As I sit here looking at the red sunrise, warm and comfortable on a plane at 20,000ft I reminisce about the three days Bikepacking I’ve just completed. Not 24hrs ago I was packing up the tent in a chance break in the rain that had been persistent since 5am. I’d boiled water for breakfast through the door of the tent trying not to get too much wet, but if I did, I didn’t intend to spend another night in it this trip.
I tried to dry the insides of my waterproof socks as best I could using the chamois towel. They’d gotten wet on my jaunt through the many fords I crossed through the night before, racing to get to my camp spot before dark. I was tired, I didn’t judge the depth right, and I wasn’t thinking straight. I had been going for 8hrs at that point, 83km that day and the last few kms Id been pushing the heavily laden bike. Its’ 2.20inch wide tyres no match for the boulder field excuse for a track. It’s a popular mountain biking route, but not on this steed.
That day was long. One of my longest in a while and longest riding a heavy bike. I had been eating. Drinking lots or so I thought. But as I finished breakfast on day 3, I’d realised it had been a long time since Id pee’d. Once I’d finished breakfast and packing the tent away and getting ready to go, the rain started again. It wasn’t to stop all day.
I must admit to feeling a bit defeated as I rode down the wide estate track into horizontal rain. The wind pushing me back as I pushed harder on the pedals on a descent that should have been more fun.
I rounded a corner and spooked a Stag and his female friends. Catching them off guard as the wind hid my approach.
The trip wasn’t all like this, yes there was rain each day, but there was dry spells too. Most of the first day, and night was dry. In fact I had a fantastic camp on night 1. Id decided on a few potential camp spots using maps to decipher where there could be a nice, flat, soft piece of ground, away from other humans, and secluded enough to be unnoticed. In the end I ended up going for my first choice, though risky as it was near a beauty spot, Black Rock view point, high above Kenmore on Loch Tay. There was a perfect place right next to the viewpoint, except it was too exposed if anyone chose to visit during the night. Instead I retreated into the trees and found a spot sheltered from wind and a short walk to the viewpoint. As I lay there during the night, I could hear the calls of nature from the horny stags rutting, owls screeching, and trees creaking. It was my first solo wild camp and it was nice. Comfortable and warm.
I woke up on day 2 after a broken sleep to a dry morning. Ideal to make breakfast, overlooking Kenmore, and pack the kit away in the dry.
Descending the hill, I had a few adjustments to make to the rig, my mudguard fell off, which meant the first time needing to faff on the trip. Then I rode onto familiar territory riding up Glen Lyon as I’d ridden there last year with the lads. Knowledge is power, and in this case I was wise not to cross the river Lyon but to take the road as the first section wasn’t ridable last year and would have been a nightmare with the heavy bike.
I reached the cafe at Glen Lyon at 10am making decent time. The gentle climb had warmed me up good and I was in happy spirits. The road continues to climb, now more steeply until you reach the dam. I could see a track going up the hillside that I was to take, it looked pretty steep. At this point the headwind caught me, leaving the shelter of the narrow Glen and it’s tree lined road. The track proved to be pretty steep, I got off and pushed. My calves getting a workout. I stopped at the top to eat more. Pork pies, babybell and tuc biscuits. The route follows the north side of the Loch, I chose this as it was the shorter route, the south side took more fords in as well but seemed not to climb as much.
I met a group of stalkers in their Hilux, enquiring of my route (to bridge of orchy I replied) and they duly told me the route was a long way! I didn’t want to seem a show off so didn’t tell them that wasn’t my final stop! Incidentally they were only shooting 12 that year, as they wanted to increase the numbers. Not sure if that’s conservation or so they can get more money in later seasons.
Leaving the shooting crew, I rounded the weird dog leg corner of the Loch and crossed the Ford. It was deep. And maybe slightly over my shin high socks. Thankfully no seepage on this crossing. I escaped the wind here and topped up my water. Taking in the scenery. I’d been cycling into the wind, head down and not properly immersing myself into the scenery so I thought I’d compose myself and gather my self together.
Side note: I find it hard to switch off my innate feeling of having to get somewhere by the quickest and most efficient way. I wanted to slow down, make sure I wasn’t putting in too much effort. But it’s tough to switch off. I’m constantly looking into the future, not processing the here and now. Andy tells me off, “It’s going to get hillier” but in my mind, it helps me to know this so I might change my situation to make sure I don’t fall foul of what is to come. But it can be exhausting sometimes, constantly thinking ahead, and what ifs.
Back to the adventure: In my head at this point I had one mind on the next day, where I knew the weather front was coming in and that I had many fords to cross in the next section. Getting stuck crossing a river was a situation I was keen to avoid. So I made a decision to see how far down Glen Kinglass I could get.
I knew it was going to be tough, and with the head wind it was only going to be worse. But the goal of a nights sleep not worrying about river levels was the prize. The consequence of not doing this would be potentially worse river crossings, maybe impassible, and making the train on time a little bit more tough!
The descent to Bridge of Orchy would have been more fun if the wind wasn’t in the face but a decent track and a heavy bike with gravity’s help, I made it there in great time. 1pm, 5.5 hrs of daylight remained to get the 20km to Glen Kinglass Lodge. I was going to do it. Little did I know the track from Victoria Bridge was the last decent riding I’d do.
Firstly the path along the river to avoid Clashgour farm is terrible on a heavy bike with skinny ish tyres for a hard tail mountain bike. The path precariously close to the river as the river had eaten the banks. Deeply rutted from other cyclists, I wonder how long this path will exist and if the estate would “allow cyclists” to use its track through the farm and the “locked gate”?.
Once I’d pushed and cycled a bit of that, I reached the first Ford at the locked gate. The river wasn’t too deep but very rocky and the track after had deep tyre treads from the vehicles, the clearance of my pedals wasn’t enough so I had to ride the midline.
It was a hike a bike route to Loch Dochard where I managed a bit of decent riding until the slabs started on the descent into the Glen proper after the watershed.
The rain / mizzle had been on all day and my Smart Sam tyres weren’t up for the slippery rock. Tired and grumpy I didn’t want to risk a fall so I opted to push. This might have lasted 8km to the lodge. Sometimes I hoped on, most times I pushed. It was tiresome with the headwind.
I’m painting a bleak picture, but I was happy to be there, experiencing the typical October day in Scotland. I crossed a few more fords and one was deep where I’d explained earlier why I was drying the inside of my waterproof socks!
Arriving at Glen Kinglass lodge, there was a nice green patch to pitch up but it was in sight of the buildings there and I felt too exposed so I decided to head down the Glen further to see if I could find a more secluded spot. Unfortunately the new track they built had chewed up the verges and after that it looked tussock bog. Not ideal. Just as I started to get worried, I took a wee track off the main route and scouted off the bike a bit further where I found an old passing place with steep sides sheltered from the wind. Ideal.
So back to where my blog started, travelling and fighting to get downhill to Loch Etive I was desperately wanting shelter but it wouldn’t come. The track along Loch Etive clings onto the cliff, rising and falling steeply three times. Sometimes the wind was so strong I’d worry I would get blown off. The bags on the bike acting like a sail. It was slow progress but I had time.
Arriving into Taynuilt was fun, the suspension bridge route from Loch Etive was confusing and the bridge had a long set of steps to navigate which might be hard if I didn’t have the strength to carry my bike over my head! Once through that it was straightforward getting into Taynuilt. The rain still continues to pour. Originally I’d planned to catch the train here but I’d made a decision to head to Oban via the NCN route over the hill which avoids the busy road to Oban.
At this stage, I was half thinking that I could just catch the train here anyway but convinced myself to head over. After all, what’s just another 20km or so? Fast forward to the top of the hill and I was almost being pushed backwards! The wind right in my face now, relentless wind and rain. I was soaked through. Stopping infrequently to eat and drink, I got cold quickly, so had to keep moving. The downhill should have been epic, through a lovely glen, a gentle downward slope continuous and long. However, pedalling was the order of the day. One final climb greeted me outside Oban, I was spent, I slowly spun up the steep incline with a rare tail wind as the road switch backed.
The descent into Oban was nice and fast. it was a relief to get there and I think that route was an ordeal. But I got it done and make use of the facilities in the CalMac ferry terminal to change into dry clothes and then wait for the train back in a warm pub.