BAM 2019 – May

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May was a bivy with a difference – I was killing two birds with one stone by using a bivy to get a head start on a ride over to Fort William to collect my car, which had been abandoned in Glen Nevis after taking us all over to this year’s Coast to Coast start point. My plan was to knock off 50km or so  by heading out after bedtime to a bivy spot I had identified as we passed in the opposite direction on our mountain bikes. This should hopefully mean I wouldn’t be arriving at the car too late for the long drive back to Aberdeen afterwards. Even though I was heading out late it almost wasn’t dark, thanks to the long summer days we enjoy up here.

Just missed the 10pm sunset

Well stocked with food, I took as direct a route I could out towards Strathdon. Once past Echt, I stuck with the B9119 all the way to Tarland and hardly saw a car the whole way. I’d been waiting for the driest forecast possible to do this ride before the end of May but the night was getting cold, with a headwind chilling me nicely as I rode. After a brief pause for a snack, I left Tarland and started climbing up towards my planned spot. I’d made a mental note to revisit this spot during the coast to coast ride, as it looked particularly picturesque for a site so close to a main road. 220m of steady climbing later, I turned off the A97 onto a rough track that took me to the bank of Witchock Loch, where I found a gap through the trees leading me to some perfectly spaced specimens for my hammock.

Trying not to think spooky thoughts on the way to Witchock Loch

By now the temperature was around -2°C, so I didn’t hang about in getting some food down my neck and a drink, before retiring for the night. The forecast looked much more favourable for a dry night now, so I left the tarp in the bag and tried to send warm thoughts to my toes. I had toyed with the idea of going further up the track into the forest to another loch that looked as though it could have a great sunrise view, but didn’t have the desire to be up any later than I already was. This spot worked out quite well, as I slept a bit longer in the shade of the trees before I was too aware of the daylight.

The sun creeps over the trees to light the frosty loch

I sat eating some breakfast, admiring the mist swirling around the loch surface under the strengthening sunlight. I had a long way to go still, but wasn’t feeling too rushed thanks to chipping a wee bit off last night.

The mist had evaporated by the time I got going

Whilst packing up, I resisted the temptation to keep all my warm gear on for the descent, as I’d just be stopping shortly to take them off once I was climbing in the sun again. On a whim, I took a left at the next crossroads to climb up a hill on a minor road in the thawing sunlight, rather than stay on the main road towards the junction with the A944. It was an enjoyable diversion and I noted another future bivy prospect in the forestry near the hill top.

Warm-up climbing towards Heugh-head

I was back at the main road shortly afterwards and decided to stick with it and make some progress, as I’d been messing about sending the C2C boys pictures of what I was up to. It was pretty quiet this early in the morning and I was able to enjoy being out in the sun, as the feeling gradually returned to my feet.

Right-turn for me
Passing Corgarff means the pain is about to begin

As I approached Corgarff, I got my head down and tried to gain as much speed as I could for the drop to Cock Bridge, in the vain hope it would catapult me up the other side. My momentum only got me so far and I was quickly down in my bottom gear for the initial killer steep pull up towards the Lecht. It was hard going with the bivy gear, but I winched my way along until the steepness subsided and I could spin for the remainder.

This is the easy bit…
Quick photo stop at the summit of my route

I now finally had some downhill to enjoy, as the route had trended upwards from Aberdeen all the way to this point. My downhill attempt at the land speed record was aborted halfway down to investigate a curious noise from my back wheel, but still managed to hit 75km/h with the final drop. The downward trend continued all the way to Tomintoul and I arrived in no time at all. It was a bit early to stop at a cafe, so I breezed through, setting my sights on the Rothiemurchus Centre Cafe as my first resupply stop. There was still the matter of the even steeper climb up from the Bridge of Brown to dispatch first, however. As I gurned my way to the top, I noticed another cyclist to the side of the road faffing with her bike. I called across to check if any assistance was needed, expecting the usual “No thanks”, when she asked if I had a pump. This was just the excuse I needed for a breather, so I gladly pulled across to help out! She was having a nightmare with pinch flats and her miniscule pump wasn’t doing the job on the valves that were on her spare tube. Luckily, my Birzman pump had been bought for just such awkward valves that had come with my Mavic UST wheels on the MTB, so I could get some air in it for her. Less luckily, the spare tube also had a hole right by the valve! We patched up her original tube and managed to get her up and running – I also handed over a few of my Park patches just in case disaster struck twice. My good deed done for the day, I finished off the climb with fresh legs, stripped back down to shorts and short sleeves with the increasing temperatures.

Hard to take photos whilst breathing out of your backside

I love this stretch of road, so I soaked up the views across to the Cairngorms as I headed to the the turn off for Nethy Bridge, watching a buzzard quartering over the heather below. I plunged down the hill after a sharp left and rolled on through my favourite village without stopping as I was starting to feel hungry for my planned cafe stop in Rothiemurchus.

Quick photo stop on the way to Nethy Bridge
Above the River Spey
More Cairngorms viewing

My usual masterful timing saw me reaching the cafe just after they’d stopped serving breakfast, so I was limited to tea and cakes. A pot of tea for two, a can of ginger beer and a scone went down a treat – unfortunately I had to overdo it and get a slab of cake as well. It was a bit too sticky to bring along but was a real effort to get down my neck, even with copious amounts of tea to melt it down.

An athlete’s brunch

Once finished, I popped into the farm shop and picked up one of their lovely sandwiches and more drink for later, as the cake was sitting heavily on my stomach. The next stretch was following National Cycle Route 7 all the way to Newtonmore, with little navigational thought required. The ride wasn’t too testing, other than the ever present headwind, but as I approached Ruthven Barracks, I though a rest might be in order. I got myself to the top of the climb near the deserted parking area and got myself comfy on one of the benches for a 10 minute cake digestion nap – just what the doctor ordered!

Looking across the Insh Marshes
Ruthven Barracks and my nap spot

Feeling much better for the brief rest, I carried on down to Kingussie and along the bike path to Newtonmore. I left NCR7 shortly after climbing out of Newtonmore, having a nice chat with a retired couple from Orkney I caught my way up the hill. A quiet back road took me to a main road which would drop me to Laggan. Unfortunate timing saw me waiting behind a tourist coach for most of the descent, which stopped dead for any oncoming traffic. On the final quick descent before the Pottery Cafe a 4×4 that had nipped in between me and the bus decided he’d pull away at a geological speed after pausing for oncoming traffic, to make sure I had to slow down as I caught up again. I wasn’t in the mood to waste that momentum so I overtook, giving the unfriendly inhabitants a cheesy grin in the window before dropping back once they found the accelerator.

Glentruim memorial viewpoint

The next stretch had looked mainly flat from a quick glance of the profile. In actual fact, it was very slightly uphill into a constant strong headwind with a few climbs along Loch Laggan to keep me honest. I do love a long point to point ride, but if conditions are against you it can make for a tough day out. I gritted my teeth and kept moving as well as I could – I hadn’t been looking forward to this bit as it’s a fairly busy road and has plenty of idiots when you’re driving it. In truth, the cars were fine today but the tourist coaches were a nightmare, overtaking blind and at times far too close to a vulnerable cyclist. Not long after the end of Loch Laggan, I pulled off down a track to the left for some respite and a quick pee. The whole area was saturated with food packets and lucozade bottles, which did nothing to improve my mood as it was a lovely spot otherwise.

Loch Laggan’s striking beach
At least it was a nice smooth surface
Quick sanity stop above the River Spean – mountain of litter out of shot
The Laggan Dam marks the start of the downhill

I progressed quickly downhill to Roybridge after the dam and onwards to Spean Bridge where I decided to change my plans a bit. I had wanted to go past the Commando Memorial and then drop onto the Great Glen Way for the last stretch to Fort William and hopefully say hello to any HT550er’s that were on that stretch of the route. I was feeling a bit pressed for time however, due to needing a long drive home after finishing and work the next day, so I took the least desirable option of following the A82 straight down there. This proved to be every bit as horrible as i had imagined, especially as I was feeling tired and not exactly smashing the uphills. Eventually, after one close pass too many, I looked for the first escape and pulled into a field entrance, before jumping the gate and going for a lie down and some refreshments away from the noise . The sandwich from Rothiemurchus and some Irn Bru did their magic as I lay in the sun and looked for the nearest way off this road. Feeling much better for the quiet time, I rejoined the road and took the turnoff for Nevis Range – I was going to put the big slicks I was running to use on some offroad.

Sinuous silent singletrack

I followed my offroad alternative at a much reduced speed, before popping out at Torlundy, where a proper cycle path took me down into town, bypassing the many traffic queues towards the centre.

Traffic free bliss

Soon enough I got to the turning for Glen Nevis and rolled up towards the youth hostel, praying that my car was still there and that I hadn’t lost my key since leaving home. Luckily, all was well and I had plenty of time to change into something more comfortable for the less enticing prospect of driving back the way I’d come.

The plush new youth hostel looking very enticing

BAM 2019 – April

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For April I ended up needing another work night bivy as it had been left late as always. As a bonus I also plotted out a course to pick up some VeloViewer Explorer grid squares – I figured I could ride out to about 40km away from Aberdeen to leave me enough time to ride in without having to set off stupidly early. I left home just before 10 as always, popped to the Co-Op and made a beeline for Westhill and Dunecht, to get me to the edge of my already collected squares. The roads were nice and quiet at this time of night as always, as I turned off and made my way past Castle Fraser, with just a quick stop in Craigearn to mess with a workmate’s windscreen wipers, since he wasn’t still up for me to try and scare at his living room window.

Sneaky bit of offroad to tick off a square or too

The route was a straightforward loop to the North of Sauchen, with a couple of offroad bits and dead end turnoffs to collect the more awkward grid squares. That is the great thing about this part of the world – there is very rarely a large patch of land that doesn’t have some kind of rideable path intersecting it. I passed through Sauchen in the dead of night and headed to Comers, where I had identified a patch of woodland ripe for some hammocking. I rode up through the trees until a decent patch on the hillside to my left identified itself and climbed up away from the track before getting myself set up for a late sleep after a cuppa and a sandwich. I left my alarm set for my usual Wednesday morning ride time, as I had left myself about 40km to get to work.

Another night without needing a tarp – bliss

The temperatures were pretty mild, so I had no frozen feet issues for a change, though it felt a bit clammy in the sleeping bag after the steep climb to get to my bivy spot. When I surfaced in the morning, I didn’t rush things as I had a good idea of how long the rest of the ride would take.

More tea and a biscuit before packing up
Leafy tunnel to my bivy spot
Dropping to the tarmac

I bumped my way down the forestry track and rejoined my route. I wasn’t quite heading directly to work, as I had an awkward square to pick off at the far end of the Hill of Fare. This involved another offroad out and back with a steep climb that the chunky slicks just about handled.

Taking the slicks to the limit

Once I was back on the road, there was no more messing about – I took the most direct route possible to Aberdeen, whilst avoiding the worst of any morning traffic on the quiet back roads. Not a bad way to start another working day!

Smooth and fast
Hill of Fare from afar

BAM 2019 – February

Down to the wire as usual, I decided to go for another work night bivy after a month of either me or the family feeling unwell. The weather has been ridiculous for February, making the lack of riding even more painful. I rode home from work in toasty 13 degree temperatures, picked up the kids and went through the usual evening ritual of feeding, messing about and cosy bedtime stories, before retiring to the garage to throw some kit together. The Metoffice app was telling me it was still going to be warm riding out, but would drop to a decent wintry temperature later on thanks to the clear skies.

I headed out the door at 2140, which is better than normal for me, skipping my usual Co-op stop for food and making my way west along Deeside. A quick stop in the M&S petrol station in Peterculter saw me stocked up with a posh meal deal, before joining the Deeside way to Drumoak, where I crossed the river on the apparently closed bridge.

Park Bridge closed again. iPhones don’t like reflective surfaces
Park Bridge still there, luckily

I was basically riding to the halfway point on my usual extended commute to work, with a bit tacked on to get me up into Durris Forest. The warm temperatures predicted by the Met Office were way off, with my GPS was showing minus 3 as I climbed away from the river. I plodded up the climb to Woodlands and then carried on up to the edge of the forest and started off along the forestry tracks. I had a vague idea of where I might stop, but was really just looking for somewhere flattish. After some mild climbing on the smooth tracks, I settled for a clearing that would give me a good view of the copious stars that were already on show.

Bivy bag getting read to slide its way down to the lowest point it can find

I’d finally been tempted into buying myself a warm sleeping bag, rather than toughing it out in my lightweight Western Mountaineering Summerlite bag all year round. I’d got a Mountain Hardwear Phantom Flame -9 rated bag in the Rock and Run sale, so was looking forward to a cold clear night to see what it was made of. I chilled out for a bit, eating my Hoisin Duck wrap, followed by a brew and chocolatey treats, before retiring to my new bed for the night. The stars above were as spectacular as I hoped and I lay back, soaking up the light, fringed by the dark silhouette of the trees. As usual, I regretted not bringing a proper camera to do some long exposures, but it was pleasant to just lie back and eventually pass out without any distractions.

My usual fidgety night’s sleep ensued, with my movements and the ridiculously slippy bivy bag underside contributing to me moving a good couple of metres overnight. The bag was much warmer than usual, although my feet eventually succumbed to feeling cold late on, which has been a problem ever since spending the entire Cairngorms Loop with wet, cold feet that practically froze during my bivy. I eventually heard my phone alarm in the early hours, but relaxed for a bit before stirring, as I was already halfway to work!

Packed up for my commute

I finished off my flask of tea and had a biscuit whilst my feet were warming in the middle of my bag, then got dressed and packed everything away. I had a nice easy roll through the trees back to tarmac, no problem for 28mm slicks on these tracks.

Smooth tracks through Durris Forest are easy on road tyres
Loving the sunrise rides at this time of year

Just as I got near the road I realised I should have stopped much sooner last night, as I’d have had a wide open vista and a better sunrise view when I woke up. Still wasn’t a decent spot away from the main path, so maybe I had chosen wisely. Once back on the road it was a very easy, mostly downhill roll into work, absorbing as much of the beautiful light as I could to get me through the day stuck indoors.

Heading East
Soon to be warmed by the sun

BAM 2019 – January

I’d been in two minds whether to continue with the bivy a month this year, as I wasn’t sure if me disappearing off for random nights had been a hassle or not. As it turned out, Yvonne was the one egging me on to get out this month, so my decision was made for me! Unfortunately, I had left myself with only one weekend spare and a very poorly little girl and mummy meant doing a runner to sleep in a ditch wasn’t an option. I resigned myself to another work night bivy.

Wednesday came, the kids were put to bed and I jammed as much warm stuff as i could into my bike luggage and headed out at quarter past 10, aiming to go up high and see if I could catch a bit of sunrise before rushing in to work. The snowmageddon that is apparently hitting the south of England at the moment had already arrived at the weekend for us, so everywhere was coated in a light cover of snow, with rock hard sections of compacted snow and ice down the quiet lanes and road verges. No problem for the Marathon Winters though, as I slowly chugged along Deeside and up the Netherley road towards Stonehaven. My plan was to go up onto the Meikle Carewe Wind Farm and find a spot out of the wind near one of the trig points, which I had visited on my way back from last year’s January bivy.

After an endless gradual climb, I reached my turn off point and quietly slipped through the gates to start ascending. The track was rock hard with frozen snow, which helped me stealthily pass Husky Haven without waking a million dogs. The studs were biting well enough, only slipping a couple of times on steeper pitches. I hit my target at the base of one of the turbines and ditched the bike to check out the Curlethney Hill trig point.

Too cold to linger for the view

There was too much breeze up here for a comfortable night, so I stayed down near the base of the turbine, using it as a wind break and putting the bivy bag down on the snow away from the sheep shit that was liberally spread about it’s immediate area.

Expertly positioned to avoid the sheep shit

With the temperatures plummeting to easily the coldest night of the winter so far, I got all my gear set up as quick as possible before diving inside. I got a butty down my neck and some tea from the flask, before having a biscuit and watching the start of Match of the Day on my phone. Not something I’d normally do, but I didn’t see me getting through the day at work without someone mentioning the Liverpool match, so i treated myself to some technology as a one-off! I’d gone for two sleeping bags since I was expecting temperatures around -10 and they seemed to do the trick. I normally tough it out with my Western Mountaineering Summerlite and a silk liner, but I’d have been scuppered with that combo this night!

My alarm went off at 6, but I wasn’t in a rush to emerge into the cold, so I started slowly gathering my gear into the sleeping bag to make sure everything I needed was warm. The sky was just getting light, but not really enough for the sunrise I’d hoped to see, due to clouds on the horizon. I tanked the rest of my tea from the flask with a flapjack and swung my legs out to start putting on my frozen boots. The shock of the boots woke me up nicely and I got my kit packed up pretty quick.

Packed up and heading to work

I left my down jacket on for my ride down the hill, and stopped to take pictures of the gently glowing coastline ahead, before carefully completing the descent and racing down frozen backroads to civilsation and work.

Almost a sunrise
Descending very gingerly towards the road below

BAM 2018 – December

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Nearly there, just needed to squeeze in a bivy somewhere between the holiday festivities and having to work in the days between. As Gran and Papa were here to help out with the kids whilst we both had to go to work, I had the option of getting a few more early morning rides in than normal. I’d already managed a couple of Christmas Eve extended commute rides and and almost unprecedented Christmas Day ride (At 10pm!). I had been receiving the usual Rapha Festive 500 emails in the build up, which I normally discount as impossible to fit in. However the realisation that it was actually 500km rather than miles tempted me into giving it a go.

After a productive week of extra rides, I was withing striking distance of my goal – I just needed to commit to a longer ride to my monthly bivy than usual. Saturday night came and I did my usual routine of getting the kids to bed, having got my kit ready in advance to give me the maximum amount of night riding time. So, off I set at ten to 9 with a plan to get to Ballater as fast as I could before the predicted rain hit the area and got me soaked before I could get set up in my selected spot. In order to make progress, I stuck to North Deeside Road all the way out to Banchory after my usual Co-op food stock. Without too much delay, I arrived at Potarch bridge, where I stopped for a snack before crossing the Dee.

Quick photo/snack stop at Potarch

The traffic had been light thanks to the time but I fancied riding South Deeside all the way to my bivy spot so I could make a loop of sorts by returning along the North in the morning. It was cold but not too cold, somewhere around zero degrees and it was pleasant riding along familiar roads in the dark. Shortly after Aboyne, I started to feel spots of rain occasionally – my plan was not going to work! I increased my efforts to try and minimise my time in the increasing precipitation but it was properly raining by the time I passed Ballater. I pushed on past the bottom of Glen Muick and started up the climb towards Loch Ullachie. I had a spot in mind from some Google Streetview reconnaissance, so I took a rough track to the right and climbed up to the edge of the trees and found myself a couple of likely prospects for a hammock hang. First thing up was the tarp to keep me dry while I got the rest of my kit out. Once done, I sat in the hammock eating my supper, drinking tea and enjoying being out in the rain whilst not getting any more wet.

Only the second bivy of the year to require a tarp

I didn’t delay too long, as I wanted to be up early to get back home and entertain the kids in the morning. I slept okay, without feeling cold as there was little in the way of wind. At some point the rain must have stopped, as I could see the moon when I woke up after 0500 and started to think about getting up and at it.

Shining moon at my feet
Scintillating views at my head

I got my kit packed up quick after shaking the last of the rain from my tarp and decided to ride for a bit to get some blood pumped into my feet before breakfast. There was no daylight for a good few hours yet, soI popped over the top of the climb and whizzed down the other side before making my way along to Balmoral, where I stopped at the bridge for refreshments.

Only 3 hours till sunrise
Strangely short of tourists at Balmoral

After my brew and a sandwich I hit the A93 to start my mostly downhill roll home. Progress was good and I started to see the first glimmers of light on the eastern horizon ahead of me.

Light at the end of the tunnel
Was it just the glare from the Loch Kinord Hotel?

Just as it looked like I would enjoy blazing skies on my final stretch, I rode straight into a wall of fog to put me back into the gloom for the next 20 miles or so. Not too big a deal as I was just happy to be out on the bike for a long ride. The roads started to get busier as I reached Banchory but I stuck with it to keep my average speed up.

Comfort break before Banchory
Misty Drumoak

As I got near home, I threw in a cheeky extra loop to add on a few km, just in case I would be needing them to get me over the line for the Festive 500. It left me needing a couple of extended commutes on New Year’s Eve to get me over the line.

Chilly Milltimber

BAM 2018 – November

Down to the wire for another month, I headed out just before 10 and stocked up on food in the Co-Op for a luxurious Friday night out. I’d decided to knock off a couple of VeloViewer Explorer squares out past Echt that had been bugging me and was going to find a spot for my hammock in Midmar Forest to kill two birds with one stone. I’d loaded up the Amazon and stuck on some chunky tyres for the offroad bits, but was taking the direct tarmac route out there. I arrived at my turn off without any drama, thanks to the quiet roads.

Offroad into the forest

I needed to climb up into the trees and then get far enough along the main track to have acquired the grid square I was after. The gradient never got too steep for my gearing as I made my way up, scanning the track side for decent hammock hanging areas. There were loads of possibilities so I carried on to my turn around point, before making a u-turn and rolling back down to get myself set up for the night. It was pretty late by now, so I didn’t take too long to ponder it and settled on a clearing slightly away from the path that was in a dip to give some shelter from the wind.

Leaves lying over what was almost, but not quite mud – ideal hammock terrain

In my never-ending quest for a lightweight way of insulating the underside of the hammock, I was trying out some reflective foil bubble wrap normally used for building purposes that I had rolled up between the hammock layers when packing. No need for a tarp , judging by the forecast, so was still on only one bivy requiring a tarp for the entire year!

Shady side of the hill in the morning.

The thermal wrap idea was mostly successful, but the lack of flexibility was noticeable and I could still feel a bit of the cold through the hammock material. One day I might actually get round to purchasing an underquilt. Dawn came and I eventually roused myself to drink some tea and get packed up.

Ready to head home

I was going to ride all the way through the forest to the far end, as I’d never been the whole way before. The paths stayed good for the most part, except for a sticky patch in the middle.

Fast track through Midmar Forest
Just the one muddy stretch

Eventually, I reached the far end of the forest and was on tracks familiar from running and cycling up the Hill of Fare. I took my usual exit route, popping out on the Echt road, before turning off onto quiet back roads to take me home. All done in time for the kids’ swimming lessons!

Emerging from Midmar Forest
Some floody fun by Drum Castle