Gear Diary

First off I’d like to stick two fingers up at Race Face. I have a bucket full of their bottom brackets, every one seized solid, and as I admined the bike for Monday night’s ride the newest one was in the relentless grip of inertia on the non-drive side. I was going to replace both the bottom bracket and headset with Hope equivalents and get the frame faced at the same time later on, but financially and temporally that wasn’t working as a surprise option this weekend. Luckily Evans at the Braehead Xcapade had the new Race Face version in stock, now with fancy waterproof grease, so that was the one that went back in. So we’ll see how long that lasts.
Oh aye, the puller cap burst when I tried to extract the cranks. If I wasn’t an engineer with tools and know-how I’d have either ruined an expensive set of cranks (Race Face Deus) or have had to take a half-dismantled bike to shop where they would have hacked at it like a victorian whaler with a fresh catch five minutes before his tea break.
If only Race Face kit wasn’t so damned sexy…

That trip last week had some gear stuff that raised an eyebrow. On my feet were my #2 pair of Montrail Streaks, out of the box and onto the trail. There were fine too, bless them. Also on the feet were some Teko socks. I have nothing much to say on those as yet.
Legs were a mix of Haglöfs Mid Flex Pants and Chocolate Fish Taranaki Boxers, a combination of justice, but the upper floor were clad in something new, a Haglöfs B Tee. It’s a kinda casual thing, slightly relaxed cut, wee print decorations, but it’s in Dryskin fabric, so it looked usable. And, it was too. Very comfy all day, in fact it was my single layer all day and was fine in the glaring sun and I didn’t chill in the evening breeze as it dried either. Orange, yes.
On my back was the Macpac Amp Race 25. Here’s the thing, it is heavy where you look around at the competition these days, but I just don’t care. It’s comfy and usable, the pockets are great, the harness is stable, the bottle bungee on the shoulder strap holds my Zipshot tripod perfectly which is a godsend for shooting a route like this trip where I’m constantly setting up for timer shots.
It’s not perfect, the lid pockets could be bigger and the printed branding is really cheap and nasty, but if the fabric and stitching on this and the 40 version hold up over an extended time, these really are killer packs and well worth the extra grams.
My grande chapeau is a a Peter Storm Aussie Hat from Millets, a great thing too, really kept the sun off my neck and face and out of my eyes.
The Klean Kanteen bottles are definitely now standard issue, I had Nuun in one for the first time, although I’ve had Robinson’s in obe most days for the past couple of weeks, and they really do clean up totally odour-free every time.
Also, it occured to me that I’ve been wearing a Techtrail watch since I started the blog and it’s about time I spoke about it. So I will.

Long road for a shortcut

It’s been busy this last couple of weeks, and today had been on my mind for all of it. Phone off, family time outside in the sun, there’s nothing better.

Holly took to the the idea of a bike trailer instantly. I brought it home on Monday, set it up and tried it up and down the lane with instant screeches of delight from inside. I just had to count the days off from there.
We packed up on Friday night, but a wee niggling cough from the girl in the early hours looked like pulling the rug off the top of my head and we eased into a lazy morning with tatties scones and telly. But, she sprang back to life with a “My want a picnic and my carriage”. Clothes donned, flasks filled and we were on the road.

Loch Katrine isn’t too far away, and the road across the southern end of Loch Lomond and over the Duke’s Pass flashes by in a blaze of colour and light. The Trossachs are bubbling with life again, trees bursting out under the bluest of skies. The three of us were smiles and sunglasses in the (£3) car park at the pier as we kitted up and wheeled off for a lochside dawdle.

Loch Katrine is rare example of Scotland doing tourism well. There’s facilities, people to help and answer questions, a lack of closed signs, things to eat, things to do, and most of all it’s a stunningly beautiful place. Natural woodland clings onto the islands and the hillsides, the modest heights of Ben Venue still loom over the pier and in the distance, familiar Munro’s take on different shapes to recharge your enthusiasm for well worn trails.
It was great to see so many folk enjoying it, families, walkers & cyclists of all flavours and of course the folks on board the Sir Walter Scott, steaming past us on its rounds on the loch.

We stopped for a picnic after a few miles under the shade of some tall trees, high above the water. Folk passsed us regularly in both directions. The road being closed to the public is brilliant, one van from a farm passed us all day, and that was it. It really is an odd feeling, on a hill is kinda timeless, sky, rock and heather, but here riding on an empty road past farms with geese and hens wandering onto the tarmac, it felt like we were time travelling. The Highlands as they once were, no traffic, every building in the glens occupied or worked. A joyful and subtly melancholy journey in some ways.

We rode on through the changing scenery, Beinn A’an now showing it’s true shape as an outcrop in the distance and Ben Lomond’s north face rising darkly to the south, the ridge we climbed last year catching the sunlight on its crest. I’m going back there soon.
We stopped for another picnic on the stony shore where we threw and skimmed stones (Holly attempted to lift a rock 3 feet across, and was most perturbed that it wouldn’t shift as it would have made a “big splass”), had cuppas, carrot sticks and a pastry.
It was warm and bright and the day was getting on. We cycled a little further, to where the end was in sight, Stronachlacher just over the water. But Holly had done so well, and it was a long road back, so we decided to turn tail and not push our luck.
I’d wanted to do this since Holly was was born, I don’t know why the notion came and then stuck with me, but I’m glad it went well and she loves her “carriage”. I think I’d have been in tatters if it had been a disaster.

As we got back in sight of the pier Holly got out to stretch her legs and I walked back with the bikes and trailer while Joycee and Holly ran ahead. Joycee was delighted to be back on the bike too and did well, often disappearing up or down something to be met a little further on waiting and wearing a big grin. I didn’t have so much speed available, me and the girl had the weight of our ensemble very much in mind plus the safety factor (generally and the old guy at the front more specifically), although cattle grids became a favourite moment with much giggling and shouting.
The trailer is great though, stable, takes girl+picnic and attaches easily to my old spare-parts hardtail. We’ll have more fun with this over the summer.

We had ice cream as we packed up, dad had Irn Bru ice cream too, imagine that.
The best of days with the best of people, my girls.

I’m going to eat that brownie.

It had seemed like a good idea. I got away a little early, the bike was freshly cleaned, lubed and adjusted and I have hills right behind me.
On many levels this plot had holes in it though. More so than even Alien³ where many of the cast died from editing rather than the regulation shiny-toothed double-jaw application or a smack in the head from Ripley. I shall step onto the down escalator and note the obvious mistakes as though they were those wee adverts next to subway escalators that always look squint, although it’s really an optical illusion. Or is it?

It was warm as I climbed the long track up The Slacks, sweat dripped from my eyebrows as a spun the pedals slowly. The sun shone, the sky was ice blue and I had to sit down and take a break at the level section at the old quarry.
I haven’t been on a bike in four months. Hell, I hadn’t even cleaned the bike since the West Highland Way. I think I may have had lingering issues.
I should have had a wee trial ride around the lower trails, part of the reasoning for going out for a ride was that the gentle spinning would be good for my twanged leg, but I got all excited and headed for the hills.

I sat at the quarry and pulled on a vest as it was cold. Somehow I hadn’t expected it to be that cold, with frost, and ice and well, wintery coldness. I don’t get that when I’m out on a bike.
The ground was hard, it crunched as I rode, and as I got higher the ground became porridge, where the oats were gravel and the milk was ice. My tyres were biting, but I was tired from the now unfamiliar exertion and was now a little rattled by the terrain.
But my confidence did slowly increase, and so did my speed. Apart from the stinging cheeks and watering eyes, it was like a summers morning up there.
I turned around Loch Humphrey and heard a loud moan above the chatter of my my drive train and the manic crunching of my tyres. I dropped the bike and ran to the top of the knoll to look at the frozen loch as it once again squeaked and let out another huge moan. It was so loud and so unexpected that I just stood and laughed. I watched for big cracks appearing and Russian submarines emerging, but the cold crept up on me again and I was glad to be generating some heat in the saddle.

The track was frozen solid now, the ruts were like concrete and any big stones were using their frosty coating as a lure to to snare the unwary, and although I did have a couple of mildly sideways moments, it was a joy tearing down the completed new trail, fast as well in this condition.
I could see the sun catching the treetops with a vivid orange spray and I raced the darkening trails, dodging frozen puddles and crossing ice flows with one eye shut in anticipation of disaster to find clear air at the Lang Craigs where I could drink in that familiar sight that never fails the excite, delight, inspire, challenge or confound me. The sun setting over my home.

I lingered. I love it here. But I love the long, fast descent to Overtoun and the A82 too, I did a 180° and headed to the top of the track through long dried grass, thick with hoar frost, amazed at how well the tyres were sticking.
The run was fast, and at times hairy. The ground was solid, there was water-ice, more frozen, angular ruts forcing constant changes in direction with me trying not to be jerky and inducing a slide. I found lines where I didn’t know ther could be one and by the time I hit the gate at the bottom I was grinning, panting, shedding snotters and I couldn’t feel my fingers.

I switched my light on and trundled into the dark trees where there was more ice than gravel. I walked the bike around the glowing white obstacles and hit the tarmac where I rolled downhill easy. Too easy. I stopped, pulled on a buff, extra gloves and the vest. The windchill cut me to the bone as a hared through the darkness. My hands might as well have been in arctic mitts, I couldn’t feel a thing, and by the time I got the the rush of traffic, gears were beyond me and using the brakes was going to make me cry at any second.
I negotiated the road somewhat unconvincingly, and got to my folks house where assistance was rendered in manner which made me feel like a nine year old boy who’d came home wet-through and frozen after playing in the snow all day with his pals. And my leg was throbbing like a bastard.

What an absolutely brilliant evening.

WHW*Falldoon Day Two

We talked in the carpark as our pals went home and we headed to the bus to go and find the accommodation. Iain could go no further. The boys had run almost two marathons off-road, and would have to run the same again to get home.
Iain’s self-preservation instinct is very much like my own, family and then work before any of this nonsense. Everytime I had a sketchy bit of trail that was 50/50 to make it past safely, I’d think of home and dab or get off and push. So with legs on the verge of folding underneath him, Iain was out.
Craig was caught in a difficult situation, go on alone or get Iain home in the morning? I said that I would be quite happy to go home and see the girls too, I was tired, it was late and the whole thing was getting more pointless by the moment.
We never really resolved the issue by the time we’d stopped parking in folks driveways looking for name plates and finally dropped Iain and Craig off at Glengarry House and I was distracted by a call from nearby Strathfillan House where we were staying, asking when we were arriving, about 30 seconds was the answer.
The driveway was dark, the building was dismal with unlit windows, the hidden sign said “Welcome to Strathfillan House, you’ll have had your tea”.
John and Phil took some gear up the stairs inside while I faffed about as usual and joined them hearing only the end of the conversation “…this is Peter now”
“Yes, hello”
“Blah blah, late, blah blah, phone call, missed a night out blah blah…”
I’d missed most of that and could only offer “What?”
“I told you at 1730 that we would be 4 or 5 hours, and that’s exactly what we’ve been”
“I missed out on a night out at seven thirty and I’m irritated by your lack of communication…”
I moved towards him and Phil and John, probably subconsciously, leaned into an intercept course.
“Maybe I’ll sleep in the van…”
“No, no, stay, what about breakfa..”
I walked past him into the room before a line of some sort was crossed that I couldn’t jump back over.
There was no milk in the team making facilities, no hand soap in the fancy dispenser in the lavvy and no chance I’ll ever go back. Bastard place. I charged my bike lights for free though.

No mobile signal, no phone, no comms with the boys.
I’d had enough, I wanted to go home right now. My seemingly simple idea had gone completely on its tits and I just wanted to walk out of it. We all had showers and that soothed the mood a little.
Phil was adamant that he was going on, solo if needs be. He was getting up at 0630 regardless and going for it.
I would wait and see. Physically I was okay, just a Little achy maybe. I had a piss poor sleep where I had time to think about it. I know what it’s like to fail at something that’s attainable, and to succeed when it looked a little unlikely. Either was possible when i got out of bed.
Phil put his light on at 0630 (we were sharing) and I found that neither my eyes are hands worked. I lay there in the fuzzy light as he cleaned and oiled his bike outside the window in the drizzle.
When I got dressed, it was into my bike gear. I didn’t even think about it.
We left the house of horrors to pick up the boys who had had a fine time in their B&B. They were still in their running gear as they’d left their bags in the bus, but while we sat at the Green Welly Cafe eating breakfast, Craig appeared in his jeans and it seemed that that was that.
Phil was getting twitchy, I was my usual nonchalantself which must be infuriating for folk who are wanting to get under way or feeling pressure, so he went and got his bike reaa while I got another latte.
Craig seemed to like the idea of leaving with me, I could easily stay in touch on the trail for safety, we weighed up options, I tried to offer possibilities without coercion.
Phil waved his hands from outside and I gave him the “Come here a minute” signal, to which he responded with the “Screw you guys, I’m off” response. And with that he was on the bike and away.

I finished my cuppa and wondered about what to do next.
Craig wasn’t coming. I took the bike out of the bus and gave it the once over. I only needed a bit of oil on the chain. I went back to the cafe, now clumping in my bike shoes, and filled my water bottles. It was time to go.
Phil must have been as much as 30 minutes ahead, I’d never catch him on the trail unless he’d been knocked unconscious or otherwise rendered immobile. I’d have to try the road down to Crianlarich and take it from there.
I shot onto the road and built up as much speed as i could on my fat tyres. An immediately pulled over again as the rain was so heavy I had to put on all my waterproofs.
While I was doing that an old fella asked me if he was going the right way, “To Glasgow? Yes” He was actually wanting the West Highland Way, so he turned around and went back the way he came. I wonder how far he’d walked?

The road was horrific, car drivers are mostly arseholes, the rain pounded down and ran over my face. I watched evey inch of visble Way to try and spot Phil, but by the time I reached the point where it crosses the road it was obvious he was well ahead. I’d have to push on and try and catch him in Glen Falloch.
I trundled down the A82 in the pissing wet, shutting my eyes at truck passed and trying to be both as visible and unobtrusive as possible in the grey light. I hated it.
I could see alot of the Way, but not Phil. He must be really moving. The bus passed me near the bottom and then I cut off into Beinn Glas farm to rejoin the Way. I waited, sent a Tweet, had a snack and thought about what was next. I slung the bike on my shoulder and headed into the trees as the rain fell through the vents in my helmet, gathered in the pad over my forehead and them ran down my face everytime I looked up and compressed the pad. Each time the little flood got warmer as I toiled with the ground underfoot and the weight of the bike. I felt very much on my own.

The top half of Loch Lomond is horrific for a bike. It’s unrideable most of the time, or rideable in such short stages that’s it’s more annoying to clip in than just keep pushing or carrying the bike.
It’s also dangerous in places, it’s wild and unmaintained which is part of its beauty, but the obstacles you have to tackle are frankly ludicrous, it’s like they’ve been designed to make you cry. I fell several times, trying to balance the bike, trying to stay upright on metal cleats instead of rubber soles. My shins are a mess. I will never do this again. Probably.
One smile I found was when I was greeted by “PeeTeeCee I presume?”. It was scotpat who comments here out for a walk down the loch. It was a magic wee moment.
I asked him if he’s seen Phil, but like the handful of walkers I’d passed, Phil was unseen. He must be so far ahead by now. I couldn’t go any faster, it was just so difficult. But, maybe I was in front? Surely not.

I passed my campsite by the loch from last time, and I had wee flutter of emotion. I’ll walk this one day without any pressure and really enjoy it.
I met a bunch of friendly folks at Rob Roy’s Cave and stopped to chat. Another of my downfalls, I like folks and hearing what they’ve been up to. As I scrambled up the rocks to the next section of the track they started shouting “Your mate’s behind you”. I thought Yeah.. Yeah… and carried on.
It turns out he actually was there, we met up shortly after and actually rodeinto the Inversnaid Hotel carpark together. I’d passed him somewhere at the bottom of Glen Falloch, he’d met the bus as well. So taking the road was the right idea, I’d never have caught him otherwise. Grumpy sod.
Inversnaid has a reputation of being rubbish, but when I walked in I was ushered through to the bar where I had sammidges and coffee, two coffees in fact. It was fine in there, and full of elderly Americans who’d come over the loch in a boat from Tarbet. Bless ’em all.
I downed a can of Irn Bru outside before we set off again into weather was drying up under a sky that was getting brighter all the time.
Now, I joke about Irn Bru a lot, but whatever its nutritional merits, Irn Bru kept me on the bike from here to, well, the bottom of this page.

There was still some obstacles, but the trail was ever more rideable and now back as a team we kept each other moving and I felt happier, but at the same time something of a sense of urgency had returned.
We had a break where I finally got my waterproofs off and had another wee snack. After that the ground flashed past under us. So much time pushing out of the saddle dulls your handling (it also makes you cautious to the point where i was think that a fallen leaf in the middle of the track looked rather aggressive and I’d I’d better dismount to safely avoid it) , so when you’re really moving again, it’s easy to get it wrong. I had a couple of moments, but stayed upright. It was the bike that saved it every time, it was never me.
We reached the bus parked at Rowardennan for a quick Irn Bru stop and then it was onwards. It had taken us five hours to clear the loch, five bloody hours of which it felt like ten minutes were spent in the saddle.
We all had jobs the next day, lives and beds to get back to. We would take the road to Balmaha and then see what happened.
What happened was, that as we left I spotted Ange on the beach with her Nephew, more friendly faces to lighten the mood for a little while.
But the boys were gone and I had to leave and chase them. Tarmac and fat knobbly tyres again, my legs got pumped, my lungs expanded to maximum. I caught Phil and we made good time on the ups and downs to Balmaha where we had more Irn Bru, fixed our lights and had to make a choice. Conic Hill or the road?
Conic hill has the single sharp ascent, the road has several longer ones, but we could ride those. Milngavie at 2200 or 2100 was what it came down to.

We rode as hard as we could on the tarmac to Drymen, yet another terrifying experience courtesy of clueless bastards in cars. I did have the one joyful moment of “making” a car and caravan overtake me as I matched the speed limit and he fishtailed his caravan around the corner in front of me no doubt to the sounds of a stern telling off from his wife in the passenger seat.

Out of Drymen you cross this ridiculous stretch where I got lost last time. Some posts randomly scattered around a field. Even in daylight it was task. But from here it was quiet tarmac and we made good time as the sun set. We knew we were close and rather than hold anything in reserve we just pedalled, and we flew from here to the Beech Tree Inn near Dumgoyne. The frequency of the gates is annoying, but it was fun again. We were bantering and just riding like it was any other day.
Some Irn Bru and jerky at the Beech Tree car park and we were away onto the last trial, the climb at Carbeth.

Darkness was upon us, but it wasn’t that cold. We rode out of the Blane Valley which is full both of family and childhood memories for me, and into the hills for the last time. It’s not the climb I remember, and we rode most of it. One wee steep loose bit especially I just couldn’t face, and it’s the last bit of wild trail as well. After you reach the new sloppily built and totally inappropriate looking gate it’s all man made, and not for distance covering or agriculture, but for leisure. A subtle difference perhaps, but you can sense it.

Doesn’t mean it’s not fun though and we rode as hard as we could from here. Past the loch, through Mugdock Country park and across the Moors. The one mishap was when I thought I’d dropped a bottle, an event which turned out to be entirely imaginary.
We paused above Milngavie. We were home, near enough anyway.

Phil spun up to the pillar as I found the 3″ high kerb on the road below an insurmountable obstacle. Hey, I was tired and emotional.
John took a photie and it was all over.

I felt surprisingly good. No need to lie down or call a medic at all, I was just happy that from all the bollocks and disappointment we’d managed to pull out a fun bike ride.
Phil was a great team mate. Physically we weren’t too far apart, so there wasn’t frustrated toe-tapping waiting for one of us to catch up. In sometimes trying times we went home friends at the end. Bless you my boy.

For an ordinary bloke like me, doing things like this are a big deal.
I got a text from a friend at the finish congratulating us, and I know that he could have gone up and back in the time it had taken us to get south without him breaking into a sweat, but he knew exactly how we’d feel having done it.
We had so many folk wishing us well during and after, it’s hard to know what to say. I really do appreciate every single thought, I love you all.

I know that everything I do is in the bracket of “mild adventuring”, but why should only the sexiest, fastest, highest, farthest, be the ones that people get to see?
The ‘net has given us the ability to see each other do things that to each of us are an achievement. Be it your walk by headtorch, your first high camp, your first Munro, walking the Cape Wrath Trail in winter or completing the TGOC.
Good on you, shout as loud as you can. Every attempt by one of us ordinary Joe’s to go a little bit farther, successful or not, is a beacon of light shining across a dark sea of naysayers.

WHW*Falldoon Day One

There were five in the bus when it left base, and there should have been seven. It was going to make a few differences to peripheral stuff, but not to the actual task of covering the miles from Fort William to Glasgow. Those miles were the same length as they were last time, I was a year older, no fitter and with a head full of mixed emotions.

We booked into the hotel. Luckily the bike bag disguised the bike just enough to fool the receptionist with the “Bicycles not allowed in hotel” sign behind them. We had an extra room now, so only Craig and Iain had to share. They’ve know each other since the were still on their own planet, so that was fine.
Dinner was relaxed, awright from an eating perspective, and the banter was good. We all turned in quite early and I watched some telly, a repeat of the IT Crowd and then that BBC2 arts show had that bloke that dresses like Little Bo Peep as a guest. He managed to be the most articulate and least pretentious one on it. Good lad.
I went to bed with my iPod for a bit and them spent the rest of the night trying to work out what the machinery humming away outside was. When my alarm went off at 0730 I still hadn’t found out, so I thought I’d get up, get dressed and go outside into the cold and put the bike together.

Below are John (driver of the bus, blessed is he), Phil, Iain, Craig and then me.

Bike assembled, it went in the bus and we all headed to Morrisons for breakfast. Rolls on bacon and multiple coffees were just perfect.
The runners had left at 0700 in the freezing cold and fog. We couldn’t figure out where they’d be, no point of reference. I know about walking it, but even on the bike I had no idea of what pace to expect or aim for. It really was all “wait and see”.
My phone rang.
“Hi, the heating won’t go off in the church”
“I’m in Ft Bill, phone the electrician, it’ll be that frost stat again…”
Time to go.

We kitted up in the carpark next to the now repaired sign. “Congratulations, you’ve walked the West Highland Way. Welcome to Fort William, please make your way to the train station and go back to where you came from”. Or something…
It was cold. I had my hands curled into fists to keep my fingers mobile and it’s not often I ride in a powerstretch top. But as we climbed the side of Glen Nevis the sun was warm and bright. We stopped, layers were removed, smiles and sunglasses donned and pedals pushed onwards once more.

The climb is gradual, but long. The speed wasn’t great, but it wasn’t overly tiring either. I had to stop to move the camera tripod which was digging into my back, and then a little later I stopped again as much in surprise as at the sudden loss of forward motion due to the the gravelly surface. Where there had been a little winding trail through the trees there was a huge big tarmac switchback. It’s bloody awful, ruins that bit of the Way and they should be ashamed of themselves.
The Way drops back into the forest on twisty and fast singletrack, with a few obstacles that I just had to dab to get past. We were both very aware of not taking any chances with coming off so soon, as well as not blowing our legs on any long climbs right away. That would prove to be a wise policy.
In a combination of gay whooping abandon and extreme caution we rode through the forest with grins a mile wide. Stopping for a drink with the Ben peeking through a gap in the trees (below).
There was some pushing, some carrying, but plenty riding it’s a great wee section.

There’s a change in atmosphere as you clear the forest, and of terrain too. The Ben still looms, but the track is solid hardpack, studded with angular rocks. It’s fast, but you have to concentrate. It’s just fantastic.
We’d been advised to ride narrow tyres, 2.1″ or less with a minimal tread for a low rolling resistance. I had 2.35″ Maxxis Igniters and Phil had 2.35″ Schwalbe Nobby Nics on. Fat mountain tyres have more grip, steering security and neither of us had a puncture all weekend. Aye, I’ll take the hit on speed and extra pedaling effort.

The Way on a bike is stop-start, fences, stiles, cafes, all stop you dead. Also, none of these boundaries has any concession to a user being anything other than a tall, able bodied individual. If you’ve got any physical issues, never mind having a bike, the Way will get you at some point.

The Way shadows the Mamores all the way to Kinlochleven. It’s a wonderful, quiet place, quite beautiful. The riding is uninterrupted and fast. The trail is rough, but built with one eye on the land, so it feels natural. The sun was shining, it was warm and where the hell were the runners?
We passed the little bus shelter with the interpretation board inside, I wonder who got the waterproof pants that were hanging in there? There’s been a lot of tree felling, it felt a little different to last time. But also it felt smaller. Being on a bike magnifies and diminishes the Way in equal measure. On foot it’s more constant, on wheels it’s one extreme to the other.

We stopped for a proper rest with Stob ban ahead. We sat in the sun, had some food, a drink, talked to the folks walking north. Everyone seemed in good spirits with such a glorious day, but there’s always a few stoney faced bastards out there. Our job is to give them motivation.

We met John at the end of the Glen. He’d parked at Mamore Lodge and biked in to meet us, and take a photie.
I was having the first little signs of tired legs, and was thinking of what was on the menu at the Ice Factor, not too far away at all.
But first there’s the ascent. I’m sure there’s been some heavy erosion here since last year, the track is rutted, bouldery and really difficult. I was all over the place, and Phil in front was faring no better. I was dabbing, I was off, I was bunny hopping and losing one wheel or the other. After a dead-stop feet-out of the pedals incident Phil got clear and I lost sight of him. I pushed like crazy to catch him again, sliding and eroding what confidence i have in my own minimal bike handling abilities. I was out onto the road and ther was no sign of him through the drops of sweat pouring out of the padded brow of my helmet.

The bus was at the Ice Factor, John was there, but no Phil. I immediately knew what had happened, there’s a junction in the woods, which from the north looks like you should curve right when the correct track actually rises a bit too the left (there’s a sign as well, but we’ll gloss over that). Phil was away on a day trip to the countryside all on his own.
We saw him coming over the bridge soon enough and when he got there, it was time for lunch.
As I got started on my spicy tomato soup, it transpired that we’d caught up on the runners by 30 minutes. Was that good, bad? I had no idea, but I liked the idea of it. I finished my coffee and we checked over our gear and the bikes, everything was fine.

We’d talked about the next section several times in the run up to the weekend. I felt that I just wasn’t a strong enough biker to attempt the climb out of Kinlochleven. It’s long, unrelenting and a misery if you’re not in good form and carrying no weight. I knew that I’d blow my legs and my weekend would probably end right there.
As we rolled towards the rickety wooden bridge at the bottom of the water pipes, we dismounted as one and pushed. And pushed. And pushed.
There were some brief moments in the saddle, but they were short glimpses of hope and no more. Loose gravel under cleated bike shoes under a hot sun. Yes please.
It was nothing short of blessed relief when we reached the cottage at the start of the Devils Staircase path, well, until we remembered that the next few km were not overly rideable either.

We pushed, carried and rode this impossibly long stretch until it turns south towards its high point (below).
It was glorious, the mountains, the sky, the rideable trail ahead, the two girls with hangovers.
It was good to be spinning again, even though some of the storm drains here caused me some difficulties (I like to have my wheels on the ground where I can steer them, the air is a little indistinct for me).
There’s sharp pull up and the familiar triangle of the Buachaille pops up. It was a dark silhouette now, it was afternoon. Were we slowing down?

It was all bikes at the top of the Devils Staircase. We had a tourer from “Europe” and some young lads doing the same as us but in the other direction. It was getting cooler as well, so we had a quick bite of Babybel and headed down.

The Devils Staircase is as rubbish on a bike as you’ve heard. It’s rideable, but it’s also very loose with big storm drains and a high chance of going on your face or breaking something on the bike.
We slid, pedalled, skipped, dabbed and cursed our way to the bottom. 
The sudden shock of traffic noise was very unwelcome. Bastards with their noisy engines.
We were at the bus parked at Kingshouse in no time. We’d lost that 30 minutes we’d gained and the boys were long gone. We fixed lights on the bikes, had a wee snack and a drink and I fielded a call from the nights accommodation. It was 1730 and I answered his question with “We’ll be there in four or five hours…”

I’d last been on Telford’s road when I was pulling the Wheelie from Radical Design earlier in the year. It feels familiar, and I enjoyed it. But our pace was slow and I hopped off to walk for a bit, it felt good to stretch my legs.
The evening colours were glorious, the view back to Glen Coe worthy of it’s reputation as “nice place to visit”.

We reached the high spot on the shoulder of the hill and paused. Stags roared, as they did all the way home, the air was sharp and light was getting low. We rolled over the crest and down hill, faster and faster in the narrow strips worn by estate vehicles. My already cold-stiffened cheeks were pressured further by a grin of joy and relief as we effortlessly coasted down to Ba Bridge. It was a release, an unburdening, it was just great fun.

I paused at the bridge to take the blurry shot below and them had to spin like a maddie to catch Phil up. When I did we had a proper pitstop. Food, drink, pee, align bike lights.
From here it was a blur of starkly lit fringes of scenery and cobbles as we tore down to Inveroran. I had no glasses on now and my eyes were half shut and streaming tears straight back into my ears. I couldn’t have stopped for anything, I didn’t want to anyway. All the pushing and snail-paced granny-ring spinning was gone, the support band had packed up and gone to the hotel and I sat happy in my seat watching the show.

There’s always a gate through, so rather than cruise out onto the road we had a dead stop and dismount.
We were on the move again soon enough and Phil immediately had his eye on some cans of Guiness left on a car roof by an absent minded camper. But of greater concern was the trail ahead. The trail had been closed to bikes at some point recently due to erosion (turns out not any more) so we elected to follow the road to Bridge of Orchy. Dicing with cars driven at speed while trying to spin your wheels through treacle isn’t my idea of an ideal short cut, but by the time we met John and the bus at Bridge of Orchy the news was that the runners had just left, 20 minutes at most.
It was now freezing cold, so it was a quick stop and we pushed the bikes up to the train station where we jumped back on and pushed into the darkness, now watching for our lights picking up some reflective detailing bobbing away in front.

I think that made us push on, we didn’t rest until we hit another gate at Auch, Beinn Dorain completely invisible above us. The long rise from Auch gave us what we were looking for, a jumble of little lights moving in the same direction.
“Two fat blokes on mountain bikes coming through!”
Two headtorches turned around to greet us. We hopped off an walked on with the boys.
The cobbles had been a bugger, the poles had been vital, when is dinner?

We pedalled away after a while, the novelty of pushing having long since worn off. We immediately hit that stupid diversion that goes uphill under the railway tracks before dropping to the old, and fast tarmac road.
You cross over the tracks again and it’s a fast winding descent into the lights of Tyndrum. It chilled me to the bone as well, It really is winter out there now.
My teeth were chattering when I went through the door of the Real Food Cafe, and waiting for us there with John were Elaina, Steve and Sandy. It was so nice to see friendly faces, and the present of a six-pack or Irn Bru was both wonderful and as it turned out later, vital.
I was in and out of the door a couple of times sorting the bike, and when I finally sat down I felt faint. I wondered about what would be the best place to fall, what direction would lead to the least serious head injury?
I felt better as I ate and drank, chatted to my pals, and by the time the runners came through the door I felt pretty normal again.
I’m not really that fit probably, I’m certainly not getting any younger. Going into a room that was too hot maybe… ?

I really enjoyed our hour there. It was upbeat, the folks, the food, all good.
It was after we left that things started to take a turn. A turn for exactly what is hard to define in just one word.

WHW*Falldoon

We’re nearly away, I’m watching for the minibus oot the windae.
There’s been a last minute change, the road bikers contracted a bad case of scurvy at suspiciously short notice, so there’s just the four of us now.

There’s a couple of ways to keep track of our progress. I’ve got a SPoT map running courtesy of Adventure Trading Post, that’s right here and in miniature too, just a wee bit to our right there.
Phil’s got his own stuff running from his blog too.

I’ll be sending regular Twitter updates to here, and Craig will send updates on the runner’s progress here.

It’s came around awfully quick I’ll tell you. I don’t feel ready, but I’m with my chinas, the sun is out for the moment and I suppose we’ll see what happens.
Thanks for all the messages of encouragement and abuse. I love you all.
Thanks also to the following companies who have given us some amazing equipment support to take the rough look off us, Julbo, Haglöfs, Montane, Mountain King, PHD and Smartwool.
There will be an avalanche of reviews after this from all of us, and I’m taking other test kit as well.

Ah well, let’s get on with it.

Repeat to fade

Had a good circuit of the Kilpatrick’s trails last night, the two mtbs versus the two runners.
We cranked up the tarmac from base and onto the ascent, but they other two buggers caught us as we lost traction (and lung capacity) on the steep gravel near the top and had to push. It’s quite disconcerting being chased and passed by two bobbing headtorches atop skinny legs finished in shiny black.
After last weeks diversion by Craig, we met up at Loch Humphrey to check routes (although we did have radios for each pair, now there’s fancy from Phil) and the footpads set off. We followed shortly after, making little progress through the treacletastic new trail section. There’s an amazing amount of different surfaces in quick succession on the top, it really does keep you on you toes.
It was getting cooler and a heavy shower started out of nowhere, we pushed on and found the guys in the trees hurridly donning wind shirts. On the undulating tracks we stayed ahead now. Phil left a lightstick to mark an awkward trail junction (which they picked up of course) and we all met at the stile at the forest edge for a word or two of “encouragement” before we launched into the downhill run.
The ground was wet, it was dark (it was around 2200hrs) and it was cold, but the trail was fast. By the time I got the fence at the bottom I was picking grit and twigs out of the widest grin I’d had this week so far.
We waited for the footpads and they were doing well, they seemed to be hitting a joint rhythm a lot of the time we saw them. It bodes well.
We flew past them on the hill down to the A82 and were waiting at the garage deciding whether or not to get our cuppas while we waited, when Craig sprinted in ahead of Ian (in the orange windshirt below) for a well timed coffee/cake rendezvous.

Where are we at? Phil and I thought the ascent was punishing, but the times was quicker tonight. In fact, I think we’ve cut an hour off of this route since we started timing it.
Craig and Ian seemed happy with performance and times, and we all noticed that out recovery times were good. No wheezing and sitting down.
But, they’ll beat us on the climbs every time, we’re not going to attempt to tackle every gradient we come across, we can’t afford to burst ourselves. And a walking man is faster than a man pushing a bike. On the flat and the downhill the machinery and gravity are our saviours. But I’ll tell you, it’s going to be bloody close.

My legs aren’t unnaturally pale or bandaged below, I’m wearing knee-warmers. Smartwool are supporting Phil and I with some amazing kit from their 2010 range, and I was testing their shorts, leg warmers and NTS zip-neck (and beanie there as well) for the first time there. I’ll go through all the kit we’ve been sent from various folks next week, a lot of it’s going to become regular kit after the bike goes in a skip in a couple of weeks anyway. Multifuctional and  lightweight, that’s what we like.

Aye, another ten days of all this bollocks and it’s back to normal.

Aw man, not more bikes?

Phil and I went for a training ride in the KiIpatricks tonight. I say training, but it’s really just a jolly. We say training just so we actually go rather than procrastinate. It’s midweek joy as well, banter, hills and a lovely evening to ride through to boot. It’s getting cooler up there, aye, and getting dark earlier all the time.

The climbing went well, I had a couple gears left to fall back on if my legs couldn’t take it. In fact I even found myself speeding up on a couple of occasions. Previously unheard of, that kinda stuff. I suppose it’s mostly the new bike, but I do think there’s a bit of me fighting in there as well.
We didn’t really hang about much, it was getting dark and with the downhill run to Overtoun at the end we had to push as we didn’t fancy our chances on that bit of the trail with e+lites strapped to our helmets.
When we got there it was fast and total blast. It’s the banana split after the steak and chips.

We had enough light though, and darkness only really fell when we got down to Milton. The BP garage on the A82 was the first port of call for coffees. The lassie at the till shouted over to her pal at the food counter “That’s a large latte and a large black coffee for the boy with the mud on his face…” .
We had a blether outside with the cuppas. It had been great fun, grins all the way. We’d made good time too, very good in fact. Phil’s racing the Wan Day in the Pentlands at the weekend and he’s looking good for it.
It’s funny, I didn’t expect the WHW thing to take over so much. I’m usually pretty half arsed with my outdoors stuff (no, really), but with six of us going, kit and media shit to deal with as well as the logistics, it’s become #1 by stealth I think, perhaps even by osmosis?
I need to get in a tent to stop me becoming obsessed though. That can happen you know.
Four weeks to go.