Gentlemen Start Your Engines…

Not the HT550…

IMG_0908.JPEGPrologue – A nice rider get-together, we stood where the river ‘should be’ the evening before – at the end of a dry spell!

IMG_0906 A short shake-down and spin out up the trail

The Highland Trail 550 2019 – a really ‘buzzing’ start line, new faces and old timers. A bunch of riders with ambitions of conquering the mighty HT550. Alan Goldsmith the route creator and the organiser does a splendid job of building up the atmosphere, it may be a low key event, but the undertaking, passion and commitment to do this is massive. There is no other race as long, as tough or as rough as this on the UK calendar, entry is restricted to around 60 participants with just under half of the riders travelling from overseas and always over-subscribed.

IMG_0911Start-line – Gentlemen (& Ladies) Start Your Engines!

Everyone rider has ‘worries’ before the race, but this year the collective and most immediate worry was about the weather, it would rain – but by how much and for quite how long…? Well we’d just have to see as the forecasts were all saying different things…

IMG_0900The forecast…

Most people seemed to account for the weather factor, it’s a long race and the conditions will be tough and with bad weather in the mix it will be even tougher. As a precaution to this I put in some new heavy duty trekking type waterproofs and two primalofts as well the base layers – which I thought should be enough for May time in Scotland… So the rain started late morning, about two hours after we were rolling, it got colder and an easterly wind picked up. Coming off the Corriairack Pass into Fort Augustus was not a pleasant experience – wet and getting numb to the bone! I soon got to the chippy and ate my food as near to the fryer as possible. It was hard work for me getting going again after the 20 min stop and I was not enjoying things as well as feeling pretty exhausted and not particularly keen to get back on the ‘ride’. I succumbed to it and once back on the trail I was a little happier, but was not looking forward to the next couple of mountain sections.

The early part of the ride I was leap-frogging with Scot Lyndsay and enjoying some general chit-chat with him which helped pass some time, unfortunately an earlier side-wall tear fix, popped open and he had to stop and fix it, so I lost my ‘company’. James Hayden came along shortly after and again it was nice to ride the short road section with him before the tough climb up to Loch na Stac. James was a young and already accomplished endurance rider, keen to make the transition from road based adventures to off-road adventures, he admitted he was in at the deep-end and on a big learning curve, I admired his courage and told him he would not regret  a switch to the trails. 

The next mountain section, past Loch na Stac and its spooky house was cold and gloomy, but I did enjoy riding the rocks along the shoreline. Coming back down off the hill was another chilling and unpleasant experience just like the last one. Despite new waterproofs, I was riding ‘wetted’ out and only just keeping warm by the heat generated from propelling myself along. I had decided that I would kip somewhere in the glen below (nr Struy) and before the next mountain section, as I was cold and tired and did not feel up to another 20km of tough mountain trail in the dark and wet, to get to the Hydro Bothy (a very basic concrete shelter, not a warm place or nice place – but better than a puddle outside!). I came across an empty lean-to and snook inside it, it was just after midnight and I needed to sleep and recover ready for a  another tough day tomorrow. All the wet stuff apart from shorts came off, as these were just damp, I hung it all up in the vain hope that it may dry a little… I had a good sleeping bag, a good mat, and a spare primaloft to put on, so despite the general grimness of the place I should be cosy. And I was.

The loud and cheerful birdsong (don’t know why with all the wet weather) woke me up at 4am, it took me longer than usual to dress, pack, eat and get going, normally a 20min operation, it took me nearly 40. I was not ‘on it’ and the rain was lashing down loudly on the tin roof, so I had no motivation to get out and ride and nothing to look forward to in the next part of the journey. They call it the ‘road of a thousand puddles’, and it was more like just one continuous puddle in both track ruts. 10km in and you come to the first river, normally a water splash, today a raging torrent. I was on my own it was 5.30am and I did question my sanity, but it was not wide and the depth was not enough to sweep me over, the only thing was I had to carry the bike, as it was not possible to roll it through without it being dragged down stream. Made it through okay – just wet to the top of the legs. I soon discovered that that this one was the ‘tester’, another river crossing loomed further on, wider this time. Same as last time bike on head and head across diagonally down stream, so the current would help progress, only this time I lost my steady and dropped the bike as I started for the opposite bank, I caught hold of the bars in shallower water and retrieved it. I was now much wetter and a little un-nerved, but okay. On my bike and rolling again I was trying to re-count all the up-coming crossings in the mountain section over to Croik. I passed the Hydro and 3 bikes were outside, not quite sure who’s, I did not plan to stop as I was cold and keen to get off the mountain.

IMG_0926The tester! (photo credit – another rider)

At the bottom I stopped before the village of Contin, it was 7.30 am and knowing the shop was not open until 9 am I was left in a quandary – I needed to warm up and I needed a coffee and some hot food, a passer-by suggested I go to the garage 5km down the road (off-route) at Muir of Ord, so that’s what did. The garage was great, albeit no café, but good coffee and bacon sandwiches. The girl in there was interested in the ride and happy for me to make an ever bigger puddle of water as I stood an inch from the pie-warmer – she said if I got any closer I would be in it! It was good to have this bit of humour, as it was the first thing that had brought a smile to my face for a long while! Once I got my hands warmed up I made a call home, the first since riding, I had made up my mind and decided to bail and did not want to keep pushing further north in the bad weather. In my mind I had decided to enjoy a touring route back to Tyndrum, stopping at a couple of friends and taking in some new routes and POIs. In retrospect this nearby comfort of friends being relatively close to hand was the main reason I bailed, also I decided that I did not want to batter myself or my bike or my kit by pushing on, I was already feeling pretty exhausted and  I was happy with the decision and keen to spend the next two days exploring and getting dried out and fed. There will be another HT550 next year!

Better weather for my ‘tour’ back to Tyndrum, with the WHW inglorious splendor!

The ride back to Tyndrum took me 2 ½ days and another 300km, it took me to some new places that I had previously by-passed (like the impressive Plodda Falls). The weather improved for the ride back and I really enjoyed the WHW route back from Fort William to Tyndrum it was in the day light and with a fresh (ish) mind and body. At Tyndrum on the Tuesday night we enjoyed a ‘Scratchers Party’ and it was interesting to hear the take from other riders; my heart went out to Liam Glen, who pushed hard from the start and built up a big lead, the conditions got to him eventually and he had to withdraw at Dundonell, similarly for Bergen de Cane (the Belgian!) he was determined to complete but had to withdraw at Kinlochleven as he had a ferry to catch…!  The winner was an Alaskan chappy – Dustin Eroh in something like 4 days 3hrs – not bad considering the poor conditions! Also interesting to note that out of the 60ish starters only about 20 completed the full course. A big thanks as ever to Alan Goldsmith for organising the group ride.IMG_0962Dustin recounting his ride with Alan. It was nice to see him come in.

Winter Wanderings

This is a bit of a rambling script, and is mostly made up of pictures from this winters bike-pack journeys…

You have to love the winter as we have so much of it, but you have to be opportunist to make the best of it, especially for us in the UK with its nortoriously unpredictable weather. It would be nice to move to Spain or somewhere and enjoy those blue sky winter days  …but this is not really possible when you have a life that revolves around a 101 home based commitments. This winter (2018-2019) has all in all been a pretty kind one to us – generally mild, dry and not that windy, with only a small handful of ‘named’ storms trying to get the better of us.

During the winter I believe that it is also important to try to maintain a base fitness, it is also the time you are most likely to get colds and illness and avoiding these is always a good thing, keeping active, involved and in tune with yourself is important, likewise is having good rests and recovery.

In winter time the mountain biking is sometimes superb, okay, you do have to pick your trails as everything will be wetter, but mountain biking and mud / wet is par for the course, unlike road cycling which can be pretty miserable when it is wet, windy and cold.

With the onset of late November and the shorter days it is easy to go and hibernate, but sometime you can still get a good weather window pop-up. This leads me on to an amazing ‘smash-n-grab’ opportunity to head to the far north. Incidentally after the freekishly good summer I have become addicted to Scotland and not just the Highlands, it is my mission to explore it all, the wilderness there is my new second home. I often keep an eye on the weather up that way, usually a quick peek on a Monday morning when back at work – it helps me get through the working week, and to start planning the next weekend adventure…

A Smash-n-Grab Ride Along Some of The North Coast Route

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NC500 – Empty roads, near to Gairloch.

I have long fancied doing a simple, unsupported no-faff North Coast 500 ride, ideally going minimal on the road bike, but with bike-packing kit and having a couple of camps. So with a ‘weather window’ of several days over the North Highlands and some ‘Brownie Points’ that i’d somehow managed to credit I blagged 3 days away. I decided I would do a variation of the NC500, thus avoiding the A9 return and also starting / finishing at Dingwall, as I knew that to do the full route would have been a big undertaking (in November) and that was not what I really wanted, I wished for long days on quiet roads of around 110 -130 miles, rather than 170 mile days of just churning it out! I got some well priced advanced train tickets, splitting the route, the ticket machine spewed out 28 orange cards – crazy! and off I went…

I will tell the story in pictures, but to get you started I roll out of Dingwall station at 7pm Friday evening and start heading west on a clear and quite warmish night…

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Road side camp spot, just after Applecross 130km in, pitching up at just after midnight, the highlight was most surely the monster Bealach na Baa pass under the moon and stars.

 

R.I.P. Whistlestop Cafe!

Very sad to see this lovely place close, I hope that it gets re-opened, it was closing that weekend. I did manage a very nice breakfast and stole some warmth from the wood stove.

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Lock Maree and Slioch – possibly no finer Loch and no finer mountain. And all to myself in November!

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Seaside village of Gairloch, just further on I watch some whales surfacing in the flat almost oily waters.

 

Half way through and a change of plan, I decided to miss-off the far North West loop and head back east from Ledmore Junction, I think I had bitten off more than I wanted to chew! The second night I happened to stumble on this amazing wooden chalet, perfect place to sleep in – but it was cold and I wished that it had a door! After a clear crisp start and a further 70km I was back in Dingwall midday Sunday for my train home. I only really managed one full days riding, but I think it was worth the effort of getting there and I amassed almost 420km (260 miles) of riding. I quite like not finishing things, as it means you have a reason to go back again!

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A Pre-Xmas Escape – A Girt Lush Mid Wales Bike-Pack – and a very wet Mid Wales too!

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Wet weather kit testing in the Elan Valley (on the 2015 Chiru Pulse)

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Pumping!

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Bothy life – getting dried out and re-hydrated. I could not persuade anyone else to join me on this ‘ratch’, maybe the weather… My memories from this ride are, spending much time in PC’s under the hand driers trying to warm everything up! I also remember lots and I mean lots of Red Kites and finding two bothies, both well stocked with wood, to get dry and cosy in. Screen shot 2019-04-27 at 12.41.16.png

The route…. Wales was deserted…

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Borders Bothy Raid… Objective to visit the 10 bothies in around the North Pennines / Borders / Kielder Area …oh and starting that from home (Settle)  …oh and going over Cross Fell…

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Late evening, not really a good place to be on bike in a blizzard – time to get moving!

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To spend the night here – an all time favourite!

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Early morning over the Pennines.

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The beautiful Langley Viaduct on the South Tyne Cycle Path.

 

bothy
noun: bothy; plural noun: bothies; noun: bothie
  1. (in Scotland) a small hut or cottage, especially one for housing farm labourers or for use as a mountain refuge.

    Super cosy night spent at Kershope Head, having visited: Gregs Hut, Shepherds Hut, Melmerby Shop, Haughton Green, Green, Roughside, Flittingford, Spithope, Wills Bothy. Screen shot 2019-04-27 at 13.25.43.png Many miles! (or Kilometres – I am trying to positively switch to the metric distance… and its hard!) I was very pleased to report that all the bothy’s visited were all in pretty good shape, clean and looking well cared for – very gratifying. One day I will be a Bothy MO (Maintenance Organiser) …its my retirement ambition! (or one of them)

     

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    A Whisky Tasting visit with the MO  …and the odd job to do as well.

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    I have helped at this bothy on a number of occasions, the fancy stove door you see above was made by my brother Roger, this has turned out to be a popular attraction at the boutique bothy, that Greensykes is – This is Bothy TV and it does not get any better! Get it glowing and sit and watch it, while sipping whisky and talking about noodles, fish and stuff…

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    Waking up to a winter wonderland!

    Leysburnfoot (aka Will’s)

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    Eastern Highlands and then Glasgow

    The odd month of February, it was unseasonally warm. At the end of half term I had some days free and combined a forray into the East Highlands then a meet up in Glasgow with my eldest son – Henry. I have to say it felt odd going from 3 nights in bothies to the Hilton in Glasgow. Strangely (but not un-surprisingly) I preferred the bothies!

     

    Night one in a lovely ‘off-the-grid’ bothy, met a nice couple from Perth who arrived a little later than me, with mucho whisky!

    Bothy Bus-stop – I gave up waiting in the end!

     

    The road over to Glen Shee, mid-Feb and no snow. Quite sad seeing the ski station empty, it looked ugly and forlorn. I stopped in Breamar at the Mountain Rescue Centre to catch up with an old friend for an hour (but really to warm-up!) and have a couple of cups of tea. Lots of interesting rescue stories and a shed full of ace kit to look round, from skidoos to pisten-bullys. My night two destination was Faindoran, the most remote of bothy’s – 30km to the nearest road-head.

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The super-remote Faindoran Bothy in the centre of the Cairngorm Massif, quite how it ended up with ten Bike-Packers and Belgium Girl staying in it was beyond me – but what a crazy night it was – stove roaring, more whisky and quite a lot of fine cheese’s and putting the world to rights!

After Faindoran, I had no real fixed destination for the coming day (and had a bit of a sore head as well) and the only main thing on the itinerary was a coffee and a proper greasy breakfast. The route out from the bothy to the north, heading towards Glenmore Lodge was advised against, as it was banked out with soft, wet snow – which is horrible to make progress over, so the decision was made to head into Tomintoul about 35km away and then make plans.


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Exiting Tomintoul I saw the sign for the Speyside Way (Whisky Trail) and decided to ride along that. The route headed east with great riding, going past Glenlivet, then Tomnavoulin, then Knockandhu, then Dufftown, then Aberlour – this was Whisky country for sure – and a great trail too. For the evening I had decided to try the boutique bothy up in Glen Feshie and it was great as the Speyside Way took me most of the way there.

Distillery’s and the Rothiemurchus Forest – endless forested trails  …and so to the boutique bothy…

The magnificent Ruighaiteachain Bothy in Glen Feshie, its Danish owner, is very in tune with the re-wilding activities and encouraging people into the mountains. [Editor’s note – modern life is terribly cruel and there are people who commit heinous acts against mankind – In the Sri Lankan bombings 3 of his 4 children were killed. This is so sad.]

And then back to the city of Glasgow… what a great journey!

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Towards the end of February our lives were also shattered, as my father-in-law passed away. His death was sudden an unexpected, he was mid seventies and had a stroke while playing tennis. He was a massive part of our lives and his absence has taken a lot of adjusting too.

 

The last ride of the winter, in fact I think that it was probably Spring, just, was the…

Barkley Marathons of Bike-Packs

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Another bike-pack and another highland train journey. It had the sign of an exciting trip at the point of stepping off the late train. Corrour Station at 9.30pm, I left the warmth and comfort of the train and was the only person getting off into the dark, silent wilderness. I was buzzing with excitement and anticipation already, my planned bothy for the night was ‘Staoneag’ (Mammore Forest), which lay about 20km away, with a mixture of estate tracks and mountain path to get there, it was my first visit, which always adds to the interest. I arrived at around 11.30pm and it was all dark and silent and empty – I think it was pleased to have me as guest that night. I collected wind blown twigs and got small fire going, lit some candles, had some food and enjoyed a tin of craft ale, popping out occasional to check the stars.

My destination for day 2 was the remote and rugged Morvern Peninsula, (via the Corran ferry) then onwards to Arisaig around 160km ride in all and mostly road, which was good, because the weather had turned sour – very wet and a measly 5-6 degC. Despite the wet, the riding was nice going along sea loch coasts then wild moorland terrain, with the moody weather egging me along, the destination was a secret coastal bothy…

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The view from the room – nice hey!

 

 Amusing log bog entries. It was indeed an idylic place and I recommend sniffing it out!

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After Arisaig the plan was heading south to Mull, the picture above is the mighty Loch Sheil, it has a lovely estate road running down the side of its 22km length, connecting Glen Finnian to Strontian. After Strontian the plan was to go off piste a little and explore a ‘coffin route’.

 

I found some great swim holes! The riding started well but soon turned  into a tussocky bush-whack, uphill for 3km, it took me 90mins and I was pretty shattered. At the top I realised I was rewarded with more pushing and carrying for the best part of 5km down. Some routes you win some you lose, still I thought it would make for a good ‘Barkley Marathons of MTB’! I was ready for getting to a bothy for food, warmth and rest.

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So it was to an old favourite on the Ardtornish Estate. In the morning I was greeted with a stunning sunrise over the Loch, which is meant to be full of ‘brownies’. [Editors note – bothy is currently closed April / May ’19 for re-roofing and internal improvements].

 

Day 3 involved a couple of ferries, which also have nice toilets to clean up in! I was heading south to eventually make Glasgow, but first Mull (for 10km) then Oban and then through the fingers of Argyll.

 

Loch Avich single-track and the iconic bridge to Seil Island – worth a small detour. Argyll is very forested and full of trails and quiet roads to explore, also the odd nice cafe, like the one at Dallavich on Loch Awe. The plan for the evening was Carron Cottage, but still 80 or 90km to go. I was expecting Carron to be empty as it was a Monday, but surprisingly on arrival it was pretty full, with a bunch of sailors from the Merchant Navy and enough beer to sink a Merchant Ship. I enjoyed a Sol beer with them and was given one for the road (or to bugger off!), so I thought best to go elsewhere – I just hope they cleared up and left the place nice, as it was a pretty sweet bothy. My plan B was either Abysinia or Mark Cottage, a further 50 – 70km away. Hmmm, at least it was a nice evening for some more riding… I decided on Mark Cottage on the west side of Loch Long and unbeknown to me just opposite a massive and well illuminated oil depot, which detracted greatly from the cottages ambience. There was one other guest, surprised to have company when I arrived at 9pm, he had a good fire going and cooked me a fried Pollock – very good it was too!

IMG_0640The morning of Day 3 and a moderate 90km to get me to the ferry at Dunoon. After a 450m climb, I was rewarded and surprised to have a lovely 10km single track, it was narrow forest paths that followed the fingery coastline. It went past more castles, quaint villages and quiet beaches.

Almost at the end of the journey, I mis-calculated the distance and I had 20km to do and 60 minutes to get to the ferry it was a real push and I made it with 6 minutes to spare – another nice crossing to Gourock station, then to Glasgow Central and back home, to start earning brownie points again… I am very lucky to have an understanding wife and family and it’s not all about my own adventures, most other weekends we have slightly easier family outings, club rides or just rest (quite rare) .

Next up is the inaugural Dales Divide Race and then in May the Highland Trail 550, let’s hope the good weather keeps going!

Go on get out on your adventures too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dales Divide – The Inuagaral Ride

The Dales Divide, but more just some words about the slightly weird world of Bike-Packing

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It’s always with some relief when the wheels start rolling at the start of any big bike-pack event, the start of the Dales Divide, the inaugural ride, the brain-child of Chris Ellison, its proud creator is just like any other bike-packing event – a small wave-off at best from something not much more than a car-park. But soon it is super-sweet as you hit lovely wooded trails straight away, you then know that this is going to be a good adventure (a really good adventure!), a coast-to-coast and all the way back. All the build-up and anticipation and time spent in preparation is going to pay off. You are going to be presented with a succession of mini-challenges and goals non-stop all the way through, one after the other for many hours to come. Days will merge into nights and nights will merge into days, a succession of sunsets and sunrises and even a full moon if you are lucky. The line that you are following on your GPS screen is YOUR world, nothing much else matters – you just have to keep making progress! You will be presented with an ever changing landscape and terrain, you will be totally buzzing as you whizz along new found trails. Eating will become a chore and keeping a regular check on your health and wellbeing is critical, likewise for your trusty stead on which you sit. The clock will always keep ticking, you sleep for as long or little as you wish. You will be a ‘dot’ being watched by another world. You will meet many people and have those random moments and encounters. You will forget chunks of the ride and hallucinate others; everything becomes a fragmented kaleidoscope like experience*. You may take stock of your life while riding and sometimes remember those ‘special ones’ that are no longer with us. You will experience highs and lows like being on drugs. You will share the journey and talk to fellow riders, making new friends, but you will more likely just talk to yourself. You will be feral, being tracked or tracking someone else and in tune with the wild life up close and personal. Your values will change while you are journeying, the world on the outside will continue as normal and you will not be really be noticed as you pass through. Things will hurt and then stop hurting when they can hurt no more and then new things will hurt, and then when it’s all over you will forget the all the ‘hurting’ that took place and recall just the pleasures – often too many of them. There will be no one to hug you when times get tough. At times you will want to be back at home with your ‘loved’ ones, you will miss that cosiness. You will be constantly peering into other people’s cosy lives as you ride by at night, you may knock on a door and ask for a refill of water, but sometime get a cake, a meal or more – those small acts of kindliness can be so gratifying. What you put in is what you get out and you will always have the memories for evermore. Each rider’s race is personal to them and any rider that finishes is a winner …and if you didn’t finish then bank that learning for next time when you will. Luck will always play a part – we are all so lucky and should be ever thankful to be able to do this sort of thing, because this IS living…

Alex Pilkington – April 2019

* Having done a fair bit of AR racing over the years you learn to manage on as little sleep as possible in each race, but there are limits. It is the lack of sleep and rest for the brain that creates the weird effects that one may experience in multi-day racing when pushing hard – also known as ‘sleepmonsters’

This stuff may not be everyone’s cup of tea and some folk don’t relate to it at all, but for those that like exploring, adventure and the thrill of a challenge then there is no better way to do it than the grass roots, no-frills bike-packing. You can pay hundreds or even thousands to undertake some over hyped and commercialised mtb adventures, but bike-packs are usually free and as a result are friendly and non-elitist and quite often a lot harder as you have no support and have to totally look after yourself.

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Arnside 7am, after coming off the night shift and 47:07hrs after the GD. Happy to be first rider back and a little tired – not sure if I needed beer or breakfast (I settled for both!) And thank you to the family for being here for me – its always nice to have someone greet you after a ride like this.

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Heard of this place…?

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Scarborough, early morning – just me, the street cleaners and this beautiful sunrise.

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North Yorkshire Moors – Hot ‘n’ Hard!

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Feed Station / Water Hole outside Chris Ellison’s house at 80km.

Trans Pyrenees by Mountain Bike

All good ideas….

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Early in 2018, in the grip of a hard winter… you can’t always get out as much as you’d wish, so you sometime resort to dreaming and scheming… It was then that I thought about the idea of merging a bigg’ish ride into the start of our summer family holiday in northern Spain. As the Pyrenees was close by it seemed almost logical to capture the Trans Pyrenees route. After a bit of research (and there was not a huge amount of stuff out there) it lead to me finding some GPX tracks of various routes – all Mtb of course! or ‘BTT’ as it is known in Spain. The route seemingly had a choice of start points on the Mediterranean, either Llanca or Roses, both small seaside towns. We chose Llanca as it was connected by rail and had more choices of places to stay. The GPX traces indicated a route distance of approx 950km, altitude gain was suggested to be around 24000m. We knew it would involve lots of climbing!

Mark Wildsmith a friend from the running club indicated an interest in doing it as well and I was glad to have some company on a ‘tour’ style ride and share the experience and journey.

As usual in life, time is often the limiting factor and I could only really ‘eak’ out 7 days to do this journey and after comparing with the Trans Pyrenees Race stages it seemed easily doable – albeit some long days cranking the pedals.

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Dreaming of this….

The splits are shown below and gave us a target of what to aim for. Most people take 12-14 days to do it.

116km2200m LLANCA > CAMPRODON

114km2700m CAMPRODON > LA SEU D´URGELL

115km2930m LA SEU D´URGELL > EL PONT DE SUERT

98km2785m EL PONT DE SUERT > AINSA

97km2200m AINSA > JACA

132km2595m JACA > BURGUETE/RONCESVALLES

97km1980m RONCESVALLES > HONDARRIBIA

Like any long journey the memories often get merged, blurred and mixed-up, so mainly for my benefit I have done a short recap on each day…

Day 1 Llanca to Llongrriu (area) 109km 2728m

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Saturday morning, a poor nights sleep in an uncomfortably hot hostel…  It always feels good to start rolling, a lot of worry and anticipation builds up before hand and almost as soon as you set off it all seems to disappear as you’re off on the adventure, and pretty well nothing else matters! Concentration goes into the bike, the route finding and keeping the body going. Then the sights and wildlife you pass are a bonus and will be collected all the way along the route. The extended UK summer had helped to condition us, however today was a hot day, in fact a ‘really’ hot day –  the forecast suggested 38degC and the hostel owner said that it was the hottest so far this year, not great for setting out on a long journey, but hey ho, it has to be better than rain, or wind, or no ride at all. The bikes were reasonable well loaded up – probably around 8-9kg of kit and liquid and that was ‘paired-down’, but it allowed for kit in the mountains and bad weather – most of which felt superfluous at this stage. The trails were pleasant jeep style tracks and small roads, it generally felt all uphill as we climbed into the mountains.  Of the villages we rode through and they generally all had drinking water taps, this is a real bonus and removed a lot of worry of where to find water.

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We passed by a large lake and made a short but worthwhile detour, it was late morning, things were hotting up and a cool off was required. It was like a bath! We dried in an instant, the journey continued through scrub and bush, it took us through some delightful old villages, one of which we stopped at for lunch. This is where we realised our diet for the week would largely be made up of egg tortillas and Coca Cola. The first big climb was reached and I was conscious of drinking way too much and not being able to stay cool. The climb was around 800m and would take two hours. I started to suffer, pedalling was just unpleasant, with cramp onset and a feeling of weakness and nausea. I had to push on many sections, meanwhile Mark seemed relatively unaffected. In my head I was not overly bothered, I just knew it was the heat and I would have to manage it and then get over it, but when my legs locked up with cramp I just had to lie down. Mark had the look of ‘hmmm Alex is broken, its day 1, Alex does not normally break…’ I had 30 minutes of pained rest and eventually got back on the bike, we had made the col and Mark had assisted by pushing my bike as well as his. Good teamwork Mark!

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Mileage so far was around 80km and it was now late afternoon, the plan was to get down off the hill and find somewhere for a drink. We passed through a stunning gorge, were there where families picnicking and swimming, but not for us, we pressed on and found a hostel and got drinks, first a coke and then a beer – it seemed to sort things a little. We had planned to get to a little town called Comprondon, but the map indicated that it was around 40-50 km away – too far. So we made progress up a quiet valley and found a nice bivvy spot in a forest near a river. It was nice to wash and get some food into us and we were asleep by 10pm with the intention of rising at dawn, which would be around 6.20am, so a good rest really.

The image below so the temperature trace for the day, I usually knock off 5degC as the watch is not always in the shade and rides higher – nonetheless it was around 38degC, the hottest that I have ever had to cycle in, I think.

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Day 2 Llongrriu to Baga 128km 3810m

We were rolling at 07:30, things felt a little sensitive and weak to start with, but the rhythm of the continuing climb soon distracted us and it was a case of getting on with the job in hand – and getting to the mythical Comprondon for a proper feed. It took quite a while, but we eventually rolled into the bustling, medieval place at around 10:30 and a nice little bar-café was awaiting us for breakfast. Lots of food, some nice coffee and a coke seemed replenish us nicely. After leaving town we knew that the first big climb lay ahead, we had climbed 400m to Comprondon, the mountain col was a further 1200m, peaking at 2100m. We passed through more lovely mountain villages, slowly, and they get smaller and more rustic the higher we progressed, eventually it turned to dirt at 1600m. We would climb for about 30min and then have 5min rest or push, just to rest the muscles on this relentless climb. It was exciting to feel that we were now in the big mountains – the Pyrenees proper! The trail however was slightly disappointing as it seemed that some people were doing the route in their cars, which spoilt the ambience a little.

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After a 1000m descent we had lunch and studied the route ahead for the day. We realised that we were not making progress fast enough and with so far to go, we elected to miss out a mountain loop, it looked nothing too special and it would give us probably 2hrs to cycle on further, we had no idea where we get too and tried not to think of the ‘big picture’ too much. Another big climb lay ahead and the small road seem busy with the Sunday traffic, after an hour we were back on the trail and in the wilds, we saw many eagles in the next section and the weather looked moodier and was feeling a little cooler and damp – we were high up and started to pass some ski small stations, which I think always look ugly without the snow cover to hide the mess. Route finding was quite fun and it was lovely to do our first bit of ‘single track’, if we had more time we would of preferred more of this stuff. At the second top of the day (2200m) it was now getting on a bit around 19:30pm and we wanted some food, so we decided to make the descent by road instead of the forest tracks. Baga was our destination around 30km and all downhill. We passed only one car and had the pleasure of a race track like surface – we were in town 45min later buzzing! and so was the town with a carnival and fair. A bar was found and much food was ordered. A good day, but no plan of a place to sleep so we headed out of town to a park and found a nice little area and bedded down. Here we found to our annoyance that the town clock rings throughout the night and strikes twice on the hour…

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Day 3 Baga to Livorsi 125km 3111m

The body was now adjusting to the new routine of life – long days in the saddle and a big feed-up in the evening and a bivvy-spot on the trail. As usual the morning started with another long climb and we were soon warmed up. With the sun poking through the trees we were already trying to hide from it and enjoyed the steady woodland climb that took us into Cadi Moixero Natural Park, here we passed several other groups of bike-packers – comrades of our journey! As we came out of the trees big limestone monoliths appeared, this was spectacular country for sure! After a short breather at the col we were soon speeding down with the thoughts of a late breakfast in mind, the next village was Tuixent, perched high on a rock, and were we hopefully we would find a café… Typically a four hour climb on one side will be rewarded with a 45 minute descent on the other – and so we were soon nearing the little hilltop village, with a climb of its own. We sniffed out a little café and shop and enjoyed an egg tortilla some coffee and cold Cokes. The route after this seemed to take a series of roads over some medium sized cols – it was good to get a rest off the bumpy trails, but the tarmac soon became a chore and it would be several hours before we met the trail again.

Day 3 was tough going again for me, I was still not finding my form and this extra struggle distracted a little from the ultimate enjoyment and I was hoping it would soon change! After another monster climb that seemed to take most of the later part of the afternoon we reached a large Refuge that, as it happened had a road up to it and so quite a few people where milling around there – we had not seen many people all day and it weirdly felt uncomfortably busy, but I wanted to stop and fancied another cold Coke and some crisps. It was here that Mark the genius, suggested we try to get a hotel or B&B in the next town – the wonders of 4G and Booking.com and we had a nice little place booked. We would pass the previous Plan A accommodation on the way down – another little refuge and as it happed it was  a gem, bad timing it would be nice to have stayed there or had another like this for the night after. Livorsi was the next town and it had a few shops, hotels and bars. The hotel was lovely and as soon as we had de-kitted and locked the bikes we both raced to the shower! It was good to wash and refresh our kit. That done we headed out for food …and a good feed was had!

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Day 4 Livorsi to  Col de Espina (near to Laspaules) 128km 3534m

Usual routine… shop for food then start mahoosive climb, expect this time it would be our biggest; a 1400m non-stop and to the high point of the whole journey passing through the Parque Nacional De Aigustortes. A picture paints a thousand words – so here it is…

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We met another couple of Brits up here on a motorbike tour which looked good fun and maybe a little easier/quicker than our effort…? The scenery was magnificent and we had a lovely contouring track that endlessly lead around the mountains until the next big valley was reached. Mark was now mastering his bike and his descents and he took off at speed and it was great to follow his dust infused trail, down at least a hundred switch-backs to valley floor – time for Coke stop..? and so we switched on our bar-radars …before too long we had found a watering hole, this time nuts and double Cokes – we needed it!

We checked the map and the next 40km looked a little non-descript and some of the GPX trace did not sit on a map trail, so that could be interesting… I felt more on it today and was happy on the next climb, after several kms of tarmac we hit a little trail over some cols. These became small and eventually lead to an hour of Hike-a-Bike, but it was quite pleasant. The villages we passed through were really out of the way and very rustic, quite often we would not see a sole and they would feel like ghost villages. As always we could always get water in these places and it was our little routine to find the tap and fill-up our bottles and splash the face. We heard some thunder and as we climbed up to the next relatively short mountain stretch the skies really darkened. The urgency meant we upped the pace and the wind would pick-up little ‘dust devils’ it was very eerie…  The thunder soon came nearer and the lightning flashes were very intense, as was our pedalling – on we sped with some rain drops getting us. Would it pass? …No after another 20 minutes it was coming down thick-n-fast – time to find shelter and layer-up.

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We dug out our jackets and duvets and put them on the temperature had gone from 26deg to 16deg, we had a big descent and it would be cold… The next town was 15km off and we decided to make a dash for it! We got soaked, but were soon rolling in to it and on the lookout for a food place, soon enough we found a bustling little café/bar and rushed in. The rain continued for a while and after much food, beer and our body weight in olives we did not have a plan of where to stay… Mark suggested that we stay and drink beer and ask to kip in the bar. We soon dismissed this and I persuaded Mark we could ride on into the damp night and find a ‘doss’ somewhere! We rode and climbed and then climbed some more, through damp woodland – not very appealing, eventually at the col it opened out and we thought it wise to stop – now that it was almost midnight and pitch the tent… I had a scuffle around and saw a faint outline of a building, on investigation it turned out to be a view point on the col and in the circumstances was almost perfect – trial gods on our side yet again! Mark put on some club music and we sorted our stuff and had a little party and scoffed a bit of emergency whisky. Not long after we were in our bags and snoozing. However…

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Day 5 Col de Espina to Fiscal 120km 3200m

The cows, the cows, the cows and their damn bells – they were making so much noise all through the night!!! It was a damp cool start and Mark was not for waking up, even when on the bike, I think this was his first big low point and quite often I find the first of morning after a hard day (or nights) ride tough to deal with. But you do come through and the solution would be to find a place for a proper breakfast and coffee. It took a while but by 9am we found a reasonable town and had the usual platter of stuff. I laughed again at Mark as he now the face of a man who needed a good sleep – like an adventure racer on day 4!

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After breakfast we found a market and stocked up on some lush fruit and provisions for lunch. Rolling out of town the descending valley closed in on us and we had a magnificent gorge to pass through. The weather warmed and our combined morals grew some. After the gorge came a turn off and the start of the next long climb section. Our legs churned away, slower than of the previous days, with all the riding so far wearing us down a little. We head off the tarmac into a deep forest, very vegetated and damp, almost like a rain forest. As we climbed to the col we detoured to a refuge and decided to stop for lunch, which turned out to be a very wise decision as the heaven’s suddenly opened. We had lots of bread cheese and tomato – it was a great feed! As usual the big map was our table cloth and we studied it and looked at it – we were only just over the halfway mark, maybe 2/3. The reminder to be done the time we had left depressed me a little as I knew it would mean some decisions would have to be made on ways to accelerate our progress.

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We headed off the mountain in more haste as we felt the pressure to press on our travels. At the next valley it looked like we would be heading up a long gorge, however on arrival at tits start the sign said road closed, which meant a detour, but thankfully not that much longer – I was majorly disappointed not to do the Gorge de Huica, we thought about trying it but decided a thwarted route would be a pain and mare our progress some more, on we pedalled on the detour. Day 5 was a tough day and at the next stop we talked about a hotel stop for the night and get a good evening feed and a monster breakfast, Booking.com did not reveal much and I suggested that the trail gods would sort something for us, so on we pressed. We now were at the top end of said gorge and the mountain scenery was stunning, it was a popular spot as would had seen a lot of traffic and folk around holidaying. The next town we headed for was called Fiscal, we had our fingers crossed for finding a place and before too long we were checking into another ideal place. Everything was such good value here in Spain – 90E for dinner B&B for the two of us, and beers only 1.40E a bottle – Bingo!

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Day6 Fiscal to Jaurrieta 163km 3150m

Running out of time and not particularly near to the end of the road…

The previous night’s map studying suggested we had somewhere between 250km and 300km to the finish – a tall order to do in what was ideally just less than 2 days riding, so we planned to defer to the road were possible and try to take the easiest route, while avoiding any main routes. The start out was a bit of an exception to this as we had about 40km on the N260, which traversed the south side of Pyrenees. It wasn’t overly busy, but it did have the appearance of a road built to drive quickly on… and there was a long 3.5km tunnel, which Mark was dreading… We soon reached the tunnel and switched on our lights so we could be legal and seen.

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It was not too bad when in and to our surprise as we entered a large overhead road sign illuminated ‘bicecletas’  80kph > 60kph. Amazing we both thought, the tunnel had recognised our presence and had slowed the traffic – what little there was for us, how nice! Fast progress was made, until we reach a more exposed part in the valley and the wind seemed to funnel into our path, but the kms ticked quickly by and by the mid-morning cola stop we had done some 50-odd kms. Back on the little roads it was pleasant going, but quite up/down again. The hills were a little softer but to the north the main ranges could still be seen. Dinner was had in a beautiful old town called Hecho, were we found a nice grocery and grabbed bread, cheese, tomato, fruit, crisps and drink. We enjoyed the feed before the next long climb to a 1300m high point, through some more spectacular gorges. We picked up a few bits of technical downhill, to spice the ride up a little and it was nice to be whizzing through dark, lush woods then sun-drenched open meadows. We had enjoyed the days ride so far, despite it mostly being tarmac and soon we had reached the part of the map where all the places had ‘Zs’, ‘Xs’, in the name and this was good, as it meant we were getting nearer to the coast.

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We passed through more quaint mountain villages, that look distinctly Austrian/Romanian – certainly not your typical Spanish names or looks – It felt like we’d been transported to Eastern Europe! We found places that served food were few and far between and all busy, so we made do with an expensive delicatessen that night. It was now the evening and we had one quick beer, before we decided to press on and find a sleep spot for the night – the last of the ride it would be… It took some time and was almost dark when we found a little roadside picnic and bbq spot, with nice grass area and a water tap – sorted! Your needs really boil down to simple things on these trips – food – shelter.

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Day 7  Jaurrieta to Hondarribia 137km 1597m

So far the ride had been one of those – rides-of-a-lifetime, so much amazing scenery, lots of nice people and places and lots of great things to remember. The last day is often mixed feelings, but I have to say I was keen to get to the Atlantique, see the family, have a swim and get my sore arse off the this bike. I think the heat and sweat had given me a hard time on this ride and despite feeling okay on the last day I was wanting ‘normal-life’ back! But not before some more kms and hills – but it would be downhill surely…  …as we spent the night at 1000m..?

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We continued on a lovely road crossing rolling countryside in the hole of finding a bar or café open for breakfast, everywhere was still sleepy looking at first light, with no signs of life, it wasn’t until we had done about 35kms of riding that we found a nice little place to stop for breakfast and again we had the usual order of stuff.

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More road continued, quite a big road, but not too busy, however there where a lot of ‘roadies’, coming the other way – I’m guessing out of Pampalona, the next big city some 40km away. Luckily we would not pass through this place and turn on to smaller roads that would take us over our last ‘col’. We passed through some woods and the last climb took an hour to get to the top, it felt good knowing we had downhill to the coast. The road was twisty and it was a good buzz as we raced down, it also noticeable warmed up and at the bottom we found a place for food and final snacks to get us through the last 30-40km. The road had been upgraded, with tunnels and bridges to make it faster for vehicles, cyclists were prohibited and had to go on the old road, which was good, but meant more distance and some extra hills. We soon reached the outskirts of towns, first ‘Irun’ then Hondarriba, it was bustling and busy with cars, the cycle lanes seemed to come and go and it was hard to find the best route through all this metropolis stuff –  our senses were not attuned to this! The exact finish point was not really known but we rode to the beach at the end of the promenade and parked our bikes and waited for the ‘Pilkington Support Team’ to arrive.

The Finish! – After some 580miles and 76,000ft

Post Script.

A journey like this provides lifelong memories of all the special places visited, the hard-ships enroute, the funny moments, the kind/interesting/unusual people we met, the wildlife, the mountain weather  …the list goes on.

I would like to thank Mark for joining in on the expedition, he was a rock-solid, biking companion and sharing the journey with someone like this is really important. You need people with a strong resolve, but also chilled-out to take the rough with the smooth. It would be remise of me not to mention our bikes, which were both impeccably reliable – with not a single mechanical, or puncture or anything, they just performed. My biggest thank you however goes to my family who tolerate, or dare I say support my passion for exploring and adventure and being at one with nature – and that’s with just the basic things you need to stay safe and keep moving. Go and find your journey and do it!

Southern Upland Way – A Labour of Love…

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Getting Hooked…

Last year (that was 2017) I set out about extending my long range bike-pack rides into the borders area of southern Scotland as a new region to explore. It was an area that I for one had passed through many times before when heading to the bigger mountains in the north and it is probably the same case for many others… My first foray was a 3 day expedition from Carlisle to Edinburgh, where I was going to meet the family and go to my cousins wedding – what classier way to arrive than as a dirty hobo bike-packer and make your mark! On this journey I stepped on to the SUW near the Lowther Hills and headed east for many miles. It was a lovely wild trail and what I had done of it had captivated my attention to do more…

The first attempt…

Roll on a couple of weeks and the May time weather was still holding out, also I had been given the offer of a lift from Portpatrick back home. I started to prepare a plan and my kit. I also tried to do some research on the whole route. There was not a huge amount of information, particularly for the Mtber, I did find some interesting descriptions though and this excerpt is worth a mention:

At 212 miles or 341km, the Southern Upland Way is Scotland’s longest official Long Distance Path. Southern Scotland is all too often overlooked by visitors simply seeing it as an area needing to be crossed in order to get from the Scottish Border to the “interesting” parts of the country. Anyone walking all, or even some, of the Southern Upland Way will realise that this too often overlooked part of the country offers plenty of variety, interest and challenge in its own right.

And it is worth holding onto that word “challenge” for a moment. Given the widespread lack of knowledge about southern Scotland, it comes as a surprise to most people to find that the Southern Upland Way is Scotland’s most challenging Long Distance Path. In part this is because it passes through some of the least inhabited and most remote areas of countryside in the United Kingdom; in part it is because it cuts across the grain of the country, involving a series of climbs and descents and a highest point of 725m or 2,378ft; and in part it is because the lengths of individual stages can be very long, up to 27 miles or possibly longer, depending on how you divide the walk.

All of this makes the normal warnings about fitness and equipment levels, and need to be able to read a map and use a compass, especially important. The Southern Upland Way itself is well waymarked. But if you stray from it – always a possibility, especially on upland stretches in poor visibility – you are likely to find yourself, literally, on your own, without any signposting, and possibly a very long way from help. Oh, and quite possibly without a mobile phone signal as well, so “phoning a friend” is often not an option.

Interesting…!

The plan was to get a Thursday PM train to Dunbar, just south of Edinburgh and then cycle to Cockburnspath – a little village, still with a shop and some public toilets, but no pub and little in the way of accommodation, so a bivvy it was – but where…? There is always somewhere to bivvy! I remember it being a cold bivvy (I had a very old sleeping bag, which I was going to bin as I didn’t want to ride with it …perhaps a mistake, see later on…). When I set out at 6am there was a spot of frost on the trail. The weather was good, the trials were quite dry and I had a bit of an easterly tail wind, all this made the journey quite pleasant. My kit was pretty minimal and most of the weight was in my food. I had expected it to take me around 32 hours to complete. I got to the half way point in about 14hrs, which supported my belief in my estimated time. What I had not estimated for was what came next; the tough trail sections in the western half, like crossing the Lowther Hills, then Benbrack, these were really slow going sections and all my flow was lost.

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St Mary’s Loch.

I eventually reached Glen Trool at around 11am after 29 hours of riding, I still had around 45 miles to go. I needed food, coffee, more coffee and a bit of a rest and the café in Glen Trool provided this. While in the café I worked out that the next section could be taking 7-8hrs. Also I was having to manage with a bike problem – the saddle had snapped in the middle and had lost all its support. During the ‘rest’ I had decided that it was better to finish the attempt along NCN roads to Portpatrick. There-by doing a good C2C, but not completing the full SUW. A felt happy and disappointed at the same time, but was not overly fussed as I had had a great ride.

I got to Portpatrick in just under 3 hours from where I had decided to bail and I had a lift home from my brother waiting, I did not really want to abuse his hospitality and to keep him waiting for hours, as he was not there just for me.

Roll on a year and some success…

2018 and gosh how it has turned into the best summer ever – it just keeps on giving! You just can’t ignore these lovely dry trial conditions. When it is warm and dry riding both day and night is a pleasure and so is bivvying. So roll the year on to early July and after the best part of 3 months of non-stop dry weather, my brother Ben mentioned he was heading to the North East and Borders area to see family and do some walking and could  offer me a lift home from the finish at Cockburnspath, up near Edinburgh. Given the opportunity of another nice long adventure ride, it did not take long to convince myself that it was  a good thing to do, especially given the firm terrain and reasonable looking  forecast. So domestic clearances were sought and sorted – yet more brownie points to earn! Then the logistics of getting to Porpatrick had to be worked – luckily a train from my home village to Stranraer would get be there in a pretty respectable 6.30hrs, not the easiest corner of the country to get to…


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River Tweed Crossing

Learning from last time, I knew that a West to East crossing made much more sense. The west half is super tough, yet it does yield some good riding, but it has to be worked at and the rate of progress is quite slow due to this tricky terrain. Once you pass under the M74 the route characteristic change to more flowing and faster trails and far less gates!

The SUW is a tremendous bike-pack journey taking an iconic route across the wilds of Southern Scotland, yet hardly anyone does it…  [see reasons above] The West Highland Way has a hundred walkers for every one walker on the SUW! With a little investment the west section could be made much better for bikes – lets hope they can do something…? I met one other bike-packer – Chris Johnstone doing the whole route, or most of it and then just three other end-to-end walkers, that’s all.

Like last time I went for a non-stop crossing, however this time I did take a sleeping bag as I needed it to bivvy in at the start. I also had a 2hr sleep in some nice woods near to Moffat after 20 hours of riding. This rest was more to give my backside a break, with the all the heat and some extra padded Assos shorts I seemed to be sweatier that usual and sweat is so bad for inducing the chaff syndrome! The rest and some sodocrem really helped.

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Near White Laggan.

This time I did not buzz off-route and stuck to the full way-marked SUW finishing at Cockburnspath at in 38.34. I had supply stops in St Johns, Sanquar, Galasheils and Lauder. Again the Fatster bike performed perfectly and its lack of weight made for an easier job on all the stile and gate lifts and the fat tyres helped it roll over the grass sections. More memories to last a life-time!

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Cockburnspath – the end.

Back in the Mists of Time…

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Photo Credit: Pyro Photographic

We are nearing the end of 2012 and thought it fair that Team Mountain Hardwear write a short review of our Adventure Race activities and to give a big thank you to all the people that have helped us in our races and events. Firstly a summary of the year for us, showing the main races:-

Date Event Field Comment & Result
April Open 5 2011/12 Final – Derbyshire UK Kim & Alex – 1st Male Pairs

Ant and Sally – 1st Mixed Pairs

Kim – 2011/12 Series 1st place

Alex – 2011/12 Series 3rd place

May 2 Day Stage Race (ACE) – Cumbria UK Team – 1st place
June Adidas Terrex Swift – 2 day Expedition Race – Yorkshire UK Team – 2nd place
August Adidas Terrex Sting – 5 day Expedition Race – Stirling & Highlands UK + International Ant injured on 3rd day, forcing team to retire
September RAID in France – AR World Championships International Team – 15th from 65 teams, also managing to complete the ‘full’ course
October Cardiff Burn UK Kim & Alex – 1st Male Pairs

Ant and Sally – 1st Mixed Pairs

 

November Open 5 – Pentlands UK Kim 1st – Male Solo

Alex & Sam – 2nd Mixed Pairs

 

 

It was great having you along in France, helping to give us a moral boost when we were having hard times, and for popping up all along the route taking some fantastic pictures, and keeping the rest of the world posted on our progress.

A summary of 2012…

The ‘milestone’ event for TMHW in 2012 was indeed the ‘RAID in France’, for 2012 it was the featured AR World Championship Race, the pinnacle event for unrivalled adventure and real endurance. The race far exceeded expectations in its toughness and technicality. However this race did not go as well as hoped for TMHW, largely due to severe blistering on Alex’s feet. Seemingly footwear choice and the heat were probably the causal factors, as such the pace was much slower during the trekking sections and ‘bike hikes’. The team will try to learn and build from the RAID experiences. We have the skills, speed and endurance, but some time for an expedition event such as this it requires a little ‘good fortune’, apart from the introductory prologue we did not seem to get a good dose of this!

So to the rest of 2012… for Ant, Kim, Sally and Alex this was our first year of racing together, we came together through mutual acquaintance and several years of race friendship. We all had extensive ‘race CVs’ and results to prove, as such we set ourselves some challenging goals for the year ahead. As 2012 unfolded, it’s true to say we had our fair share of good luck, but also quite a lot of bad luck in our races and this is so often the case for many like teams competing in complex and demanding Adventure and Endurance Races.

So what were the highlights for the year…? probably the Coniston 2 ‘dayer’ and the Adidas Terrex Swift in the Yorkshire Dales. The team worked really well in these two races and delivered some really pleasing results. What boosts us as a team perhaps is that we are lucky to be all local to Cumbria and be able to share training sessions together and meet-up regularly and easily, to plan our events and discuss logistics, tactics and strategy.

Unlike some of the longer established UK AR teams with a larger pool of athletes to draw upon, TMHW is a straight four-some and in many ways a ‘wee family’ – we all know how each other works. This is a real benefit for us as it enables us to maximise each others potential and assist in supporting any weaknesses. Beyond a shadow of a doubt we all love our sport, our racing together and the fantastic places that it takes us too – there is ‘so much out there’ and AR has to be one of the best ways to experience it all. We also have real fun when we take on these challenges and have never had a ‘fall-out’ yet – even at the most toughest and darkest of race moments!

Plans for 2013…

Currently as 2012 draws to close we are discussing our options and ambitions for the next year, we are all keen to continue racing together and are looking at what events to we would like to enter, we have registered for the 2013 AR World Championships in Costa Rica in December. Also we have been looking at how we can improve the team and our skills and what equipment we may need as we go forward. We have been really privileged during 2012 to have been supported by some great people and great companies, and without people like your good self the sport would not flourish as it appears to be doing so at the moment!

Thank You and Merry Christmas from Ant, Alex, Sally and Kim.

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AR World Champs 2013, Costa Rica – A top ten finish as well!

Always Trying Something Different: Mountain Bike + Bivvy Kit = Bike Packing

This year I have eased back the miles on the running, particularly the longer distance ones, the main reason to manage wear and tear on the body as the years go on. I would not say I have abused my body over the years but it has had a harder life than most I think.

 

So you have to keep the adventure spirit going in some way and with less big Adventure Races planned I started doing more self-supported and extended MTB rides, exploring all corners of the Dales, some forays into the North Pennines, Southern Scotland and Cumbria. Sometimes taking the lightweight tent and sometimes using bothies, sometimes on my own and sometimes with company. There are a lot of bothies in cycle reach of Settle and they also link up to make some good tours. A bothy is really basic, usually just having a wood stove, however after a hard days peddling and especially if the weather is bad, getting inside a dry bothy is like heaven – even better if there is some wood left in there, to light a fire and get warmed up.

Bike-packed!

At the back end of last summer I was in Riders Cycles at Skipton, chatting to Stuart (the owner) and he suggested I try his YD200 route, he is big into his bike packing! He had organised this as a Bikepack event a  month earlier and said it was popular, I was away with work and could not do it. So on one fine Autumn morning I set off, as the route passed our house I started it from there, rather than Skipton. And indeed it was fantastic and the riding conditions near perfect, but it was a long day in the saddle (14hrs non-stop). Happy with finishing that, Stuart said he had a YD300 planned for mid 2016 – so I said it would be rude not too!

 

I was slightly apprehensive the last week before the ride, as I had never ridden that far before off road. I had also been given a different bike to use a Trek 29+ – basically a fat bike with 3” tyres, it was heavier than my Chiru 29er, but it was a really comfy ride and much quicker than I was expecting it to be. I planned to go light and fast and not to do an overnight bivvy, which many riders would opt to do, as sometimes I prefer to ride at night and manage with no sleep, it is really exciting, especially zooming along under the beam of the bike light and with the moon peeping through the clouds.

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40 riders where at the start, and a civilised time of 8am with a social breakfast provided, it was nice way to start things off, sun shining and a real mix of bikes and people – it was going to be a good, good day. Stuart set us all off in what was a very steady, lethargic start (and Stuart did keep saying it was not a race, in fact it was known as an Independent Time Trial (ITT) – no support, no kit caches, or pre-booked accommodation etc etc.) We were all rolling, myself not wishing to bimble along all day, picked up momentum and slowly rolled passed everyone and by Embsay I was out on my own and in the far distance behind a string of bikes slowly pulled up the hill over into Wharfedale, and that’s the last I saw of anyone. I planned to push hard, several hours of rain was forecast for late afternoon and I wanted to get some distance in. Dale after dale was covered, slowly working my way up towards Reeth, via Nidderdale, Coverdale, Wensleydale, Apedale, mile after mile…

 

In Reeth I called into Dales cycles for a couple of cans of Coke and some cake, had a quick chat with the owner, who was keen to hear of progress and was off 4 minutes later – 73miles done. Now raining quite hard – Waterproof top on and hood up and pressing on to stay warm, up the massive Fremlington edge, then over to Arkle, then Gunnerside, this was a milestone, some 95 miles and half way and now heading south – yippee all good, but a bit damp – 7pm and it had stopped raining. Over to Wensleydale we go, up the huge Cam High road to Newby Head, then down into Dentdale. A second stop for more Coke and crisps at the Sportsmans pub, I was his briefest customer that evening, another 4minutes stop, the second in only 14hrs. By this stage gates where becoming a nuisance – I had opened a hundred of them! The climb over the back of Whernside to Ribblehead was tough, I felt some tiredness in the legs and my climb rate slowed. 11pm at Ribblehead and time for lights, the night had begun – 64miles to go, just look after yourself and on very familiar territory, so no need to navigate. I have a good memory for routes and with the previous 200km ride I managed to do it all off memory, but with more unfamiliar territory on this ride and the extra distance I needed several more map checks – a wrong turn and several extra miles is not what you want, so it always pays to have a 30 second stop and check.

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The eyes were quite tired now from the wind, 4hrs of rain and riding concentration, so I had a caffeine gel at midnight which picked me up, I reckoned my ETF would be 5am, thinking it would take 21hrs in total. The routed winded through Crummack, Feizor, round the Settle Loop over to Malham, along Mastiles Lane towards Grassington and then just 15 miles to go – still all off road though. It was nice to see brother Roger at Stainforth, unable to resist the lure of a night ride, he joined me for the last 42 miles, Roger struggled to grasp the concept that I had already done 148 miles of MTB, thinking 42miles was a good ride! The company was lovely and we shared the night adventure, seeing owls, shooting stars and then one of the best sunrises possible from the top of a misty Barden Moor. By now just 5 miles to the finish and almost all downhill, it was 5am, we were in no rush, but the downhill provided some lovely progress and by 5.20am we were whizzing down the High St of Skipton, 8min later all finished and off the bike at last at Riders Cycle Centre on Engine Shed Lane.    Job Done!

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It would have been nice to have someone else pushing me along or to share the ride with, last years quickestrider another Stuart (Cowperthwaite) from Arncliffe, was not doing it due to an injury, shame as we would have been well matched I expect. The hardest part on an endurance event, is feeding the machine, your stomach has a hard time and often craves for stuff you have not got. I ate 16 choc bars, 1 cake, 2 butties, 4 gels and a pack of Haribo, 2 FGS, some biltong and a couple of pepperami, oh and 2 bags of crisps, 3 cans of Coke and about 5 litres of water and electrolytes. I had expended 13000 Calories, completed 190.7 miles and almost 22000ft of climbing. No punctures, no mechanicals and no crashes.

 

So if your run legs are tired, give the bike a go and explore. Get some lights and have a night adventure, or bivvy out, or go for luxury and try a bothy. Make the most of the long days and dry trails! Try a bike pack. Give me shout for help.

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