Auntie Clockwise

We left early for Pitlochry, but even as we arrived mid-morning after the wonders of a drive through woodland Perthshire, the place was already jumping.
It’s the Etape Caledonia cycling event this weekend and the pavements, carparks, cafes and shops are just full of folk, half of them in padded lycra as well. The sun was shining and it was a joy to see a wee Scottish town alive like that. I know there’s naysayers because of the traffic disruption on race day, but in uncertain times there’s money being spent that wouldn’t be othewise. Folk have such as narrow view at times.

There was a bunch of trade stands there, outdoor, bike, multisport etc, so I caught up with some folk, met some folk, got some gossip and news and came back with some bits and pieces.
Holly got a bike helmet in Escape Route, it’s a wee cracker and it’ll do her for a good wee while. She was dead proud of it too.
Lunch in town was magic, the girls had a wander while I blethered some more and before we knew it, it was after 4, and it was time to hit the road.

We followed the race route towards Loch Tummel and a quick cuppa at the Queen’s View. Schiehallion looked dark and brooding, back-lit as it was by the early evening sun while we wound south to Glen Lyon.
The Glen was quiet and beautiful as always. It feels like a secret, trapped between the A82 and the A9, with no summits that will ever grace the cover of a guide book, but with walking to delight the soul and stir the heart for those who can turn their eyes from the celebrity peaks.

The sad site of the long neglected and now closed Ben Lawers visitor centre sparked a discussion. A missed opportunity, misplaced, mistimed? Whatever, it should be open, interesting and selling cuppas and cake.
Holly loved the Falls of Dochart in Killin, she was sure she could see sharks hiding in the little holes in the rock, I couldn’t disagree, she’s three feet closer to them that I am, with better eyesight. We hurried back to the motor just in case.

I checked out my campsite choice for Monday night and then we took a diversion down Loch Long.
Another weekend with the girls, another trip through the mountains.
I love this stuff.

They say jump

He worked with the numbers all day. Even changing them to something random just to see if it looked better or worse.
It didn’t help though. Ideally some sort of natural mind-reading ability in humans would be the answer, but then an advantage born of experience would be worth nothing.
A trip to the kitchen put him too close to the ringing phone to ignore it, although six rings did put it within a baw-hair of the answering machine getting it. The call was a diversion though.

“Yelldotcom here, I see you haven’t renewed your advert yet”
“Aye, and I’m no gonnae”
“You know you’ve had fifty calls from your ad?”
“Indeed, forty seven from tool suppliers, mobile phone sellers, industrial laundry services, fuel card providers and three from friends to ask if I’d changed my phone number because you’d changed the number on the add to the tracking one after I expressly told you not to?”
“Ah, I see Sir, now we do offer…”
“I want my money back or a date for a square go after school with the Yell MD”
“Er… ”

He went back to his numbers with a cuppa and a KitKat, a two-fingered one at that. He saw that as a victory of sorts, in times previous it would have been a four-finger with some Nutella spread on it.
Sod this he thought with his nose at the screen, this is how much it costs, if I go less I’m paying for the privilege of doing the work. I’d be as well sitting at home scratching my arse and selling shit on ebay that I bought in TK Maxx.
Attach File, Send, Relief. It was out of his hands.

Not want a Zygon in my pocket

I think it’s good thing when you know yourself well, forewarned is forearmed. I’m very aware of my weaknesses, and all my character flaws have that yellow and black industrial warning tape around the edges so that if I’m going to reverse into them I’ve got a half a chance of stopping in time.
So when I decided to stop packing my rucksack and actually take the day to sit back and look at my toes wiggling in front of the telly, I knew there was a good chance of me slipping into some kind of obsessive and time consuming behaviour.
Aye, spent the entire day with the curtains shut playing the remake of the first Silent Hill game on my rather dusty PS2.
The first thing I knew of the real world was when the girls came back in the early evening and I was still in my shorts with a selection of empty mugs within easy reach of my bean bag. “No, I can’t have my dinner until I’ve reached a decent save-point…”.
I wonder how many steps away any of as are from being a crazy, shouting at the telly, yellow net curtains, bodily functions in a poly bag, overcoat that smells of milk, wearing tartan slippers to the shop to buy dog food when you don’t have a dog, loner.
Hopefully more than one or two anyway.

Note to self: Sew that kick patch.

I knew I was going, I just didn’t know when. I had booked in meetings and site visits on Monday and Tuesday and then I looked at the weather. Wednesday morning was looking good. Bugger, that meant an alpine start, miles of driving and less fun that it should be.
Phil knew the score and as he stepped off the return flight from Iceland he was texting to see if I’d been.
“Naw”
“We should go up and camp on Tuesday night”
“That’s a possible, it’ll be later on though…”
We had a plan. Of sorts.

I got back to base late in the afternoon and started packing carefully, everything laid out on the living room floor. It looked like it was going to be properly cold and as much as I was in a hurry, I didn’t want to leave anything behind. I’ve got previous of that to be taken into account.
Phil appeared before I was ready of course, then there was some faffing around as I had to reunite Joycee with her car keys at my folks house, during which Holly said “Daddy, back from the mountains” and started to pull my jumper off. Ach.
Then we were on the road. The A82 in fact.

It was clear and it was cold. We kept watching for clouds, but it was all stars and optimism. We had to drive through Tyndrum, there were no lights on and no dinner there for us. Ft Bill also had the shutters down, Morrisons was shut, McDonalds was shut, I’m not on speaking terms with the chippy and the only other option was the Morrisons garage where we got sammidges, snacks and some gay badinage with the wummin in there who was from Cumbernauld it turns out. The lesson is, that after 2100hrs Scotland is shut on a Tuesday.
Spean Bridge came and went, the Fersit sign was next and then we were driving through wind-blown snow on the road. Fresh and unexpected. It was late, were convinced that there was now a cloud overhead, and other doubts started creeping in about night navigation in cloud, will the car park be locked, it’s after ten and we haven’t had any dinner.

The car park was empty, and a skating rink. After a half-arsed salchow we reversed into a snow bank and parked up. Lights on, cold sammidges and Lucozade for dinner.
A wee van pulled in and the sounds were those of racks being assembled for climbing in the morning. That affected our plans, if they were camping at the cliffs we wouldn’t, not totally an anti-social thing, but courtesy, the environment and flexibility in our route made it a good choice. We found out next day that they’d slept in the van, but it was academic anyway. After walking until 2350 we knew we hand to stop, and we were neither on the ridge or at the lochan.
The trail had been iced, but walkable and the mostly clear sky had seen us walking sans headtorches. Very pleasant indeed, if increasingly cold.
We found a cracking spot a little way above the track, my wee tent needed just a little flattening with the Snowclaw to get a pitch, but Phil needed some digging for his winter fortress. After a small mechanical with a pole that needed some McGuyvering we were set and the stoves were soon on as we wandered our little plot.

A beautiful night it was, and nice to be camped below the tops for a change, it gives you a different persective on your surroundings. I’ve had an odd desire to camp on a beach for a while, so maybe this is good mental half-way point?
We both slipped into sleep quite quickly, it was very late, hot chocolate and high loft down will do you in every time.

Zzzzziiiipp! Mmmffff… crump crump crump. I opened my eyes, bloody hell, it’s light outside.
“Mornin'” I shouts, “What time is it?”
“Five past eight!” Says Phil as he pads about outside.
Ah bugger, all the advantages of our drive up last night had been lost if you look at it from a logistical perspective, but we were firing up stoves in the mountains in the sunshine and snow. That’s a Win.

We just hung out at camp for a couple of hours, taking photies, sipping a hot brew, shooting the breeze and waving to the chain of climbers clanking past on the track below. Any notion of having to do anything else all day was lost. I was quite happy where I was.

A front moved across us from the West, like the sunroof being pulled closed. The light was diffused by high wispy cloud and I took that as an omen. We packed to leave.
We rejoined the trail and headed towards the cliffs or Coire Ardair on hard frozen snow, high ridges all round and in air that grew ever cooler.

The bright blue ice on the cliffs began to shine out from the frozen rock faces. And soon tiny black figures on the blue ice became visible, then their movements, then their shouts.
The cliffs had a dozen folk clinging onto them, some in obviously more precarious positions that others. Coming towards us were a pair who’d called off after one had hurt his ankle. He limped after his mate who was carrying both packs and both sets of gear. That was going to be a long walk out for both of them.

Lochain a’ Choire (below left) was frozen and snow covered. It’s a beautiful spot. We could have camped here, but at what time, 1am, 2am? Another time.

Poles were changed for crampons and ice axes. The snow was very inconsistent though, being variously frozen rock-hard and fall-through-up-to-yer-baws deep. This made the climb to the “window” bealach  slow and tiring, but the scenery made every rest stop a joy. The huge cornice to our left looked so precarious, it was cracked, it was weary and it was right above us. The rocks here were iced on their faces as they turned into the Window, ice-falls draped the overhangs and every scree strewn gully was was filled with a blanket of fresh snow. The wind was picking up and the mood was changing as we climbed in to the wide channel and onto the broad back of the mountain.

It was a sea of snow with a ring of dark blue on the horizon. The sky was the same colour as the ground, and just as blank. Tinted lenses didn’t help, this was distinctly odd indeed.
We were both starving by this point but Creag Meagaidh’s plateau isn’t where you want to be stopping for lunch. As time was getting on, and the light was tiring at the same pace as ourselves, we waved to Mad Megs Cairn and turned down to Puist Coire Ardair for some shelter in which to enjoy our pub lunch (Lasagne and Chili Con Carne).
We dug in the snow a little and I got the stove on, cut some chunks of snow and added them to what little water I had left in the pot. the rising steam was like a lost brother coming home. Dinner was gone in a flash, we really did leave it too long and that makes you all upset. I had been sucking on a frozen protein bar, but I think that had been using so much effort that any benefit was cancelled out.
A climber topped-out near us as we were packing up. We were the only folk on the mountain that day who weren’t climbing. I waved to his grinning mate as he too clambered over the edge following a pink rope, and then I turnd after Phil.
I curled my thumbs into my fingers inside my mitts as they throbbed. It was very cold now, it hadn’t risen above -5ºC since we’ve arrived, but it was now properly cold.

The walk along the ridge towards Sròn á Ghoire was exposed to the wind and we had our faces covered and hoods up. The views back to the cliffs of Coire Ardair were wonderful though. By now the cliffs were starting to swirl with spindrift and the snow was moving in behind us. Down was the right direction.

The heathery slopes of Sròn á Ghoire were frozen and there was still much snow, and after that we found the track was iced right back to the motor. So we had the happy task of removing boots with crampons still attached and throwing them in the back.
It was dark with snow lightly falling. The glen where we’d camped was in cloud now and we’d got the timing right, just and no more.

The drive home? Ah, now there was an epic. We had intended to stop at the Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum but it was closed, and we had been a snails pace as the snow had gotten increasingly heavy and the road had become ever more ill-defined. Had I been alone, maybe there would have been some chancier driving with my new snow tyres, but the presence of a passenger does tend to reel in such tendencies these days.
It was much great relief we pulled into the BP garage a mile from home (my home anyway, and where Phil’s wheels were waiting) and I picked up an Indian Meal For Two for Me.

Just in the nick of time too, I was fading away.

Advertising space available at reasonable rates

It’s like visiting a friends house, or your granny. Sure, it might not be exciting this time, it might just be cuppas and some telly, but you know that you’ll be welcome, time will pass at whatever pace it likes and you’ll be immune to any outside influence or interference for the duration.
I watched the mix of snow flurries and sunshine, looked at my watch, filled the kettle to make up a flask. I was heading to Ben Lomond for my first visit of 2010.

The pure white summit ridge swings in and out of view all the way down the road from Drymen, and never seems any closer. It’s a big bloody magnet, and it’s pull on me has never lessened through the years.
I changed into my big thick socks and boots(?!), pulled on a windshirt and headed up the tourist track. It’s been a couple of years since I climbed Lomond this way, and as good as the Ptarmigan ascent is, the views this way are different and I was already enjoying myself as I cleared the woods and stepped into the breeze and cool sunshine.
I met my first descenders of the day, a couple who’d not made the summit, but were just out for the joy of it to see what lay up the track. As with most folk I meet on the hill, they were immediately concerned for my well-being as I was walking in the wrong direction late in the afternoon. I explained myself.

The next meeting was one which will stay with for quite a while. An auld fella was coming towards me, and my first thought was “What the hell is that on his nose?”. It was a bit of tissue to stem the blood.
“Have you taken and tumble?”
“Aye, my crampon came off…”
I surveyed him and my mind raced through the options as I questioned him. He was worried that he’d burst hid cheek, but although his face was swollen, he’d just skinned it. The only blood was from his nose and it looked to be stopping. He was having black eye today as well. He was lucid, sharp in fact, and was moving well.
“Come on, sit down and I’ll get you cleaned up”
“No, no”
“Well, let me walk you down then?”
“No, no.. I’m fine…”
He was edging past me at this point. I let him go. It went against all my instincts, and all my standards as an interventionist, but I watched him walk away.
You know what swung it? I reckon he was well into his 70’s, he had a mix of gear from recent to old-school, I reckon he’d been in the mountains all his life. He’d taken a tumble and he’d picked himself up, sorted himself out and was making his way home. If I’d taken over would it has broken his confidence in his lifetime of experience? I just thought of him staying home next time because of his memory of this “young” fell taking him off the hill.
I felt queasy, it was a very emotional moment.
I watched him descend into the dip where the little bridge is, emerge onto the track at the other side and motor along, as he faded from sight he was almost with the couple I’d met earlier.
I don’t know if I did the right thing, and I don’t know if I’d do the same if I had a second chance.

The next group I met were instructed to watch for the auld boy as they went down. Soothing my conscience or taking precautions? At that moment I wasn’t sure at all.
The next pair were a couple of retired boys, using their free time to good effect with-weekly hill trips. We shot the breeze, talked gear and hills and it lightened my mood.
I went a little farther, but with losing so much time the light was fading and it was time for dinner, and it was time for crampons.

Now it was snow and ice and wind. The moon came out, but it’s bright, clear light was cold and the insulated jacket I’d put on when I stopped had stayed on as the wind fired spindrift into my legs, my mitts stayed on as my finger tips nipped and my face stayed covered as every inhalation ran sharp fingernails over my fillings.
The cloud was patchy and fast moving, the snow was hard and my spikes cut into it very definitely with every step. My headtorch was still in my pocket, the moon cast my shadow long and well defined in front of me as I traversed the wonderful summit ridge.
The trig point was iced and exposed, it was so cold on the summit. A quick refuel and I descended to the little coll to watch the camera constantly get blown over into the snow. But I did get the chance to play about a little.

It’s funny how a long exposure makes the city lights look so bright, it turns Lomond into an urban peak. But standing there, they’re just tiny twinkles to the south and don’t feel intrusive at all.

I took forever to descend. And tired eyes and some patchy clouds brought out my headtorch.
Eventually all the cloud disappeared, the moon rose a little higher and the wind sunk a little lower. it was beautiful.
I pulled up a rock and finished my flask. I had a lot to think about. I often say how easy what I do is, how accessible it all is. But the mix of people I’d met and their varying fortunes had reminded me of how relative it all is. We can all make mistakes, experience isn’t a bulletproof shield, we can all find ourselves out of our depth, and we can all find a little victory from reaching a level that others would scorn at.
So I don’t think there is a right or wrong, or if there is it’s just applicable to you yourself. What’s maybe universal then is the need to have an understanding for the “other”?

The carpark was deserted and pitch black. My feet were glad to be back into trainers, and suddenly the most important thing was hot food. I hadn’t realised it was getting so late.
Is a McDonald’s a guilty pleasure? I was the last customer last night, they’d put the cat out, turned down the duvet and were about to lock the door and turn the lights off when I appeared at the counter. I half expected them to just say “Here, just take the assorted lukewarm foodstuff that’s left with out compliments and give us peace”.  But instead I got a Big Tasty with Bacon and onion rings frshly made and fries still with a bit of crispiness about them. Nice.

Lyon’s Coffee Bag Giveaway

After the recent camp cuppa post I was talking to Lyon’s and it turns out that it’s not all best china crockery, after dinner mint accompaniment and cravat wearing in their vision for their products. In fact , it turns their outdoor credentials are beyond reproach.

Pictured left with a box of coffee bags on Baffin Island is Ed Bacon, their Operations Director and part-time arctic guide.

Ed’s as convinced as me that the coffee bags are outdoor cuppa wondertronic and Lyon’s sent me some to give away to spread a bit of Original Blend joy.

I’m afraid that the coffee bags are now all gone, thanks for the comments and the emails folks.
Happy cuppas upon us all!

Kettle’s on

After some stove banter here, I thought I would do quick show-and-tell with my current favourite set-up.
All standard issue kit, nothing fancy, and nothing overtly lightweight either. I won’t compromise the efficiency and simplicity of the equipment that separates me from my hot cuppa.

The pot is an Optimus Terra Weekend, it’s 600ml with handy marked volume gradients, a spout for right-handers and rubber insulated long handles on the pot and lid.
The lid would double as a shallow pan, and although it makes it a larger volume package it’s handy for keeping your spoon in, sitting your mug on as an insulated coaster (if you upturn it), shovelling snow into the pot and also letting you over-fill the pot when melting snow and still getting the lid on. Using this pot and the smaller Solo leads me to think that flat lids are rubbish.
The long handles are genius too, I’ll never go back to finger burning,short plain-metal handles now.

The Windshield might be an Optimus, or it could be any one of half a dozen others, but if weighs nothing and is vital kit (long-time listeners might remember me having to cut a windshield up to make a spoon on one trip when I forgot to pack one…). Under the gas canisters is a square of windshield material for under the canister, every little helps, especially in winter.
The gas are my favourites, and the hardest to get, the wee GoSystems and Primus. Both of these fit in the pot with the stove and fire-steel, all at the same time.
The fire-steel is a LightMyFire one, it’s about three years old and still working well, although very worn now.

The stove is the Brunton Flex which I like a lot. Similar to the Optimus Crux, but I reckon better with the extra pot support. The burner that it shares with the Crux and Crux Lite is the best I’ve tried, perfect size for a range of pans and brilliant even flame.
You can get lighter, but it’s robust, small packing and an outstanding performer. I’ll be really pissed off if it fails me.

The mug is my much used and increasingly worn SnowPeak 450ml purple single-wall titanium wonder. I love this mug, I’ve got an insulated one that I really should be carrying at this time of year, but this is my pal, so it goes with me. It weighs nothing and I pack it full of drinks sachets and snacks, so it takes up no space.
The spoon is the Jetboil extending spoon which I was given ar KORS last year. It’s really bendy, but actually very tough. It goes down the side of the gas when it’s packed in the pot.
The extending mechanism looks like a dirt-trapping health hazard, but it pulls apart really easily for cleaning at camp.

The sachets are standard issue as well, Lyon’s coffee bags are wonderful. It tastes like real coffee, because it is I suppose? And because it’s not a tube of ready mix, it’s easy to get the strength just how you like it.
I like milk and sugar, so the wee Dairy Stix and sugar (from every cafe I visit…) are both a gift from the gods and a source of unwelcome packaging to dispose of. For that perfect cuppa, I’ll take the hit.
Cadbury’s (in my world the possessive apostrophe lives on) Hot Chocolate is just the best, and that’s what I have at bedtime in the tent, in my sleeping bag(s) with metal blaring in my ears.

Aye, nothing fancy there. Simple, functional and reliable though.
Missing are some teabags, the occasional cappuccino mix and a Buff that usually goes in the pot to stop rattling and rust sport on the pot from the gas canisters.

Fail with Chips, Fail with Curry Sauce, Fail with Cheese…

The Central Belt of Scotland is well known for its heart-attack inducing cuisine. The frying, the salt, the refined sugar, the horror…
Many are happy with this harem-scarem lifestyle of denial, I prefer an all things in moderation approach, but there seems to be a movement towards public support of the former view, and rarely have I seen such an aggressive stance taken on the subject as I saw on a Paisley burger van this very day.

Out of Excuses

Petesy, it’s the phone for you.. “Uh… ?”
“Church heating… pump… broken… noises… cold… funeral tomorrow… Aaahhh!… Aaahhh!… Help”
I croaked back something about my own plans and timescale and likelyhood and all the while I was trying to reverse out of it, I knew I was going to try and fix it. I wouldn’t see anyone stuck. I threw on my working gear as I down a cuppa on the hoof and I was out on the road. In the opposite direction to the mountains.

Sometimes experience is the best tool you can ever own. A gate valve is just that, the wheel you turn to open and close it lifts and lowers a gate inside the valve body. One of the valves on the church system turned out have either a stripped or damaged spindle and the gate was lying inside, blocking the flow of water and keeping the heating off. Impossible to spot without an X-Ray or an auld heid. Levers and a hammer got the gate jammed onto the spindle and retracted without having to drain the system, heating on, alright!
I looked at my watch, day ruined.

I headed to my folks to see Holly and have my lunch. The sun was bright, the air and sky were clear and cool. “I thought you were going to the mountains?” Said Maw, “Aye, that was the plan”.
“Daddy, mountains?” Chipped in Holly hopefully.
“I suppose, I could just go somewhere nearer…”
Hey, if you can’t get away, you can just play at home. I headed home, grabbed my gear and fired up the road to Arrochar and my favourite hill, Beinn Narnain. Unclimbed by me in 2009? That’s just not right.

It’s just up the road, but it was late, the sun was low. I thought about parking and where to do it. The houses, maybe next to the garage? It took the gamble and abandoned the motor in the carpark. The payment machine was broke and I was running out of daylight. I’d worry about it in the morning.
The quickest way up is the new track, and the shortcuts on it are fairly consolidating themselves. Some are waterways (well, ice floes right now) and some at just light paths, so it’s not the disaster it could have been. Which is good because I took the shortcuts this time. 

It was warm in the sunlight, I was wearing baselayer and shades as I joined the track to the Narnain boulders. I strode along and passed a couple of stoney faced folk in full alpine mode, the hills must have made them sad today.
The coire is showing increasing signs of developing a track, this route misses out the “wow” moment where you first see the summit rocks from Cruach nam Miseag, but it’s a wonderful, rough trek through steep, rocky, wild scenery. It’s alsa a great place to dodge rocks that detach themselves kamikaze style from the huge crags, so no camping please folks.

Emerging from the coire onto the coll brought me back into the disappearing light. I’d made it just in time, I was happy enough.
The snow all around was pink, the rock glowed orange, the sun was a weak pinhole of amber light sinking away far to the south. I started on the final climb as the Cobbler’s peaks grew sharper and darker to my left.

The snow cover was becoming more constant, and it was getting rock-hard as well. Before tackling the scrambly bit ahead I stopped. I layered up with microfleece, gloves and Buff, and for the first time this winter I strapped on crampons and set off with an ice axe in my hand.
I was grinning from ear to ear as my spikes dug into the hardpack with every footfall, the temperature dropped and the light from the moon grew stronger that the dying rays of the sun.

I didn’t want to camp in the “usual place”, just below the summit plateau, and a couple of places just below the Spearhead crag stuck out as possibles as I crunched over the lip into the snow-filled hollow. It’s a dramatic and atmospheric spot, but it looks like the rocks don’t fall from the crags and bounce quite as far as the best flat pitch. The pack was off and the down jacket was on. I flattened the area a little more with my Snowclaw and pulled out the tent, which went up very easy considering this was the first time I’d pitched it.

I admined my gear, which included donning my down pants, and got to the important bit: getting the stove on. I had hot Mountain House Lasagne, coffee and a donut. A meal of kings that is.
I slipped into my sleeping bag(s), warm, fed, and I drifted away in total silence, with moonlight lazily drifting though the flysheet, I was in a little cocoon.

I woke up a couple of hours later to find that the world was a very different place.
The inside of the tent was covered in ice, all my kit was white and all my water was frozen. I gingerly stuck a hand outside to find my watch, and just before the display went blank I saw -15°C. I have no idea if it was reading right or not, but the temperature killed my watch and it was really cold.
My breath wasn’t steaming in clouds, it snaked away from me like ribbons of flame, twisting and twirling onto the flysheet, very odd. I stuck on the stove and melted myself a hot chocolate. The steam condensed at the apex of the tent and froze there, I had icicles falling on me until I packed up to go home.
I was now awake, roasting hot inside all those layers of down and it was definitely time for a pee and wander about outside.
I stepped out into a wonderland.

The moon was full and bright, the sky was dark and clear, stars twinkling down at me as the moonbeams caught the snow and twinkled right back at them.
The summit crags loomed dark and still, to the south the lights of the Central Belt twinkled benignly around the lonely peak of Ben Lomond, to the north, the darkness was only punctuated by dimly glowing snow-capped peaks. I threw my hands out and laughed to myself, this is what it’s all about.

I skipped around, bursting with, I dunno, emotion? Enthusiasm?, Pure joy? I was all alone here, and it just wasn’t right, I had to share the moment. I got on the phone to Joycee just to let her hear my footsteps crunching in the snow. I was like a wee boy out to play, but I was a cowboy wi’ nae indians, a jap wi’ nae commandos, I was hiding but there was no one seeking.

I climbed into the crags, they seemed smaller in the dark, the ascent felt easier. This so-familiar ground had taken on a completely new life and I was exploring it for the first time.
I love the hills, I never tire of them and they bring me great joy, but something about tonight felt new, something I thought I’d never feel as much as this in the hills again. Was that a wee lump in my throat, or was that Buff a little bit too tight?
This was simply wonderful.

My watch came to life again in the warmth of my pocket, and it said that I’d been wandering around for two hours. I was cozy in my down gear, wrist to ankle, and I must have been having fun. It was getting late though, and it was time for a final cuppa and bed. A shooting star to the south west was nature’s parting shot. Bless you.
I filled my bottles with snow and melted it down with what water I had left, that was me ready for breakfast.
I stripped to my baselayers, stuck my iPod on and pulled the sleeping bag drawcords in around my head. The cold air and moonlight faded away and fell into a light sleep with dreams of bizarre behaviour to a soundtrack of my favourite music. Restful no, intriguing yes.

I woke at 0200 and had to pee again. There was no argument about it. The bottles were frozen, the Photon is too small for physical contortions, so it was down jacket on and ootside.
Good plan, it was all change again. A high thin layer of cloud had formed and the moon had become a glowing ball submerged in a pool of rainbow colours. The light was weaker and the atmosphere had changed, less friendly, more unpredictable feeling. There was a low wave of cloud climbing up the side of the Cobbler and towards me. It was slow, but steady. It would be here soon.
Behind me, the tent flapped a little as breeze whipped up from nowhere. I’d seen the forecast, I knew what was coming, you just always hope it might be a little later arriving than they say.

I woke at 0615 as the flysheet flapped manically over my head. the proper winds had arrived.
The tent was rock-solid though, so I found my iPod at the bottom of the sleeping bag and stuck it on the drown out the intrusion.
I also discovered that the end of my nose was completely numb. I’d been sleeping inside the bag to block out the light, but I must have been roasted in my sleep and stuck my face back out to get some air. A frostbitten nose in the Arrochar Alps? I’d never have lived it down.
It was getting lighter as well, so I gave in and decided to get the stove on and have a look outside. I showered my head with ice from the flysheet as I opened the door to the frozen murk that lay outside. Ach, cuppa.
I stood the stove up, arranged the windshield and looked for the pot.. Where’s the pot? There’s the lid… Ah!
After I’d melted the snow the night before, I’d stuck the pot in a little hollow in the porch, and it must have still been warm enough to melt itself six inches down into the snow. I had to dig it out with my ice axe. That was a first.

The crags were dark grey shapes lost in fog. All the bare rock from last night was encrusted with ice, the tent looked like stonewashed green denim.
The cold wind whipped the tent, the gear and any bare skin. It was time to go.

Packing was easy, and it was quick. The biggest worry when setting off is always swapping the down jacket for a shell for on-th-move protection without heat-induced unconsciousness, but I got away with it with no chills or unnecessary faffing.
My crampons were back on, and with ice axe in hand (initilally for pulling the frozen-in tent pegs out), it was time to see if my motor was still sitting unmolested in the same spot.

The snow was even harder now, the dirt and turf were frozen rock-hard too. I clambered through the jumble of rocks, relearning how to use my winter feet and finding them to be servicable with maybe just a wipe down with an oily rag at the service station before the next trip. If feels good to out in winter again.

I met a few folk on my way down, most cheery with time to chat as the weather started to clear, some a little bemused and also a couple of po-faced bastards whose bubble had obviously been burst by the gaily attired cheery sort saying hello to them while heading in a downhill direction at a very unusual time of day when real mountaineers such as themselves were taking on a very serious ascent. 

Dressing up to go out and play? Hell yeah.

Wheels of Steel

Aye, this week is like an episode of Quantum Leap. Or maybe Stargate Universe, but nobody’s watching that as it sends you into a coma, so that’s a rubbish reference point.
Some rather wacky test kit is appearing, Minim Down Pants and Boots from PHD and Trango boots from LaSportiva. Help ma Boab.

Went to see Gary Numan last night at the ABC with my mate Craig (the drummer one, not the angry looking bald one, although he is bald as well, as are we all), it was outstanding. He was touring his ’79 album “The Pleasure Principle” and played it with great care and maybe even affection for the material, apart from Cars which was played way too fast. Daft bugger.
Four keyboard players of stage creates a huge sound using those 70’s synth tones. Metal bands should be jealous of the heaviness.
It was nice to come out into clear skies and crisp air, the rain is gone for the time being. Still is, we have mist out there just now, the trees now over the river are just starting to poke through. After the gig we headed to the west end for cuppas and a snack, and it was like a fair. Christmas has started early, the alleys where the wine bars and restaurants are are full of revelers and fairylights, street vendors and buskers. There was even happy smiley faces in their best outfits, still just a little merry rather than wellied.
Maybe Quantum Leap isn’t far enough for me, maybe it’s more like Lost in Space? Whatever it’s nice to visit another planet now and again.

Now, my dilemma is the weather forecast and it’s effect on what happens to me over the next few days. There’s a window there, but whether I can get through it, or I’ll just get one arm and my head in and get stuck, only a man with a packed rucksack will be able talk about after the attempt.

Weekend

It was Holly’s second birthday on Saturday. She’s recovering from the same bug I eventually got (and Granny, Mum…), but she still loved her presents, cake and candles.
I can’t believe it’s been two years. It feels like two minutes, but we feel like we’ve always been a team of three.
There really is no greater joy in life than watching your little one learn and grow. As much as I sometimes would happily sell my soul for an undisturbed nights sleep, I am a lucky, lucky man.

We went for a little galavant today to show Holly the snow on the tops and have a wander and a picnic in the winter sunshine. Everyone else seemed to have the same idea, and the roads were mobbed. Good to see folk off the couch.
We came home to a subdued winter sunset across the Clyde. I miss that during the dull months in the middle of the year, the sun hits the horizon out of sight of the living room window.
Tired but happy.

I’ve got mixed emotions about tomorrow. Monday means I have to switch my phone on and deal with stuff and things as I’m fully mobile again.
But, last week some money came in and the cheques should be cleared (self-employed remember, no wages) so I’ll probably buy some ammo with that and shoot at the vultures circling above me while I eat a festive bake from Greggs at lunchtime. I won’t get them all, but enough to keep the group circling higher until they re-group later on.
Lets see what karma hits me with to redress the balance with that slight swing towards optimism.

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.

More Stickers?!

It’s not all been gear and bikes, I’ve been grafting all the hours available as well to try and catch up with work so I can go to Ft Bill next week with the reassurance of invoices submitted and warm pipes where once there were cold pipes.
It’s getting there thank Jimmy.

As I was making my way back to the boilerhouse from Greggs (they know me in the Dumbarton Greggs now, help ma’ boab) with my lunch today, yes Saturday, a bloke in a boilersuit approached me from the roadworks on the other side of the street “D’ye no remember me?”. With some prompting I did, he worked for me over the summer, ten years ago. We used to take on school leavers as temporary labour on maintenance contracts to give them work experience and of course to lend some much needed extra hands. It worked well for years, the Careers Office were delighted and the youngsters got something on their C.V. and a referee.
A combination of contract changes and increasingly difficulty in getting the right people meant that we haven’t done this for a few years now, and I always did wonder how a lot of the boys did after their time with us. Some showed a real interest in learning the tools, some wanted to know if they still got paid when they went off sick tomorrow (which would be their second day with us…), some you wished well on their last day and some stole your Stanley knife out of your toolbox.
However, the chance meeting today was good news, after moving through a few jobs over the years he’d started on his own and was building his own business up. Magic.

I had a wee revelation earlier on his week too. I’m sometimes very surprised by the people around me. You think you know yourself well, but then what initially seemed like a strange gesture or an odd gift, later turns out to be a stunning piece of insight. Never underestimate the powers of those close to you.