Mostly, this is random stories from my various trips as I collect them, but I've a wee backlog to get through too and those will pop up occasionally.

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Monday 12 September 2011

C2C - Part 1

Speak to anyone that knows me and they'll tell you how great I am at organising stuff. Trips away are laid out with military precision. Train timetables, route maps, accommodation options all lovingly prepared so that everyone involved is fully prepped. So, how come it's gone midnight and I'm rushing around packing my panniers with thoughts of a 5.30 alarm call nipping at my brain?

Prevarication. Faced with too many choices, I've delayed my decisions and now it's panic stations. You see, it used to be so simple. You had a bike and when you were going somewhere you just got it ready and that was that. Now though, it's a number of bikes and you're stuck trying to decide which is gonna be "best". Rigid, front suspension, full suspension, even that CX bike you've been enjoying so much recently. And then there's the luggage question, not forgetting "which tyres".

I'm the end, I opt for what, to me at least, is "old school". A traditional hardtail mountain bike. The only problem is that this one has been languishing rather unused and unloved in the garage while newer toys have been getting a regular airing. Fitting suspension forks to replace the rigid ones would have been fine, discovering the headset needed replacing was one complication I could have done without. Remembering that the chain was skipping and then having to replace the cassette too was just frustrating. Oh - and those brakes were a bit soft - better bleed them too. What’s this, one of the pads has come of it’s backing?? All of that, plus a tyre change has set me back and I still can't decide what to wear.

Finally, gone 3am and after having to re-plot the route to reduce the number of waypoints, printing out maps and general faff, I make it to bed. Waking the next morning is easy enough, it feels like I've not actually gone to bed. A last minute rush around and it's off to the station. The traffic is, of course, a lot lighter than expected so I arrive much earlier than necessary. I get on the first train to come in and arrive in Glasgow a full hour early, dreaming of what that extra 60 minutes would have felt like in bed.

The Fort William train only has another couple of cyclists on it, so lots of space and it’s also quite quiet so I find myself a window seat in a relatively empty area and settle down to nap. I get some, but there’s too much going on around me to really doze off enough. Approaching Fort William, it’s not just the torrential rain that’s concerning me. Trees and bushes are being whipped over in a strong Westerly, promising more rain to come. Right enough, when we pull into the station, it’s like waves of water being bashed against the windows. That being all the excuse I need, I head for McDonalds for comfort food and to let it pass.

It doesn’t.

Time enough. It’s not getting any better, so I gear up (full waterproofs) and head off following the Great Glen Way signs. To be honest, once I’m cycling it’s mostly a tailwind and doesn’t feel near as bad as it looked from indoors. Reaching the canal towpath, I’m in full flow and I tear along at a fair rate of knots overtaking the occasional sorry-looking walker and some of the boats that have just come through Banavie Locks. By the time I reach Gairlochy, the rain has eased off a little and past the Loch Arkaig turn-off I find myself on unfamiliar ground for the first time this trip. The forest track is pleasant enough, though the trees mostly block the views. Stopping at one bench, I look around to see heavy, dark clouds lumbering up Loch Lochy.

It’s got to be easy enough - keep up a fast enough pace and you’ll outrun them! Aye - and just at Laggan Locks with around a mile or so to go to the hostel, they catch me and it’s like sitting in a tepid shower. It just keeps on coming and coming and follows me all the way to the hostel.

I’ve arrived much earlier than planned. Originally, I’d hoped to make it all the way to Fort Augustus on the first day but train times and the like gave me this shorter day. While it’s a shame to be “wasting” daylight, I’m glad to get indoors before all my gear gets completely saturated, and given my lack of sleep from last night, I still reckon an early stop works out well.

So - what’s this route all about anyway??

Well, I’ve always wanted to do the Corrieyairack Pass. It’s like a badge of honour amongst off-road cyclists in much the way that both Ben Nevis and the West Highland Way are for walkers. Options exist for doing it as part of a loop, or even an out-and-back, but I’d also had a hankering for a Coast-to-Coast route, and one that was a wee bit different and more manageable than many I’ve seen. Joining up the two simply meant getting to Fort William, going up the Great Glen Way to Fort Augustus, doing the Corrieyairack and then working my way down to Aviemore. A bit of map-reading showed that I could also incorporate a section of General Wades Great North Road, so it all just sort of fell into place. The Corrieyairack would be by far the highest and most challenging section and I was hoping that the surfaces on much of the rest would let me keep up a good pace.

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