Jan 4 2012 by Greg Christison, Stirling Observer Wednesday
PA reporter Greg turns over a new leaf as he prepares to take on the Etape Caledonia cycling challenge
I DON’T know why I signed up for the Etape Caledonia.
When I agreed to compete in the 81-mile Highland Perthshire cycling extravaganza on the spur of the moment, it seemed like a good idea.
With any luck, I’d raise several hundred pounds for Marie Curie Cancer Care, be able to cover the event from a new perspective and, with family, friends and tens of thousands of Stirling Observer (and Perthshire Advertiser) readers keeping track of my progress, I’d be forced to get fit.
“It can’t be that difficult,” I boasted as colleagues dusted themselves down after falling off their swivel-chairs laughing.
One wag then suggested: “It’s like cycling to and from work, and then doing a little bit more.”
But not only do I live in Bannockburn (and work in Perth), I hadn’t cycled in at least eight years and my fitness regime consisted of an hour’s plodding around a seven-a-side football pitch each week.
And the only tyre I had a close relationship with was the spare one clutching my waistline after four fun-filled years at university.
As alarm bells started ringing, I had to slam the brakes on. Two weeks later, I found the perfect Escape Route.
I know what you’re thinking, but no, I didn’t pull out.
Escape Route is the name of Highland Perthshire’s well-established leading independent cycling and outdoors retailer.
And under the guidance of the firm’s knowledgeable employees, I received the encouragement, expert advice and, most importantly, the gear required to prepare for May’s epic challenge.
Over frothy – low fat – cappuccinos we sat down to discuss my hopes, concerns and requirements, and it became immediately clear that this store’s staff pride themselves on understanding their customers’ needs.
I had been telling myself, ‘I CAN’T do it’. Whereas Escape Route’s Kevin, Malcolm and Peter, were telling me, ‘You CAN’.
Passionate about cycling and not merely pedalling for a sale, these guys welcomed the challenge of taking an out-of-shape amateur under their wing.
Kevin and Malcolm took the time to size me up for a Giant Defy road bike, the necessary clothing, shoes and all important helmet.
They also provided me with a wireless cycling computer, water bottle and indoor trainer, which will prove vital in the impending winter nights.
So I was now looking the part – pity I could barely cycle 81 metres never mind 81 miles.
Donning tight-fitting “knickers”, a thick base layer top and a snazzy red waterproof jacket, I was ready to roll on a recent bright but cold Saturday morning.
Coming over all self-conscious in my skin-gripping attire, I sneaked out to the garage attempting to avoid the neighbours’ glare.
Mounting my bike, I clipped my specially-designed shoes to the pedals (as you do in road cycling, apparently) and successfully exited the cul-de-sac under the radar.
Wheeling into the Stirlin countryside, a stretch known locally as “The Long Line”, I had no idea where I was heading, or how far I’d manage.
The bike offered a smooth ride, the gears shifted perfectly and the wireless computer helped me to keep track of – or lack of – my progress.
At one point I even managed an alarming 30 mph on one downward slope.
My inaugural eight-mile trip, which lasted for approximately an hour, wouldn’t be complete without my first embarrassing biking moment.
Prior to attempting a rather steep hill climb, I decided to pause to catch my breath, forgetting, of course, my shoes were connected to the pedals.
Dressed like cycling pro Chris Hoy, I slowed-up and stumbled into the embankment, only managing to free my feet in the nick of time, to save myself from skidding across the tarmac.
Realising a concerned elderly gentleman had witnessed the minor faux pas, I immediately dismounted and, sporting a bemused look on my face, growled at the bike, pretending some technical fault was to blame for thesaid incident.
Instructed by the Escape Route guys that I should use the indoor trainer three times per week during the winter months, I’ve so far managed to clock-up two 10 and three 15-mile sessions.
A subsequent nine-mile cycle to Bonnybridge was followed by the unthinkable – a gruelling 26 mile ride at Loch Katrine, which I miraculously managed to complete in little over two hours.
It was at that moment I realised my initial training and support from the Escape Route lads had paid off. I felt a sense of achievement.
I, with the help of Escape Route, have set off on the road to Etape Caledonia 2012 and hope you will enjoy following my progress, or perhaps more realistically, lack of progress, over the next few months.
l Bannockburn-based Greg is a reporter on the Observer’s sister paper, the Perthshire Advertiser. Follow his progress in next Wednesday’s paper.