The first was that I managed to obtain a second hand set of carbon rigid forks to replace the suspension forks I'd originally built it with. I've used rigid forks on my old Titanium hardtail and I've always like the feel of them and it had always been my intention to go down a similar road with this bike. It's an easy job to swap them over - I'd even bought a headset and two crown races to make the job simpler. After fitting them, the bike immediately felt better balanced and a quick spin up and down the street suggested the steering wasn't impaired.
The second was an opportunity to get an early bid in for Aprils bivvy-per-month. I'd been watching the weather forecast and there was a suggestion that the settled cold weather was coming to an end, to be replaced with milder, but wetter, conditions. Having survived out at -10C a couple of weeks previously I reckoned a quick overnight trip would go down just fine.
The only dampener on all of this was that I'd just managed to contract some sort of virus and was feeling pretty ropey. However, I decided to press on regardless.
The usual map-studying routine began. I really didn't have anywhere in mind but I knew I didn't want it to be too far away. A wee while later I came up with the idea of following the Rob Roy Way. This is normally walked from Drymen to Pitlochry but with a prevailing Easterly and the logistical issues of a train to and from the start and end, it worked out better that I head West, ending at Drymen and then picking up the West Highland Way to Milngavie. A look at route maps suggested that a fair chunk of the route was on good tracks and with the ground still likely to be hard, I reckoned that a thinner, faster rolling tyre was the best option so I fitted the Schwalbe Marathon Mondials. Everything I needed for the trip - including the 4 season sleeping bag - fitted into the Revelate Viscacha saddle bag and Sweet Roll handlebar bag so I seemed to be all set.
|Off we go again|
|Looking across to Aberfeldy and the route onward|
From here, the Rob Roy Way climbs up past the Birks of Aberfeldy. I recalled that there were some steps up this wee gorge but reckoned It wouldn't be too bad, even with the loaded bike. I was wrong. It proved to be a very tiring and time-consuming mistake and by the time I reached the top bridge I was completely puggled. Some of this might have been due to my health and I'm sure the route would work better in reverse when some of the steps would be rideable too.
|A quick chat with Rabbie|
|Thone's jist braw but dinnae be an erse an' bring a bike here|
I eventually made it to Tombuie Cottage where a quick glance up the still snow-covered road confirmed that my decision to avoid Amulree had been the correct one.
|The road to Amulree - still blocked by snow just past this bend|
On paper, day 2 looked to be much easier but having woken up with a bout of hard coughing and full of green phlegm I wasn't taking anything for granted. It was therefore with some pleasure that the first section of todays ride was all downhill through Glen Ogle. At Balquhidder Station I found that, due to more forestry work,s the RRW had been diverted along another section of old railway. This was in some way ironic as I'd seen this path the last time I'd come along this way and had been interested then to see where it went. As it was, it provided a fairly direct and flat, if bumpy and muddy, way in to Strathyre, avoiding the tedious ups and downs on the road section of NCN7.
As it was still quite early, I had second breakfast at the shop in Strathyre. I seem to have developed a craving for chocolate milk recently so bought some extra and filled a water bottle with it. From here to Callander is another track I'm familiar with and it went by in no time at all, leaving me to turn off onto the RRW again on the Brig of Turk Road then over the bridge into Invertrossachs. A few miles along this cul-de-sac I found the turn off for the Mentieth Hills. I knew that this would be the first decent climb of the day but just grabbed a low gear and ground it out in the morning sunshine.
|Loch Achray and Ben Venue|
This path was one of the very first I ever cycled on, back in 2005. I'd been going in the other direction that time and I reckon it would be better heading north. However, the little sections of boulder-strewn singletrack were still great fun after doing so much road and track work. The descent into Aberfoyle is very fast and long and I arrived easily 30 minutes ahead of the schedule I'd created in my head. Lunch was pancakes, maple syrup and bacon - and very nice it was too!
More forest tracks lay ahead now and with the help of map and GPS I was able to make up for the inconsistent waymarking through Achray Forest, passing the occasional walker or cyclist. Soon enough I met the old Drymen Road and with a sustained bit of effort topped out to see the Campsies looking very majestic on my left and then made the fast road descent down to Drymen.
|Well - it would be rude not to!!|
|And home.....dirtier, but feeling more like "my" bike and not "a" bike|
As a cycle route, the Rob Roy Way works in places (like the Queens Drive) and fails in others (Birks of Aberfeldy). Much of the waymarking assumes you are travelling north though and it was only through careful use of the GPS that I avoided some mis-turns.
The bike, however, turned out to be a revelation. Despite all my previous concerns, after two days in the saddle I can now feel I've made a good choice. It carried the load easily, was well balanced, stable when it needed to be and just flickable enough in tighter spots. The 29" wheels behave just as I expected, making the lack of suspension a non-issue. Suddenly, I feel an emotional attachment to it that I'd previously been lacking and I'm already looking at some more road/off-road trips in Argyll and further West that I've had my eye on for some time.