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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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Ch..Ch..Ch...Changes

Since starting my new job at Ticket to Ride in Inverness I've seen quite a few tourists come in and head off on of our hire bikes to do a wee tour. It got me to thinking that I've been very much concentrating on the mountain biking during 2014 and not any road riding. With the end of August fast approaching and the need to head off for another night under the stars I decided it was time to ring the changes and do something about that.  

Another reason for wanting to get out and about was that I'd just built a new set of wheels to be used on both the touring bike and the 29er. The front wheel incorporates a dynamo hub. Teamed up with a good LED light from Exposure this would finally eradicate all that unnecessary stress I give myself whilst riding in the dark and worrying about how long my batteries will last. 

The chosen route was simple enough. I'd always fancied a circumnavigation of the Cairngorms and an overnighter would make it a fairly easy-going pace. Fortune smiled on me as the weather forecast for the only two days I had available turned out to be excellent so I could go lightweight too. 


In a previous post, I outlined my bikepacking gear list. That included a tent and a winter-weight sleeping bag. Ditching the former for a bivvy bag and the latter for a lighter, less warm bag, along with a couple of other tweaks reduced my load quite a bit and it easily fitted into the Viscacha seat pack and a dry-bag mounted into a Revelate Harness on the handlebars. 


Compact handlebar luggage
Heading off south from home I was immediately aware of the headwind. Still, I wasn't in a hurry and planned to take things easy so I was unlikely to be running late. As it was, I soon reached Dalwhinnie (noticing that there's now a cafe in the old hotel building) and then on to the run along to Drumochter. I was just going through the gate onto the cycle path at the summit of the pass that I met this lady cycling north. As it turned out, she'd set off from Kirkmichael that day and that was, roughly, my destination. We had a wee chat about possible eating places and then I noticed the electric hub and battery on her bike. After a wee jibe from me about that being "cheating" she assured me it wasn't as it only cut in whilst she was going uphill :-)

The descent to Blair Atholl was lovely. It's a great ride along the old road into Struan and then a short spin to the Watermill cafe in Blair itself. Although clouding over a bit since Aviemore, it was still very warm when the sun came out, though cold when it was blocked. In fact, there were times when one layer of clothing felt too much and others when three seemed barely sufficient. My initial target of getting to Pitlochry before 6 pm seemed pessimistic now and I was soon through it and heading up my first real climb of the day to Moulin. This went in fairly quickly and the undulating road to Kirkmichael was both quiet and scenic so time passed fairly speedily too. As it was, I found myself at Kirkmichael just before 6., well ahead of schedule and earlier than I'd planned to eat. However, I was aware that there would be no other option between here and Braemar and with the Cairnwell climb ahead of me I reckoned it was better to eat now. 

One of the pleasures of solo touring is the chance to chat to folk en route and so it was I got into conversation with the barmaid and then the manager of the pub. Not about anything in particular, just that easy-going chatter about the seasons and how busy or quiet things are. Suitably replete, I did a few stretches and set off into the slightly cooler evening to see how far I was going to get before bivvying down. 


Low sun giving the hills of Glen Shee red tones
The road is gentle enough (though longer than I'd remembered)  until the Spittal of Glenshee hotel is reached. This might have made a good eating/camping spot had it not burnt down only a few days previously (though it was already closed at that time). From here, the road turns north and the climb to Cairnwell makes itself felt. As my rate of progress lessened, so did the daylight. By the time I'd reached the building of the ski centre, the dynamo headlight was in full use and it was around 8:30. Now I had a choice. I knew it would be a fast run downhill to Braemar, a pub and a sheltered river-side bivvy spot. However, I could also tell that it was going to be a very cold night at the bottom of the valleys so I opted to stay high, just where I was. I managed to find a suitably sheltered doorway to lay out my sleeping gear - one that also mostly killed the constant drone of a nearby generator too. As the few passing cars became even fewer, soon the only remaining sound was that of the local grouse population. 

It's certainly one of the strangest places I've slept and once again proved the advantage of taking bivvy bag rather that tent. 



My wee corner was tucked away enough that the first light of day had been and gone by the time I awoke but I was still early enough to watch the sun gradually rise over the hills and take the chill off the morning. 


Not your usual bivvy bag view
After a quick porridge I scooted down to Braemar and wasn't surprised to see that my forecast of low-lying dampness had been correct. 


Brrr - chilly!
I was still feeling a bit hungry so popped into the Fife Arms to see if they'd do breakfast for non-residents. After a bit of confusion, it was confirmed this was OK and I stocked up my internal stores for the forthcoming ride. 


First summit of the day - and certainly not the last

The road fairly undulates across some pretty high and remote terrain and it was all looking splendid until I reached Cock Bridge. Here, the road seems to rise almost vertically away from the river so I grabbed the lowest gear possible and started spinning then forcing my way up. 
It doesn't look steep now!
The first steep climb actually went in OK, as did the first couple of bends and then I could see a slight decrease in the angle. Unfortunately, this proved to be a bit of a false dawn and the steepness of the tight left-hander had me barely crawling, with a couple of cars behind me. At this point, I decided to step off the bike and ended up pushing a few metres onto the next straight before getting back on the bike to continue.

The road continues to rise some fair way before the ski apparatus of The Lecht becomes apparent. 


The last big climb
I was certainly glad to pull in again and pleased to see that the cafe was open so that I could refuel. Of course, what goes up must come down, so it was then a full-on dash downhill towards Tomintoul. Once here, it felt almost like being home and I was happy to spin along in the warm sunshine to get back home and complete the loop.

Still time for an ice cream on the way home


Almost home
I'd certainly enjoyed being out on the road again. I guess I'd almost forgotten how nice it is to spin along making a decent rate of progress and enjoy that there's almost always a choice of places to stop, eat or just chill out a while. The new lighting system promises to make more winter riding possible so I'll be looking at possible routes.

Another thing that did go through my head was the fact that I always tour alone these days (poor Paul and David - I think I wore them out). Maybe I need to find a touring buddy for 2015.

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