A thoroughly enjoyable ‘first big ride of the year’ was nearly thwarted by an unexpected mechanical issue yesterday.
The call came from Marty Savalas to meet at Balmaha and commit to the ‘Mangrunt loop’ in reverse. The route was named many moons ago by Chris ‘Dark’ Savalas the first time we rode the loop on our singlespeed bikes on account of the loud grunting that accompanied our high torque/low speed ascending style. It hurt then and hurts now. Mangrunt is most often ridden early in the year, to shock our legs and lungs back into a 4+ hour ride mode. Winter takes it’s toll on our fitness and, as we get older, it seems more difficult to achieve the lean, mean fighting machine morphology required for our desired summer missions.
This year, as Dark Savalas, Marty Savalas, Davechopoptions and myself took the first tentative pedal strokes towards Conic hill, the steep sided lump on the Highland Boundary Fault, an extra difficulty was added to my efforts: my pedal fell off.
Now, in itself this was a surprise. Admittedly, the XTR trail pedals on the bike have been put to good use for many years, but I had checked them over the night before the ride and felt they were working perfectly. The reason I had checked them so throughly? another set of XTR race pedals had suffered an axle break earlier in the week.
I wasn’t so much angry as bewildered to have my FBROTY stalled by this mechanical issue.
Bidding farewell to the team, I rolled back to the car and, as the sun glinted through the trees, felt a wee bit sorry for myself. I was going to miss a good ride on a cracking day. In short order, I galvanised myself into action: I knew I had a spare set of XTR trail pedals at home – half an hours drive away- and my bike head light was charged. I picked up the spares and returned to Balmaha, whipped the old pedal off and fitted the new ones and hit the trail with an optimistic aim to try and catch the guys or at least follow the same loop. From Conic Hill, Mangrunt meanders through Queen Elizabeth Forrest Park before popping out near Stronachlachar and a return to Balmaha on Loch Lomond side. There are various iterations of the loop through the working forest, often governed by felling and the porridgy mess the trails become as a result of said commercial activity, and by utilising the most direct route, I hoped to save enough time to at least get close to catching up.
It was a humid day, not particularly cold, with the ‘frothed up’ trail adding a degree of resistance to an already substantial amount of climbing early in the ride. Marty explained the freeze/thaw cycle breaks up and raises the surface of the trail before it packs down properly again, later in spring. No doubt, the soft trail adds resistance to wheeled passage.
After an hour or so, it became clear my Thomson dropper post was slipping. I have had this issue ever since I bought the device and have used various greases and friction pastes to mitigate the frustrating, sinking feeling, but with limited success. It was a risk I took in buying Thomson even though functionally the post is very good. Resetting the saddle height and biting off a chunk of flapjack saw me on my way again and soon enough my legs settled into a rhythm. I was aware that I was using the low end of the block more than I thought I should have been and prior to exiting the forrest I was a little concerned over my ability to close the loop. There is no escape option once you have committed though, so I buried the negative thoughts and spun along the road to Inversnaid and the start of the fun trail.
As I readied to climb past the Inversnaid Falls, I was hailed by the team – who were having a break for some food on the Loch edge. Pretty stoked to be back together, we took on the rest of the singletrack along side the Loch shore with weakening legs but broad smiles. It was a good day to be out on the bike!
I think we were all pretty cooked by the time we got back to the cars. Gels were even needed to keep the heavy legs spinning in circles, but there is always a certain satisfaction at completing the first big ride of the year. Here is to the next few months of ever retreating horizons.
So, a few more (terrible) shots and a wee video.