Sermon

I ride bikes to test myself, make a measure of where I am and to go inside.

To lose myself in the work, the trail, the flow, repeating the rites that make up the routine of riding bikes. Routine it may sometimes be but the anticipation for the ceremony can begin days in advance, the thoughts and lessons from the last observance repeated in my mind.

On the day of the ride wearing clean kit with bottles filled and bags packed I perform the rituals, I check the bike, the tyre pressures, the brakes, some bolts but not all. Turning the cranks I pass the chain rosary like through my hands, applying oil one last time before I depart.

Dawn Raid Sermon Church Stravaiging Clachnaben Aberdeenshire Snow 4

leaving early the dawn yet to fully break around me I enter the woodland, the early light slowly working through the canopy, mature trees buttressing high above the trail-head. The cold has worked into my fingers but my core is warm with the effort of the climb, it is never long before my hands have acclimatized and I become unmoved by the cold.

The climb is fast as winter has frozen the long autumns worth of water and rain in the ground, giving cold sure grip. Breathing slow and deep I take in the woodland, drinking deep from the ever changing yet familiar trails, time disappears as vertical metres are gained.

I run through the little motions that precede descending, clipping in I begin to build momentum, I ease around turns with the bike telling me what the ground feels like beneath its tyres, he lets me know when it is safe to attack and when to be prudent. The silent song of the trail plays loud in my ears, the satisfying silence of a well prepped bike broken only by the whirring click of the freehub and the buzz from tyres compressing through turns.

Breaking through the tree line and back onto the fire road that punctuates the landscape, it marks the end of the single track. Carving to a stop I lean heavy on the bars and breath deep, I pause and let it soak into me.

The fire starting to recede in my legs I clip back in and crank it back up the hill to earn another descent, I climb then descend, climb then descend.

I climb then descend, climb then descend.

The light is growing now as we enter the golden hour, shafts of light break through the canopy creating pools of rippling gold in the under story either side of the trail. The sounds to have started to change, as melt water drips heavy from the boughs above, disturbed by the birds flitting from tree to tree.

Dawn Raid Sermon Church Stravaiging Clachnaben Aberdeenshire Snow 6

Time has again disappeared and the day is starting to dawn for those back indoors, its time to thread a path through fire road and trail back to home. The route possibilities running through my mind I quickly decide on the best use of time and height to return home on singletrack, I clip in once more.

Its Church.

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Broad Cairn

Sometimes words are an inadequate medium. Sometimes pictures are all that you need.

In John Berger’s fabulous book Ways of Seeing, a collection of seven essays, three consist solely of images. These essays are no less detailed or illuminating than the other four which use both words and pictures.

So, here we have the story of a thwarted adventure at Loch Muick, a Munro bagged, and a plan B route taken. But I didn’t need to tell you that, if the pictures do their job properly.

Stravaiging Broadcairn Lochnager Loch Muick 1Stravaiging Broadcairn Lochnager Loch Muick 11Stravaiging Broadcairn Lochnager Loch Muick 12Stravaiging Broadcairn Lochnager Loch Muick 3Stravaiging Broadcairn Lochnager Loch Muick 13Stravaiging Broadcairn Lochnager Loch Muick 2Stravaiging Broadcairn Lochnager Loch Muick 5Stravaiging Broadcairn Lochnager Loch Muick 6Stravaiging Broadcairn Lochnager Loch MuickStravaiging Broadcairn Lochnager Loch Muick 14Broad cairn and loch muick stravaigingStravaiging Broadcairn Lochnager Loch Muick 10Stravaiging Broadcairn Lochnager Loch Muick 8 Stravaiging Broadcairn Lochnager Loch Muick 9Velo Viewer Elevation Profile, Broad CairnOS Map Loch Muick to Broad Cairn

 


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Nevis

Some people don’t like trail centres,

they don’t think they are “proper” mountain biking. They think the guaranteed conditions and sanitized nature of the trails dilutes the challenge, complementing a poor rider’s lack of skill or fitness.

Right or wrong, these people have obviously never been to Fort William and ridden the Nevis Range.

Looking through old photos, I am reminded how lucky I was to get out there three times last year; twice racing (1o Under the Ben and Tour De Ben Nevis), and once on a guided ride session and general jolly.

For me, Fort William (not “Fort Bill”) has a special feel about it. There is something in the air or dirt that makes it different from other riding spots. It carries a heritage for our sport that few places, and nowhere else in the UK, can match.

I grew up not far from Fort William, but the sense of home I feel when I return to Kingussie or Aviemore is present here as well; it’s like coming up for air. The town itself can be a bit bleak, with the backs of shop units and hotels bizarrely facing out on to the waterfront with anonymous housing estates fringing the town like so many places, but its somehow different here.

The natural riding from the town is next level, with short, steep tech through to long-and-arduous all being catered for, but we’re talking about trail centres here.

The Nevis Range Fort William
It’s not always cloudy

The Nevis Range itself is a little way out of town just past Torlundy, the road snaking its way through mature woodland, the views of Aonach Mòr and Nevis itself obscured by the canopy and clouds. The hill has an elevation gain we’re not used to in the UK, from sea level to the UK’s highest peak in such a short distance gives the hill a monolithic quality.

The trails here present an embarrassment of riches. Two are accessed by the gondola, whilst below the deer fence among the trees, lies a full network of testing ribbons of singletrack. From the sublime World Cup XC Red and Witches Trails, through to stalwart stages of both the SES and Tour De Ben, to name but a few.

Gondola-accessed trails are a rare thing, the Nevis Centre is the only place in the UK to boast such a luxury, and if you have travelled to Fort William to ride, chances are these two trails brought you: the infamous World Cup Downhill course, and the “red” graded Red Giant XC route.

Nevis Range Gondola Accessed Mountain bike Trails

If you like mountain bikes, then the Fort William stage of the World Cup needs no introduction. The track is legendary, and has been a consistent stage on the race circuit since it was first included back in 2002. The track is as tough on bikes as it is on riders; it will reward you for going big, but will punish you for getting over-ambitious. I once rode it on a 100mm XC HT, it was like descending into the heart of darkness. I am surprised that my hands still work.

Downhill Mountain Bike World Cup Downhill Start Hut fort william
World Cup Downhill Start Hut

Setting off down the other side of Aonach Mòr, there is the XC red option if the downhill track is a bit too much. If you’re thinking a red route is a groomed Spooky Wood, prepare to adjust your expectations and true your wheels afterwards. Before you embark on the gondola you have to sign a waiver and fill in medical details. This is for the XC red as much as the DH; if they called it an XC orange or a pedally DH, less people would come.

It is both fast and slow, flowing and technical, it is a trail to measure yourself against, to see where you have progressed, and to be humbled by the hill as it shines a light on your weaknesses.

Starting off on a fast sprint where speed comes for free, you all too quickly reach the boardwalk. When dry, the acceleration only increases as you traverse the hillside with the roaring thunder of the boards beneath your wheels. Large slabs of grippy granite, interspersed with stacatto drops and bridges, bring you steeply down the hill before a slight uphill reminds you this is a cross country trail.

The gradient soon drops again with multiple line choices, more drops and bridges. Painted dots on the stone guide the way, but not always on the fastest or smoothest path. Switchbacks punctuate the descent but this alpine trail is devoid of berms. Soon the deer fence approaches as you enter the tree line. Once in the woods, the trail changes character; turns begin to berm, and jumps begin to appear, but the trail still has a sting in its tail if you let your guard down too soon.

In some ways, this trail is my white whale. A clean run has always eluded me, clearing sections that have previously challenged me and being schooled as soon as I got complacent.

I’ll get there one day, maybe next year.

Also, a visit to Fort William is not complete without a visit to Loch Laggan beach on the return journey.


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