I was born and bought up in an avenue. Perhaps those first 22 years or so have stayed with me, still leading me to seak out dead-end roads. The plan for shake down weekend had been to ride up and then back down three dead-end Glens; Glen Roy, Loch Arkaig and Glen Garry, with a bit of the Great Glen Cycleway (NCR Route 78) to link things together on both the out and back trips.
It was the rough stuff surface of Route 78 that would be providing the shake bit of the test for fully loaded touring bikes and new Tubus racks.
We left the Bongo van at Roy Bridge and started up Glen Roy. The first mile at touring weights was an assault on senses and physique, we are not far off match-fit and yet this hurt. Glen Roy is a geological playground with it’s three parallel road terraces – go look it up, you will be amazed.
Last year, one of the cycle forums ran a thing along the lines of “What is the worst thing you have run over whilst on your bike?” Well, a squirrel if you are asking and luckily for me whilst on a mountain bike. Perhaps, in a subset to this I could answer “a butterfly” if asked “What was the worst creature to end up in our mouth?” (less than a 100 km in a 600km Audax and it’s surprisingly bitter taste stayed for quite a few km). Now, if the question was “What is the most painful creature to have hit you in the face?” – Then on the return part of Glen Roy what I first thought to be a butterfly or moth as it approached, but reclassified when I found it hurt too much, (it had cut my lip and drew blood,) as something like a Devil’s Coach Horse beetle.
We continued on to first Spean Bridge and then Gairlochy, where we turned right to go along Loch Lochy. Fantastic early Autumn clouds pushed along by a stiff breeze were played on by a low sun as we turned down the side of Loch Arkaig. Moss-green, and yes, fern-green on every surface, I was looking very complimentary in red. The wind was strong enough to keep midges at bay and we would camp by the Loch under Alder, Birch and Willow and on gravel with just enough soil to take a Vargo Ti peg (but enough rocks to make me glad I had bought with us the foot print for our Big Agnes Emerald Mountain).
Now, if a fellow cycle tourist points at us and calls us eccentric it is because of our fondness for using a Kelly Kettle. We can defend our choice on speed to the boil and the weight of fuel that we save, and were soon eating Mountain House‘s finest two person meals each,with a four- kettle performance running to tea, food, tea, followed by washing up. Fuel use was a satisfyingly frugal Zero, and with the bonus of Esther, who always seems to be down wind when tending the kettle, now having the aroma of the flaxen haired gipsy girl of my dreams.
8:30 pm was too early to go to bed, but we went anyway as Exped mats and Rab Quantum 400s are just too tempting. The wind got up and we lay awake for hours as we had camped a good two metres inside the strand line. How tidal is Loch Arkaig? Is it tidal ? The tea had not tasted salty but perhaps the wind could get up (there is no tide! It drains into Loch Lochy you fool, but when you don’t have broadband or OS map 33 you have to trust your instincts). We would be fine but a little sleep deprived, time to bring on the owl circus.
The ride along Loch Arkaig the next day, in what would turn out to be the sort of rain that does not feel much but ruins a hay crop, was sensational, if a little harder than expected.
A silver Vauxhall pulled up alongside my front pannier; “This is going to sound stupid, but you do know that this is a dead end?”. “I like dead-end roads, have you heard the weather forecast?” . “Oh yes, I looked at the mountain forecast and it should have been sunny two hours ago. But we are in Lochaber.” Was that an apology or a simple statement of fact? He had a mountain bike in the back of the car and I liked the guy straight away. We were all having a great day.