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, 23 September 2019

And the best bike for bikepacking is....

The one you already own…

It’s a bit of a meme, I know. Oft asserted by the old hands who have carefully built up their bike collections and have a bike for every possible niche.

For a bit of a change, I thought I’d go against the grain a bit and do away with that, choosing to take out my “Less than appropriate” Orbea Occam on a trip I’ve been thinking about since I moved to Aviemore 6 years ago. Simply enough, it’s 50km to the trail centre at Glenlivet, so ride there, bivvy, do the red descent, then ride home.

To help with the load bearing, I fitted a Gorilla Cage to the one set of bottle mounts on the frame. That gave me some storage space low down. My insulated jacket squeezed into a small drybag there. I also fitted an old Ortlieb 3L saddle bag that I bought years ago for commuting. That held a couple of inner tubes, tool, levers, some snacks and a few items of clothing I might want through the day. Having packed those, the rest of my overnight kit went in a 25L rucksack. It was by no means full and the weight wasn’t so great as to feel uncomfortable.




It’s a fairly well-kent route, heading up past Ryvoan Bothy, past Dorback Lodge and on to the Burn of Brown.




There are various bits of singletrack to be enjoyed on the way.













The trails were all very dry and I managed to make all the river crossings dryshod. However, at this point, disaster struck. A bottle of Smidge I’d been carrying in the side pocket of my rucksack had bounced out. This was potentially the end of my ride. Bivvying with just a tarp and no midge protection at this time of year was likely to be fatal. A quick check of the time and I reckoned I might just make it to the one shop in Tomintoul before it closed – though I had no idea what time that was. What had been a leisurely ride became a sweaty race and I pulled up to the Tomintoul Post Office at 18:05. Thankfully, they were still open and I managed to come away with a bottle of Jungle Formula.

I was now desperate for food and drink so popped into one of the hotels for a cold beer and some hot food. I made the mistake of taking my GPS with me and, when browsing through the maps, came up with another option for the night – to head to Faindouran with a view to the Fords of Avon and Loch Avon in the morning and a climb up Coire Raibert to get back home. This was only really an option due to my choice of bike and carrying most kit in my rucksack. The thought of lugging a laden bike up Coire Raibert would never have occurred to me.

In the end, I opted to stick with Plan A. There is something particularly refreshing about camping high. As I left Tomintoul, dusk was settling in and I took the Speyside Way to the top of Carn Daimh. Given previous experience with other sections of the Speyside Way, I should have known better…

I was suckered in at the beginning as there has obviously been some recent pathworks on this section. This flock of sheep were certainly making good use of it.




After that, it did the SSW trick of running around field margins over tussocks, before making a beeline up a hill. I was just able to keep enough momentum going, particularly thankful for the rear suspension. As I climbed, the sun was just beginning to dip below the nearby hills.



 By the time I made it to the summit, the sky had become a deep red.


Despite the quite fierce wind, I hung around sheltered by the viewpoint as the world around me went dark. It didn’t look like the wind was about to drop any time so I headed downhill into the lee and came across a great little spot for my tarp. As I was setting it up, the wind DID drop and I was suddenly engulfed by the flying hordes. I scrambled to put on a midge hood and leg warmers and considered decamping to the top of the hill. However, the lull was only brief and the wind picked up again, just as strong. Decision made, I was here for the night.



I had a pretty good nights sleep. One pee break at 2am, then an alarm call at 5:45 for the dawn. It was overcast and dull so nothing to write home about. Another nap ensued before I packed up and headed to the top of the red trail.







Not my fastest descent and the amount of seat drop I could manage was limited by the bag I’d fitted, but great fun and even better knowing I’d not have to take that dumb-assed route back to the trail head. Instead, I headed back to Tomintoul for breakfast.



After breakfast, the route back also gave me the opportunity to stop at the viewpoint I’d had to speed past the night before, en route to the shop and midge salvation.







I wasn’t the only busy soul around, especially now that the heather is in full bloom.






So, a great trip. Proof enough for me that you don’t need to spend a couple of thousand on Ti-framed, B-Plus bikes with expensive, niche bags (though feel free to do so). If I lost out on some road/gravel sections, I certainly made up for it on the fun singletrack and descents. There are also other routes (like my Loch Avon idea) that suddenly become a lot more do-able. My one piece of advice though would be to, instead, spend some of that money on lightweight overnight kit. Once you can cut the weight and bulk, opting for a rucksack is nowhere near as bad as it might be (and I’ve made that mistake in the past).

Of course, I’m probably now blacklisted by the Guild of Bikepackers for my heresy, but at least my Orbea is in British Bikepacking Orange 🙂



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