On hardship and mental fortitude.

29 11 2017

Why do we cleave ourselves against the rock? why take on hardship, discomfort, pain and fear?

Sit back for ten or fifteen minutes. Put down your mobile phone. Dwell.

Why? tell me why…

River Balvaig.

27 11 2017

With the arrival of the Scottish Canoe Touring SCA Guide, I set about planning a route for my first proper bike/pack/raft mission.

In order to keep it simple, I started at Callander, rode up route 7 to Balquhidder and then Launched at the stone bridge over the River Balvaig and paddled down to Strathyre.

I wasn’t sure how far I would make it. Part of me wondered about paddling all the way down to Loch Lubnaig, but I called it after the rapids at Strathyre as the sun was dipping below the snow-covered mass of Ben Ledi.

My entry point was right at a set of rapids. Nothing too aggressive, but as soon as I transferred my weight into the Yak, I was swept down stream. It was exciting getting the cruiser deck closed whilst trying to control my orientation.

For the most part, the river was slow and meandering, but it was super good fun as I approached Strathyre and there were several sets of rapids, with direction changes required due to gravel banks.

The upper parts had quite a lot of tree in the water, so some careful strainer avoidance was required.

The bike stayed put fine: I just need to remember even more straps! I am also champing at the bit to get hold of a Revelate Harness so I can get the Yak rolled up and stowed on the bike, not my back.

All good and more confident in the water today.


20 11 2017

Up to the Trossachs and wander down to the edge of Loch Achray at the foot of Ben A’an. The plan is to scoot around the loch and then join the outflow as it becomes the Black Water, which meanders East to Loch Venacher, land and then stroll back.

The reason I chose this route is the Black Water has some white water and some strainers. Strainers are trees in rivers, basically, that can impede your progress. I wanted to get a bit more used to some faster flowing, but very mild white water and see how I could deal with avoiding getting entangled in branches etc.

True enough, there was a lot of guff at first, this made for some good practice moving myself around taking into account the flow and depth of the water.

Soon, it got a bit more testing as the rapids (let’s just call them that) forced me sideways into some dense brush, leading to some frenzied paddling. Then the whole river was impeded by a fallen tree. I spotted the low point and pounded the paddle but unfortunately the trunk was only centimetres under the surface so I grounded out on it.

It was easy enough to climb out of the Yak, stand on the trunk in the water and lift the raft over before setting on my way again.

I had read that the faster sections were Class 1. I doubt they were even that, but they were certainly pretty exciting for this neophyte.

As the river widened, it slowed and I spotted heron, sign of beaver and a regal swan as I entered Loch Venacher, headed for the bank and packed up. It was not an unpleasant walk back in the mizzle/drizzle, but I would much rather have been on my bike.

Success of sorts, though I would have been happier if I could have practiced my eddy turns a bit. Early days.


18 11 2017

So this is a B-Rad 3 from Wolftooth components. They offer a range of adaptors to refit bottle cages in such a way that you can carry more on your bike. More bottle cages, straps and stuff.

Why am I interested in it?

Well, I don’t generally like carrying stuff on my person while riding if I can avoid it, but with the arrival of the Alpacka Yak and my plans to bike-raft and bike-pack-raft, I am going to have to deal with carrying more stuff somehow. This adaptor has slots which house the bolts to attach it to the frame and allows some movement fore and aft. The bolt holes on the adaptor itself can then be used for other things.

Most of my bikes have provision for an under-the-downtube bottle cage. The B-Rad is stiff enough to allow 3 bolt items to be added – with the proviso I don’t overload the 2 bolts into the frame. I will alter it to only have 3 bolt holes: 4 is overkill.

What that means is that my King Cage Manything cage (buy them from jelle at Justpedal.nl in EU) can be utilised with straps and a dry bag, or an Oveja Negra Bootlegger, which should be with me in around 4 weeks can be fitted.

This bag has an integral aluminium skeleton to give support and allow it to be bolted on to the frame (or fork). It is sized for Nalgene bottle, but because I am going to use it with 2 bottle cage bolts, I will use it to stow food or soft items, such as puffy jackets and/or wool longs.

It all adds up when you are bike packing and creative space and volume use is essential to a good experience. My Porcelain Rocket Charlene will work with a dropper post – utlising the Wolftooth Valais – and this should give me a highly versatile and all-mountain competent bike/packrafting set up with lots of well distributed bag-space. Porcelain Rocket kit is available from Ride Auburn in the UK

On account of the Bootlegger not being with me just yet (I am awaiting stock of the Classic multicam DPM version) I have used Oveja Negra’s own pics: visit their site and consider some of their kit – it is very well thought out.

Cast off.

13 11 2017

The forecast today suggested cold rain turning to snow and with the trails already saturated, I left my plan to bike-raft behind and went for a simple hike in, brief float and then scurry home.

However, on arriving in Aberfoyle, in the Trosaachs, the skies seemed a mite brighter than I would have assumed.

A short hike up to Lochan a’ Ghleannain – a small and usually very calm body of water – saw me afloat with dry feet and I used the time to get more familiar with my little blue water craft.

Paddling to and fro, forwards and backwards and trying different paddle lengths courtesy of the adjustable, 5 piece Sawyer/Alpacka tool.

After 20 minutes, I had exhausted the potential for mischief on the micro Loch and decided to hike down to Loch Ard for a bit more surface area to mess around on.

Rather than de- and re-inflating the raft, I simply strapped it to my rucksack and wandered down the wide trail. This worked well and I had only a very short portage to find a put in spot on the Loch edge, where I was rather less successful at keeping my feet dry.

I checked out the southern shore of the Loch, which gave me an interesting perspective on the rock formations and tiny islands covered in gnarled trees.

After a bit, I turned East towards the end of the Loch. I had not looked at a map of Loch Ard prior to setting out and I had no idea what the route would be like. There are several pinch points as you get to the end of the Loch, prior to it giving rise to the River Forth -which flows out into the sea on the East coast of Scotland near Edinburgh.

In one of the pinch points – exotically called “the Narrows’ – the flow picked up and I had my first experience of moving water in the Alpacka. Needless to say, it was fine.

I exited and packed the raft up after a good few hours getting to know the Yak.

All good.

Land lubber.

9 11 2017

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

A good number of years ago, fuelled by stories of daring-do by three of the folk over there, to the right in my blog/inspiration reading list (Mike Curiak, Roman Dial and Eric Parsons), I started looking at Alpacka rafts.

I have spent a little time in the water: rafting, sailing, in a kayak for one or two and a few other modes of floatation or submerging. I generally get a bit nervous around white water, despite being a relatively strong swimmer and that has stopped me jumping into a pack raft.

Over the last few years, the exploration of the limits of packrafting has been relentless and I have a good friend who has been providing the UK scene with quality advice, training and kit (Andy Toop at Backcountry.scot).

On returning from Michigan, I sank into a bit of a fug. Partly, this always occurs after the focus of a big endurance event or ride for me, but partly it was the damp, grey, ‘nothing’ weather that seemingly will not stop.

So, I went for it, called Andy, ordered a raft and some kit and went straight out to test things out.

Immediately, it was clear I needed to brush up on some rope skills so I could add a bow line to the raft and I also need to look at a more ultralight pfd. The NRS one I have is awesome for faster water, but one use I want to put this raft to is doing mixed bike-rafting routes. That requires some serious balancing of kit and one thing that adds bulk, if little weight, is a foam style pfd.

So after much research, I found the MLD ‘MoPacka’ AKA ‘The Thing” designed in collaboration with Andrew Skurka – an UL thru hiker and athlete. I was ordering a new back pack from MLD, so I asked owner Ron about the MoPacka and although it is not made anymore, I gleaned enough details to set in motion a MYOG project.

This will be a two piece VX07 ‘envelope’ front and rear that will stow 2x2l +1x1l (maybe 3x2l) Platy bottles. These have the benefit of being a cellular arrangement in the unlikely case of bursting and if my calculations are correct add enough displacement to be bouyant for me in moving water.

Anyhoo, it will add a safety net, be small and packable and will help me feel confident on the adventures to come.

Thanks Andy for all the help and nudging over the years ;-)~

Several pics here were found on the waybackamchine MLD site and a site called ‘mcluxon panaramio’ to which I can find no one to credit.