The GT24 – a bit of a tough one

Firstly – not all these photos are mine. Any of them featuring me riding, aren’t mine – obviously. Credit to Angus Hamilton (the start) and Tam for their shots.

I know Gary Tompsett from the Highland Trail and Cairngorms Loop, and he’s known for having mad ideas around biking routes. I’d first heard of the GT24 a couple of years ago, and back then it seemed like a monster of an achievement and way beyond my capabilities. The ride itself is, in the style of the Colorado Trail Race, run in alternate directions each year.

This year, we would be riding South to North. A 7am start at the riverside museum in Glasgow, then a cruise up the Kelvin walkway to Milngavie, ride the West Highland Way, the Great Glen Way, and then finish at the South Kessock slipway in Inverness. The aspirational time to complete this 180 mile and 6000m undertaking is 24hrs, but I’d be happy with just a finish.

Buoyed from my success at the Highland Trail, and feeling fit, I decided to make my intentions be known and enter the ride. My friend Tam got wind of this and put his name forward too, a blessing in disguise as it meant we could push each other on (metaphorically) as the end grew near.

Once again, the Jones came out. I’d ‘won’ a frame bag on eBay for an exorbitant price, thankfully less than I’d pay for a Revelate bag but still more than I’d have liked to. The bike:

A relatively straightforward setup, food and tools in the frame bag, Sol Escape Bivi and down jacket in the Wildcat saddle pack, Stem Cell for food, gas tank for gels and battery, and another Stem Cell on the truss fork for a water bottle. This was a new addition, and aside from wearing holes in the bottom of it I thought it worked well. I chickened out of going bagless so took an Osprey lumbar pack, a perfect size for a wind layer, lock, chamois cream and other miscellany.

Rolling around to the Riverside museum before 7, the familiar sight of faffing was encountered. A few reunions with riders from the HT550, and it was established that almost all those present had finished the HT550 – clearly a perfect qualifier for a ride of this type! I chatted to Anita and Elizabeth who I’d not seen since Oykel Bridge (Anita) and Kinlochewe (Elizabeth). Sadly Elizabeth wasn’t riding the full route as she hadn’t secured a train ticket, but then neither had Tam and I – our plan was to wing it and plead with the Invernesians to let us leave. It turns out that for a 4 space train, Scotrail will only book out two of them anyway, so the rest are first come first serve. Hindsight…

We started properly at 7:07, having missed the 7am start time.

The roll out to Milngavie was straightforward enough, a time to chat with everyone in a big group. This would split up over the course of the next day but I certainly ensured I kept with the group for now as I didn’t quite know the way to the Way!

Hitting the familiar sight of Milngavie and the WHW obelisk, I knew from here I could navigate blind. I know the Way well, having ridden the bottom half this year, and the top half many times. 

The group pressed on, fragmenting slightly as we hit the gate-a-thon into Drymen. Some choice words at the diversion through a field – an annoyance, but a mild one knowing what we had ahead of ourselves. At Conic Hill I could see us breaking apart, I had two visible ahead of me and a few behind too. Tam, the faster technical rider between us, quickly caught me on the downhill, the fast descent never wise on my rigid bike and I decided working wrists were preferable to a PB (which I got anyway!)

Note that this photo of my bike on Conic Hill came from a previous ride – the visibility was much worse this time around, but I figured it’s a nice shot of that descent anyway.

When I finish Conic Hill, I normally take advantage of the tourist prices at the shop in Balmaha and get some overpriced food or drink. Not today though, the objective was Inverness, so onwards we continued. The Loch Lomond singletrack diversions were packed with tourists, but they were mere blots in the Way of our objective, so I pressed on. I always like to stop at Inversnaid for a few minutes before the hike a bike, but again, not today. 

There are many who state they’ve ridden the West Highland Way, but when pressed admit to getting a ferry here and then another from Ardlui, missing this section. That isn’t the West Highland Way then, it’s just a ride. The hike a bike isn’t that bad, it’s just two hours of pushing and carrying, and you know you’ve reached the end. There are a couple of bastard sections, mainly where you need to edge on rock while supporting a bike, but they are few and far between. There’s a wee gap between two rocks that you need to shimmy the bike through, but again not bad (library picture here)

I’ve done the Hillary Step crux move that many times to find it a distraction too – carry bike up steps, push along bridge, carry down fewer steps on the other side.

Once you reach the grassy area by the side of Loch Lomond you’re finished. There was a post here that indicated this and made for perfect photos but sadly this is gone.

You can definitely be sure though once you reach Doune Byre bothy. 

From here it’s a short jaunt to Beinnglas Farm, now a campsite with a shop.

Disaster though, no sandwiches in the shop. Crisps, Coke and Fanta for me, and then the short but uphill climb to Crianlarich. Descending to Strathfillan Wigwams is always fun though, a lot of height lost in the best way possible (good trails). No stop here though, so we pressed on for Tyndrum. 

It is customary to start and finish the HT550 in the Real Food Cafe, but given I did not have 40 minutes to wait for a bacon roll (true story), the Green Welly got our custom. Sadly a group of about 25 arrived just before us, so we got sandwiches etc in the petrol station instead.

Leaving Tyndrum for Bridge of Orchy, I could feel the miles begin to make themselves known to my legs. This was only around 4:30pm though so we were running quite quickly. I’d previously done Milngavie to Tyndrum in 10:15, and this was 9:25 including the Clyde start. We’d need that hour later.

The West Highland Way features some lovely motivational images left for walkers, and Bridge of Orchy didn’t disappoint:

Pushing up the next section, I’d forgotten it was this much of a push, but the descent to Inveroran made up for it. Plenty of screamer descents on this route, the next one into Glencoe is another favourite. Brakes off, hold on and keep the speed up. Love it!

Kingshouse came and went, and then the 40 minute Devil’s Staircase arrived. An enjoyable push though, one where you need to put some thought in and just press on upwards. Approaching the top, a mirage (or an elaborate pisstake) appeared:

At the top itself, I discovered this to be a real thing:

Only Pepsi, but beggars can’t be choosers…

Descending into Kinlochleven is one of my favourite pieces of trail. Any trepidation about feeling tired just disappears, the trail gets your full focus and you just press on. The end of the trail, arriving on the fire road always appears too soon, and then you know you’ve got a brake burner of a descent to Kinlochleven.

By this time it was starting to get dark, and the chippy wasn’t open either. Poor show! An inspired idea from Tam to check the Co-op found it open and serving all manner of food, so we stocked up, and filled ourselves up outside. 

The push out of Kinlochleven is both better and worse than the Devil’s Staircase. It is shorter but somehow feels harder, perhaps the lack of a visible finish to it makes it appear to last forever. Luckily it was getting dark, and we had Jenny’s effusive positivity to keep us going. She’d mangled a brake disc so had to remove it, but still she kept going despite half her braking not existing anymore.

No pictures from here in the dark, so here’s one from a ride a few weeks after. Lovely scenery when you can see it.

Approaching Fort William, we made our way into the town centre, just under 18hrs after leaving the Clyde, and 16:54hrs out from Milngavie. I’d be extremely happy with 16:54 as a West Highland Way time, so to have another 70-odd miles to go was tough to take.

However, Fort William at closing time makes the London of 28 Days Later seem like a safe place to spend a lot of time. We paused for a selfie at the finish of the West Highland Way, then resolved to GTFO as quickly as possibly.

I’d first discovered the charms of the 24hr garage when finishing the HT550 about six weeks prior, and knowing it was only a short bit off the route we opted to make a beeline for it. Yet another chicken and bacon pre-packed sandwich for me, my third of the race, plus loads of other food and caffeine. It was past 1, going for 18hrs, still a long way to go, so some wake up was in order.

Eventually we lifted ourselves from our concrete seating and set off. The first part of the Great Glen Way is pretty dire, just miles of canal path, but at least it went quickly. We rode with Jenny, Fraser and Mark, until Tam opted to pause for a few minutes and I kept going. 

 By this time I too was tiring, so I stopped just after Laggan Locks for a snooze. I figured that with sunrise approaching I could power nap and reset my body clock with the rising light levels. Just as soon as I got off my bike, Tam appeared and had the same idea. Bikes by the edge of the trail, find a spot and snooze in our bike gear. It’s deliberately uncomfortable as you only want to be asleep long enough to not be knackered, and to wake up quickly after.

About 20 minutes later and it was time to move again, both of us feeling more refreshed, albeit still zombies. We pressed on to Fort Augustus, by this time in the morning light, and while it was still perhaps 6am there were a few early risers out.

After Fort Augustus, things get steep. The first rise I’ve done many times on the HTR, but not the high level stuff. It’s frankly brutal. It feels almost pointless in its ascent, and the descents are a waste of the amount of steep and desperate climbing. So much potential, but big drainage gullies and off-camber corners slowing you right down. With hindsight, the descent to Invermoriston was a screamer though.

Arriving at the shop, we were pleased to see it was open and selling stuff. I couldn’t face eating though, the solitary pork pie in my bag taking an age to consume. I don’t know if it was excessive gel consumption or simply feeling burst, but I’d had a tactical chunder at the top of the last hill and my appetite was gone. This is always a dangerous place to be, because an inability to eat means a bonk is probably on the way. A sweet coffee and some fruit juice helped, as did ridding myself of 24hrs of porridge bars in the public toilet. This photo is awful, but I think I look pretty wasted in it, hence its inclusion:

We started on the next push, knowing that we’d get more food in Drumnadrochit. 

Reaching the high point of the route, a wonderful wooden ring monument resembling a Stargate, I did what anyone in my situation would do, and had another sleep. This time I was sitting on a rock, head in my hands, but I managed enough to buy me a few more waking hours.

Drumnadrochit, Co-op, chicken and bacon sandwich, then we carried on. Another beast of a climb, a ride across the final plateau and then we knew the descent would start. I’d been relatively dry until this point, but passing Abriachan eco campsite I got absolutely soaked by the overgrown vegetation along the Way. The lack of care taken on what should be a premier long distance path was laughable and an embarrassment. We tried to get water from the cafe but no luck there either, it seemed to be a slightly surreal place with animals wandering around freely and a slightly odd owner. Oh well, only a few miles left…

We’d been hoping for a 30hr finish, but we soon realised this was out of our grasp, but we pressed on to Inverness. The city approached, some lovely single track and a good descent, and then we were back into civilisation. Still nowhere near the finish, some city riding and a lovely path along the river into Inverness. Passing the castle, a sprint to the quay for no reason other than the fact we had some energy left.

31:11 to cover 292km with 5900m of ascent, so we were both pretty chuffed with that. I’d say it was the toughest ride I’ve ever done, if only because it was planned as a single ride and not split in any way. With multi day riding you know to stop every night, but this was a case of just riding until we were finished.


Ride to the Sun (first double century in old money)

Back in 2015, I rode the inaugural Ride to the Sun with a mate. This ride is an overnight trip from Carlisle to Cramond in Edinburgh, the aim being to arrive for sunrise at around 3:45am. This was a great ride, the antithesis of sportive riding – something which has never appealed to me.

In 2016, I was unable to attend, so wanted to do it again in 2017. Unfortunately its popularity had exploded, so it was impossible to get bike spaces on the train. This left me with two options – Brompton on the train, or attempt the double. 

I’d always wanted to attempt a double century but never got around to it. Some pretty long days on the Highland Trail, including a 24hr stint to finish, convinced me that I could ride many hours, and given that I could knock out a century in around 7hrs I figured the double was achievable.

I started writing a trip report but realised it was actually really boring words about a road ride. 

In short, I finished, 220 miles all in, and met Rich and Tom at the end. I didn’t take any pictures, couldn’t stay long at the rave due to midges. Well-fed, didn’t feel tired, could ride further in future. The end.

Highland Trail 2017 attempt (and success)

I really loved it this year, everything seemed to come together perfectly. I originally wrote this as a post on Bearbones but I’ve fleshed it out a bit and added pictures as it’s easier on here.

Day 1: lost maybe an hour on the Ben Alder climb with a tyre hole that wouldn’t seal, stuck in an anchovy and made a mental note to bring a pump that’s easier to use at higher pressure. Bivi after fish and chips, on the Great Glen Way.

A shot over Loch Ericht 

Day 2: Passed Tim sleeping in a bus shelter in Invermoriston. He couldn’t sleep easily on the tiny bench due to the risk of falling off, so tied himself to it with his tent. Expert level ingenuity!

Pushing along Loch na Stac wasn’t that bad either, ridden earlier than usual due to a 5am start, something I’d continue all week. The lodge on the Loch looked as spooky as ever, but I didn’t venture across despite my curiosity.

Avoiding date night in Contin, I pressed on:

Dynamo not working, so a night at the Oykel Bridge to recharge batteries (actual batteries as I was feeling fit). Nothing much special to comment on here, other than seeing two WW2 warplanes flying down the Glen I was in at the time. Sadly too fast to get my camera out, but it definitely happened.

It was that same Glen where I slept in 2014, so it was nice to pass it mid afternoon and not around 9pm. It also made for some nicer shots:

Day 3: The Bealach Horn was just great, the climb was faster and the traverse through the bogs wasn’t as boggy as I remember. An early finish at Suileag Bothy, knowing that the Ledmore traverse in that weather could have been horrible.
Day 4: Met Anita on the Ledmore traverse, she’d missed the bothy turnoff so had erected her tarp instead – brave! Breakfast at the Oykel Bridge, Anita stayed back to recover, but she did press on later. En route to Ullapool I met a guy who had spent a night at a local bothy, and he didn’t mention any other riders, so the route ahead was clear. A stop at Tesco in Ullapool to resupply, and the weather started closing in on the Dundonnel climb (desperate as ever). Descending off Dundonnel it cleared up again into a lovely day, and then I began the Fisherfield ascent. The drop into Fisherfield was an ideal stop for a photo.

Shenavall was packed, so I decided to cross the Strath na Sealga that night to see what I could find. The crossing was easy, calf level, although the water provided temporary respite from the aching legs from four days of hard riding. 

I figured Carnmore was perhaps a step too far so I thought I should investigate Larachantivore. Knowing that there was an emergency shelter, I figured a night in a garden shed would be acceptable, but the porch of the lodge provided perfect shelter from the wind. I’d probably call it my favourite bivi spot, as it was open enough to be spectacular but sheltered enough to prevent any wind chill.

Day 5: Climbing out of Fisherfield, again not hating the push despite its toughness. By this point I was loving the whole route, proper type 1 fun. Stopping for a photo at the top, I couldn’t see any riders behind me, so I felt truly alone. A great feeling.

Descent to Carnmore was even better than I’d remembered, as I’d forgotten it had two parts! All of it very technical and loose, and some landslip that required lifting instead of riding. The ribbon on the right of this photo is the trail I’m about to follow:

Rounding the corner, the view to Carnmore revealed the second part:

Things were going well, but everything changed at the Postman’s Path. I wasn’t a fan at all, a tough traverse with lots of obstacles and pushing.

A quick resupply at the Kinlochewe Stores, looking for a USB battery pack. Sadly their cabinet of ‘The Things’ included a dusty camcorder tape and an old torch so it was never meant to be. Several hours of electricity at the Whistlestop Cafe, I felt like I was holding court as so many riders came and went. Great food though, and the porridge from the all day breakfast menu made for a good starter. Torridon climb, much easier than in 2014, and the descent was simply sublime. The Jones was ideal on it, quick and direct and not as ridiculously underbiked as a rigid bike could have been.

A pause at Dornie for an obligatory photo (not ideal in the dark) and some Haribo, and then bivi search commenced.

Bivi just beyond Morvich campsite when I realised Camban would have been a step too far.

Day 6: I crossed the date line at Camban at 9am, because in 2014 I was faffing with a cracked rim at Camban at 9am on day 7 of my HT ride.

 Another tyre hole later in Glen Affric, this time at the sidewall. Anchovy in, and on my way. 

I met up with Matt around this time, having seen him behind me on the climb into Glen Affric. We’d ridden together a few times already on the route, but from then on we rode as a pair. Tomich for bacon rolls in the post office cafe (another gem of a place), and late lunch in Fort Augustus, this time getting the pizzas we’d been looking forward to on day 1. Fort William in a headwind and rain, more of the same to Kinlochleven. Pitch black pushing up to the Devil’s Staircase, some mist for good measure.

Just up from the ski centre, I flatted. My anchovy hadn’t held, likely due to its position on the sidewall. Some more air (cursing the pump again), and then a few miles of riding. At the end of the Rannoch section, with no respite from the inflate/deflate cycle, a tube went in. Inflation complete, pump was removed, taking with it the valve stem. Tube #2 in, valve would not tighten. Typical! I left it as it was, fully inflated it at Bridge of Orchy, and we rode into Tyndrum at 6:23am for a greeting from a midge net wearing Alan and a beer.

I’ll finish with a quote I got third hand from Matt, who had heard it from Steve, the Cairngorms Loop organiser. I think it sums up the last day, as having company on the route meant I rode more climbs than I would have ridden on my own, and I kept pushing homewards when there was someone else to push with.

“Ride faster, ride alone. Ride further, ride together”

Highland Trail 550 – 2017 kit musings

Spoiler alert: I finished the race. Blog post to follow sometime.

When you’re in a ride like the Highland Trail 550, you’ve got a lot of time to think about things. As I was pushing up some hill somewhere, I started thinking about how much of my kit that I’d used in 2014 was with me in 2017. Let’s be clear, bikepacking can be cheap, but it can also turn out really expensive as you iterate through kit setups.

Firstly, an image to give some context to the following post:

Thinking back to the kit required for a week-long race, here’s what I still use three years later:

  • Midge net
  • Multi tool – Topeak Hexus II
  • Pump – Lezyne Mini HV
  • Sunglasses – Oakley Flak Jacket XLJ
  • Sleeping bag liner

Everything else has been upgraded, broken or simply replaced. Admittedly I did carry a lot more in 2014, but for everything else to have been swapped out is quite surprising.

My 2017 kit list in its entirety

  • Martha
    • Jones Spaceframe 3d Ti
    • Rohloff internal gear hub, Velocity 35mm rim (now dented) and a 2.2″ Nobby Nic
    • Shutter Precision PD-8 dynamo hub, laced to a WTB Scraper i45 and spaced (badly) to 135mm. Vee Trax Fatty 3″ tyre
    • Exposure Revo
    • Jones Ti Cut bars, foam grips
    • Brooks Cambium C15
    • Thomson layback post, 70mm stem
    • Garmin Edge 810
    • Single 750ml water bottle
    • Two inner tubes, taped into the frame at the seat mast
  • Revelate Viscacha saddle bag, containing:
    • Alpkit tapered drybag
    • PHD Autumn Racebag
    • Rab Survival Zone Bivi
    • Klymit X Frame short mat
    • Exped inflatable pillow (well worth the minimal extra weight)
    • Silk sleeping bag liner
    • Running shorts (suitable for bedtime)
    • Icebreaker Oasis crew neck, long sleeved (bedtime)
    • Spare Woolie Boolies, worn at bedtime
    • Gore Windstopper knee warmers
    • Icebreaker skull cap
  • Revelate Sweetroll, containing:
    • Berghaus hydrophobic down jacket, inside a 2l Alpkit drybag
    • Spare/emergency food – bag of cashews, unused
    • Food, 8 hrs of energy bars, which would not be revealed until the last day
  • Revelate Pocket (large), containing:
    • Food
    • Smidge
    • Riemann P20 sunscreen
    • SIS electrolyte tablets
    • Pump
    • Batteries
    • Sinewave Revolution
    • USB cables
    • Lube (Finish Line red)
    • My Lucky Spork (Light My Fire, carried everywhere just in case)
  • Alpkit Roo pocket, strapped into truss fork (bad idea, it wore through)
    • Topeak Hexus II multitool
    • Topeak tyre levers
    • Tubeless repair kit
    • Puncture repair kit
    • Tubeless valve
    • Cable ties
    • Nipples, various bolts
  • Blackburn Designs top tube bag:
    • Gels
    • Stoats porridge bars
    • USB battery and cable for charging the Garmin on the go
  • Osprey Talon 11 rucksack
    • Aqua Traveller filter bottle, which wasn’t used
    • Food bought en route, plus bars in the hip pockets
    • Lock
    • Charlie the Bikemonger’s Bum Butter
    • Leatherman Skeletool CX
    • Vitamin C tabs
    • Phone, inside a Lifeproof case
    • Basic toiletries
    • Exposure Diablo, carried in the bag for mounting to my helmet at night

I think that’s it for the kit I carried, and my clothing for riding is below. I’m not sponsored by Endura, I’ve just discovered that I buy a lot of it without really thinking about it.

  • Specialized Rime shoes
  • Woolie Boolie socks. I wore the same pair for a week
  • Endura FS260 bibs, suitable for long rides of 4hrs plus. Again, wore for a week and very very good
  • Endura Singletrack shorts
  • Endura long sleeved jersey
  • Endura MTB gloves
  • Howies shower-resistant jacket
  • Berghaus Goretex Active Shell jacket
  • Oakley Flak Jacket XLJ with photo chromatic lenses

My only regret is the dynamo debacle. I spaced out the 100mm hub to 135mm to fit the Jones truss fork, using a kit bought from eBay. Sadly the combined width of the 100mm hub and 35mm of spacers is less than the 135mm axle (probably a job for the Vernier scales to find out how much). This means that the hub doesn’t stay completely static in the dropouts, so it spins and rips the wiring out periodically. A real pain in the arse.

Thinking about it though, battery and light technology has got to the point where you don’t need a dynamo for rides of up to about a week. The weight penalty of the battery is less than that of the hub and charging solution, so I’m going to think about whether I keep the hub or not in future.

Cairngorms Loop 2017

It’s been three years since I last finished the Cairngorms Loop, with probably three rounds of the inner loop in the intervening period. Weather, weather and more weather have affected other attempts, so it was refreshing to get around again.

The 2015 mass start commenced well, but the forecast gale on the Sunday meant I rode the inner to the Geldie Burn and then straight down Glen Tilt. 

This was me in late 2015 I think, after a bivi in a ruined cottage. The Geldie burn was a mere trickle the night before, but heavy rain all night meant its character changed somewhat and it was all but impassible.

2016 saw the mass start cancelled, so I rode the bottom half of the West Highland Way instead. 

Now, to 2017, and seventeen of us assembled on the start line. A week spent watching the snowgate webcam and worrying about weather, but committed to riding as much of this as possible. Two American friends came over for the weekend, and I’m determined that they get to see this route. Contingency plans discussed, and we’re off.

I led out the ride, nobody wanting to take a shot at the front until we’d got to the House of Bruar. This early in the morning, nobody wanting to stop for overpriced tourist tat.

Six riders started pulling away, dropping the rest of us on the long drag along the old A9. Martin and I were riding together here, a pattern that would continue through the entire ride. Daniel and Louie, my Transatlantic chums, were slightly further back in another group.

The Gaick Pass came and went, and we arrived at the Loch an Eilean singletrack quickly. My tyre started losing pressure, more air was added, but I realised I was fighting a losing battle with a burping tubeless tyre.

I put a tube in at Glenmore, while being disappointed with the food service. “We’re too busy so we’ve stopped doing hot food” – Highland hospitality at its best.

The push up Bynack More was a drag as ever, into a persistent headwind, but it was clear and the uphill at least was devoid of snow. 

The top wasn’t, and we’d experience snow continually until we’d cleared the watershed at Glenfeshie. 

This entire section was slow going, slushy snow that you’d sink through with vague traction, very on-off. I was thankful for the grip on my shoes, but not for the fact they didn’t drain at all. Wet feet for hours – trench foot in the making…

Reaching the Lairig an Laoigh and descending into Glen Derry, I remembered the drawbacks of inner tubes – punctures. Replacing one tube with the other, I gingerly rode down to join everyone at Linn of Dee and begin the Glenfeshie connector.

I noticed this warning second time I passed Linn of Dee but thought it somewhat prescient to the experience we’d been through:

Again, tough going. Banks of snow to posthole through, and darkness falling, but luckily the weather was clear. It was spooky to ride this in pairs, Martin and I led the way. It was spooky looking back to no lights, the contours of the land hiding Louie’s floodlights. We paused at the Feshie, reckoning that the vague navigation might see the Americans crossing the river and not seeing the path etched into the hillside.

Some Indiana Jones-style bike carrying around waterfalls, and we got around this obstacle. Daniel and Louie decided to scout out a bivi spot on better ground, but Martin and I had set our objective as Aviemore. It was about 11pm, but we were still feeling strong after 13hrs so wanted to continue.

One thing that changed this year was the route through Glen Feshie. The course of the river had changed and eroded the path, so Steve instructed us to use the most obvious route on the ground. Estate work to improve access meant that some quick routes now exist from the bothy, so we made great progress to the road head, and then spun out way into Aviemore.

The first tragedy of the ride – where’s the petrol station?? The 24hr garage was a building site, and our thoughts of a 1am feed diminished. For some reason we kept pedalling into Aviemore and found the late night butcher selling burgers (cooked). A godsend, some hot food that was demolished quickly, and then we set off to find a bivi site.

Finding the picnic area behind the Tree Zone at Inverdruie, and not surprised in the slightest to find it empty, we set up a bivi for the night. Alarms set for 6am, sleep arrived quickly for me. 

I awoke before my alarm went off, feeling surprisingly alive for under four hours of sleep. We got moving by 6:40am, saddle sores making themselves known.

A few pauses en route to Tomintoul, then we got to the disappointing Fire Station Cafe at about 11. I didn’t realise that anywhere still served those single serve Rombouts filter coffee cups, but I didn’t manage to secure one because the “large coffee” was a couple of spoonfuls of instant. Yum yum. The bacon rolls were fine though.

Anyway, task in hand, finish this ride. Knowing that the South Easterly would continue, that the next stage was open and exposed, and that it was a South East direction of travel, I was not looking forward to the next stage of the journey. I was right. The open valleys made the next stage a brutal fight against headwind, and I had some fearful thoughts around a Tour Divide attempt. Day after day of flat riding into the wind could be horrific!

We climbed to the end of the doubletrack, and then hit the lovely singletrack along the loch which broke up the climb. 

An odd lodge appeared, likely a hunting lodge but new since my last visit. It looked like the far side had a lot of glass so likely some spectacular views across the valley.

A quick descent into Braemar, some food, and then the flat interlude to the Geldie. It was perfectly easy to cross, and we were making good time so would manage at least Glen Tilt in daytime.

I do love the Glen Tilt singletrack, especially ridden downstream as it flows so well. Techy riding on narrow trail, deliberately slipping the back of the bike out around obstacles, it’s one of my favourite pieces of trail in Scotland.

We stopped before the sting in the tail, grabbed some food and then commenced the desperate slog uphill. Once the trail evened out, we pressed on to Fealar Lodge. This next part should be fast riding on good estate road, but the wind meant we were pedalling downhill in a low gear.

Reaching the singletrack and the final descent, we had perfect light so I really started enjoying the descent. This time it felt like I wasn’t on a desperate drag to the finish, and not worrying that I might need a second bivi, so I could just let go and have fun. The open views were great, and helped with the navigation somewhat, even when the path and GPX didn’t match.

Lights came on for the very last part of the route, the road descent into Blair Athol, and then we were done. 35:30, nearly 2 hrs quicker but moving slower. I think if we had better conditions (no wind) and had kept to the same schedule then we could have dropped a couple more hours off, so I’m maybe not quite finished with this route yet.


Time to rationalise the bike collection. I’ve still got a Stooge, albeit the Ti, and have sold the fat bike. This was to make way for another ‘bike for life’, and this time I’m pretty sure I won’t get another hardtail for a while.

The name Martha came from Dr Who, because the new bike is a Jones Spaceframe. 

It’s as short, if not shorter than the mk1 Stooge, comfy over long distances and stiff yet flexible. Very little lateral flex, but with vertical compliance like a short travel full suspension bike. I’m undecided on the Rohloff for now but will give it some miles over the next few months and see how it copes.

I really like bikes that you can throw around, with quick steering and tight handling. Hands are kept well back from the axle, so it feels very comfy to ride over anything. Once again, suspension not required…

Another day, another Stooge…

I don’t have to work in London anymore, which means I get to live at home and commute via the hills. My fitness has been generally shocking though, nine months of minimal riding has destroyed it. Only one thing for it – singlespeed!!

I sold my old El Mariachi, and immediately regretting not having a singlespeed in the fleet, I bought a steel Stooge again. This one is powdercoated battleship grey, so it’s one of a kind…

Gearing is 32:19, a 2.2″ Nobby Nic on a Crest at the rear, with either the same up front (not shown) or a 52mm Stans Hugo which is currently sporting a Chronicle in this picture. It’s tough going, and I am only ever really riding it flat out (or walking), but I am already feeling the benefits. My legs have returned to being sore all the time, which means they’re getting a good workout – I think! Time will tell as to whether I can get fit again, but this is a start…