It seems like forever since I last posted a trip report. I’ve been waiting for my TrailStar to arrive, and then had to seam seal it. The Akto went off to eBay land. [I’m never selling on eBay again. £25 charges and another £10 to Paypal is frankly, ridiculous.] Obviously the inaugural TrailStar trip should be on a bike, where I have no use for the walking pole required to pitch it. Oh well…

I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking about making the bike more camping friendly. I’ve been designing a framebag in Google Sketchup and am currently considering whether or not to have it made. I’ve added a set of On-One Mary Bars [anodised blue, of course], which I’ll be using instead of my 745mm bars on all day rides. The 745s are great for gravity based fun, but the Mary bars are much more comfortable for prolonged saddle time. In addition, I nipped into The Bike Chain in Edinburgh on Saturday to pick up a Salsa Anything Cage, this fits the TrailStar perfectly, and I even managed to squeeze a walking pole into my frame too.

Bikepacking mode

After making a hole in the Akto stuff bag last time, I was keen to avoid cable rub on any handlebar mounted kit. I bought some ladder locks and webbing on ebay and made a simple harness to keep the Alpkit Gourdon away from the headtube. It worked well, but needed tightening after rocky descents. £5 well spent. I did regret leaving the High Roller Super Tacky on the front wheel until my legs started working properly [about 2km from the end ;)], they’re great on my local trails, but not ideal for the hardpack which makes up most of this route.

Ok. Bike chat over. I started at Nethy Bridge, parking at the hotel as there was chaos [by Nethy Bridge standards anyway] on the roads around the bridge, it appeared to be some sort of community festival. I got kitted up and made my way past the handsome highland homes alongside the river. A short ride onward, the asphalt turns to dirt and I enter the forest. Despite the weather, which is cool but sunny, I’m feeling a bit underwhelmed, but I can’t figure out why.

Further on, I realise it is my pack that has been annoying me, more specifically, the giant bloody dSLR/lens, which once removed seems to halve the weight of the pack. I redistribute the pack contents and move the camera further down. Better. Out of the forest I find myself at Ryvoan Bothy much sooner than expected. I suspect I’m less than half way, but given the late start, opt to detour to Loch a’ Gharbh Choire to pitch up for the night. I’d been past the loch before and noted a few viable pitches. The descent from Ryvoan to Glenmore had been tempting, but I wasn’t sure where I’d be able to camp further on [other than a campsite]. I hadn’t encountered any midges so felt a camp by water shouldn’t be a problem. By morning I was pretty pleased I’d stayed put.

I had the notion to tweet a smug photo of my camp spot, but the single bar reception had been only fleeting. I’d have to be smug alone. The weather had remained chilly but pleasant, good riding weather, I managed to remain fairly dry throughout, but was glad of my Rab PS top to keep me warm. I pitched the TrailStar and after a false start with the entrance pointing the wrong way, managed to get a reasonably taut pitch. In lieu of a second walking pole, I used the bike with the seatpost jacked right up to run the guy over. I found the alleged non-slip properties of the MLD supplied guy lines to be a bit over hyped. It was fine at the pegging points, but the long guy kept slipping so I just extended it fully and moved the peg out.

I took off to fill my Platys, with camera in hand, and spent an hour of so milling around the shore, snapping this and that. Hunger prompted my return to camp. Dinner was the usual mix of couscous, packet soup and oatcakes. It didn’t look like much, but tasted great. The campsite has a large fire pit, which had been extended to overly large proportions, charring nearby roots. I don’t normally build fires, but given this was already here I tidied it up, reduced the size by three quarters and built a small fire with the plentiful supply of dry wood. I just got it going when the snow started.

I found some mystery whisky in my food bag and took a sip. Ardbeg! 😀 Perfect with woodsmoke! Could this get any better? I stuck around for bit, before retreating to the shelter with the intention of reading, but once I’d got comfortable I found myself falling asleep to the sound of the snow sliding down the TrailStar. I grabbed the sleeping bag and dozed off still wearing my cycling gear.

I awoke just after 0300 to clear skies and the moon dropping down past Creag nan Gall. I got up with the camera and wandered about, I could see pre-dawn colour edging over the north-eastern horizon. I don’t remember that last time I saw the sun come up. I used the facilities and returned to bed, I thought I’d drift off to some Biosphere on the iPod. It didn’t work. I rolled from side to side, but despite being very comfy and warm, couldn’t sleep. Occasionally I’d get a slow, sweeping chill, running up my torso, then gone and I’d feel instantly warm again. I considered this phenomenon for a while. Was I hypothermic? No matter, zzzzzzzzz.

I awoke again just after 0500 to mist, drifting across the loch, visible just outside the door. I was wide awake again, grab the camera! The birds were up already and chirping away to one another, so nice to hear, as often the Scottish hills can be a bit desolate. It’s amazing how much difference a few trees and a bit of water can make to a landscape’s ability to support small birds. The surrounding hills had retained the snow, but at camp the rest of the snow was gone, leaving just a hard frost with heather bejewelled with frozen water droplets and an iced up TrailStar.

A light breeze carried the mist across the surface of the ripple-free water. What is it about dawn that produces calm conditions like this? I took the obligatory sunrise shots. Smug factor 10 captain. This is why I do this. Why can’t I persuade the other half, even after she has seen the photographs, to try wild camping? Is she wired up wrong?

I watch as the light show fades, and grab the stove and get a brew on. The sun gives a grand finale in the form of a solar pillar, before settling into it’s mundane daily routine of nuclear fusion and generally warming stuff up and that.

I milled around for a bit, getting cold, before deciding that best way to warm up [except for feet!] is to get packed up and start cycling. I pushed back up to the path through the heather and enjoyed the nice rocky descent to Glenmore, stopping off at An Lochan Uaine to marvel at the lovely green water. I quickly made it to Glenmore Lodge, the trails were quiet this early and I had them all to myself. I rolled past the Reindeer House and turned away from Loch Morlich, through recently felled forest and onward past the outdoor centre at Badaguish. I skipped the singletrack at Badaguish, I didn’t much fancy bouncing around with all this kit strapped to the bike. I climbed up and over the Sluggan Pass, and enjoyed a fast and wet descent to Kincardine Cottage.

A short section of road links back up to the forest tracks at Abernethy, with some short, easy grin inducing singletrack amongst the trees. As Nethy Bridge grew closer, I could feel the trip drawing to a close, it was only a 40km route. I was already thinking ahead to how to extend into two nights and a ride down Gleann Einich at some point. I freewheeled back into Nethy Bridge and rolled up to the car at 1000. I’d be home in time for lunch! My feet were still cold and didn’t warm up until Newtonmore-ish. I wish I was more on a morning person, it’s the best part of the day!