Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A break in the clouds.

Two days of sunshine gave me a window. Saturday saw the nth running of the 'Skull and Crossbikes' series. We met in edinburgh and pushed onto a secret location where bags of beer were dumped and a course hastily routed.

With minimal fuss, we "go!"ed and after 30 mins + a lap of a torturous & technical cross course i managed to pick off the leader with just 20 meters to go -sorry, John! it was hell bent for leather over the last lap and it took 2 Guinness to get the heart below 180.

With a sunny cross race and ride with good friends on saturday, sunday gave me the opportunity to punch it up the A9 and head for Aviemore. The aim was to complete the loop i started a few months ago, but foreshortened due to hail.

This time the sun beat down and gave a marked contrast to the wind-blown snow on the saddle before Ben Macdui (Beinn Mac Duibh - the second highest mountain in the UK). No grey man of macdui spotted, but a couple gnarly old hill walkers were amazed at the presence of an mtb up high.

The snow filled in gaps between the rocks and made for a few nail biters until i ggot a few hundred feet lower.

The descent from Macdui to Loch Etchachan, past Derry Cairngorm, was perhaps the best trail i have ridden in the UK. It wasnt gargantuan tech, but the constant rocks and steep corners, with gasp-worthy views and the effortless traction on the narrow gauge trail all added up to a spectacular experience.

From here i dropped down to Loch Avon. I dont know if it is fully rideable, but i certainly had to walk sections and swallowed my heart after a particular near-O.T.B occurance with a long drop as consequence.

My hopes were high that the trail you can just see below, cutting west to east up the face of Stob Coire an t-Sneachda, on the north side of Loch Avon would be rideable, and take me to the eastern end and thus allow me to take the Lairg an Laoigh, a pass from Glen Derry to the Ryvoan Bothy and back to Aviemore.

Unfortuantley, the trail was just a mess of boulders and loose peat 'roofs' that would give way, and drop my ankle deep between the rocks. With the bike on the shoulder the whole time, progress was mind-bendingly slow and i was pretty lucky to escape battered and bruised but without a broken ankle. Needless to say, i decided to climb to Strath Nethy and follow that down to the Ryvoan Bothy. I knew the trail was supposed to be boggy, but i felt i couldnt keep risking it on the side of Loch Avon. Initially, my fears were unfounded - and the view was incredible.

Shoulda coulda etc etc. It took 2 hours 45 minutes of cursing, shouting, dragging my bike, disappearing into bogs up to mid thigh, wading through water logged heather and just general not-fun-ness to get to trail i could ride - not a moment too soon as the gloaming was all around.

8 hours. A huge mix of incredible and brutal - probably a microcosm for back country biking in scotland right there.

Next time, south side of Loch Avon? Push on to Braemar and make it an overnighter? who knows....


Simon said...

Stunningly beautiful scenery Jon, but the ride sounds properly brutal! Thanks for sharing :)

Dean said...

Splendid! Would love to join you there sometime.

grant said...

Gutted I couldn't make S&CB. :-(

Bloody Real Life (tm).

brett said...

Stupendous post and beautiful! I'm happy to recognize one name in that mess--Ryvoan Bothy! We were there, man, but with no snow on the hillocks. Your type of route is exactly what I want to experience if we get back to your lovely isle.