Time Away

TimeAway

…it’s certainly been a while. Coming on for a year since I last posted an update worth reading. There’s been a couple of minor posts, just so you know I’m not dead, but other than that, nothing to report beyond the excuses for the lack of action. Then winter kicked in and I’ve been patiently waiting for it to end.

This has given me plenty of time to address the musculoskeletal dysfunction that crept up on me last year, brought on by a desk job/years of neglect. Thankfully yoga seems to be helping, I’m not as disciplined as I should be, but I seem to be more in tune with what’s going on and how to address it. At any rate, it’s a finely balanced thing. Some days, I can be digging out tree roots and chopping wood without issue, the next, furiously trying to inflate a tubeless tyre with the floor pump has my shoulders seize.

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As such, this left me scaling my Easter weekend plans back to a jaunt along the Fife Coastal Path. Then the forecast improved drastically. I wasn’t about to forego the opportunity to head north in great spring conditions. To the Cairngorms then, predictably. I wanted a route I could vary in distance and the path and trail network though Abernethy, Rothiemurchus, Inshriach and Feshie is hard to beat in this regard. Lots of options, lots of interest, despite my (over?)familiarity with the area. The plan being to go slow and leisurely, mostly spinning along easy forest tracks, in amongst the pines, seeking out the odd ribbon of singletrack when the opportunity arose.

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Slow and leisurely is the antithesis of rackless touring, according to at least one forumite on a UK bikepacking website. It seems like ‘light and fast’ bullshit is not confined to just backpacking circles. The whole idea of which seems to place more value in the destination than the journey itself. Go light, by all means, but when it descends into sneering at others who prioritise differently, then frankly, I’m not interested. ‘Hike your own hike’, etc.

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With that in mind, my luxury item was my SLR. I’d been looking for a secure means of attaching to the bars for a while. A LowePro holster with suitable D-rings works well with Jones bars and my Revelate harness. A little awkward to get into maybe, I think a couple of spacers may help, so further experimentation is needed. Still, more accessible the a padded backpack, and robust enough to deal with clattering down rougher sections (RIP Ryvoan descent).

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I found myself hooting as I rolled along the hardpack to Forest Lodge. Blue skies and pine scent. Progress was slow, due to the newfound camera accessibility. Stop, snap. Chat to some passing cyclists. The diamond frame and unicrown fork is positively conventional, by Jones standards at least, but continues to draw questions from curious passers-by (Is it specially reinforced?). No doubt in part due to the ‘purposeful’ aesthetic of the Dually rim up front.

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The sun is warm, but pleasant for cycling, in the shade of the forest the air is cool, but not cold. Even on Easter weekend, Glenmore has enough space for everyone, I take the high route to Rothiemurchus, over the Cairngorm Club Bridge and stop for lunch and a rest. Loch an Eilein is busier with young families and smiley walking pole toting septuagenarians. More bike questions. I peel off toward Inchriach bothy, ‘Path not Maintained’ and long may it continue. Not a soul.

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I press on to Feshiebridge, I watch as the aerotow circles once before coming into land at the glider club. My knees are getting a bit sore and I’ve had my fill of trail mix. I need some proper food. I revise my camp plan from upper Glen Feshie to Ruigh-aiteachain, too nice an evening to be spent in the bothy though, after such a long lay off, nothing less than a fabric shelter will do.

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I realise quite late on that I’ve gone quite light on the food supplies (by my standards anyway). My MYOG Caldera Clone is fit only for retirement (suggestions for a new meths stove welcomed! What’s good these days?).

I start plotting my breakfast, Something involving bacon and egg. I’ve taken to using SIS electrolyte tablets and I have to say, being a bit of a sweaty munter, I’m finding it makes a noticeable improvement to how I feel the day after. No more headaches! I even went easy on the Sheep Dip, just in case.

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Clear skies and a bright moonlit glen, not a bad way to reboot my outdoor activities for 2015. The body held up, at least until the two and a half hour drive home, I had more discomfort in the car than upon the bike! Here’s hoping 2015 will be free from too many distractions, we’re settling in nicely in the new home and I made a point of tackling the most pressing jobs over winter. I’ve already turned my thoughts to some multi-day routes, a Hebridean cycle tour, or coast to coast? We’ll see how the summer pans out…

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Glenmore Photo Dump

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I made a charge north (in reality, a steady 60mph under the watchful eye of the new A9 average speed cameras) to Aviemore. When I saw the snowfall after recceing the usual webcams and that the ski trails around Glenmore had been pisted, I knew I had to get up.

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I hadn’t found time to plan any camping or more adventurous routes, but given I’d not been north in months, this felt like progress nonetheless. Homelife has settled down somewhat in the past month or so and the pair of us are getting back to routine. Physically, I’m in ‘maintenance mode’, so back to doing all the stuff I enjoy for the most part.

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Knowing I would cripple myself if I tried a full day skiing (if I tried to employ proper technique anyway) I opted to take the Mukluk for a workout on more compliant muscle groups in the afternoon. This turned out to be plenty strenuous in the end, between bashing through fresh snow and my front brake seizing on (meaning I had to pedal downhill on the descent), it was slightly less leisurely than anticipated.

Anyway, it’s good to be out and I’m looking forward to getting out more in 2015.

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No Action

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It’s been a long time without an update. It’s not entirely that I’ve not being doing much, there has been the odd bothy trip and some new trails ridden, but sometimes real life gets in the way. There’s not been much weekend adventure to speak of.

The summer saw us up sticks and move along the coast to ‘The Fife Riviera’ which involved a bit of a layover with (almost) everything in storage for five weeks. Since we got in at the end of August much of my time (and all of my money!) has been spent doing ‘house stuff’. On the plus side, the neighbours are nice and I now have a beach for the Mukluk and a workshop to while away the winter evenings in.

Money continues to be scarce, as I’m now paying £30 per week to an osteopath to treat a long standing back/neck/shoulder (it varies from day to day :/) issue which had been ignored until I could no longer put up with it. Years of poor posture, 9-5 desk work and battering down hillsides on a bike have taken their toll. Progress has been made, but there is more to do. Tomorrow I start yoga classes (!) in hope of addressing the underlying issues and I’ve made an effort to get some easy miles in on the bike at lunchtimes.

I’m hopeful the end is in sight. Time to focus less on decorating and home improvement and more on recuperation, being good to myself and planning some winter excursions.

Here’s to clear nights and frosty mornings. I hope to be back under the tarp soon.

Hit The North

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The clocks going forward marked the point where we could finally bid the crappy winter farewell. I do love winter, but wet and windy isn’t so inspiring. Epic snowfall on the summits at odds with the complete lack thereof elsewhere. I had managed a day up in snowy Braemar with the Mukluk to try it out in it’s native habitat (twas excellent). But it didn’t last long. In the few short months since that purchase – things moved on yet again on the bike front. An opportunity arose to pick up a used Jones diamond frameset at a bargain price. Coupled with the fact I now had a fat front wheel, with hub suitable for the Jones boring/unicrown fork, made for a relatively inexpensive entry into the world of Jeff Jones. No melty looking titanium though.

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That brings the current bike count to three and a half, which is quite sensible, I keep telling myself. My Cotic is currently in bits, under our bed. I could use the money, but can’t bear to part with it. I’ve not owned many bikes, but I have some pretty nice, well regarded ones. But the Jones is something else… in the short time I’ve owned it, it’s clear to me that the hype is justified, even for this ‘boring’ version. The bike is very capable, brilliantly conceived, agile, comfortable, quick, assured and a lovely red colour. People look at it funny. But honestly, if I had to own only one bike… (multiple wheel sets are allowed, right?) Any bike that has me out the saddle, pushing big gears after my second 35 mile day, must be doing something right.

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I’d slowly been purchasing various bits of bike luggage from Alpkit to make loading up the bike a bit easier, a new feedbag for quick calories and a ‘gas tank’ for the phone, lip balm, suncream, chamois cream and hydration tablets. Stuff that’s good to keep handy, as having it buried somewhere will end up with you paying the price later. Margaret’s zero megapixel compact fits nicely too, I miss RAW though.

I’d gone to the trouble of helitaping the frame to try and keep the paintwork in tiptop shape, but one ride done, the tape is looking tatty already. I think in future I’ll just duct tape the wear points and remove it again after trips. The fat front was great on all but grassy bits (draggy) and was even okay on tarmac once I’d upped the pressure. Admittedly, I did get to thinking about a Knard rather than Nate for such trips.

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Enough about the bike. I set out from Blair Atholl with the plan being: Tilt – Geldie – Feshie – Camp – Drumguish – Tromie – NCN 7 – End. I’d been picking Gari’s brain over at Racks On, Racks Off about going CW or CCW, I think CCW was a good choice. I got up and along good tracks into Tilt, good progress and the onto the singletrack after the Falls of Tarf. A couple of sketchy bits with a loaded bike and clipped in, with a drop away to the river below. I’d already passed a couple of curious walkers asking about the bike and then, I think, a couple on a pair of Surly ECRs, which didn’t quite register until I’d past them.

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I was still happy rolling along past Bynack Lodge, having forded the river a couple of times, unaware of what lay ahead at Geldie. Riding along the estate track, I pass more walkers transfixed by my massive tyre, they speak directly to it.

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Onward, things become more Geldie. Looking back at the map, I see it’s only about 6km or so. It felt longer. I’d heard it could be wet, but in truth it wasn’t too bad. On foot it’d be tolerable, but it’s no place for a bike. It’s a necessary evil in order to make this loop possible. I swore at it, at the tantalising glimpses of gritty singletrack, which crested little hillocks before revealing itself to be little more than twenty feet in length, leading directly into an unridable gully. Dismount, push up and out. Repeat. That’s Geldie folks. The falls at Eidart just about put a smile on my face. My emergence into Glen Feshie certainly did. A short, steep doubletrack climb, followed by heathery singletrack contouring around the upper glen. Past the landslips, and back onto landy track with wooded crags above. Find a flat spot and pitch up.

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I had a fine dinner. My signature dish ‘Amalgamated Slop'; Supernoodles, cup soup, oatcakes, Look What We Found Curry. Chuck it all in the same pot and enjoy the monofood goodness. My MYOG Caldera Clone is due for replacement, I’ve had several years out of it, so it owes me nothing. Up here in the glen, things have turned chilly. I could see the last light on the distant hills. It was still relatively light, but I was ready for my sleeping bag. I finish my book before nodding off.

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I never sleep especially well when camping, but this was not too bad. I wake a couple of times, but it was a calm cool night, so no flapping in the wind to annoy me. I get up to pee and make breakfast. I see the rising sun kiss the top of the crags. As I pack up, it slowly crawls across the face of Creag na Caillich, eventually reaching the floor of the glen and the river. Another blue sky day.

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I clip in and ride up to the final landslip, then down around the Feshie dogleg and out past the bothy, I wave and smile to the folk milling around outside. I never smile this early in the morning. My legs are feeling good and the new path along Feshie makes for swift progress, through the wood and then out into the new growth, along the new path through the heather to Strontroper. Over the river to meet asphalt, hang a left to Baileguish, from there to Drumguish, down Glen Tromie on lumpy estate roads, passing questionable architecture on the way. Is that a care home? A prison?

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My right knee starts acting up. ‘You’re supposed to be the good knee’. It dawned on me that my saddle must be too low after adjusting it to facilitate pitching the TrailStar. Raise it up, pop some ibuprofen just in case and kept my cadence up. From Bhran Cottage, I eyeball the distant track climbing alongside Loch an t-Seilich. The wind has picked up, making progress a little slower then usual. The climb up to Gaick Lodge came and went, it looks worse from distance.

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A couple of bikers come the other way, they find me mid tyre pressure adjustment. My last adjustment had missed the sweet spot and handling had gone a bit mushy. We talk bikes. They warn of flying insects by the loch ahead. The trail is due to turn more technical, more narrow singletrack with a drop away to the left. I put faith in the front tyre and the big chainring. More bikers coming the other way, pushing a tricky bit. I’m in the zone, my tongue may be sticking out in concentration, I have a fully loaded bike and dodgy front brake and I’m clipped in. One asks a question as I pass, ‘thank you’ I say, fixated on the trail ahead. I hope they’ll forgive me, this momentum was hard earned.

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I reach the end of the loch a pick up the old estate road. A spot of lunch and a short rest. Legs feel good, knee feels good. I crack on, progress must be made. I hear the A9 before I see it, a short pull up and a fun, final descent to the roadside, across to the old A9, now NCN 7, and spin my way back to Blair Atholl. I ride no handed to stretch my back, neck and shoulders, but in truth I feel pretty good – most unusual for me after so long in the saddle. This bike looks after you. I return the favour by oiling the chain.

Cuillin

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Cuilce

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Bla Bheinn

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