I didn’t have a great nights sleep, my mat had developed a hole and was struggling to stay inflated for longer than 3 hours at a time. The sun had returned and brought a good breeze so any damp clothing from the day before was hung out to dry before being re-worn or packed away.
Although the weather reports had been full of pleasant predictions of sunshine it had warned that the weather for day 3 would be a bit Scottish. Sure enough what had previously been dry and dusty was now soggy and gritty. We busied ourselves making breakfast and fixing punctures. Working towards, but trying to avoid, inevitably going outside. A last look around the bothy, a quick chat with the German’s in the room next door and we were out of excuses.
We had planned to get good early starts to maximise day time riding and allow a little chill/exploring quota if required. This plan was already off to a bad start, soon porridge was eaten, bags were packed again and we were on our way. Our day started easy as we descended the remaining section of the Corrieyairack Pass, Fort Augustus nestled below us. The high speeds blowing the last of the sleepiness out of us.
It was time. We got up, ate and faffed around making sure that everything was packed. Stu had lent me an extra gas tank last minute which was fitted and filled with extra snacks. The weather was a little dull and there was a morning chill although this soon left us as we pedalled out of Tyndrum.
I am a worrier when it comes to preparing for trips. I am also a procrastinator and these traits usually result in everything being a bit of a whirlwind come the weeks before any trip. I stress about my bike setup, about clothing, about spares, about tyres, about weather, about food and even about empty bag space.
Back in yester-summer of 2017 Rich and myself rode to Glentress and back when I was testing the feasability of off road fixed on the Steamroller in preparation for Grinduro. Since then I have been super keen to repeat this ride on a more robust bike so that increased rowdiness could be factored in. As Stu was yet to ride his Highland Trail 550 bike we decided to get out and put his sparkly single speed through its paces.
Gravel is the new frontier. The roads are clogged with speeding cars and the forests are crowded with artificial mountain bike trails yet miles and miles of gravel lie ignored waiting to be explored. There is an abundance of routes that are too bumpy for road bikes yet too far for mountain bikes which contain staggering views, lung busting climbs and ripping descents. It is no wonder that the gravel scene is exploding right now.
It didn’t take much encouragement, the draw of the mountains is always luring and the Highland Trail 550 has patiently been waiting on my bucket list. So, when Stu floated the idea of giving it a shot this May I was all in. The Highland Trail has made a name for itself as an extremely remote, rugged and gruelling route but its 550 mile length offers rewards of all the lochs, peaks and untouched glens that you could ever want.
I had set the weekend aside for a bike adventure. I wasn’t sure what the plan would be but it would certainly involve a camp out in some shelter, ideally with a stove. Stu had planned a trip to the CTC hut and although laziness would stop me from riding straight from work on the Friday night I knew I would be able to piece together an exciting route of remote hills to fill the Saturday nicely. Having not yet visited, Thomas was also keen for a weekend pedalling and to get in on the hut experiences.
The goal was simple, we were to ride some bikes to commemorate the anniversary of our comrade Rich’s birthday. The route we set was 50 or so miles of easy East Lothian mixed surfaces following an Audax route. No hills paired with a gentle pace would assure a good time for all and that nobody would be broken physically and unable to enjoy evening beers and eats. What could go wrong, even the weather looked like it would cooperate.