I didn’t finish the HTR550 this year. I’m unhappy that I had to quit, but at the same time it was the right decision.
Some back story:
I started the race in a similar fashion to last year, but with the express goal of hitting Fort Augustus on day 1 for food before 10pm. I realised that I could probably manage this by minimising my stopping but without any particular uplift in my pace, looking at last year’s race on Strava and counting all my stops. I reckoned that I could drop half an hour in Kinlochleven and half an hour at Loch Ossian and I’d make Fort Augustus with time to spare to get my order in. As it happens, things started better than this.
I rode into Kinlochleven feeling fresh and strong, and without hesitating to stop at the Co-op I started the push up to Mamore Lodge. Eating as I walked, I soon made it to the Eilde lochs and the gentle roll down to the Abhainn Rath. Knowing that I’d be in wet feet for the next couple of hours, I overtook several riders who had stopped to muck around with shoes and socks, and ploughed through the river and into the hike a bike on the other side. Things were rolling well, I flowed between walking and pushing quickly and soon had the section out of the way. I was already 90 minutes up, making good progress. Loch Ossian Youth Hostel came and went, and my first actual stop of the day came in Strath Ossian, the wide valley and dusty road making me imagine that this would be what the Tour Divide was like. Five minutes of sitting around and I was off again.
I noticed at this point that I was being far more efficient in my stops. No point in pausing to do just one thing, so I’d perhaps change layers, take a pee, eat some food and lube my bike in one go, as it was far quicker to do one slightly longer stop that four or five shorter ones.
Passing Laggan around 5:30, I noticed a few riders emerging from it. It turns out that the cafe was open at that time, but with my goal of Fort Augustus in mind I ignored temptation and continued. Turning West, the westerly wind that had been pressing me on whipped around and slowed my pace to a crawl. I knew I had to keep going though as a pizza was my goal. Melgarve came and went, and I was now over two hours ahead of last year. Things were looking good, but I knew not to let myself slow down in case I missed the food stop.
Approaching the top of the Corrieyairack, visibility was down to about 100yds at times. My usual indicator of whether I was at the top was failing me – the power lines going over the top could not be seen, so I couldn’t tell if they were pointing up or down. I made out the small building on the map, so figured that I wouldn’t have much left to go. Before I hit that, I came to a snow patch covering the trail – this is meant to be late May but we’re still in late winter in the Highlands…
Reaching the top, I descended into Fort Augustus, got my pizza, as did about fifteen other riders (doubling the pizzeria’s Saturday trade I’m sure) and then I made my way out on the Great Glen Way to find a bivi spot. I found a nice flat space under some trees, giving me ideal rain cover, and then pitched out and attempted to get some sleep. 102 miles done, my first mountain bike century.