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!

BAM 2020 – November

November was a wet and miserable month, resulting in me putting off my bivy continuously so that I was stuck with the last night of the month yet again. I couldn’t be bothered heading out to a soggy forest somewhere so went for a safe bet along the coast. It was a late start to the ride at about half ten and I went straight through town to reach the beach front, pausing to take in the eerily empty Union Street.

Christmas lights were up
Only took a global pandemic for them to finally pedestrianise Union Street
City lights
Marine lights

High tide was due at 1 am, so I skipped the bit of headland at Donmouth and used the golf course access road to make some decent progress before rejoining the coastline round the back of a tee. This had been handily discovered on a late evening ride with Kerr a couple of weeks previously. Once down on the sand, the tide line seemed ominously close, especially along the stretches that were bounded by vertical cliffs of dunes.

Skirting the tide

Despite not being in full fat mode, the 29+ setup was working as fine as ever and I hugged the moist bits of shoreline were the waves came and went, occasionally veering further up the beach when a bigger wave came in. So far, I’m still not seeing a need to finally make this into the full fat bike it’s supposed to be. If I did veer too far into the softer sand then it would bog down a bit, but not too much to prevent me finding a firmer line elsewhere.

I kept moving, wanting to get as far long as possible before the tide came in too far for me to use the firmest sand. I had a few burns to cross, which I thought would dictate how far north I got, as the option of swinging around their emptying channels to cross the shallow water was going to be less likely. The first couple were manageable but I had to think about the last one before Balmedie, eventually deciding to just go for it and jump off into the channel and wheelie up the opposite bank. It wasn’t pretty, but it did the job. Past Balmedie, I began to think about stopping for the night, as I wanted to get back handy in the morning. The beach had widened a bit by now and the tide wasn’t going to be getting much higher, so I hopped up to a higher level in the dunes and found myself a nice sheltered scrape out of the wind.

Out of the wind at around freezing point

Once stopped, I popped off my single pannier and rolled out the kit. Usual drill, bit of food, cup of tea and off to bed. No need for an alarm, I figured I’d be up before sunrise.

Early morning peek out of the bivy bag

Once I was awake, I polished off the tea from the flask, took a few pictures and packed up – dead simple with the pannier.

Quickly packed pannier
Much clearer skies than than forecast

The tide was now well out, so I had the whole beach to pick a line on the way home and enjoy the unexpected bonus of the sun.

All the float I needed
Solar charging time
Not bad for November
Bunkers prepped for post-Brexit War of Independence

I strung out my return on such a beautiful morning, taking pictures and snacking and finally reaching the mouth of the Don, which is much more easily navigable at low tide.

A lot colder than it looks
Commando at Donmouth
Back to the big smoke

Once I reached the Bridge of Don, I took the direct route home, rather than milk it any longer. As soon as I got in, I also hosed down the bike to remove as much salt and sand as I could, making it the cleanest it’s been since the HT550 start line! I hadn’t been feeling it this month at all, but the night out and lovely morning ride had worked its magic as always.

Good as newish

BAM 2020 – October

I had big plans for October, since I was going to be in Nethy Bridge for the first week of the half term holiday as usual. This meant I had the northern Cairngorms as my playground if I could manage to sneak out one night of our stay. I had managed to stuff my bivy gear in as I packed the car with everything we needed, so I just needed to pick a decent night. The weather however, had other ideas and was particularly wet from the minute we arrived. Coupled to this I was feeling rough with a pounding headache, as was Yvonne, meaning I couldn’t abandon her even if I did feel up to it. We still managed to squeeze in plenty of fun with the kids and I even recced the track from Ryvoan back to the house with Kerr, riding back from a canoe day at Loch Morlich on a mostly dry afternoon. The track was an absolute state, thanks to the diggers that have used it to access the hills, though Kerr seemed happy enough getting covered head to toe in mud!

Late in the week, I finally felt up to a night out, setting out just after the kids’ bedtime. The forecast wasn’t great, but I was hoping to do something similar to last year’s October bivy on the Bynack More summit, but this time on Cairn Gorm itself. I headed straight up the road and into Abernethy Forest, making a beeline for the Forest Lodge track. I nearly had an off before I even left the tarmac, as I met some mountain bikers coming the other way, who collectively gave a cheery wave whilst pointing around 2 million lumens of lights and head torches in my face, causing me to lose the edge of the road and fall into the ditch there. This was quite a contrast, as I was currently only using the light off one of the kids bikes in an effort to save the Joystick until I needed it, thanks to them having taken it somewhere below 50% battery running around the cottage in the dark on previous nights! I still wasn’t feeling 100%, so I just trundled along uphill, only pausing for a snack at the edge of the forest before heading on to Ryvoan.

Dirty before I started

I reached An Lochan Uaine and stopped for a wee bit to think about my plans. I was feeling crappy and it was going to take me a good while to reach the top of Cairn Gorm. I had a faint hope there might be a cloud inversion so I actually saw something in the morning, but it was unlikely. As I pondered my options I noticed rain drops passing in front of my headlight, meaning it was only going to get more persistent and pervasive as I climbed. Finally I came to my senses – it was neither productive or responsible to carry on to the summit and try to bivy in my state and these conditions. Instead I rolled up to the fancy viewing platform and started to get my kit out, occasionally pausing as I had second thoughts, such is my stubborn nature.

5-star bivy accommodation

I drank my tea and had a snack, sitting on the luxurious bench and not feeling particularly sorry for myself. I eventually got into bed well before midnight and arranged my kit so the rain wouldn’t find its way into my boots. One bonus of the level sleeping area was that my ultra slippy bivy bag didn’t go AWOL during the night – it was also its first test in some proper rain, though the surrounding trees helped too. After a cosy night’s low altitude sleep I woke in the grey drizzle and gradually worked up the energy to get myself up and going.

Would love to pretend it was the morning sun peeking through, but it’s actually one of those damn diggers
Palatial
Can still see a bit of green even in this light
Always a lovely spot
Probably need to service these moving parts one day

I could have packed up and gone back the way I came, but my lack of riding the night before and my severe case of antiloopophobia would have kicked in, so I made for Loch Morlich instead and straight onto the old logging way.

Never gets that wet on these tracks

I turned off to the north at the end of the loch and started heading for An Slugan, which is a handy shortcut for getting back towards Abernethy offroad.

Gloomy Cairngorms from An Slugain
Much more thoughtful than a Keep Out sign at Pityoulish

Once down the other side, I just needed to whip along the old declassified road past Tulloch Moor and I’d be just about home. First of all I had to stop and admire the boardwalk bypassing the puddle of doom which beat the semi-submerged pallets that were there on my last crossing.

A good few years since I last drove this road
I’ve been through it on a road bike but not a mountain bike, no idea why
Amused by the simple things

After my North Shore excursion, I continued onto the roads near Loch Garten, hopping off into the Forest as soon as possible to enjoy some lovely forest riding on my way back to join in for breakfast with the kids. I’d done nothing like what I’d planned, but who’s keeping score anyway?

Sublime Abernethy
Last photo pause before home

BAM 2020 – July

Freedom, finally! After three months of garden bivies, the restrictions on wild camping were finally lifted on 15th of July, after a cruel 2 week wait when things like recreational travel had already been allowed. Also champing at the bit was Kerr, who had been desperate for another bikepacking trip with his dad. Luckily I also had the week booked off, so off we headed for Braemar on Thursday 16th, hoping to get our camp in before the hordes descended on the Cairngorms at the weekend.

We had bought all the food we needed in advance to avoid visiting local shops before they were ready for outsiders. Kerr was dead set on returning to our previous camping spot in Glen Quoich, despite me testing the waters on the way of maybe heading through Balmoral and camping near Gelder Shiel and Lochnagar, as this looked like it would dodge the inclement weather overnight. However, he was determined to bag the spot we had missed out on last time due to it being inhabited by wannabe bushcrafters who left behind the requisite fire ring the following day.

I was going for a different packing routine this time, ditching the trailer in favour of an Axiom Fatliner pannier rack I’d fitted to the Commando, plus my well-travelled Ortlieb front rollers. Kerr being a bit bigger means I don’t need to be quite as paranoid about the amount of gear I take and I managed to get it all in without too much drama, bar a bit of low speed wobble at the front end, which had the tent and some other bits attached to the bars.

We rolled along the very familiar track from the car park, reaching our camping spot above the upper Quoich foot bridge from our first ever trip very quickly. A lot had changed! The track that drops down to the bridge had been purposely pulled over with vegetation to make it narrower and the path skirting along the edge of the eroded river bank had been purposely bulldozed to make it impassable. Kerr was gutted, as he’d loved playing about on the river bank just along from there. Instead we were forced back up onto the newly created estate track, that took you away from the river. This looked steep from the turn off and got progressively more ridiculous. I’d attached the TowWhee to give Kerr some help, but as we got to the first bend higher up, it immediately became obvious I’d struggle to do this unloaded! We stopped and hopped off the bikes, but left the tow rope attached as it was too steep and loose for Kerr to get enough traction to even push his bike up. Obviously the rain also decided this would be a good point to arrive in a misty drenching manner – at least it kept us cool! Finally the summit was reached and we apprehensively approached the descent after being told by some walkers it was worse on this side. They weren’t far wrong and Kerr, ever the sensible one, elected to walk down one section before remounting and quite skilfully negotiating the remainder of the descent making full use of those big grippy tyres!

Beeline for Beinn a Bhuird

We continued up the glen, Kerr ranting about how rubbish the new track was in comparison to the old, whilst the rain abated, having had its fun with us at an inopportune moment.

Still looks sunny by Lochnagar, not that I’m bitter
Much easier now he has a geared bike

As we reached the ford through the Quoich, I switched him over to his Crocs, knowing his affinity for being submerged in water. No such luxury for me, though the clearance on the Commando in 29+ mode normally keeps my feet dry.

Quoich fords
Bike submarine amusement
Amphibious kid

Crossing dispatched, we didn’t have far to our spot and I had my fingers crossed that we would have it to ourselves, thanks to it being a Thursday night, which was exactly how it worked out.

Splash test dummy
Parked up for the night
Kerr immediately made friends with a local resident

As soon as the bikes were parked and he’d had a chat with our tree’s carpet moth, he was straight down to the dry riverbed below our campsite to paly. After a long few months of being trapped locally, he’d immediately gone back to his happy go lucky self now he was away from civilisation and it was wonderful to see the fog of lockdown lift from his demeanour. I left him contentedly building a rock causeway whilst I got on with putting up the tent and unpacking.

Kerr in his element
Causeway mk I

Mercifully, there was a fresh wind blowing down the glen, just as on previous visits, so we weren’t treated to a midge feeding frenzy as the evening progressed. This left us free to play by the river then get dinner cooked on my trusty Solo stove, Kerr alternating between his bridge building and keeping me supplied with twigs.

All the fun of a campfire without leaving a trace
If we had a river in our back garden, he’d do the dishes every night

After dinner, we did a bit of scouting further up the glen for future spots and made note of a lovely sheltered spot under a big tree, similar to the one we had used a couple of years back. Next time here might be with his little sister too! Kerr was still wanting to wander around once darkness fell, so we went wildlife spotting in the dark.

Another warty friend

Finally he was persuaded to head to bed – no need for stories tonight, just a bit of chat and out for the count for the both of us.

Sleepier than he looks

We woke to the sound of rain on the tent, which I’d heard several times during the night as I regularly woke. This was supposed to dissipate, so we lay there snoozing and chatting until it eased off a bit and Kerr needed a pee.

Tent drying in the wind

He was straight back to the river whilst I got a brew on and prepared our continental breakfast. I went down to the river bed to bring him back to eat when I saw something hovering around his head. It was at this point that I realised the wind had suddenly dropped to nothing, which meant the invasion was about to commence! We trotted over to the tent to keep the midges off our scent and ate our pastries on the move or standing near the smoke from the stove. The sun was making brief appearances, which actually helped a bit, as well as drying the tent further, so before long we were packing up our kit and getting ready to head back.

Neither of us relished the thought of going back over that new path again, so I decided to take the less used high track on the eastern side of the glen. I’d not taken Kerr over this before to avoid the extra climbing, but it seemed like much of a muchness now and at least it would be new to him. It also had the added bonus of a deeper ford right next to our campsite, which Kerr enjoyed watching me wince across barefoot whilst he took the most circuitous route possible.

Think he did that crossing about 4 times

After the crossing it’s a steady climb up the flank of the hill, with ever-improving views back down towards Beinn a Bhuird.

Older but much easier riding on this track
Only slightly higher than the diversion path on the other side of the glen
Father and son plus bikes
Speeding down the glen
Thankfully, we will soon able to go to the barbers
Bonus burn crossings always welcome

It was a pleasant ride back, with no need to hurry and all distractions entertained. As we reached the end of the glen, I diverted us back to the foot bridge near the punch bowl. This led to a sideways topple in some thick mud just before the cottage with slight histrionics about a muddy shoe, which were not entertained in the slightest by me, by now immune to lockdown tantrums after a looong 4 months of home schooling and working. The rock slabs below the bridge looked inviting in the sun, so we hopped down and lay there eating lunch in the now lovely weather.

Final stretch
Feeling relaxed
Feeling energetic

Well fed and solar recharged, we resumed our ride down a wee bit of singletrack to re-join the estate track that took us over the pristine new bridge and back to the car park. Hopefully this won’t become a rare occurrence in future if we can keep on top of things, as this type of exposure to the outdoors makes a massive difference to a child’s mental wellbeing and I don’t want to be denying this to the kids any more than I have to.

Pine needles below the Punchbowl
I take a perverse pleasure in nearly always having the oldest car in the car park

BAM 2020 – April, May, June

Not much to say for these three months. The COVID-19 lockdown was in effect and I was complying with the rules, regardless of the complete lack of risk to others my sleeping in a ditch in the middle of nowhere would constitute. Luckily, there was a temporary relaxing of the rules on the Bearbones forums, allowing for a ride from the house followed by a bivy in your own back garden.

For April, I made a pretence of packing my bike and going for a ride late on the last day of the month, before slinging up the hammock at the bottom of the garden.

Lack of time and enthusiasm limited me to a ride round the nearby forest
Chose the hammock over the nearby bothy

After weeks of sickeningly good weather and no sign of the lockdown easing, I reluctantly set out on my May bivy as late as possible on the last day of the month. I rode a bit further on yet another balmy pleasant night and slept in the tent that I had set up as a bird hide distraction for the kids in the garden.

Out the back of Hazelhead Park
Another beautiful night under lockdown
Found a nice new trail on the city outskirts
Plush accommodation a little closer to the house
Quick blast round the block to wake me up before work

I couldn’t quite believe I was going to have to do another garden bivy for June, but I don’t think I’m special, so I stuck to the rules. I strung this one out a bit, with a late night ride round the forests, followed by riding to work in the morning to deal with an emergency and then an extended ride home.

18 hours of daylight and I still end up riding in the dark
Dusted off my old impregnable Outdoor Designs Assault bivy bag
Approximately 1.5 metres from the back door
Sight-seeing on the way to work
Kincorth gravel
Flowery fields south of Aberdeen on the way home

Thinking back, I realised I was getting closer to the house each month as the lockdown continued. If I wasn’t allowed out in July, I would end up on the couch and my run would be over!