A little while ago, I tried to do the Highland Trail Race. Tried and failed. I still have very mixed feelings about the whole thing. This year, with stellar weather, I enjoyed following the blue dots and admit to a pang of (for want of a better word) jealousy.
Let me explain: you cant really be that jealous of folk turning themselves inside out, over tough terrain, with precious little kit and big miles to cover in each ~14 hour+ day in the saddle. It is a tough race.
Anyway, as detailed in the old post linked above, I got to thinking after failing to even start the HTR 550, that I wanted to *enjoy* what I was doing on the bike. In other words, I was keen to try a route or two that did not invite too much hardship in terms of daily miles or trail conditions. So, recently I decided to try an ‘easy’ bikepacking route.
I would jump on the train in Glasgow, head to Perth, alight and cycle off into the evening along the easy cycle route up to Dunkeld and from there, head west to Amulree and take the gravel road up Glen Quaich, popping out at Kenmore, where I planned to enjoy some food at the Kenmore hotel.
My plans after that were fluid: I would find a spot to bivi and make my way back down to Glasgow.
I had not done a lot of research and I was under the impression that Glen Quaich had a dirt road, rather than a gravel/partly sealed road. No matter. Despite being on my fat bike, it all went well and the sun shone as I spun along the idyllic pass from near the geographical centre of Scotland, past Loch Freuchie, towards the mighty Tay.
After a fine meal in the Kenmore Hotel, the evening was still young, so I pedaled off west, beside Loch Tay, and had a pint in Killin where the fine views of the Falls of Dochart were somewhat spoiled by the incessant midge.
My plan was to bivi somewhere on the route over to Glen Ogle, in the pine forest northwest of Lochearnhead. I eventually found a reasonable spot, and unrolled my Mountain Laurel Designs FKT (Fastest Known Time) bivi – a recent purchase – for it’s inaugural use. Because of the material selection, this bivi is extremely light, has an essential-for-Scotland midge net and packs very small. As a result, I had opted for the size large, to give me plenty of wriggling room, as I am a restless sleeper.
I had a great nights sleep, although waking to a cloud of midge in front of the netting was off putting and I had a fair amount of condensation inside the bag. This happens with bivi sacks. In the fading light, I had failed to notice that the ground was not just grass as I had thought, but was a mix of sphagnum moss. This holds collosal amounts of moisture and the cool, breezeless night, heavy dew and low cloud meant condensation was a given. In terms of volume and comfort, this bag and I are going to be friends! at less than half the weight of my old Rab bivi, the drop in encumbrance is welcome too.
Dancing around in the morning to avoid the worst of the breakfast club of midge, I got rolling and slowly the cloud level rose and as I left Lochearnhead, to head into Glen Ample for a bit of old school Scottish mtb action, I was able to strip off some layers.
From here, it was a quick descent to Callander, with the now obligatory 2 bacon rolls at ‘Taste of the Trossachs’ before climbing over to Aberfolye and then on to Garadbhan and the WHW back to base.
It was quite an easy route – somewhere in the vicinity of 50 miles each day and it was nice to have a solid destination planned for food in the evening. The fat bike was fine despite the reasonably high road percentage. It was slower than a normal mtb would have been, but that was kind of the point. I also learned that my knees and hips were fine with the wide bb over this sort of distance. Good to know.
In retrospect, I wish I had given myself a bit more to do. I was enjoying the riding in the warm sunshine and it seemed over a little too soon. I also would have liked to have been a little more remote – bikepacking is a great way to get stuck in to the best terrain in Scotland without having to do mega miles or use complicated arrangements of transport and being ‘away’ from it all is a big draw for me.
So: I have learned several things – it’s all good.