Today I was joined by my old racing buddy Lesley Ingram for the epic ride that is the Ciaran Path. This ride is a labour of love. 7hours on the hill and 4 hours ride time gives you an idea of what the terrain is like.
I was so grateful to have an ever cheerful and competent rider to accompany me on this route that really takes you into the heart of the highlands.
This morning on day 3 of thebestjobintheworld I was up at 7am filming the trails around the Glencoe Lochan before riding out with Lesley from Kinlochleven at 10am. Retracing my tyre prints from the Tour De Ben at the weekend, we got to the end of Loch Eilde Mor and this time swung right along the marginal single track by the river which flows to Loch Treig. What the trail lacked in flow was made up for in entertainment as we leapt over bog, making it only 50% of the time.
The trail remained marginal for 4km all the way to Loch Treig but very suddenly the river we had been following gave way to a breathtaking view over the loch. It was now that the carefully charged Go Pros failed again making me say a sweary word.
We rode round on well surfaced trail to the head of the loch where we turned north again on singletrack back towards kinlochleven and started the carry once more. It remained truly spectacular and felt so wild that we continued to be bouyed along despite the boggy conditions underfoot until gradually our trail became more and more rideable. Nearly 6 hours after setting off that morning we came into view of the dam and, despite wanting to descend on the famous singletrack to the village below we put our sensible hats on and followed the recommended route which had us crossing the dam to drop down on gravel road. When i say recommended I don’t mean necessarily allowed.
We’ll have to go back and ride that singletrack for the guidebook. Can’t have people climbing over gates. Naughty. But worth saving for another day with a working Go Pro.
We made it down in time for coffee and cake at The Ice Factor (highly recommended) and we parted ways. A little glassy eyed from our wilderness epic but delighted to have survived. Type 2 fun made Type 1 by great company.
After a quick downscale of the optimistic itinerary yesterday, Day 1 of Ride the Highlands consisted of driving my Big Tree Camper to Glencoe then pootling around Glencoe Lochan in the beautiful setting autum sunlight. Unfortunately, my handover with Q (aka Graeme McLean from Developing Mtb in Scotland) didn’t extent to optimal angles of Go Pros on chest mounts and this James Bond filmed her knees for most of the evening.
I was joined for dinner last night in the Clachaig Inn by Tess Hill, orienteer and hill runner of great repute.
Today I rode from the Inn up Glencoe on some lovely single track that kept me safe from the thundering traffic on the A82. It was so nice I didn’t mind doing it 3 times when various items contested to the Go Pro failed. User error I am sure.
Tess and I eventually set off up the Staircase and I watched as she sailed off skyward while I hemoraged energy trying to ride the unrideable. After an impromptu photoshoot on the pass courtesy of a German tourist, Tess was now long gone but I hoofed it off after her enjoying the fast flowing descent more than is polite. It was about 2 mins in that the Go Pro packed up again which was annoying but only meant I had to do this trail again so not a huge loss. 4th time lucky?
Tess got to Kinlochleven a couple I minutes ahead of me but I was so blissed out after that descent that I couldn’t give a hoot!
Fell runner 1. Mtb’er 0 Technology 2
We retrieved Tess’s stashed bike and spun back round the road to Glencoe. Great ride and a great run apparently. Don’t know how she does it.
The No Fuss team have a long standing reputation for putting on challenging events that also showcase the best of the Scottish Highlands. This weekend was no exception with 345 riders travelling to Fort William to take part in the 2013 Tour De Ben Nevis. The gruelling 67km route, as its title might suggest, circumnavigates Britain tallest mountain on a mixture of road, fire road, single track and built mountain bike trail with a total elevation of 1761m. And as if this massive route through varied terrain wasn’t challenging enough, the event’s enduro format meant that chucked in along the way would be 4 timed stages.
Stage 1- Downhill into Kinlochleven Stage 2- Uphill from Mamore Lodge to Loch Eilde mor
Stage 3 – Hike a bike from the valley floor over the bealach between Meall a Bhuirich and Meal Mor and the descent to the bothy then finally and thankfully Stage 4- on built trail in the Leanachan Forest. The 5th Stage being your total time taken from the start on Fort William High Street to your end point at the Ben Nevis distillery.
I’m not sure what I was thinking when I decided this would be a good idea. Having just completed a full on race season some might say I had earned a wee rest but every now and then it feels important that I remind myself where my love of riding a bike originated. Big hill epics. This was most definitely one of them!
At 10am, riders were led by a pipe band along Fort William High Street, some of us still blissfully unaware of what awaited us. The throng of riders soon separated themselves out on the 7km climb up the Lundavra Road with those opting to race the circuit on short travel xc bikes sprinting away from those on bigger travel bikes who hoped to make up their time lost on the overall by smashing the descents. There were also tonnes of folk riding bikes in between including me on a Cannondale Jekyll which felt like the brutish big brother of the Flash 29er I had been racing on all season.
The Jekyll and I nearly fell out on the Lundavra Road but as soon as we began our swooping descent along the West Highland Way to the start of Stage 1, we had forgiven each other completely. I dibbed for Stage 1 and began to nail it to Kinlochleven. It was all going well until I sank my front wheel in a bog and sailed over the bars. With some time lost, I got back into the rhythm of things enjoying the Jekylls ability to soak up the rough ground and it’s forgiveness when my pumped arms could no longer instigate the bunny hops over the cross drains. 4 mins felt a long time.
At the bottom I dibbed out and began the climb up to the lochan completely failing to dib in at the next stage station and not realising until I got to the dib out point 3km uphill later. The views across the loch as I rode the flowing road into the valley below encouraged me to let my mistake go and enjoy the view and that this wasn’t a race. But old habits die hard!
After the river crossing and some patchy single track to the bottom of Stage 3 things were starting to smart a bit. I dug some jelly babies out of my pocket that more resembled slugs after my bog snorkelling on Stage 1 and shovelled them in gratefully.
Stage 3 was type 2 fun (that’s the sort that is hell at the time but great retrospectively). Over 100 vertical metres carrying a Cannondale Jekyll is a character building affair. I emerged over the bealach a better but broken person.
The descent was awesome though! Loose rocks, multiple lines, drops, jumps and a fast flowing land rover track ending in another river crossing to the dib out and mirage of a bothy with a BBQ and home baking. After I ascertained I wasn’t hallucinating (I did this by sampling all I was offered. What else could I do?) I spotted a friend sporting a similar crazed look and long stare and decided we were probably in an equally wasted state to ride the rest of the event together. We set off down the Lairig Leachan together quickly finding flow and basking in the watery eyed speed we had earned. This section made all the pain disappear and fun became of the type 1 variety again.
It didn’t last. The dragging fire road back through the Leanachan Forest took everything I had left in my wobbly legs and Dave and I rode in slow motion to the start of the final stage.
Stage 5 was Blue Crane on the Witches Trails at Anoch Mor that I have raced on many times over the years. However I don’t think I have ever gone into this technical downhill section more ragged before. It was through a combination of luck, muscle memory and a good bike that I got down the last descent and in pretty good time making the cock up on Stage 2 all the harder to bear. But at this point in the day, after over 4 hours of hard riding, my mistake had lost its edge and I was happy just to spin out along the cycle path to the final dib out at the Distillery.
I was the first woman home in 4 hours 26mins. I ate a pie as big as my head from the local butcher, the best I have ever tasted then hoofed it down the road to a friend’s ceilidh in Killen in the hope I could pretend I had been there all day. On arrival I was asked to do a strip the willow. Karma.
The first rider home was my coach at Scottish Cycling, Paul Newnham in a cracking time of 3 hours and 31 mins who took the win overall by also remembering to dib every stage!
The remarkable Helen Gaskill took the overall win in the women’s category.
The last stoic rider home took 8hours and 34 mins which deserves a prize in its own right.