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.
Whether it was the expectation of mutual fun or simply an act of love, when Ruby suggested that we go for a overnight bike ride to celebrate valentines day I was not going to say no. We don’t really buy into the whole corporate love fest thing however it doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good reason for us to escape and go for an adventure together.
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.
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.
The best bike is the bike that you enjoy riding however as each weekend approached I would look at my Genesis Day One and pray that nobody would invite me on a gravel ride just so that I had an excuse not to ride it. This resulted in a built up resentment of a bike that I had hoped would open me up to a world of dirty drop bar adventures but instead was banished to the back of my bike pile and ignored. I am still to this day unsure what it was that made me hate it. I suspect that it was a combination of a weirdly long feeling fit, the infuriating mechanical disk brakes and the fact it simply felt boring compared to my track bike. It could certainly get rowdy but it never felt like it actually wanted to.
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.