BAM 2019 – November

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Getting my October bivy in nice and early for me left me with plenty of time to think about my November effort. I was hanging on for a weekend when someone could come with me, but with Jon and Brian too busy to manage it, I had to bite the bullet and sort something out. The first step was to book a train ticket to Kyle of Lochalsh for Friday after work.

Bike plus train equals adventure

As usual, I’d been up late the night before, doing all the stuff I had been meaning to do to the bike for ages. I swapped my Hunt front wheel for my Shimano dynamo one, as I’d be in darkness for the majority of the ride. This also prompted me to finally admit defeat and fit my winter mudguards before noticing that my Schwalbe Pro One rear tyre was worn through to the carcass in a few spots. Probably not the best idea to add another 200 miles onto it, so I stole the back wheel off my commuter too, swapping the single cog for a cassette. By the time i was done fiddling, it was getting on for 2am! Never mind, I could snooze on the train.

I had a bit of a wait in Inverness for my second train, so whiled away the time in a coffee shop, before jumping the train to Kyle. Eventually I started to pass stations I’d be cycling past tomorrow and the temptation to jump out and get a head-start. As I passed Achnasheen, I scoped my most likely bivy spot for the night and it looked lovely and clean in the darkness, which was good to know.

Time to roll East
After my customary Co-Op shop

As soon as I got going, I felt how cold it was. The forecast had been for low temperatures, but my GPS soon started reading temperatures around -6. This was at sea level, so climbing up to Achnasheen should be interesting! I climbed out of town and began the rollercoaster of a road along to Plockton, Stromeferry and eventually Strathcarron. Despite the cold, there were no issues with ice, bar one frozen trickle across a steep climb that warranted a dismount and some Bambi action to navigate.

Call that a view?
Uphill till bedtime

Once I turned up the glen, I knew at least I had a steady gradient to keep me warm without slowing me down too much. I wasn’t planning on going any further than Achnasheen, so I was glad to see the roundabout at the edge of the village. I went straight to the train station and over the footbridge after checking to see if the toilets were open. They were, but it didn’t really feel like staying there would constitute a bivy. The wooden shelter on the platform was immaculately clean and had a bench just wide enough for my sleep mat – hopefully keeping off the ground would compensate for the fact I only had a sleeping bag that went down to -2 degrees.

No door, but the walls gave a psychological sense of warmth

There was no time to hang about – I needed to get some layers on and get into my bag quick. I lay there eating sandwiches and drinking my ice cold Irn Bru from the seat pack. The water bottle full of Lucozade had the consistency of a slush puppy at this point, so I didn’t fancy my chances of a liquid drink in the morning. After my customary half an hour of wriggling to get my various layers of Western Mountaineering Summerlite bag, silk liner and SOL Escape bivy where they were supposed to be, I settled down for some kip. It was my usual restless night’s sleep, exacerbated by bouts of shivering as the mercury plummeted some way below the -6 I had seen before turning off my GPS.

There was no need to set an alarm, as I knew a train would pass by on the opposite platform shortly after 6am. However, some time after five I heard a van pull up at the station and the clink of the gate as someone with a bright torch started shuffling about on the platform, crunching through the thick layer of grit that covered it. He was there a while and the light kept piercing through the side window of the shelter, making me feel he was right outside. I finally figured out he was adding yet more grit to the platform, eventually coming over the bridge and approaching my home for the night. I wasn’t expecting any bother and just as he finished he took a look in and asked me if I was okay, which was preferable to being poked to see if I was a frozen corpse! It would have been sensible to just get up and make an early start on the long way home, but I didn’t really want to miss riding the more picturesque end of the ride in a bit of daylight. Instead I half-dozed/shivered my way through another hour or so, before reluctantly sitting up to start eating and psyching myself up to leave the sleeping bag after the scheduled train had passed through.

A modest shelter in a frozen landscape

As I started getting my self sorted, I decided to stick with the wool socks I had slept in as they were a bit thinner than the new winter cycling socks I had been trying the night before and I needed a bit more wriggle room in my Giro Alpineduro boots which I had had wisely supplemented with some windproof overshoes for this ride. I kept my lovely Montane Hydrogen Direct jacket on as I carried the bike back over the bridge and popped into the mens toilets to shed some weight and get my cycling layers sorted. I begrudgingly packed away the fluffy Polartec Alpha lined jacket and stuck my waterproof on as a wind stopping layer over my Brevet insulated gilet that has seen a lot of action since I got it in a sale 3 years back. Once I had liberally applied some chamois cream, I was ready to find out how well I would keep warm at faster speed for the next flattish section. As I joined the main road, I was already shivering violently and jerking the handlebars around, but I knew that would pass after a bit of pedalling my way towards Garve. I paused every now and then to try and take a decent picture, slightly hampered by the fact my phone was frozen solid and needed thawing out under my layers between shots to stop it shutting down. I had more electrical woes further along, when I tried changing gear and got nothing from my Di2 lever. A slight panic set in, but I was pretty sure the battery was good, as I’d checked the level the previous night. Then I remembered, I’d wrenched on the right hand lever a ways back after noticing it had worked its way inwards. That, coupled with the bar bag leaning up on the cables had probably popped the wire out of its socket. Sure enough, I tried the left hand lever and all was good. The beauty of the 1x setup was that I had reprogrammed the levers so they both controlled the rear derailleur, meaning I didn’t have to stop and fanny about fixing my usual one.

Much colder than it looks
Slightly worrying that this was the temperature after the sun came up
A skin was starting to form on some of the lochs
First bit of merciful direct sunlight

Despite the low temperatures, ice wasn’t a problem at all due to the dry weather in advance of the cold snap. One good thing about using these non-tubeless weighty wheels was that I had fitted my old Continental GP 4 seasons, which have an uncanny ability to feel grippy in conditions where they just shouldn’t work. I reached Garve without too much drama. I would rather have done the next stretch to Contin earlier to avoid the inevitable impatient traffic, so I just got my head down and tried to bang it out as quickly as possible.

The HT550 takes the sensible offroad choice through here

Contin was reached without too many early morning drivers trying to kill me and I managed to resist going into Contin Stores, as I had plenty to eat for now. I took a right just outside the village and left the busy road to make my way down to Muir of Ord on some quieter roads. When I reached the town, I couldn’t resist a Co-Op restock, mainly to get myself some drinks that were in actual liquid form, as my water bottle contained a giant orange ice lolly since last night. I got going again and started making good time along the road out of town, before I got the feeling I was going wrong. Sure enough, I’d missed an off course warning from my GPS and was headed to Beauly at speed. I briefly considered just carrying on and getting to Inverness that way, but sense prevailed and I did a u-turn to rejoin my planned route, which should be much quieter roads along the Beauly Firth..

Approaching the Beauly Firth
Stopped for the view and ended up giving directions to a funeral to an ancient motorist
The temperature rose to a sweltering 1 degree on this stretch
Quick picnic in the sun outside Charlestown

North Kessock arrived promptly and I took a side track that climbed up to the A9 so I could cross the bridge. As I rolled across, I was bemused by wide icy strips the whole way along the bike path, before I realised it was caused by the shadow of the fence keeping the sun from thawing it. Around this time, I started thinking about topping up the chamois cream whilst I was still in relative comfort. Unfortunately, after some frantic rooting around my bar bag I came to the realisation that the tub I’d brought was still sitting on the toilet window ledge in Achnasheen – bummer.

Distressingly not even half way

I made my way hastily through Inverness by the same route I’d used for my Forsinard to Aberdeen ride, resisting the temptation to sidetrack to McDonalds this time. Instead I availed myelf of a hot chicken curry pie and a cup of tea from a petrol station Spar en route to Culloden.

Perfect pit stop

I used the bike path/pavement on my way round Culloden, rather than mix it with the cars and feel compelled to ride faster up the hill than I wanted. I took the usual right turn and span my way up another long steady hill, noticing some people who appeared to be waiting for a lift up at the top. As I got closer, I began to have suspicions, which were confirmed when I got a better look at the lankiest member of the group – it was Stu, Jenny and the kids! Every time I do a long ride out this way, I’m always tempted to pop in for a cuppa, but resist, knowing I’d never get going again. Luckily, they’d beaten me to the punch by viewing my SPOT tracker and Jen was holding a steaming hot cuppa and some shortbread! It was such a lovely thought, I was delighted to hang around for a natter before dragging myself away, knowing there were a lot of hours of riding still to be done. I had a quick icy descent to the River Nairn, followed by a steep climb up to NCR 7, which I would follow all the way to Boat of Garten. I remembered from last time that it was basically uphill all the way to Carrbridge and took much longer than you’d expect, so I was under no pretence that this would be over quickly. It was still pleasant cycling however on quiet roads in the afternoon light.

Gritting ain’t a thing on the A9 cycle path
Finally finished climbing out of Inverness

I’d been hoping to get into the hills above Nethybridge in time for sunset, but the light was dying as I eventually flew down the hill into Carrbridge. As I reached maximum velocity, I heard a metallic ping under my tyres, as though I’d run over a bit of debris. My spidey-sense thought differently however, so I ground to a halt to see if anything had fallen off the bike. It looked intact, but the extra throw of the front brake lever told me all I needed to know – I had ejected a brake pad! I made a half-hearted attempt to find it, but had no chance, so I rolled up to the pavement outside the village shop and upended the bike to do a pad swap.

Actually had two sets of spare pads, which was reassuring

The daylight had really died during this brief mechanical, so I switched on my rear flasher and front dynamo before making my way quickly to Boat of Garten, followed by Nethybridge. I didn’t stop at any shops, as I had enough food to get me to Tomintoul, if not the whole way home.

Light fading over the Cairngorms
Moon view at Boat of Garten

I now had a whole bunch of climbing coming up and it was getting properly cold again, but at least I knew it well enough that there wouldn’t be any surprises. After a wee thawing rest stop and indoor picnic in the visitor centre I slowly climbed away from Nethybridge, which feels like a second home to me for all the times we stay there with the kids. I winched up the last evil steep bit to join the A939, which I anticipated wouldn’t be too busy at this time of year and evening. My knees had been feeling creaky most of the day, but I did okay and soon found myself entering Tomintoul, where I had a decision to make. Stop and get some hot food, or roll through and focus on finishing. I paused at the village centre, still in two minds, but eventually convinced myself that some hot soup and a pot of tea would see me right in the long run. I went in the pub next to the new tourist office and ordered, before stripping down a few layers to let the warmth reach me. I started fiddling with my phone as you do and saw a message from Yvonne telling me the weather was horrendous and I shouldn’t try and finish tonight. The thought of stopping hadn’t occurred to me since some low points in the morning, but asking if they had a room at the inn was slightly tempting now I was sampling indoor life again. Instead, I gave Yvonne a ring to reassure her and made sure all my clothes were nice and warm from the radiator before prepping to leave after my hot refreshments.

Tomintoul looking festive and frozen

In theory, with warm food inside me and warm layers around me, I shouldn’t have suffered once I was outside. In practice, I was shivering uncontrollably by the time I got to my bike and things didn’t improve from there as I swerved my way along the road, looking like I’d had about ten pints in the pub. On leaving the village I had a long steady uphill which slowly got my blood pumping and the shivering suppressed. Up next was the biggest climb of the ride, up and over the Lecht, which definitely promised to warm me up! It’s a tough climb, but nothing like as bad as coming over the opposite way. Eventually, the lights of the ski centre came into view and I rattled over the cattle grid before swerving off into the snowy car park to get some more food on board and put on some serious layers for the descent to come.

Snow blowers were working overtime to fill in the runs

No time for messing about, I packed away my gilet and brought out my Montane Polartec jacket. I rejoined the tarmac and started off down the plunging road in the darkness. My dynamo light only pierced so far, so I dragged my brakes a bit to make sure I wasn’t going too fast if a rogue patch of ice took me out. I did let it rip on the bit I knew was dead straight, whizzing up the re-climb with a vague idea of what was ahead. I very tentatively descended the switchbacks, before normal cycling resumed, past Corgarff and down towards Strathdon. As I reached the junction where I had originally planned to take a right and climb over towards Balmoral before riding home along Deeside, I revised my plans. Since the Lecht, the road had got increasingly treacherous, with patches of frozen snow and bands of ice where the day’s thaw had refrozen across it. I decided to head back along Strathdon instead, so I could gradually lose height and hopefully get clearer roads – at the very least, it would get me home sooner if progress was significantly slowed by ice. It meant I wouldn’t hit my 200 mile target, but as I’d originally planned to do this ride on a long summer day, I wasn’t too disappointed in myself!

Not great visibility for a 57kph descent

I loaded up the route I had taken down from Forsinard on my previous 200 miler and started to head eastwards. I could have just stayed on the main road all the way to Alford, as it was pretty quiet, but thought I’d stick to the back lanes again as it was more direct. Temperatures were hovering around -8 at times, so I kept my big jacket on, which was surprisingly comfortable to ride in – I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do that in a down jacket without feeling very clammy. The fluffy Primaloft lining works like a very lightweight Buffalo with a full zip, but I’m yet to put it through it’s paces in a cold downpour to see if it matches the pile/pertex combo.

Bellabeg getting into the seasonal spirit

Luckily the ice wasn’t too big an issue and I was able to maintain decent progress, bar a couple of stops for snacks and almost liquid drinks from my back pockets. As Aberdeen approached, I realised my mental state was deteriorating when I rode through Garlogie massively confused because I thought I should be in Dunecht! Realising where I was was a nice bonus, as it was much closer to home. The last few miles from Westhill were done very cautiously, partly due to my knackered knees and partly down to random patches of ice on the bike path. I managed to navigate them without a cruel final mishap and rolled in about 0030, where I commenced quietly scrounging about for a mountain of food before attempting to watch Match of the Day without passing out.

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