Day 5 – I woke up feeling refreshed, and with the realization that I was halfway through the distance I felt for the first time that I might actually finish this ride. Meeting up with Nik in a café, he was taking a relaxing breakfast waiting for the chemist to open but I decided to press on. However, I knew that Fisherfield was ahead, and the twin peak ascent profile of the next few miles was something I’d been dreading for the whole route.
After a few miles on the busy main road, I turned off and headed towards the start of the doubletrack ascent. After the path disappeared into vagueness (it’s across the far-left corner of the field) I then followed what I thought was the path up-stream. However, I’m guessing a fellow competitor made the track I was following as it soon petered out into nothing. It turns out my route was wrong, and I should have followed the obvious double track instead.
Pushing uphill, I got to a point where I needed to call on the can of Coke. I stopped to check the positions on the trackleaders side; Nik was moving so I decided that as it was a race so should I. Reaching the top of the climb (which was horrible), I then faced up to the descent down the other side. Fast, slow, dry, muddy, slippy – it had it all, but I was soon back on the main road I’d come off, albeit on the other side of a bloody big hill.
One hill down, one to go. This next hill started off quite nicely, with a gentle doubletrack climb, but it soon got steeper. It didn’t feel as bad as the last one, perhaps due to the can of Coke and other foodstuffs I’d consumed. At the top, I stopped for a couple of photos and then made my way down towards the bothy at Shenavall.
This was a change to last year’s route (which I didn’t get to experience anyway) following some ‘constructive’ feedback about the brutal descent the riders endured. This one by comparison was a good fun descent on good doubletrack followed by a path following the river to the bothy.
It was only early afternoon, so no point in stopping at the inviting bothy, so I pressed on for the loch crossing. This is an optional part of the route, in that if you don’t do it you double back and then take the road round, which will likely take a lot longer.
However, today wasn’t a day for turning round, so I took a walk of faith out into the loch to find the shallow crossing point. Despite it seeming counter-intuitive, the best way out was to walk out into the loch on a sand delta (thank you Google Earth) and then back in again at the halfway point. The water was thigh-deep, so a lot better than I’d expected.
Climbing up a track alongside a river, I realised I’d need to climb back out of this valley, and the climb soon presented itself. A long push ensued, finally topping out (image is the banner to this site) and then traversing a couple of miles before the view of the next descent presented itself. I was going to enjoy this. Hopefully the photo below (another Instagram special) demonstrates the trail on the right nicely.
I realised that I had made the right decision in getting rid of the rigid fork for this ride. I also realised that this was the sort of descent best enjoyed with other people, because it was steep, fast, technical, and remote. On my own, I set off down this snaking ribbon of trail, having to rein in my speed as it was sketchy in places. 300m in 2km – another good section, in fact one of the most rewarding and just plain awesome descents of the ride so far.
I arrived in Poolewe, hoping to find a bed for the night. I had been spoiled the night before, so wanted to wimp out and get another good sleep. However, this was not to be, as once again there was no room anywhere. I decided to ride on for a while to see what the path yielded, at this point having only forty miles in my legs.
The Tollie Path loomed – I didn’t know of its notoriety until after I’d finished. Probably a simple path across to Loch Maree, an up and down, and then some road riding to Kinlochewe in time to pick up some supplies. There are no simple paths on the Highland Trail Race. This path started off nicely enough, in fact the entire climb was bearable enough. However, reaching the high point, I realised the descent was not going to be as fun. When you have to walk descents, it stops being fun. Night was falling, and I gingerly picked my way down a mass of boulders, rocks, stones, pebbles and sand. Occasional rides served to combine with not-so-occasional walks, dragging the bike all the way. However, with an end in sight, I reached the shores of Loch Maree eventually, riding a forest path towards my intended campsite, the space near the public toilet on the map.
Too many campervans were around for me to unfurl the bin bag, so I kept going, trying as I might to find a decent place to stop. Eventually, when I realised the main road was coming up, I found a clearing in the forest off the access road, its high and undisturbed grass indicating that I would be unlikely to be run over by any reversing cars. Either way, the bike went closer to the road than I, just in case.
Necking some food, sleep arrived quickly.