Defying Gravity on the Skye Mor

Cyclists make a pact with gravity. We battle against it on the up-hills, then on the other side, it helps to speed us downhill. It didn't work that way on Saturday's Skye Mor.

At one stage, I was in bottom chain-ring and a small cog, pedallng hard, to go downhill. Eh?


As a kayaker you'll apprecate this. Gordon later told me it had been blowing a steady Force 6, gusting Force 8.

Swinging into a head-wind was like colliding with a massive, invisible cushion. It completely stopped me in my tracks.

However, side gusts were worse. There was a constant danger of being blown into traffic, squeezing past on Skye's narrow roads.

Downhills (not into the wind) should have been a delight. Instead they were terrifying, as I never knew when a side gust would lurch my front wheel two foot to the side. I understand some lighter women riders quit because of this.

Then there was the condition of the road surface. Does the RAF practice bombing Lybia on the roads around the Trotternish peninsula? We were not dodging potholes, we were avoiding craters! These were deep enough to take a front wheel down almost to the axle, resulting in what my friend Alastair calls, a "Captain Starfish impression" over the handlebars. Still, once behind me the wind was good.

Here are a few numbers.
* Two weeks ago, on the Etape Caledonia, I rode 82 miles in less time than I rode 62 miles on Skye, a function of the wind and the hilly course.
* The 95 mile course was 94.2 mile on my GPS.
* The fastest rider did it in 5hrs something, while I was 7 hours 16 mins.
* There were around 120 riders and, when I finished, 28 had still to arrive, but they could have started after me.

And I did smile at the "route" card given at registration. Sensibly, it had emergency contact numbers of the back and space to fill personal details like next of kin. If someone was found lying in a crater organisers would know who to call.

This is the reverse. As well as the intimidating gradient profile, it offers 'Useful Gaelic Terms'.

Visitors might think the people of Skye wouldn't understand English. Actually it was probably a neat way to access additional funding.

Forgive the lack of accents, but particularly appropriate were:
Carson a tha a'ghaoth an-comhnaidh nar a-aghaidh? (Why is there always a headwind?) and Tha mo thoin goirt (My arse hurts!).

Yet the one which fit the day best was this: Bha siud miorbhaileach! (That was fantastic!)

Around Ireland DVD - Coming Soon

Crikey, Vaughan Roberts doesn't hang about! On 16th May Harry and Jeff set a new record of kayaking around Ireland. Now the DVD of their trip is promised to be 'coming soon'. There's a promo below. You'll be able to order through Romany Productions.

Scotland's Wettest May on Record?

A couple of days ago I had a whinge about the weather. I predicted official figures, at the end of the month, would show record rainfall.

Now the BBC is reporting Scotland is "on course" for the wettest May since records began in 1910.

What's more, we've already had double the average rainfall for May.

And I'm about to head off on the Skye Mor course! (I'm in Portree on the map alongside).

In fairness, it looks like the front came through overnight.

So rather than the type of rain that feels like someone is pouring a giant bath-tub of water over your head, I'm expecting patchy showers. That's not the main issue.

Because each time I look at the surface pressure chat, the isobars have narrowed. The westerly wind now looks like being be the main challenge of the day. I feel that short-cut coming on...

Mor Hills, Mor Wind, Mor Skye

I was slightly concerned by a comment, on one of the road cycling forums, concerning the hills of the Skye Mor Cyclosportive route.

"Have you seen the gradient profile? It looks like Jaws' dental records".

Take a look - he's right!

There are two courses to tomorrows event. I've entered the Skye Mor, which at 95 miles is the longer course and will be the furthest I've ridden in a day.

However, if you look at the map alongside, you'll see the route comes close to the start after the first loop around the Trotternish Peninsula.

Cutting across that gap make the course just 45 miles long.

This is the Skye Beag route.

If the weather tomorrow proves as wet and windy as forecast, I might switch at that half-way (ish) point and follow the shorter course.

If it's not fun, there's no point in doing it.

The day after, Gordon and I have tentitvely arranged to do the last bits of filming for the coaching session of DVD-2, but again a lot depends upon the weather.

Which is not good.


For the last few days Liz and I have been saying to each other things like, "it can't go on like this". The correct response seems to be, "yes it can".

In a few weeks time, I'm certain the official weather records will confirm Scotland has had the wettest May for decades. We had some lovely days at the start, but ever since we've been jet washed.

Yesterday's storms were the cherry ontop.

We don't get tornados or cyclones on the genuine extremes of weather experienced elsewhere in the world, but when trees come down and roofs fly off, that's extreme enough for us.

The swallows nesting under on neighbour's house are homeless, their nest washed off the wall. We haven't seen our baby robins in days. Our electricity went off. Planes, trains, and most other travel was disrupted, especially the ferries.

Our local Corran Ferry was off for three hours, remarkably little. "We took a battering right enough", I was told by one of the ferrymen today.

Because Tuesday is our shopping day in Fort William. Liz drove in early to swim before our yoga class. I rode in and I'm not sure which of us ended up wetter.

Oh and our home Internet is off. Which is why this is coming from Fort William.

Surely, it can't go on like this?

National Geographic - Scottish Sea Kayak Trail in Top 50 Lifetime Tours

Apparently, it's also in Outside Magazine's coveted 'Travel Hot List for 2011', although I couldn't find it.

Which is nice. Sort of...

I wrote the guidebook partly because I knew that if I didn't, someone else would, and there was a trend for guidebooks to recommend campsite locations. Directing kayakers to certain campsites, along the length of Scotland's west coast, would concentrate environmental impact in those places and potentially damage them.

So as well as making a great fuss about campcraft and minimum impact techniques, in my book I pointedly recommend no places to camp. I hope to spread the impact along the whole coast as well as leaving kayakers free to find their own adventure.

Perhaps it's big-headed of me, but I also hoped similar guidebooks would adopt this policy in future.

I have been in touch with Wilderness Scotland, the outfitter offering holidays along the route of the trail, and it seems what they're offering is quite different to the self-guided route I suggest.

I also discussed ith with Franco, publisher of Pesda Press, who said, "Shame they didn't mention your book".

Invasion of the Model T Fords

It's not every day a convoy of more than sixty, Model T Fords chug past your house.

But then, it's not every day one reaches the summit of Ben Nevis.

One hundred years ago, Henry Alexander famously drove his vehicle to the summit of Britain's highest mountain.

Today his grandson is trying to repeat the expedition. (The Scotsman story)

From chatting to a driver, I understand they manhandeled the vehicle 1000 feet on the first day, but had less success on the second day.

So, I'm told, they have dismantled the vehicle and today, a team of volunteers is carrying all the components to the summit of the Ben, where the Model T Ford will be re-built and photographed.

The driver who told me this is taking part in the Model T Centenery Challenge Tour.

He added they have to be off the summit by early afternoon, as thunder storms are forecast.

It's not considered a good idea to be walkng down a mountain, lightning bouncing off rocks, with large pieces of metal sticking out of your rucksack.

Those not involved in the recreation of this enterprise are on tour. They showed me today's route. Frankly, I wouldn't drive my wee Polo along that course.

The Foresty Commission has opened the road alongside Loch Shiel, so they could drive from Glenfinnan to Strontian, where we are, before heading around the Ardnamurchan Peninsula and back to Fort Bill.

That's a rough road, more of a land-rover track. We sometimes mountain bike it, and certainly wouldn't dream of taking a 'normal' car along.

But of course, these aren't like normal, modern mass produced cars.

That they'd negotiated Polloch Hill along the way only added to the challenge.

So all morning they've been cruising past our windows, on their way to their lunch-stop at Cozy Knits, the cafe in the Ariundle National Nature Reserve.

There will be a parade of all the vehicles on Saturday in Fort William. And presumably, if they make it, the new photo of the old Model T on the summit of Ben Nevis, will be in tomorrow's newspapers. Now you know the story too.

Mini Helicopter Video Cam - Surf Footage

I've seen better surf footage, but nothing from this angle and height.

This is a 'quadrocopter', a toy helicopter, albeit one which costs several thousand dollars.

It has been outfitted with a camera by Extreme Aerials.

I spotted the story in Outside Online.

It would be great to get one of these machines to shoot some sea-kayaking. For DVD-3 perhaps?

Kayaked Around Ireland In 25 Days!!

They aimed to comlete the 1000 mile trip in 33 days. 25 days is an astonishingly fast time and this record might stand for quite some time.

As you'll read on their blog, the trip has taken quite a toll on their bodies. I'm sure they'll post more soon (perhaps they have already!) so check their website and visit their Just Giving site too.

Pedalling Perthshire - Etape Caledonia 2011

It was the silence which came as the biggest surprise.

Looking at that photo, of the starting lanes for the 2011 Etape Caledonia, you'd be forgiven for wondering what I'm talking about!

Please stay with me. These are my thoughts after my first Sportive event.

Spinning down towards the head of Loch Rannoch, I was mesmerised by the beauty of the river, tumbling over a series of waterfalls.

Which I could hear. Perfectly.

For three hours on a Sunday morning, two glens in highland Perthshire were free of motor traffic. The rumble and roar of internal combustion engines, replaced by the swoosh of chains and the panting of the human engines attempting to power these much flimsier vehicles as fast as possible.

Just how flimsy would be made all too apparent soon.

This is the only closed-road event in the UK open to all comers, and what a difference a closed road makes.

In my first Sportive, I felt so much safer, knowing a 4x4 wasn't going to come careering around a bend.

This is the one and only time when cyclists (and we all drive cars too) don't have to ride defensively, curtailing the riding joy in case of cars.

My other surprise was how many people had turned out to clap and cheer us on. It gave us all a real boost.

But here I had a wee problem. Should I wave back and say "Thank you very much", in an attempt to show my appreciation? If I did that, would they think, that I think, they've all turned out for me? Brushing such thoughts aside I grinned like an idiot, waved and said "Thank you" as I shot past. It was great to see them.

Incidentally, if you wonder what five thousand riders looks like, here's a wide shot of that first photograph.

If you look carefully, you can just see the first riders, way, way at the top of the snap.

What you can't see are the hundreds more behind the camera. Most stay in the local area for several days, spending lots of money.

On balance, I think Pitlochry gains.

Obviously there are some people who don't like this event taking place.

Thanks to the organisers, marshalls and police who spotted a sabotage attempt and sorted it out. It looked like an attempted repeat of what happened in 2009. This time, instead of causing hundreds of punctures, not one event rider was delayed. The first I knew about it was while listening to the van radio on my way home. (Stories in The Scotsman, Daily Record, Press & Journal, and Herald.)

Carlton Reid has written a piece, on the Bike Biz website, about one of the guys opposing the event.

And then there's drafting.

All my training has been done alone, so although I'd read about how tucking into another rider's slipstream reduces the effort needed to turn the pedals, I'd rarely tried it.

Wow does it work! One moment I was struggling against a headwind, an enveloping cushion of air, that was trying to force me backwards. The next moment, I was being sucked along like a piece of dirt in a lycra-clad hoover.

It was exhilarating and, at the same time, scary as hell. The trick, I quickly discovered, was to hop onto a train that was going the correct speed. Too fast and you get dropped off the back; too slow and you're squeezing the breaks all the time.

And believe me, you do not want to break. Oh no. Bad idea.

The wheel you're sucking is just inches from your own and, if they touch, there'll be a lot of bent bike bits scattered over the road, and a lot of road embedded in your arms and legs.

Speed seemed to be best controlled by body position; sit up (into the wind) to slow down, tuck to speed up. The carriages would separate for descents, and then the train would reform, in a different configuration, to whizz on into the wind. I shot past stronger riders, who had already overtaken me. Yet I could not relax, not even for a moment.

Because the rider one in front, or two in front, or three, might not know he or she is being drafted. A couple of times I glanced over my shoulder to check whether anyone was overtaking me, only to find a posse of riders tucked in behind me. I felt like the head-end of one of those Chinese dragons.

There is one big climb, up across the flanks of Schiehallion, the mountain where the weight of the world was first calculated. On the long, swooping descent I clocked 37mph, just before slamming on the brakes.

Moments earlier there had been a nasty, nasty accident involving two riders, who lay in the road clearly in need of emergency care. I stopped to see if I could help. But someone was already calling the emergency services, while others slowed riders, and fearing an even bigger pile-up, I pressed on. I learnt on Facebook one sustained serious injuries and was stable in hospital while the other suffered minor injuries and was discharged. There's also a BBC News story.

Opponents of the event are trying to prevent the 2012 Etape from taking place. They object to the road being closed for half a day, people urinating by the side of the road, alleged unsafe riding practices and litter. I feel there's a sound response to each of these arguments, but people are entitled to their opinion.

I was delighted to finish in 4:49, position 2135, even though the winner did it in 3:37! I'd trained with a heart rate monitor, doing threshold speed sessions at 141-147. These helped, as my average heart rate throughout was 141.

That was my first Sportive and my first 'competitive event' since a sprint triathlon, exactly two years ago. I've another sportive in two weeks, the Skye Mor. Much hillier, much longer and much harder. Then it's the end of the cycling stuff for a while.

Etape Caledonia - 5000 Cyclists On One Route This Weekend

If you're not involved in the Etape Caledonia, then it's probably a good idea to avoid the Pitlochry area this weekend.

Or at least, time your visit carefully.

The small map alongside shows which roads will be closed and at what times. It's an 81 mile course, so that's a quite lot of road closure. See detailed map.

A couple of years ago some irate local(s) sprinkled tacks on the road to stop cyclists in their tracks. More. Obviously I'm hoping there's no repeat of that! But just in case, I have two inner tubes wiht me.

The event raises a huge amount of money for Macmillan Cancer Support, and now a festival of cycling has been built around the Etape, providing an even bigger boost to the local economy. I'm heading there this morning (Saturday) to register.

Below are two videos (with rather good music) which give an idea what I'll be up to on Sunday. Except I'll be at the back...

Warning Live Insects - Open Immediately

It's not often our postie delivers a parcel with that written all over it.

"Live Insects"!? It took me by surprise.

It turns out Liz had ordered some meal-worms as food for the nesting robins, although the blackbirds seem particularly fond of them.

As recommended, the meal worms are kept in a tub with newspaper and fed carrots, which they hungrily devour.

I can't quite get my head around feeding creatures to feed to other creatures.

Robins' Nest

The robins who made our garden their home since last winter have had chicks.

They're in the home-made nest box Liz fastened on the side of the shed, well hidden from the sparrow hawk by a large acer tree and now protected by an electronic cat scarer.

When the female is off the next, we managed to take a peek at the chicks.

The photo won't win any awards, but you can just make out the yellow gape and tufty head.

We're now so tuned into the bird calls, we recognise the blackbird's alarm call. It woke us at 4am, and Liz dashed outside to scare off any invading cat. It's the closest we'll get to looking after kids!

Video - Why People Join RNLI

Featuring six of the people at Poole Lifeboat station and shot on DSLR as part of a final year in Digital Media Production at Arts University College Bournmouth, you'll find more information on the Vimeo page. Worth a watch.

DVD or Download - Which Do You Prefer?

In what I think is a 'first' for kayak media, Justine Curgenven is now selling her films as digital downloads through her website Cackle TV.

Is this the future? Check out the comments below and please contribute your thoughts.

Justine helped me enormously when I was struggling to understand how to make a DVD. Now she has taken the next step and I really, really hope it works for her.

Two films, shot some time ago in SD but not included on DVDs, are for sale at 99p each.

Her new, 32 minute, HD award winning Islands Of Fire is priced at £5.99.

Is this the future of media distribution? It would certainly be easier for me than stuffing DVDs into padded envelopes!

Yet I'm struggling to assess the scale of this market, based on my own experience (or prejudice). While I might download an individual track or two on iTunes, if there's an album I want, I buy the CD online. I like to have something physical for my cash. Am I alone in this?

Why not buy Justine's latest film online and then see if the download route works for you. And if you can take the time to let me know what you think, I'd be hugely grateful.

Video Podcasts Now In High Definition

I'm scratching my head wondering why I uploaded the first Video Diary in Standard Definition! The entire shoot for DVD-2 Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown is in HD, so the Video Diaries should be. They will be in future. The main website is also updated.

RNLI Video - Kayakers Rescued

8th May 2011. Howth ILB Rescue 2 Canoeists in difficulty in gale force conditions off Howth. From RNLI website.

Etape Caledonia Next Weekend

With less than six days to the Etape Caledonia it's no wonder my usual 'long ride' was busy this weekend.

The Etape, a closed-road event for non-professional cyclists, is 81 miles with 1,949ft of ascent, while my local loop, around the lochs, is 81 miles with 3,665 feet of ascent.

I'm hoping it's an ideal training loop for anyone riding the Etape. If I can set a good timeon my own on hilly, home ground, I hope I'll be all right on the big day.

Heavy rain Sunday morning persuaded me that a, short afternoon hill session would be better than a full-day ride. As I was battling up Glen Tarbert, into a fierce headwind, a pack of riders cruised alongside.

"Hop on the back", I was told. It's so much easier drafting in a group slipstream. Still, these lads from Stirling were going fast.

At the cattlegrid, which marks to top of the climb, I usually slacken off to recover on the downhill. Not this time. To (try to) keep with them I was pedalling downhill at my tempo pace. Too much for today. I was dropped.

Sticking to my plan, I turned around at the bottom, and climbed the hill again from the other side, only to meet yet another peleton at the cattlegrid. This lot didn't seem quite so grimly determined.

For both Liz and me, cycling comes third place behind sea kayaking and running a business. I have been training and trying to loose weight, but I've not been particularly successful on either count. Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to the Etape.

New Video Podcast - Shooting DVD,2 Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown

Some people found it already on the rebuilt Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown website, and thank you for the kind comments. These video diaries will come at the start of each month, released as Podcasts at and also on this blog. Hopefully you'll enjoy seeing what we're up to. This one was shot on a weird weather day!