Highland Trail 400 – reflections

12 06 2013

fisherfield rainbow

It’s been over 2 weeks since the race ended for me, so it’s time I finally thought about putting some words to paper. However, to be honest I don’t really have the will to write about it. I’d spent a good 6 months thinking about this event. It was to be this years ‘big ride’ before I focus my efforts on running over the next few years. It was the first bike-packing race I’d entered as most others take place in the states and as such are prohibitively expensive for me to ride. But I’ve been thinking about having a go at such a race for 5 years now, ever since I first discovered the Tour Divide. Every long distance ride, every Tuesday night blast with Rich, every bike-packing trip with Simon, every night in my bivi bag with Rach over the last 5 years has been with this in mind. And when it came down to it, I had to pull out before the end because of a snapped spoke on a very kindly lent wheel. Thanks for that wheel Tom. I was GUTTED, and still am if I allow myself to think about it. So instead of writing too much about the Highland trail 400 in this post I thought I’d muse on bike and kit set-up  the choices I made and how it worked out for me.

So this is me and my bike.

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I ride a Singular Gryphon. Yep, it’s single speed has drop bars and no suspension. And it worked really well, except for the snapped spoke that is. Wheels aside (an upgrade to arch ex rims, on hope hubs running tubeless is on the cards), the bike is built around parts poached off my touring/CX bike. Usual kit, decent but not silly expensive. Hope headset, bottom bracket, hubs, all easy to service and proven time and time again. Race face cadence cranks because that’s what I had. 34t steel surly ring, 19t steel surly sprocket, KMC Z610 chain, that are all hard-wearing and look nice when clean. Avid bb7 road disc brakes because, well that’s about the only choice really with the drop bars. Cane creek SCR-5C levers. I like the shorter reach levers and the little lizards on the hoods are cute. Avid full metal jacket brake cables because they work. I was running a 2.2 continental king-x protection on the rear and a 2.35 schwalbe nobby nic on the front. Both had tubes and a little sealant and it performed without fault.

The rest of the kit is a little more, well, odd. Salsa Woodchipper bars, wrapped with salsa bar tape (that I won’t be using again, to stretchy) and over wrapped with black cloth tape. I love these bars, the angle of the flared drops are perfect and are oh so comfortable! There is plenty of space to move my hands back and forth and the width provides plenty of leverage on the climbs and stacks of control. At no point did my hands or wrists ache during the ride despite my lack of suspension. I think running a 2.35 front tire helped. However, I’m thinking of giving Jeff Jones H-bars ago as I’d like to be a little more upright than I currently am but don’t want a massive pile of spacer’s and a silly steep steam.  The HT400 promised to have a lot of hike-a-bike which in Scotland could only mean rocks. I didn’t fancy walking miles in stiff cycling shoes with a nice shiny cleat slipping on the rocks. So I opted to wear my Inov-8 315 trail shoes. I paired them with flat peddles and Power Grips. I’ve been riding on this set-up for 3 months and found it to work well. There’s no real noticeable loss of cycling efficiency, out of the saddle single speed honking is a little odd, but fine really and walking was a pleasure. I had no problem with this set up on the HT400, and unlike some other riders my feet did not hurt. Finally I opted to use my beloved Brooks titanium swift saddle atop a BBB carbon seat spot. The swift usually lives on my fixie for road duties but I know it to be very comfy.

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So on to the bike-packing kit. First up the electronics. I use a Garmin Dakota 20 GPS with open street maps. I like that it uses AA batteries, and the unit has proved itself to be reliable over the last few years. However, if I was buying new now I’d have to consider the Garmin e-trex 20 because of it’s massive battery life. I had an Exposure diablo helmet light and a triple piggyback so I could happily ride into the night. Which didn’t really happen. I also have another small white LED for camping and a flashing red LED for roads both on my helmet. The only other item was the spot tracker.

I used a Revalate Designs sling and large pocket. I see that Eric has updated his designs for both now. The sling holds a Sea to Summit XS compression dry bag into which I place a PHD minius 300 downbag, with full zip and pertex outer, a silk liner and a Montane prism primaloft jacket. This kkeps me warm to about -2 degrees and full zip allows for plenty of warm weather ventilation.  The sling is used to carry food and Elete electrolytes. I’ve recently had a wildcat gear frame bag custom stitched to fit around a travel tap water bottle with a removable water filter. The frame bags main pocket holds two spare tubes, basic tool kit (that did not include a spare spoke) basic first aid kit, pump, midge spray, spare batteries for GPS and spot tracker, the piggyback battery, the travel tap water filter, very small lock and my buff. The bag was not full so I didn’t have worry about careful packing and had extra space for food if needed. In the smaller side pocket I kept route cards and my camera. I also used a wildcat tiger harness to carry an 8l alpkit airlock drybag. Into which went my Rab ascent bivi. I like this bivi bag, whilst its not the lightest it’s well made, robust, breaths very well, can be fully closed if the weather’s bad, has a built in bug net (handy in scotland) and doesn’t cost the earth. I also packed into the saddle bag some heavy weight extremities windproof gloves, full length pertex trousers  a Smelly Henson long sleeve top, Embers 3/4 merino tights, Hilly calf compression socks, lightweight Seal Skins, some light weight Rapha merino liner socks and a pair of thicker Hilly running socks. I like my socks! I get cold feet. This stuff was used for sleeping in and could be used as extra layers on the bike if the weather turned proper nasty. Finally I also carried a lightweight TOG24 8l backpack. I placed my Montane DT waterproof jacket in an outside mesh pocket for easy access. In the zip pocket I carried my tooth brush and paste, small pot of tee tree oil (antiseptic and smells nice, good for wet, smelly feet) butt maintenance kit (sudocrem), phone, emergency thick blue latex gloves. Great stuff sudocrem, can be used to smooth and ease blisters on other parts of the body besides your arse. I like to have these things to hand when I go into a toilet. I also stashed my small Bozeman Mountain’s Torso-Lite sleeping mat (now discontinued) on the bag, but the bag was essentially empty and used for food storage.

Finally I wore Endura MT500 3/4 bib knickers, a thin Ibex merino vest, Shutt Velo mtb merino perform jersey, with a Montane featherlite smock, Spcialized BG gel mitts with Rab primaloft liner glove. The smock and liner gloves were stuffed into the framebag when not worn. As mentioned I wore Inov-8 315 trail shoes with Embers merino socks, but the socks were put in the bin after the first day as they were threadbare and I wore either the Hilly running socks or seal skins thereafter.

So that’s it. The kit could be lighter but I don’t have a bottomless money pit so it all strikes a balance between cost, function, weight and durability. Maybe I should have just made a kit list instead of rambling on but hey ho. I used everything I wanted to use and nothing I didn’t want to use. By that I mean my rain gear stayed packed away (DT jacket, pertex trousers, windproof gloves), along with my first aid kit, spare tubes, pump and midge spray. I only used the water filter once as in most cases clean water was easy to come by. I would bring it all with me again, as this is Scotland and I’ve been proper caught out by the weather during late May.

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As I said, I’ve not talked about the ride, that might happen another time but despite my failure to finish I had a great time whilst the ride lasted. I meet some great guys, we struggled through some amazing landscapes and laughed at the stupidity of traversing the stunning fisherfield countryside. Thanks to Greg, Tom, Daniel and Arno for a great ride.

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I do hope to return as I’ve some unfinished business. Maybe next time I’ll get to finish like these guys.

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2 responses

18 06 2013
Andy Farish

Awesome write up. Sorry to hear about the mechanical. With all the training and prep that is always the factor you can’t completely control. Good luck on the next attempt.

I noticed my big butt is showing up in your picture at the race start – haha good stuff!

If you ever come over to attempt the CTR then give me a shout. We would be happy to help any of you with logistics (ride from airport to start, place to stay, ect.). The hospitality that all the Europeans gave to me over there is owed back any way I can. You all were great!
Andy

18 06 2013
jamesrach

Thanks for the offer of help Andy. Not sure I will ever end up doing the CTR but you never know. Think I may have another puicture of you at the start, I’ll take a look an e-mial you if I do.
James

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