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.

Feel free to leave comments.

Friday 30 March 2012

Making the most of it

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. 

Wednesday 14 March 2012

A new buzz

If you've read the wee "about me" box on the front page of this blog, you'll see that I make reference to some foot problems which have severely curtailed my hillwalking. I've had every type of test and scan available, tried foot-beds and gels and yet just can't crack the problem. 

Despite this, when my wife was beginning to get into training for her Everest Base Camp trek, I accompanied her a couple of times out running. It would appear that, if I'm careful, I can avoid the heel-strike which causes most of my problems. Now - I haven't run for years. Not since school in fact (other than running for a bus of course). It was therefore somewhat of a surprise to me that if I kept a nice steady pace and didn't run off hell-for-leather, I could actually do a couple of miles without any major trauma. 

With a few more attempts, I was able to go out one day and knock off 11km in a time just over an hour. I was very pleased and started to consider doing more. However, the colder weather hit us, the trails and pavements got a bit icy and my wife decided she'd stick to other forms of exercise so I left it at that.

Fast forward to spring and there I am in Go Outdoors looking at some snazzy Salomon Cross Running shoes. I had to have them! 

So today, and after a couple of recent bike rides when I've been feeling a bit low on energy, I decided to slip into my trainers and try a couple of laps of Harlaw Reservoir again. It was a bit of a shock of course, but after half a lap or so, and to he sounds of Ibiza Euphoria, I found I was really starting to enjoy it. The two laps I'd decided to limit myself to went in pretty quick and easy and when I stopped I did, indeed, have a sense of "euphoria". 

I never thought I'd be getting into running at the age of 53, but I'm definitely finding it stimulating and already pondering which hills I'll be using to break in my new shoes!

Saturday 18 February 2012

The other wheels

I've posting about my bikes and the rides I've done on them, but my time over the last couple of months has actually been spent mucking around with a 4-wheeled vehicle, my Trafic van. 

The van was purchased after a couple of family holidays when we'd overload the old Multipla with bikes, kayaks and camping gear and the stress of packing it all just started to get me down. I did a lot of research on both the van to buy and what I wanted it to be capable of. As a result, I now have a long wheelbase Renault Trafic which has had the bulkhead removed, a row of Q/R seats installed and a couple of extra windows fitted. I always wanted to be able to use it for a bit of overnight "camping" and after doing some reading I found out I'd have to insulate it - well - in order to make it warm enough and to stop the condensation from giving me an impromptu shower.

Many hours of work later, I think it's almost complete. I've added some 12v sockets in the back so I can run a power washer or charge lights and phones and a super-duper 3W floodlight just inside the rear doors so I can have a bright "work" area before and after any night rides and for illuminating an area I might actually camp in. 

With all of this effort going in, I was glad to eventually get a chance to use it "in anger" for a weekend in Speyside and on the Moray Coast. My initial impressions are very favourable. Despite leaving the cab windows a tad for some air, it is warm enough, dry enough and big enough for my plans. A full length camp bed fits easily beside a couple of bike in the back and there's enough room to manoeuvre myself around. My only bugbear so far is finding suitable places to stop overnight as there are so many signs "forbidding" overnight parking - but I'll persevere. Now I just need to decide where else I'm off to in 2012.

Sunday 5 February 2012

Playing away

As previously reported, 2011 turned into a year of chasing goals and targets. From compleating my first round of Munros, through doing my first LeJog, to getting that 10,000km of riding and walking, it seemed I was always chasing something. I'd already decided that I was going to be less number-driven in 2012 and my main objective for this year is to walk and ride in areas I've never visited before. With that in mind, when my friend Jonny was organising a birthday MTB ride, I was keen to take him up on an offer of a guided tour of his back yard. 

Setting off south for a weekend is a bit of a novelty and crossing the border even more so. With some time to spare, Al and I decided we'd take in a ride on the way down to Huddersfield to break up the journey and make the most of our time. Asking around on Singletrackworld, we got a few recommendations for a route near Ingleton. This was useful for me as I've still to really comprehend the rather arcane English Right of Way rules and all those dotted and dashed pink lines on the OS map just look too confusing. 

The route turned out to be a cracker: some decent climbs, lots of lovely rural bridleways and a track over the higher moors. The weather could have been better. Cold and damp, there was snow, ice and slush higher up and we eventually opted to shorten the route slightly as we'd not get a view of the limestone pavements under the snow anyway. Returning to the van brought another problem - it was getting darker and with glasses now liberally smeared with mud, it was a bit of "point and pray" on the last, fast descents. 

By way of contrast, the weather for Saturdays birthday ride could not have been more perfect. Brilliant blue sky, hardly a breath of wind and crisp, cold trails made for a fantastic day out, all made even better by Jonnys narrative. It was certainly beautiful and the contrast with the nearby towns and villages made it even more so. All this great riding, in amongst all that urban development. Jonny is obviously, and very rightly, proud of his neighbourhood and I'm so glad he was able to share that enthusiasm with us.

I'm now really looking forward to similar adventures as the year progresses.

Friday 20 January 2012

No niche is TOO niche

It seems to be in the nature of man that some of us are born explorers and inventors, and the rest of us slowly take advantage of these developments. So it is with cycling. From a relatively stable environment up to the 1980's or so, there has been an explosion of ideas. Some have fallen by the wayside, some limp along as a minority interest, many make it into the big time and some are so new they've not yet had the chance to mature.

So it is with the Fatbike. Developed to deal with snow, run on sand, it's now gradually infiltrating the UK biking scene.

It's not that hard to see why. Recent severe winters have given us weeks of lying snow, making normal cycling difficult and impossible. The idea of a bike which would work - and even be fun - in this environment is hard to criticise. We are also an island nation (or 3 nations if you prefer). That means there's lots of coastline to be explored. However, the broad, low-pressure footprint of the Fatbike also has a place on many of the more commonly used trails and in more remote glens where it will more glide over bog and mud than through it like a standard "skinny" tyre.

With all of this in mind, I decided to dip my feet into the wide-tyred waters and I'm now the owner of a lovely new 9:zero:7 all the way from Anchorage, Alaska.


Build-wise, I also decided to try an Internal Gear Hub - in this case the 11-speed Shimano Alfine. This raised a couple of other technical issues. My experience with normal derailleurs in snow and ice hasn't been good, I didn't want to run any sort of chain tensioner either. Hence a very special bottom bracket.

My initial rides have ironed out a couple of problems and I'm now beginning to explore a little further with it. 

It would be nice to have some snow though......