BAM 2020 – August

The long months of lockdown had left myself and Jon hankering for some kind of adventure to make up for it and constant chatter on WhatsApp wasn’t doing anything to assuage that craving. Eventually we got ourselves organised for a kind of lads’ weekend which consisted of a half day Friday and whole Saturday to go and play. My brief for the route was “A ride where we don’t have to kill ourselves for once”, which was a struggle for me as I like to get my money’s worth!

So it was, we hatched a plan which seems to be becoming our standard setup, whereby Jon chills out on the train from Edinburgh to Blair Atholl, whilst I race down there in the car to pick him up and deposit him somewhere for a magical mystery tour. Talking of the Beatles, I also doubled our Scouse contingent by persuading Brian to pop up to Scotland for the weekend and join us on a nice easy ride for once…

Traffic was ridiculous on the way down, but Jon was happy enough to wait for his pickup after lunch and a pint in the Atholl Arms. We only had to drive a few minutes to Dalnaspidal Lodge, where we ditched the car and got rolling up Glen Garry. Much later than was ideal, but optimistic of reaching Loch Ossian before nightfall, where I had scoped an ideal bivy spot on a previous passage.

On the way to Loch Garry

I had guaranteed an ideal ride for gravel style bikes with one short walking section, but the whinging about the gravel diameter started after about 5 minutes, when they went beyond pebble size to very small rocks. I happily ignored the complaints, knowing a treat was in store…

Where’s your oversized gravel now?
The watershed walk was just short enough to avoid an early mutiny

The watershed was surprisingly firm in places, given the rain that had fallen recently and we reached the hydro tracks near Duinish bothy in no time, with a chance to enjoy a long downhill to Loch Rannoch.

Flying through Craiganour Forest
Rolling by Loch Rannoch

The shores of Loch Rannoch were busy, with every single layby or picnic area inundated with cars, campers, tents and even caravans, along with mandatory loud music. This was also accompanied by the first sightings of midge swarms, which got me worried about the night ahead, as I had seen too many horror show pictures from people over the last few weeks. As it was, we were able to pass through unscathed, though I didn’t fancy the car campers’ chances.

Jon loves signs

We turned right before reaching Rannoch Station to head up and over the Road to the Isles, which has become an extremely popular route in recent years and with good reason. The quality of light and the view along there never seems to disappoint at any time of year.

Into the sun
Soul food
Late summer splendour

As the long climb began, Brian was beginning to flag a little, with various mutterings about being quicker on his fat bike. I could see where he was coming from, as you lose the ability to just sit and spin like you can on a mountain bike when you go offroad with gravel bike gearing, especially loaded. A few more of these trips and he’ll never notice though! As it was, we all just continued at our own speed until the track levelled out slightly, where Jon and I stopped to chat with a cycling photographer set up to get some shots across towards Rannoch Moor in the evening light. We had time to kill whilst we waited on Brian, so had a pleasant chat – it turns out he was from a film crew that had been shooting the GBduro a few weeks previous. With the tight time schedule, he’d come back to get more scenery footage along the route for the final film.

Peloton reformed

Reunited, we continued along and started to think of food for the night. Although we had food to cook and eat, what we really wanted was to reach Corrour Station in time to get dinner at the restaurant. Jon had been keeping in touch to see when they would stop serving and they had kindly said they’d hang on for us for a bit if we were late. With time pressing and not wanting to take advantage of their patience, we sent Jon on ahead to get there handy and order us something nice, which he did!

Plunging towards Loch Ossian and dinner
Like Jon read my mind
Beer and bikepacking – a match made in heaven

After lovely food and hospitality as always, we reluctantly put all our kit back on and headed out into the dark to head for the bivy spot I had memorised the last time I rode through here. I was looking for a spur that jutted out into the loch, which I’d seen on a hot summer’s day and figured would be good for getting us into whatever breeze was available to avoid a midge-fest. After about 15 minutes, we were there and pushing our bikes into position, checking for trees with the right spacing for mine and Jon’s hammocks. Brian had gone for ignoring my advice to bring a hammock and had his bivy bag instead, to lay on the rooty lumpy ground below.

Moonshot over Loch Ossian

There wasn’t rain in the forecast, but the showers that had caught us on the way down to the station made it worth putting up the tarps and shortly after getting set up, another light shower passed over, prompting us to overlap them to provide a large dry area and Brian to attempt a comedy upright caterpillar hop manoeuvre to get himself underneath it. A mostly dry midge-free sleep was had by all, with just enough wind to keep the beasts down without making the hammock sleepers cold.

Morning tarp peeking
Camping peninsula
Sock airing

Morning came bright and breezy, so we decided to pack up and get out of the wind a little for brewing up and breakfast. Re-joining the main track and setting up our stoves to the side showed us how effective the breezy camp spot had been, as the midges came out in earnest, though they could be mostly avoided by just walking around whilst the water was boiling.

Bike check – Jon’s Singular has a certain panache
Titanium crew – one predates gravel, the other doesn’t. What’s the difference?

Breakfast done with, Jon and I lingered for a while talking about life and bikes – okay, just bikes. This gave Brian a chance to get a nice gap without feeling like he had to push himself too hard as he was feeling the previous afternoon’s exertions a bit. There’s only a slight rise up from the loch when you are heading towards Laggan, so it took a fair while to catch him up. We carried on as a group into the headwind, with the odd shower flying through.

Surprisingly perky for someone who feels knackered
Srath Ossian gravel perfection
The sun eventually returned

A whole load of perfect gravel bike riding took us on a slowly downward trend to the end of Loch Laggan, where we doubled back on ourselves to hit the end of the lochside track towards Ardverikie.

Level lochside lollygagging
Jon does the tourist thing

The ride along the loch was pleasant and before long we passed the beach and were deposited onto the A86. Now I dislike riding on this stretch of road intensely, so I had decided to take the track over to Glen Shirra which would also be a handy recce for the next time I get to do the HT550, whenever that might be. We had less than a mile of tarmac to deal with and yet still three morons managed to put our lives at risk by all trying to overtake on a blind bend, with the third driving alongside us with nowhere to go as a van rounded the corner in the opposite direction. We gladly left the road at the first turn off to the right and started up the short steep push above the tree line.

The view opened up nicely but was unfortunately blocked by Jon
At the end of a pleasant, straightforward and very un-HT550 like section

I had planned to be in Laggan just before lunch time, but as usual had been wildly optimistic. We got a move on and whizzed down the upper Spey with coffee and cakes on our mind at the old Laggan Stores. Our tardiness saw us arrive in the midst of a lunch scrum, with cars and motorbikes everywhere, but it was all very civilised and we scored ourselves an outside table in the alternating hot sun/light showers.

Another good feed and excellent hot drinks at Laggan Stores Coffee Bothy

Suitably fed, we rejoined the road and started making our way towards Glentruim. Brian was still feeling goosed from the effects of no granny gears coupled with no sleep on his rooty bed and I gave him an escape option as we reached Catlodge. Instead of doing the planned out and back along the old military road past Phones, he could just carry on along the main road to the south at his own speed to rejoin the A9 cycle path much earlier than we would reach it. In addition, if he got to the car first he could have a sleep before heading down the road.

Binning off Brian
Glentruim bound

We had a lovely chilled out section ahead of us, with great views across the Spey valley as we made our way to Milton of Nuide. Here we would scoot across the A9 to join General Wade’s Military Road heading south, finally gaining that elusive tailwind.

Always time for sightseeing

I’m not sure why, but I love this track that parallels the A9 for a few miles. Despite the proximity of the road, you’d never know it was just behind the hills to the west of you. It was looking particularly fine today surrounded by a sea of purple heather and was one of the stretches I’d been looking forward to introducing Jon too (Luckily Brian had seen it the year before!).

Looking fine near Phones
Mostly flat the whole way

I had wanted to add in a bonus climb up to Loch Cuaich to string out our return to the A9, but we both figured we wouldn’t be riding much of the climb and also didn’t want to leave Brian hanging on too long for us. The sensible option was taken and we rolled down to the road at Etteridge for another A9 scuttle, followed by a hop over the barrier to drop onto the cycle path. We fired along towards Dalnaspidal, to make sure Brian got as short a nap as possible.

Jon takes it all in
Should have really done this signpost shot at the start

We returned to the cars triumphant and woke Brian from his slumber to set him on his way back to Liverpool. I dropped Jon off at Pitlochry train station to save him a 3 hour wait for the next train from Blair Atholl and made my way home in time for the kids bedtime. I think my brief not to kill ourselves was mostly fulfilled – we actually finished in daylight! The almost weekend away was just what we needed after all that time dreaming of going somewhere, hopefully not the last time this year. It was also an an opportunity to give my new Alpkit Stingray frame bag a proper run out, which it passed with flying colours. I only wish I hadn’t prevaricated for years about getting one, as the accessible convenience of the pockets is a total winner for me. I only added both the bar bag and seatpack so the others wouldn’t get too angry at my lightweight setup!

BAM 2020 – February


My usual tactic of leaving my BAM until the last minute afforded an unusual opportunity in February – to bivy on a night that wouldn’t normally exist. So, at around half ten on the 29th February I headed out into the windy night to find myself a bivy spot, via my usual Co-Op stock up. I had a vague idea of a spot I wanted to try out at the edge of Durris Forest, so I made my way along the quiet roads to Drumoak before crossing the Dee and starting to climb up to the forest. I was taking very easy, thanks to my broken knees, but soon enough I neared the high point of the road, flanked by snow along the verges. The temperature was dropping rapidly and the wind was getting stronger, so I needed to find myself a sheltered spot. I hopped over the wall into a wooded area I’d always had earmarked for a bivy, thanks to its sunrise facing location. Once I’d identified my tree candidates I slung up the tarp quickly, as I could feel a light rain building up and wanted to get my hammock up under cover. I kept it nice and low and angled the side to keep off any sideways rain that could sneak under the cover. Once done, I poured myself a tea, ate a scone and went to bed.

Safe and dry

The wind was blowing a gale all night, but the combination of the stone wall nearby and the tarp placement kept me and even the kit on the floor below nice and dry. It did get a lot colder than predicted, so it took a bit of coaxing to get me out of my bag for a morning pee.

Peeking at the sunrise
No rain in the morning

I finished off my tea and scones and got things packed up, ready for an easy downhill ride home.

The sun eventually popped up
Wintry up here
Cold start

As I jumped over the wall to drop back to the road, I realised that all the surface water had frozen solid overnight – luckily this was before I tried to hop on the bike and speed away!

Slippy start

I took it easy down the hill to join my usual route towards the Lairhillock junction and then made my way home on a mix of the usual roads.

Not as slippy as it looks
Thawing out before getting home

BAM 2020 – January

After two consecutive years of bivying, I saw no reason to stop now. As usual, I had been putting January off for various reasons and saw my plans for a midweek bivy scuppered by illness. I recovered enough by the end of the week for a last gasp effort on Friday the 31st. Unfortunately my knees are still out of commission, meaning I was stuck close to home again. Just as in December, I threw a random collection of gear into my panniers and headed out towards Countesswells at about 11pm with a vague area in mind. Climbing up the back of Blacktop, I cut off onto a ribbon of singletrack that I’ve not tried out for ages, almost immediately being blocked by a fallen tree. No problem, I just pushed up the hill at a right angle, gaining enough elevation over a rise to keep me out of view in a dip under the trees.

With the recent rain, the ground was going to be soaking, so I had opted for the hammock as usual. It was a second night out in my Crimbo prezzy Exped Travel Hammock Lite and for some reason, I’d completely forgotten how I’d set it up last time. After a lot of fussing, I managed to get it slung up satisfactorily between the apparently poorly spaced trees and got the mKettle on the go. One great thing about not being able to ride far is that I don’t obsess over the weight and just lob whatever I fancy in the panniers.

Kettle on

I had a brew made in about the same time I would at home, this thing almost boils things too fast to enjoy the jet of flame it produces! I drank my brew whilst chomping a scone from the Co-Op, before getting tucked in for bed. I’d just thrown in my old 3/4 length classic Thermarest due to the deflating issue with the Klymit Hammock-V and was perfectly comfy in my warm bag with relatively mild temperatures predicted overnight. There was also some light rain in the forecast, so I reluctantly put up the tarp for the first time since December 2018!

Morning view

I got up after a decent night’s sleep and started pottering about for my morning cuppa, collecting the usual wee pile of dry twigs for the mKettle. It hadn’t rained at all overnight, which I found mildly annoying after ending my tarp-free run.

Damn you Met Office!
Better safe than sorry, I suppose

I did however put it to good use as a windbreak, by flipping it over behind the hammock as I sat there supping and pendulating.

Breaking wind, so to speak

As the sun began to rise behind me, I started packing up, at which point it began to rain lightly. Redemption! I hooked the tarp back into it’s original position and packed away the gear under my shelter, with the rain stopping soon enough to give the tarp a quick shake before stuffing into a pannier too.

Nice sunshine before the clouds took over
Ready to roll

I pushed through a bit of bracken to rejoin the singletrack path just beyond the fallen tree and enjoyed weaving my way through the trees. The handling isn’t great with just rear panniers like this, but it was just nice to be doing a ride that wasn’t my commute.

Not too bad for mud, despite the recent rain

Eventually I emerged onto a better known path and left blacktop behind, taking a random mix of trails through Countesswells, before heading home through Hazelhead Park. Oblivious to the time, I emerged right in the middle of the parkrun and had to reverse my planned direction to stalk along behind a couple of front runners to get myself out of everyone’s way at the top of the out and back running route. I also hung about for a few minutes to egg on a couple of friends I knew would be there, before whizzing away back home to see the kids.

Always dry on this bit
Haven’t cycled this bit of Blacktop for years
More Commando shots

BAM 2019 – December

I’d been thinking of getting another long ride in for my December bivy, but unfortunately my knees were a bit of a mess after November’s effort. This had left me struggling even on my short rides into work. I rested up over the festive period and decided I’d just have to make up the numbers this month, as going too far wouldn’t do me any good. So, once the in-laws were away home and the kids were in bed, I started packing up my kit as usual. I was going to use the Commando, as I’d been missing it, but it still had a pannier rack fitted from a planned camping trip with Kerr last Summer. Since I wasn’t going far, I just lobbed the kit in my good old Ortlieb Front Roller Classics and got rolling. I even treated myself to the stove and some milk, rather than the usual flask of tea. No need to stop at the shop, with the last of the turkey making some lovely butties plus various sweet things from the Christmas goody pile.

I had no idea where I was going to sleep, so pointed the bike along the park and forest paths to take me into Countesswells Forest. Once there, I picked a faint trail through the trees and pushed through some gorse to find a nice clearing with a couple of hammock-spaced trees. Time to break out my Christmas present, an Exped Travel Hammock Lite. This is miles smaller and lighter than my usual DD hammock setup, due to it being single layer and not having an insect net. The suspension kit is also way lighter without sacrificing protection for the trees you use. Despite the fact I hadn’t even got it out of the bag before, I managed to get it strung up using the slit lines in no time at all. Fitting my Klymit Hammock-V mat into it was another matter entirely, especially in the strong wind.

Kettle on and hammock doing it’s best to flip over in the wind

I drank my tea and enjoyed my leftovers swinging in the breeze. The temperature was going to be about 9 degrees overnight, so quite the contrast with the -11 on my last outing! Once I was settled in, I was aware of the reduction in length compared to the good old DD, but it was still fine for my 6 foot and also seemed to be easier to sleep in a foetal position. I slept okay, but became aware of my backside getting cold later on, thanks to my mat deflating overnight. This also happened the first time I used it, so it looks like it may be going back unless I can work out if I’m doing something wrong. I woke up at first light, pleased to have chosen an isolated enough spot to avoid any early morning dog walkers.

Morning brew on the go

I’d picked up a random gas canister from the garage and predicted it had about a brew and a half’s worth of gas inside. A highly accurate estimation, as it turned out, so my morning brew was just borderline hot enough to be called a cup of tea.

At least my mini mince pie deflected attention from the lukewarm tea

Packing up was easy – just stuff everything into what ever pannier you fancy and hook back onto rack. I might start using them a bit more frequently, when I’m not going anywhere too far or rough.

Quick and easy packing

I pushed my way back onto another trail that looked to be in the right direction and followed it back to the main forest road, admiring the forestry devastation near the car park.

As picturesque as the sunrise got
Will be a while before these paths dry out
What used to be the darkest part of the forest

I was glad I hadn’t planned anything more ambitious, as my knees were hurting even on this short excursion, so I just enjoyed riding slowly along through Hazlehead Park and on to home. Obviously people were still feeling festive, as I managed a 100% pleasant interaction ratio with all the runners and dog walkers out and about on my way by.

Link path to Hazlehead

That’s another year complete for BAM, making it 24 months in a row. I went through the entire year without pitching my tarp once, which is impressive in itself for this country! I think I’ll keep it going, as it is well worth it as a motivator to get out on those nights when you really don’t want to do anything. I’ve never gone out and not felt better for it, regardless of the distance or location.