Last weekend I took the opportunity to do a reconnaissance of part of the HTR route and to get in an overnight bivvy. Starting at Laggan gave me the opportunity to cross the Corrieyairack East to West for the first time, something I'd been thinking about all year but had delayed due to the record levels of snowfall in the mountains. The weather was excellent as I started out, with not a cloud to be seen.
|Cloudless morning at Loch Spey
|Last of the snow patches on the Corrieyairack
|Hills, hills and more hills
|First view of Loch Ness
|A great day for messing about in boats
The next section follows the Great Glen Way all the way to Fort William so it's partly canal towpath, partly old railway bed and partly forest track. Another little detour en route took me to the shop at the Well of the Seven Heads, again to check opening times. I made it just as they were closing up for the day so opted for an ice-cream pick-me-up.
|Ben Nevis backdrop
|Nom, nom, nom
I'd also realised just before here that the second days riding would see me pass no food stops of any kind, so stocked up with some snacks to carry me through. It was just before 6pm when I headed along Glen Nevis on the West Highland Way and I reckoned a couple of hours riding would get me well into the Lairigmor as planned.
|On the West Highland Way above Glen Nevis
Once the forest track ended, the WHW simply got steeper and more difficult to ride and I was eventually reduced to pushing and hauling the bike along, including a steep section of steps with a handrail on only one side and a potentially high penalty for loss of balance. I was therefore happy when the path started to level off again and I could get in some more riding. The sweeping singletrack along here towards Lundavra proved to be a highlight of the trip with some easy inclines and rocky steps. After the pleasure however, comes the pain and as the track carried on up again it developed into a massive boulder field. To exacerbate matters, I seemed to be riding into a wind-tunnel and the combination of tired legs, boulders, a laden bike and the headwind meant I was reduced to walking long sections. As I did so, I became increasingly aware of falling behind schedule.
|Tigh na sluebhaich
|Last of the daylight with the Pap of Glencoe in the background
I weighed up all the pros and cons; the challenge aspect remained, a big eight-day outing in stunning scenery. However, I was already sick of the single-minded focus needed to maintain the required pace and the thought of riding alone for eight or more days was just depressing. With that out of the way, I set off up the hill a little to set up camp for the night and settle in a little less pressured. The combination of tiredness and a couple of pints of Trade Winds meant it wasn't long before I was fast asleep.
|Bivvy above Kinlochleven
If Sunday had been all about decision making, Monday served to absolutely confirm I'd made the correct choice. My mood hadn't changed much the next morning as I ate breakfast and started to pack up and wasn't helped any by the huge climb required out of Kinlochleven towards Loch Eilde Mor.
|A bit of a climb from my sea-level campsite
|Room with a view
|Luibeilt and Meannanach Bothy
|The Abhainn Rath and the Grey Corries
|Final view of Ben Nevis
|Loch Ossian (the Youth Hostel in the trees on the right)
|197km/3200m of ascent
Over the two days, I'd ridden for some 20 hours and covered about 122 miles. An eight day HTR pace suggests 70 miles per day. So, overall, I'd eventually managed a reasonable average pace, but I knew that there was little left to give and the thought of having to do another 20 miles or so would have driven me to despair - let alone having to repeat the exercise for six more days with an even more laden bike.
My admiration for the participants has certainly increased a couple of notches (it was already incredibly high). I guess it's not just about fitness but also having the mental fortitude to press on for so long. For me, I reckon I'm on the limit of being fit enough to complete it but not to enjoy it en route. I considered turning up at the start and simply cycling at my own pace regardless but I know there's a waiting list so much better that someone more able, more driven, gets the opportunity to participate. On reflection, I reckon I'll plan to take things a bit easier, spend more time looking around me and enjoying being outside without having to be somewhere in particular. I'll be following the HTR with increased interest this year and might even turn up to take photos as participants complete the route. My best wishes go to each and every one of them.