Nov 08

And so it begins again…

I spent a lot of my youth biking in the Garleton Hills. The Gallies are where I cut my off-road teeth, as well as having all sorts of other little adventures. So, while I was visiting my Mum, I decided to get out up to the Gallies to bed in some new parts for a few hours.

Aside from the simple pleasure of riding my newly cleaned mountain bike with a brand new transmission in lovely weather, I wasn’t having a great ride. Having not ridden off-road since my trip to Italy and France with Dave made me quite amazed how my youthful enthusiasm had kept me biking so much, with only East Lothian as my playground.

I decided to head round to the Monument to get a few runs in, figuring that I’ll at least enjoy some road miles, if nothing else. As I was climbing, nearly at the top, a young lad in a full face helmet started heading down. He stopped to let me past, before shouting to his dad, who was filming from the top of the monument, and shooting off down. I immediately thought of my Mum and some of our antics.

One freezing and howling mid-winter day I dragged her up Traprain Law. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t manage to convince her to abseil with me, but she did a magnificent job of belaying me, while I played around with some tricky moves on the micro-cliffs at the top of the law.

Back at the Monument, I went a different way and then headed back up, about the same sort of time as my armoured compadre. He came over and we had a chat about the trails. He’d just ridden the trail that Karl and I built about twelve years ago and we drifted onto the topic of trail building – he’s spotted the same lines we had and is thinking of building them up. He’s from Haddington too and was bemaoning the lack of good biking in East Lothian. I considered telling him about one or two of the good lines in the Lammermuirs, but decided not to. They’re easy enough to sniff out and finding things like that yourself always seems to give a little more pleasure, I think.

So, it seems like the cycle is complete. The next generation are there and getting in about it and all on the same day that I realised just how desperate the situation is. That rather appeals to me and I’ll be strangely happy if that’s the last time I ride there.

Jul 08

Rannoch to Fort William

I rode from Rannoch to Fort William at the weekend and caught the train back at the end of the day. It was a magic day out and I can totally recommend it. I crossed over the bog to Loch Treig and went up the river to the base of the Grey Corries before heading along the fireroad past Loch Eilde Mor to finish on the final section of the West Highland Way.

It took me 7.5 hours with pretty wet conditions underfoot and with a very noticable headwind all the way. Next time I would probably leave myself more time and head along the Ciaran Path, which I haven’t ridden, to Blackwater Reseviour (taking in the technical downhill to Kinlockleven) instead of going up the Abhainn Rath.

Wow – check out all the links in this post! I’m starting to get to know the area pretty well.

Jul 08

Potter’s birthday and Glen Kinglass

I’ve had a pretty rubbish start to the summer overall. Some annoying niggly injuries and then shingles. On top of that, the weather has been pretty crap. I seem to be coming out of the other side of it now though, which is great, so it’s time to make the most of what’s left of the summer.

Bananas at noon

Stuart called on Friday night and wanted to get out on the bike for his birthday. Nice timing Potter – a great way to begin getting a little fitness back. He’s described the ride, which turned out a bit longer than expected, on his blog. I had a top weekend, just what I needed – a nice long ride (but not very hilly) in a new place, top company and some lovely whisky too. Magic.

Happy birthday Stuart!

Jun 08

An interesting week

Last week was a varied one. Last weekend (Sat 14th), I headed up to the Angus Glens for my first proper mountain bike ride this year. I’ve been plauged this spring by some niggly injuries (hip and knee) that have been so frustrating and have stopped me running and cycling. Last Saturday was great though – I squeezed in 31km in the southern Cairngorms (Glen Doll to Loch Muick, up to Dubh Loch and back over Capel Mounth) with plenty of physical singletrack and some pushing thrown in. That was a little more like it and fired me up for some solid riding for the rest of the season.

Then on the 19th Sarah and I got the keys to our excellent new flat. It’s right in the middle of town and we love it to bits – woohoo! Dealing with the bank and all the associated crap that goes with buying a house was rubbish, but the end result was worth it. The next day I went to the doctors to ask about the rash that had appeared on my armpit and chest during the week and was diagnosed with shingles. Fuck. It didn’t stop me moving our stuff in the next day (massive thanks to all our friends who helped out – you made life much easier), but that evening I suddenly felt pretty crap. It was really sore, hot, itchy and stingy and I felt wasted. Yuck!

A couple of days on and the pain has subsided a fair bit – I’m even sleeping pretty well. My rashes are blistering and it’s as itchy as it is sore now, but the worst part is the weakness – I’m shattered all the time! From what I’ve read been reading, this can last for quite a while and is what worries me the most. Bleh – surely after this I can get mountain biking done?

Jul 07

Rules of climbing hills

I love climbing hills on a mountain bike. It ranks as highly as awesome twisty singletrack in Spain. I especially enjoy climbs that feel right at my limit. It’s all pretty obvious, but just so that there are no disputes, here are my rules for going up hills:

  • If you dab (put a foot down), you’ve failed
  • If you grab the scenery, you’ve failed
  • If you trackstand, you’ve failed – I really mean trackstands to make up for not enough fitness; brief pauses on steep and technical hills aren’t always trackstands!

Aug 06

Arkle and Achnashellach

Stuart and I headed up to the north-west for couple of days biking at the weekend. We made good time to Ullapool on Friday night but then arsed around so much looking for somewhere to sleep that it was 2am before we parked the van on a little pier near Achiltibuie and drank some of Stuart’s very nice, posh whisky. There were some spooky noises coming from below the pier when we were bivvi-ing, which I swear weren’t because of the whisky. As expected, it was a brilliant place to wake up and we were hyped.

We’ve had a route up that way on the hit-list for more than a year and were super excited. It comes recommended on a website as well as a bunch of forums and we also had a personal recommendation. So it was a real pity that it was totally shite. The views were moderate and the trails were dull. And, no, I don’t mind hiking with my bike. Admittedly, I’m a self-confessed mountain bike snob, but I couldn’t really recommend it. Perhaps worth doing if you’re in the area and can’t get to Torridon, but definitely not worth the drive. Still, it was another day in the hills, which is never a bad thing.

In case anyone’s interested (but more importantly, because I’ve got a cool new toy!), here are some files from the route. This sort of stuff would be much cooler if Scotland had decent aerial photos:

I’ve left the section where we missed a turn in there – it’s tricky to spot (or at least it was for us) and it might help someone.

On the way out we found a large shed/barn which was clean, sheltered from the ever worsening weather and accomodated us, the van and two cheery, chirping birds with acres to spare. After a wash in the river, we managed a quarter of the monster tin of 100 hot-dogs (thank you Phil sandwich!) and a plate of pasta before crashing out. Stuart liked his bivock (bivvi-hammock thing).

On Sunday we headed down to Achnashellach for a route that I had spotted on the map on my last trip up there – Gleann Fhiodhaig, west to east. It’s a nicer route than Arkle – a little climb, then ever so slightly downhill singletrack with just a little too much lumpy grass to have to contend with to be really good. Not as good as some of the other rides up there, but probably still worthwhile and with some fun, muddy singletrack to get you back to the road. No GPS data for that one, I’m afraid – managed to run out of phone battery half-way round.

I felt like I hadn’t been up north for ages and it was a great weekend. I need to see about getting a couple of long weeknds away before the summer is out – this recent rain has got me all keen to squeeze what I can out of the rest of the summer.

Jul 06

Les Arcs

Giving Dave a singletrack lesson

Dave, Karl and I went mountain biking in the Alps. It rocked. Here are some photos.


  • Big hills.
  • Sore fingers.
  • Everything’s expensive.
  • When there’s a storm it really goes for it – take a jacket!
  • Don’t need full suspension (although everyone has it, except me).
  • Nobody rides up the hills (except me).
  • The best trails are unmarked. Spot them from the lifts, then find ‘em.
  • French girls are lovely.
  • The French are lovely.
  • Riding singletrack is still brilliant.

Apr 06

The Lake District

My Mum and I have just returned from an excellent couple of days in the Lake District. Mum decided to come at the last minute when she heard Stuart had battered his leg again and she realised she wanted to get away from home for a while.

We had just arrived and were eating a pub dinner in Ambleside on our first night when, completely randomly, in walked my Mum’s brother, his wife, their two children and their families. A brilliant, once in a lifetime coincidence. I hadn’t seen my cousins for twelve years! It gave us some company that night and it also gave Mum people to hang about with while I went off biking on Saturday. It was an OK loop that the guys from Biketreks (good shop) had shown me on the map – 50km, a little too rocky in places for my tastes but it was excellent getting out on my first decent ride of the season.

Today my seatpost bolt snapped while I was going along the road no-handed. I was really lucky – it was only 500m into the ride, I was only going about 10mph and I only got a bit of road rash on my bum. I’ve been going through a real no-handed phase recently and it could have been so much worse. I headed back to Biketreks, bodged a replacement and went off to do the little 25km loop with my hands firmly on the bars. It was wicked – hardly any wind, the sun was out and the trails were really nice.

What a great trip to start the season – top weather, enough miles to satisfy, met some of my family and had loads of laughs hanging about and drinking coffee with my Mum for a few days. Magic.

Mar 06

The rest of Spain

Singletrack at El Chorro

You might want to read part one too.

Since getting back work has been good but really busy and it’s making me not want to use a computer at home. Which means I can’t really be arsed writing anything too worthwhile about Spain and I certainly can’t be arsed integrating Flickr, which I’ve started to use for all my photos, to my own gallery for a while. So, for now, there are a couple of photos here and you can see the rest in the Flickr set.

Basic gist of the rest of the trip is that while the first week was pretty uneventful, the second was totally radge – drove over Sierra Nevada in a crazy storm; lost the hire car key (doh!); ate pasta; got bitten by some super nasty bugs when we bivvied; got pissed one night and wound up Dave’s brother on the phone (heehee); discussed the “top 5”s at great length; had an exciting ‘incident’; rode our bikes at nearly 80kmph in the wind; ate tuna; sat about in the roasting heat; got humped at table football by the cool Germans; saw a viper; finally got to ride in the Alpujarras (epic place); got big-time lost in Granada; ate peppers; cursed the roads, the maps and the signs many times; knackered my suspension forks and went for a little run or two. Dave will probably have some to add.

Dave at La Negras

I don’t think we’ll go back to Spain for a while. It was great, but we both feel that we’re running out of easily accessible quality trails to ride. Next trip will be somewhere where we don’t have to drive but do have miles of awesome trails right out of the house. So, with a total u-turn of opinion (for me, at least), look out French Alps!

Mar 06

Spain so far

I had funny stories to tell, but seem to have forgotten them. Have to make do with this:

After a few days in Andalucia, staying at Finca la Campana, hanging out with some really cool Swedish folk and riding some of the excellent trails that we had done last year, we made the drive north to Finestrat (near Benidorm). Although El Chorro to Finestrat looked like a long way on the map, we had been told that it was only a four hour drive. Let me assure you it is not – although there was some serious weather passing over the Sierra Nevada, we spent a considerable amount of time at 150kmph and the journey still took us seven hours.

We’ve been staying at The Orange House which is similar to, but a little smaller than, Finca la Campana. We don’t think it’s as quite as good though. The owners are nice, but the clientelle seem to be mostly the usual up themselves puke inducingly wanky Sheffield climbers that I had quite enough of on my occasional trips to the Peak District. Maybe we were just unlucky, but I prefer the more multi-cultural vibe at El Chorro. Still, Finestrat is a neat little place – miles better than the shithole that is Benidorm, just 10km to the south – and the mountains here are amazing. At both places we’ve been messing about on a slackline a little. We’re both still crap, but it’s amazing how much better you get with just an hour of practice. We’re also starting to wonder if it’s good for our knees though, so might stop playing with them.

The other day we rode a bunch of trails at Castell de Castells, a village over the mountains from here which is reputed to have the best biking in the area. The scenery was excellent, but I didn’t think the trails lived up to some of the others we’ve ridden (although the descent into the back of the free campsite was really good fun) and we’re not going to drive back over there again this trip (longer trip than usual as one of the roads is closed). Yesterday we went exploring locally but Dave managed to snap his super-pricey rear mech riding gently up a hill, so after I got the car to rescue him we went to find a Sram rear mech, which was easier said than done. We were lucky though and, after a few tries, managed to find our first reasonable bike shop in Spain just before they closed – enough time to buy their last(!) Sram mech. Notch that up as another reason to buy Shimano gear… ;)

We’re driving back down south tomorrow and are going to break the journey up with a stop at Cabo de Gata, seemingly the driest place in Europe, for some flat-ish singletrack. The forecast looks pretty promising (I hear it’s snowing in Britain, shame) and we’re hoping to ride in the Alpujarras if we get a chance – it’s the area we’re most excited about, but it’s high so we need to catch it with good weather.

Some stuff learned/remembered in Spain:

  • The maps are shit. I mean, all the maps are really shit.
  • There don’t appear to be any rules at roundabouts, at least none that make any sense.
  • Spain is really, really hilly.
  • The Siesta sucks (we lost a whole afternoon waiting for the map shop to open…). Sometimes (…but the shop stayed open late enough to get Dave a new mech!).
  • All this hanging about climbers has made me want to go climbing again.
  • Spain is lovely, but scaffy and they don’t seem to care nearly as much as they should about their countryside.
  • Carrefours are HHHUUUGGGEEE.

Feb 06

Are you going to Spain tomorrow? Ah, must be me then!

It’s amazing what £100 and a couple of hours work on your bike can do. I’ve got gears again, I’ve got brakes and I can pedal without feeling like my bottom bracket bearings are shaking the earth’s core.

Dave and I are off to Spain tomorrow for seventeen days of riding dry, dusty singletrack, just like last year. As soon as we land we’re heading straight for the Jesus Trail, then off to El Chorro for a few days. After that we’re going to drive north and explore some of the amazing looking trails up there. Nobody deserves a holiday more than me. I’m all excited now and cannae wait. Wheeeeeeee!

Dec 05

Wales and some more hill running

I went down to Wales for a few days to visit my very good friend Kate the weekend before last and had a wicked time. She was at work on Friday which gave me a chance to get out on the bike. Unfortunately, Thursday night saw a dump of snow that was heavy enough to prevent me getting anywhere other than Penmachno, a purpose built 22km loop. It was a warm day so, although there was fair bit of snow, it was melting and the views were great but the trails managed the remarkable task of being like Glentress red but even more boring. In the evening we went to a Chinese for a meal with some of Kate’s pals who all seemed pretty cool. Much cooler than me: being the food hoover that I am, I managed to eat something with nuts in it which made me go home and feel ill for a few hours – boo.

Kate and me on Llandudno pier

Saturday and Sunday we hung about, drove round Snowdonia, looked at cool castles, watched the whole of Family Guy season one in one sitting, drank wine and ate nice food. Ace. Kate’s posh new house made me quite jealous though.

Kate was back to work on Monday and I managed to sneak a run in before my train back up north. Snowdon lived up to its name, but was still do-able in running gear despite pish visibility and me not having a map… Got some pretty strange looks from ice-axe and crampon equiped hill-walkers on the summit and then met another runner, as surprised to see me as I was to see him, who turned out to be a local policeman and general nice guy called Tom. If you’re going to get into crime, probably don’t do it in Wales – they have police hill-running teams and races down there! He was going back via a different, slightly longer route (we both came up the Llanberis path – but hadn’t seen each other!), so I decided to join him. Running downhill on snow was a pleasure and Tom gave me some useful hill running advice. Tom got a couple of cracking looking photos on the way down, which I’m hoping he’ll e-mail me. I got back to the car feeling pretty fresh, although it was a fairly relaxed pace. Guess not drinking vodka and Red Bull until 3am the night before (like the last time I went hill running) really does help.

Last weekend, Mike Tweedley and I went running up Schiehallion. The surprisingly steep ascent was over pretty quick. There was the expected snow and mist at the top, which made running over the jagged rocks of the summit ridge a hit and miss broken ankle affair, so we didn’t. Then we dropped down the (steep) back side of the ridge aiming for the summit of Geal Charn. After ages of squelching through bog in the mist we gave up, declared the map “pish” (although I’m sure we were to blame) and headed into Gleann Mor for the tough heathery run back to the car. Hard work, much harder than the 15km suggests, and not a recommended run, but we learned a fair bit and I’m super-psyched for some more running in the mountains. I really want to do some longer runs, but I don’t think this is the time of year to start pushing myself like that.

Aug 05

Ten year anniversary of JMCs death

JMC died ten years ago. I remember when it I first read about it. This isn’t really a post about him – it’s more about me wondering how ten years have gone past since then. I mean… wow, ten years!

For those who don’t know, Jason McRoy was a leading UK downhill racer at the time and general handy lad on a bike. Most notably, for me at least, he was in the Dirt video (came out about the time he died if I remember correctly) which is probably the most inspirational video I’ve seen. Sure, being fifteen and highly impressionable definitely helped, but this thing was special. It just summed up pretty much everything biking was about at the time for me. Obviously they were stacks better than us, but they weren’t really doing anything we weren’t doing every night after school. There wasn’t any triple backflip 360 superman crap, just a bunch of guys going out and messing about on their bikes on some pretty ordinary looking trails. Stonking stuff. Ten years since that video. Crazy.

But, of course, it’s not that crazy really – more stuff has happened since then than I could ever remember, nevermind write down. Life has been full to the brim and then some. I’ve changed, my friends and family have changed, in fact everything seems to have changed so much. But I think back over the last ten years and have very few regrets. My life has been brilliant so far. Not always good, but brilliant nontheless. And that’s important. Maybe I’ll read this post in ten years and think the same thing. I hope so.

Note to self in 2015: presumably life still consists of running about doing cool stuff. If so, there’s a chance you’ve been too busy to do all those cool things you dreamt about. You’re running out of time. Quit work and spend all your money if you have to, but get them done.

Jun 05

West Highland Way in a day

I did one of the most memorable rides of my life last week – the West Highland Way in a day. While this is hardly a ground-breaking achievement, it meant a lot to me on a few different levels. When I was fifteen, I read an article in a bike magazine about three folk who rode the Way in a day and I instantly wanted to do it. Actually, I wanted to do it solo and unsupported because, like ascents in climbing, I think bike rides can be done in varying levels of style and on your own is definitely ‘good style’. I also really wanted to see how I dealt with doing big rides on my own. Although I was probably fit enough back then, I didn’t get round to doing it but it managed to lodge itself deep in my head, surfacing every chance it got. After falling out of biking and through climbing, I crashed into kiting and stopped hard. Last year I found myself back on a bike and trying to get some general fitness together when a familiar old thought made its presence felt. What better target to aim for than the West Highland Way? The route I’ve thought about more than any other just happened to be a perfect test of my general recovery and fitness.

I really started to get hyped a day or two before and didn’t really get much sleep. On the day I got up at 02:15 and drove to Milngavie. After scoffing some cereal in the carpark I got cracking at 04:30. I had read a few bits and pieces about bikes on the first half of the way that varied from “pointless” to “You will have major problems on a bike.”. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was mostly quite good fun and involved none of the anti-bike gates that I had expected (there were gates, but they were all just normal gates!). I love riding my bike early in the morning and the empty fast tracks for the first fifteen miles were a great warm-up. After not too long I came to Conic Hill, the first climb of the ride. There was a little light rain and a bit of walking involved (it would be an extremely tough climb even if I wasn’t trying to save my legs), but I still got to Balmaha way faster than I expected. The speed wasn’t to last much longer though and I soon started to find some pokey bits of singletrack on the way to Rowardennan, which were easy enough since I was fresh but they all ate away energy and time. It would be easy to skip these parts and just head along the lochside road, but that would be a bit lame and some of them are nice riding. After a puncture and a break for some more food, I made a charge for the north end of Loch Lomond, desperate to get that section over with.

It started off well enough, with easy fireroad and some fun cruising on singletrack until the posh looking Inversnaid Hotel. After the hotel, things started to get tougher. There were some big boulders to carry over at Rob Roy’s Cave, but they were simple enough and I started to think this entire section of path was going to be easy. But I was wrong. The next few miles are the hardest of the Way – the trail is much too technical to ride, with lots of carrying over annoying boulders and roots. I actually didn’t find it as irritating as it could have been and I was probably better prepared for it than most people (I’ve done plenty of long carrys – like along Loch Maree – and this one is pretty short in comparison), but it sapped a lot of energy and really slowed me down – definitely not one for the Glentress generation! I also got ‘The Scrunch’ on my bad ankle twice in just 500m, which was damn sore. The whole section along Loch Lomondside would be much faster to run and I was glad to get onto rideable trail again on the way to Tyndrum.

From here the ride started to get much more interesting to me as I started to explore the psychology of long rides. I began to feel some tiredness, the whole thing seemed like a bit of a mission and I still wasn’t even halfway. Getting to Tyndrum was further than I expected. Although the trail was good and I managed to find some legs, I hadn’t looked at the map very much and had assumed that it was just a few miles past the end of the loch. I arrived at Tyndrum tired and feeling like the end was far away, even though I was now on familiar ground. Although the first half hadn’t involved as much nastiness as I was expecting, it had still taken a fair bit longer than I had hoped and with hindsight I realise that it is harder than the top half. It’s amazing what a quarter of an hour off, a can of coke, a pork pie, a Mars bar and phone call to your parents can do for your spirits though and I headed off into the headwind towards Bridge of Orchy with renewed confidence, enthusiasm and legs.

I motored past Bridge of Orchy and was soon onto ‘the cobbles’, which were much smoother than I remembered, but went on for longer. Out on the moor I got hit suddenly with a bout of tiredness and my morale soon dropped. I still felt positive enough, but there were still thirty hilly miles to go and this was the first place that I realised the route wasn’t going to give up without a fight. It dawned on me that success on longer routes depends on a bunch of things. Firstly you need to realise that there are highs and lows for a ride, periods where confidence and legs are strong even when you feel tired and times where you can’t seem to pedal and the end seems far away. Once you’ve accepted this, the trick lies in keeping the highs going as long as possible and trying to minimise the lows. It becomes a bit of a game and working out what works is great fun in a kind of introspective way.

I forced some more food down my throat and decided to push on to Glencoe and past the Kingshouse to the bottom of the Devil’s staircase. I found it a tough few miles – sore legs, sore knees, sore back – and arrived at the bottom of the climb feeling knackered. The sun was just dropping behind the hills but I took ten minutes to put on some more clothes, sit down and scoff as much food as I could. The little break had done the trick again and I set off up Devil’s staircase like a man possessed. At the top I reminded myself to take it easy on the downhill, but that didn’t last long. The track to Kinlochleven is still one of the best downhills I have ridden in Scotland, even when tired. Although there are a couple of very short ups, it’s an excellent long downhill, with contrasting rocky and mental fast halves, that spits you out right in the town. I didn’t really stop and decided just to batter on and finish the job. I pushed up the steep hill to the Lairig and got myself back on the bike. The last fifteen miles were some of the most rewarding I have done. I was very tired, but consistently surprised myself by finding the legs and motivation to keep going at (what felt like) a reasonable pace. I had been dreading this section before the day and even up until I got there but once I got on it, it wasn’t scary or hard and although I was completely wasted, I felt good (in a first three gears only sort of way!). I knew it was nearly over and I hit the final section of woods with a burst of energy. Although pedalling uphills felt desperate, I found I was somehow able to nearly run up them (!) and decided to try to hammer the last few miles as best I could in the failing light. After a decent burst and with just a few hundred metres of singletrack left it all started falling down! I felt the start of a bonk and I cursed myself for not eating since Glen Coe. I found a couple of eccles cakes and a Mars bar in my bag, which barely touched the sides and I carried on at a much more sensible pace.

Arriving at the end of the singletrack was a magical experience. The woods cleared, the lights of Fort William were not far away and Ben Nevis suddenly came into view on the right, looking beautiful in the dusk light. I took a moment to savour the situation and felt quite emotional. I’d just ridden the best part of a hundred miles off-road, a route I had dreamt of doing for the last ten years. I’d had a pretty shitty time with my back less than two years before and this was a major milestone in my recovery. I felt great – I had been riding my bike for 18.5 hours and I had made it – but I felt even greater because I had made it feeling so good. Not in the legs, they were blasted, but in the head. I had pushed myself much further than I had before and learnt so much about myself on the way. I was ecstatic, exhausted and hyper at the same time. I wanted to stay there forever, but I knew that wasn’t going to be the last special moment that I was going to get from sport so shot off down the fireroad, feeling every bit the smug bastard. I tried to let out a victory scream, but only managed a feeble squawk and decided just to leave it at that. I checked into a youth hostel and was mid-shower when I caught myself smiling broadly. Life can be so rewarding sometimes.

I woke surprisingly early and with a satisfyingly sore full body ache. I had time to kill and wandered Fort William in the sun, drank coffee, ate sausage rolls and caught myself doing that grinning thing a few times. I felt wasted like I had been clubbing, but had a brilliant warm glow rather than a sore head. The train ride back to Glasgow must be one of the best in the country and I was able to let my mind wander and daydream. I craftily managed to escape the conversation of some crazy old guy who was saying things like “Well, you know my views on the Jerry’s – bastards!” (No, I dont, and I don’t particuarly want to) and spent the rest of the journey looking at the lovely views of the hills and the girl at the other side of the carriage.

It’s been a week since that ride and I’m sort of sad that it’s over. I have already forgotten my ‘never again!’ vows and am starting to look for a new mission. I feel like I have some good base fitness now (which was the plan for all of this) and think that I’m ready to train properly, which is something I’m really excited about – riding fast is so much more fun! It feels so good to have some confidence in my fitness again and I can’t wait to improve it some more. Maybe I’ll go get involved in some chain-ganging or something…

Wow, what a long post – I guess it was a pretty long ride though!

Final note: if you’re going to ride the Way, try to pick a day where you haven’t got the runs. Parp!

May 05

Some biking up north

Hanging out at Loch Maree

Dave and I had a great trip up north for a few days last weekend. Dave was on good form, as usual, and the only real complaint was that a long weekend just isn’t long enough. Despite a wet looking weather forecast mid-week, it sorted itself nicely so we didn’t get wet at all and even came back with suntans! Thanks to a complete lack of proper decision making we spent quite a bit of time in the car. After some time chatting to the boys in Square Wheels in Strathpeffer (very cool folk – if you’re wanting to start an outdoor sports shop, this is the attitude to aim for), we found out that the locals have been building some neat little trails and so we rode around the woods at Contin on Friday (there is some fun technical singletrack by the river too). After that we headed over to Gairloch, found an excellent bivvi spot and had a meal and some beers before crashing out.

Dave's an arse. Sorry, Dave's arse (in Skye).

The next day we went to Kinlochewe and headed off around Loch Maree. Basically the north side is all singletrack and takes you into Poolewe, then there is a short 7km singletrack section (which I completely dismissed as “trivial” when looking at the map) before joining the road and blasting down the other side. It was an excellent route, but pretty hard work since there was quite a bit of carrying (OK, a lot of carrying) along the north side of the loch and we arrived in Poolewe tired and much later than planned. After a couple of km climbing we were glad that there was only 4 or 5km of downhill and flat trails left before we hit the road. But we hadn’t banked on the trail being so flippin’ rocky – we were tired and had been riding rocky technical singletrack all day and started to get pissed off. The rocks just kept on coming and the trail required full concentration all the time. We walked downhill sections because we were bored and tired of riding, then we rode, then we walked, then we rode until we didn’t want to see any more rocks again. Finally, we were spat out at the road. It’s hard to communicate what a bastard this section was, made all the worse because we knew if it wasn’t so long and wasn’t after a lot of hard riding that it would be superb.

“How the fuck was that trivial?” Dave asked.

Why would you not live in Scotland? Dave, before the midge season.

Back on the road Dave got one of the worst bonks I’ve seen. I had to feel a bit guilty since he had given me half of his last roll back in Poolewe – thanks mate! Back at the car I started picking some ticks out – 19 of the little buggers. For some reason Dave only had one. I really hate those things. I found one on my foot that refused to come out so we went hunting for tweezers in Kinlochewe and Torridon only to be confronted with a bizare woman and a most unhelpful/dumb man respectively. It was late, so we bivvied at Torridon and slept well.

Woke up to glorious sunshine, ate breakfast at 8 in shorts with our tops off – a perfect day. Dave really fancied a route on Skye so we hot footed it down to Glen Sligachan and, after Dave managed to get the damn tick out of my foot, did the obvious loop there. It was lovely too (and complete piss after the day before) and it was a great time to do it, since there weren’t too many walkers getting in the way. Note to self – must run Glen Sligachan some day.

Loch Maree singletrack

I had a great laugh and am really looking forward to more like it. Hope your eye heals quickly after the operation Dave.

May 05

Aviemore riding

I’m writing this while sitting in my car (the first part only, so some of it may read strangely), killing time before I have to go to bed. I’ve come up to Aviemore for a couple of days biking and to get away from the Central Belt. It’s great to get away, but not nearly as warm as it was when I left Edinburgh (at least I’ve found a bivviers wet dream of a place to sleep – Brendan, this place is five star :)).

There’s something special about mountain biking on your own sometimes. You get to ride at your own pace all the time and have loads of time to chill and daydream. Today I rode a nice loop around Rothiemurchas, around some wee lochs on singletrack and then round to mess about up at the cross country race course, which is excellent. The 7Stanes trailbuilders should be made to go for lessons from these guys. It was good, despite being woefully – stupidly – short of food and my legs feel pretty wobbly just now because of that (and I’m a bit annoyed with myself).

I slept really well thanks to the luxurious bivvi, but my planned Cairngorms route was looking uninviting. The hills were shrouded in rain and I would almost certainly be walking in the wind through snow, alone, a long way from the road and with unsatisfactorily sore legs. I retreated to the backup plan, a shorter ride around Glen Feshie, “The sheltering glen” that felt anything but.

I hadn’t been to Glen Feshie before and I was impressed – it’s a lovely place. I left the car and rode a few kms of perfect riverside singletrack, the type of riding that is so good it can never last long enough. After a while I crossed the river, onto the firetrack that turned right and climbed steeply for quite a long time. At the end of this, the trail turned right and as the hills opened out I felt the full force of the wind and the place took on a completely different feel. I hid in some trees and poured over the map while a nasty storm blew over. The path had turned into an infamous “single-dotty”, the quality of which are always impossible to judge until you’re there, and the headwind was bringing in more stormy weather. I um-ed and ah-ed and generally ponced about for quarter of an hour before deciding just to get on with it. After less than a km, I bailed. It was a scene I had seen too many times before and something didn’t feel right. There was a track, but it was vague and alarmingly wet and the route ahead looked like a prime candidate for a boggy hell. Sure, if it was bad it was only a 5km walk, but if I missed the firetrack that it met up with, things would be much worse than that, so I bottled it and turned around. Some more sleet and a puncture ten minutes later confirmed that I’d made the right choice.

I sometimes think that people, especially kiters, think that I’m some crazed gung-ho fool with no care for self-preservation (OK, so certain photos don’t help). Really though, nothing could be further from the truth. I’m not a bold climber or biker and I like to think that all of the risks are carefully measured. To be honest, I don’t even think I was a particularly crazy kiter, although that point is harder to argue. Kiting is really unique to me because, more than any other sport I’ve done, it’s all about confidence and experience. Basically all I did was go mountain boarding a whole lot and fly kites as much as I could (taking six months out of my life to fly kites full-time definitely helped!) and it’s amazing how consistent and confident you can become at kiting with time. I think this is very different to boldness. I don’t find bailing out of routes all that easy, I really don’t like not getting round something, but I’m pretty proud of my decision yesterday. Something hadn’t felt right and I’m glad I was able to back off.

Apr 05

The West highland Way (well, the top half)

Stuart and I had a cool mountain bike ride on Saturday – we rode the West Highland Way north from Crianlarich to Fort William, about 50 odd miles. We had ridden very little of the track before and it was partly a scoping mission for my half-baked plan to ride all of the Way in a day this summer (only two and a half months to the longest day – I should get training!). There was plenty of good singletrack and I thoroughly enjoyed this ride through a great part of the country. If you’re going to do it though, be warned – after a lovely singletrack climb and short fast descent after Bridge of Orchy, there is a section of trail which gently climbs on military road for a few miles. It’s a nasty kind of cobbled affair that gave us both seriously sore arses. The Devil’s Staircase is a nice bit of path. Despite my best efforts, I was reduced to walking about half way up (unless you count a couple of ditches low down and a sneaky dab). I actually think all of the sections are rideable, but getting up that thing would be an amazing endurance effort and well out of my league. After a cracking long, rocky descent there was some more walking after Kinlochleven and I think if I’m to do the whole thing, this final section may be a grim battle to the death.

We arrived in Fort William just after 18:00, half an hour after a train back to the van at Crianlarich had left. So we chilled out, drank coffee, ate horrible greasy chips from that shite chippy that I always seem to end up at and got onto the train for the 20:05 train. Feeling quite smug about life, I happily told the approaching guard that we were going to Crianlarich. “Not tonight you’re not – this train doesn’t run on a Saturday.” was his equally smug reply. Note to self: don’t let Stuart do anything (like check train times) on his own ever again. I decide we should hot-foot it to the other side of town and start hitching, despite the fading light, because a night in a hostel doesn’t appeal. We don’t even get half way when we bump into John Birnie who is up here for a kayaking event and is, happily, going back down south that night! Excellent – all we had to do was survive the next few hours in a pub and at a ceilidh in cycling shoes and lycra. Ya, we’re lucky bastards.

Mar 05

Spain photos

Haliborange charging

I’ve finally got round to cropping some of the Spanish photos from January. I haven’t got enough time to write anything worth reading about it though, which is a shame as there are many good stories. Needless to say, the biking was amazing and Dave, Peter and I spent most of the week laughing (usually at each other). An absolutely top class holiday, just a shame it was over so fast. Same sort of time next year I reckon – Spain is a great place for winter biking. Here are a couple of photos. The others can be seen on my Flickr account.

Near the top of the Jesus Trail

Mar 05

One of those days

I’ve finally got my new Sony S3XP laptop to the stage where I can use it as my main machine. Although it arrived on Tuesday, it’s taken this long just to get the main components working the way they should under linux. What a hassle – nothing has been easy! Somewhere in there I had a day of mixed emotions:

In the morning I finally resigned myself to the fact that, without the correct driver, my Nvidia graphics card wasn’t going to display widescreen and I would need to wait quite a while until the driver was released. Not cool, I got the laptop for the screen. So I decide to bail and go kitesurfing with Ross because it’s north-westerly and there’s swell. I was obviously far too excited because as we collected our kites from the shop I realised that I’ve forgotten loads of stuff, including my harness. Bugger. Once we’re back at the flat, I suddenly realise that I’ve lost my wallet. After a bit of a think, it dawns on me that I drove away from my flat (the first time) with it on the roof. Cock, cock, cock. I’m pissed off – not just because my wallet is missing, but because this isn’t the first time I’ve driven away with stuff on the roof. We bugger about looking for it for a while, but have to write it off and head back to the shop to cancel my cards (where Stuart wasn’t making the situation much more pleasant by taking the piss – completely fair play, really). Well annoyed, we head to the beach.

Once we’re there, it’s looking great. Small, but nice surf and cross shore wind. Once we launch though, it’s not so good. I’m on a little inflatable and Ross is on a bigger foil. I spend the first five minutes cursing myself for putting up too small a kite, and then spend the next ten minutes watching Ross getting teabagged all over the place as a big squall comes in. Just as well I put up a small kite. Once the squall has passed the wind doesn’t improve and I give serious thought to giving up kitesurfing forever (but that could fill a whole other post). We pack it up and head home, no less pissed off. I’ve had a shite day.

But then things change. I go the police station in Edinburgh, just in case – they’ve got my wallet! I check my email as soon as I get in and have two emails from another Nidia 6200 owner who tells me that the drivers for our cards were released a few hours ago. Woohoo! All of a sudden I’m totally hyper and end up finding it quite a struggle to get to sleep. Although I’m sure it hasn’t come across in this lame prose, it really was a wild day of peaks and troughs. Ross – thanks for putting up with my nonsense :)

Jan 05

Holiday time

Just in case I’ve not wound anyone up about this – I’m going off mountain biking in Spain for a week with Dave and Peter. Enjoy damp Scotland people…

See you in a week! :)

Jan 05

Bad weather reports and Worldpay customisation hell

Stuart and I had a wicked looking bike route in mind for today up at Blair Athol. The weather forecast was rubbish though, and the news has been full of severe weather warnings and tales of flooding all over Scotland. Still, we decided on a pussy out option of going to the woods at Dunkeld to avoid some of the wind. Today arrived but Stuart called me to cancel, citing illness, so I decided to be a wise boy and get some web work done.

The job I’m working on at the moment involves using WorldPay for processing payments online. Unfortunately, I’m tied into using some pages that are hosted on their server. The defaults are terrible WorldPay branded affairs so I’m using their “Payment Page Editor” to bring it into line with the rest of the site. It’s a shame that the “large amount of flexibility” that their system offers doesn’t actually allow you to do anything useful. Oh look, I can change the text colour and even that button over there. What does that do? Ah, I see, it spits out some lovely nested tables and loads of <font> tags – great, exactly what I was after. I can also add a header and footer, but since there’s no access to the <head> of the document I can’t link to a CSS file. Great, so I need to bash in all the styles inline. OK, now I need to save the file and preview it. Getting there, let’s go back to edit again – AAARRGGGH, it’s mashed all the whitespace. XHTML and inline CSS all on one big line – magic, just magic.

Right, so I’ve worked out that you need to edit the XHTML/inline CSS mess in a text editor and copy it over to the WorldPay panel for each change if you want to stay sane, and I’m trying to fudge all these CSS rules to try to work, because I can’t declare anything on the <body>, when I happen upon something in the documantation that has an example where the <body> is redeclared in the header. Thank God – now I can apply the same sort of CSS as on the rest of the site. Going on that logic I add <head> to the header, but it get’s redeclared rather than merged! EH? WTF is going on? I must be missing something, there must be a better way than this.

Surely, surely, surely when they developed this system there must have been someone, somewhere with just a teeny bit of web development savvy who they could have employed to get this done properly. It’s embarrassing, in fact it’s worse than that – it’s a barely usable piece of shit, and that’s exactly what I’ll tell WorldPay when I e-mail them some of my comments later on today (OK, so I’ll moderate it a bit). Maybe the scariest thing is that I’ve got a couple of Royal Bank of Scotland bank accounts, and RBS own WorldPay. If they can’t even do this without screwing up, what’s going to happen to my money?

Maaaaan, what a way to spend a Saturday. To make matters worse, I don’t see much evidence of the terrible weather here. In fact it’s sunny, and Aviemore has been getting a frighteningly windy 13MPH. And, relax. It’s bound to be good weather tomorrow, it’s just got to be…

Note: in all fairness, I’ve been very impressed with RBS banking so far, it just seemed like a cool thing to write :).

Dec 04

The radges that are the X-Team

When we were messing around with the rather nifty Way Back Machine the other day, Pedro had the brainwave of suggesting we look to see if the old X-Team website is archived. Thankfully, it is! There are a few images and pages missing but the core is there, including some brilliant, nostalgia inducing stories and photos. We spent the best part of yesterday afternoon laughing out loud. What a brilliant find – I must download it and host a copy.

I’m going to offset any literary and web development embarrassment by saying that the bulk of it was written when we were fifteen, which is, scarily, nearly a decade ago – eek! We’re also still no nearer completion of the video, so no surprises there. Anyway, enjoy – it’s great!

Nov 04

Glentress, Innerleithan and what it’s not about

Doesn’t stuff like this make you cringe?

The Innerleithen Trail network is at a funny stage because the existing XC route is really only 2/3rds complete. If enough funding can be found the plan is to build another 3-4 sections of singletrack and then change the grade to a full on Black Route (as originally planned). The trail would be extended to take in a new descent down Bold Rig from the summit of the Minch, a technical climb to the top of Plora Rig and two more singletrack descents between there and home.

Riders that maybe dont like so much climbing or who want to avoid the more difficult sections will eventually be catered for by an easier Red Route that shares the same outward and return trails but misses much of the high ground and that object of love/hate, Plora Craig singletrack. Some new link trails will be needed before this can happen.

In the meantime I just stated the Grade of each section of singletrack and awarded an overall Red grade sos not to scare people off! Red Grade is after all Severe with a single climb limit of 500m. Easy Man!!

New trail will only appear if the Commission are successful with their fund sourcing efforts. Fingers crossed for next year.

One other thing, that muddy de-tour down the Forwarder track is being sorted as we speak. Bike washing will soon be a thing of the past.

Sep 04

Trails on your doorstep

I miss having trails on my doorstep. When I stayed in Haddington I could leave the garden and be off-road in about two minutes and when I’d been out for a couple of hours I could freewheel back down to my house and jump in the shower. Granted, it’s not the best mountain biking ever, but it is very quiet and there are a few wee gems scattered around. My friends and I didn’t take it for granted when we were growing up and realised exactly how lucky we were. I’m not saying that where I am just now is terrible or anything like that, after all I can cycle to the Pentlands in half an hour or jump in the car for the same sort of time and get somewhere equally good. I guess what I really miss is the chance to just stick my kit on and go with no notice and no hassle.

If I fancied just getting out for and hour, that’s exactly what I’d do. No fannying about carry bikes down stairs (top floor flat) and getting stuff in the car, just chuck on some shorts and go for a spin. If the weather was nice and I just wanted to be outside I could take a walk or a ride up to the top of the hill and just sit there enjoying being alone in the fields and absorbing the wicked views. Sometimes we’d head out for a blast before school and there always seemed to be plenty time to ride in the evening too. It was great.

So, that’s another thing to factor in to the ultimate place to live – mountain biking straight from your door. Unfortunately the list of wants in a place to live is growing unfeasibily large, so something’s got to give, but I think this is one that’s especially important to me.

Sep 04

The KLL avengers

Stuart, Marion (cool Aussie lass who’s in Edinburgh for a while) and I headed up to Kinlochleven yesterday to complete the loop Stuart and I tried last time, armed this time with a bit more knowledge. The weather was kind to us and I thought it was a really good day out.

We started, very briefly, on the West Highland Way, then turned right on the road to Mamore Lodge which soon turned into a fireroad climb to Loch Eilde Mor. Some of the trails around Mamore Lodge look pretty good, but we didn’t have a chance to explore them. Just before the loch we turned south onto some superb technical singletrack, heading for the Blackwater resevoir. As the path steepened there was a carrying section, but it was over pretty quickly and the track continued to be very good until we took a right turn (with hindsight, probably a mistake) towards the dam. The right hand path soon vanished and we were on an oh-so-familiar bog, pushing, swearing, falling and even (in one case) sqealing our way to the dam. Stuart and I had failed to find the path when we were heading in the other direction and I now seriously doubt whether it exists in any decent form at all. If anyone knows otherwise, please let me know. After an annoyingly long time for such a short distance we reached the dam.

Stuart and Marion didn’t fancy the technical path to Kinlochleven after battling the bog so headed down the West Highland Way, but there was no danger I was ever wanting a reason to go near that bog again, so it was up to me to engage in some concentration warfare on the rocky trail. It was, as I remembered, very rocky and I had to get off the bike a fair bit to carry streams and bits that were just a bit too mad. The bottom half is better than the top, which perhaps suffers from being just a bit too rocky and really forced me to ride slowly. Once into the bottom section however, things got really nice – there were still plenty of techincal sections but they were spaced out a bit more and I could get a decent flow going on the trail.

I don’t think I’ll be rushing up there to do it again (too many other things to do!), but as far as technical trails go it’s a bit of a must-do in my opinion. 7 out of 10 Mark Points for the route – it loses 1.5 points for the boggy section.