Monday, June 30, 2014

Lakeland 200 - Mountain Bike ITT.

The Lakeland 200 is another of Alan Goldsmith's bike ITT challenges. The 200 kilometres and 7000 metres +/- route has a time limit of 40 hours within which to complete it.

Fresh from a 24hr race the preceding weekend, I receive an email from Alan, saying he'll be leaving Staveley at 4am on Saturday morning. The weather forecast was excellent.

Friday came and I had a low level stomach bug. Fine preparation for a weekend's bike riding.

Friday night, and I  was in bed for 9. A few hours of kip, then a 1am reveille to drive up to the start.

Alan was readying himself when I arrived in Wilf's car park. Gone 4am, and our 3rd man Craig had not shown up. At 10 past we set out, to see Craig (who needs a better alarm clock) getting ready.

At 4:14 am on the bridge, Alan says "GO".

I ride with Alan for all of 5 minutes. He was on a mission to get a good time, and was travelling much lighter than I. I couldn't keep up.

I did my own thing,took a few pictures, and enjoyed the easy riding as far as Coniston.

Then for the first big climb of the day,Walna Scar Road.

Unsurprsingly I was a lot slower  up here than when I rode it last on my cross bike.

But I was a whole lot faster down towards Dunnerdale.

The next section past Stephenson and Stanton ground down to Seathwaite was unusually dry. I have had a bike go axle deep in the bogs round these parts but not this time.

 The last drop into Dunnerdale.

At the Newfield Inn, I stopped for a coke and crisps. Also I put some ibuprofen on my left knee which had started giving me some gyp.

So far, things had been easy, now for the proper hilly bits, ie the rest of the route.

Past Harter Fell, down into Boot. Then up towards Burnmoor Tarn which I recall being much more rideable than it was for me that day.

Down in Wasdale I forego the pub (most unusual) and I take aim for the Black Sail pass, which heads first left, then, right round the shoulder of Kirk Fell pictured below.

I descended the same route, over 30 years ago on foot, of which I have no memory. The horrors of dragging a laden bike up over the top and down the other side are likely to stay impressed on my mind for at least a short while though.

Some 15 hours in, I eat a sandwich at the Black Sail YHA. My knee is really rather sore. More gel needed.

Here's the view of the drop down to the YHA. (Ridge running R to L)

After a while enjoying the evening's rays I dragged myself up to continue my journey. In my tiredness I'd forgotten what exactly the next section to Buttermere entailed.

Oh yes, Scarth Gap, hike a bike up the hill, and mostly hike a bike back down it. What a joy that was.

At the bottom my knee was screaming at me. In a moment of lucidity, I checked my leg extension on the bike. Ah, nowhere near fully extended. My seatpost must have slipped down, I raised it hoping to alleviate some off the pain.

It did to some extent but even with the saddle raised the climb up Honister pass was painful. Damage had been done. I may have even walked the top bit of Honister, but as there were no witnesses I may have just dreamt that bit.

Nearing the quarry it started to rain and the temperature dropped off. 71 miles and 17.5 hours would have to do. I put up my tent and got some kip.

The alarm went at 4am, and I was away for 4:30.

Some easy miles to Keswick, and then a bit of a climb round Lonscale Fell,before a blast down to Threlkeld.

As I started the climb out of Threlkeld 3 dogs came charging towards me. One of which bit me. Thankfully I had my protective leg warmers on over my socks, so no blood. I had a four letter word conversation with the owner.

The next section to Pooley Bridge felt harder than it should have done. I'd not budgeted my food very well, and had eaten all my butties the day before. I was now sick of sweet stuff. So was in need of proper food.

At Pooley Bridge I ate 3 ploughman sandwiches, which took some doing. Refuelled, the next section to Martindale was a blast.

Below Ullswater.

When scanning the route at home I'd completely overlooked the bit over Beda Fell and its 1000 feet of climb.

Down at Brothers Water, those butties had worn off. The ibuprofen gel was having no effect on my knee now either. 10 hours on the go, and I was tired.

Forcing more sweets in me I knew there was about 20 miles left to do. The first 3 1/2 would entail 2000 feet of climbing. Push a bit, rest a bit, lie on the ground a bit.

Looking back down to the valley floor (L).

Now, the logical conclusion of a route back to Staveley from High St, would be continue South at Limefitt Park. However this is a Goldsmith route. More hills needed.

So up Garburn Pass and over to Kentmere next.

Time for a quick cheesy selfie atop of Garburn. Then 3 involuntary dismounts, on the bouldery descent down to Kentmere.

Oh, and out of Kentmere another 400ft of climbing before the downhill back to Staveley.

I arrived back at the car, A total time of 38 hours and 56 minutes, with 131 niles and 22,500 of ascent clocked.

A much tougher route than I had anticipated.

My feet stayed bone dry all weekend though.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Mountain Mayhem 2014 The HOT one.

It was only 3 weeks between the end of the Highland Trail 550 and the 24 hour mountain bike race Mountain Mayhem.

Becasuse of that, I'd not intended on entering this year. My kids relentless pestering made me get a last minute entry though. They love 24 hour bike races.

The day after I had confirmation of my entry, our car's rear axle broke. So maybe we wouldn't be going after all. Then, Ann's Mum kindly offered her car for the weekend. This was great except, its less than cavernous storage would mean only taking one bike.

So, I had two choices of bike, a geared bike wih front suspension, or a singlespeed with no suspension. I took the singlespeed as I reckoned it was less likely to break. I'd not given any consideration to which would have been easier to ride in a 24 hour race......

The klaxon went at 12:00 and I jogged the run section. My race plan was merely to get to the finish. I knew that the Highland Trail would have still been felt in my legs, so I was just going to take it steady, and also it was hot. In the car on the way down the thermometer had shown over 30 degrees. How I would fare in the heat, I didn't know.

The first lap taught me that my choice of a singlespeed bike was not the best. I rode all but one climb on that lap, but I knew thereafter that I'd be doing some walking for the rest of the race.

The course though not particularly technical, had few places where I could grab a drink from my bottle. Quite often I'd get to the end of my lap and have nearly as much liquid in my bottle as when I'd started. Not ideal considering the heat. I did try to drink plenty at my pit stops though.

I was glad when dusk came, and the temperature finally dropped. At about 8:30pm I started feeling light headed and began shivering. I pitted and put more clothes on. The next lap the shivering worsened and I got waves of nausea.

I pitted again. I put on a down jacket and got in my down sleeping bag, and still shivered. I felt quite ill.

My wife who normally tells me to get back on my bike in 24 hour events told me to go to bed, and so I did. I told her to wake me in two hours. I still felt ill. I drank more water and went back to sleep with no further request for an alarm. I guess the heat and lack of liquid had got the better of me.

I woke around 7am as the sun started heating up the tent. My sleeping bag was drenched in sweat.  I felt much better though. A bacon roll and some coffee, and it was time to get back on the bike.

I enjoyed the next 4 hours riding, thankfully with no more dramas.

I even thugged my way up some hills for the photographer.

Thanks to my wife, kids and the Team JMC guys for a great weekend.

Both images courtesy of Graham Haller.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Highland Trail 550 Race Kit List.

Below is the stuff that I took with me on the Highland Trail race, with some of the reasoning behind my choices.

If you are looking for an ultralite set up, there is better information elsewhere.

It is not a money is no object set up. For the most part I used stuff I already had. I've not weighed everything individually, but my gear in bags weighed ~4kg less food.

Bike - Iro Mia 69er. This bike was a last minute replacement as the forks for my other bike were being serviced. It started off life as a singlespeed. I converted it to 1 x 9 running 34T on the front 11-36 on the back. Unless you are a very strong rider take a geared bike. I had a 29 inch wheel out front and a 26 on the back. Weight, not heavy, not superlight either.

The saddle that broke had hollow rails.

Luggage. Alpkit 13L dry bag on the bars with sleeping bag (in a 8L bag) and tent. Wildcat Seatpack with a Alpkit 8L Drybag for spare clothes and meds. Framebag made by me. 2 Alpkit Stem Cell bags for food and rubbish.

Spare luggage strap. Unused.

Tent - Force Ten Helium. I've tried bivvis and don't like them. Midges and possible rubbish weather made a tent the only option for me. There are lighter tents.

Sleeping Bag. 800 fill down GoLite. Not the lightest, but I sleep cold. I do not operate after a poor nights sleep.

3/4 Bozeman sleeping mat. I put my riding stuff in a drybag as a pillow.

Cotton cycling Cap.

Rapha SS full zip jersey.

Castelli Nano Flex arm warmers.

Biopace Shorts

Adidas Leg warmers.

3 pairs of Merino socks (one for evening wear).

Castelli Gilet - Semi waterproof.

Waterproof shorts (cut down from some overtrousers) you do not want a wet bum.

Montane Waterproof -  light but not that waterproof in driving rain, coupled with the gilet I stayed dry though.

Giro Junction Shoes - This is not the place for rigid disco slippers.

Rapha Silk Scarf - For panache.

Montane Primaloft smock

Mountain Equipment mid weight fleece

Aldi compression leggings.

Thin fleece hat.

Midge head net.

1 750ml bottle - Water was everywhere - No purification.

No stove - The theory being you can get a hot meal most days. If I did this again though I'd reconsider. It was a nuisance eg on day 2 trying to coincide with cafe opening hours.

Chamois Cream

Ibuprofen Tablets and gel.

Diarrohea tablets.


Strapping tape.

Suncream - Not used.

Toothpaste and brush.

2 Dakota GPS (one spare)

12AA lithium batteries. I was going to use a dynamo setup, but had not trialled it sufficiently. The batteries were also lighter.

Spot Satellite Tracker + a spare set of batteries.

Road atlas overview map - 5 sheets of A4 - No detailed paper maps.


2 Tyre Levers

2 spare tubes a 26 and a 29.

Topeak Pump

Some spare chain and quick links.

Chain Oil.

Puncture Repair kit.

Tenacious Tape.

Mini Leatherman.

Zip Ties.

Waterproof Lumix camera - The picture quality, as a photographer is fairly poor, but I wanted something I could keep in my jersey pocket that didn't need cosetting.

Food  - lots of - Pies, cheese, sweets, nuts etc. Two gels as they were in my cupboard, but no other fancy stuff.

Waterproof phone case which doubled as my money stash.

I should have taken some strong thread and a needle, and a tick remover.

I was happy overall with the equipment I took.

Highland Trail 550 Race Day 6.

Another lovely morning.

Some fine singletrack to potter down on the way to Poolewe. I'd now taken to riding my bike like my Mother drives her car. Slowly and with caution. In spite of this the hub was deteriorating. I'd started to accept it may break, and tried not to worry about it too much. Though with the constant noise, this was a difficult thing to do.

At Poolewe I grabbed Coke, pie and phoned my wife to tell her of my bike woes. It was good to talk to her.

Then to plan what the rest of the day was to entail.

Strathcarron, via Torridon. That'll involve some hills then.

There had been a death on the trail.

Onwards and upwards though.

Then I notice this.

I have never ever torn a tyre sidewall. What a time to get to grip with repairing one. I wondered if rips propogated, not that it mattered as I'd not brought thread to stop it doing so.

I cut a piece of plastic from  the hanger tab on my waterproof phone case, that and a couple of layers of tenacious tape, and I have a repair of sorts.

Ahead one of the steepest climbs of the route.

Once on the road to Loch Carron the front wheel of possible doom made more noise than ever. It was so frustrating throttling the speed to a max of 15mph when I knew I could have done nearer 30. Near dark, I was tired, and the wheel really didn't sound as if it would make it to the end. I was resigned to its fate.

As darkness fell I called it a day a few miles before Dornie.

Highland Trail 550 Race Day 7

There is a time limit on this event of 8 days. Which meant when I awoke at 05:20 that there were just over 50 hours left to complete 140 miles. These were relatively easy miles too.

Still shit could still happen so I packed up and got riding.

Last year me and Minipips rode passed here in the rain during our summer holidays. No rain today though.

My little local knowledge of the route secured me some Rum and Cranberry biscuits.

Then towards the falls of Glomach.

Time for a rest.

I savoured the views. Hot sun meant for a lazy descent, that is until the tree lined boulevard with midges forced some speed. 

Near Tornich there was a diversion due to forestry works. 

From there I could see the last hill of the day.. Once over the top there would be pizza in Fort Augustus.

It's a steady climb, rideable, I've got time in hand.

I stop, to put some ibuprofen gel on my knees and to check out my sore feet. My knees had hurt from day 2 as I had expected then to when I had signed up to do this in January. My feet though were not part of my plan.

6 days of constantly wet or damp feet had given me the beginnings of trench foot. Painful. I rubbed in some chamois cream. My feet liked this. Be grateful you can't smell the picture.

Just before Fort A, a different metallic crack.

I couldn't be bothered looking at it until the next morning.


A few more miles down the Gret Glen then bed.

Surely I'll get to Tyndrum next day.

Highland Trail 550 Race The End.

First job of the day was to sort the broken saddle rail. I did this by moving the saddle forwards and clamping it in a different place
The stress of a bike that may or may not have got me there faded as I neared Fort William. I knew then, that I could walk to Tyndrum and make the 8 days finishers time.

There was a good view of the Ben Nevis race route. The weather was never like that when I had raced it.

I had a leisurely days riding, and stopped a couple of times to cool my feet in a stream.It was like being on holiday.

There was still the odd opportunity to practice carrying ones bike though.

At Kinlochleven I filled my bottle, and rode what I could up the gravel towards Devil's Staircase.

Long before the rocky bit my rear tyre punctured again.

My sidewall repair had failed.

All I needed now was a get home solution. Compeed and more tenacious tape. Win.

Oh yes, yet another puncture with less than 10 miles to go.

Happily it coincided with my passing the Inveroran Hotel. A pint of Stella and a seat in the beer garden were just what I needed to assist me while I fixed it.

I left the pub with a fixed tyre, and a head that felt like I had drunk 8 pints of stella.

No more dramas though other than taking a wrong turn. I had done that a few times on the last day.

I rolled into Tyndrum at 20:18, 7 days 11 hours and 18 minutes after leaving there.

Myself and my bike had made it. 583.9 miles (with detours) and 53,275 feet of ascent.

Out of 36 starters, I was the 10th person back. Only 2 others would finish. The other 24  riders had pulled out.

Alan Parkinson was waiting at the finish to welcome me back. What a star!

Time for some more beer!

Highland Trail 550 Race Overview.

In the last week of May 2014 I completed the Highland Trail 550. 550+ miles of bikepacking through the Highlands of Scotland.

The route devised by Alan Goldsmith, starts at Tyndrum and visits the Mamores, Corrieyairack, Oykel Bridge, Assynt, Foinaven, Glen Canisp, Torridon, Kintail and Glen Affric, before returning to Tyndrum.

The terrain is varied, but can overall be decribed as tough. There are extended sections where pushing or carrying the bike is the only option. The rewards though are some magnificent riding on deserted and varied trails.

Beautiful and remote places I'd not visited before, were my main motivation for doing the event. It's been some years since I've been on a proper adventure too. Though a "race" I had no aspirations for a place on the podium. I was realistic enough to know that getting round with myself and my bike in one piece would be challenge enough.

Though I did make it to the end, it was not without some trials, for both my body and my bike.

I met some great like minded folk, but also spent many days with just myself for company.

An adventure that pushed me past what I thought was possible, and that was good.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

The End.

Kit List.

Strava logs of each day below.

Highland Trail 550 Race Day 1.

After wishing Alan a Happy 50th Birthday accompanied by a piper and cake, we made for the start line.

Some nervous faces, some confident. 32 of us lined up. I lurked at the back, to make sure that I wasn't drawn into the inevitable sprint towards the first proper hill, the Devil's staircase.

Near Bridge of Orchy I stopped to put a bit of air in my rear tyre to avoid getting a pinch puncture. What should have taken 5 minutes took longer as my pump had disassembled itself, so that required putting back together first which was fiddly to do.

As we climbed up Black Mount, I caught Mike, Ricardo and Matt, and stopped to take a couple of pictures.

By the time we'd got to the Kingshouse, the sun was out.

The remains of the winter's snow on the Buchaille, and the first of many pictures of my bike. :)

As I neared the top of the Devil's staircase, a stiff little climb, I noticed my rear tyre was soft again. I'm not sure what I thought I'd acheive by putting some more air in, but that's what I did.

A couple of minutes later my near flat tyre require attention again. This time I did the right thing. Time to fix  puncture. I've ridden bikes for over 40 years, and have never fixed a puncture on the trail. I knew though I had a spare tube, repairing one in the sunshine even if accompanied by a few midges was the thing to do.

As I did my DIY Alan, Riccardo, Phil, and Mike rode by.

Puncture fixed I made my way cautiously down, intent on not causing any more punctures.

I'd planned on stopping at Kinlochleven for a Coke, but knowing that I'd already lost time I pushed on into the Mamore Forest.

At Luibeit came the first of river crossings. I'm not a fan of crossing rivers, so I just got on with it. Shin deep and not particularly fast flowing I was quickly across. Flood debris around showed that things could be very different here though.

Next was a delightful section of bog and tussocks that required some manhandling of bike.

A sandy beach at the head of Lochan Na H Earba.

I saw a rider in the distance here (Alan Parkinson) who I attempted to catch up. Nik Kinloch caught me first though, and I rode with him for a while. We did catch Alan a bit later, but only because he'd taken a wrong turn.

It was good to chat with Nik, he was the only person I spent more than a passing moment with all day. Reading the reports and speaking to others from last year the social aspect of the event was also a big draw for me. Riding with other folk is always interesting.

Near the bottom of the Corrieyairack Nik pushed on and I decided to call it a day having found a sofa with my name on it for the night. I'd hoped to get to Fort Augustus in time for pizza, but instead planned to get there for a hot breakfast instead. I'd not brought a stove.

Not long after Bryan, Mike, Alan (P) and Andy also stopped. Whilst others rode on past.

I'd done 84 miles, my legs felt good and surprisingly my knees (my bĂȘte noire) weren't feeling bad either.

I was behind the schedule I was hoping for, but I was not worried, there'd be time to make up some extra miles. Or so I thought.

Highland Trail 550 Race Day 3

You'd  think I would have had a great night's sleep, but the heating in the B+B was turrned up to 10, so I was either sweating or cold as the sweat cooled once I'd chucked the sheet off. Breakfast was good though.

Resupplied, I was away for 8:30.

Markus had said he was going to leave by 7:30, so I expected to see his tracks. The going for the first few miles would be relatively slow on his low geared single speed so I knew if he was ahead I'd catch him. I didn't.

The previous night would be the last I'd see of a HTR competitor for a long time.

The weather played nice and the views were expansive.

As I neared Oykel Bridge, I could see in the far far distance some hills I'd be riding close to in a day or so.

I was excited, I pushed on.

At Oykel Bridge, I sat on a bench and made a cheese sandwich out of a squashed bread roll, and half a block of cheese. As I sat there, Steve Heading appeared. He had already returned from those hills above. He said he was tired. He also warned me of a section of about 10 miles which had taken him 4 hours. I thought he must be delirious. The section he mentioned was relatively flat.

I rode on to Rose Hill, and bought myself a pie for supper.

From there I followed the River Cassley for a good few miles on a narrow tarmac road. Easy miles.

At the tarmac end there were some indifferent deer.

I continued on good tracks to Glen Golly where the shadows were beginning to lengthen.

From here the going became much harder. The tracks were first narrow, then vague, then both vague and very wet and boggy. Nearly at the northern most part of the loop, I was looking for somewhere to put my tent. All I could see was water, marshland and rock.

Shortly after 10pm I found a nice spot though.

Whilst putting on my evening wear I find behind my knee my first ever tick. How exciting. I have a problem though. I didn't bring a tick remover.

Plan B. Fire up the cigarette lighter and burn it, and my leg too of course. It comes out and leaves a welt. More fire to the back of my leg as an antidote. That smarted.

Macaroni cheese pie for supper.

95 miles done. A good day.