Take a ride on the wild side
I am two days closer to the next trip, with two more lessons learnt. First one is that I really love mountain biking, and cannot imagine that I abandoned it for so long. Second lesson is that I am actually able to cycle 130km on the single speed in almost wintry conditions, but riding in nearly frozen fog isn’t the most pleasant of situations to be in, but I have done it and survived. Tick. I just have to add another 70km to have the distances I will be covering in December, but considering I would have another eight hours to do that, I am confident that it will all work out.
Back to the first lesson. I finally managed to fix my Stumpjumper, fitted all new parts and took it for a ride off-road and enjoyed every second of it. With a rather frosty start in Dunkeld (near Perth) I was questioning that choice getting off the train at the beginning, but after some decent climbing I was soon off the fog and my eyes could not really believe what unfolded in front of them. An amazingly beautiful autumn landscape breaking out of the fog patches, with some of the most glorious sunshine and blue skies I have seen so far. It was one of those days that was almost to good to be true, you don’t get them often here in Scotland. But when you get them, they blow you away. I had to stop every few meters for pictures, as it had been a while since I was last out playing with the camera. Following a forest road first I was soon on some nice singletrack, which made the experience even better. It became more and more technical and was soon taken over by a combination of heather and bog, after all it was November. But the bog was still ridable with some skills, but somehow I managed to get lost again with taking the wrong turn (navigation isn’t my strongest of skills). I quickly went from riding to walking, shouldering the bike while wading through mud, but I still enjoyed the whole experience. Just as it was getting worse, I was close to the track I was meant to be on, for the first time I had made proper use of the GPS on my phone. Back on the track I climbed a bit more towards Loch Orrie, had a nice short break and was soon back into more mud, this time more tricky to ride through, paired with some ice left on the puddles. Climbing towards another loch the conditions got worse, at the most extreme my whole (!) front wheel dived into a bog pool and I used my best skills not to do the same while going over the bars. I was only covered in mud to the knees and my right glove was wet and muddy from now on, and as the temperatures began to drop, my feet and hands went numb the next few minutes as well. By that time I remembered one of those epic New Zealand rides I had done with a friend in 2009, there were so many similarities here – beautiful scenery, a challenging track to ride and almost winter conditions. The more I followed the track the more iced crashed underneath my tires, but the bog became almost unrideable. At the end of the climb I stopped at Sarah’s Bothy, nicely tucked away in the hills and a magic place to return to. Again it felt like riding in New Zealand’s backcountry, where you can treat yourself to a nice log fire and some tea sheltering from the conditions outside in many of those huts. Bothies are the same but much harder to find in Scotland, No tea for me this time, as I had to get down quite quickly, as the sun was almost setting behind the hills. What followed was a boggy and sometimes technical downhill, and a last stop for pictures before darkness fell upon a great days riding. Coming into Dunkeld I was solidly covered in mud, head to toe, and treated myself to a milkshake and a nice Scottish ale, before taking the train back to Edinburgh. With six hours in total I must have been on the faster side of riders, as my guide book suggested a long summer’s day for the trip. A short late autumn day is fine as well, you certainly get the better pictures out of it.