Friday, 15 June 2018

Less is more

October 2011 was a defining moment in my illustrious mountain biking career - it was the last time I rode a full suspension bike. It was quite a weekend - I'd driven up early to Glencoe and set off on a circuit out of Kinlochleven to get an appetite for the Clachaig beer festival. A hard climb on tarmac and gravel track then about 15 miles of single track, all of the extreme nadgery / rocky / boggy type. This culminated in the final descent down the Chiarain path from the Blackwater Reservoir Dam back to Kinlochleven. As gnarly a descent as you'll find in the UK. It passed in a blur but the above pic highlighted my problem. I approached this at speed and rode it without a blink. I took the photo to prove how rad I was then blasted off down the remainder of the descent, a big grin on my puss. But that was the end. Suddenly I was bored of getting to the top of some techy single track and then suddenly, a few minutes later being at the bottom with little memory of what had passed. It was fast but it was not memorable.

I'd progressed through all of the iterations of suspension - flex stem, Rock Shox Judy's, Santa Cruz heckler (one of the first), bombers, Patriot, Five. I'd raced downhill, done dirt jumps, step downs and gaps and I wore body armour.

Except none of my mates (after a brief flirtation) were really interested in this nonsense plus after a few close shaves and a cracked wrist I knew that sooner or later I was going to take a big crash and a big smash. After a long break, the hills called and off I went into the wilderness.

I still used the same bike as I was a convert to the full bounce. It was the most efficient, fastest, most comfortable... And being a single pivot man, easy to maintain. Even the forks in those halcyon days were easy. Servicing involved changing the oil. Once. In say 5 years of hard use.

Of course the priority was the descent; we just went further afield to find them. I even did long distance stuff (On a patriot with a coil over shock and bombers and 26" wheels. It worked)

The change was slow. Pals had already switched to hard-tails for some rides. Suspension was increasingly seen as an unnecessary indulgence only of use for more speed which was also seeming like a pointless goal.

The beginning of the end was a trip I did in 2011 - a bikepacking trip no less but with rucksack and too much stuff. Suddenly the suspension was at best a useless waste of energy and at worst a liability if the over loaded air shock were to go pop.

That Chiarain Path descent was the final nail in the coffin. I already had an on-one 29er built as rigid bike but with mudguards and racks for a tour I never did. 29er tyres in those days were narrow and largely knob free but I bunged on the best I could find and hit the dirt (or mud). Blisters and sore wrists followed so my ageing 26er inbred was resurrected and I had my first epiphany. A short, light hard tail was the tool for trail centres. Further a field it was a bit uncomfortable but the tide had turned. A longer, lower Ragley followed but another distraction had happened. Fat bikes. I got a mk 1 mukluk and suddenly I had achieved nirvana. No suspension = no problem.

The bikepacking bug had bitten too. The fat bike got toured up the western isles and the On-one 29er got toured round Iceland. Simple was the new bling.

2012 was coming to an end (thank god as it was a wet one)  and a 29er seemed to be the way forward but something more versatile than the somewhat unyielding in-bred. So I hunted out a frame that would take big tyres and long forks. In 2012 these were few and far between and I seemed to be the only one interested in such a combination.

Things were about to change. In a bar in Minnesota a bunch of guys were drunk and talking about the next big thing. They invented it right there - a 29er with more trail to make it fun but 3" tyres to take the sting out the bumps without the need for expensive, high maintenance suspension. The Surly Krampus was born (note:- the above is true, they told me). Within a few short years "plus" was the new thing. All the big names were talking about it. All the mags were slagging it off then praising it by random turns. The Surly boys just smiled, leading the change / charge once again.

I got one of the first and I forgot suspension, once and for all.

May 2013 saw me in Torridon - that mecca for mountainbiking that I had only visited briefly in 1997. The descent to Annat is seen as one of the maddest and rad-est in the UK. On my five it would have been a blast. I'd have maybe got a strava king of the drops. I don't know, I don't care. On the Krampus it took ages, it was hard, I fell off. You felt every bump; everything I put in, I got out. At the bottom I was wrecked. It was ace.

And it was safe right? I was going slow, picking my way down and round stuff, not blasting through. 4 days later it broke my collar bone.....

By this time Bikepacking was in full flow and people were coming to the same conclusion - less is more. Less things to break, less chance of them breaking. Suspension had lost the plot. Bikes had more and more pivots, forks needed a strip down every other ride and no-one saw the joke. Ask a club level motocrosser how often they service their forks and they will reply:- change the oil, once. In five years of hard use....

But plenty people bought the dream and the manus were scared that rigid bikes would catch on so they reinvented them to suit their marketing plans. The boys at Surly just smiled and sold every Krampus they could make.

Its not mainstream though and never will be. I was at Hamsterley trail centre last year on the Jones. As I packed up two guys on SC bronsons were getting ready to ride. They eyed the weird forks and bars. "Are you riding proper trails on that?" I thought back to that years Highland Trail. Sutherland, Assynt, Fisherfield. Maybe they had just come back from the Alps so I avoided the inevitable pissing contest. "Aye if you've the patience" They weren't convinced but they were half my age.

Rigid works. Its slow but seems fast. Descents take longer. This is a good thing. Its simple, it looks good. In 1988 we rode rigid 'cos there was nothing else. We didn't care and we didn't miss what we didn't have. We never asked if it was Ok to ride this trail on a rigid. We rode it. We didn't die.

Others jumped on the none-bandwagon. People started to look at what people really wanted out of a bike, not what a marketing company felt they could sell them. Take a bow Jones, Stooge, Surly et al.

A mate who is into vintage motorcycles summed it up - "the better you get the worse a machine you should ride" Countering hordes of sports bike riders who upgrade there machines every year as they 'improve.' Anyone can ride a modern sports bike fast. Its boring. Its hard to ride a rigid / girder pre-war side valve quickly but its the most fun you'll have on a motorcycle trying.

Its easy to ride a rocky descent on £5k enduro mountainbike. Its hard to ride a rigid bike on the same trail but its the most fun you'll have on a bike trying. Don't believe the hype (or the marketing lies). Ride Rigid. Less is more.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

June BAM

I got a shock when I discovered this run of good weather was set to continue throughout the week I'd booked off work, normal service is for it to last right up until I leave work and then turn into a seasonal deluge. To be fair a couple of days of thunder storms and heavy showers was predicted, followed by a return to full blown sunshine.

I left it until Sunday lunchtime to depart, this being the (allegedly) latest time a storm may develop. Heading west towards Callander (Route as per March BAM) it was still quite grey with numerous random drops of rain landing on me. However heading north up NCN 7 the sky cleared and the sun came out. This is a great route and with a bit of imagination can form part of a long route north which uses only back roads, this cycleway and good tracks.

Eating tea in Killin I noticed a rather black cloud rolling over Ben Lawyers, unfortunately close to where I was going. Sure enough on leaving town the heavens opened and the hour spent climbing over the Ben Lawyers road was done in heavy then steady rain. It cleared on the climb out of Glen Lyon over to Rannoch and after a few more drops looked like a pleasant evening was on the cards. My stop for the night was near where I was for May bivvy 2, about halfway along the Old Road to the Isles which runs from Rannoch to Ossian.

The Old Corrour Lodge - formerly a hospital / hospice for TB sufferers - A more remote spot you'd be hard to find. Blackwater Res in the distance.

This evening also marked the start of the 2018 midge season. It had been quite breezy until I set too pitching up, whereupon the wind died and the little beggars appeared in force. Later on the wind returned so I was able to strike camp without being chased away from this fine place. I was horrified to discover some timorous wee beastie had tried to make a tasty snack of my over priced ESI grips - one was covered in teeth marks and worse it had had a go on the draw cord on my fuel cell!

Morning view

Breakfast number two was had in the Corrour station café then it was a steady but lengthy pedal out past loch Ossian down to Fersit and then on to Spean Bridge via the East Highland Way. Tourers take note - if you have a bike with a reasonable amount of off-road capability this is a fine way to travel north missing out the gruesome A82 or the dull A9 cycle route. At Loch Lagan, you can turn right and head up towards spey side as an alternative.

For me it was Fort Augustus and pizza. Ironically I was heading the other way up the Great Glen than usual but thanks to a north easterly still had a headwind. Fortunately most of the route is sheltered so no big deal. After pizza I continued north east via the new cycleway which parallels the B862 (Also a Wades Road). Annoyingly its not actually open despite there being no signs to suggest this as at one point I ended up cycling through the Glen Crow Hydro-electric scheme base camp. Once finished it will be a nice alternative to the road which does see quite a lot of traffic. Its also a huge climb (30-350m) and not satisfied with that I continued further uphill via the South Loch Ness Trail.

Looking west towards Fort A and Kintail.

A mate put me onto this and its a quite a nice route with a good made path that seems like its not really being used despite lots of posh signs. I followed this for a few miles then rejoined the road as my route was taking me east. If you are continuing towards Inverness its a good route with quite a bit more trail, including the 'Fair Lads Pass' - a nice singletrack (ish) descent after another fine climb up the corkscrew road.

At Farr I picked up the wee road over the hills to Tomatin - another substantial climb but now with a stiff tailwind. It was getting a bit late by now, the sun was setting and it was also blissfully chilly after the heat of the day. From Tomatin I headed south over the Slochd and camped down by a fine Wades bridge over the River Dulnain on the old route of the Sustrans NCN 7

I've always fancied stopping here but never needed to previously as friends used to live in Aviemore.

Many years ago I was involved in a project to re-furb the bridge and do up the approach track along the old military road as part of the development of NCN7. The signs now show this section as for 'mountainbikes only' which undersells it. Pity Sustrans can't chuck a few quid at the track to sort it as its a far nicer route than the road. In any case use this instead of the road if you are in the area - its a bit rough in places but fine for 40mm or more tyres.

After breakfast in Carbridge I followed another abandoned section of NCN7 over to Boat of Garten and then various trails through the woods to Aviemore. I Called into Bothy Bikes to Chat to Dave for a bit. He's sold me quite a few frames and sundry bits over the years and its kind of my local bike shop, given that my actual local bike shops aren't remotely interested in stocking the kind of bike stuff I favour. 

Dave mentioned he had recently done the Minigaig / Feshie / Geldie circuit. I've done a variation of this from the south and its a cracker - 50 miles of continuous off road with some great riding. I was aiming for home so suddenly the Minigaig seemed like the perfect route choice.

There various ways south missing out the A9. The Minigaig pass is one of the lesser known (and harder) ones. Its best accessed from the north via Glen Feshie as the lower part of the route on this side is now little used and very hard going. No fun on a hot day! Instead bear right just after Feshie Lodge up a big climb on a stalking track right up to 847m. There is then a steep descent and steeper climb up to an unnamed trig point at 912m.

A place of good views

From here its a case of following the ridge line west towards the summit of the minigaig pass itself. There are various lines through the short heather but you can ride pretty much anywhere up here.

The descent off the pass is nice - a wee tussocky, rocky path which was near dry today. I Passed a couple of walkers setting up camp early beside the burn at the halfway point. I've noticed walkers tend to stop at tea time rather than going until last light but it was prime sunbathing weather so who could blame them.

The final descent is pretty steep and I impressed myself by riding it nearly clean (One burn crossing defeated me plus a nav error which saw me go straight on at a hairpin...).

Thereafter it a was an easy run out of Glen Bruar and down the riverside trails from Blair Atholl to Pitlochry. As luck would have it a train was due in shortly after I arrived so I jumped on to avoid a long road ride the next day.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

May BAM, take 2

Don't you just love sunny weather in Scotland. Its a rare enough event for anything more than a few days at a time so after several weeks with really not much rain, you then get the even rarer combination of sun and dry trails. Except its been like this for the last three springs so maybe the above is mince.... Of course this is likely to equate to yet another damp summer but we can't complain really.

Anyway, given the weather, a bike trip and bivvy was essential. The Highland Trail 550 group start was about to kick off so the obvious plan was to hit my favourite area for biking - Ben Alder - and shout encouragement at a few HT riders whilst I was on. (note - my user name on Bearbones is HTrider. This relates to a motorcycle I own and was originally coined on the UK trials forum so I stuck with it for the BB forum  prior to any knowledge of the HT550. Hey ho...)

A drink induced late start put the kybosh on this and it wasn't until 5pm that I departed a very sunny Dalwhinnie. Pedalling down by loch Ericht is a fine way to warm up before the fun begins. There was a fair few bikes about - many loaded for either hill walking trips rather than bikepacking per se but always good to see.

I joined the HT route where the Ben Alder single track emerges by Loch Pattack. 2 riders were in view but I carried on as I suspected they wouldn't be interested in a random stranger cheering at them. In the event they shouted at me thinking I was doing the route and had gone off course. After a brief chat about the trails (dry), the weather (hot) I left them too it.

My route took my down by the Pattack then north towards Lochan na Earba. My plan was to ride until dark so I stopped here for tea sat by the loch shore.

It was warm, sunny and there were no midges, what more could you ask for. (OK a proper gourmet meal rather than a freeze dried effort....)

This is actually the old HT route and very fine it is. I climbed up through the forest past another micro hydro scheme, helping myself to a mostly used loo roll from their site toilet as I'd forgotten mine. Thereafter you climb up through Strath Ossian - one of those particularly special places to be on a bike as you are very much aware of the vastness of the landscape you are passing through.

Climbing up into Strath Ossian looking north east to Loch Lagan and Lochan na Earba.

The old HT route came through here via the Abhain Rath from Kinlochleven. The abhain rath section wasn't much fun but it did mean you had a continuous off-road section for nearly 50 miles without any hint of public road, possibly unique in the British isles.

As I passed the lodge and headed along loch Ossian, darkness was starting to fall and the air temps were dropping. I noted a figure in the distance pushing a bike. Hmm; odd, I thought. As I approached I noticed he was wearing a Bear bones bikepacking shirt. Recognition soon followed - Bob Wightman who I had shared many miles with on the previous years group start. His bike had a flat tire and he looked absolutely scunnered. Turns out he'd bashed a rim on a waterbar, split his only spare tube on a subsequent one and that was that. He'd exited the HT route via a short but gruesome glen linking the top of the bealach cumhahn to Loch Ossian, with the intention of getting a train from Ossian station. I gave him a tube so he could at least ride his bike the last few miles to the station and we chatted about the route, scratching and old age....

We parted at the YHA and I started the long but steady climb over the road to the isles southwards to Loch Rannoch. This used to be a famously boggy track but has now been upgraded to a fine gravel surface thanks to yet another hydro scheme.

Its a good one and a very useful benefit of such works as it opens up a fine off-road through route to a variety of bikes. In fact you can now get from Callander to Aviemore via this and other good tracks mostly off road with only back roads to link the trails up.

Looking west over Loch Ossian to Ben Nevis and the Mamores

Sunset at Corrour Old Lodge, looking over Rannoch Moor, Blackwater res and Glencoe

I'd thought of stopping at the ruined lodge (it was a hospice for TB sufferers) but it was quite breezy so I decided to keep on down into the valley bottom to find some shelter. A small island in the (low) river provided the perfect spot:


 Looking south over Strath Rannoch to the hills above Bridge of Orchy.

I had a reasonable sleep although it was still quite breezy so the flapping tarp kept me awake for a while. I woke to clear blue sky's, had breakfast, packed up and headed off. I re-joined the Highland Trail route at Bridge of Gaur and climbed up through the woods towards Loch Ericht.

Looking west to my bivvy spot with Glencoe ski centre and the Stobb Ghabhar group behind.

The famously boggy section to Ben Alder cottage wasn't and the north easterly breeze kept me cool. At the cottage I bumped into a mate who was mentoring a Duke of Edinburgh Award group so we chatted whilst they went the wrong way up Ben Alder and then I headed off over the fabulous singletrack that is Bealach Cumhahn and dubh. No more HT riders ('cept me!) although it transpired that the chap I spoke to at the bottom of the hill was trying to do an ITT but gave up later that day and went back via the lower loop. The descent was a hoot and the easy roll out by the Ericht was a fine way to finish another great ride.

 Mandatory Bealach Dubh shot looking south west to Loch Ossian.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Non Bikepacking, an interlude

In August 1983, I visited Edinburgh for the first time with Durham County Youth Orchestra. We were playing a set in the now defunct festival of British Youth Orchestras schedule held in the (now re-developed) Tolcross Theatre. As part of the trip we went to see the Philadelphia Philharmonic Orchestra in the Usher Hall. The headline piece was Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.

Many people talk about the track or song that changed their lives. Usually its a Hendrix / Zeplin / Sabbath / Pistols / Maiden track. In my case it was this utterly stunning piece of music. I was 13. School sucked, bullying was hell and '80s pop was shite. This blew my mind to a place its never returned from.

Years later I was advised by my then Bassoon teacher to buy a study book of extremely hard bassoon solos. The ROS intro was one of them. Like any young guitar hero pretender I had a go and after much practice I got to a point where I could play it (badly). Years later I raised this bar to below average.....

By this time I was a convert. Stravinsky was on my regular playlist. I'd explored his whole back catalogue and was a firm fan. Every so often I returned to that mighty work. It got me through all sorts of times good and bad and I fantasised about destroying that intro.

Time rolls on. Stirling Orchestra was my outlet for all things classical and I was happy to do my bit as best as I could. Stravinsky seemed an impossible dream which I knew would never be realised. In the meantime I was mainlining Shostakovich and another study book was obtained to allow me to dabble in his mighty works.

This book provided an insight into another Stravinsky classic - the Bercuese in the Firebird Suit. I bashed away at it one evening in 2015 for no other reason than it was there. Little did I know that this was to become an obsession that dominated my life for months.....

2018. The programme for Stirling Orchestra was announced and how we laughed. Stravinsky's Firebird Suit no less. We all knew it was impossible (but we all knew the compulsive attraction of such an unbelievably hard piece). I wasn't even in the frame for the first Bassoon part so I didn't care (I did) but circumstances changed. Suddenly it was up to me.

An obsession developed into a full blown life changing fixation with this incredible piece of music. I put in the hours. I sweated blood. I could play it blindfold. The concert came.

I'm no stranger to Hr Max. You hit that hill, increase the pace steadily and revel in the feeling of your heart bouncing off its age related rev limiter. Hitting Hr Max whilst sitting still is a strange feeling. Apparently drug addicts do this every time they take a hit. Maybe that's why so many people have put themselves on the line for the sake of entertainment - hitting that high with no artificial additives, time after time.

As I played that solo, in front of my fellow orchestra members, my parents and a large number of strangers, my heart rate hit maximum, the adrenalin surged and.... it worked. It could have been better. It could have been worse. But I played that solo. We played Stravinsky.

Nothing I have done before has had that effect on me. Nothing I will do again will compare.

Monday, 7 May 2018


Well I finally made it to a more exotic location for this one. It was also my warmest bivvy since January!

After a leisurely drive up the A9 to Blair Atholl (rush hour plus lots of tourists) I abandoned the heap and headed up Glen Tilt. The weather had been funny all day with intermittent showers of dreich and lots of cloud. It had looked sunny as I drove north but by the time I'd departed it was decidedly grey looking. Fortunately the stiff breeze was behind me so I made good progress up the glen, emerging at the top at around 8.30. A few spots presented themselves for stopping but I fancied a bit of shelter so pressed on until the ruins of Bynack Lodge. By this time it was so gloomy I'd had to take off my shades and sure enough as I pitched the tarp there was a faint hint of drizzle in the air.... In the event it was dry, warm and pleasant night.

The next morning there was no sign of the forecasted heatwave but as usual I was totally over dressed so no problems. Next up was the infamous geldie crossing. True to form it was somewhat deeper than expected all thanks to the large amount of snow still hanging around above 700m. This set the pattern for the weekend. Any burn or river that was fed above this height was fairly flowing.

I managed to ride it with only a dab at the end (on a rock so no wet feet) so was quite pleased. It didn't last as my route took me along to Linn of Quoich and I'd forgotten the bridge there now no longer crosses the river.... Of course the ford was deep enough to go over my (goretex) boots - I blame the Jones' low BB! I'd thought of doing Glen Gairn but the single track crosses the gairn itself twice as well as a couple of burns flowing off Ben Avon which would be high given the snow melt. Instead I ground up the big track out of Invercauld over to Glen Gairn as per the CL route. Just as I crested the summit an eagle soared away from me and circled for a while over the glen. Bombing down into Glen gairn confirmed my choice - the Gairn was high and you could see the burns flowing off Ben Avon as white torrents.

I had an early lunch at Loch builg lodge wondering how the CL group starters were getting on. The sun was now beating down and I had a strong tailwind. The firestation café in Tomintoul provided lunch no. 2. I was heading for my friends place near Aberlour but instead of an easy cruise down the road I turned off on a trail into the Braes of Glenlivet and then after a bit of navigational faffing picked up a track from Ladder foot into the top end of Glenlivet itself. I stopped to check out what I'd thought was a bothy and was pleased to find it was, albeit a bit run down and home to a rather annoyed crow.

Then it was up the climb and over into Glenfiddich. I was down to shorts and T shirt now as it was properly roasting. The descent is fast and with the tailwind was easy. I stopped at the spookily empty Glenfiddich lodge and contemplated a nosy inside but a truck turned up so I just took a photo instead:

Very weird - there is still furniture inside and its all just been left. the landowner isn't interested in selling it so is just leaving it to fall into ruin...

After the lodge I ground up another big climb which gave stunning views all round and lead to a nice descent on a rough, vague farm track, something that seems to be increasingly rare with all the wind farm developments everywhere.

Thereafter it was a brief road ride to Aberlour and the Speyside way to my pals place for beer, food and chat. I did actually bivvy on their floor but I'll not try to claim it!

The next day started fairly calm so I got away at 10 with a vague plan to head for Aviemore then down the Gaick back to Blair Atholl. I'd considered including Ben alder in the proceedings but this would have meant another night out and I really needed to be back home that evening. After Bridge of Avon I picked up the CL loop but didn't meet any group start riders until the river before the egg path. A couple of guys were crossing the other way having bivvied that night in Rothiemurchus. Good progress guys! I missed out Ryvoan as I needed supplies and the paths around Glenmore would be crowded as would the cafe. So I followed the CL route backwards to Aviemore had chips from the happy haggis, grabbed scran at the garage and got going with a notion that I'd get back to the car by 6 or so.

The wind had other ideas. I'd noted that it had strengthened as the morning progressed. Turning south west down the spey valley confirmed my worst fears - it was right in my face. What roadies call a 'block headwind' which is rich considering that an aero road bike is barely affected by headwinds, at least compared to a large 29+ with bags on it! 

I diverted off the road at Feshie Bridge to pick up the CL outward route which gave some respite in the woods but when I started the long climb up Glen Tromie I knew it was going to be a slow one.
Headwind Karma - I've been pretty lucky of late with no major headwind issues for a number of years and lots of trips (including both Highland Trails I've done) whereby some random wind changes have served me well. So I guess this was payback and given the stunning weather I couldn't really complain. It was just a case of get your head down and dig in. To the head of the pass took a long, long time and any thought of getting back to the car by 6 went out the window.

I'm fairly relaxed about such things these days whereas once upon a time this relentless blast in my face would have had me cursing and swearing. The wind cares not a jot for such outpourings and you are better saving your energy for pedalling.

I got a shock when I came upon the river flowing out of Loch an Duin - it was in full flow and well over a foot deep. I've never seen this river as deep as this, even in pretty wet weather. Having narrowly escaped a dunking in the Alt Garbh Gaig (fat tyres are ace for river crossings) I wasn't taking any chances so took shoes and socks off and paddled across.

Escaping the Gaik

A final feed to fuel all this hard pedalling was had in the sun whilst my feet dried; then it was off along the single track. Being in the lee of the slope I finally got a break from the wind and after the usual faff to get from the single track to the track by the lodge, bombed down the glen to the road. Fortunately the road / cycleway to Blair Atholl runs almost due west at this point so I finished with an easy pedal and a strong tailwind, getting back to the car at 7 less than an hour after my estimate which wasn't bad considering the wind. Total distance 280k with around 4000m of climbing.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

April BAMs

Yes you read that right, I've managed two bivvies this month, thanks to attendance at the Scottish BB Spring Thing and also an impromptu trip to avoid the Dirty Reiver.

The spring thing was local to me so an easy option to bag my April BAM. The weather forecast was finally heading towards spring and the trails were looking more brown than white so it was off towards the Lomonds via Cleish, Loch Leven and Benarty hill. I'd had a leisurely start thanks to another works night out, a need to rescue my car and also to drag the Jones out and make sure it was functional, having hardly ridden it this year so far.

I caught up with fellow BB'ers Blair and Jamie at the pub (hurrah) after chasing them down on our planned route. Beers were drank and food was eaten (I had the worlds hottest chilli) then it was off to the Fife 5 star bivvy spot as per my January BAM. After a bit of persuasion the fire was lit in the stove and we settled in for a night of chat and whisky drinking followed by a fairly restful sleep. Sunday saw us heading back over the Lomonds, down past Glenrothes to the Fife Coastal Path at West Weymmss. There then followed a leisurely ride along the FCP fuelled by coffee and cakes courtesy of the café at the Harbourmasters house in Dysart.

BAM 2 was not planned. Planned was the Dirty Reiver gravel race in Kielder forest. I'd entered this in November last year in a fit of enthusiasm for an event that was well organised and shared with others. This enthusiasm waned somewhat having had to shell out 60 quid for this privilege and waned further when I realised that despite the hype it was 200k of forest roads and Sitka spruce trees, not the gravel highways of the Midwest of the USA. The final straw was the realisation that there was nearly 1000 people in for this. I go cycling to get away from people not to fight my way through them...

Hmm. No chance of a refund so I guess I had to turn up? In the event a crap week at work, an enforced late Friday finish and a total enthusiasm and sense of humour failure meant an easy decision - stuff it I was not going. I'd hoped that the ever reliable weather would come to my rescue as there was no way I was schlepping round 200k of forest tracks in the rain but even this let me down with a forecasted heatwave.

So its going to be dry and sunny and I have a choice - spend a day riding around a vast Sitka spruce plantation or go in search of mountains. Yup - its a no brainer. I was a bit miffed at writing off £60 but I could no longer be bothered with all the furore of this event. No criticism intended, this is just not for me.

So on went the bags, bike into car and 45mins of easy driving (better than 2 hrs 30 of M74 white line fever) saw me in Dunkeld for a late start at 8pm. An hour and half later I was at the top of Grandtully hill having pedalled up through the woods of Craigvinean and Griffin Windfarm hunting for a bivvy spot. A raised and dryish level area beside the track fitted the bill just as darkness was falling.

My nights sleep featured dreams of being cold and trying to get to sleep, punctuated by waking periods of being cold and trying to get to sleep..... I gave up at 5 am, had a leisurely breakfast and got going fast to get some heat into my chilled bones. So much for spring but I'd ended up at 450m so little wonder it was cold. I resisted the temptation to head straight back to the car and instead had a fine day pedalling various easy trails over to Aberfeldy, Up Glen Lyon and then over to Loch Rannoch and east to the Tummel valley. Thereafter it was the fine trail down to Pitlochry and then an easy cruise along NCN 7 / 77 to Dunkeld.

No pics I'm afraid, I was travelling light!

Sunday, 1 April 2018

March BAM

My parting comment of my February Bivvy a Month post was something like 'hopefully next months BAM will be warmer, drier and with more daylight'. Well 1 out of 3 ain't bad is it?

I was meant to head out last weekend for a 3 dayer in the Borders which would have been three days of spring weather and sunshine. Instead I ended up on a last minute skiing holiday which left me with no option but to squeeze a trip in right on the last day of the month. Cue crap weather forecast for this weekend making 3/3 in the cold, rain and (a bit of) snow. 

I Departed the house at about 4 into a decidely uninspiring afternoon. I was heading due west to the Trossachs with a stiff tailwind and a mix of sleet, snow and rain encouraging me onward. It did clear up later apart from one parting shot of a shower so I actually ended up having a pleasant ride via various trails, cycleways and back roads to Alloa, Stirling then Callander.

One of many good cycleways around Clackmannanshire, Dummayat in the background and 1 million gallons of whisky in the sheds just visible behind the trees

Callander provided food for breakfast and the next day as well as fish and chips for tea. Sitting on the riverside eating them highlighted how chilly it was. I'd debated which sleeping bag to bring given the forecasted sub-zero temps and in the end had gone with my winter bag as there is nothing worse than trying to sleep when you are cold. 

Leaving Callander I headed along the south side of Loch Venechar via the excellent cycleway - this is a wee twisty gravel path which is a hoot. I'd planned to bivvy here but a group of youths (with the inevitable fire) had beaten me to the first spot and it was a bit early anyway. The national park have extended the managed camping zone to this area for this year. There were numerous fisherman camps along the road with fires and litter everywhere. Another excellent idea I don't think...

After the venechar cycleway you follow the forest drive up a steady climb past a couple of lochs. Annoyingly they have permitted campervans to stop overnight here (they do at least have to pay) and they were everywhere, it being easter. This lead me to pass several more good bivvy spots as I wanted to keep as far away from these numpties as possible - generators, loud music and, of course, fires. The cycleway leaves the forest drive for the final climb over to Aberfoyle and as the light was failing the hunt was on for a suitable spot to pitch up. This turned into a model of bivvy spot finding as I passed and discounted several sites in the quest for that perfect spot (which ususally ends up as being an anthill, bog, back garden or minefield). To be fair I ended up in a reasonable place with a view and shelter, albeit a bit lumpy. The tarp went up and I snuggled in for a cosy night. It snowed a bit later on but not to any degree so I had a reasonable night and woke up to the forecasted nice day, in a break with tradition.

I packed up after a leisurely breakfast feeling suitably smug that all I would leave was an imprint of my body in the dead bracken. I noted that even here there was the remains of some old tent poles and another former fire site which I'd missed the night before. I guess that is the price of being close to civilisation, but you'd think that anyone who had the nous to get to this fairly remote spot in the forest would be the sort to make sure they left no trace....

In view of the sun, I opted for an extened route through the Queen Elizabeth forest (I passed numerous excellent bivvy spots well away from civilisation) followed by a lap of Loch Katrine and then back home by my outward route. This was meant as a bit of a training ride for the forthcoming Dirty Reiver 200. The Straggler proved itself well capable of dealing with a variety of paths and tracks even with the bags on so it looks like this is going to be the bike I use. My fitness isn't all it should be thanks to a lot of skiing this winter but I'm fairly confident I should be able to stagger round the DR route in reasonable order.