Monday, September 24, 2012

Fifeing Eejit Five - Tour De Ben Nevis

A few posts and many months back I wrote the following Outer fife Route report:

I signed it off with "This route is a true epic, it's rough, it's tough and no matter how fit you are, it will beat you.
So will I enter the No Fuss event, er..."

Well the answer to that last question is, yes, yes I did, and why the --- did I do that?

This event is properly barmy, when it comes to the winners it's not down to fastest time alone like in other MTB marathon events, although doing the 68 competitive kilometers in 3 hours 50 minutes (which includes the slow procession down the high street) clearly helps so too does technical descending down the west highland way to Kinloch Leven, rough fire road climbing back up all that descent and more from the bridge after the mamore lodge to "The Bench"... Ok it's a wee bit further than the bench, a fair bit further, it's actually at the start of the loch, and just to really knacker you out, they time you up the climb from the Meananach bothy that needs mostly carried before plunging down to the Lairig Leachach bothy. Nice eh... And if that isn't enough you're then presented a black graded rocky descent to the North Face car park on trails known as "Blue Crane" and "Nessie".

After fitting the 34 tooth cassette the previous night I was contemplating on the Friday morning just what was wrong with the gears that they were grumbling in the small cogs (heh what, when am I going to use them), the chain, it must be the chain, but it's a newish chain it only went on in April... April... Wait I've done over 1000km on this bike since then.  A last minute lob of the spare chain into the car boot and I set off.

A "quick" replacement of the chain and this proved to be the issue, quick did I say? er well I fitted it without shrinking first time to check, and then wrapped and twisted it after cutting it down to size, but the bike was ready and battering round the campsite seemed to show this to be the case.

A cold night in Glen Nevis saw me awake to a layer of frost on the car, tent and ground but the milk was still fluid so my Weetabix went down as normal, I was up relatively early and drove down to An Aird, wandered to McDonalds for a cup of tea, wandered back, spoke to a local doing the event (if you're reading this sorry, I never thought to check your number to see how you did, how did you do?), and eventually put the bike together and headed for the high street.

The high street slowly filled with people and bikes, the Orange marketing van was there with nice long sprung full suspension bikes like the Orange 5, lots of Orange 5's in fact, then I realized they were actually most of the entrants bikes, the marketing van only had one of each model and they weren't muddy, this was also quite impressive because both people on the stand were entered in the event, although I suspect the woman with the wrist cast on wasn't starting.

Behind me at the start In front of me at the start

I was aware of the start taking place behind a pipe band, and that I would probably be decent on the road climb, so I moved towards the front to get some space, the walking pace start was a nightmare with the saddle set for road climbing though, maybe a tad too high, I had walked up to the foot of the first climb the previous night, so why I did not warm up I do not know, this would also have shown me that wearing 2 base layers was not the right option once under way either.

Along the high street we crawled, most were able to pedal slowly wobbling all over the place, I had to pad along for a fair bit, I just can't go that slow!

Then the sound of trails bikes mixed with the pipes, the pipe band peeled off and the bikes took over the pacing, did I say pacing? ha, off we shot, the increase in pace was frantic, my GPS trace shows a speed spike from 5 to 25kmh between the roundabouts before plunging to a comfortable ~10kmh climbing speed up Lundava road.  It was here that my baselayer mistake became obvious, and being 2 wool layers under a wool jumper was even more obvious than when I wore a baselayer for 10 Under the Ben in >30C heat.
I had to stop and lost a fair bit of places here, I had passed more people on the climb to this point than I was aware of passing me and was, other than the tight thighs due to lack of warm up going comfortably.

I'd never been up this road either so didn't have a clue what to expect topography wise, after a long stiff climb it soon changes to a rollercoaster ride of steep descents and steep climbs until you hit the Military road for the Lairigh Mór, one down side of not being used to riding the Zaskar on the road is I didn't know how it handles on tarmac properly, and I'm not a great descender any way, then add to that nut jobs on Orange 5s descending at seemingly twice your speed risking wiping you out if you take a line without checking, it was a wee bit hairy but I had found myself back in a big group after the stop, I'll need to try it on one of my road bikes though, climbing in 26-34 is easy so why not practice with 34-28?

Hitting the Lairig Mór track after the road was like hitting a wall, I had totally forgotten how rocky it is, in places there were as many pushing fat tyred full sus bikes as there were people battering fat tyred full sus bikes over the rocks, there were also a few pushing fat tyred hard tails, so pushing the Zaskar through this was no shame to me, obviously people were flying past me now, thankfully this road smooths out for a fair bit, but by now I had found my place in the pack, switching places with a man in a cow costume, him passing me on the rough stuff, me flying past him on anything smooth.

Rock, Crunch, Rock, Crunch, feck, chain slipping in the middle - middle gears, that's no fun, either I need to replace the front chain ring as well or the chain is still too loose (time for an extra chain tensioner? The mech should be doing that job.)

"Say Cheese!", eh what? Someone with a camera that I had just caught up with was wanting a picture or video, I obliged.

 Rock, Crunch, Rock, Crunch, oh dear.

The queue for the Kinlochleven descent infront

And behind

Eventually after a bit more crunching and realizing I was just going to have to do the rougher bits (so almost all of it) in either Big-Big or Small-Small, I reached a queue of people waiting for the descent into KL on the West Highland Way, this is normally a hiking trail and is full of non-bike friendly ruts, drainage channels and other bits of "tech", I was rather happy with how much of it I managed to do on the bike, and I didn't puncture, after 12 minutes of being battered around on an 85mm travel hard tail with tyres at 40psi (I meant to drop them with the saddle when the route shifted onto rougher stuff but totally forgot.) I dibbed my timing chip and emerged onto a road full of medium travel suspension bikes having quick tube changes!

A quick tweet saying I wanted to do it again (better wait for next year), retighten the front brake lever which had come loose in the Lairig Mór (odd since the terrain there doesn't require front brake use much) and the saddle back up and I was onto the climb to Mamore Lodge, my GPS recorded a maximum gradient of 32% on the tar section and although I wouldn't necessarily trust that it was certainly a tough tarmac climb to the feed station where there was only the odd cup of water left, the Quad bike carrying the marker flags from the previous section arrived as I got there so I reckon I was pretty near the back by now.  The next section was a bit of respite being nice and moderately uphill before the dibbing station at the bridge before the climb to the lochs, I walked up a fair bit of this back in April and I walked a fair bit again, possibly a fair bit more, I think that despite the slightly shorter gearing I was slower up here than before since I stopped to take a few pictures a few people got past, stunning view as always.

The Mamore Climb, goes up

and up (nice view of Kinlochleven

and up (Nice view of Loch Leven)

And eventually flattens out (but not quite yet, this is still going up!)

For some reason my mind told me the bench was the summit, how wrong I was with that, I really don't remember it being a climb from there to the lochs, but then it's not as steep and a bit more broken up with the odd wee downhill, and I had stopped for a rest last time at that bench, it is a stunning view.
The river crossing

The special stage end was at the start of the loch, decent enough surface, flattish and plenty of speed took me to the last wee climb before Luibeilt and the river Crossing, unfortunately the race route takes you a long way along the river bank either side to get to a fairly good crossing section being muddy river bank meant a bit of a push.  Over the river and repeat the muddy river bank push to the timing station at the foot of the hike-a-bike.

The hike-a-bike section is a tough section that you have no choice but to walk, if you bother to get on the bike you'll only be pushing again, for best speed you need to carry but I'm not strong enough for that, over an hour of pushing (which I'm not really strong enough for either) and I finally summited, someone was lying down on a rock for a rest, couldn't blame him for that!  I remembered the descent from here to Lairig Leachach Bothy as a decent track but rough in places, it felt like it took ages to get to, and memory had made it feel easier than it was, but what a descent it is, at Lairig Leachach the good landrover track was as welcome as the BBQed sausages and a wee rest, I remember struggling a bit on the climbs on this track last time, but I really got the speed in, and I was soon flying down towards Spean Bridge, the statue that freaked me out last time came into view, I slammed the anchors on, what is it?

The Wee Minister

and me, but hold on what are these guys doing?

Oh dear!

It's "The Wee Minister", some others came to a halt as well freaked out by it, and took a picture for me as well as some more humorous shots.

Speed soon returned before flying round the corner to where Frazer had told us that "A bunch of 15 year olds will be manning a table with sweet stuff, It's a risk we know, you'll either find a well stocked table or a bunch of hyper 15 year olds", I didn't find a well stocked table, and these 15 year olds appeared to be on a post sugar rush hang over lying splashed out in the scrub land, oh well. On into the forest, more good track and then...

A Bog.

Nightmare, other event organizers put up wee stickers on the route map saying "Portage, sorry!" at bits like this, No Fuss seem to revel in it!  At one point I was catching up with a group in front, but stopped to tweet about the bog and they disappeared. FireXCs are not the tyres for Mud, I know this, I think everyone knows this, but the biggest problem was when I miss-judged a soft looking section and sank to my knees in it, magic.

Finally the route emerged on to the nice smooth forest roads and climbed, and climbed, and climbed, until, I've been here before, no I haven't, yes I have! The puggy line is hit, I remember going up this for 10 Under, and now I was flying down it, or at least it felt like I was flying, the bridges certainly felt a bit dodgy, through the tunnel under the downhill and then, what? up again!

I got off an walked some of this, I was just knackered now, I for some reason thought it was going to be the descent to the old Torlundy road from the World Champs cross over, no it's not, up more, and more and "Caution Black Graded Run, Bombhole" eh? What? chip dibbed, off you go. EEEEEK so that's what Blue Crane is.

Ok so I've done the Laggan Black, the Glentress Black, the Balblair Black and the Learnie Black, this is was like some of the bits of the Laggan Black I walked with difficulty, catch netting and padding on the exposed sides just to emphasize the risk of breaking your neck.

So I walked with difficulty down a rough staircase, and then down a bombhole (really I should have been able to do it but I was over 60km into a tough day), ah now it gets easy, dropping down a bit I did know (but don't know the name of) and then back onto another Black Graded trail called Nessie.

While looking for a walking route through the bombhole another entrant arrived "They're having a laugh" he said or something to that effect.

Eventually I was spat out at the North Face Car park where I stopped to put the saddle back up and was dropped by the other guy, followed by a not quite flat out cycle along the A82 cycle path to the competitive finish line, had I know where the end was I could have got more speed out of myself, but still I hit that line on 7hrs 55mins and a few seconds, I had hoped I could be around the 6 hours mark, but it was obvious it wasn't happening from a few daft mistakes and the struggle in the Lairig Mór.
(A few daft mistakes includes not actually doing long rides in the run up to this as well as the base layer mistakes, warm up and being on a Zaskar with 85mm forks)

I Dibbed out and on the road into Fort Bill still going as fast as I felt like getting back to the town centre on 8hrs 19 according to my GPS trace, but that's with a fair bit of time waiting at the start.

Bike at the finish while I eat my pig roll

No pictures of the pig roll, It's too busy being eaten

So last time I did this route what did I say?

"This route is a true epic, it's rough, it's tough and no matter how fit you are, it will beat you.
So will I enter the No Fuss event, er..."

Well, lets adjust that slightly

"This route is a true epic, it's rough, it's tough and no matter how fit you think you are, it will beat you.
So will I enter this No Fuss event again?"

Of course I will, but I'll be using the Meta 5.5 I've bought since last time out, wide tyres and suspension, I've just got to get practicing riding it on the road.

Or maybe I will buy an Orange 5, it seems to be the bike to use, the Male and Female Master Category winners even got the frame of one for their efforts.


2nd, 3rd and an interloper (Pete Scullion of Orange taking the place of the winners)

What? So I didn't use all 85mm travel?

And so the inevitable Bothy pictures:

Lairig Leacach Bothy in 2004

Lairig Leacach Bothy April 2012

Lairig Leachach Bothy September 2012