It seemed like a fairly simple plan. Mark was going to be off work on the Tuesday and rather than sticking to the Pentlands or visiting a trail centre, we'd both felt in the need to go a little bit further afield. Normally, I have a drive time: ride time rule. Never shall the former exceed the latter. However, I was prepared to bend it a little to make it up to the Cairngorms again, so much do I love that area for riding. As luck would have it, we also ended up with a little spring-time mini heatwave.
I'd spent the evening before the drive looking at maps and trying to work out what rides we could do, but here we were driving North and I still couldn't decide. A big loop - Burma Road perhaps? Play around in the corries? There really is so much to do that I only really decided as we saw the turn off the A9. We'd head for Loch Morlich, go over An Slugan to Nethybridge and back round via Ryvoan. Nothing technical, no gnarly jumping, just pleasant tracks through beautiful countryside.
I had the Scandal 29er with me. I'd been playing around with bar position a little, fine tuning it. This would be a good test and as we headed up the good landie track to An Slugan, the Scandal felt really nice, with the bigger wheels making smooth work of the trails. I'd only come this way once before and the forest had been pretty much cleared since then. What I remembered as a long, dark, steep climb was over in a flash and we had a real blast on the descent down to the road. I could see that Mark, on his Ibis, was able to blast over the terrain faster than I could, but that just made it more fun trying to keep up.
After a short road section to the Boat of Garten junction, it was back into the woods all the way to Nethybridge. This is a great little trail - rooty, with little climbs and sharp descents. Very engaging. Out of Nethybridge, it was all landie track again to Forest Lodge and then that lovely vista which hits you when leaving the forest with the track of the Lairig an Laogh very visible over the shoulder of Bynack Mor. And what a day for it. with a stunning, clear blue sky and temperatures in the high teens, I felt truely privileged.
Before too long, we rocked up at the Glenmore Visitors Centre for lunch, having begun to feel hungry just before. While the "main course" was good, we were both saving ourselves for the mega slice of Victoria Sponge which we'd spotted whilst ordering - and that was awesome!
With no hurry to get back, we decided to detour round Loch Morlich to see how we felt before making more plans. As it was, the weather was just getting better and better, so we set off on the Loch Einich track. Again, I'd only been down this way once before. I didn't remember it being quite so bouldery but I was certainly glad that the crossing of the Beannaidh Bheag was possible without dismounting. My previous visit had entailed a knee-deep wade! The track also seemed to be quite a bit longer than I remembered and it seemed that, like some mirage, Loch Einich was getting no nearer. Eventually, we made it to the loch. I took he opportunity for a quick head-dunk in the cold water and lay back on the grass just soaking in the sun, the sounds and the situation. With mountains on three sides, this really is a marvellous spot and it thoroughly put me in the mood for some camping.
After a while, we could sense the cloud just thickening a little and a cool breeze came down the loch. That was our signal to go and off we set down the boulder-strewn track. Again, I could see that Mark was having a slightly easier time of it on the Mojo and my cause wasn't being aided by a growing numbness in my hands, caused by the vibrations. I was very relieved when, 10 minutes later, we were on to smoother tracks again.
The small climb from Rothiemurchus to Loch Morlich was despatched with wearier legs than had set out in the morning, so it was rather pleasing to reach the van and get ready for the drive home.
Lessons learnt today?
(1) Sometimes, rules are worth breaking.
(2) My handlebar position needs looked at again.
(3) I need to get the bikepacking kit organised.
A big thanks to Mark for the company and for letting me use some of his photos.
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