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Wed, 20 Sep 2017

idiotic highland tour

Bikepacking, it’s the new big thing.

I’ve always fancied a bit of touring and bikepacking is really just touring but with a bit less kit. Or with the kit attached to your bike in different ways. Or with more bivy bags involved. I’m not entirely sure.

Regardless, a bit of shopping for a thing to attach a dry bag under the saddle and I’m all kitted out for a three day potter round the highlands. Accommodation is booked so I’m committed and a route planned around that. It’s at the ambitious end of doable but that seemed like extra motivation when I organised all this in the depths of winter.

Not long in to the first challenge of paring down the stuff I want to take to fit into a single bag and I’m beginning to see why people have multiple bags. The clothes aren’t so bad but the chargers and other less squashable things complicate matters. Still, further paring and some squeezing and it all fits.

I’ve done a chunk of the first day’s route before and that goes pretty well. The first lunch stop isn’t ideal as the food offering is a bit light lunch but it does mean I’m inside during a bout of torrential rain so that’s good. Plus a bit of a rest before the slog up to Glenshee is welcome.

I get about half way up before the serious regrets about not investing in some slightly lower gears start. Twenty odd minutes of really grinding up the slopes doesn’t do a great deal to dispel them. I’d also quite like to do this climb in nice weather. There’s also the lingering thought that this is just the start of the climbing for the day and that possibly this wasn’t a clever move.

Still, second lunch in Braemar and onwards to new roads and new hills. Actually quite a lot of hills.

I know the Lecht is the last climb of the day and it has a reputation as being not terribly pleasant which is unfortunate as I’m already a bit tired. I reassure myself that it’s probably not as bad as all that. Watching the camper van almost stall on the twenty percent ramp at the start goes some way to persuading me it is going to be that bad. Having to stop just round the first corner to have a talk to myself and scoff some food goes the rest of the way.

I should not have made this the last hill of a long day. Still, food and a bed are on the other side so industrial grade slogging gets me to the top and a nice swoopy descent gets me to Tomintoul. This is where my directions stop and I realise I’m not altogether sure where the hostel is. It turns out town is basically one street which I promptly head the wrong way down. Fortunately it’s not a very long street so course correction doesn’t take too long.

Shower, stodgy dinner and early bed plans are all going fine until one of the other people in the dorm starts snoring at some point in the night. I fish out the ear plugs. They are powerless against the noise. Suffice to say the alarm I set is not required and I’m on the road promptly after a light first breakfast.

I decide to continue with the plan of going the long way round to Granton and assume there will be somewhere for breakfast on the way. Apparently no one goes to Glen Livet for breakfast so it’s nigh on two hours before I sit down for breakfast. That turns out to be enough time that even fried egg is acceptable.

Another Coop furnishes me with water and snacks and I’m on the way to Kingussie for lunch.

This is probably the nicest cycling of the trip. Gently rolling hills through archetypal Highland scenery, and even a bit of chat with someone else heading for Kingussie. The rain starts just before I get there.

It’s still going when I finish lunch.

By the time I get to Dalwhinnie it’s been joined by a more than brisk headwind, just in time for the slog alongside the A9. I’ve often noted people doing this as I’ve sped passed in a car and thought it didn’t look much fun. I was right. It is miserable. Compounding the rain and headwind is the gentle upwards gradient and a path that is often very much at the un end of surfaced.

My knees are never great in the cold and I neglected to bring anything as sensible as knee warmers, largely as I don’t own any, so they’re beginning to protest. The left one increasingly vigoursly. Helpfully just as I get to the top of the pass the rain and wind ease. I try to free wheel as much as possible in a doomed attempt to rest my knee. It’s not working and pedalling with any force is pretty uncomfortable.

I’d planned to head over the hills to get to the end point of Aberfeldy but a mixture of the a protesting knee on any upward incline and the rather ropey looking weather in that direction result in a much more bucolic spin along the banks of the Tay through Blair Atholl and Pitlochry before heading across to Aberfeldy. Once again I’ve failed to research where I’m staying and as a result sail straight past the hotel. At least it provides an opportunity to size up the dinner options.

I’m staying in a proper hotel with a room and a shower to myself. They even do breakfast although express regret that they are unlikely to fit me in for dinner this evening. I reassure them that the nearest pub will do fine. A short walk later I’m at the pub where a burger and chips, a pint and sticky toffee pudding are safely dispatched and I’m out the door before the band finish setting up. It’s possible I’m asleep before they’ve started.

Breakfast is an excellent smoked salmon and scrambled eggs and all the toast they can provide. There’s also an investigation of bail out strategies in the fairly likely event my knee is still unhappy. There’s a train station at Dunkeld so as long as I can limp the 18 or so miles there I’ll be fine.

Among the slowest 18 miles I’ve cycled follow. Definitely getting the train. Not the next train though as I’d have to book my bike on to that and you can’t seem to do that on the day. Ideally I should book on to the next one but the very helpful man at Scotrail reckons I’ll be ok if I chance it. I spin gently into Dunkeld for an early lunch to kill time.

The man at Scotrail was right. A couple of hours, one change of trains and a bit of a wait at Markinch later I’m at Leuchars for the final six mile limp home. I’ve never been more thankful for a tailwind.

I’ve managed just about 250 miles over three days, with most of it on the first two. It’s this I suspect was my downfall. 100 odd miles is a good day out for me so why I thought it was a good idea to stick three of them together with the first including a big old chunk of climbing at the end is, retrospectively, a mystery. Next time I’ll try slightly shorted days. And maybe another bag.

posted at: 20:16 #

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