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.
For the last few years I have been super stoked to do the Dirty Reiver and then when it actually comes round to committing money to tickets I have faltered and backed out. No suitable bike, no time off work or lazy legs, I have probably ticked all the classic excuses. This year is different, I was organised(ish), equipped and fairly keen. I say equipped, in the eyes of most riders my bike choice is probably deemed as a form of sadomasochistic torture.
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.
It seems to be a running trend that if I need a day off work to go on an adventure something will get in the way to make sure that I can’t get it off. When the first group ride of the Badger Divide got arranged, I was fairly disappointed that I could not get the Friday off work to tackle the full route. The Badger Divide is the brain child of Stu Allan, a predominantly gravel route that connects up many pre existing tracks and trails to create a 220 mile route stretching between Inverness to Glasgow. Guaranteed to deliver on lots of dirty bike riding and eye popping views.
Sometimes you have to just go with your gut, that indistinguishable little voice that sometimes just knows things a little better than your brain and maybe shouldn’t be ignored. These great or terrible ideas can be formed out the blue by a meeting of coincidences, a spark of inspiration or an on the spot decision.
Short lived but already well established, Grinduro has quickly become an unmissable bicycle event held in the spectacular and sun soaked Sierra Navada. The whole thing is rich with Californian vibes, big days, stunning mountains and party atmosphere. There is no doubt that the pressure was on when they announced that they were going to hold a second event, especially considering it would be held on international soil. The location was announced and they had chosen the Isle of Arran, a small Scottish island on the west coast.
My Strava routes page is full* of half conceived rides, curious unknown paths and interesting looking routes pillaged from my feed or found on the internet. One ride in particular stuck in my mind, a route to Glentress that rando-bro and now industry insider Jack Luke once rode and wrote about.