TransScotland 2022

Distance: 470km

Climbing: 5325m

The start of June brought an event I have been waiting a while to take part in. With life, COVID and scheduling conflicts having thwarted me before, this was to be the year I finally had a go at TransScotland! I pretty much plan a route through the checkpoints every year as part of my mapping obsession, so to do it with the knowledge I might actually be able to try and ride it was a real buzz! So, onto the train I climbed after work on Thursday, hoping my knees which had been aching for the last three weeks would survive the abuse I had planned.

Ready to go at Aberdeen station

As I hooked my bike onto the rack, I was mildly annoyed to note that there were at least 4 bicycle spaces on this service, which had shown up as having none the first few times I tried to book tickets! I got into Inverness at 2030 and checked in to the Premier Inn, hoping to squeeze as much sleep in as possible before my planned very early start. I opted for dinner at the hotel restaurant for the same reason, though the food seemed to take forever to arrive, negating any perceived time savings. After my massive burger-based meal, I went for a wee stretch of the legs to try and aid digestion before heading for bed.

Sunset on the River Ness

No-one had batted an eyelid at me wheeling the bike into the hotel, which had two advantages: I could get everything packed in comfort to just roll out the next morning and I was on the top floor, which gave me a good bike carrying warm up for what was to come tomorrow! I struggled to sleep, partly in anticipation and partly due to the fact I was in bed way earlier than normal, but I didn’t feel too bad for my 0415 alarm call as I silently crept from the hotel and over the bridge to Inverness Castle.

So much for my shortcut to the start
Close as I could manage for a start photo

My intricate route preparation had even gone so far as planning to pop up the back way into the castle and save myself a few yards before the start, but I was denied by the building works going on around the entire site. I circled round to the main entrance, took my start picture and then spent five minutes trying to work out how to get it onto Twitter properly, before rolling down to the river for my first leg. I’d cycled a fair bit of this during various iterations of Ride the North and cruised along in a daydream, until rudely awaken by two young guns, who gave a cheery hello as they passed. I had been a little worried I was the only person who had gone for an early start, so it was good to see someone else out and about, though I did worry I was going to spend most of the day being passed like this!

First of the morning’s overtakers
View along Loch Ness

No doubt I added a little more effort to my morning cruise, as I kept them in view for a good while along the shore of Loch Ness, before eventually losing them just before the first substantial climb, where I was joined by another trio this time, who swept up behind me and kept a similar pace for a couple of hauls up before letting them go to keep to my easy-going plan. The first checkpoint was now approaching and the higher I got, the less clement the weather appeared, eventually depositing me in the clouds above the loch.

My spinny gearing allowed me the luxury of taking photos on steep climbs

Finally, the last climb to the Suidhe Viewpoint checkpoint was reached and I stopped for a quick chat with the trio, before letting them head off whilst I soaked up the view and got my shot for Twitter.

The later you left, the more view you got

Jacket on and away to Fort Augustus which promised to be practically all downhill from here and what a downhill it was! All that climbing lost in the blink of an eye, which was to be a recurring theme for the weekend. I didn’t take the obvious road before the village, but instead carried on down to the locks and made my way along the towpath towards Loch Oich. This way was a bit longer, but saved my knees 50m of climbing and is just a lovely bit of riding along the mostly smooth towpath, reliving my Highland Trail glory days without the pain!

View back up the loch, allegedly the only place in the UK that has a freshwater horizon
Smooth speedy towpath
One day I’ll ride along here and not be in a rush

As I rejoined the road, I was caught by yet another rider and kept up this time for a proper chat. Steve had left half an hour after me and was planning to stick to the road regardless of extra distance incurred, so I said we could race it out at the end of Loch Oich and see who had made the right call. Steve pulled ahead just before the end and I took my right turn onto the unclassified road at Laggan, which was a nice intro to my first offroad stretch of the day. I knew exactly where the road petered out and that it was rougher than the towpath, but if I wasn’t too gung ho I could get by perfectly well on 28mm slicks.

Road above North Laggan
Dragged the brakes a wee bit to avoid a mishap

I made the mistake of having a quick check of my live tracking on the website and saw that it wasn’t showing anything, leaving me doing the usual dance of logging in to my SPOT and Spotwalla sites to try and sort the feed out, so family could see I was actually moving. Eventually I got annoyed and left it alone, figuring I’d have a chance whilst waiting for a ferry at some point! I also stopped for something to eat before I got hungry, whilst enjoying a view along Loch Long and to the snow-dappled mountains beyond.

Loch Lochy

When I rejoined the road at Clunes, I was still fairly confident I’d be ahead of Steve, as he had a fair few extra km to go and sure enough, he eventually came round the corner behind me grinning – 1-0 to me! There followed a very pleasant ride along the banks of Loch Arkaig chatting about our plans and life in general, the good company keeping my pace up as I didn’t pay too much attention to the dips and rises.

Lovely spot near the start of Loch Arkaig
Steve in action along the loch

Steve’s plan at the end of the loch was to turn round and go back to the Great Glen before taking the long way round to Glenfinnan and Checkpoint 4, Corryhully Bothy. My plan was to save myself an extra 60km of riding and take my bike for a walk over the pass for 11km. As we met groups of riders coming back along the loch after getting their checkpoint shot, I began to wonder if anyone had opted for the rough and ready option. I’d made up my mind anyway, it would give my dodgy cycling knees and rear end a break from the bike, as I knew it was far too rough to do any riding. I figured it would have taken me a pessimistic 3 hours to do the road option, so surely I could walk a pass in that? I said goodbye to Steve at the checkpoint, ready for our second on/off road race and moved along the estate track which should be fine until the turn off for the hill track proper.

Not all slow on this stretch

As I reached the turn off in the forest, I finally met some other foolhardy souls who were taking on the pass. Calum and his crew had set out an hour before me, but had had been delayed by several punctures, I found out as we dropped down the muddy chute through the trees. There followed some slippy burn crossings and a gradual realisation that the ground was holding on to a lot more water than I had hoped. I opted for the path on the east side whilst they took the west, before they came together further up. One of my obscure talents is the ability to find firm dry spots to hop between when navigating bogs quickly. This ability totally escaped me as every tuft of grass or patch of gravel gave way to the sodden ground beneath, forcing me to accept my feet were not coming out of this without a proper soaking!

Shoes were useless on wet rocks

My fellow sufferers eventually let me pass as the ground opened up and I got back a bit of rhythm, hopping and veering about to find the firmest route, whilst acknowledging there looked to be a devilishly steep sting in the tail up ahead.

It went on a bit
Crawling up to the crux

I’d been able to see a couple of colourful figures in the distance on that climb, and could see them surveying the view or taking on oxygen once they had topped out. It was really hard going, with various manipulations of the bike to keep it on the right side for the next bit of montane gymnastics. For all the cycling energy I had saved, I was deep into my walking bank, though my knees hadn’t hurt a bit once I’d left the saddle! When I looked back from the top I couldn’t see the boys any more, so on I went for a pleasant trudge along the bealach to see what the downhill would bring!

Please close the gate

After a bit more slipping and sliding, the way down eventually firmed up and I even started to hop on the bike to roll sections very carefully. Once I reached the double track path, I was on all the time, annoyed not be on a mountain bike, but glad to be moving quicker than walking pace!

Tentative riding
Short chance to stop dragging the brakes

As the gradient eased, my speed increased and I was able to reach the surroundings of the bothy fairly quickly. I made one enforced stop at a beautiful ford next to a cascade, where I tramped about in the water for a couple of minutes to flush the mud out of my shoes and give my socks a ring out and dry on a rock.

Could have hung around here all day
If it weren’t for the smell
Beautiful Glen Finnan above Corryhully

When I finally reached Corryhully Bothy, a crowd was beginning to gather. First I met Ritchie and Lyndsey, who had been the figures on the horizon over the pass. As we chatted, various groups came in, including future friends Team Caroline who had taken the road option and expressed their horror/amusement/surprise to hear a gang of us had gone for the walk. It was universally agreed by all the sufferers that the pass was the wrong choice, though I secretly didn’t mind – I figured I’d lost half an hour at most with the 3 hours I’d spent in the hills, plus, what a stunning place to suffer! I got my picture and headed down the welcome tarmac towards the viaduct accompanied by Lyndsey, who whizzed ahead whilst I was faffing with my phone for pictures as always.

First bothy I’ve been in that has electricity
If I’d hung on for five minutes I’d have seen the steam train

It was a long climb out of the glen heading towards Mallaig on the main road, which was dotted with discarded cars on the verges, as people tried to get a good vatage point for the Hogwarts Express, whose whistle I could hear in the distance. I kept an eye out, but never saw it somehow. I was moving along nicely, with the rest of the walking gang somewhere behind me, though momentum was seriously compromised by a series of temporary traffic lights, none of which I managed to hit on green. On the last and longest wait, a whole crowd of us regrouped for a natter and headed onwards for the junction that would take us to Moidart on a mercifully less busy road.

Calum catches up
Welcome to Moidart

After turn off, I got chatting to Lyndsey again and we made good speed along the coastline before realising we were pushing it a bit too fast, as always seems to happen when you ride along side by side with someone! The climbs and descents back down to sea level started to hit as we neared Ardnamurchan and we picked up Ritchie outside a shop in Glenuig. We had realised that making the 1645 ferry from Kilchoan to Tobermory wasn’t going to happen without a serious increase in pace, so we allowed ourselves an picnic bench ice cream stop at Acharacle. This was a lovely idea, right up until the only rain showers of the weekend passed overhead! The rain was short lived and we were soon riding along in the sun again, catching the groups who had passed through during our break.

Lots of this through Moidart
Sometimes it feels like the road signs are mocking you
Super smooth on the way to Dalnabreck

The next stretch of coastal road through Ardnamurchan was why I had given up so easily on making the penultimate ferry to Mull, as it only goes up or down with nothing in between. I decided to pull away a little to avoid any inadvertent drafting in the gaggle of ferry chasers, by dive bombing the descents to gain a bit of extra free hill on the up. I was out on my own for a bit, until Calum winched his way up to me on the endless climb away from Ardslignish, where the road turns inwards to circumnavigate Ben Hiant. After a sociable ascent we reached the high point and it was downhill all the way to the ferry terminal, with time to spare before the 1820 ferry. We had a welcoming party of three there already and whiled away the time discussing the day so far and adding layers to combat the fresh sea breeze. By the time the ferry arrived, everyone was present and accounted for, so no last ferry dramas for this stage at least!

Parked up for the voyage
Inspirational message on the cliff near Tobermory

Once everyone had warmed up in the cosy cabin on board, talk turned to the prospect of getting round Mull in time to make the last ferry to Oban at 2245. This ferry would dock at 1915, giving 3 and a half hours to get to Caliach Point for CP4 and then back down to Craignure at the bottom of the island. This was a ride of about 75km, but with an unknown quantity of walking to get to the trig point for the photo. Team Caroline had made the decision that they would take it easy and aim for the first ferry in the morning. I was right on the fence, as my original aim had been to get off Mull tonight, but that had been predicated on me making the earlier ferry from Kilchoan. From fresh, I would have been confident, but with 200km in the legs and some steep climbs on the way to the point, I decided to stock up on overnight food at the Co-Op and then see how things were looking when I reached it. Calum, Lyndsey, Ritchie and Simon had decided to go for it and I followed them out of town a minute or so behind.

Exiting the ferry with purpose

I made slow and laboured progress across the island in the evening light, with a wee lift as I waved to a couple of groups of riders I recognised on their way back from the checkpoint, who had obviously been on the earlier ferry. I passed through the farm at the end of the road and hopped off to navigate a bit of boggy ground, to be met by Simon, hurtling down the hill in his socks, which was more spirit than I could muster at this point!

Lovely views clouded by pain
Had to slow down and appreciate at least some of this light

I stuck to my recce plan of contouring round the hill and almost coming back to the trig point up shallower slopes as I waved to Calum, Ritchie and Lyndsey throwing themselves down the steeper side of the hill on their way back to their bikes. I wheeled mine all the way up for my checkpoint shot and then lingered, having made the decision I wasn’t getting to that ferry. The spot was too attractive to just run away from and what was the rush, now I’d accepted I was stuck on Mull until 0700 tomorrow? If I’d actually brought my bivy bag I would have got myself set up to sleep right here and just finished off Mull in the early morning.

Below Caliach Point
That would have been my dinner bench

I ate one of my last well-travelled sausage rolls as I lingered and decided I was done with them and pork pies for this ride. I headed down the hill, meeting Team Caroline on their way up and pointed them towards the easier ascent with a recommendation to set up camp there, which they smartly did!

Sun setting in the bay below Caliach Point

Riding back the way I had come was surprisingly a lot easier than I had expected and I reached the turn off to cut across Mull without too much delay, which got me wondering if I should have gone all out for the ferry. I climbed gradually over the moors as the light faded, feeling like this was about as quick as my body wanted me to go and started thinking of where I was going to stop for the night. I had a hammock and no sleeping bag, as my plan had been to rest for a couple of hours somewhere beyond Oban and then continue once I got too cold to hang about. Now, however I was facing at least 6 hours in one spot, which seemed particularly uninviting in the wet mist on the hills.

Just had to pause to soak it in at Dervaig
Last light on the way to Glen Aros

I was lightly chilled by the time I reached the coast at Aros, so I paused to start putting on some layers whilst the midges started to swarm in. I wanted to keep the heat I had left in me without building up another sweat and the easy road along the shore helped immensely with this. My extensive Street View reconnaissance had identified a decent forest for a hammock pitch near the Fishnish ferry road, but I started scoping earlier and found a path dropping from the road into a magical patch of wood near the airstrip that I didn’t realise was there till afterwards. I say magical, because it was both sheltered from the wind and almost completely midge free. I threw up the hammock and net over the mossy forest floor, had a late dinner and got into bed wearing every bit of clothing I had with me.

Only thing missing was the paltry 500g that my sleeping bag would have added

With my knee warmers slid down to meet my socks, I had full body coverage and was actually pretty comfortable to start with. I must have gone to sleep pretty quickly, as the next thing I knew it was at least an hour and a half later and I was shivering violently. I let the shivering go on to get me warmed up and started vigorously wriggling my feet and toes to try and get some heat into them. As the shivering subsided, I would nod off again, until my body woke me up for another bout. This went on for a few more hours, before I decided to start packing up around 0430 to do a slow ride to Craignure, to generate some heat and then hopefully laze around in the sun for the last hour before the ferry left. Once up and moving I didn’t feel half as bad, as I cruised the coast road again, luxuriating in the sunny patches like a bicycle-bound lizard. I also noticed that the forecast 13 degree temperatures overnight were way off, as it was currently only hitting 7!

Quiet and pleasant dawn riding to Craignure

There were a few cars already waiting for the ferry and I spotted at least one person bivied in the glass waiting shelter. I prowled around in the sun and ditched my highly unappetising pork pies with the promise of much more food choices on the mainland. Calum eventually emerged from the shelter and said he and Ritchie had gone for it in the night but had missed the ferry by less than 15 minutes. Lyndsey had called it early like me and bivied elsewhere on the way down. I boarded as soon as I was able and got myself a cup of tea and a comfy seat for the journey.

Early ferry
Executive spot at the front – note the jubilee hardhat to the left!

As I drank yet more tea and pastries, I caught up with Team Caroline who had enjoyed the lovely camp spot, but hardly managed any sleep thanks to a lack of darkness and distracting 4G reception! An hour later we docked in Oban and went our separate ways. Everyone was planning to take the cycle route over to Taynuilt, which was ideal, but I had decided to go around the coast route to save myself yet more climbing and get up more speed on the smoother road. I’d been expecting to do this bit in the night/early hours when it was quiet, but I hoped it would be too bad at 8 in the morning on a Saturday. After replenishing my food reserves at the excellently stocked garage just outside of town, I enjoyed some easy cycling and lovely views round the coast. The road got quieter after Connel and I was in Taynuilt without any delay.

Oban in the morning
Still sunny in Connel

After climbing out of Taynuilt, the road followed along the banks of Loch Awe, where I was continually distracted by the reflections of the hills in the still dark water, eventually stopping to take a few pictures before Cruachan power station. The day was shaping up to be a hot one, though the air was cool enough to feel comfortable as long as you were moving with a bit of pace. On reaching Lochawe, I was tempted in by a bench in a lovely spot outside the hotel and basked for a while, munching on my fresh chicken and sweetcorn baguette, whilst downing half my Irn Bru ration for the morning. I was surprised no-one had caught me during my little stops, so I began to wonder if they’d gone over the hill faster than I realised. As I pulled in yet again to take a picture of Castle Kilchurn on the other side of the loch, Team Caroline skidded to a halt behind me to do the same. I got moving a few seconds before them, but they soon caught me. After swapping postions a few times on the ups and downs I left them to pull away on the big climb from the loch, as I had knees to preserve, which were reaching peak pain levels.

Leaving Taynuilt
Loch Awe layby

Eventually the hill was conquered and I sped down towards Inveraray, planning for a Co-Op stop. Conveniently there was another shop just as I reached the village, with my other three ferry buddies outside enjoying a cuppa in the sun. I didn’t plan to dwell too long after my chilled out morning so far, so just topped up my drinks and waved farewell, figuring they’d catch me pretty soon along the way. I also gave Team Caroline a wave as I passed under the arch, where they were sunning themselves on the lochside grass.

Team Caroline in chillout mode

The road was busy out of Inveraray, though I timed my arrival at the bridge traffic lights to keep my momentum up and follow over behind the queue, so that was some energy saved! Next was a frustrating ride towards Dalmally, before turning off the main road at the head of Loch Fyne to come back down the other side, looking across at where I’d just been. Team Caroline cruised past at some point before I turned inland, but I didn’t even attempt to go with them and just kept nursing my knee along. Leaving Loch Fyne, I was forced to pull over on the first steep pitch and take some Ibuprofen to try and dull the pain in my knee, as well as raise my saddle the slightest bit. After a bit of a climb I reached the shore of Loch Eck which was lovely and inviting in the afternoon sun, though I resisted temptation to jump in and vowed to take the kids here instead in the near future. It was a pleasant stretch, but the loch seemed endless and I couldn’t get it out of my head that there must be some monster climbs coming if my elevation gained so far was accurate. It turned out there wasn’t and before I knew it I was in striking distance of Dunoon, with just a brisk headwind to worry about.

Climbing gradually from Strachur
Peeking at Loch Eck
Pinpoint timing for the Hunter’s Quay ferry

I had a note of the ferry timetables and knew the Hunter’s Quay ferry was running every 15 minutes at this time of day, rolling up just as it docked. I congratulated myself on my perfect timing, only to be outdone by Calum, Lyndsey and Ritchie, who rocked up a few seconds before departure! We had our usual ferry catch up on the short stint to Gourock and all rolled out together with me at the head of the gang. The road was busy and I checked over my shoulder to see I wasn’t holding anyone up behind me with my steady pace, only to realise they had all disappeared! Calum had said he had a plan for getting through to the next checkpoint, but it obviously didn’t match with mine! As usual mine involved keeping things as flat as possible on a mix of bike paths and roads along the coast line through Greenock, before one big climb up from Port Glasgow towards CP5. This last climb wasn’t bad at all, possibly thanks to the adjustment of expectations over the last day or so! I got my photo and Tweet, then moved along the road a little to eat, in case the inhabitants of the Happy Hound Hotel were getting fed up of sweaty cyclists turning up outside their house all weekend.

Contrasting photo opportunities on the final stretch
The most photographed dog hotel in Scotland for Jubilee weekend, I would wager

It felt good to know I was going to make it to the finish, as I expected a pretty easy run into Glasgow. I set off on the undulating country road and dived down one of the dips, only to clatter through a ruined section of road that was hidden by the tree shade. I winced along listening for something to be wrong – the tubeless tyres had survived again but I could detect a slight clinking of the spokes which got me paranoid about a breakage. Rather than do the sensible thing and check, I couldn’t bear to find out the bad news and just carried on a bit more carefully than before. I had intricately plotted the final kilometres and it all went smoothly, apart from one stretch of bike path being under reconstruction. Soon enough, I was in Glasgow itself, using my slightly dated local knowledge to get me to George Square as simply as possible. After a stop-starting through a stubborn batch of traffic lights, I finally rolled onto the square with delight and took a few pictures for posterity and Twitter. 470 km in 36 hours, which was a nice round day and a half. No-one else was here yet, so I decided to hang around for the pint we had been mentioning on and off over the weekend. As I waited, a friend of Ritchie and Lyndsey rode up to wait for them with a backpack full of Fab ice lollies which she was happy to share – bonus!

All done in George Square

Calum and his posse turned up shortly afterwards, with tales of horrendously steep bike routes above Gourock, which I was relieved to have dodged! The celebrations eventually retired to a bar at the side of the square for a few pints, where we were eventually joined by Team Caroline, who had caught the other ferry and lost a bit of time waiting on it, as well as a fried egg roll of dubious quality. I resisted getting food, as I thought there may be a dinner awaiting me at the grandparent’s house, who were looking after the kids for the weekend. Little did I know they were away to the beach for the day and there was no-one even in yet! I was having too much fun getting to know people better, with everyone geeking out about kit and future ride plans. This is one of the best things about rides like this – you get a chance to socialise with people who totally “get” what you’re on about when you mention events or experiences.

Calum plays it cool at the finish
The ferry crew

After more drinks than I had intended, I finally peeled myself away from George Square and said goodbye to my new friends, hoping to see them at some other ride in future. I meandered my way to Bishopbriggs, finding this 7 km harder to navigate than the entire 470 that had proceeded it. If real life allows, I’ll do the TransScotland every year, so roll on 2023!

Slap bang in the middle of the pack, as 13th person to the finish

BAM 2021 – June

I felt like I wanted to do something a bit bigger for June, ideally maximising all that lovely daylight. Inspiration came in the shape of an email from Restrap, exhorting riders to do a Solstice Century and earn a badge. Always a sucker for earning a free badge I will never get round to sewing into a cap, I signed up and got thinking. As much as I’d love to do something more exotic, the travel time to get somewhere away from home always reverts me to riding from the house to minimise domestic disruption. Luckily Aberdeen has plenty of interesting options once the ride distance goes beyond a hundred miles!

My last century for the winter solstice had taken me north, but I fancied heading out to do a loop taking in Glenshee, which I have gone over several times in the past, but always heading south. This time I would head over to Angus and along before turning north to tackle Glenshee from the steeper side. I finally headed out on Saturday night at 7pm, knowing I still had lots of daylight to play with, despite having to double back for repairs after my brake pads fell out at the first set of traffic lights! Unfortunately, the weather had also gone downhill from the beautiful conditions we’d been seeing earlier in the week. so I was surrounded by warm greyness as I climbed up and over the Netherley road to Stonehaven.

I’ve always meant to stop and take a photo of this local landmark
Short refreshment stop near the Huskyhaven
Lots of speed on the drop into Stonehaven

I’d gone slightly off course to stock up on food at the M&S in Peterculter before climbing over the Netherley road, completely forgetting I would pass right by a Co-Op in Stonehaven. Never mind, I’m sure the weight training would do me some good! I climbed away from the coast on the back roads, with Fetteresso Forest on my right. Normally, I would take the route past Drumtochty to avoid traffic, but it was unlikely to be an issue at this time of night. I wanted to make as quick progress as possible, so I dived down through Auchenblae and joined the B road for Fettercairn as early as possible. This was the right choice, as it was smooth and fast and I barely saw a single car.

Through the arch as darkness fell

After resisting the temptation to stop at the pub, my next waypoint was Edzell and I rolled along at decent speed, though I still had a fair way to go to reach my tentative bivy area.

Quickfire Edzell photo
Never quite fully dark

Time dragged on as I headed westwards, impatiently waiting for the junction I would take to climb a hill and get some sleep in the trees at the top. I’d thought of not bivying and riding through the night, but then I’d be a BAM down for no good reason. I pushed ever onwards into the dark, finally reaching the turn off I wanted some time after midnight. I’d prevaricated over what I was going to sleep in all day, eventually deciding on just my Exped hammock and light sleeping bag. I’d toyed with the idea of my SOL bivy and a warm jacket, but it added up to practically the same weight (More If I took a mat) and wouldn’t be as comfortable. I got the hammock slung up in the trees just over the crest of the hill and settled in after some food and drink.

Ready for a very short sleep

I slept okay, thanks to the hill deflecting the worst of the wind, a lack of midges and the luxury of a sleeping bag. My faith in the weather forecast paid off and I didn’t need to pack up and go due to any late night showers. I was up and about around 4am, though my hopes of getting some nice sunrise shots were dashed by the continued cloud cover. Never mind, at least I was warm, dry and slightly rested! I hopped back over the fence to rejoin the road, which would drop me quickly to my onward route.

Would have been nice on a clear morning
Accidentally enhanced morning clouds
Must have been a bit cold to warrant the waterproof

From this point onwards the route was going to trend upwards all the way to the ski centre, so I knuckled down and headed up Glenisla, at one point distracted by a hare that insisted on running up the road ahead of me for a good mile or so before hunkering down in an adjacent field fully in my view. It was interesting to take this stretch at a more sedate pace, as I’ve always flown down here pretty quickly in the opposite direction, aided by gravity.

Idyllic Glenisla
Hello Perth and Kinross
Goodbye Angus
Excitable deer just after the Shee Water crossing

The deserted roads were a joy to ride on at this hour and I eventually emerged onto the A93, where the climbing would soon start in earnest. Although this was supposed to be all uphill, it felt fine for the time being, though I knew what was coming in the last stretch to the ski centre. It was around 0700 by now and I was seeing the odd car coming along, but still peaceful enough to feel the whole road was mine to enjoy.

What a sight to wake me up

Finally the climb began to ramp up properly and I settled in for a tough slog. I’ve only ever come down this side of Glenshee, but I knew it was a lot steeper than the northern side by the speeds I’ve hit during the descent! It very gradually gets tougher and tougher, right up to the last agonising drag over the top, where I paused to gather my thoughts and alveoli.

Entering my third county in the last hour

Despite the fact I was hot and sweaty after the climb, I stuck on an extra layer for the descent, which was going to go on a while! My reward for the steeper climb should be a longer descent towards Braemar, where I planned to stop for second breakfast. I went into a nice aero tuck and flew down the first section, eventually resorting to casually turning the pedals as the gradient eased. Soon enough, I reached the wee bridge onto the old military road, which would make for a nicer entry to the village than the main road.

View from the old bridge
Bloke rides bike over bridge
Old military road with frequent “wild” camper scorch marks on the grass.

As I reached sleepy Braemar the sun was warming things up nicely, so I basked on a bench for a while, working my way through my treats from the Co-Op, before availing myself of the toilets nearby.

Parked up for 2nd breakfast

I wasn’t going to hang about for the rest of the ride, as it was all trending downhill and I wanted to be home handy for taking the kids swimming. I stuck to the A93 the whole way, as it never got too busy until I passed Banchory and it was good to ride on a road that wasn’t mainly constructed out of potholes for a change.

Motivational roadside message outside Braemar
One day I will do a ride where I have time to linger in these spots
Some peace from the traffic by Loch Kinord
Finally back to short sleeve weather
Potarch marked the return to busy roads

I arrived home a few minutes after midday, feeling great for my little adventure – 153 miles in the bag and only a morning missed with the family. It’s not a bad compromise I suppose!

BAM 2021 – May

I bided my time through May, waiting for the weather to warm up enough to let me take my best cycling buddy Kerr along with me. Predictably, that was the last weekend in May, but the forecast was good enough and so off we headed for Braemar on Saturday straight after lunch. As usual, I had no choice in our destination as Kerr was determined to return to “His” camp spot in Glen Quoich. Since he was a year bigger, I figured I would make him work for it this time out. We parked up at Invercauld, with the aim of riding along the Dee to Glen Quoich and then climbing up and along the high eastern side of the glen.

One day he’ll be carrying my stuff
Quiet side of the Dee
Keeping moving to keep the flies off
Energy drink break on the first proper climb

The weather was warm and sultry, just right for shorts and t-shirt, though the first steep climb away from the Linn of Quoich got us hot and sweaty. Luckily I had brought Irn Bru to use as bribery along the way, as well as a pack of Maoam in his bar bag!

Every puddle was thoroughly tested
Mountains ahoy

We had left later than I would have liked as usual, but I made sure there was no rush other than needing to get the dinner on before he got too hungry. We undulated along above the glen, my only real worry being the level of the river crossing once we reached the end of this track. We had come back this way the previous year, but it had been later in the summer and the warm weather, plus lots of snow still on the hills meant it could be pretty high.

Great views of Beinn Bhreac

As we dropped to the ford at the Quoich Water, my fears proved well founded, as there were a couple of sections I really didn’t want Kerr walking through unaided. His lip started to wobble at the thought of not getting to our camp site, tantalisingly in view across the water, so I did a bit of scouting round for our options. By dropping off the side of the track a little way back from the ford, there was a wider option available which should go if we were careful. I had to abandon thoughts of crossing barefoot as usual to make sure I had good purchase for looking after Kerr. After two trips for the bikes and a final one for Kerr, who found the whole thing a great laugh and had the advantage of a pair of Crocs to keep his shoes dry, we were finally at our camp site.

Pushing the nice bit on his own

The massive exodus of post- lockdown campers to the mountains luckily hadn’t extended as far as Glen Quoich, so we found our favourite spot uninhabited. After receiving some sporadic help with the tent pitching, I left Kerr to play at the river bed whilst I got everything else sorted in camp.

Tent up and brew on

Kerr was ecstatic to find that his stone causeway had somehow survived the winter and we wound the evening down messing about at the water’s edge and constructing a cooling area for our drinks once our luxurious macaroni cheese dinner had been dispatched.

I get a feeling he’s happy to be here
We love a big beetle pic
Fine daddy engineering

Time was getting on so we decided to turn in for a bit to get cosy, before another night excursion to see what was about and about. As it turned out, it was neither of us – after plenty of one way chat from Kerr, we both drifted off to sleep, with the outer door still held open to let the breeze in on a pleasantly mild night.

We woke early and dozed around for a bit until Kerr decided he was hungry, meaning I had to get myself up and shuffle around our campsite barefoot, as my shoes were still propped up on the nearby tree to dry in the steadily warming morning sun. I sent Kerr to collect the milk from my fridge, but he returned gleefully informing me it had dried out and that we should have stuck with his original spot, to which he had moved it to cool again after being heated up all morning.

No chance of a wet tent to pack
Rugged outdoor equipment
Summer below Beinn a Bhuird
Still drying my shoes

We whiled away the morning with cups of tea for me and general splashing around in water for Kerr, with the sun beating down and a complete lack of midges, despite the low winds. All good things must come to and end, however, so I started packing up the tent and kit, ready for our return. As usual, Kerr asked if we could come back and camp out for more than one night next time – he never seems happier than when he’s hanging out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by nature and I vowed to try and do this more often.

To get back to the car, I decided Kerr was going to get a bit more adventure. Rather than head back the way we came, we would continue up the glen to cross the Quoich Water much higher up, allowing us to link onto the top of Gleann an t-Slugain. Distance wise, it’s a shortcut, but effort wise, not at all. Once we got past the river-eroded parts of the path, there was a great surface for riding on for a good while. This was a marked improvement on what was there 15 years ago on my last passage.

Heading upriver
Mini-crossing warmup
Great whilst it lasted

After crossing a smaller burn, we had a steep push up onto some more rooty singletrack which wound its way through the trees. Despite it being a constant uphill, Kerr just kept powering along, with his wee fat tyres gripping their way out of every dip and rise. We just had the one mishap, with a pedal strike on a steep camber leaving him wrapped up in his bike upside down. I gave him a bit of a break and some more sweets before coaxing him back into action. Luckily, the surfaced track reappeared, which meant a bit less shuttling of the two bikes on the dodgy bits for me and a feeling that he would soon be at the river crossing whose proximity he had been nagging me about for the last half hour.

Above the Quoich Water

Finally, the ford was in sight and we dropped down steeply to appraise it. Whilst the levels weren’t too bad, I opted to keep my shoes on again and walk Kerr and the bikes over separately. Job done, we sat on the far side eating our lunch and letting my shoes dry out in the sun.

Well deserved lunch

Once fed, more pushing interspersed with riding brought us up to meet the track from The Sneck. I had promised Kerr a constant downhill from here, which was kind of true, though my memory of the condition of the upper track down Gleann an t-Slugain didn’t quite tie in with reality. It was pretty steep and loose at times, with Kerr sensibly opting to walk his bike down the bits that made him nervous.

Lovely wee singletrack stretch away from the crossing
Top of Gleann an t-Slugain
Back on the smooth after some rough descending

The temperature ramped up as we descended, so we stopped at a mini ford and started splashing about and topping up on water, now that Kerr had finished his emergency Irn Bru ration. We were briefly interrupted by the passage of a Mountain Rescue Land Rover as we made sure the bikes were out of the way. They weren’t for chatting, but hopefully nothing too serious had occurred on the hill.

Crystal clear rehydration
Knew this would happen

Eventually, we rolled on to enjoy a speedy ride down the rest of the glen, Kerr happily chatting and veering around the track as he saw fit. The more adventurous route home had used up plenty of the day and we arrived back at Invercauld almost exactly 24 hours after we left. Kerr was right, we need to get a multi day trip organised – though I imagine his version has more messing about in rivers and a lot less cycling than mine!

Toasty at the bottom of the glen
Cairngorms perfection

BAM 2021 – April

Finally, the latest lockdown had ended and I needed to sleep somewhere different. As usual my time was scarce, so I headed out on a Friday night to go to a nice spot I had been with the kids just a couple of weeks before, whilst keeping to the 5 mile limit from the Aberdeen City boundary. As I rolled west the skies looked gloomy and threatening, but I put my faith in the forecast that I might be able to dodge the rain on the way to my spot and possibly even see the sky in the morning!

Not exactly enticing near Peterculter
It really wants to rain, but I’m sure it won’t?

I used the Deeside Way to get me to Drumoak and crossed the now pedestrian bridge and started climbing up to Durris. I’ve had a couple of bivvies round here in the past, but wanted to ride through the forest to reach the point where the Elsick Mounth route leaves the trees at the far side. I’d had a lovely picnic with the kids here and had been meaning to try it out for a good while.

Tree felling apocalypse on the Elsick Mount
Edge of the forest and time to find my spot for the night

I could have brought a bivy bag and slept on the grass outside the trees, but I’d gone for my hammock instead to keep me off the sodden ground, also opting to put the tarp up for once as rain was due overnight. I settled in with a cuppa and a cake before bed time, hoping to see some sort of sunrise in the morning.

Home for the night
Supper of kings

With my winter bag and sleep mat in the hammock I was nice and cosy, bar the odd wrestling match to keep the mat in place, due to it being far too long to sit comfortably in the Exped hammock. I’m not sure if the rain ever showed up in earnest, but at least I had bothered to be prepared for it for once. When the sun started to rise, it was still a bit dull to be worth getting up for pictures, so it was a while before I ventured out of my bed for breakfast and packing up. Emerging from the trees for a proper look, I realised there had been a hard frost overnight, with the grass I would have bivvied on frozen solid. Feeling smug about my life choices, I packed up and took some pictures in the now beaming morning sun.

Frosty monument
Big slicks and frozen ground is a winning combination
Loving the Alpkit frame bag as always
Stunning morning makes the moody night worthwhile

To get home, I just needed to drop down the Elsick Mounth towards Stonehaven before doubling back on the tarmac for a pleasantly quiet ride towards home over the Netherley Road. It was a short excursion, but much appreciated, as was second breakfast when I got in!

Down to Stonehaven
Bit of history

BAM 2020 – December

For December, I had been planning to get my BAM in at some point over the Christmas period when family were around to entertain the kids. Obviously that option was taken away and it looked like a stricter lockdown was coming, so I opted for an earlier date on the Solstice weekend. I’d also spotted an email from Restrap promoting a Solstice Century ride which involved doing 100 miles over the weekend to claim yourself a badge. Always a sucker for a badge, I decided to go for it. Originally planning to go out on the Saturday night, I delayed by a day as Yvonne was particularly knackered on Saturday and I didn’t want to leave her getting up early with the kids next day. So, prompt as ever I headed out about 10pm on Sunday night, wandering if this even counted for the Solstice Century.

Good Christmas lights effort at Kingswells

Since I was going to be riding 100 miles, I had hastily plotted out a route that would gather me up some new VVE tiles. Due to the size of max square I have now, it takes nearly two hours to get to the edge and start adding new ones! My route was going to the north west corner of my square to tick off a bunch near Insch, heading towards Huntly. Despite the late hour, I stuck to my planned and complicated route, ticking off tiles with the odd out and back diversion or occasional offroad stretch. Despite being fine in Aberdeen, the temperatures were much colder than forecast and I began to hit patches where the entire road had frosted over, that I had to descend very gingerly to keep upright.

Not much time to spare for night photos, but stars and stuff were in abundance

Finally I reached my planned turn off and climbed up into the forest at Gartly Moor. I’d done a quick Google Street View recce beforehand and had spotted a track going onto the forest that should suit my needs. I turned off into the layby and spotted a path heading off through the undergrowth, which I followed uphill for a short while before looking for likely hammock spots off to the side. It didn’t take too long and I got everything up and ready in no time. The tree cover meant that I couldn’t feel a breath of wind, despite it being quite strong on the way here. I took my chances with the forecast and left the tarp in my frame bag, so I could catch glimpses of the stars through the canopy above. I’d not bothered with a stove or flask in favour of carrying more water, so I drank the wee can of coke I’d picked up in the Co-Op and had a cranberry pork pie and some stollen from home before turning in.

Super cosy spot tonight

The sheltered location did the trick – I could hear the wind raging through the trees nearby, but not a breath of it reached me, meaning a pleasant night’s kip. I had an alarm set for half seven, but snoozed for a wee bit to allow the light to build. The main reason for this was so I could switch my dynamo to charging the Garmin as soon as possible rather than powering the lights, as I had decided to try out a battery pack-free ride and had less than 20% on the Garmin after last night. When I eventually emerged from the trees, it was much lighter than I realised, so I immediately switched to the Sinewave Revolution that was stashed in the frame bag to ease my GPS battery woes.

As I emerged from the forest, it immediately became apparent that the frost had deepened overnight, with my first turn off looking particularly frosty. One of the hazards of always sticking to the backroads when possible, but I just took it easy and never left myself in a position where I’d have to brake or turn sharply on one of the white patches. Having the old Continental GP 4 Seasons was a help too as the softer rubber compound always seems to give that tiniest extra bit of traction, enabling to keep pedalling uphill on it as long as I didn’t push too hard.

Didn’t get any good shots of the ice, as I couldn’t risk stopping to take a picture
Much icier than it looks, honest

My route back home was similar to the previous night, with lots of offshoots to pick off VVE tiles and the odd cheeky bit of offroad, despite the inappropriate tyres.

28mm is all you need
Almost getting sunny

Eventually I looped back towards the opposite side of Insch from last night and turned on my Co-Op Spidey-sense to take a little diversion which swung me right past one. Don’t know how I do it, but it never fails if there’s one about! After a quick stock up and a nice chat with an old chap who was wondering where I’d been, I was ready to polish off the rest of this ride.

Home from home
Not quite finished with the non-tarmac diversions
Smooth and non-icy tarmac got the average speed up

As I passed Keig, the stretches of ice finally eased up for good and I was able to get my head down and make a beeline for home, ensuring I kept the distance up over 100 miles by the time I reached home to complete my kind-of Solstice Century. More importantly, this got me to another complete year of BAM to make it 3 in a row. I was glad I hadn’t jacked it in during the pointless garden lockdown bivies in the spring, as I’d have missed out on the motivation to complete in the winter months, although these are often my favourite rides of the lot.

Went over the century by a couple of km to be sure

Will I carry it on? Probably – I don’t know when I’ll next be able to commit the time needed to do a big group start ride like the HT550 again, as family health is something I need to keep an eye on before knowing if its possible. Just because I am capable of it doesn’t mean I have to do it and BAM has been a good way of keeping a small sense of adventure and maintaining my sanity in the meantime!