Highland Trail Race

Bikepacking, Reviews, Video

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.  (more…)

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Bikepacking, Races

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. (more…)

Bikepacking, Races

Highland Trail Race: Epilogue


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The air was cold rolling down the road out of Tyndrum. The Highland Trail Race was done, but the riding wasn’t over until I’d got myself back to Ewich House. Having the prospect of a bed for the night was useful incentive to finish the race that evening.

I was too late for food in Tyndrum so had to make do with what I had left in my bags and whatever I could scavenge from the car. Half a packet of crisps, two pieces of stale malt loaf, one flapjack and a large supermarket cookie. Not quite the reward I was hoping for, but together with 120g of Torq Recovery powder, it was going to have to do. (more…)

Bikepacking, Races

Highland Trail Race – The Final Push


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I woke up with a jolt. I fumbled for my phone, the only means I had of telling the time with my GPS switched off. It was 5:15 am and very light. I got up quickly to see if Mark’s bike was still in the bothy, and it was. I gathered my kit together in a matter of minutes and was on my way by 5:25 am.

Knowing that Mark was a stronger and faster rider than me, I knew that I needed to get a few miles down the road to give myself a cushion for the rest of the race. The only reason I was in this position was because I’d slept less than he had. I’ve just done three of the hardest days riding of my life, covering 530 km, and I now had to race another 160 km to the finish. And I’ve just had 1.5 hours sleep. No pressure. (more…)

Bikepacking, Races

Highland Trail Race – Day 3


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I opened my eyes just enough to assess that it was now daylight and closed them again. The rain pounded on the tin roof of the emergency shelter. I was still on my own, so whoever it was out on the mountain last night, they either stayed in Shenavall or stopped somewhere else. It was 6.30 am. I got up and put my damp cycling clothes back on, and then put my goretex jacket and shorts over the top. My legs weren’t feeling brilliant, but then yesterday was a 194 km day. Maybe they’d loosen up. (more…)

Bikepacking, Races

Highland Trail Race – Day 2


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I think it got light before 4:00 am, but it wasn’t until 6.30 am that I hauled myself out of my sleeping bag and got my kit back together. It was a tidy bothy, one I’d be given the details of by a friend via the Bear Bones Bikepacking forum. It was worth having ridden the extra distance to and I felt fairly refreshed even if by only 4 hours sleep. I’d saved a couple of pieces of pizza from the night before, one of which served nicely as breakfast.  (more…)

Bikepacking, Races

Highland Trail Race – Day 1


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At the shout of “Go”, at precisely 10:00 am, we tore off up the stone track ahead of us. The first part of the route followed the West Highland Way to Kinlochleven, the major difficulty in this section being the Devil’s Staircase. The initial miles were much more straight forward, and for the most part completed at a brisk pace that just allowed for conversation while we still rode as a group. The pace up the first long climb to the Glencoe Ski Station was beginning to put me outside my comfort zone, so I backed off a bit and watched the leading group of 5 riders edge away (Aidan Harding, Phil Simcock, Mark Goldie, Phil Richmond, James Gillies). The descent that followed to King’s House was fun, but it only served as short respite before we got onto the Devil’s Staircase. The first long push of the day followed, which I enjoyed in the company of Rob Wixey and Alan Goldsmith. The moderately technical descent brought Rob and I into Kinlochleven, at which point we left the West Highland Way and heading North-east towards Loch Elide Mor. (more…)

Bikepacking, Races

Highland Trail Race – An Introduction


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This is the beginning of a series of posts about my experience on the Highland Trail Race. In simple terms, it was a 430 mile off road self supported bike race around a predetermined route. No entry fee, no prize and certainly no support. If you’re wondering why it will be spread over so many posts, its because it was singularly the most difficult thing I have ever done on a bike. This bland statement does little to conjure up an image of what the race delivered. The fact is, half the field didn’t finish at all. Those that did endured an almost unbelievable level of physical exertion and mental pressure simply to complete the route. At this stage, I’m not even sure how I’ll tell my story, but for now lets start a week last Friday. (more…)