point where I decided to call it a day. Sitting in the comfort of the car, it wasn’t a very difficult decision… We eventually got to Aberlour just after 19:00 and I had simply just been sitting in the comfort of the car for too long to go back on the bike. Whilst being driven, my justification for aborting it was further enforced by the comfort of the seat. I even mustered up the thought if I did reach Aberdeen there would have been that middle bit where I hitched a ride in the car so did I complete my challenge of cycling JOGABZ.
Physically I felt in good shape in terms that the effort I exerted was relatively low, but this came at a cost of time. My legs felt like they had it in them to make it over the Cabrach and roll into Aberdeen. My final justification for bailing was, I didn’t think I would get as far as I did, with the forecasted wind. I made the attempt simply because I had paid for the hotel room and was hoping that there would be a 50 – 50 chance that the weather man was wrong. So, upon reflection and further melting into a comfy seat I was happy with the conclusion. My longest ride to date, 236.6km. It was certainly the toughest longest 194km solo headwind I have cycled into. So, despite not finishing my original challenge I gave it a bloody good go, ate a lot of MOAMS, bananas, and various other forms of carbs and it was certainly character building. It had been a long day fighting the wind and a very enjoyable last 40 km. Couldn’t complain about the rain and I passed some stunning scenery. Pete enjoyed his mini distillery and pottery tour as he drove from point to point. I quickly melted into the seat and we were driving back to Aberdeen with the sense that I was being driven at warp speed after traveling so slow all day.
Lessons learned make sure the backup route is solid. Never trust Garmin route planner. Google earth the shit out of all roads. Trust the weather man if they are forecasting doom. Book the hotel last minute so you can bail out if the weather is poo.
Will I attempt this again… absolutely.
Thanks for reading and I hope you made it to the end. ; )
The summary for non-readers – Started at John O Groats, cycled 194km into a stupid headwind, stopped for a bacon roll at 100km, consumed a bag of MOAMS along with 6 bananas and 6 tins of coke. Got to inverness after 8.5 hours of cycling 10 hours on the road. Stopped at a garden centre had carbs and coffee, got on the bike cycled a further 42km got lost ended up in a dead-end gravel road, re-thought route. Batteries on devices were drained, mentally drained, physically intact, still had 130km to go decided to abort, drove home.