Maybe there’s a shark?

It’s going to be Kilpatricks  for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the 900m contour exists only on the horizon for the next wee while. The 600m contour as well I suppose.
First up tonight was a long overdue bike trip with familiar faces Ange and Bobinson. We sweated up the usual route from Old Kilpatrick under the evening sun but I took us a detour which led east along trails which have grassed over since winter, and it was harder work than I expected. I felt a little guilty as we pushed through the bracken more than we rode, but after a rest stop at the trig point on The Slacks we were back in the saddle for some magic, fast and fun singletrack which swooped and swung its way back to the usual route. Having missed out the steep bit by adding much more distance and ascent…
The new forest trail is looking a little greener, next year it will be better still. The surface has bedded in and it’s a lot of fun and fast too. In fact, the whole route is bone dry, grippy and a joy to ride.
After slinking through the dark forest in sunglasses we arrived at the top of the run down to Overtoun House to see Ben Lomond, the Arrochar Alps and the Luss hills in shades of blue under a warm aqua sky. Cloud had been poured over Ben Vorlich like whipped cream and from one end to the other it was a vista of pure delight.
We all rode fast down to Overtoun, giggly fast, the dirt feeling secure and the rush of air cooling our bare arms and legs and sweeping the sweat from our eyebrows. We all got caught out at the same point though, the back end stepping out at a greasy spot at the burn. No face plants though, even with Ange’s sore wrist. Always a bonus.
Another change in route took us down to Garshake and then to the cycle path on the old Caledonian Railway bed, and a detour to the Clyde foreshore saw us wandering through rushes six feet high to the water’s edge as the sun sank and orange bled into all the other colours on the land.
The blue of the sky clung on, but as we had cuppas and cake at the BP garage while attempting to avoid a ravaging by midges, it too lit up in gold and pink. The longest day gives nature lots of time to practise its chops.

This Flight Tonight

It’s been a while since the last time, but Bobinson, Craig and I set up an evening Kilpatricks run/ride and got Ange to come along on her too-clean new bike.
I sat in the sun all ready to ride as Phil pulled in with his truck, with Craig in the passenger seat somewhat casually attired. They adjusted themselves to trail-spec and Ange appeared soon after.
The new bike was as clean as feared, but with her kit transferred into a wee pack, we were on the move in a trice.

We took the riverside trail while Craig hoofed it up the tarmac. The trail was dry after a weekend of sunshine and a cool breeze kept it all very pleasant until we hit the climb through Old Kilpatrick and up towards Loch Humphrey. None of us rode to the top, but Phil got the furthest. We caught up with Craig too and he held the gates open which meant I didn’t get to stop and rest as I lifted the bike over. Bugger.

We were soon on the trails through the forest keeping a regular pace as Ange dialled into the rough terrain, which she did with increasing confidence. When we got to the downhill run to Overtoun House the four of us picked up the pace and with the trail great condition we breezed down in the fading light with wide grins and cold hands. It might be sunny, but it’s still bloody cold under that clear sky when the sun slips down.

It was a glorious sunset, and a lingering one too. I don’t know if it was something to do with the volcanic activity in Iceland or if  it’s too soon for that to be a factor yet, but if this is what we’ re getting without the ash in the atmosphere it’s going to be eyewatering when it does get here.

We pulled into the BP garage for cuppas, and it was supper I suppose. A jolly time indeed, and some entertainment was provided by the bloke who’d filled his motor with fuel but had no money on him and was being held hostage inside as he phoned friends and relatives to come and bale him out. Which they did with some heckling from us.

So what did we learn today? Craig enjoyed being back on the trail and will be there again soon, Phil is getting further up the hill and is looking good for his event training, Ange got her bike dirty and handled the steep and tricky stuff increasingly well as the evening went on and well be tearing up the trails now. Me? I like my bike again after a long period where we didn’t speak and I lost my sunglasses. Humph.

Magic, more please.

A quick word about kit, one person at supper was dressed for the weather at that time of night. Three were dressed for the sunny weather for earlier in the day… It was freezin’.
I liked those Lizard shorts though.

Will I eat that second cream slice?

The fact that I could hear the quior singing above me meant that no matter how fast I went I wasn’t getting the heating finished in time for the service.
I threw the tools in the motor and checked my phone messages. Elaina, Sandy and Louise were heading up the Kilpatrick’s and I thought I might head back to base, pack my gear and see if I could catch them.

Bastard headwind. I took the usual ascent route and fought against an ever increasing wind which eventually brought me to a standstill and I had to push the bike up an easy bit. Passing children were pointing at laughing at the red faced old man.
I phoned the guys and they were on Doughnot Hill, I’d meet them on the trail at the reservoir. The trail was very different in the daylight, I’d kinda forgotten how nice it is up there when you can see it. I spun happily on my way, there was no real “training” here. Lack of motivation because I was solo maybe, bored with preparation and just wanting to get on with it?
I sat by the water and waited for my my pals to descend. I could see them wandering down and I sat by the water, feeling the sun on my neck. Just a hint of the wind was making it through the trees and catching the tops of my ears, the sunlight sparkled on the little waves on the waters surface. Too long since I’ve sat and just breathed it all in.

I met my pals to much rejoicing and merry banter, briefly disturbed by arseholes on dirt bikes. We worked our way around down and I left them at the top of the steep run to Overtoun. But it was even wetter and looser than the during the week, and even in daylight it was a good bit slower. I stopped and got the camera out.
It’s probably not the most scenic spot, but I love it. The burn has cut deep into the volcanic landscape, showing layers of lava and ash, the pine trees still stand firm in their line facing the exposed moor. The colours grow warmer as the air grows colder. It’s just magic up here.
I sped the last of the trail and met a fell runner who is as keen on his local ground as I am. Good lad.
We all met up again at the fence at Overtoun and then it was down to the currently well frequented BP garage for cuppas and banter in the sunshine.
A good day.

Ur ye dancin’? Ur ye askin’?

“Do short, intense training runs” says Craig. That’s easy for him to say when he’s sitting sipping cocktails out of half a coconut shell in Venezuela or whatever it was he’s doing this weekend.
I was going to try for a longer ride this weekend, but by the time I got through all the personal and home admin it was about 1500hrs on a Sunday. Arse.
So I went for a short, sharp ride this evening, and my lungs and legs were indeed fully taxed by the sudden and very searching questions asked of them as I covered the ground in double quick time.
The muddy trail is also now covered in leaves and it’s treacherous. I did lose the back end a few times and the front end once, which is always a worry. But a few dings on the shins from branches is all I came home with. And a couple of photies of course.
I got back to Bowling harbour as the sun was setting and spent a wee while on the beach sipping Nuun and watching the old timbers from the steamer pier grow blacker and sharper as the sun gave up on the day and headed off the wake up the Americans.
As the sun winked out, the rain started and I headed home. There’s two weeks to go to the WHW*Falldoon, and I don’t feel ready with it that close. I also had to admit to myself that I’m not going anywhere near a tent or a summit until this thing is over and done with.
I got in and the Adventure Show was on the telly, with the WHW race being featured. I watched and recognised every bit of trail. I can’t wait, I wish I had kept my mouth shut, It’ll be brilliant, what the hell am I doing.

Unexpected Pakora

I did make it to the mountains, just around the middle of them instead up up ’em.
Beinn Vane looks good from any angle.

Phil, Craig and I went on a training run as the date for the WHW*Falldoon approaches. That date is probably the third weekend in October, which is later than we’d hoped as it means it’s got more of a chance of being on the wintry side, but it does give the old bloke an extra couple of weeks training…

The three of us have been out on a mix of wheels and feet before and the yo-yo effect happened again. We raced to the trail and immediately slowed on the ascent where Craig caught us up. We needled each other until a flat spot saw Phil and I stretch out a wee lead. When we both reached the highpoint of the trail (this time, both of us in the saddle, it was the same route as last week), Craig passed us after a couple of minutes and I never even looked up from my position of hanging over the bike trying to keep my breakfast down. The extra heat and slightly fuzzy head really made life difficult on the long climb this time.

The easily angled descent to the burn was slow, I felt burst after the climb. Phil was waiting for me when I got to the weir and he just had to cool down. I resisted the cold water and just sat down instead.
Some Nuun, a look at the view, a pee and a walk up and down saw me feeling better. And when we left for the return leg I knew that the climbing was over and and I had to actually ride the bike as opposed to sit on it and spin the pedals.
I was a wee bit worried as I was a bit shaky on the technical stuff last time, but the first sketchy descent on a slate chute went well and I was boosted by that, making the rest of the rough singletrack less of a looming adversary and more of a ride-able funscape.

We caught Craig in the woods before the singletrack section and we stayed pretty close from here on.
When we got back to Arrochar we were pleased indeed. Team handed trips are fun, and it’s good to train together as it showed that Craig’s running is on the money and if his feet hold together it’s looking good for that 96 miles.
We had lunch at the wummin in the windowcafe at the Esso garage across from the carpark, it was heaven sinking my teeth into that scotch pie I’ll tell you.
What a great day out with my chinas indeed.

Now, I’m supposed to be in Glen Coe next week. Repeat to self, tent not bike, tent not bike, tent not bike…
Will I remember how to do all that stuff?

Driven to distraction (in a van)

Tonight, I had planned to unwrap the Terra Nova Laser Photon Elite that’s just arrived for test and see what it’s all about, but Phil and I decided it was way better to head to the Arrochar Alps and bike some trails. We’ve maybe five weeks ’til the WHW*Falldoon  (that’s what it’s called, aye…) so we have to plant arse on saddle at every opportunity.
Having stuff like this to ride and explore on foot so close to home is just bloody marvellous. I will never tire of it.
We rode the same route we walked a few months back, and that doesn’t mean it’s at all lame. The start is climbing, hundreds of metres of it, which I actually fared pretty well on, getting right to the top before popping a lung out. The return is on very rough singletrack with some hairy descents where Phil left me like I was standing still. New bike, old head, something I need to work on!
The views of cloud capped Alps were as fine as ever, Beinn Vane always looks like a rugged wonder, amountain of greater stature than its lowly height would suggest. Ben Lomond sits across the road and looks on like it’s the Grandpa, and it kinda is.
It was a great evening, some rain, some wind, but we pushed all the way and got back to the motor very pleased and very mocket indeed.
Ach, I’ll unwrap the Photon tomorrow. I’ll tell you though, it’s awfy light…

Good luck tae ye!

Outdoors again, and nowhere near a mountain. It looks like getting the miles in on the bike is taking over at the moment, but I’m heading to the Arrochar Alps as soon as there’s a gap in the weather. I’m not missing taking a right turn at Tarbet on Loch Lomond though, I’ve seen enough of the A82 for a wee while.
Instead, I watched Jimmy get the Wee Spark towed along the canal by a horse for the first time which was fun. The Wee Spark is a 1/3 size Clyde Puffer which he built in our workshop and is now a legend in the world of boats an’ that.
Holly got to pat the horse and was very pleased with that, and the speed at which the horse could pull the boat was frightening, horses are badass.

I did many hours in the saddle as well, racking up 60km on Sunday, with about half of it in the rain. The new bike feels good (that’s it above) and covers the ground well for a full-susser. I’ve dropped a good bit of weight off it already since I replaced some of its low-rent stock items with the good kit off my old frame, and I’ll get another kilo or two off it before the WHW trip as well. Bikes are the realm of the super-geek, tinkering, replacing, fettling, improving, feeding that bottomless pit that eats your money and laughs when it’s still “Hmmm, not quite right yet”.
The glorious apparel I’m sporting above is a Honey Stinger/Big Agnes team jersey that was presented to me when I was through at the UK HQ a few weeks back. I’ve worn it a few times now and it’s actually really good. The fit is spot on, the zip goes down to my navel and the fabric is pretty much all-conditions specific. And I thought that cycle gear looked crap and performed as convincingly as a hamster on a stick. Being wrong is good.
The photie above also captures the moment when I was distracted whilst waiting for the timer to go off and was thinking “That dug coming towards me is helluva big…”

I took a wee run around the harbour on the way home after tearing round the woods on the singletrack with the last of my energy as hunger took a firm hold. It was both dismal and magnetic watching the greys shift and change as the rain flowed over the water and onto the hills.
I was soaked to the skin when I got home, and decided to have a bath to enjoy some of that therapeutic stuff that baths are supposed to provide. I fitted a corner bath in our Mickey Mouse bathroom to save space however, and jammed in there with bubbles and myriad toys and tea-set components I must have looked like a murder victim in a wheelie bin.
Still, with my feet sticking out over the side, I fell asleep with Rammstein’s Reise, Reise on the iPod, quite happy with my lot.

Four Little Diamonds

My bike took a turn for the terminal. Maintenance it seems is a good thing, because under the dirt you can find such things as a crack around a third of the down tube. I saw it, I sat down and my blood ran cold.
Funds were juggled and a deal was found for the new and lighter (alright!) version. I’ve swapped some good parts over onto the new frame, and had a wee ride tonight to see how it handled so far. That was all fine, the trails were good the bike was fine, but it was a lovely evening to be out. The habit I’ve got into of packing the camera all the time is worth it sometimes.

My local trails take me by the river, onto some singletrack, along the old Caledonian Railway. around the remains of industry and further onto the Kilpatricks or like tonight, back home because I had no lights fitted. The sculptures above have lasted well, accessible to neds and weather, but still intact. I like stuff like this, the naysayers can live in a dull world if they want, I want to have a wee smile now and again when I come across something unexpected and fun.

The Erskine Bridge is part of the landscape now, it looked very different before, well in the photies it does, I was 3 when it opened. You can stand under it and see where the oil rig hit it a few years ago, the repair looks like big Elastoplasts.
The lights of home twinkle down the Clyde, and on the horizon the hamlets of Inverclyde wave from a safe distance while the cloud unfurls on us like a monster roll of deep-pile carpet.

I often say it’s not about hills and getting away from it all, it’s just as much about making the most of what’s available outside your door. I’m in no-mans-land between city and countryside, and it’s really not too bad at all.

Appolappo Aboo

You can see my roof in that photie above. It’s a great view just at that spot, and a hundred meters up the track it disappears completely. I haven’t seen it for weeks, since early June I think. That’s the longest I’ve been away from the Kilpatricks since 1937.
It was nice to see the heather starting to bloom, pink white and purple. In a few weeks there’ll be a multicoloured carpet of delight on the hills.

I was on the bike which was interesting. My legs are gone, just completely empty. And my arse has become soft, like a Chelsea Whopper left out in the sun. Frightening stuff this, a few weeks of doing very physical work seems to have diverted all my juice to different outlets and I’m now all out of adjustment. Ah well, I’ll sort that out as I go. And go I shall, I’ve had books out, maps unfolded and I’ve been checking the weather again. Glen Affric looms large over the next couple of weeks, and then onto new and different. Marvellous.

I’m sitting there trying to keep down some bananana Nuun while looking at the view below. It was quite windy and the clouds and patches of sunlight were skimming by, the long grass was hissing as the blades and bits with seeds attached, the actual name of which is totally unknown to me, it’ll be a latin thing no doubt… vibrated and pulsed, occasionally sending a wave across its golden surface towards the trees.
It really was rather nice.

Ach, it’s good to be back.

I’ll run, you ride

Craig’s bike has been lame for a while, and a quick fix wasn’t likely in time for tonight so he said he’d run it and see how it all matched up with me and Phil on the bikes. I knew it’d be fine, he’s too fit by far, but it was still interesting how it all panned out.
We took the simplest Kilpatricks route, a big loop from my front door, but there’s still a huge amount of ascent which is always hard enough without that bloody wind tonight which slowed me down and eventually knocked me and then Phil off the saddle and onto our feet a couple of times.
Of course when we got to the level section at the quarry Craig was waiting for us, he totally creamed us on the ascent. As did a group of lycra-clad bikers on hardtails who passed us on their way to greater things.
I like to be reminded that I can’t compete, it takes the pressure off.

We rode and ran the newly constructed trails with a little flair and some welcome speed now that the trail was twisting and winding rather than just going up, up, up. The distance between bikes and feet was always elastic, but stopping now and again for a drink and a quick bit of banter kept us within shouting distance.
In the trees, the wind was just a whisper, and that was very welcome indeed. Wind on a bare hillside is relentless, and on a bike you just feel like it’s picking on you and having a bit of a laugh because it’s the “Big Wind” and you’re just a wee fanny on a daft contraption. I never feel persecuted by the wind when I’m on foot. I’ll talk to someone about these feelings at some point.

Leaving the forest was just magic, Ben Lomond, the Arrochar Alps, even Ben Lui, all well defined in the clear evening air. We all stopped and had a “Ohhh…” moment.
Then straps were tightened, shades secured, arse shoved back and we headed downhill.
I was a bit happier than last time and only got wrong footed in a boggy section, the trail has hardened up and it’s getting fast.
The cool eveing air rushing past my grinning coupon as grit stung my legs and stuck to my shades, I found a little bit of confidence tonight and really enjoyed the run down to Overtoun. It’s a joy, it really is, and as we go through summer it’ll only get better.
We waited for Craig to catch up near the bottom, chortling way to ourselves at the simple fun of it all, and catch up he did, very quickly too. Running down this trail is as good as biking (or walking) it, at times it’s so steep you’re on the verge on losing control and becoming a spinning ball of budgie green and broken limbs. You don’t need “stuff” to get excitement, an incline and unreasonable optomism is often more than enough to get that adrenaline rush.

After Overtoun House it’s a tarmac descent to the A82 where you run out of gears and sacrifice rubber from your expensive sticky tyres. But watching a drop of spit boil on your front brake disc on the roadside at the bottom makes up for any inconvenience.
Craig appeared after a wee while, the longest we’d been out of comms all evening. The bikes won the descent, that’s the bikes, not the riders.
We met the other group of riders from earlier as we headed for some tasty goods from the BP/ Marks and Sparks Simply Food at Milton that must be familiar to anybody heading North on the A82 who’ll be wishing it was on their side of the road as the Esso Shop on on the Northbound carriageway only has pork pies and the like.

It was a great night, it’s been a while since were all out together and if was fun, pure and simple.

Shimano SH-MT90L Mountain Bike/ Hiking Mids. First Look.

When I was down at the Haglofs UK office lauch a few weeks back I met up with Chipps from Singletrack Magazine. MTBing is another way to see and enjoy the hills, and the gear, especially the lightweight stuff often works well for both activities. Chipps was as interested in kit light enough that it won’t screw up his riding on a camping expedition he’s doing in Europe this summer, as I was in what’s happening in bikeland, as I’ve slipped behind a bit in my point of reference. 
Fastforward and after Chipps put me in comms with Shimano, I have here a pair of MT90L mids to test.

At first glance they look like an ordinary leather mid-cut hiker, but they’re definitely a bike shoe under the skin. So what we have here is a 50/50 hybrid, a shoe with enough features taken from the needs of each activity to allow you to do both without having to faff around changing your shoes.
The uppers are soft leather with a toe bumper/rand which is good on wheels and feet, and they’re Gore-Tex lined which is a first for me on a bike shoe. Mini gaiter’s stuck on here and I can see dry and warm feet on a dreich hike-a-bike, even if it were an overnighter. The only obvious bike feature on the upper is an elastic loop to keep the laces out of your drivetrain, rather than a big velcro strap that I’ve been more used to.

Underneath, the hiker looks continue with a nicely aggressive Vibram outsole, deep lugs with some wide spacing to shed mud and a pronounced heel counter for secure descending (with a bike on your shoulder, that’s a lot of additional weight and these things matter, trust me!). The toe has grip curved right up its front for catching the ground when climbing steep slopes, the other time where the bike is most likely to be on your shoulder. There is a nice curved rocking motion to the front of the sole for easy walking, and all-in-all it looks like the hiker part of the shoe has been well thought out.
The first giveaway that it’s meant for serious biking is the stiffness of the sole, you need this for a stable platform when your pedalling, especially when you use cleats and clipless pedals like I do. That’s what you see in the photie below with the screws in it, a removeable panel that allows access to slots in the misole where you attach the cleats that lock you into a pedal. If you haven’t used this system (the SPD you see on the shoes is Shimano’s own name for it, Shimano Pedalling Dynamics) before, I’d recommend it, it’s much more stable and secure on rough ground and you pedal constantly in smooth circles with both feet, so that’s more power right there.

I’ve used several pairs of Shimano shoes over the years so I’ve got something to compare them to, and with these soles I’ve got high hopes that they’ll a great bit of crossover kit.
I’ll away and fit some cleats and get on with, more later.

It’s that time of year again. Kilpatricks on wheels.

I don’t ride the Kilpatricks in winter as a rule, not because it’s wet or cold, but because it destroys the trails. It’s wet, muddy and wonderful, but selfish riders have abused it and the erosion has gotten so bad that when the path network was getting signposted, the foresty and the council probably had no choice but to do something, and of course it was always going to lack any kind of subtlety. So where we had dirt singletrack weaving through trees we now have big wide tracks with proper drainage. And the scars on the trees and ground to match.
It’s horrendous, but it was probably inevitable. A few years will see if soften and there’s still plenty of wild open hillside. Access is a wonderful thing, and these works have improved that, but at what cost to the experience of being there?

But.
The ascent from Old KIlpatrick is a bitch. Never once have I made it all the way to the level section at the quarry withouit getting off the bike and pushing. By the time I parked the bike against the fence and gazed down the Clyde at the hazy Cowal peninsula, sweat was dripping from the end of my nose and I was getting quite emotional. It was bloody warm, I haven’t seen this much blue sky and unfiltered sunshine in ages.

The quarry is long closed, being used to supply rock for the road and dam at Loch Humphrey. It’s faded to a natural ambience, so I’m sure the new trails will follow on. I can’t wait the fifty years it took the quarry though.
There’s little sign of the excavator that used to sit here, abandoned and rusting. It was taken  away piece by piece, although back in the 70’s it was intact and we used to play in it. Highly dangerous with its long jib held by weatherbeaten and corroded cables. All that’s left are a few plates here and there and a section on the cab roof lying in a gully.
Looks like good place for a spot of bouldering, but I didn’t have the shoes. Or the grip.

Honk Hooonk Hnk Hoooonnnnk! I could hear them, but I couldnt see them until I’d ridden to the highest point on the trail; a flock of geese. They were strutting about and pecking quite happily, maybe 20 or so of them. I saw lambs earlier as well, fresh out of the oven. Lovely wee things.

I stopped at the Loch Humphrey overflow for a drink and a photie, and coincidence leapt out of my rucksack and smacked my helmet down over my eyes. By the time I had straightened myself back up I’d ran into Candice and Jordan who are here from Florida for a bit and have been exploring more of the Kilpatricks in the last few months than most locals do in a lifetime.
Being as I am, I switched to banter and interesting fact mode and prceeded to melt their heids with useless information for the next few hours.
I’d have kicked me on the shin and ran away.

We ended up on Duncolm (I left the bike just er, a little short of the summit…), the highest point of the Kilpatricks and a great spot for a view. Above is Ben Lomond, Loch Lomond with some of the Arrochar Alps and Luss hills. Those bubbling clouds were just so far away.
But turn North towards the Campsies and pulses of rain were cavorting around themselves, dying out every time they tried to reach further afield. The rain never reached us, a flash of a rainbow nearby was as threatening as it got. Someone in the Blane Valley must have said something really nasty about the weather elves to merit getting stuck with that weather all day.

Back down to Loch Humphrey and the sun was getting lower. I was by turns riding and walking, enjoying the good bits of trail and not wanting to constantly annoy my surprise companions. My feet were wringing, but there were no tears and snotters, good socks and quick draining bike shoes (they’ve got a big hole in the bottom where the cleats attach) kept me happy. Soon enough we were in the newly built trails.
I’ll speak of that again, I might even take a photie or two. But it still hurts too much right now.

We parted company as the sun sank lower so I could tackle the run down to Overtoun House at speed. As it turned out, it felt unfamiliar. Subtle changes to the trail since the last time broke up my flow and it was a bit stop-start, but I’ll know better the next time and hopefully I’ll nail it from top to bottom.
As I sit here, my legs are toast. I am in no way bike-fit. But the joy at riding some of the trail is such an incentive to get my shit together I’ll stick at it.

Great day/ hills/ company. Hell, there was even a Cadbury’s Buttons easter egg afterwards.
Alright!

Today. And recently.

There was a ship grounded on a sandbank down at Dumbarton yesterday. I took a wander down on the bike, but by the time I’d got there it had been towed to Greenock by tugs.

A nice clearout of the cobwebs though. I sat in Levengrove Park and drank my Nuun and came back one of the long road for a shortcut routes. New houses everywhere.

 

Coming up the back of the Dumbuck hotel you get a nice view of the crags on the quarry rim. That overhang is covered in chalkmarks from seriously stretched climbers. You’d never guess that there were four lanes of A82 hidden in that shot.

And of course FastandLight is back up. Leaner and more user friendly. The boy done good.