19 07 2014

After the rugged beauty of Skye, I turned my attention to an old friend – Torridon. As I have mentioned before, Torridon is an awe inspiring place to ride. The terrain is rugged and technical, but the trails drain superbly, for the most part, and offer good grip: a useful characteristic as they can be steep and consequential.

I wanted to extend the usual Annat/Achnashellach/Coire Lair loop so after climbing from Coulags and descending the awesome trail to Annat, I took the road west towards the Ben Damph estate.

Incidentally, on the descent, I chatted to Alasdair McLean, who was on his way to completing the Highland Trail 550. I had pulled out of this a few weeks prior and it caused a twinge of regret to talk over his experiences. He was clearly tired but in very good spirits. I wished him well and continued down the trail.

After taking the excellent estate track south into the hills, there was an exceptionally wet singletrack alongside Loch Damh to the turn around at Kinloch Damph. Here, the trail climbs gradually, onto the shoulder of Beinn Damh, before descending from Coire Roill back to the coast.

It really wasn’t until the final few kilometers that this additional loop became worthwhile and I am not sure I can recommend it.

I had met a few other riders taking part in the HTR 550 the day prior at Strathcarron Station, including Alan Goldsmith. Alan had warned me off my previous plan of taking the trail up Coire Mhich Nòbuil behind Liathach, before descending Coire Dubh Mòr, back towards Loch Clair. As he explained it, he likes a good hike-a-bike, but the route in question was hideous. Fair enough!

I had been wondering about overnighting: climbing to Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair and (hopefully) sleeping above the midge ceiling before contining around to Loch Maree, or perhaps Fisherfield, but this will have to be another time.

After Ben Damph, I climbed back up the road from Annat, to Loch Clair and from there up the beautiful trail past the Easan Dorcha bothy.

From here, I descended the Coire Lair trail – perhaps the best trail in Scotland. A few hours later, I was sat in the Plockton Inn enjoying a seafood platter and a locally brewed pint. You can’t beat that.



22 01 2014

I cannot remember if I have mentioned lining up on May the 24th 2014, in Tyndrum, for the start of the Highland Trail 550. This is a 550 mile, self supported, bikepacking race around some of the better trails Scotland has to offer. For more information please see the official website, here, or the forum topic, here.

Four months out, I am already losing sleep over this. Not in a particularly negative way, more because I need to take some decisions now that will potentially have large ramifications for the week more or less I will be riding.

I decided to purchase a Revelate Designs ‘universal’ frame pack from Backcountry Biking (whose own Andy Toop will be racing in May) and on receiving the full frame pack, I realised that there had been so many updates and improvements, that I needed to update my old saddle bag also. These bags are amongst the best: please check out Backcountry Biking as they actually hold stock in the UK.

Next was the sleeping bag. Over the years, I have messed around with various set ups. To be honest, most of these have been used on shorter trips, where the risk of persistent damp is less of a factor. I have used 1000g über cosy bags and sub 400g shiver-inducing, barely-there bags. Over the course of 7 nights in May in Scotland, you could be burnt to a crisp by a powerful sun and relish in the after dark cool, or you could be depressed by dreich conditins for the entire time. I decided to turn to PHD for a custom sleeping bag: not dissimilar to a drishell minim 400. This should keep me warm to -2 degree c with the water repellent outer and my add-in VBL meaning the more compressible down should stay efficient and lofty and the system versatile with minimum clothing needed.

The next thing I have turned my attention to is lights and gadgets. I have never used a gps, being a paper and pen sort of chap. Or maybe envelope and Ikea pencil is more accurate. But I have decided that I would like to use a gps for easing any navigation issues I might have (I hope to have ridden 100% of the route by the start) and also to aid some poking around in the less well known areas of Scotland in the future. Seems a sensible thing.

Then all hell broke loose. Bike choice for this venture is not decided yet, but a SON dynamo hub, +/- a dynamo powered light was my initial thoughts. This probably was inspired by Mike Hall (who, incidentally, will be on the start line also) who used a dynamo and Exposure Revo light to great effect in last years astonishing Tour Divide win.

I had in my minds eye already wired up the SON 135mm front hub, to an e-werk, plug or a Sinewave Revolution with separate wiring to a Revo and all the while bopping to tunes from my iPhone.

Being as much of a doofus about electronic stuff as I am, I referred to Cass’s blog, frinds who know more than me and the internet forums at large. Slowly it became apparent (as a good friend had, in fact, pointed out right at the very start) that disposable batteries may actually hold an advantage for this sort of endeavour.

However, I don’t need 8000 lumens, I need more like a 10-100 range. I need the gps to be bomber reliable with no messing around. I probably (hopefully) don’t need the iPhone and I certainly don’t need to attain a doctorate in electronics in order to do this ride!

So: batteries. Of course, the Garmin etrex 20 (compass on my Suunto) is the top choice and with lithium batteries (another learning curve – more stable at temp extremes, lighter and more longevity) plus a spare set should see me through. The headlight was a bit trickier, but having all but discounted the expensive bike brands, I started looking in climbing forums, caving forums and the like. You can spend a lot of money on a Scurion or a Kavelight, but again, with a spare set of lithium batteries I suspect something more akin to the Black Diamond Icon will be ideal.

All the while I have not been ignoring the fact that by May I need to be physically ready. The kettle bells are back in the swing of things, I have been knocking out 30 minute sessions on the ergo and I have even been riding my bike. Unfortunately, several crashes due to the ridiculously sloppy conditions and my innate inability to avoid interesting trails have led to a couple of bad (for me) crashes. I’m back walking without pain and haven’t lost too much ground so overall, OK for now.