Saturday 9 June 2012 will go down in history. Not only was it the first edition of the Highwayman Challenge, it was also my first 100km ride. And I survived.

Setting off

With an extra sponsorship from Andy G overnight to spur me on I was up before 6 to do some stretches and have an early breakfast. Then it was a case of rolling over to the ride HQ to sign on and collect my brevet card. It was pretty weird being back in my old school, hardly anything had changed!

I met up with my ride partner for the day, Alan, at sign on and we hit the road to applause from a small but hardy band of supporters. It was fairly warm, even under a blanket of low cloud and with damp roads but we set out with smiles on our faces as the first 23km flew past at an average of just over 25kph. Then the going got tough.

The cloud failed to lift, meaning the long slog up the Tairlaw would be done in horribly damp conditions. Having said that, as my gears started to jump and my legs started to hate me, being able to see only 20m in front might have been a psychological boost! My average speed dropped to just over 7kph as the climb dragged on but after much encouragement from Alan we topped out at over 400m and that should have been the worst of it over.

Tairlaw views

Just after Tairlaw summit we ran into Lucci, who had punctured, nicked his replacement tube and then damaged the beading on his tyre trying to get it back on. To round off his bad luck he didn’t have any reception on his phone, so after trying to help we called his wife to ask for a lift as soon as we came into an area with reception. Glad to hear he made it home ok!

We stopped briefly at the David Bell Memorial to pay homage to the man who inspired the event and then jumped on the back of a club group for the fantastic descent down to Bargrennan – checkpoint two.

Alan at the David Bell Memorial

This is where it all went tits up. Having been on spectacularly smooth roads all the way from Girvan, we turned onto the A714, which was a bit rougher, had one of those really nasty little gradients to it and also had a headwind. The remnants of my whiplash started to kick in as I tried to duck into the wind and after a few miles I lost all feeling below the elbow in my left arm, leaving me unable to control the bike on the bumpy surface. At that point I got off (again) and Alan came back to give me a bit of encouragement and advice. Some roadside stretches and a quick snack had me back on the bike and moving again, albeit slowly. I was astounded at the support and concern offered by everyone who came past me on that section – there was a great community feel about the event.

After we’d fed the midges for a while I caught a weak second wind and we started moving again on towards Barr. Alan likes a bit of hill punishment so while I gave up on the nasty hairpin near Pinmore he flew up it like a mountain goat! To avoid any more incidents, and to try and stave off all of the doubts running through my head, we stopped for a little while at the village store in Barr for a snack and a drink. We even sat on the patio! Lovely.

Having survived the Tairlaw my head was full of doubts about climbing The Screws. I’ve walked over that road countless times, but had never ridden it before, and all I could think of was the pain in my neck and shoulders, not to mention the legs. The rest worked wonders again though, as I only had to get off at the top to tighten my gear cable as the mech was touching the spokes. Glad it waited until the top to do that… The descent was great fun, even if it was into a horrible headwind. The relatively flat 5km back home from Old Dailly felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders as it started to dawn on me that I was actually going to make it round.

I'm not sure this adequately portrays my pain

After poor preparation I knew it really would be a challenge to complete the route, but I had no idea just now difficult it would prove in the end. If it hadn’t been for Alan’s constant support and the fear of letting down everyone who’d sponsored me I think I’d have lain down in the ditch near Bargrennan and waited on the broom wagon. That was one of the darkest moments I’ve had on (or next to) a bike. The kindness and generosity of everyone who came past also helped to spur me on, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.

I have a feeling we were the last of the 100 finishers but I still have some pride in the fact that I finished, even if it did mean holding Alan back for the best part of five and a half hours. The post-ride spread laid on in the school canteen was better than anything I ever saw in my six years there! Nutella cupcakes may just be the finest invention in the history of the world. Maybe Ayr Roads CC should release a cycling recipe book 😉

Reminiscing about the ride with tea and cake

The first Highwayman Challenge was a terrific success, with a great route on some of Scotland’s finest roads combined with good people and even better cakes. I really hope it’s the first of many and I’d encourage anybody who owns a bike to take part next year. Let’s just hope the weather delivery men turn up on time in 2013 😉