This, as some of you will certainly know by now, is my second time cycling this way.
Back in 2011, this section of my 58-day circumcycle of Britain took me six summer days.
This time around I’ve been on the move three days already and I’m less than a third of the way to Inverness.
Well, actually, I got to Perth yesterday lunchtime so that’s only half a day and I left Edinburgh on Tuesday as the sun was setting at half past three. So that was only four hours’ riding in darkness and mist.
Wednesday was a full day’s ride, but a full day’s light in November in Scotland is less than eight hours. A scarce comparison to July 2011, when the light lasts more than twice as long.
I guess this is why November — the end of November, no less — is not the typical time of year for a bonnie bike tour.
It also explains why I haven’t seen any other tourers on this ride so far. Only swaddled commuters and university students pushing around Saint Andrews.
On previous sections of this ride, I’ve enjoyed connecting with other tourers going my way: saying ‘Yes’ to the tribe in Brighton, catching tailwinds along the north coast of Wales, camping on the beaches of whisky-soaked Islay.
None of that this time.
Instead, I’ve been received with blunt wonder. At the Kangus Cafe in Kirkcaldy, I was literally cheered off the premises, clutching a bag of delicious plant-based baps.
It reminds me why I love swimming in the sea in January: the look on the faces of passers-by, wrapped up in thick winter garb, as I emerge dripping in icy relief from the salt spray.
No easier way to feel like an everyday superhero, I reckon.
A driver gives me the big thumbs up through his rain-pocked windscreen. Fair play, mate.
That’s just one of the tiny reasons why I’m proposing we ditch the lame branding of this most sinuous of months.
No to November — Yes to Yes-vember!
- Colder temperatures mean fewer picnics, but more hours in cafes and pubs, where easy community is found.
- The warming, centring wonder of tea.
- Fewer cars on the road, fewer tourists to share the attractions and (crucially) table room at cafes.
- Fewer dog walkers to sniff out your camping spot. In the deep darkness after five, basically anywhere flat is a great, secluded place to pitch up.
- More night time = more sleep time, particularly the long morning lie-ins, cosy in the tent.
- Night riding is excite riding.
- Meltable food doesn’t. Chocolate, vegan block, butter, cheese — even ice cream!
- All the fun, but none of the heaviness of Christmas. Mince pies and Christmas cake, but not yet wall-to-wall East-17 and Mariah Carey.
- All the amazing kit. Okay, I acknowledge that kit does cost money and it helps that I basically do this sort of thing professionally now, but… Proper winter kit is thrilling for what it can do for your comfort. Key items so far: insulated sleep mat (£££), thermal base layers (£), quality lights for hours of night riding (££).
- The weather can never disappoint you. It’s winter: you’re expecting cold and rain. It doesn’t always happen. Rejoice. (In fact, it’s only drizzled for two hours out of the 18 that I’ve been riding.)
PS: Aren’t You Cold?
97.2 percent of me: absolutely not. While I’m cycling, even in the drizzle, I’m cosy from helmet to heel.
Layering for the win.
Even though my two feet make up only 2.8 percent of my total body weight, it’s a wonder how much misery that final fraction can cause, with blood vessels swollen to bursting from liquid to solid.
The solution to cold feet doesn’t seem to lie in layering. I’m wearing two pairs of socks (one waterproof), plus two sets of overshoes (one thermal).
Layering isn’t the solution because trapping warm air doesn’t seem to be the problem.
The problem is inactivity — an odd thing to say given how much exercise I’m doing, but hear me out.
Cold feet aren’t a problem when I’m hiking through snow, for example, where my feet are active players, flexing this way and that.
This only happens when I’m cycling in winter, where my feet are nothing more than terminal platforms; contact elements between piston thighs and crank pedals.
They are the selfless heroes of the journey: closest to the upspray from the wet road, toes to the wind, sixty times a minute pushing on the pedals, and with every pounding what warm blood remains further condensed and crushed.
The problem might not be layering, but I’m determined that my toes know how grateful I am.
So yesterday I went out and bought not one but two more thermal layers for my poor phalangeal platforms — and my shoes are in the oven.
Fingers and toes crossed for today…