I turn the lever on the yellow door in front of me and open it slowly. An eruption of noise bursts out through the opening; laughter, talking, children, the clatter of balls being knocked around a pool table. Then there’s the light – from the small dim pool of light on my bike straight into a brightly lit room; it’s like a massive assault on my senses. It’s 22:44 on Saturday night, and I’m at the bar of the Star Inn, Dylife, the highest pub in Wales. I’m in time for last orders. (more…)
If mountain bike racing in the UK had a spectrum, at the red end you’d have events like the Highland Trail with its duration measured in days. At the violet end would probably be something like downhill, with a duration measured in minutes and fractions of a second.
1. a band of colours, as seen in a rainbow, produced by separation of the components of light by their different degrees of refraction according to wavelength.
2. used to classify something in terms of its position on a scale between two extreme points
I’m not usually one for racing at the violet end of the scale; something to do with not enough margin for error, and requiring more emphasis on outright skill than actual fitness. But, I guess it’s good to operate outside of your comfort zone once in a while.
It’s light. Definitely more light than I was expecting.
I feel a bit disoriented. Where was I? My mind is slow to engage. I sit up and look at the view. Oh, yes… I remember now. The plan worked, sort of. I wasn’t cold, but there’s a heavy dew over everything. I pull my damp sleeping bag from the bivvy bag and stuff it back into the dry bag, hopefully for the last time. Today should be the last day.
“Wake up. You’ve got to get up right now!”
It was 4:00am, still overcast and barely light.
“Come on, quickly. You’ve not got long…”
It was my bowel talking. When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go! I returned several minutes later and Andy was shuffling out of his bivvy bag. Kenny was still fast asleep, but he needed resupply in Ullapool, so was going to have a lie-in. We were away pretty quickly, dropping into Ullapool as the lorries were pulling out of town having collected last night’s catch of fish.
We span up the road taking a breakfast of sorts on the move. No resupply in Ullapool for us, but with what I had with me, I figured I’d be OK. At the end of Loch Broom, we picked up the Coffin Road – a steep and unforgiving push over to Dundonnel. Alan Goldsmith caught us up here, after his overnight stop in Ullapool. We chatted briefly, and Andy said how hard it is to keep up with his planned daily schedule, and declaring that he planned to do 90 miles today.
“90 miles?!” Alan exclaimed, “Good luck with that!”
My eyes flickered open at the sound of tyres rolling over gravel. It was light. I looked round but couldn’t see any sign of anyone. Maybe I was dreaming. The wind had dropped, and the midges were out in force. Breakfast would have to wait. In conditions such as these, I was glad I had my sleeping set up well dialed. Everything was centered around a single 5 litre dry bag that mounted into my Wildcat Lion harness, and it wasn’t long before I was up, packed and back on the trail. It was 4:45am.
Hopefully by now, the Highland Trail doesn’t need much of an introduction. It’s in Scotland, it’s a chuffing long way, it’s very remote and you’re pretty much on your own. It’s also one of the most amazing multiday rides you can do in the UK. If you’ve been following the story so far, it’s been a mix of success and failure. It is more the latter than the former that has driven me back here for 2016, and that has been a strange motivator.
“Right, you’re on pole!”, said Alan Goldsmith as I tried to blend in among the other 50 starters for this years group ride.
“What, me?!” I said, somewhat surprised.
“Yes, well, front row at least”
I wasn’t really feeling front row material if I’m honest. Preparation for this event had not panned out as I had hoped due to sporadic illness and other commitments, but here I was anyway, very apprehensive and in full knowledge of the magnitude of what I was about to undertake. That sounds like an excuse, but is really a statement of fact. A few had speculated that I had been hiding my efforts on Strava as part of some strategic plan. If only that were true! (more…)
When I was doing the 3 Peaks Cyclocross Race last month, somewhere around the top of Whernside, a chap said to me
“We must be mad!”.
“It depends”, I replied, before asking him how many times he’d done the event.
“Ten”, he said.
“Ah, well, this is my first time, so you’re the one who’s mad; I’m just exercising my right to try anything once…”
Fast forward three weeks and I’m stood in a car park in Llanbrynmair with too little gear strapped to my bike ready to embark on my fifth Bear Bones 200. Indeed, nobody has ever done all five, so where that puts me on the sanity scale, I’ve no idea. (more…)
This time last week, if you asked me to write a list of the things that appealed about the Three Peaks Cyclocross Race, I’m not sure it would be a very long list. I hardly ever ride road, I’m built more for long distance than I am for speed, I’m not really a fan of carrying my bike and I’m not much of a runner. I guess it appealed because it looked hard, and it’s been running for over 50 years, so it’s got heritage. Anything that old has to be good, right?
The race is described as “the toughest and biggest cyclocross event in the UK”. Benedict Campbell titles it as “The Epic” in his film Love of Mud, and various winners and former entrants describe the punishing terrain and sometimes harsh weather conditions that take their toll on bike and body. But then, a distance of 38 miles, of which 34 is rideable and 18 is on tarmac doesn’t sound that bad, all things considered?
The sweat poured off me as I pushed my bike up the narrow lane to Fremington Edge. I heard a vehicle approaching quickly as I reached a gate across the road. I held it open as an old chap in a 4×4 roared through. Just 20 yards beyond the gate he screeched to a halt in a cloud of dust. He jumped out and without any introduction said
Would you like a cup of tea?
I was in Yorkshire. I don’t think I’ve ever been offered a cup of tea by a complete stranger while in the middle of nowhere, but if it was going to happen anywhere, you might suppose it would be Yorkshire. (more…)
- Pick a few points on a map, a variable distance apart, say 20-40km.
- Highlight any good rideable off road trails you know between these points. You’ll need about three fifths of these.
- Highlight any of the unrideable trails you know between these points. Don’t use any more than one fifth of these, or your route will have a slightly sour taste.
- At this stage, you may notice that not all your trails join up. Link as many of these sections as you can with bits of road, yellow ones if you have them, or any that have those small black arrows on.
- You might still have a few loose ends, but don’t worry, these can be linked up using arbitrary rights of way over the top of bleak mountain tops. Again, don’t over do these, as it will affect the bitterness afterwards.
- Once prepared, keep your route in a dark place for a couple of months to mature and don’t tell anyone where it is.
While your route is maturing, you will need to source approximately 70 mountain bike riders (bikepacking variety) who will ride your route. They don’t need to know where it goes at this stage, they just need to think they want to do it. (more…)