Day 0 – I had a bout of man flu start the day before the race, and it was commented that I was looking like shit on the day of the race. I knew that if I was to continue the race, I needed to do so at a slow pace to keep the cold above my chest. That didn’t work in the end, but it kept my pace regulated throughout.
And so to the ride…
Day 1 – After a reasonable start, I found my rhythm on the climb out over Rannoch Moor. It’s a long and slow drag, but it’s enjoyable on a good surface. The descent into Kingshouse is another enjoyable part of the West Highland Way, it just keeps getting faster and faster and brakes seem an afterthought. Out of Kinlochleven after the fun descent off the Devil’s Staircase, and I feel the ride beginning properly. A slow and long road and double track climb, and then out to the crossing of the Abhainn Rath beyond the Eilde lochs. Wet feet start here, a theme that repeats itself through the week.
The next part has broken many riders before, it’s a combination of walking with occasional riding, plenty of bogs, and a dead sheep. However, it’s also a good opportunity to remind yourself that the rest of the ride is going to be just like this, so might as well just dig in and get on with it.
I keep up my slow but steady pace, and on arriving at Loch Treig join the fire road climb to Loch Ossian. Arriving at the SYHA, I grab some food with Bryan, Nik, Gareth and Dave. All of us veterans of the HTR430, Gareth and Dave being finishing veterans. We set off in a group along the shore of Loch Ossian, passing into Strath Ossian and on to the big forest descent towards Loch Laggan. A couple more lochs and we’re at Ardverikie, and then onto the main road. At this point, Bryan and Nik are well ahead of me, and then suddenly Gareth and Dave are gone. I found out later they’d dropped out, not enjoying the ride unfortunately. Off the main road, and I pass the grassy corner that marked my campsite last year. I’m still feeling pretty good at this point, although we started an hour earlier this year. Even so, I’m feeling a lot fitter than last time, so it comes as a relief when I keep going, and I feel like I’m ahead of last year already – the first good omen.
I arrived at Melgarve Bothy at around 8pm, seeing a few racers setting up camp for the night. The bothy is big, but it’s the near side of the Corrieyairack Pass, and I didn’t fancy having to do that the following morning. I decided at that point to push over the pass that night, although any hope of hitting Fort Augustus before the chippy shut were long gone. The weather was good, and I was feeling fit despite my chesty cough. I topped out just as the sun went down, and descended the pass into darkness. I went past a stone shed with no door, which looked acceptable (my standards in accommodation already falling), however I was on a smooth descent so figured it was just as easily done in the dark. I saw that Blackburn bothy was on the map, so decided to keep going towards it. It still looked a couple of k away, so I freewheeled down and pedalled a bit more for a few minutes. Checking the GPS, it was now a kilometre behind me, so I decided there was no point in turning back and instead pressed on until I could find a decent bivi spot. I found a stream, which had a tree near it, on a grassy area, protected from the road with an earth mound. Perfect!!
A quick check on trackleaders, a lot of food, and sleep/unconsciousness came easily