Running Bear Loves Little White Dove

Three equally wonderful things have I before me.

The 1 litre Sigg bottle with the nice textured masonry paint from Holly brings me much joy. The standard (or is that “classic” in today’s world?) Sigg narrow-necked bottles are so impractical when you’ve used wide-mouth types, but they are somehow reassuring, dependable and any shortcomings are forgiven unconditionally. The screw tops are still the easiest types to open when frozen I think.
The Sigg KIng of Skulls retro thing is tiny, heavy and brilliant. The stainless steel used for this and the other oval types do have a bit of a metallic taste to them I think, but what the hell, after drinking what tastes like liquefied paddling pool from a Camelbak bladder everything after tastes like dew drops from the petals of flowers in the garden of Mount Olympus. Or Babylon, they had nice gardens apparently. Big hanging baskets they say. Must have been a bugger to water.
The vintage reissue Irn Bru can as seen in my childhood? Words cannot express my emotion at grasping it in my mitts. Drinking it will be like the first breath of fresh air after being stuck in Skylab for six months documenting mice struggling in zero gravity while watching out the porthole for that big satellite stealer spaceship from Moonraker. Hey, you never know.

WHW*Falldoon Day Two

We talked in the carpark as our pals went home and we headed to the bus to go and find the accommodation. Iain could go no further. The boys had run almost two marathons off-road, and would have to run the same again to get home.
Iain’s self-preservation instinct is very much like my own, family and then work before any of this nonsense. Everytime I had a sketchy bit of trail that was 50/50 to make it past safely, I’d think of home and dab or get off and push. So with legs on the verge of folding underneath him, Iain was out.
Craig was caught in a difficult situation, go on alone or get Iain home in the morning? I said that I would be quite happy to go home and see the girls too, I was tired, it was late and the whole thing was getting more pointless by the moment.
We never really resolved the issue by the time we’d stopped parking in folks driveways looking for name plates and finally dropped Iain and Craig off at Glengarry House and I was distracted by a call from nearby Strathfillan House where we were staying, asking when we were arriving, about 30 seconds was the answer.
The driveway was dark, the building was dismal with unlit windows, the hidden sign said “Welcome to Strathfillan House, you’ll have had your tea”.
John and Phil took some gear up the stairs inside while I faffed about as usual and joined them hearing only the end of the conversation “…this is Peter now”
“Yes, hello”
“Blah blah, late, blah blah, phone call, missed a night out blah blah…”
I’d missed most of that and could only offer “What?”
“I told you at 1730 that we would be 4 or 5 hours, and that’s exactly what we’ve been”
“I missed out on a night out at seven thirty and I’m irritated by your lack of communication…”
I moved towards him and Phil and John, probably subconsciously, leaned into an intercept course.
“Maybe I’ll sleep in the van…”
“No, no, stay, what about breakfa..”
I walked past him into the room before a line of some sort was crossed that I couldn’t jump back over.
There was no milk in the team making facilities, no hand soap in the fancy dispenser in the lavvy and no chance I’ll ever go back. Bastard place. I charged my bike lights for free though.

No mobile signal, no phone, no comms with the boys.
I’d had enough, I wanted to go home right now. My seemingly simple idea had gone completely on its tits and I just wanted to walk out of it. We all had showers and that soothed the mood a little.
Phil was adamant that he was going on, solo if needs be. He was getting up at 0630 regardless and going for it.
I would wait and see. Physically I was okay, just a Little achy maybe. I had a piss poor sleep where I had time to think about it. I know what it’s like to fail at something that’s attainable, and to succeed when it looked a little unlikely. Either was possible when i got out of bed.
Phil put his light on at 0630 (we were sharing) and I found that neither my eyes are hands worked. I lay there in the fuzzy light as he cleaned and oiled his bike outside the window in the drizzle.
When I got dressed, it was into my bike gear. I didn’t even think about it.
We left the house of horrors to pick up the boys who had had a fine time in their B&B. They were still in their running gear as they’d left their bags in the bus, but while we sat at the Green Welly Cafe eating breakfast, Craig appeared in his jeans and it seemed that that was that.
Phil was getting twitchy, I was my usual nonchalantself which must be infuriating for folk who are wanting to get under way or feeling pressure, so he went and got his bike reaa while I got another latte.
Craig seemed to like the idea of leaving with me, I could easily stay in touch on the trail for safety, we weighed up options, I tried to offer possibilities without coercion.
Phil waved his hands from outside and I gave him the “Come here a minute” signal, to which he responded with the “Screw you guys, I’m off” response. And with that he was on the bike and away.

I finished my cuppa and wondered about what to do next.
Craig wasn’t coming. I took the bike out of the bus and gave it the once over. I only needed a bit of oil on the chain. I went back to the cafe, now clumping in my bike shoes, and filled my water bottles. It was time to go.
Phil must have been as much as 30 minutes ahead, I’d never catch him on the trail unless he’d been knocked unconscious or otherwise rendered immobile. I’d have to try the road down to Crianlarich and take it from there.
I shot onto the road and built up as much speed as i could on my fat tyres. An immediately pulled over again as the rain was so heavy I had to put on all my waterproofs.
While I was doing that an old fella asked me if he was going the right way, “To Glasgow? Yes” He was actually wanting the West Highland Way, so he turned around and went back the way he came. I wonder how far he’d walked?

The road was horrific, car drivers are mostly arseholes, the rain pounded down and ran over my face. I watched evey inch of visble Way to try and spot Phil, but by the time I reached the point where it crosses the road it was obvious he was well ahead. I’d have to push on and try and catch him in Glen Falloch.
I trundled down the A82 in the pissing wet, shutting my eyes at truck passed and trying to be both as visible and unobtrusive as possible in the grey light. I hated it.
I could see alot of the Way, but not Phil. He must be really moving. The bus passed me near the bottom and then I cut off into Beinn Glas farm to rejoin the Way. I waited, sent a Tweet, had a snack and thought about what was next. I slung the bike on my shoulder and headed into the trees as the rain fell through the vents in my helmet, gathered in the pad over my forehead and them ran down my face everytime I looked up and compressed the pad. Each time the little flood got warmer as I toiled with the ground underfoot and the weight of the bike. I felt very much on my own.

The top half of Loch Lomond is horrific for a bike. It’s unrideable most of the time, or rideable in such short stages that’s it’s more annoying to clip in than just keep pushing or carrying the bike.
It’s also dangerous in places, it’s wild and unmaintained which is part of its beauty, but the obstacles you have to tackle are frankly ludicrous, it’s like they’ve been designed to make you cry. I fell several times, trying to balance the bike, trying to stay upright on metal cleats instead of rubber soles. My shins are a mess. I will never do this again. Probably.
One smile I found was when I was greeted by “PeeTeeCee I presume?”. It was scotpat who comments here out for a walk down the loch. It was a magic wee moment.
I asked him if he’s seen Phil, but like the handful of walkers I’d passed, Phil was unseen. He must be so far ahead by now. I couldn’t go any faster, it was just so difficult. But, maybe I was in front? Surely not.

I passed my campsite by the loch from last time, and I had wee flutter of emotion. I’ll walk this one day without any pressure and really enjoy it.
I met a bunch of friendly folks at Rob Roy’s Cave and stopped to chat. Another of my downfalls, I like folks and hearing what they’ve been up to. As I scrambled up the rocks to the next section of the track they started shouting “Your mate’s behind you”. I thought Yeah.. Yeah… and carried on.
It turns out he actually was there, we met up shortly after and actually rodeinto the Inversnaid Hotel carpark together. I’d passed him somewhere at the bottom of Glen Falloch, he’d met the bus as well. So taking the road was the right idea, I’d never have caught him otherwise. Grumpy sod.
Inversnaid has a reputation of being rubbish, but when I walked in I was ushered through to the bar where I had sammidges and coffee, two coffees in fact. It was fine in there, and full of elderly Americans who’d come over the loch in a boat from Tarbet. Bless ’em all.
I downed a can of Irn Bru outside before we set off again into weather was drying up under a sky that was getting brighter all the time.
Now, I joke about Irn Bru a lot, but whatever its nutritional merits, Irn Bru kept me on the bike from here to, well, the bottom of this page.

There was still some obstacles, but the trail was ever more rideable and now back as a team we kept each other moving and I felt happier, but at the same time something of a sense of urgency had returned.
We had a break where I finally got my waterproofs off and had another wee snack. After that the ground flashed past under us. So much time pushing out of the saddle dulls your handling (it also makes you cautious to the point where i was think that a fallen leaf in the middle of the track looked rather aggressive and I’d I’d better dismount to safely avoid it) , so when you’re really moving again, it’s easy to get it wrong. I had a couple of moments, but stayed upright. It was the bike that saved it every time, it was never me.
We reached the bus parked at Rowardennan for a quick Irn Bru stop and then it was onwards. It had taken us five hours to clear the loch, five bloody hours of which it felt like ten minutes were spent in the saddle.
We all had jobs the next day, lives and beds to get back to. We would take the road to Balmaha and then see what happened.
What happened was, that as we left I spotted Ange on the beach with her Nephew, more friendly faces to lighten the mood for a little while.
But the boys were gone and I had to leave and chase them. Tarmac and fat knobbly tyres again, my legs got pumped, my lungs expanded to maximum. I caught Phil and we made good time on the ups and downs to Balmaha where we had more Irn Bru, fixed our lights and had to make a choice. Conic Hill or the road?
Conic hill has the single sharp ascent, the road has several longer ones, but we could ride those. Milngavie at 2200 or 2100 was what it came down to.

We rode as hard as we could on the tarmac to Drymen, yet another terrifying experience courtesy of clueless bastards in cars. I did have the one joyful moment of “making” a car and caravan overtake me as I matched the speed limit and he fishtailed his caravan around the corner in front of me no doubt to the sounds of a stern telling off from his wife in the passenger seat.

Out of Drymen you cross this ridiculous stretch where I got lost last time. Some posts randomly scattered around a field. Even in daylight it was task. But from here it was quiet tarmac and we made good time as the sun set. We knew we were close and rather than hold anything in reserve we just pedalled, and we flew from here to the Beech Tree Inn near Dumgoyne. The frequency of the gates is annoying, but it was fun again. We were bantering and just riding like it was any other day.
Some Irn Bru and jerky at the Beech Tree car park and we were away onto the last trial, the climb at Carbeth.

Darkness was upon us, but it wasn’t that cold. We rode out of the Blane Valley which is full both of family and childhood memories for me, and into the hills for the last time. It’s not the climb I remember, and we rode most of it. One wee steep loose bit especially I just couldn’t face, and it’s the last bit of wild trail as well. After you reach the new sloppily built and totally inappropriate looking gate it’s all man made, and not for distance covering or agriculture, but for leisure. A subtle difference perhaps, but you can sense it.

Doesn’t mean it’s not fun though and we rode as hard as we could from here. Past the loch, through Mugdock Country park and across the Moors. The one mishap was when I thought I’d dropped a bottle, an event which turned out to be entirely imaginary.
We paused above Milngavie. We were home, near enough anyway.

Phil spun up to the pillar as I found the 3″ high kerb on the road below an insurmountable obstacle. Hey, I was tired and emotional.
John took a photie and it was all over.

I felt surprisingly good. No need to lie down or call a medic at all, I was just happy that from all the bollocks and disappointment we’d managed to pull out a fun bike ride.
Phil was a great team mate. Physically we weren’t too far apart, so there wasn’t frustrated toe-tapping waiting for one of us to catch up. In sometimes trying times we went home friends at the end. Bless you my boy.

For an ordinary bloke like me, doing things like this are a big deal.
I got a text from a friend at the finish congratulating us, and I know that he could have gone up and back in the time it had taken us to get south without him breaking into a sweat, but he knew exactly how we’d feel having done it.
We had so many folk wishing us well during and after, it’s hard to know what to say. I really do appreciate every single thought, I love you all.

I know that everything I do is in the bracket of “mild adventuring”, but why should only the sexiest, fastest, highest, farthest, be the ones that people get to see?
The ‘net has given us the ability to see each other do things that to each of us are an achievement. Be it your walk by headtorch, your first high camp, your first Munro, walking the Cape Wrath Trail in winter or completing the TGOC.
Good on you, shout as loud as you can. Every attempt by one of us ordinary Joe’s to go a little bit farther, successful or not, is a beacon of light shining across a dark sea of naysayers.

WHW*Falldoon Day One

There were five in the bus when it left base, and there should have been seven. It was going to make a few differences to peripheral stuff, but not to the actual task of covering the miles from Fort William to Glasgow. Those miles were the same length as they were last time, I was a year older, no fitter and with a head full of mixed emotions.

We booked into the hotel. Luckily the bike bag disguised the bike just enough to fool the receptionist with the “Bicycles not allowed in hotel” sign behind them. We had an extra room now, so only Craig and Iain had to share. They’ve know each other since the were still on their own planet, so that was fine.
Dinner was relaxed, awright from an eating perspective, and the banter was good. We all turned in quite early and I watched some telly, a repeat of the IT Crowd and then that BBC2 arts show had that bloke that dresses like Little Bo Peep as a guest. He managed to be the most articulate and least pretentious one on it. Good lad.
I went to bed with my iPod for a bit and them spent the rest of the night trying to work out what the machinery humming away outside was. When my alarm went off at 0730 I still hadn’t found out, so I thought I’d get up, get dressed and go outside into the cold and put the bike together.

Below are John (driver of the bus, blessed is he), Phil, Iain, Craig and then me.

Bike assembled, it went in the bus and we all headed to Morrisons for breakfast. Rolls on bacon and multiple coffees were just perfect.
The runners had left at 0700 in the freezing cold and fog. We couldn’t figure out where they’d be, no point of reference. I know about walking it, but even on the bike I had no idea of what pace to expect or aim for. It really was all “wait and see”.
My phone rang.
“Hi, the heating won’t go off in the church”
“I’m in Ft Bill, phone the electrician, it’ll be that frost stat again…”
Time to go.

We kitted up in the carpark next to the now repaired sign. “Congratulations, you’ve walked the West Highland Way. Welcome to Fort William, please make your way to the train station and go back to where you came from”. Or something…
It was cold. I had my hands curled into fists to keep my fingers mobile and it’s not often I ride in a powerstretch top. But as we climbed the side of Glen Nevis the sun was warm and bright. We stopped, layers were removed, smiles and sunglasses donned and pedals pushed onwards once more.

The climb is gradual, but long. The speed wasn’t great, but it wasn’t overly tiring either. I had to stop to move the camera tripod which was digging into my back, and then a little later I stopped again as much in surprise as at the sudden loss of forward motion due to the the gravelly surface. Where there had been a little winding trail through the trees there was a huge big tarmac switchback. It’s bloody awful, ruins that bit of the Way and they should be ashamed of themselves.
The Way drops back into the forest on twisty and fast singletrack, with a few obstacles that I just had to dab to get past. We were both very aware of not taking any chances with coming off so soon, as well as not blowing our legs on any long climbs right away. That would prove to be a wise policy.
In a combination of gay whooping abandon and extreme caution we rode through the forest with grins a mile wide. Stopping for a drink with the Ben peeking through a gap in the trees (below).
There was some pushing, some carrying, but plenty riding it’s a great wee section.

There’s a change in atmosphere as you clear the forest, and of terrain too. The Ben still looms, but the track is solid hardpack, studded with angular rocks. It’s fast, but you have to concentrate. It’s just fantastic.
We’d been advised to ride narrow tyres, 2.1″ or less with a minimal tread for a low rolling resistance. I had 2.35″ Maxxis Igniters and Phil had 2.35″ Schwalbe Nobby Nics on. Fat mountain tyres have more grip, steering security and neither of us had a puncture all weekend. Aye, I’ll take the hit on speed and extra pedaling effort.

The Way on a bike is stop-start, fences, stiles, cafes, all stop you dead. Also, none of these boundaries has any concession to a user being anything other than a tall, able bodied individual. If you’ve got any physical issues, never mind having a bike, the Way will get you at some point.

The Way shadows the Mamores all the way to Kinlochleven. It’s a wonderful, quiet place, quite beautiful. The riding is uninterrupted and fast. The trail is rough, but built with one eye on the land, so it feels natural. The sun was shining, it was warm and where the hell were the runners?
We passed the little bus shelter with the interpretation board inside, I wonder who got the waterproof pants that were hanging in there? There’s been a lot of tree felling, it felt a little different to last time. But also it felt smaller. Being on a bike magnifies and diminishes the Way in equal measure. On foot it’s more constant, on wheels it’s one extreme to the other.

We stopped for a proper rest with Stob ban ahead. We sat in the sun, had some food, a drink, talked to the folks walking north. Everyone seemed in good spirits with such a glorious day, but there’s always a few stoney faced bastards out there. Our job is to give them motivation.

We met John at the end of the Glen. He’d parked at Mamore Lodge and biked in to meet us, and take a photie.
I was having the first little signs of tired legs, and was thinking of what was on the menu at the Ice Factor, not too far away at all.
But first there’s the ascent. I’m sure there’s been some heavy erosion here since last year, the track is rutted, bouldery and really difficult. I was all over the place, and Phil in front was faring no better. I was dabbing, I was off, I was bunny hopping and losing one wheel or the other. After a dead-stop feet-out of the pedals incident Phil got clear and I lost sight of him. I pushed like crazy to catch him again, sliding and eroding what confidence i have in my own minimal bike handling abilities. I was out onto the road and ther was no sign of him through the drops of sweat pouring out of the padded brow of my helmet.

The bus was at the Ice Factor, John was there, but no Phil. I immediately knew what had happened, there’s a junction in the woods, which from the north looks like you should curve right when the correct track actually rises a bit too the left (there’s a sign as well, but we’ll gloss over that). Phil was away on a day trip to the countryside all on his own.
We saw him coming over the bridge soon enough and when he got there, it was time for lunch.
As I got started on my spicy tomato soup, it transpired that we’d caught up on the runners by 30 minutes. Was that good, bad? I had no idea, but I liked the idea of it. I finished my coffee and we checked over our gear and the bikes, everything was fine.

We’d talked about the next section several times in the run up to the weekend. I felt that I just wasn’t a strong enough biker to attempt the climb out of Kinlochleven. It’s long, unrelenting and a misery if you’re not in good form and carrying no weight. I knew that I’d blow my legs and my weekend would probably end right there.
As we rolled towards the rickety wooden bridge at the bottom of the water pipes, we dismounted as one and pushed. And pushed. And pushed.
There were some brief moments in the saddle, but they were short glimpses of hope and no more. Loose gravel under cleated bike shoes under a hot sun. Yes please.
It was nothing short of blessed relief when we reached the cottage at the start of the Devils Staircase path, well, until we remembered that the next few km were not overly rideable either.

We pushed, carried and rode this impossibly long stretch until it turns south towards its high point (below).
It was glorious, the mountains, the sky, the rideable trail ahead, the two girls with hangovers.
It was good to be spinning again, even though some of the storm drains here caused me some difficulties (I like to have my wheels on the ground where I can steer them, the air is a little indistinct for me).
There’s sharp pull up and the familiar triangle of the Buachaille pops up. It was a dark silhouette now, it was afternoon. Were we slowing down?

It was all bikes at the top of the Devils Staircase. We had a tourer from “Europe” and some young lads doing the same as us but in the other direction. It was getting cooler as well, so we had a quick bite of Babybel and headed down.

The Devils Staircase is as rubbish on a bike as you’ve heard. It’s rideable, but it’s also very loose with big storm drains and a high chance of going on your face or breaking something on the bike.
We slid, pedalled, skipped, dabbed and cursed our way to the bottom. 
The sudden shock of traffic noise was very unwelcome. Bastards with their noisy engines.
We were at the bus parked at Kingshouse in no time. We’d lost that 30 minutes we’d gained and the boys were long gone. We fixed lights on the bikes, had a wee snack and a drink and I fielded a call from the nights accommodation. It was 1730 and I answered his question with “We’ll be there in four or five hours…”

I’d last been on Telford’s road when I was pulling the Wheelie from Radical Design earlier in the year. It feels familiar, and I enjoyed it. But our pace was slow and I hopped off to walk for a bit, it felt good to stretch my legs.
The evening colours were glorious, the view back to Glen Coe worthy of it’s reputation as “nice place to visit”.

We reached the high spot on the shoulder of the hill and paused. Stags roared, as they did all the way home, the air was sharp and light was getting low. We rolled over the crest and down hill, faster and faster in the narrow strips worn by estate vehicles. My already cold-stiffened cheeks were pressured further by a grin of joy and relief as we effortlessly coasted down to Ba Bridge. It was a release, an unburdening, it was just great fun.

I paused at the bridge to take the blurry shot below and them had to spin like a maddie to catch Phil up. When I did we had a proper pitstop. Food, drink, pee, align bike lights.
From here it was a blur of starkly lit fringes of scenery and cobbles as we tore down to Inveroran. I had no glasses on now and my eyes were half shut and streaming tears straight back into my ears. I couldn’t have stopped for anything, I didn’t want to anyway. All the pushing and snail-paced granny-ring spinning was gone, the support band had packed up and gone to the hotel and I sat happy in my seat watching the show.

There’s always a gate through, so rather than cruise out onto the road we had a dead stop and dismount.
We were on the move again soon enough and Phil immediately had his eye on some cans of Guiness left on a car roof by an absent minded camper. But of greater concern was the trail ahead. The trail had been closed to bikes at some point recently due to erosion (turns out not any more) so we elected to follow the road to Bridge of Orchy. Dicing with cars driven at speed while trying to spin your wheels through treacle isn’t my idea of an ideal short cut, but by the time we met John and the bus at Bridge of Orchy the news was that the runners had just left, 20 minutes at most.
It was now freezing cold, so it was a quick stop and we pushed the bikes up to the train station where we jumped back on and pushed into the darkness, now watching for our lights picking up some reflective detailing bobbing away in front.

I think that made us push on, we didn’t rest until we hit another gate at Auch, Beinn Dorain completely invisible above us. The long rise from Auch gave us what we were looking for, a jumble of little lights moving in the same direction.
“Two fat blokes on mountain bikes coming through!”
Two headtorches turned around to greet us. We hopped off an walked on with the boys.
The cobbles had been a bugger, the poles had been vital, when is dinner?

We pedalled away after a while, the novelty of pushing having long since worn off. We immediately hit that stupid diversion that goes uphill under the railway tracks before dropping to the old, and fast tarmac road.
You cross over the tracks again and it’s a fast winding descent into the lights of Tyndrum. It chilled me to the bone as well, It really is winter out there now.
My teeth were chattering when I went through the door of the Real Food Cafe, and waiting for us there with John were Elaina, Steve and Sandy. It was so nice to see friendly faces, and the present of a six-pack or Irn Bru was both wonderful and as it turned out later, vital.
I was in and out of the door a couple of times sorting the bike, and when I finally sat down I felt faint. I wondered about what would be the best place to fall, what direction would lead to the least serious head injury?
I felt better as I ate and drank, chatted to my pals, and by the time the runners came through the door I felt pretty normal again.
I’m not really that fit probably, I’m certainly not getting any younger. Going into a room that was too hot maybe… ?

I really enjoyed our hour there. It was upbeat, the folks, the food, all good.
It was after we left that things started to take a turn. A turn for exactly what is hard to define in just one word.