Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Highland Trail 550 - Part 4

Day 7


There comes a time in these trips where you think that there's a good chance that you're going to get to the end, and with 160 miles left to do in two days, we could now visualise the end.

From Kinlochewe we headed into the Coulin Forest.


Towards Coire Lair.


Down then to Strathcarron for ice cream before  a small climb over the hill to Dornie for lunch.

The onwards into Kintail.


We did stop to change our damp socks for dry ones before the big climb.


Just past Glenlicht House, Tom shouts me. He shows me his front wheel. There is sealant leaking from one side and the middle of the rim. The nearest bike shop is 40 miles away, we are surely finished.

The sealant is still not sealing, but a positive is that it is  only escaping slowly. A quick bit of thinking and I have managed not to fix the crack, but have stopped the air escaping, if only temporarily.


The next section is pushing followed by  a fairly smooth descent.

I'm amazed but the wheel holds. We ride on until it's dark.

Day 8

We are up early. We know that this is going to be a long day. A couple of big lumps take us over to Fort Augustus for brunch.


Next comes the Caledonian Canal down to Fort William.

It's a hot day, Tom needs ice cream.


Out of Fort William we follow the West Highland Way over to Kinlochleven.


The walkers had mostly long gone home.


Half a lemon drizzle cake each for us before the descent.


Devil's Staircase, the last big climb of the day.


As we climb up, the sun sets.


 We make it over the other side of Devil's staircase just in daylight. Thereafter we ride with lights on.

It's fair to say that we were both very tired on the last few miles. The temptation to sleep was great, but finishing in under 8 days was more important.

At 2:10 am we arrived back in Tyndrum. A 101 mile day with over 9000' of climbing.

Our total time was 7days 20 hours and 25 minutes.

Strava - https://www.strava.com/activities/1011000628

We were most surprised that Alan and Mark had stayed up to see us in. Thanks, Oh and thanks to Mark Armitage for the pic below. Not looking too shabby after a 20 hour day.


We were in bed somewhere around 3am, then up again early to see of the folks who were setting of that morning.

After Alan had got a selfie with Tom, Tom started the race.

A big thanks to Alpkit for the bikes and luggage. I rode a rigid Frontier, and Tom rode a Carbon Transmitter.


Finally a big thanks to everyone for cheering us on!

Highland Trail 550 2017 Overview.


3rd time lucky, Tom managed to complete the Highland Trail 550, though not without some drama along the way. A great achievement for a 12 year old.

More info on the route can be found at http://www.highlandtrail.net/

A gear list will follow, but here's an index to our ride split into 4 parts.

Days 1-2

Days 3-4

Days 5-6

Days 7-8

Highland Trail 550 - Part 3

Day 5

We're awoken at 4:30 by the alarm, and are away not long after.

Glen Canisp is not quite as slow a trudge as I remembered. In fact with our  +tyres we rode quite a lot of it.



We got to Oykel Bridge for 10am and had bacon sandwiches and coffee.

Then over the mountain road to Ullapool.


A lovely day for it.


In Ullapool, a fish sandwich. Oh and remember those brake pads? We bought a hacksaw to chop down the ones which we had that were too big if needed!


After Ullapool comes the Coffin Road, which can only be described as nasty.


Then down to the Dundonnell valley. It was still relatively early so we continued onward, starting the climb over into Fisherfield. Tom really wanted to get to Shenavall bothy for the night.

Just before the top of the climb Tom started feeling unwell. We decided that heading back down the hill for the night was the best option, then making a decision the next day as to carrying on or not.

A few hours later Tom was feeling better and we were snugly tucked up in a bunkhouse.

Day 6

I thought it important that Tom had a long sleep, so not a particularly early start.

We retraced our route from the previous day and were soon looking into Fisherfield. It was good to see so little water in the river.


With the water barely ankle deep, Tom makes his way across the river.


The next 8 miles took around 4 hours. Tough going with a loaded bike. 


This day didn't stop giving though. After the Fisherfield crossing comes the Postman's path. More bike pushing.


We stopped just short of Kinlochewe for the night. We'd done a grand total of 30 miles for the day.

Highland Trail 550 - Part 2

Day 3.


A good night's sleep followed by the sun greeting us as we put away the tent. A good start to the day.


We were making good time. In the picture below is the place we stopped at the end of day 3 two years ago.


We made it Oykel Bridge in good time for lunch which was excellent.


All we needed to do before heading into the Northern loop was to fit some new brake pads.


Tom removed the old pads, and quickly realised that the pads we had bought were not the right ones. Tom has an excellent handle on bike specs usually, but had made a mistake on this occasion.

His bike had more pads left than mine. Mine were just about down to the metal. The nearest bike shop in our direction of travel was 100s of miles away. It was looking like we were doomed again?

I thought about the descents that we would encounter, and there were lots. We weren't giving up though, the brakes would have to last.

Into the Northern loop we rode.


The odd shower along the way, but otherwise a lovely afternoon.


At Glen Golly we decided to pitch our tent on a windy knoll to avoid the midges.


Day 4

From Glen Golly we go up. Steep up.


We feel fortunate to be here.



Eventually we get to Bealach Horn, the point where we start heading South.


We fly down the descent towards Achfary.

Some food at the bottom, oh and the discovery that my water bottle has ejected itself somewhere on the fast descent.


After a stiff climb out of Achfary we hit a road section.


The road takes us South along the coast road We stop at Drumbeg stores for lots of food, before heading onwards to Lochinver.


We arrive in Lochinver to be greeted by pouring rain. We take shelter in the Lochinver Pie shop, oh and eat more food.

We miss the worst of the rain, and head the few miles to Suileag bothy to rest for the night. We set the alarm for 4:30am

Highland Trail 550 - Part 1

Ever since I first completed the Highland Trail in 2014, Tom has wanted to ride it also. In 2015 we had a go, but were thwarted by wet and windy conditions. At Easter this year we had another go, but the weather was too wintry for our lightweight setup, and we baled after only two days.

If you look in Lee Craigie's book "Joining the Dots" about her Highland Trail experience you will see at the back of the book that Tom was aiming to be the youngest rider at 12 years old. We were committed to do this sooner rather than later.

We found a reasonable weather forecast, then booked train tickets to Tyndrum for a 3rd go.


The night before we set off we bumped into Dave and Jamie in the pub in Tyndrum. They were also planning on setting off on the route the following day. Their goal was similar to ours, that was to get round inside 8 days in order to see the riders who were setting off in the Grand Depart at 9am on the 27th of May.

Day 1

Tom and I left Tyndrum at 5:40 am, the sun was shining and the trails were fairly dry.


By 10 am I was actually hot and needed to take a top off. Short sleeves weather.


Tom fills up our water bottles as we head towards Ben Alder.


At Loch Ericht, Dave and Jamie caught us, we chatted for a bit, then they rode away. Presuming that would be the last we'd see of them.

We enjoyed the empty trails.


 At Culra Bothy we stopped for a bite to eat.


 Speaking of bothies, our plan was to get to at least Melgarve as we had on our previous two attempts, or maybe to Blackburn on the other side of the Corrieyairack pass.

We arrived at Melgarve at 7pm. We both felt good, and we decided to head on up and over the pass. First though we needed food. We'd been eating lots of sweet stuff, so Tom suggested eating some emmental cheese. I asked "How much do you want?" "Half each" says Tom.

As we neared the zig zags on the pass I was overcome with a wave of tiredness, and felt nauseous. I quickly realised that eating a big chunk of cheese shortly before climbing up a steep hill was the cause of this.

Tom was feeling grim too. A few moments later all his cheese and other sundry stomach contents were delivered to the grass by his feet. He was careful not to spew on his shoes though. A couple of sips of water though, and we were again heading up the hill.



Once over the Corrieyairack we rolled down the hill to Blackburn. Just before we got there we saw Dave and Jamie.

Once in the bothy we lit the fire and ate a couple of Firepot meals which were just what we needed after a long day. 90 miles done, a good start.



Day 2

We awoke reasonably early on day 2, and it was raining. A posh pork and beans Firepot meal for breakfast and then we descended to Fort Augustus. We spied Dave and Jamie's bikes outside a place that they were having breakfast. We stopped for a pot of tea and a chat before continuing North.


We took some shelter for a sandwich at the ruin.


As the day progressed, the wet conditions were taking their toll on my brake pads. An oversight meant that I'd not brought spares. I did know that just off route was Square Wheels in Strathpeffer. It would be a challenge to get there before closing time though.

At 5:20 pm my phone indicated that it had network.Tom told me the type of pads we needed, I phoned the bike shop to check that they had them in stock, and to say that we were on our way, and that we might be a couple of minutes after closing time. We raced from Orrin dam to Strathpeffer.

A full set of pads each and a couple of spares purchased, we stocked up on food and then rejoined the route. The plan being to replace the pads at Oykel Bridge the following day.



We rode until dusk and camped along with some midges in a forest.