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.