Repeat to fade

Had a good circuit of the Kilpatrick’s trails last night, the two mtbs versus the two runners.
We cranked up the tarmac from base and onto the ascent, but they other two buggers caught us as we lost traction (and lung capacity) on the steep gravel near the top and had to push. It’s quite disconcerting being chased and passed by two bobbing headtorches atop skinny legs finished in shiny black.
After last weeks diversion by Craig, we met up at Loch Humphrey to check routes (although we did have radios for each pair, now there’s fancy from Phil) and the footpads set off. We followed shortly after, making little progress through the treacletastic new trail section. There’s an amazing amount of different surfaces in quick succession on the top, it really does keep you on you toes.
It was getting cooler and a heavy shower started out of nowhere, we pushed on and found the guys in the trees hurridly donning wind shirts. On the undulating tracks we stayed ahead now. Phil left a lightstick to mark an awkward trail junction (which they picked up of course) and we all met at the stile at the forest edge for a word or two of “encouragement” before we launched into the downhill run.
The ground was wet, it was dark (it was around 2200hrs) and it was cold, but the trail was fast. By the time I got the fence at the bottom I was picking grit and twigs out of the widest grin I’d had this week so far.
We waited for the footpads and they were doing well, they seemed to be hitting a joint rhythm a lot of the time we saw them. It bodes well.
We flew past them on the hill down to the A82 and were waiting at the garage deciding whether or not to get our cuppas while we waited, when Craig sprinted in ahead of Ian (in the orange windshirt below) for a well timed coffee/cake rendezvous.

Where are we at? Phil and I thought the ascent was punishing, but the times was quicker tonight. In fact, I think we’ve cut an hour off of this route since we started timing it.
Craig and Ian seemed happy with performance and times, and we all noticed that out recovery times were good. No wheezing and sitting down.
But, they’ll beat us on the climbs every time, we’re not going to attempt to tackle every gradient we come across, we can’t afford to burst ourselves. And a walking man is faster than a man pushing a bike. On the flat and the downhill the machinery and gravity are our saviours. But I’ll tell you, it’s going to be bloody close.

My legs aren’t unnaturally pale or bandaged below, I’m wearing knee-warmers. Smartwool are supporting Phil and I with some amazing kit from their 2010 range, and I was testing their shorts, leg warmers and NTS zip-neck (and beanie there as well) for the first time there. I’ll go through all the kit we’ve been sent from various folks next week, a lot of it’s going to become regular kit after the bike goes in a skip in a couple of weeks anyway. Multifuctional and  lightweight, that’s what we like.

Aye, another ten days of all this bollocks and it’s back to normal.

Aw man, not more bikes?

Phil and I went for a training ride in the KiIpatricks tonight. I say training, but it’s really just a jolly. We say training just so we actually go rather than procrastinate. It’s midweek joy as well, banter, hills and a lovely evening to ride through to boot. It’s getting cooler up there, aye, and getting dark earlier all the time.

The climbing went well, I had a couple gears left to fall back on if my legs couldn’t take it. In fact I even found myself speeding up on a couple of occasions. Previously unheard of, that kinda stuff. I suppose it’s mostly the new bike, but I do think there’s a bit of me fighting in there as well.
We didn’t really hang about much, it was getting dark and with the downhill run to Overtoun at the end we had to push as we didn’t fancy our chances on that bit of the trail with e+lites strapped to our helmets.
When we got there it was fast and total blast. It’s the banana split after the steak and chips.

We had enough light though, and darkness only really fell when we got down to Milton. The BP garage on the A82 was the first port of call for coffees. The lassie at the till shouted over to her pal at the food counter “That’s a large latte and a large black coffee for the boy with the mud on his face…” .
We had a blether outside with the cuppas. It had been great fun, grins all the way. We’d made good time too, very good in fact. Phil’s racing the Wan Day in the Pentlands at the weekend and he’s looking good for it.
It’s funny, I didn’t expect the WHW thing to take over so much. I’m usually pretty half arsed with my outdoors stuff (no, really), but with six of us going, kit and media shit to deal with as well as the logistics, it’s become #1 by stealth I think, perhaps even by osmosis?
I need to get in a tent to stop me becoming obsessed though. That can happen you know.
Four weeks to go.

Unexpected Pakora

I did make it to the mountains, just around the middle of them instead up up ’em.
Beinn Vane looks good from any angle.

Phil, Craig and I went on a training run as the date for the WHW*Falldoon approaches. That date is probably the third weekend in October, which is later than we’d hoped as it means it’s got more of a chance of being on the wintry side, but it does give the old bloke an extra couple of weeks training…

The three of us have been out on a mix of wheels and feet before and the yo-yo effect happened again. We raced to the trail and immediately slowed on the ascent where Craig caught us up. We needled each other until a flat spot saw Phil and I stretch out a wee lead. When we both reached the highpoint of the trail (this time, both of us in the saddle, it was the same route as last week), Craig passed us after a couple of minutes and I never even looked up from my position of hanging over the bike trying to keep my breakfast down. The extra heat and slightly fuzzy head really made life difficult on the long climb this time.

The easily angled descent to the burn was slow, I felt burst after the climb. Phil was waiting for me when I got to the weir and he just had to cool down. I resisted the cold water and just sat down instead.
Some Nuun, a look at the view, a pee and a walk up and down saw me feeling better. And when we left for the return leg I knew that the climbing was over and and I had to actually ride the bike as opposed to sit on it and spin the pedals.
I was a wee bit worried as I was a bit shaky on the technical stuff last time, but the first sketchy descent on a slate chute went well and I was boosted by that, making the rest of the rough singletrack less of a looming adversary and more of a ride-able funscape.

We caught Craig in the woods before the singletrack section and we stayed pretty close from here on.
When we got back to Arrochar we were pleased indeed. Team handed trips are fun, and it’s good to train together as it showed that Craig’s running is on the money and if his feet hold together it’s looking good for that 96 miles.
We had lunch at the wummin in the windowcafe at the Esso garage across from the carpark, it was heaven sinking my teeth into that scotch pie I’ll tell you.
What a great day out with my chinas indeed.

Now, I’m supposed to be in Glen Coe next week. Repeat to self, tent not bike, tent not bike, tent not bike…
Will I remember how to do all that stuff?

Pulling Power, the Radical Design Wheelie

“What the hell is that?”

I got that a lot from walkers on the West Highland Way heading North as I headed South from Kingshouse to Victoria Bridge. Some folk just looked at me and others were very interested and we stopped an talked about it. Most folk liked the idea of not having a pack on, and looking at some of the knee crushing 90L monsters being carried, I could understand that. But the idea is often very different from the reality.

The Wheelie comes from a company in Holland called Radical Design, and Hubert van Ham the man behind the designs kindly sent one to the UK for me to test.
It’s a lovely bit of kit, very simple and easy to assemble. There’s some adjustment in the straps for height and walking position and also at the wheels, both in tyre pressure and track width for coping with different terrain. You wear a large comfortable hip-belt to which the Wheelie attaches and the large quick-release buckle at the waist is your entry and exit point, just as in a regular rucksack. The storage area is like a huge seat-wedge that you get on bikes, but this will take all the kit you need for an extended trip with scope for external extra stowing. It comes with a raincover and there’s also a hidden harness so you can carry the whole thing if needs be.

The first few steps were strange, with a definite seesaw effect between me and the Wheelie, but as I got into my stride it settled down quickly and I found that on most terrain I didn’t need to use the handles which curve forwards at your hips, and I was hands-free for most of the time. On very rough ground the handles aid stability and also a wee pull from the wearer helps with momentum over obstacle and also keeps the Wheelie from getting too much stress at its moving and linking parts.
My pace was very good indeed, I had 40 litres of camping kit in there and I couldn’t feel it at all. With no weight on my back, there was no sensation of a load. What you have is a sensation of resistance, not like walking into a strong wind, or even like someone holding onto your belt from behind. It’s different. I’m not saying it’s without effort, I found it to be a very good heart and lungs stretcher, and the next day my legs were telling a tale of time and distance worked.

I got to Ba Bridge feeling fresh and happy, the sun was shining, I had no pack on and consequently a dry back, and it’s just a lovely spot to linger at.
As I drank some Banananuun (tastes like Irn Bru, brake fluid and banana skin) I reflected on the other new kit I had on while I was here. As I was leaving home a courier lorry pulled up with a box of Haglöfs test kit and I had a quick rifle through. Throwing caution to the wind I stuck on a pair of Lynx pants, a Jura shirt and a pair of Escape Ventlator shoes with the new Sole insoles in them. I had some revelations using this kit, especially as it was just out of the box.

South from Ba Bridge is on Telford’s cobbles. I will not lie, it’s harsh. The hardest part of the West Highland Way for me, but in trail shoes and without any weight on my back I made remarkably smooth progress. I had set the tyre pressure quite low, trading speed for shock absorption and it was quite bearable.
There’s not much in the way of accessible pockets here, but I had attached a bottle pocket (also from Radical Design) to the hip belt and was sipping juice quite happily. Unclipping to access the pack section is no more difficult or time consuming than taking off a pack, but I think if I was going a longer distance I would maybe wear a bumbag or attach another accessory pouch to the hipbelt.

I didn’t know what the hell to expect. But, it was really good fun, it was so nice not to have a pack on, but still to have all the kit with me. The Wheelie is very usable, very comfortable and not at all strange once you’re on the trail. I know it’s limited in its scope, open hillsides would be beyond it and having to cross obstacles that mean taking it on and off constantly would annoy, but on Long Distance Paths I think it’s in its element. Folk with injury or disability might find trails accessible with one of these as well. 
It has a practicality and an “otherness” that I like and I would have no problem taking this the whole length on the WHW. Thank goodness for different.


And how did I manage to do this one-way walk without doubling back? Well, Joycee dropped me off at Kingshouse and met me on the trail heading down to Victoria Bridge. Wheelie in the motor, and off the the Real Food Cafe.