My Ride the North Adventures

by Tracy Johnstone – Chair

RTN2017 startMy ride the North adventure started 4 years ago when my husband Craig decided to take up cycling and entered Ride the North in 2014. Little did I know then that I would be taking up cycling myself! He enjoyed it so much that we thought it would be good to fundraise at the next one if we could. In 2015, we had the first Charlie House pit stop at the top of a hill at Knockburn. The bunting was flying, the homebakes were prepared and the volunteers were ready for the hundreds of cyclists to stop past and have a breather before carrying on over the Slug Road to Stonehaven. It was the most amazing and emotional afternoon, the junior volunteers were making such a noise with cow bells, horns and whatever they could get their hands on, high fiving the cyclists that chose to keep going. For those that stopped by some needed a hug, some needed an energy boost and others needed the moral support to keep going to the finish line.

I decided to cycle myself in 2016, but due to a shoulder injury that needed surgery I had to pull out and was gutted to not be participating with the rest of #TeamCharlieHouse. What I did do though was volunteer for the weekend, mainly supporting the Charlie House riders over the 2 days taking photos, cheering everyone on and generally helping out. Up early on the first day, ready for registration and the anticipation of the 2 days ahead, there was a great atmosphere in Rhynie, the smell of bacon rolls and coffee enticing cyclists to the start line. I spent the rest of the day dashing from one stop to the next in the van to support the team and got to Inverness ready to see everyone arriving after an exhausting day cycling. I think I was shouting for 2-3 hours “well done, rack your bike top & tail, take your water bottles”. Day 2 started with waving everyone off and looking forward to getting back to Rhynie for the finish. The atmosphere at the finish was amazing, the wonderful Rhynie WI were all ready with hot food, drinks and a beer tent, what more could you want after 2 hard days in the saddle.

I signed up for Ride the North 2017 as part of #TeamCharlieHouse and the training began in earnest, off to the gym, started Foundation Training classes and was out cycling on my hybrid bike. I signed up for Etape Loch Ness which was at the end of April, which would give me some experience of cycling in a large group, I also learned some very valuable lessons, firstly, get my own road bike as I had been using Craig’s old bicycle which was too big for me and the week before Etape I had to find something more suitable and borrowed a friends bike, secondly, I needed to practice going up and coming down steep hills as I was so terrified coming down the hill that day, my neck and shoulders went so tight I was in agony by the final feed station. After 42 miles I decided to get on the sweeper bus to avoid any further damage to my shoulders but was very chuffed with myself that I had managed that far on a borrowed bicycle. It was a great wake up call to the amount of training that I would have to do.

I juggled training for Ride the North, with doing everything that I do at the office for Charlie House, supervising homework and being a taxi for our eldest son’s activities and caring for our youngest son Louis, who needs 24/7 care. There was also the juggle of who was getting to go out on a ride, Craig & I pretty soon became a cycling tag team, one of us would go out early, with the other ready to go when they came back and handing over the caring responsibilities. We had a turbo set up in the garage for those days that we just couldn’t get out. It was pretty full on, but I was enjoying the cycling. I signed up for another couple of events including the Aberdeenshire Women’s Rapha 100 organised by the Velodees. It would be the longest cycle and most climbing that I had done in one run and felt it would be a good benchmark to see how I was getting on. The Rapha 100 was a great day and thankfully the weather was fantastic too. The miles and hills certainly pass faster and easier when you are on a group ride. The last month of training was hill climb oriented attempting the Suie and Cabrach so that I knew what to expect.

The big Ride the North weekend arrives and I am feeling OK but a bit nervous, I hadn’t cycled the roads that were on the route other than from Rhynie, so wasn’t really too sure what to expect, it all looks very different in real life pelting down a hill or going so slow up a hill that its quicker to walk. It was a hard 2 days, a real challenge both physically and mentally especially for someone new to cycling. We had a great first 20 miles and a wonderful stop at Rothienorman where I inhaled a delicious hot pancake with syrup and downed a cuppa before moving on to lunch at Rothiemay (I had told myself that I’m basically only doing 20 or so miles until I can stop, have a coffee and a fine piece and then do another 20 miles rather than thinking of the whole day ahead of me). The rain then came on and it was a different ball game altogether, I had already done some wet weather training, but the thunderstorms on Friday meant there was a lot of debris and water on the roads. It hit home when my cycling buddy Lynn had a bad fall in the wet, down a steep hill, she got back on her bike but it had certainly dented her confidence for the rest of the day. We picked ourselves up, downed a load of jelly babies (If I see another it will be too soon!!) and made our way to the next refreshment stop at Clochan where we queued for fresh, hot pancakes which were delicious before heading off to Elgin and then onto the finish line for day 1 at Forres.

We were all so tired on Saturday night, that it was shower, meal, bed & lights out pretty pronto for us all and I had assumed that I would have a great sleep as I was so tired. Wrong!! I lay awake pretty much most of the night, I just couldn’t fall asleep and by the look of everyone else next morning at breakfast, it wasn’t just me.

I just wasn’t prepared for feeling so tired and completely washed out before having to do another full day cycling up some very large hills. Sunday morning was a battle of just getting to the next stop and I felt a bit better by lunchtime after inhaling a ton of calories along the way and experiencing the sandwich mountain at EdinVillie, never in my life have I ever seen so many sandwiches, with every filling you could want, what a spread. I was beginning to feel a bit more positive and energised after lunch and then the fantastic downhill through Dufftown, but my cycling buddy had had enough, she had lost confidence in the brakes and didn’t feel safe. Lynn had dug deep all day Saturday and up until Dufftown on Sunday, getting back on after 4 falls and having more than her fair share of mechanical incidents, it was the right time for her to stop. We got in the support bus, what was needed was a Rhynie homebake, a big hug and a good cup of tea (Rhynie homebakes are legendary). Family members were waiting to cheer us into Rhynie and I got a great big hug from Ellis who was there with Grandma & Grandad. Lynn felt much better now that she had decided to call it a day, it’s the hardest thing to do knowing when enough is really enough and she made the right decision. I got back on my bike and continued with other members of #TeamCharlieHouse the 20 or so miles to Castle Fraser and the finish line. There must have been something in the Rhynie homebakes as I even managed to collect a few PB’s on the way to the finish line at Castle Fraser. It was very emotional arriving and think I hugged everyone before celebrating with a glass of fizz and cheering on everyone else that crossed the line.

What an experience though, a lot of hard work training up front but on reflection I actually had a great time, the volunteers, support riders and marshalls are amazing, chatting to other cyclists enroute, meeting up with cycling friends, challenging yourself beyond anything you’ve ever experienced before, waving at the supporters along the way, enjoying all the fabulous hospitality from the local communities and taking in the scenery of the North east of Scotland, and a tot of whisky at the end, what could be better on the last weekend in August and raising lots of funds for my favourite charity – Charlie House.

I definitely remember swearing several times over the weekend that I would never, ever do it again but by Monday afternoon I was thinking well maybe next year!!RTN2017 finish2