Friday, December 09, 2011

Mountainbiking - The West Highland Way In a Day

I cycled the West Highland Way with my teenage son James many years ago - He now runs Scotland's main MTB suspension servicing company www.flotecsuspension in Edinburgh, so it's more years than I care to think about. On that occasion we did it over three days and had a great time.

More recently I read of a completion of The Way In a Day by I guess that's when the idea lodged in my brain.

So up to the present day, or nearly. On a week-day in mid September this year I took the last train from Edinburgh to Fort William arriving at 11.00pm. I had pre-booked into the Wild Goose Hostel in Banavie two miles outside the town although I knew I wouldn't get much sleep as a 4.00am start was planned.

4.30am saw me climbing up the first singletrack of the day onto the fire road towards Kinlochleven then single track and droveroad before a great technical descent into the village.

The track then rises steeply out of Kinlochleven and there was a fair bit of 'hike a bike' before the top of The Devil's Staircase followed by another great technical descent down to the Glencoe Road. I had breakfast at The Kingshouse Hotel at 10.00am before heading over The Wade Road to Bridge of Orchy. This involved a fair bit of climbing/walking but was rewarded again by a sweet long descent to the hotel after which a straightforward gently undulating trail led to the tourist honeypot that is now Tyndrum - Green Welly Shop and all! It was now 12.30pm and, 8hrs in, I was surprised at how fresh I felt.

A nice bit of single track, then across the main road and Drove Road through Strath Fillan led to recrossing the road and this is where the surprise came for me, a surprise that cost me a lot of energy! Travelling by road from Tyndrum to Crianlarich is, in the main level and downhill however what I hadn't realised, and what memory had obviously erased, was that the WHW cut a corner here with a sucession of steep hard climbs which took a toll on my legs. I had had it in mind to take a ferry over Loch Lomond thus bypasssing the notorious section between Bienglass and Inversnaid but as it was now 2.00pm, I realised I wasn't going to make the last ferry. Oh well, how bad can it be? Answer - bad.

Anyway a really nice descent saw the miles to Bienglass pass relatively pleasantly as the track ran alongside the River Falloch and on arriving at the farm at 4.00pm I decided on a sit down refuel. I had largely been using gels and energy drink and the lure of some solid food was too great to resist.

What can I say about the next 7miles - well firstly, they took me the best part of three hours the majority of which involved pushing,lifting,pulling and carrying a 30lb mountainbike. I recall a couple of sections where I was climbing a crag with one hand on a rock hold and the other either hoisting the bike up in front of me or pulling it up behind me! Enough said, although I do think given the topography of this section things might be marginally easier in the usual direction south to north.

Still feeling reasonble I arrived at Inversnaid at 8.00pm and as the daylight was beginning to fade, I set off for Rowardennan.To cut the story short, the Loch section had taken it's toll and by the time I reached Balmaha it was dark, my batteries had run out - no not my lamp batteries - (Think Duracell Bunny!) and with 19 miles still to go, including Conic Hill, I decided to call it a day.

Too late to find accommodation, I bedded down on a pile of sand on a building site wrapped in polythene - slept like a baby and finished into Glasgow the next day.

My initial reaction was Never Again but after a few days, the Unfinished Business feeling kicked in so back for another Way In a Day attempt in June 20012 - same year as I collect my Bus Pass!

Info: Lapierre Zesty 714 - Tubeless Tyres- I rode Spd's but will use Flats next time because of the walking/scrambling involved - Plenty of gels and energy bars - took energy drink powder and filled up from crystal clear streams. I had thought of using my Stumpjumper hardtail which would have been an advantage on the carrying sections but in retrospect I'm glad I didnt because I think the general body battering of a hardtail would have made things less enjoyable and might well have stopped me earlier.

PS. Unfortunately I won't be making the second attempt in June as I will be undergoing heart surgery to replace a valve and graft a bypass - I knew these hills at Crialarich shouldn't have felt as hard as that! - Next Year.