It sometimes feels like the planets need to align in order for me to camp out. Free diary, sufficient enthusiasm, weather. Most of my camping trips are prepended with a couple of false starts, usually due to an enthusiasm deficiency, possibly as a result of some sort of weather issue. I wouldn’t quite describe myself a fair-weather camper, but I don’t really relish staying out in miserable weather. Cold – I don’t mind. But grey, ‘meh‘ weather does not get me excited.

A new bike had me rolling around the idea of a bikepacking trip, and a decent forecast had given me the impetus to get off my arse and do something. I picked a 30km route from the Bike Scotland Trails Guide in my old favourite, the Cairngorm NP.

I arrived at Inverdurie around noon, and parked up next to Bothy Bikes. I resisted the urge to go in for a look, hitting the trails was more pressing. The sun was shining, but there was a chill in the air and I was keen to get the blood pumping in order to warm up. I immediately headed off in the wrong direction [well the right direction, but the wrong route]. Once I eventually figured out where I was, I doubled back despite being able to easily rejoin my intended route. I was here for the riding, and had just skipped a big chunk of singletrack. I retraced my route, almost back to the car and started off again, on the right trail.

Why should Herr Morkel have a monopoly on pristine, mirror like lake photographs?

I soon came to realise that my usual navigational skills did not work at speed, I kept overshooting my intended junctions, despite the trails being well marked and fairly clear. Regular consultation of the map did not seem to help any. On any other day, I’d have been getting annoyed with myself, but not today. My legs felt strong and weirdly, also my lungs – unheard of. It was all the bike’s doing of course. Moving to a bigger frame was like removing a deadweight. Coupled with my recent transition to clipless pedals, it has turned me into a riding god*. I was surprised to find sweat dripping from my brow, I was obviously working harder than I thought, but the cool autumn air was regulating my body temperature quite nicely. I wasn’t even out of breath.

[*not really]

I didn’t take as many photographs as I normally do, I was having too much fun to stop, get the camera out and shoot at every turn. I stopped to take in the views over Loch and Eilein and realised, yet again, I’d overshot a turn off. It wasn’t strictly necessary, it was an out and back detour to Inshriach bothy purely for the sake of riding the singletrack. I’m glad I doubled back to ride it, as it was the most fun part of the trail. A bit muddy in places, but mostly rocky, punctuated with the odd rooty section – plenty of opportunities for a gravity inducing pedal strike.

At the bothy, there was a bunch of guys up from Ayrshire, I chatted for a while and learned there was a Bonfire that night [being Nov. 5th], I think they said it was at Feshiebridge. I wouldn’t be going at any rate, my wallet was in the car and I certainly didn’t drive all this way to spend it with people. I asked the time and made my excuses. I wanted to press on and get pitched up before dark. I returned by the singletrack to Loch an Eilein and onward to a spot I had failed to camp at last March. I hauled the bike up over the heather to the top of the small hillock, I knew there was a good view out over the loch and forest although finding a pitch amongst the heather was tricky, resulting in rather saggy [not soggy, that came later] Akto.

I got changed into some dry clothes, despite my rear mudguard, my arse was filthy. My shoes were soaked too, I cursed the decision to leave my goretex socks at home. I fashioned some booties out of two large drybags, which helped keep my clean socks dry once back in my shoes. I got the stove on and had dinner, I warmed up nicely, the temperature was starting to drop as the sun dipped over the horizon. The forecast was for a clear night. It was going to be chilly. I wrapped my gorillapod around the bike frame and set my interval timer to fire every 45 seconds. I had only limited experience shooting timelapse sequences from the window at home, but was eager to give it a try with a subject worthy of the effort.

Even with a decent understanding of the photographic challenges time lapse presents, you don’t really get a decent understanding of the difficulties involved until you give it a go and watch as your hopes are dashed by the seemingly little things. Next time you watch Frozen Planet or some other photographic tour-de-force from the BBC, spare a thought for the poor guy who had to overcome his lens becoming covered in dew, or frozen, or his battery dying due to the sub-zero temperature.

The first thing I realised was that my rather expensive camera was getting damp, I hadn’t thought to bring my Op/tech rain cover. Lesson learned. I improvised with yet another dry bag. Carefully, to avoid moving the camera or focus. I had hoped to shoot until dawn, letting the camera do it’s thing whilst I slept. I brought the mat and sleeping bag out of the tent and lay watching the cloud clear overhead to reveal the stars, somewhat obliterated by the rising moon and a multitude of satellites criss-crossing effortlessly overhead. I could hear a distant ceilidh band, presumably playing at the bonfire in Feshiebridge, they sounded tight and were playing some sort of pounding, modern strain of trad. Scottish music. I would have liked to have heard them properly. Instead, I settled for The Black Dog and marvelled as the satellites apparently started syncing up with the assorted drones and synths in my ears. I could see distant fireworks lighting up the sky over toward Aviemore and Feshiebridge. I wondered if the camera would capture them.

After an hour or two, I headed for the tent. I set my alarm to wake me in a few hours so I could check the camera. I drifted off, despite the motionless inner of my Akto an inch from my face. I woke up to the alarm and was unsurprised to find lots of condensation forming in the tent and on my sleeping bag, despite leaving the doors open. There was no wind. I’m falling out of love with the Akto, but I have not yet decided what to replace it with. Probably a Trailstar next year.

Some thoughts on shooting time lapse sequences.

I wandered out to the camera to find the battery had died [should have expected that], reviewing the photos revealed a creeping fog on the lens as the night wore on. On one hand you have perfect conditions for shooting; clear/dark skies, calm air, no rain. But those same conditions get you in the end. Once the dew point is reached, it’s game over. In the end, I shot for several hours and only have ten seconds of footage to show for it. You can see it at the end of the short video I put together below. The image quality isn not quite where I’d like it to be, as I was shooting JPG rather than RAW, as my CompactFlash cards are not big enough to handle the volume of shots I was looking to take. That is a problem ca$h can solve, as is battery issue – a battery grip would probably see me through the night, but I don’t think I want to go there [expense, weight, bulk]. I’m not sure how to tackle the dew problem. I had my lens hood on, but maybe some sort of dew heater [as used in astronomy applications] could work. Again, this would then require more weight/bulk tradeoff for the battery to power it. Time to do some more research, I expect the internet is full of useful solutions to all these problems.

I awoke in the morning feeling a bit chilly, I’d slept with my down jacket on in my bag, but my POE Peak Elite AC had partially deflated, leaving just my Z-lite between me and the frozen ground. It’s a pity, as I was super comfy when I went to sleep. But all the anecdotal evidence I read about super light sleeping mats suggests they’re not to be trusted. Still, I won it so shouldn’t complain. But if I’d paid for it I’d be more disappointed. Maybe they’re just not designed for people of my size/weight. The condensation in the Akto was quite bad, it would be more tolerable if the inner wasn’t so close to your face. But coupled with the weight has me thinking about a shelter change, I’ll need to give it some thought.

I had some breakfast to warm me up. I was surprised to find myself removing my hat as I became too warm once the sun rose over the hill. I pottered around looking at the view for a while and then struck camp, keen to get moving in hope my feet would warm up [they wouldn’t]. After a slow start, my legs loosened up. I was enjoying the blue skies and being out before the crowds. I crossed the Cairngorm Club Footbridge and headed cross country to Loch Morlich, the planned route was to skirt the western shore and return to the car, but it was too nice to think about going home. I pressed on, around the western shore toward Glenmore. Passing through the campsite and across the road, I picked up the track which runs back to Coylumbridge alongside the ski road. The trails are swoopy, fast rolling and free draining doubletrack, not unlike you might find at a trail centre. It was much more fun than I was expecting it to be and a great way to round off the trip.

The guy from Bothy Bikes was racing around the car park on a Pugsley with a grin on his face. I popped into the shop for a looksee and heard him raving about ‘riding into’ the big rock in the car park. Turns out he’d been at the bonfire down in Feshiebridge the night before and confirmed the band were as tight as they sounded from afar, [from what he could remember]. I drove into Aviemore for an excellent late breakfast at Active Cafaidh before heading back home. The blue skies gave way to fog around Atholl, all the way to Dunkeld [anyone ever been to Dunkeld and it not be foggy?]. I was somewhat amazed to extract myself from the car 110 miles later, with minimal muscle seizure. The usual post trip chores now expanded to include a bike wash. Then a long soak in the bath.

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