The Shindig

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This post continues from my previous entry for the Lakeland 200.

I woke up at 9:35 AM. For only two hours sleep, I didn’t feel too bad. I finished the rest of my olives and got dressed into some normal clothes. Rummaging around the van, I found some more food and began the process of replacing the thousands of calories consumed over the last 27 hours of riding.

The other objective for the weekend was to ride The Shindig, a social bikepacking event organised by by Bryan Dawson for Shand Cycles. The grand depart was from Milngavie (pronounced mull-guy), north of Glasgow at 2:00 PM. There was a strong likelihood I wasn’t going to make it in time, but I wasn’t coming this far north and giving up on it entirely. Continue reading

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Lakeland 200

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I stopped at the bottom of a rooty and rocky trail threading its way up through some woodland. It was too steep to ride. I prepared to dismount for yet another push, but my mind challenged me before my body could repeat the now familiar ritual of the next bit of hike-a-bike. Just how far, from this exact point, would it be to ride the road back to Keswick?

I was near Elterwater, west of Ambleside part way into the Lakeland 200 ITT route. The sun shone, but everything was dark. I’d been riding since 3:33am and it was now 3:00pm. I was just past half way and I’d had enough. I’d lost count of the number of climbs I’d pushed. Over 60 miles of Lakeland trails lay behind me, mostly hewn from large lumps of rock that provided no respite. I still had to do a distance equal to what I had already covered, and over more difficult terrain. Sunset was 4 hours away. Continue reading

Highland Trail – Video Kit Breakdown – Part 2

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Having covered the equipment and technical side of things in my previous post, We’ll now explore what I decided to shoot and how I pieced it together.

My knowledge of good proportions of the route gave me a good mental picture of different sections I wanted to film. Devil’s Staircase (ascent and descent), Abhainn Rath and Corrieyarrick Pass were all on my list. Of course, I didn’t know whether I’d be solo or with someone at these points, so I made use of any opportunity to film another rider when I saw them to maintain a sense this was a race. I found myself solo on Day 1 more than I expected – partly owing to a torn sidewall on the Devil’s Staircase descent – and after the quick start and the sense that the tyre repair had cost me time early in the race, my mind was battling with the concept that I should be racing while my filming head was saying, ease up, there’s a good scene to shoot there. In a couple of places I passed up the opportunity to film off the bike because I could see other riders back down the trail behind me and didn’t want to get caught. In the end I had quite a good selection of various bits of the route from Day 1, but the challenge of editing into a reasonably concise sequence and keeping with the flow of the music meant a lot wasn’t used.

Abhainn Rath Crossing Sequence

Abhainn Rath Crossing Sequence

The bothy sequence at the start of Day 2 came out much better than I expected. As soon as I woke, Continue reading

Highland Trail – Video Kit Breakdown – Part 1

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Following the Highland Trail video posted last week, I thought I’d provide some insight into how I approached the filming, what kit I took, what settings I used and so on.

A few people asked me before the race:

Why would you want to waste time filming when you should be racing?

While the Highland Trail appealed to my competitive instincts, I felt I wasn’t quite on the same form as last year, and the challenge of creating a short film appealed to me. The event had proven popular for non-riders too, and this was a chance to show everyone not racing what the Highland Trail was really like. Besides that, it was a suitable distraction from the sharp and committing end of the race. That said, I deliberately didn’t want to spend ages setting up off-bike sequences. I recognised the benefit of including some in the film, but I still wanted to get in a good distance each day, take a short sleep strategy and portray the impact that has on the rider.

The Camera

Up until last month, all my films have been shot using a Contour +2 HD video camera; either helmet  or bar mounted, or off-bike on a tripod. When I first acquired a video camera last year, it was a toss up between the Contour and the GoPro Hero3. Comparisons between footage of both cameras seemed to show next to no difference in quality and on finding the Contour at a good price (bearing in mind the Hero3 was still quite new and suffering from some early firmware glitches), that’s what I went for. Whilst I’ve enjoyed using it – and there are some areas where the Contour is better than the GoPro in my opinion – it does have one limitation in that you can’t chest-mount it like you can with a GoPro. Unless I do my helmet strap up so tight I can’t open my mouth, I’ve never managed to get consistently good POV footage from the Contour due to excessive shake off the helmet.

For the Highland Trail, I knew that for speed of gathering footage the vast majority of filming needed to be made on the bike. I think is where the main win for the GoPro is – the chest-mount. It so happened, that the Hero3 recently got a refresh to the Hero3+  with a new lens, new waterproof case, longer battery life, better low light performance and crisper image quality.  Continue reading

Highland Trail Race 550

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After last year’s Highland Trail Race, one of my overriding feelings after completing it was that once was enough – I was not going to go through all that again. It was by far the hardest thing I’d ever done on a bike, and it pushed my physical and mental limits far beyond those I’d encountered in a “normal” 24 hr solo race.

Time is a good healer, it seems. My mind had shuffled all the gruelling bits to the back, and memories of good trails and heroic efforts combined to form a comparatively enjoyable experience, albeit one that didn’t involve a lot of sleep. The addition of another 120 miles for the route this year in the form of a northern loop around the Assynt placed it well and truly into the realms of Epic (a much overused words, but in this context it most definitely deserves the capitalisation), and this tantalisingly difficult section on top of what I already knew to be a tough route made it difficult to resist.

My final preparation was less than perfect, and nearly didn’t happen at all if it weren’t for the support of Shand Cycles. High drama even continued up to the day before the race when my bike came loose on the bike rack while driving to the train station, ruining a Jones H-Bar in the process. I boarded the train anyway, and set about trying to source a replacement while en route. Keep Pedalling in Manchester came up trumps with a  new bar, even going as far as meeting me at the train station to hand it over so I could continue my journey north to Scotland with as little disruption as possible.

Approaching Devil's Staircase

Approaching Devil’s Staircase

Race day dawned cloudy with a cool breeze from the North-east. It looked like a good day for getting the miles down, and with the 1 hour earlier start this year we would have a little less pressure to get to Fort Augustus before everything shut. I settled into a rhythm reasonably well on the opening section, but clearly not able to match the pace of some of the front runners. This was a long race, and I wasn’t about to blow up on the first day. Continue reading

Shand Cycles

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It was at Bespoked Bristol Bike Show in 2013 that I first met Steven Shand, owner of Shand Cycles. Wildcat Gear supplied Steven with some bags to display at the show, and that marked the beginning of the two companies working together to unite Shand’s superbly crafted frames with the high quality bikepacking luggage creations from Wildcat Gear.

When I first looked at the bikes in their range at the show, two things stood out to me; thoughtful, elegant design that instantly portrayed the true purpose behind each frames intended use and, secondly, a level of craftsmanship in the brazing and quality in the final finish that is best seen in the metal to be fully appreciated.  Continue reading