Wednesday, 23 September 2009

A few days at the coast - Knoydart Penninsula

Since being made redundant i have mostly just mooched about... looking for jobs.. discovering how little there is out there and contemplating how again i have managed to land myself in this position of uncertainty.

Riding has taken a back seat... primarily due to the disorganisation in my life.. living with Grace's parents.. trying to move to Newcastle.. trying to find a job and also as Kielder seemed to take a higher toll than i thought leaving me with a sore knee to rest up.

This lack of riding wasn't really an issue as anyone that finds themselves with spare time on their hands due to unemployment quickly realises when you wanna go do some riding all your riding friends are at work:(

So came about this trip.. after contacting the usual suspects looking for an out for a few days just to think about something fresh other than life Micheal (Rose) came good with a long weekend idea to a place in Scotland he had wanted to go to for a long time.. the Knoydart Penninsula.. one if not the remotest place in the UK... the destination town we were gonna be visiting, Inverie, is totally cut off from the main road network.. only accessible by walking/riding in or by ferry.

The trip idea was pretty straight forward... Friday night we would drive to Glenfinnin where we would dump the car and from that point carry everything we needed.. a short ride up the valley would see our first nights accommodation.. the Corry hully bothy.. the Saturday would be a ride to Inverie.. Sunday a walk up a mountain and Monday a short ride to catch the ferry.

Friday everything was loaded into a 55 litre borrowed rucksack from Micheal... tent strapped one side and sleeping mat the other.. this thing weighed at least 15kg.. riding was gonna be interesting. I drove to pick Micheal up and the third member of the group.. Ellie.. his whippet.. with no dog sitter available we were taking the dog, distances looked manageable and we knew the going was gonna be very much 'hike a bike' with maybe more hike than bike so she would easily be able to manage it.

The driving was shared and after consuming a large amount of wine gums and midget gems we arrived at Glenfinnin at midnight.. we quickly unloaded the car and dumped it at the train station hoping it would be safe there for 3 days..

After a short ride and trying to get used to riding with so much load on our backs we reached the bothy and Micheal took a look in to find one inhabitant, an American lady who didn't mind the rude awakening at what must of been 1am... we quietly got bags out and got onto the wooden bench to get some sleep.

The next morning we woke to clear skies and a promising day.. the scenery was fantastic...

After a coffee we got underway up the valley.. the days riding was basically set to be 3 passes.. the first starting straight off the bat and we were subjected to a good slog up the valley although the rough double track we were on allowed us to ride all but the steepest sections.. well Micheal used the granny ring and got up most. The top section was mostly pushing.

the ground as we go to the top of the first section was very boggy and although allowed some riding also allowed some comical falls.. when you have so much weight on your back its really difficult to get back up from a fall or drag yourself out of a deep section of bog... riding was very comical even if weather had started to turn to crap and we were getting wet.

We made it to the bottom of the pass and into a section of forest which luckily after a very short push opened into a lovely hard surface to ride.. the weather was getting worse so we decided to stop at the next bothy for some food and to dry the dog.. the bothy was nice and bike and allowed us to get bike in and all our gear out to try and dry it once we had got a fire going..

It was definitely a 'room with a view' looking out onto the hillside and valleys and we took the time to cook up some hot food.. at this point we had decided that to make it to Inverie today would be too much.. the going was very soft and slow so our aim became the Soulies bothy on the other side of the second pass located on a beach it looked to be a great spot to spend the night... happy we had time on our side we set to some noodles.. also time to ponder the switch on the wall labelled 'immersion heater - please turn off before leaving' for a few seconds we looked about for sign of hot water before realising how ridiculous we were being.

After lunch we stepped outside to a much better day the sun had come out and there was rainbow seemingly outside the door..

We set back off able to ride the double track till it eventually ran out and turned to singletrack... from here on we pushed and rode a little and picked our way up the pass.. although the path was not ride able in places the going was still good..

As we made our way the weather tested us with bouts of sunshine followed by battering squall's of rain... we finally reached the end of the pass and with only the descent ot go we were treated to some fantastic technical singletrack... unfortunately not as much was ride able as liked due to the hindering rucksack that every time you slid your weight back it would push you in the head and slide your helmet forward but all the same this was a hidden gem of a descent which i imagine as seen not many tyres in its time..

Getting to the bothy we weren't the first to arrive with a couple of walkers already in there.. luckily on seeing another approaching group of 4 they decided they would vacate and camp up the trail away only for the group of 4 to arrive and they were camping too so we got lucky with the whole bothy to ourselves. as the sun set the views along the loch and the shoreline were stunning... a couple kayaked in just as the sun was setting and it really appealed.. sea kayaking will get tried in the not too distant future.

That night we drunk little bottle of red wine while Micheal tried everyway under the sun to light some very 'green' wood... finally succeeding just as we had decided to go to sleep... i went to sleep on a double thick bed of my mat plus some foam i had found in the bothy intoxicated by plumes of wood smoke whilst Ellie had decided it was my turn to have her sleep at the bottom of my sleeping bag.. i have no idea how she can breath in there!

On the Sunday the day started on a very civilised note with pain au chocolat and coffee for breakfast followed by what could be viewed as a bad decision but now its all over i see it as laying down one of the hardest challenges of my life and opeing up some future trip possibilities.

Instead of simply going up and over the third pass to Inverie we decided to 'ride' the coastline... hug the coast.. ride the beaches we could find and hopefully get to see some wildlife hiding off the beaten track.. we set off on a rideable beach.. the day looked promising..

After a short while we were faced with a straight up a grassy rocky bank.. this should have signalled what was to come but optimistic we pressed on... then a shallow ish river crossing..

Once we had crossed the river another push up a grassy bank gave us some doubletrack to ride... this ran out at a jetty about 1.5km down the valley.. from this point we could only go straight up the steep valley till we could traverse across again.. prefered mode of travel was bikes on top of rucksacks..

From here on the going was the toughest ground i have ever tried to cross... we had calculated that we would have 3km of this hard going before it flattened... not only were we having to go up and down the valley sides but also inland to varying degrees as the outcrops of rock forced us inland.. the lovely ride able beaches we were hoping for just didn't materialise.

We did however get some wildlife.. firstly in the form of a group of basking seals on a rocky outcrop just of the shore... a few of which came close and popped up out the water as we went past on the beach to take a look at us.. then a Deer darted out of the bracken a few feet away.

The going continued to be hard.. if it wasn't 4ft high bracken clinging to your cranks and bars it was tussocks of grass making your bike 'endo' as you tried to push it meaning you were having to lift it over stuff.. eventually after a number of hours we got to a large flat area... a very large boggy flat area!

Micheal had opted to strip wheels off his bike and carry it on his rucksack... i was still wheeling mine.. crossing this bog was like a mine field.. on at least one occasion each we had to be helped out of a particularly deep section.

The reward for crossing this horrible place was a large ish stretch of rideable beach.. the gem we had been searching for.. if only it was all like this!!

No sooner had we smugly rode this section of beautiful coastline we were back up against it going up and down bracken covered hillsides... at one point we had to go straight up a very steep section.. probably only 20m but i was having to cling onto the grass with one hand and repeatedly throw my bike up the slope with the other.. at this point i thought i was beat... luckily myself and Micheal's high and low points didn't coincide so there was always the other person to give some encouragement... if i was on my own i would have curled up and waited for death to take me!

At this point we realised how totally committed we were to this endeavour... in mountain biking you don't generally get to feel this kind of exposure as you can ride to the nearest point of help in a relatively short space of time... but we weren't able to ride.. we were barely able to push at any great speed.. we weren't on any recognised trail or track so no one used this area.. we simply couldn't sit down and wait for someone to come and help.. totally committed to the route and the only way out of this was under your own steam... a sobering thought.

We pressed on and eventualy could drop to the rocky beachline and although it was not rideable and was uncomfortable to walk on the cobbles it was at least forward progress without constant traversing... we made a few more kilometres before we had to head briefly inland... at this point we could see Inverie on the other side of the bay.. painfully close... i was super thirsty as had lost one of my waterbottle son day one and had only stopped to boil up stream water once that day.

Our final real test came in the form of a 6ft high wire fence with half broken crossing poles... my bike got thrown over in frustration although i took more care passing Ellie to Micheal.. with a final rest to take on some more calories we were left with an easy shoreline push till a trail appeared which we rode complete with axle high salty water puddle till we got to the pub of Inverie.. the remotest in the UK... at the pub we ate well and i sunk 3 pints of cola and a magners.. and still could have drunk more while Ellie took well deserved rest on my Alpkit gilet/Dog bed..

No luxury of a bothy that night so out came the tent... we quickly pitched behind a wall and got in trying to sleep as the wind really had a good go at the tent and put it to the test...

Unluckily in the morning it was raining but with only a short ride to the ferry terminal life wasn't so bad..

I discovered my first and the trips only puncture... gave me something to do while we waited for the ferry.

The ferry crossing was very wet and windy and although indoors was available they operate a no dogs policy so we were literally left out in the cold.. Ellie tucked down inside Micheals jacket.

Arriving in Maillag there was only a train journey seperating us from the car... that train just happened to be a steam train.. a strange end to the Journey..

On reflection i rated this weekend tougher than any race i had ever done.. Micheal rated it tougher than the Matterhorn summit he recently did... so why am i sitting writing this now and i bet Micheal will be sitting reading this figuring out where we can go next and what changes we can make... insane?? certifiable!!!

Monday, 7 September 2009

Kielder 100 - a hard days work.

Everything is bigger and better in America (apparently)... they drive bigger cars.. have bigger houses.. eat bigger burgers and until the people at sip-events got to work they had bigger single lap mountain bike races...

Not anymore... Saturday 5th September 2009 saw a historic moment in UK endurance mountain biking... we got our first taste of a 100 mile single lap race.. long had we read tales of Breckinridge, Leadville, Shenandoah and other such races in the states and wondered about these single lap epics... we had even tried to trick ourselves cleverly using our metric system to give us 100km races but there was no getting away from the itch that needed to be scratched.

Paul and Sara at Sip Events made the bold move and their hat was thrown into the ring when the Kielder 100 was announced.. at first it was a rumour.. then a reality.. shrouded in mystery as forums buzzed with speculation as to what the course would be like, how much climbing would there be...

From day one of hearing about this event it was well and truly marked on the calender... no matter what i was riding or how i was riding i needed to be part of this first.

The race day came round quickly... really quickly and before i knew it me and Grace had packed the car and were heading up the M6 to then dart across to almost the middle of the country and dangerously close to the scottish border. The journey was hampered as usual by our wayward sat nav freestyling yet another destination other than the pre programmed... we arrived at the campsite to find friends, Rich and Shona, already there and pitched. No one knew what to expect so the atmosphere was very light hearted... although Ian Leitch and my epic riding partner Rich Rothwell were present no one knew how this race would pan out... too long for cross country riders but almost too short for the endurance experts.

The singlespeed race looked like it might be tough too with Deano and Phil the Horse from Velo Club Moulin ( i really want a jersey guys:) ) present and although i had been riding with Manchester Trev in the week previous and had felt good riding for a few hours is far removed from riding from what we though was going to be at least 8-9 hours. Oh well it would be hellish good training if nothing else.

With a 6.30am race start an early ish night was the order of the day.

I felt like i had the longest nights sleep but maybe as i kept waking up every hour and checking time... i always struggle to sleep before a race or epic ride.. i just feel like i wanna get on and get doing it and I'm wasting time lying in bed... as i got out the tent in the morning it was clear and weather looked okay... dressed and bike sorted we headed upto the line.

The race started with a near 3 mile lead out behind a car before we swung onto a gravel climb.... i took my time and gradually made my way up the field... no way was i gonna stay with he geared race leaders so i played the long game and went for a consistent ride from the start.

I managed to catch upto deano first and we exchanged places a few times before he let me go on my own... next i caught Phil on a steady climb and it looked like he was going for a similar approach to myself and just holding a comfortable pace... the course initially was a mix of fireroad and draggy, boggy singletrack... really hard work.

Just after the 33 mile marker on a fairly sedate descent on fireroad i managed to flat... as i was getting eating alive by midges and changing unfortunately the rear tube ( no quick release on the back of my bike) Deano came past with my good friend Matthew Barton towing him along at a good pace... then a few minutes later Phil gunned it past too...balls... as i got back on my bike i could see Phil nearing the top of the hill i was on making it look too easy where i was making hard work of it.

Out on my own then i kept on trucking till about ten miles later i managed to catch back upto Phil as he had stopped to take snack... that made me feel alot better although the thought of how quick deano had gone past me made me believe i would be lucky to catch him and at that point i considered slowing to wait for friends to catch up and riding rather than racing.. before i could make the decision i was caught up by Rob Dean, Morvelo team rider and recent SITS rider.. the guy is huge.. i mean he is massive! Luckily i managed to stay with him and use him as a great windbreak when we got into headwinds.. He also notified me of the infamous puddle after mile 49 by riding into it and nearly losing his bike... he pulled away on some slow draggy singletrack climbing and as i turned off that onto a fireroad i could make out Deano not far ahead.. things looked promising.

After passing Deano i put in a larger effort on the climbs and got a nice gap... i also got back Rob Dean so had my windbreak for the border crossing into Scotland.

At Newcastleton feed station i took a full fat coke, some cake and one of my SIS caffeine gels... after being dragged into an impromtu photoshoot Deano pulled into the feed station too... we exchanged encouragement and as i left Newcastleton all that caffeine and sugar kicked in and i went for it.. Dropping Rob dean and pulling across to another rider that i stuck with through the amazing flowing 7stanes singletrack descending... my bike although fully rigid handles like a dream and i doubt was any slower than most the other full sus bikes out there... after another climb i found i had pulled away from the riders i was with through the descending and at 70ish miles i found myself alone on a slightly uphill section heading along the valley bottom... this seemed to go on for ever... i then glimpsed a rider just ahead and for a moment i though it was Barton.. until i got closer then i realised it was Barton.. excellent.. company and a fast wheel to pull me to the finish.

It was excellent to ride with Matt as to be fair we haven't ridden together for a long time.. Matt has trained so hard and come though to be a force to be reckoned with on any event that involves extended periods of pain and suffering... as we passed the 80 then the 90 mile marker i started to flag a little.. i had decided to use a hydration pack instead of just filling my pockets and with racing being so close i hadn't been stopping much to get gels/bars out the bag... i stopped and sunk another caffeine gel.. that seemed to work... then with 6ish miles to go i was fading and Barton kindly gave me one of his gels so we didn't have to stop pedalling.

The gels really kicked in with 1 mile to go and i caught Barton back up as he had managed to ride a climb i had to push and i passed him on the descent into the finish.. so i took his gel and a position higher on the finish.. sorry Matt.

Grace was waiting at the finish giving an estimated finish time of 10 hours.. somewhat longer than we had anticipated... more importantly though i took the singlespeed win!!!

I have to say it was the hardest race i have done this year.. maybe ever... anyone that got round that course in the allowed time put in an amazing ride.

Big thanks to Sip Events for such an amazing event... 100 mile single lap race.. a UK first...well marshalled, sign posted and generally organised...

Lets see if Lance turns up next year and tries to complete this lap in 6 hours... let it be known that if he does i will eat my bike.. tyres and all.

Will i be back for next years???... I'd be lying to myself if i said i won't.

Massive thanks to Joolze Dymond for the images (