Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Monday, July 26, 2010

In memoriam.

'I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.'

Oft quoted, Tennyson.

But is it?

i dont know. Maybe it would be better never to have known what you are missing.

I'm done. sick to the back teeth of the constant cycle of hope and disappointment. For the third (or is it fourth?) straight year, i caught myself thinking that maybe this would be a good year. A summer in which we have 3 months of reasonable weather. Not perfect. Not blue-skies-and-little-fluffy-clouds good all the way through. Just a balance of some good, some great and some bad weather days. I would take that happily. I could ride some, get fit, enjoy the hills.

But scotland isn't know for compliance or compromise. It is not known for playing fair, either.

Today i drove for two and a half hours to the place where the forecast suggested i had the best chance of a reasonable window to at least get on the bike before it started raining. If i was in the hills and had to battle my way back, so be it. But no. It never let up until i got back to the car a little over two hours after starting. Pools collecting in my shoes. My water resistant clothing dragging grit and sand over wet, chaffed skin. Morale so low i dont even know how to pick it up.

It hasn't really stopped raining for four weeks. It srated before 10 at kirroughtree. In my mind, the world resembles cormac mccarthy's road milieu. Grey, desolate and broken. I cant help it. I've been here too many times before. It has worn me down. No amount of 'harden the fuck up' is digging me out of this pit of spite.

I'm sick of making the best of the rivers of wet, sandy, grinding paste the trails have become. Sick of the near trench foot and hand. Sick of the 50 meter-at-best visibility. Sick of the cold. Its july for *fucks* sake. July. Sick of looking at the forever-inaccurate Met Office website - desperately searching for somewhere, anywhere, that might allow me a window of opportunity for a ride that doesnt start in the rain.

But, it is not to be, is it?

I am a believer in making your own destiny (though i recoil from how grandiose that sounds). So i have a few choices. Leave this bog of a country with it's squalid 'season' or stop riding unless the weather improves.

I dunno. Pass me the Atlas and i'll think about it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


It had been too long since i'd been in the hills. The weather hadn't been playing: rain had been a constant companion for a week or more. Regardless, it was time to head north. "Summer" will only last for so long and at least it is warm. Ish...

The plan: drive to Blair Atholl, then head up the trail beside the Falls of Bruar. From there track north until i join the Minigaig route. Then back via the Gaick.

The Minigaig was an old trade route that replaced Comyn's road, that was in turn created to provide Comyn with his favoured ale from Atholl - at least that is the legend. Rumour also has it that the Gaick trail is haunted - and hence why the longer Wade road through the Drumochter pass became the main road between north and south.

For me a heavy downpour was followed by standard issue scottish dreich for the first leg of the route. The climb past the falls was beautiful, but steep.

Thereafter i joined land rover track passing a small cottage and joining the main track that services Bruar Lodge.

The weather was closing in a little again, but i was well below cloud level and so decided to keep going.

Up until this point a tail wind and a relatively level trail meant good progress.

The initial carry up Carr Uchd a Chlarsair took me quickly into cloud and with a misbehaving Suunto i relied heavily on the quartz topped mini-cairns (and a chance meeting with a walker) to guide me down to the Chaochan Lub stream on the Minigaig proper before climbing on to Leathad an Tahbhain's flank.

I then dropped from the edge of the Coire Bhran to the Allt na Cuilice river- which was to act as my guide west to Glen Tromie and the Gaick. This section was incredibly boggy.

Stopping for a sandwich on one of the grass river banks, i watched as cloud with a rather deep grey colour advanced down the Coire towards me. I reflected on several things: one, the nausea i had felt for a week had not settled. Two, the statement made by my friend mike to his young kids the other day is absolutely true ("there is no bad weather, just bad clothing choices") and three, if weather looks bad, it usually is. I needed to move quickly westwards out of the way of the weather. I used the grass river banks (that required fording the river every 20-30 feet), the peat bog, or some sort of tracked-vehicle trail higher up from the river, but regardless of where i tried to progress, it was brutal and demoralising work.

i dont know how long it took me to get to the Gaick gatehouse, but once there i saw the vehicle i *should* have been in. That or a pugsley for that section would have been great.

Anyways, it was getting late, and i was getting tired. Nausea reared its ugly head again but taking in calories wasnt going to happen. I glugged on some Nuun and carried on. The good quality land rover track mitigated the head wind, and i made it to Gaick Lodge swiftly.

This hunting lodge is owned by none other than Xavier Louis Vuitton and although there were no fantastically expensive leather goods lying around, there was enough shooting paraphernalia to suggest the well healed spent a good amount of time in this remote place.

The trail had been partially destroyed by scree falls along the steep slopes of the Gaick, out of which one enterprising walker had evidently created a mini stonehenge. Or perhaps a temporary table, who knows.

I climbed above Loch an Duin on some reasonably good fun singletrack trail before fording a deep river with a slabby rock climb out only to find i needed to re-ford it further down the glen.

Back into the teeth of the wind for more land rover track down to the A9 and along the national route 7 from Trinafour to Blair Castle.

i wouldnt recommend doing this route if it has been raining with any significance. It took well over 7 hours and was incredibly slow going in places. I forded the rivers so many times that i cant even begin to count and was lucky they weren't running higher. Despite this the risk to ankles and of a soaking was high. As exposed as this route was in places that counts as 'not good'.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Where has summer gone?

Yo know jo burt: he creates Mint ever, an all too precognitive strip...its been raining pretty much non stop for a week. Please! please dont forsake us again, Summer.

Anyways: where were we?

We were at Kirroughtree. I'm still assimilating thoughts on that one, bear with me...

We were cooking. Going to stick up a recipe for what (so far) has been the best chili con carne i have made. Stoked...

We were looking at our navels because we seem to have developed a peculiar rash. One of the downsides of working with ill people is that when you get a bit run down or have had a step up in exercise levels, you are prone to catching whatever is in the societal incubator...

We have been watching Bear Grylis' Man vs Wild. Its just good fun.

And most of all, we have been sleeping...cats know the story. If she could speak, P Phone would say "do not waste down time - get a good solid kip in". Yo.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Tyre woes.

Davechopoptions was right. Lap 3 of 10 at kirroughtree on the fast downhill i blew a 1cm gash in the rear tyre and lost pressure so fast i nearly flew off the trail. After a protracted amount of time getting the tyre back on the rim (10 hours of rain and copious mud will do that) I slammed a tube in there, musing on the fact that the tyre in question had been ridden something around 7 times in total.

So ended my first ride on a tubeless rear wheel. The crossmark is a great tyre. It hooks up surprisingly well for a low profile tread, it is light and has quite a large volume. But even on wide (stans flow) rims, the sidewall bulges laterally beyond the tread, leaving it susceptible to rock gashes and wear. For the record, i have only worn out 1 crossmark tread, but i cant tell you how many sidewall splits i have had.

It was interesting racing on the Vertigo: it allowed me to ride so much faster over the rocks at kirroughtree. I regularly gained places per lap by out gunning other soloists on the rougher trail.

(pic is shiggy's)

This speed comes at a price though, and the tyres paid it. I need to accept that i need to use thicker tubes, or a meatier tyre to take advantage of the speed this bike will produce on the downs. Continental are bringing out a 29er version of the Rubber Queen tread (to be renamed the Trail King) and also another tyre called X King which will sit somewhere between the Mountain King currently available (my favourite winter and mud tyre) and the low profile Race king tyre.

(photo is jeff kerkoves)

This should give a good range of choices. For the record, i have always got on extremely well with conti tyres. Excellent durability and rubber compound with dependable sidewalls.

But what to do until then? At the moment i'm considering running an ignitor rear and a panaracer rampage front...the Vertigo needs more meat...but i dont want to hamstring it with super heavy/slow rolling tyres. I might look at the race king for the rear of the vertigo, but i suspect it will be a bit of a gamble. Its a huge volume tyre (see shiggy's mtbtire site) and at that weight, there cant be much sidewall material. The jones will stick with tubed crossmark or aspen rear and a mountain king front.

Interestingly, it looks like maxxis are producing some sidewall protection similar to the conti 'ProTection' system....might work well on some of the established treads.

Mo' xtr.

Cycling dirt is not a bad way to while away a rainy sunday morning after an oversized, over-meaty brunch. It would be hard to miss the fact that the BC bike race has been going on recently. Having spent a little time riding in BC, this is a race i would seriously love to do. Not particularly to *compete*, more to experience the epic trails and epic hospitality. Now epic is an oft overused word, but it is entirely appropriate here...

A quick video of stage highlights.

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And some helmet cam action.

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The BC bike race also marked the end of the xtr embargo. Paul Thomasberg (spend a minute reading that mtb hall of fame entry, well worth it) and his rad mallet finger was there talking to Harlan Price about the features of the new kit. Paul was a hammer on the race scene several years ago and now heads the skunkworks team for shimano developing new groupsets, primarily xtr. He clearly demonstrates his technical savvy in this video. Harlan Price is an experienced and superfast endurance/stage race/super D rider and someone i respect greatly. He asks the insightful questions.

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One of the interesting explanations is of the dynasys system. A specifically orientated chain, with a close front ratio chainset and wider ratio block at the back (and hush now! an altered cable pull to shift ratio). The idea is to remove the sudden jumps when changing between the front rings - making the shift similar to one multi-release (2 cog) drop or gain at the rear. If you have ever used multi-release, the concept of having this extended to front shift jumps is great.

But, as mentioned before, it is the brakes that are the belle of the ball. September can't come soon enough.

Oh: and epic? overused?

Thursday, July 08, 2010

A place called Vertigo.

Sean has been busy....*rad* bike....

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Ready, set...

Its been weeks since Bristol Bike Fest. Time to look ahead and what i see there, looming ever closer - like the proverbial elephant in the room, is No Fuss events '10 at Kirroughtree'.

Last year this same combo kicked my sorry ass. i never really seemed to recover from the battering i got in Bristol and with the kirroughtree course being technical, hot and dusty and with a few short/sharp climbs that unhinged my legs, i felt like the wind had been let almost entirely out of my sails. Confounded by ridiculous and pervasive cramps in my hamstrings, quads and calves (which i would swear on my Endura pro-inserts were caused by my wrongly choosing medium over large bibs) i was left a sorry state for some time after that race.

This year its time to box clever. I'm going to have a go with the Vertigo. I suspect the extra weight of the suspension and gears will be a happy trade. It will be my first ever endurance race with gears. I'm also going to pay much more attention to my hydration and feeding and im also going to get a leg massage before the race.

One would be forgiven for thinking that this will be a pleasurable experience. The last one i had (before Bristol) hurt like razor blade infused kidney stones. No doubt, cyclists never really straighten their legs and my hamstrings are almost certainly tuned to a high pitched scream.

Now all i need to do is get the callouses on my hands off, so i can get some new ones in place...

Friday, July 02, 2010

While out riding...

After riding with ma' brah in edinbourg' last night, i met a dude on the train home whose mate (a certain danny mac) is in a new video....

I think you'll agree its worth a watch.

Hans Peaty MacAskill Highlands from on Vimeo.