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Cairn O Mount Both Ways!

6 May 2017

Natalie (Birthday Girl)

Roughly this time last year I'd been back on my bike for about 4 months since having a baby. I'd done the etape Loch Ness with the aim of getting fit again, had loved it and decided to do the Stonehaven beer sportive in the June. Once over the cairn was enough for me, on the day I actually had an awful time and couldn't believe that people would do it over and back! Who were these crazy people? It seemed like an unachievable goal... fast forward a year and having joined Velodees, met some amazing inspiring ladies and ridden many more miles I decided to bite the bullet and celebrate being 30-something with a birthday ride over the cairn and back. With an 80 mile route and 6000-odd feet of climbing I knew it wouldn't be many people's cup of tea but Sarah was straight on board (she loves a crazy idea), and then I tried to put it to the back of my mind! A week or two before I managed to convince Aynsley it was great training and she should change her Friday night prosecco outing, Pamela was thinking about it and Rocio the dark house of hill climbing was in! Then three days before the ride Sarah fell off her bike, hurt her thumb and had to pull out... Roz was interested but ill, and after some polite bullying agreed to see how she felt on the Saturday morning .

After some time management faux pars I stupidly decided to replace my saddle the day before... I spent Friday night worrying I was going to rip my undercarriage to shreds but hey it was done now . Saturday morning dawned and the forecast was great, although cold at 7:15am. I cycled nervously to duthie park to meet Rocio and Aynsley, then we headed along to leggart terrace to get Pamela and Roz. Rocio informed me she'd gone to Rachel's hardcore spin class the night before... I looked at her and thought 'you're crazy, this is going to be bad enough as it is!' We cycled along south deeside road to crathes in single file with a slight cross wind. No one was speaking and I just kept thinking 'oh good everyone is so nervous and quiet, what have I suggested ' once we were past crathes we had a quick strip off / food stop and then rode to to strachan in pairs, the chat started to flow and Cairn o Mount seemed a long way away... before you knew it we had hit the AA box ramp and we were on the way up! After some slight cursing from Roz we stopped, ate, took off more layers and Roz got her tunes on the go. We all were slightly nervous about what was coming but got our heads down and got going. I was slightly envious of those people heading down already as we made our way up, but the sun was out and the wind was behind us! Aynsley was having a bit of a gear skipping problem, we stopped to sort it and then we were off - before you knew it we were at the top! The view was amazing and after a sit in the grass, a couple of selfies and a cheese hot cross bun we decided to descend. Roz had amazingly made it to the top of the cairn despite not being 100% but was starting to flag a bit. Unsure what she would do, we sped off down the hill and carried on our route along drumtochty (gorgeous once past that killer hill) - we all felt awful going up that hill opposite clatterin brig... how will we get up the steep side of the Cairn if we couldn't even get up this little hill?!? We dropped in to Auchenblae, Roz went back and forth about five times about whether or not she'd get a husband rescue but decided to power on. Her exact words 'I'm not a buftee!'

After a nice flat bit, some nice chat and some wishful thinking we turned towards the cairn from the south to be met with a wall of headwind. Rocio chose that moment to point out that we could see the road up the cairn twisting away in to the sky, at which point Roz decided she'd had enough! After an amazing effort she headed back to Laurencekirk to get picked up by her husband. We were four. On we went, i tried to give people tips and encouragement on the hard bits but after only being up the steep side once I'm not sure I was really qualified! We got a run up (as best we could with the headwind) and then we were doing it! Pamela and I managed to stick together most of the way, with me heavy breathing and her spinning away taking selfies! Rocio and Aynsley were just behind. It was lunchtime, I was hungry and hot, ready for the headwind to fuck off and ready to be at the top, but there was still the killer switchback to go. Pamela was going strong but had had to walk at this point the last time she tried it, and I was determined that wouldn't happen this time; although we were being pummelled by a headwind and I started to wonder if I was going to have to walk! We pushed on, shouting encouragement to each other and a few swear words (helps with hard exercise apparently ) we were round the switchback and almost at the layby we'd been in an hour or so before. We high fived, ate and drank and the Rocio popped over the top, elated at nailing it in one go without stopping and talking about a lovely bowl she'd seen (at this point I wondered if the heat had got to her ). Pamela ran off to get a photo of Aynsley coming up, but then she disappeared towards the view point. I started to worry something had happened to Aynsley when she came pedalling over the brow of the hill with half a smile, which quickly disappeared as she told us she'd had to walk a bit and had hated the whole thing. I wondered if I'd pushed her too far, she said she was never doing it again and had a sit down. It is tough having to walk but it is a tough hill, and in my eyes she had done amazing and should be super proud of herself! We pulled ourselves together, descended in to the headwind which was very odd and pedalled as fast as our tired legs would go to Finzean farm shop. I resisted the urge to shout at everyone heading up the Cairn 'we have already been up it twice!!!' We saw a couple heading up on touring bikes fully laden with panniers... I shuddered inside and was thankful our hill climbing was done for the day.

The view, weather and food at Finzean was amazing, we were all starving and in need of a break and some food and despite knowing we shouldn't, with 25 miles still to go we all ate too much . Water bottles refilled, we eventually dragged ourselves back to our bikes and headed back towards Aberdeen. At least it was relatively flat! We pulled each along through the final miles then Pamela and I rode to Altens where we split off and heading to our respective homes... knowing I had almost done a century but was already later than I said I'd be I resisted the strong urge to ride 6 more miles (I love a round number) and headed home to my family for an ice lolly in the garden in the sunshine . Sunburnt and tired, and with only a slightly shredded undercarriage, I was so proud of us and what I saw as an amazing achievement - I realised afterwards it was a much bigger achievement than I thought it would be. One of the best things about the day was coming away feeling like I knew these 4 girls so much better then when we left Aberdeen that morning - Velodees is such an amazing group and full of amazing people


On Saturday 6th May I was one of 5 Velodees who joined Natalie Taylor on her special birthday ride, which took us not just once but TWICE over the Cairn O Mount. With the 3 Pistes challenge just 3 weeks away I saw this as ‘good training’ for the event. The weather looked great and I had already done 2 sportives this year so I thought, how hard could it be?!


I met Natalie and Rocio at Duthie Park at 8am and the 3 of us headed out Leggart Terrace where we were joined by Roz and Pamela. It was a sunny Saturday morning as we headed out the South Deeside Road and after we crossed the bridge at the Falls of Feugh the road was lovely and sweeping right along to Strachan. The sun was getting warm, we were all chatting in our group and all we could see was blue skies and green fields with the Grampian Mountains in the distance. We took a sharp left over the river and began our steady 8 mile climb to the top of the Cairn.


We managed to stay as a group for the first few miles but unfortunately I had a mechanical issue. When I was in granny gear going uphill my chain kept skipping down onto the next gear which was extremely annoying (and sounded awful) – especially because I really need granny to help me get up the hill! I suspected it might be something to do with ‘turning the wee barrel thing at the back’ so with a little bit of turning on the back (and front as it turned out) the girls helped me sort the problem and we were on our way again.


The climb to the top was stunning. When I had done this last year it was pouring with rain and the water was streaming down the road like a river but the conditions this time were entirely different! Once we were all at the top we took some photos and descended down the other side (which was slightly terrifying), re-grouped at the Clatterin Brig and on we went with the route which took us through the very pretty Drumtochty Glen. After Auchenblae and en-route towards Fettercairn we had a bit of a head wind and thoughts turned to what was getting ever more closer… the second (steeper) side of the Cairn. Roz hadn’t been feeling 100% that day and called her husband to come and get her. This turned out to be an extremely clever move by Roz.


There was only one way home now and it was over that Cairn o Mount. None of us by this point were particularly looking forward to it and I knew it was going to be hard but I still thought it would be entirely possible.


Well. Turns out I had severely underestimated this one. Despite loading up with my caffeine gel and some more of my Cliff bar, nothing could have prepared me for how I was going to feel going up that hill. We passed a sign at the Clatterin Brig saying 16% and I thought right, here we go. My legs were already hurting but I didn’t look down at what was happening with my heart rate on the Garmin, I suspect it must have been through the roof. I just kept thinking it won’t be like this the whole way up.


But it didn’t seem to end. Every twist and turn of the road I thought it must level out here… but no. The road kept going up and our little group of 4 was by the point quite strung out now with me far behind at the back. I was trying to think of my climbing song, Tina Turner’s Proud Mary ‘big wheels keep on turning’ but the words couldn’t get into my head. Lots of swear words were though, and although the sun was still shining the 3 girls in front of me were disappearing ever further into little dots. I know climbing is not my strong point but how were they all seemingly managing this ok and I wasn’t? I struggled on thinking its ok, I’m going at my own pace, I will make it up there soon.


There were bits of the roads I could see ahead which looked like it flattened out a bit. I thought I would get a rest and maybe a bit of momentum going so I could catch up but it just seemed to drag on even more. I was by this point getting extremely hot and feeling like I was all alone in some barren land with nothing around for miles with only the sun beating down on me. Occasionally a car would pass on the other side of the road with families laughing and smiling, music on and windows down on this glorious day for a drive over the Cairn. They must have been saying who on EARTH in their right mind would bloody cycle up here, what a nutter! If one of those cars offered me a lift I would have taken it.


As I approached the hairpin bit (I later found this segment is called ‘the shit bit’ on Strava) I looked up and shouted ‘NO!’ as all I could see was the road disappearing up into the sky. Close to tears, my legs (and head) could not take any more so I did the unthinkable; I unclipped and decided to walk for a bit. However this proved not to be any easier as my calves were now feeling the strain from tip toeing up the never ending road into the blue. I began side stepping up (and feeling like a total looser) so gave myself a talking to, clipped back in and gave everything I could for the last push.


Finally I could see the summit but I was thinking the girls were probably wondering if I had fallen off the side as it had been so long since they last saw me. As I approached the last bit a group of older guys were smiling and doing thumbs up at me, saying ‘nearly there!’ normally I would welcome this sign it was nearly all over but today all I could think was ‘yes this is the second bloody time I’ve been up here today!’. If only I had the energy to say it.


Pamela was there at the corner cheering me on and I was relived as 1, now at least they knew I was still alive and 2, I was very near the top. It was a battle but I did it! CoM x2 was over. At least the hard part was, we still had another 34 miles to go until home but I wasn’t so bothered about that. All I wanted was something to eat as I was now getting very hungry! We all high 5’d got some more pics and feeling glad it was over I vowed I would not be doing that ever again.


After our descent we headed to Finzean farm shop for a superb lunch followed by cake and coffee in the sun. We all had a giggle at how salty our faces were yet I couldn’t help but wonder why I looked like I had a hangover and not the radiant picture of health one might have expected?!


The ride back in to Aberdeen was lovely yet I was so tired I could hardly speak. I was dreaming of a hot shower, getting into my fluffy dressing gown and having a lie down. The girls continued out the south Deeside road and I turned off at Maryculter Bridge. I had forgot all about the climb there but I couldn’t care less, I had done around 77 miles by this point and apart from 30 mins of torture it had been another grand day out on the bike.


As I got home and replayed the day’s events in my mind I had an idea. I would do that steep side of the Cairn o Mount again and next time I would try not to get out the saddle at all. Perhaps I could do it by missing out the Banchory side first. I’m sure I could plan a nice route on Strava for that…


Pedal and let your mind run free-

"Why is this stupid song in my head right now? I don't like it!

That is a lovely bowl! I want it! who would leave such a nice cereal bowl on the road?

Come on, another twenty, nineeeeeteeeen... Aghh... I cannot count...

No... I still cannot sing that song?! Go away!


For goodness' sake, headwind?!

Aynsley thinks the second leg will be easier... Ufff... No, don't say anything... Headwind!

Maybe we should drive back one day and try to save the bowl? It's got hearts!

Another mouse? Ohh... And a deer! Smell that, amazing! (Wild flowers)

It's hot...

Scallops and Albariño, to hell with the movies. When is Mother's Day at home? Need to call mum! She would love some scallops, I'm sure.

Gosh now I'm cold. Maybe I should tell Aynsley?

This is stunning, I wish Anne could make it!

Fifteeeeen, fourteen... COME ON! Gosh... I'm going to do it! Bloody spin class!

We did it!!


Happy birthday Natalie!

UPDATE 22/05/2017

So I went up CoM today... and looked for the cereal bowl!

It was a mug.

It did not have hearts... they were starts!

I left it there :(

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