Kit notes.

13 05 2017

The ride from Blair Atholl to Montrose was the first bikepack I have done without a ruck sack. I usually would take a wingnut of some size. This time, I rode with just a hip pack.

There were several considerations in order to achieve this: one, I had less water carrying capacity and two, I had less room for kit on my person.

It was absolutely fantastic to not have a pack on my back. Even the smallest wingnuts give you that sweaty back, encumbered feeling. My normal set up is Sweetroll, small or medium, either a Gas Tank, or some Feedbags and a saddle bag – sizes varying with how much I need to bring. Lastly, I have a wingnut.

The trade off to lose the back pack was use of my old Revelate Designs ‘Tangle’ partial frame bag. My worry here was river crossings, as I tend to grab under the seat tube end of the top tube to portage. In the end, I had no deep crossings, so it was a none issue. I brought a thin climbing sling that I planned to loop around the bottom bracket tube and act as a handle.

On disembarking the train, I tried to arrange my kit for the initial ride. I had a couple of cans of Dale’s Pale ale and I chose to just stuff these in either end of my (small) Sweetroll. The effect on the steering was immediately noticeable. Normally, I stuff my sleeping bag in the Sweetroll and perhaps my sleeping wools. The added weight of the beer was detrimental to steering. This is not a revelation – various sites advise minimising the weight and indeed width of a bar roll as much as possible. In order to do so, you need space elsewhere. My cuben Ermine seat pack is not huge, I have a Viscahca that is bigger, but I tend to use the smaller pack if I can.

In the framebag, I carried my tent poles, cooking kit, food, an inner tube and the seat pack took a puff jacket, shelter and inner tube.

The front pocket had tent pegs, the sling, my Steripen, hip flask and a dyneema guy rope. Also stuffed in there was a Voile strap and my mini Petzl headtorch. Oh and on this trip, I brought a wee lock – soon to be replaced with an Ottolock, when it arrives.

I carry large cuben stuff sacks, used to stow my lid and pack and maybe even shoes if it is inclement overnight.

I use Z packs carbon tent poles and this trip allowed me to try the new, 80cm pole for the front of the MLD cricket. Previously, I have used my handlebars, sticks or tied it to a tree. The shelter requires this to tension the ‘tarp’ outer. The inner midge net hangs from the outer and is given shape by pegs.

I had made a pole jack as I felt that the long 132cm Z packs centre pole could do with being a wee bit longer. In this case I made the pole 2.5cm longer with the jack and it was great. The question is if I now order an MLD custom pole the correct length: they can be made multi section in order to fold very short.

I also rode with a Wolftooth, reverse dish oval ring. It feels a little like you are hurrying through your pedal stroke but I liked it a lot. It did not remind me of when I used biopace rings way back in the day, interestingly enough. Overall, a keeper.

The most enlightening thing, after I had repacked in the am, was how much better the bike felt with less weight in the roll and saddle pack. Generally, over the last few years, I have avoided using a frame pack because I can get everything I need into a roll and seat bag, meaning I dont have to carry the extra weight of a third, big bag. But – the weight distribution in using the thrid bag made it entirely worth it! As a result, I have sold some old bags and invested in a newer Tangle Pika and a full Ranger frame bag to move towards this new packing method.

The Gas Tank had food, and I used various Backcountry Research straps to attach tubes and whatnot to the bike. I also use their Tülbag for tools. These things absolutely rock – if you are thinking about getting some, I would thoroughly recommend pulling the trigger. Cylorise int he Uk stocks them.

Ok, I think that covers things. Any questions, fire away.





A different tack.

20 06 2016

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.

Reflections:

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.





Über light shelter?

6 04 2016

In a previous post, I explored the (then) current state of play with SUL and UL shelters. Needless to say, things have moved on.

I purchased and have had great success using a Mountain Laurel Designs Cricket. The purpose of this is essentially a small, light shelter, that can be easily stowed as part of a light weight and un-encumbering, bikepacking set up. In Scotland, the midge are a concern for three seasons. To be able to sit up, behind a midge net, is a very useful thing indeed. To do this with a wafer of sil-ny that weighs less than my old Rab bivi is wonderful.

Easy to pitch (using one Z packs carbon pole, some ti pegs – varied depending on the terrain from traditional round to ‘v’ style – and a wheel or the handlebars of my bike as the second pole, or even a stick) it offers plenty of shelter from the weather and the vestibule is roomy enough to cook in. This is highly recommended.

Sometimes, however, you want to go even lighter and when you stop pedaling, you are going straight to sleep – more or less – and in this instance, a bivi sack makes much more sense.

I have used my old Rab bivi for a number of years, but the Fastest Known Time kit arriving from Mountain Laurel Designs got my brain’s gears whirling. The bivi is made from cuben for the ‘bucket’ base, with a new fabric – cuben eVent – for the top. This is lighter and as breathable as the eVent which has been very successful for the Rab I have, but the weight reduction is astonishing. If you are interested, some information is here (although this refers to a slightly older fabric mix), here and here (more up to date).

I opted for the large bivi sack, basically because I could. The weight means that the extra girth is a tiny price to pay for more wiggle room (I am a non-static sleeper!).

In addition, I decided to alter my overnight stowage. One thing you quickly learn about when picking a site to bivi is humidity management. Don’t aim for ‘cold air sumps’, and consider the breeze and ground conditions. Even though the eVent is amazing at allowing fluid to shift from inside the bivi to outside, if you also introduce wet shoes from river crossings and sweaty clothes into your bivi bag, the system is going to be overwhelmed. That being said, leaving stuff lying unprotected outside overnight is not a great option: there is nothing quite as miserable as donning cold, wet shoes and lid in the morning.

My plan is to keep any bags worn on my body, my helmet, gloves and shoes in separate cuben bags *outside* my bivi sack. They won’t stay as warm, but they won’t leave me soggy overnight.

At 250g, this bivi bag is giving me ideas. I suspect I will be able to get ALL my über light overnight kit into just a bar roll, frame pack or rucksack. This lack of bulk opens up S24O options that include the roughest and most technical terrain imaginable. It is exciting to start making plans for summer.





Bikepacking – Trossachs to Perthshire.

27 05 2015

A couple of weeks back, the rain cleared for long enough to head out the door on the bike with overnight kit packed in the bags and just roll.

The aim was to stay off the higher elevation trails as snow and hail was still a very recent memory. Indeed, less than 45 minutes from home I was treated to a flurry of hail as I navigated the ever increasing number of walkers on the West Highland Way.

From here, I took a route through Queen Elizabeth Forest Park (the Trossachs, more or less) and then followed the trail to Callendar. There is a good off road track from here north, following an old railway line in Glen Ogle, where I decided to follow the River Dochart and then Loch Tay. The weather had been threatening and I was chased by a very dense, grey cloud suggesting a down pour as it dropped off Ben Lawers. I was lucky though, making it to the Kenmore Hotel for an extremely high quality beef burger and pint of Thrappledouser.

Following quiet roads east, I turned south at Ballinluig, looking for a suitable spot to make camp and before too long I pitched the tent next to the Rock Pool, a fishing spot north of Dunkeld.

The burger kept me full and after a nibble of salami milano and a nugget of cheese washed down with a Sierra Nevada Torpedo, I turned in. It had become quite cold and I had to wear all the clothes I had, except my riding shorts (including wool longs, R1 hoody and a nano puff jacket). It proved a fitful night, with me waking up numerous times shivering and I awoke early in the morning with a lot of condensation on the inner of the tent. The pole had shifted in the night due to the sandy soil and the tent was draped in part across my bag.

There would be no relaxing in the sleeping bag on that morning, so I broke camp and got warmed up by pedaling. I took the road over to Crieff, not anticipating it being such a frosty morning. Maybe I was short of calories, but I could not stay warm at all. Shivering and cursing I climbed and climbed, before eventually dropping to a turn off near the town and heading round past Monzie and the Famous Grouse Experience, before taking the road to Comrie and then the singletrack road south of Loch Earn.

Before too long, despite the mizzle, I was climbing away from Lochearnhead and then dropping down the cycle trail and back to Callendar. Here, a fine bacon roll (ok, two) got the energy levels back up and the sun coming out was a bonus. Climbing over the old trail from Loch Venacher to Braeval, I encountered some slop, before taking the same route I took outwards bound back home to a well deserved pizza, beer and a sleep.

Day 1: 100 miles or so in 9 and a half hours.
Day 2: 90 miles or so in just under 9 hours.

Fuel: pork pies, salami milano, M&S egg and ham and beef and onion mayo sandwiches. A granola bar or two, a packet of olives and some Oddities – salt and vinegar if memory serves. A handful of Mike n’ Ikes and that delicious burger.

Next up, a more strenous but shorter Cairngorm route.





Everyday carry.

11 05 2015

Sorta.

Everyday carry is, I guess, a meme. It is an interesting concept. I got to thinking about it while I was preparing to head off for a short bikepack the other day. What is the essential everyday carry ? how does this sit beside what would provide a slightly more comfortable existence on a short bicycle tour? everyday-plus, if you will?

So, I decided to have a closer look at what I carried on a ‘heavy’ trip and perhaps dwell on the contents a little. Heavy is in inverted commas because I wouldn’t necessarily class the contents of my bags as heavy per se. But I most certainly brought some non-essential items (depending on your point of view. of course!).

So, here we go.

Let’s see, starting at the front, a Revelate small front pocket for a Sweet Roll. Inside, essentials I might need to grab at short notice or, perhaps, when it is getting dark.

Opinel, ti tent pegs (2 sorts for different ground conditions), Sinewave Revolution – an amazing gadget covering all my charging needs from the Son front hub, Steripen freedom, notebook, Snow peak ti spork, a dyneema cord with cord lock, fire steel and spare lithium batteries for the Etrex. Not pictured, a few notes and a bank card and my keys.

Under this, of course, is my Sweetroll (not pictured). In this, I have my tent (a Mountain Laurel Designs Cricket), a Patagonia nano puff, and a spare inner tube (varied with which bike I am riding – in this case a Bonty 2.5-2.8 26″) and a Z-packs UL carbon fibre tent pole (that folds down into a short 40.5cm packed size). Often, CF poles can be flimsy and if broken can pierce tents. In this case, the joins are reinforced with tyvek tape. It’s been solid.

Behind the bars, I use 2 Revelate feedbags.

In the right one, I carry food. Mike n’ Ikes, cheese, pork pies, clif bars, granola squares etc, whatever I pick up along the way.

In the left, I carry my cooking kit and some sundries in the outer pockets, in this case my toothbrush, paste and chamois cream.

The cooking kit consists of a ti mug from MSR and an MSR gas canister (for the MSR Pocketrocket I keep in the Wingnut lumbar pack). I use an MSR Mugmate for coffee – works extremely well. I also store TP and a few sheets of kitchen roll in bags to a) stop rattling and b) use.

Next, is the Gas Tank – again, food.

Lower down, on my 44 bikes fork, I have 2 water bottle cages.

The Steripen needs a hard water bottle for use, I tend to take at least 2 and in the other cage I use a Specialized Keg. This doesn’t contain beer, but it is a useful little ‘hard’ storage for (in this case) my Niterider head light, extender cable, some wipes (one thing that is distressing is the number of wipes I see discarded by the trails. They don’t biodegrade fast at all and this is making a huge mess in some well travelled areas) and cotton wool/vaseline for fires, if needed.

Next and also unpictured, is my Viscacha seat bag. In here, my sleeping bag (PHD), Thermarest Neoair, wool longs and a R1 fleece with hood.

Lastly, I have my Wingnut.

In this, I carry a 2 litre camelbak bladder, which I try to use minimally – basically to lessen weight on my back. I also carry my MSR Pocketrocket, Gerber essential utility knife, Lezyne mini pump, another tube, coffee, Patagonia Houdini, Niterider battery, camera stand, some whisky (in this case A’bunadh) and a midge head net. I usually take a freeze dried meal of some sort. The little, old Timbuk 2 bag is my tool kit.

In this, levers, folding chain tool and quick links, 7075 Paragon hanger, Stahlwille 12 point drive socket and driver for the ti bolts on the Paragon sliders, Genuine Innovations CO2 head and cartridge and also a tubeless repair ‘worm’ kit. In the ziploc bag I carry assorted bolts and a home made tyre-boot set – with sticky stuff and sail cloth and also quick patches. I also carry a small bottle of Squirt chain lube. Some of this is extraneous, but I tend to leave it as-is so I can grab and go no matter which bike I am riding.

Various items are stored in some MLD cuben bags.

For the real nerds, the weights (bag + contents, food items to use for 2-3 days included, water not included):

Viscacha – 2kg
Sweetroll – 1.55kg
Cooking Feedbag – 0.5kg
Gas Tank – 0.35kg
Food Feedbag – 0.6kg
Front Pocket – 0.85kg
Wingnut – 3.5kg

Total weight – 9.35kg.

It seems heavy, when toted up like this, but a lot can be pared away if I am prepared to have fewer creature comforts. The bike rides extremely well with this set up.





Once more around the sun.

30 11 2014

I turned 41 a few days ago. For me, There is always a degree of introspection around birthdays. I never feel entirely happy or settled as I consider another lap around the sun. Combine this with the relentlessly shortening days of winter and I’ll admit to a little despondency. The whys and wherefores are not subject material for a web log, but it has helped to look back over the year and remember some of the high points.

Mind cast back: early September. If memory serves, I had been a bit under the weather – one of the benefits of being surrounded by ill folk all the time, I guess – and had taken some time off work with one thing in mind: riding! Time on the bike had been minimised for a little while prior in order to try and let my knee settle. It had been plaguing me for some months but I had come to the conclusion it was a soft tissue strain rather than anything serious.

My love of the Cairngorm runs deep. It seemed the perfect destination as the weather in the region was stable and I decided to use a well established route – the Cairngorms Loop.

I knew it would be a long shot to shoot for an ITT on the loop, but on the other hand, why the hell not?

Starting early, around 7 am, gave me a long daylight window to get as far around the loop as possible. The whole route is 186 miles – the record, set by Aidan Harding, is 22 hours 30 minutes. The average seems to be around 30-33 hours. My plan was simply to get round if possible, whilst enjoying myself.

It is almost transgressive to set targets in the backcountry, however, I had a vague goal of getting around to Glen Feshie for a bivi. I had my Mountain Laurel Designs Cricket with me and optimistically hoped for enough time to sit and enjoy a dram next to the river before settling down for the night.

The initial part of the loop passed under tyre easily. Moving through the Gaick and past the lodge before emerging near Aviemore. All was going well, my mind and body working as one and the weather was pleasant.

The climb up the shoulder of Bynack More was steady after a hearty bacon roll by the side of Loch Morlich. I felt that the initial parts of the Lairig an Laoigh were more rideable than in previous missions – there has been significant amounts of work to improve the trail. In saying that, the section after the Hutchy hut was still pretty rough and the descent down Glen Derry was eroded beyond belief – several sections wiped out by land lides.

As I cursed and dragged my way across rough ground and through streams, it became clear my knee was beginning to tweak again. I had felt some aching in the upper, portage parts of the Lairig, but while pedaling it had been ok. As I came down to the point of no return at the Geldie Burn, a decision needed to be made. On the one hand I was about 10 and a bit hours in, with a likely bog trot through at least a portion of Feshie, until I would bed down. I had plenty of light, but I could tell I was damaging my knee. So: go on and ride a further 90 odd miles the next day, with a bit of walking before Tomintoul and another section on the climb up after Loch Builig to Deeside, most likely, or turn south and down Glen Tilt, back to base, and consider my options once my wounds were licked.

In the end, I knew that I might pay dearly for carrying on and giving myself a big task the next day – the possibility of several more months of knee disfunction was the crux. I backed down.

It felt hard to give up on a route yet again, even though I had tried to convince myself I was out there to have fun – not to chase times and achievements. Nevertheless, it was a very good loop – 95 miles or so in 12 and a half hours.

The next day I spent a pleasant time pootling around Loch Garten and trying to keep my stiff knee from seizing entirely. Following a brief stay at the Nethybridge Hotel, I cut north and decided on a route out to Sandalwood bay.


The mountains of Assynt were as improbable as ever and the weather was calm.

I am not generally a beach person, unless I have a kite with me, but Sandalwood is reputedly the most beautiful beach in the UK. I think those from the Outer Hebrides might argue the point, but it was stunning. An inital thought had been to bivi by the dunes, listening to the sound of the breakers rushing onto the shore, but in the end I took off south again, back towards civilisation.

The light is fading on the year, although it is incredibly mild for November. I have a lot to be thankful for and a lot of experiences from this year that will keep me going through the dark and busy period we are about to enter. Next year, once more around the sun, what will it bring?

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As a brief aside – I will write more on this again – the Cricket is an amazing tent. Design, execution and materials are all top notch. Recommended.





Two trips to Aviemore.

7 09 2014

Ugh! where does all the time go, eh? I have a huge backlog of things to say, from trips, rides and messing around with various bike parts to a review of the Mountain Laurel Design Cricket tent. I try to keep things in chronological order and no doubt as the skies darken and the winds and rains come, there will be plenty of time for blogging. Now, however, the sky is blue, the sun is still warm and I am enjoying being outside as much as possible – solo and with my family. All good.

A while ago now I had two different trips to Aviemore. For the first, I had a plan to clover leaf several rides from a base at the Rothiemurchas campsite. After arriving in the middle of the day, I wanted to take advantage of the warm sun and long day to head north on the Dava Way, essentially heading through the Ryvoan pass, then following (for the most part) an old rail line, to the coast at Forres. A blog I follow, Topofests, had described some sweet looking singletrack along side the river Findhorn. Unfortunately, I left too late in the day to cover the distance and see this. Another time.

My hombre Chris joined me for the next couple of rides. After the initial climb of the Burma road, we had a great time taking in this classic loop, but threw a curve in at the end and headed out to Burnside, railing some of the tight, woodsy singletrack. Awesome!

That left a classic Morlich/Badaguish loop for the last day – those trails always deliver a broad grin and are as challenging as you want them to be.

The next trip to Aviemore, a few weeks later, was with intentions of an evening preamble to find a decent camp, somewhere in the trees, followed by a big mountain ride the next day. The bags were packed and strapped to the bike, but the weather refused to play ball. The rain was sheeting down. Hardly conducive. Fortunately, I found a space at the Old Bridge Inn bunkhouse and planned a loop for the next day, up towards Ben Macdui, then round to Cairn Gorm and studied the topography of the various ridges and potential ways down over a fine meal and a dram.

The initial climb across Coire an Lochain and up onto the shoulder of Cairn Lochain started in fine weather, but became punctuated by squalls of rain and low cloud. It was clear the wind was strong but once I was up onto the plateau, 60kph sustained wind made the sleety rain sting and a ride around the cliffs edge towards Cairn Gorm a perilous proposition. With tail tucked firmly between my legs, I enjoyed the descent and the weather was far better below cloud level. I headed over to Abernethy forest instead, revelling in the warmth amongst the caledonian pine forest.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained – but sometime soon, I’d like to get that loop done.