Day 6 – Food supplies were starting to run low. I knew that I’d be short of snacks if I didn’t get anything in Kinlochewe. I set out early enough in the morning, knowing I’d have about 11 miles on the road, a stop, and then another 11 miles on the road into Torridon. No matter, it was a quick way of dispensing with 4% of the route distance. I’d got quite accustomed to doing mental arithmetic when out on the ride, mainly as my speedo was in kilometres, and also to keep me from going mad.
Arriving in Kinlochewe, I stopped in at the petrol station, picking up a pile of snacks of varying calorific content and quality. Moving on towards Torridon, I’d regretted that food stop immediately. The Whistle Stop Café appeared around the corner, and I figured after the mild disappointment of the petrol station I should stop here too and get some proper food in as well. They were not yet open, but a short wait for a good feed in preparation for a long day would be wise.
I charged my phone while placing my order. A call to my wife to catch up (the lack of payphones having affected my morale somewhat), and she gave me a piece of news that hit me quite badly. Nik had scratched just outside Ullapool two days prior, and the movement I’d seen was his last on the race. I had really wanted to see him complete the race, he had been riding stronger and faster than I all the way, but it was just my hours in the saddle that let me keep up with him.
Coffee, orange juice, two bacon rolls and my favourite ever bowl of porridge later, and I was on my way. Definitely worth stopping in, it’s a lovely wee café that does great food and is most welcoming to stinky bikers at any time.
Eleven miles of road passed in no time at all, and I was approaching Torridon. I had been looking forward to Torridon as it’s a region I’ve never been to but have heard a lot of good things about.
I started on the push up hill occasionally pedaling where I could. I overtook a couple of backpackers on the smooth rock section, and then promptly fell off. Nothing serious, and if you can laugh about it then there’s no harm done. I kept leapfrogging the walkers, eventually reaching a cyclist stopped in the distance.
“Highland Trail?” said the mystery cyclist. Clearly news of my impending arrival had travelled far. This was Jon, a fellow bikepacker and originally an HTR rider, out for a spin, having followed a few of our SPOT trackers. He had ridden the Bealach Horn in atrocious conditions to ‘preview’ it before the race, but deciding once was enough! We had a good chat about the ride so far, and I bid him farewell. A really nice guy, and it was great to speak to someone out there who wasn’t on the race and yet knew what we were doing. Definitely one of the high points of the day, and it was the little things like that which made the race.
Arriving at a lochan, I got stuck into lunch.
Sitting out in the sunshine, I felt like having a wee snooze, but common sense got the better of me and I pressed on. I was in high spirits, having started Torridon and pushing my way into what should be a fun descent. I didn’t realise at the time, but the next part was going to be the point that nearly broke my spirits.
Yet another pushing climb on poor surface, I figured that I was nearly at the end of it. That descent must start soon, it must! Nope, another bealach first, and then the trail opened up into an open coire – this would be prime scenic bivi territory had it not been lunchtime.
In this coire, I realised there was no way out of it on the path other than by climbing over the lip. I do mean climbing – this was a case of putting the bike onto the next stable part of the path, braking, and then using the bike to pull me up. It was hard going, lifting a heavy bike, pulling up on the bike, repeating.
My partial meltdown came in me shouting out some choice words of constructive feedback for the course organiser. It felt good to express just how horrible this entire climb was, and I felt somewhat foolish when I reached the top. However, it was the top, so if anything having a moan about it gave me the impetus to keep going up.
I think the photo below is of the top of Coire Lair, but don’t quote me on that…
Coire Lair was a good descent, perhaps a bit too techy for me in places, in part down to the self preservation due to my location. If I had a bouncy bike, and wasn’t so laden with luggage, I’m sure I would have ridden more of it. I did however feel the brakes boil, and the performance of the rear was never going to be perfect for the rest of the trip. Oh well… not enough to cause me to scratch, but it was going to be a concern.
The photo below looks like a normal glen, but look closely (might need to zoom on the linked image) and you’ll see the ribbon of trail in the dead centre. This is what I’d just ridden down. Tee hee.
Having survived Torridon intact, I was feeling a bit peckish and the road miles to Strathcarron only intensified that feeling. The hotel did not do hot food in the afternoon, but they did do cake. A supreme sacrifice was made, and I received a slab of chocolate fudge cake. I got chatting to the bar staff, who had been following the race. The last racer to pass through had been a full day ago, so I was well and truly on my own. The collective opinion of the bar staff and customers was that we were lunatics for doing this race, and at times I was beginning to think this myself!
A steep road climb out of Strathcarron was followed by a mere 1000ft of ascent and descent to Dornie. I decided to avoid the village and continue on, hoping to do a good chunk of Glen Affric that day and carrying sufficient supplies to see me a good distance.
Leaving the road at Morvich, I started the climb into Glen Affric, not knowing what to expect. Was I wise to attempt a high pass in the evening, or should I have stopped there and done it in the morning? However, this is the HTR, and I had learned enough to know to keep going until it was dark.
Good doubletrack to Glenlicht House, was followed by singletrack mixed pushing and riding. As night fell, three glorious waterfalls could be heard and then seen on the way up, but photos would have been impossible in this light. Headtorch on, and I realised I needed to continue to the bothy as the wind was picking up and the temperature dropping.
At 11:30pm, I arrived at the bothy. No bikes outside, and only one person inside. As this was a two room bothy, this was perfect. I had a room to myself, so I quietly set about the process of feeding, unpacking and then sorting out my sleep. The last of my couscous and a bag of porridge for dinner, then sleep.