Monday, 12 June 2017

Highland Trail 2017 Stuff

For those interested I thought I'd post up the kit I used on this years HT, how it performed and what did or did not work. This is more for information than a definitive guide as what works for one person may not work for another and the only way to find out is to go out their and try it!

24" Jones Plus with 1x10 drive train (RF crank with a 28T ring mated to a Sunrace 11-42 Cassette), SLX brakes, WTB scaper rims, Bontrager Chupacabra tyres, WTB Speed saddle, Jones loop bars and a 30 degree by 80mm stem.

I built this at the start of the year as I needed something with a back friendly riding position which somewhat limits your choices. The bars sit nearly 2" higher than the seat and its short. This equates to a very natural and comfortable riding position which seems to work well over distance as well as making for extremely nimble handling. It took everything in its stride and left me in reasonable shape at the end of it all. In particular its ability to cope with the nadge-core that was the trail from Lochinver to Ledmore impressed me mightily. Even the weird bars seem to work well although they took a while to get used to. Multiple hand positions were a real help to wrist and hand comfort.

Camping kit
After much debate I stuck with my trusted Force 10 Helium 100 carbon. I've been through a lot with this tent and I knew it would work in a variety of weather conditions and allow me to deal with the dreaded midges. I'd earlier thought to go Bivi Bag only but didn't get enough practice in using it (other than in bothies) pre-event so I didn't want to risk it given the weather forecast.

For sleeping I used a Cumulus / Criterion ultralight 200 down bag, a Thermarest neo air 3/4 mat and an exped pillow.

I took a Bearbones 8g stove which I'd siliconed onto a bean tin lid for stability, a windshield, a Ti mug with a foil lid and 100mm of meths. This was to cook the 3 dried meals I had with me (2 brekkies and 1 main meal) and for brews if I needed a hot drink. Weight wise this made more sense than humping hydrated food around and provided flexibility if I missed a supply point. In the event this proved fortuitous and gained me nearly 3 hours over people who had to wait for food at the Kinlochewe hotel. The cuppa I made on the Wednesday morning was one of the best I've ever drank and doubtless was a deciding factor in me being able to ride for 25 hours that day!

After much debating and cash outlay I ended up (on the Saturday morning) throwing on the same DHB aeron shorts and Torm merino cycling shirt as I's used in 2015 and on countless other rides. The assos bib shorts and Rivelo Bib 3/4 tights I'd bought were ditched as bibs are a damned nuisance when you want to go to the loo, particularly when its raining. In short, they worked. I also had arm and knee warmers which got a lot of use. At the last minute I chucked on a pair of Club Ride baggy shorts as I like pockets for going into shops and things but this was a mistake. I started to get chafing on both inner thighs due to these so they ended up in my bag. In Ullapool I added a thin Rab base layer T as I knew it would be cold over Fisherfield and I wanted to keep my spare T dry. On my hands went a pair of Spesh gel gloves bought for HT2015 and never used in between times as I'd thought I'd lost them! I had a pair of light fleece gloves to go over the top if it got cold. For the temps we experienced this worked well and justified not taking my usual Sealskinz wet weather gloves which are much heavier.

For wet weather I used my usual Paramo Quito jacket and a pair of Berghaus goretex paclite trousers. On my feet were sealskin socks and Shimano XM9 boots. Between boots and trousers went a pair of short goretex gaiters which were replaced by a pair of cheap calf length gaiters in Ullapool. The jacket was as good as ever and warm enough to mean I didn't need a mid layer. That said it was a bit too warm during some of the wet weather periods such as on Saturday evening.The trousers leaked during both heavy rain periods on the Monday evening and Tuesday afternoon and will shortly be binned - recommendations on a pair of lightweight overtrousers welcomed! The short gaiters allowed water into my boots hence the change in Ullapool.

For the tent I had a pair of merino boxers and a merino T. Cold weather paranoia meant I also packed a pair of HH merino 3/4 length bottoms but these never got used.

Tools, spares and odds and ends
I spent a lot of time pondering what spares to take and was reminded of an account I'd read of a gentleman who cycled from east to west Africa in the early part of the 20th century. His comment was that after much debate on what spares to take, realised he would need a complete spare bicycle so instead took nothing on the basis that he could make do and mend. I went with a bare minimum - brake pads (2 sets), a spare rear mech link, 2 chain joining links, a few useful nuts and bolts and a gear cable. I also took a comprehensive puncture repair kit for both tubeless repairs and normal repairs including tyre repair stuff for rips etc. None of this was needed.

My beloved Topeak Alien was ditched in favour of a lightweight multi tool also from Topeak. I'd been carrying a large and a mini Leatherman with me for ages as I needed both for the range of tools I wanted. Specifically pliers, wire cutters, saw, scissors, knife, screw drivers and a spike. A bit of research got me a new Leatherman which had all of the above tools in one smaller unit. The upshot of all of this was a 200g weight saving over what I'd previously carried. For a pump I used a basic lezyne thing with some duct tape wrapped round the handle. It was used once. I used the 5mm allen key to adjust my seat a bit and the 4mm allen key to tighten up the Eccentric BB.

Other odds and ends included a head torch bright enough to see by, an exposure flash tail light, an exposure joystick helmet / bar light, smidge and a midgie head net and a small bit of aluminium sheet used as a trowel. All of these got used. 

Food and Drink
Aforementioned dried food, many snickers, crisps, pies (various), frys peppermint creams, cashew nusts, peanuts, haribo, bananas and about 10 gallons of Irn Bru (this has more caffeine than red bull and a lot more energy). Water was carried in a 1.8l platypus bladder plus I carried a 0.5l platypus folding bottle for a back up and for mixing energy drinks. I had 3 sachets of these with me and in future will avoid as every time I had one I got an immediate upset stomach. I had a tube of hydration tablets which got swallowed dry rather than mixed in with a bottle as I hate the way they make a bottle / bladder taste

Tent and waterproofs went in a Revelate sweet roll, Dry / sleeping kit went in a Revelate Terrapin dry bag, Wildcat Snow Leopard custom made frame bag in which I carried 2 spare inner tubes, stove, water bladder, pump, trowel, washkit, smidge, food and anything else I had. This bag had an excess of space which was handy for grabbing and stashing food easily. A revelete gas tank and jerrycan carried tools and spares; two revelate fuel cells carried folding bottle, drink sachets, hydration tablets and snacks. A wildcat Tomcat sat neatly on the loop bars and carried money, cheapo samsung phone, painkillers and voltarol gel.

My load was definitely on the conservative side but actually wasn't all that heavy and allowed for a range of weather and temps. I made a concerted effort not to have anything on my back to give it as easier time as possible and this, I think, made a big difference in terms of contact point comfort and general well being whilst still allowing the bike to be ridden over some pretty rough terrain. For future jaunts I'm looking into bivi tents as these seem to offer a nice compromise between a full on tent and a bivi bag and tarp set up for trips where the weather is going to be wet but not too wild.

In 2015 I took a Surly Ice Cream Truck round the Highland Trail so it was interesting comparing the two experiences after this year. Overall the Jones was the tool for the job this year due to the extreme dryness and I did note significant time savings over the easy riding sections. That said the fat bike provided major physicological benefits on the large sections of boggy trail experienced in 2015. This year Fraser McBeath used a cyclocross bike and made it to Suileg Bothy on day 2 before illness put him out. Many others were on bling full carbon suspension bikes as well as a number of XC type hardtails and the usual mix of rigids and two Single Speeds. This suggests that the best bike for this route is the one you are happiest on....

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