Thursday, 4 December 2014

The oldest man in Scotland.

I've been chipping away at my fitness since I got my Fat bike and really enjoying riding locally but my aim all along has been to use it further afield once my endurance had improved. I decided that my next step would be to do a bike packing trip just up the road near Arrochar.
I parked the car near the top of the "Rest and be Thankful" pass around lunchtime on Wednesday and unloaded the bike.
 Despite the forecast high pressure it was drizzling hard, backing up my theory that it can be nice weather five miles away and still raining on the "Rest". I hastily put my waterproof jacket on to save getting soaked and set off east on the forest road that leads to Ardgarten. Normally there are nice views here but not on this occasion!

Above Ardgarten the track forks and I took the higher route (Cat Craig loop) to save losing height unnecessarily. A little further on I passed a little waterfall
 ..........before crossing Prince Charlies' bridge and onto a new section of trail that's been built since I last rode here.
A gap in the trees gave me a view of Loch Long and Arrochar before I plunged once more into the gloom under the tree canopy.
From here on the track runs parallel but above Loch Long and thankfully the rain relented and I could remove my jacket. The clouds parted and the watery late afternoon sun made an appearance.

I gradually gained height until I came to a junction in the forest track that I hoped was the way to Mark Cottage bothy, my home for the night. It was a bitter pill losing my hard earned altitude as I dropped down steeply opposite Finnart oil terminal.
With gravity on my side it didn't take long to reach the bothy which was unoccupied. I parked the bike and set too searching for firewood before it went dark.
 The views were varied, lovely looking south down Loch Long but not so nice eastwards across to Finnart and it's resident tanker!

The hunt for firewood was fruitful as I found a large broken branch suspended just above the ground and was able to get some nice dry logs. My return to the bothy was greeted by the moon rising over Finnart.
I settled in for the evening and lit the fire. I used my bike pump to fan the flames and soon had the place nice and cosy.
Mark Cottage was once the home of Scotland's oldest man James Grieve who was something of a tourist attraction as well to do Victorians flocked to have their photograph taken with him. The MBA have added some copies of period pictures to the walls of the bothy.

I sat by the fire watching the flames for a couple of hours, cooking my dinner on the fire rather than using gas. It was really warm and I was able to dry all my damp clothing.
All too soon I found my self nodding off so decided to go to bed just after nine.
Thursdays forecast was worse so I wasn't surprised to wake to a damp drizzly morning. I ate breakfast, tidied the bothy and packed my kit before starting the slog back up the hill to rejoin the top track at the junction I'd turned off yesterday. Here I turned left and continued climbing up to Corran Lochan.

By this stage it was raining quite hard making the lochan look bleak but from past experience I know it's a lovely spot on a nice day. I turned off the forest road and set off along the singletrack path known as the Dukes' Path which climbs over a bealach before dropping down to Lochgoil.

Smile or grimace? You decide!
The path was too steep to ride up in places but I was encouraged when the cloud started to break a little to the west.
Eventually the track started to drop down and breaks in the forest revealed tantalising glimpses of Loch Goil.

The descent was good fun with some really steep sections but I kept reminding myself to hold back as I didn't want to risk a crash while riding alone. The bike handled the terrain well but adding almost eight kilos of extra weight to it with the luggage meant that getting out of shape was quite easy. Caution was the name of the game.
The path wound it's way above Loch Goil passing a nice little waterfall before the final descent into Lochgoilhead.

My plan was to stop in Lochgoilhead and buy lunch before starting the climb up Gleann Mhor back up to the Rest and be Thankful and I'd been looking forward to a nice sandwich from the village shop. Unfortunately the reality was that the shop left a lot to be desired and all I could get was a tin of Macaroni Cheese, a Twix and a bottle of Oasis. Not the end of the world as I had my stove to heat up the Mac/cheese. A picnic in the rain in the car park it was then (and enduring the curious glances of the passing locals).

Suitably refreshed I set off for what I knew was going to be a brutal climb, the first section was easy pedalling on the road but just to add to my discomfort the rain started again. At the foot of Gleann Mhor I turned off onto the forest road and got my head down and twirled away in my lowest gears. As some times is the case I got into a good rhythm and drifted off into my own little world. Sooner than I'd expected the hairpins that mark the top of the Lochgoilhead road came into view and I knew I was nearly there.
Crazed selfie!
A few more pedal strokes and I was back at my starting point, all that remained was to give the bike a quick wash and chuck it in the back of the car for the drive home.
Day one 15.9km, height gain 484m, height loss 742m.
Day two 20.5km, height gain 896m, height loss 610m.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Bike packing micro adventures.

I've been intrigued by the concept of bike packing for a while now. Despite having done a lot of cycling over the years I've never done any touring. The idea of having big panniers and all the associated extra weight has always put me off the idea but having built up a collection of lightweight camping gear over the last year (which I bought primarily for hiking) I began to contemplate using it on the bike as well. Bike packing is ultra light bike touring using a selection of bags that mount directly to the bike keeping weight down and preserving manageable handling. I've also recently built up a new mountain bike based around an On One Fatty frameset. This too is something that has been on my mind for a while after seeing my friend Mark's Fatty last year and hearing how much he's been enjoying riding it. Fat bikes have ultra-wide tyres and were originally conceived for riding on snow and sand, some more recent designs (like the Fatty) have a more trail orientated frame geometry making them decent all rounders (albeit with a weight penalty caused by the wide wheels and huge tyres).
So Fatty was ready to ride and the bike packing luggage that I'd been waiting for had arrived but I didn't feel ready to head out into the middle of nowhere on an untried bike loaded up with kit without a trial run. I've enjoyed reading the exploits of Alistair Humphreys, a full time adventurer who wanted to continue having adventures while stuck at home in between big trips and so came up with the concept of "micro adventures", short overnight trips often done close to home to maximise time away whilst minimising cost and inconvenience, click this link to read more about his exploits
I decided to adopt his principle to test out bike packing with my fat bike and so set off from home at about nine in the evening on my first trip. Leaving so late meant that I'd already eaten dinner so had no need to worry about carrying lots of food (I did take some breakfast though). The bike felt pretty heavy despite the minimalist approach I'd adopted but as I wobbled tentatively off down the road from home it seemed to handle okay. I felt very eccentric pedalling through the streets of Helensburgh past people taking their dogs out for a last walk of the day and it was nice to get off road and onto some singletrack at the start of the trail that I'd decided to ride.
Getting off road was the start of the real fun and adventure and was also the last I'd see of any people for the next twelve hours. Fatty handled the trail with ease and was great fun to ride despite the extra weight. I'd had to hastily bodge a mounting for my lights (which normally clamp onto the handlebars) as the bar bag obscured them so I strapped my pump along the top of the bar bag then clamped them to that. It worked quite well but did mean they bounced around a bit on the bumpy trail. Thankfully I had a head torch mounted on my helmet as well and between the two I could see where I was going very well.
I gradually worked my way up onto a trail that I'd last ridden years ago which links Helensburgh with Glen Fruin. Back then it was really boggy but it's recently been revamped to form part of the Three Lochs Way long distance path. As I gained height I got great views of Helensburgh, the Clyde and Greenock beyond (unfortunately I didn't have a tripod with me so the picture is a bit shaky).
After some hard climbing the trail levelled off a bit and passed through a gate where I stopped for a breather and to revel in the solitude so close to home.
All the climbing meant that I was rewarded with a nice descent into Glen Fruin, it was laugh out loud fun in the dark with my crazy dancing lights going mad with the added bumpiness and speed. All too soon I rolled out onto the tarmac road and pedalled the short distance to my campsite where I rigged my tarp using my bike and it's front wheel to support my shelter.
I wasted no time in jumping into my sleeping bag as soon as my shelter was up as it was after eleven thirty.
Totally by coincidence I'd chosen a night with a full moon for my micro adventure and it was really bright. It did rain a little overnight but in between the showers it was really bright. A few times when I woke up I snapped pictures of the moon and my surroundings.

I slept well enough but as usual woke up fairly often (it always takes me a couple of nights to get used to sleeping outdoors). The moon was so bright that the transition to daylight was barely perceptible but when I woke at eight I could see my surroundings properly.
One of the bonuses of bivvying is that you can enjoy breakfast in  bed so it was on with the stove to make porridge and tea.
After breakfast I took a few pictures of my camp set up before packing up.

Then before leaving I took a few posed pictures of Fatty all loaded up at the camping spot.

I'd originally thought that I'd return on the road and via a cycle path as a change and because the headset on Fatty was a little loose after bedding in (buying a stem with torx screws maybe wasn't the best idea as I don't have a torx bit on my multi tool). The lure of the single track combined with the chance of having a look at the views in daylight proved too strong though so I retraced my route of the night before and vowed to stay off the front brake to minimise the amount the headset was rattled about.
Climbing back out of Glen Fruin.

Higher up the track I had a minor mechanical issue when I snapped the chain and wasted ages looking for the link that had come off. Once I'd given up the search and just rejoined the shortened chain I was up and riding again.
 Before the descent back down to Helensburgh I stopped to take a photo at the same spot as the night before, it was a little misty but that just added to the atmosphere.
All that remained was the fun descent back into Helensburgh (where I held back and used only the rear brake honest!)
So that was my first experience of riding Fatty off road and of bike packing, I can't wait to do both again.