Tom and I shot some video on the first few days of our trip. It's not a polished production, but we didn't really have a lot of time or energy spare. We didn't film on the last two days as it was mostly raining. Apologies especially about the variable sound levels.
If you've ridden the Highland Trail 550 before as I did in 2014, or you know parts of the route, you will no doubt have thought that the idea of a 10 year old riding it was a bit crazy. People say it is one of the toughest bikepacking challenges out there, and the cold wet and windy conditions this year certainly made it much harder than last year.
So what were we thinking? Well we were after a challenge that would fit into Tom's half term, that was hard. Did I think we'd get all the way round? I honestly didn't know. I had several possible scenarios in mind both before we set off, and was always discussing our options to Tom on our ride. My primary aim was that Tom had a good time, and that we both got home in one piece whilst having a proper adventure. This trip, I thought would also be good preparation for riding the Tour Divide next year. I knew he could do 2 or 3 tough days back to back, but the Tour Divide will take us nearer a month.7 days seemed to be a good way of testing his staying power. I'm proud to say he was strong throughout.
The responsibilities of taking a child to the remote places that this route visits cannot be understimated. I had to ensure that in case of my incapacity that Tom had the required skills to take shelter, navigate and to call for help if needed. I was confident that if needed Tom could look after himself (see the Kit List for more on this).
One thing I did notice is that I took much better care of myself on this trip, than I did on last years HTR. Being responsible for someone else means you have to be operating at 100% capacity yourself at all times.
I made a couple of decisions, that meant we didn't complete the whole 550+ mile route. Safety was my number one consideration plus we were limited by Tom's school holidays for time.
Also it has to be said that even with a very light load, Tom's bike was heavy for him on the rougher hike a bike sections.
Over 7 days though we rode 405 miles in challenging weather, and though a lift home was always a phone call and a few hours away, we didn't give up on riding our bikes back to Tyndrum. It's easy to sit with a map at home planning what's going to happen and when. It's a different thing though to adapt ones itinerary to reflect energy levels, the weather, and other external influences. I think we learned how to do that well, and that will stand us in good stead next year.
We'd like to thank Alpkit for the Tent and luggage. Use Exposure for our bike lights and Tom's Vybe suspension seatpost. Dave for the loan of his Spot Tracker and camping mat. Elliott for taking us to the start, and bringing us back. Kevin and Marion for seeing us off at the start. Last, but not least my wife and daughter for their support.
Thanks also to the numerous people who cheered us along our way via Twitter, and to the HTR competitors we saw enroute who we chatted with. Congratulations to anyone who lined up at the start, and those who managed to make it through to the finish.
Finally, neither of us had any crashes or overuse injuries. We were both as to be expected pretty tired at the end though.
Links below to each day, and finally Tom's kit list.
Any questions you have, please ask in the comments.
Ok, this is a list of Tom's Kit and stuff we shared I've not included my clothes as most of it is duplicated though in my size and not his. :)
Bike - Ragley Hardtail with 3*9 transmission, Reba air forks and a USE Vybe suspension seatpost. The seatpost makes a great lightweight alternative to a fully suspended rear end, and definitely saved his butt from some of the hammering. Mudhugger mudguards F+R. Exposure Toro MK6 front light and some unknown rear led light.
Luggage - Alpkit stem cell x 2, one for a water bottle, the other for quick access to his waterproof jacket. Custom two compartment Stingray frame bag which held some of our lightest bits and pieces. A kids bike is unlikely to have clearance for a seat mounted Koala I did have one on my bike though which carried the tent and some extra food.
Riding clothes - Rapha bib shorts. Synthetic long sleeve baselayer top. Rapha classic Jersey and arm warmers, Btwin long sleeve thermal windproof jacket. Rapha Rain Jacket. Decathlon waterproof trousers. Sealskinz knee length socks. Fingerless mitts and a pair of primaloft mittens. Pearl Izumi SPD shoes ( a size too large). Buff, Cotton cycling cap. Mens small armwarmers used as leg warmers.
Night clothes - Thermal top and bottom base layer. Decathlon fleece jumper. Mountain warehouse synthetic gilet (aged 7-8, sized to be a snug fit) Merino socks. Rapha Merino beanie.
Sleeping - Yeti 900+ down pied'elephant sleeping bag which fits him as a full length bag. 3/4 adult sleeping mat. Tent Alpkit Ordos 2
Night clothes and his sleeping kit all fitted into an 8 litre Alpkit drybag. Whilst I used the 13 litre version for my stuff.
Tom carried the SPOT tracker strapped to his bar bag. He was taught how to work it including how to use the SOS function.
He had his own mobile phone and knows how the 112 emergency system works.
He also carried a whistle to call me with a long blow, or to use the international SOS call.
He didn't have a GPS on his bike, but he knows how to use mine.
The only thing other than spares which we took that we didn't need, was a midge head net each.
This setup worked well for us. Though it was May the temperature with wind chill was often close to freezing. He'd wear similar clothing riding in the Peak District where we live in December.
One tip, is when you stop for the night is to make sure that your kid gets out of their damp cycling stuff, and into their dry evening clothes asap.
Likewise in the morning make sure that all they need to do is pull down the tent before putting on their cycling wear.
Up for 8am. Breakfast at the food van at the campsite, Then time to pack, wrap up warm before heading back to Tyndrum.
Sunshine sooned turned to rain and then back again with regularity. Some of the rainstorms were the heaviest we had encountered. We were both the closest we'd been all week to getting cold.
Thoughts of how we'd managed to avoid injury, or mechanical troubles quickly yielded a pinch puncture each.
It was too cold to do other than swap the tubes for new ones, pump the tyres up rock hard, then hope that neither of us got another one.
Some nice bits of riding were had on this section.
Once again we stopped at the climbing wall cafe in Kinlochleven for food, narrowly avoiding a massive hailstorm as we arrived there.
The weather was wearing us both down. Less than 30 miles to go though to take us back to a warm bed in Tyndrum.
Within 5 minutes of leaving the cafe, we were once again climbing the Devil's Staircase. The weather was deteriorating, and as we climbed we encounterd several heavy rain and hail showers.It felt for the first time in the trip that a slip or mechanical could quite quickly become a serious situation.
As we made the top it was trying to snow. Th temptation was to go full gas for the bottom, but we descended slowly, and with care.
I was relieved when we made it down to the road.
The rest of the ride back to Tyndrum was wet, but otherwise without event.
I'd phoned ahead earlier in the day to secure the last camping cabin available, and it was great knowing as we headed out for a bowl of pasta and meatballs at the Tyndrum Inn that we would have somewhere with a heater to spend the night.
So there we are sat in the pub after 7 days and 60 hours of riding time on our bikes during which we covered 405 miles.
A day of two parts. The first being 47 miles of road which was quite a chore on laden mountain bikes.
These miles though took us once again to the Pizza place in Fort Augustus. At ~4pm we had eaten, and it was pouring down outside. It would have been very easy to say that was enough for one day. Instead though we headed back outisde and rode straight into the wind towards Fort William, once again on the Highland Trail route.
The weather was so poor that day the only picture I took was when we had our supper in McDonalds and that isn't worth republishing.
Supper eaten we fired up the Exposure lights and headed up Glen Nevis to find the caampsite.
By the time we had put our Alpkit Ordos 2 tent up at 9:30pm in the pouring rain we had ridden 82 miles.
The plan today was to head from Ullapool over into Fisherfield and then towards Poolewe.
Leaving Ullapool the route heads SE for 10 miles on the road before heading upwards.
In just 2 miles there is 1300 feet of climbing. The technique for a good part of the climb, is push the bike, apply the brakes and then repeat. Tom found it desperate. Pushing a bike that weighs going on for 1/2 ones weight would tax any of us.
So, I'd push my bike a way up the hill, then walk back down and help Tom up with his.
I'd assured Tom that the reward for all this pushing was some sweet fast singletrack on the other side of the hill. The reality this year was lots of unrideable boggy bits. It certainly wasn't fast. 5.5 miles in 3 1/2 hours.
I knew therefore that Fisherfield and on towards Poolewe, even if we could ford the big river was going to take an age longer than I had planned. This was supposed to be an enjoyable trip, and a days slogging through bog dragging a heavy bike was not going to be that for Tom.
I made the decision at Dundonnell bridge. We'd ride South on the road to pick up the Highland Trail return route at Fort Augustus.
The next 37 miles on the road were mostly accompanied by a tail wind.
We revisited Contin for the second time in the trip, this time to spend the night in the campsite.
We were lying in bed, contemplating getting up when we had a visitor.
Alan Goldsmith called in to say hello. Alan was the first of the racers we had seen, though we'd heard somoene come in late and disappear before we got up. It was good to see him.
Once up and getting ready to leave we saw a few other folk too some of whom stopped for a chat.
All this coming and going of people in the early morning must have distracted me, as instead of rubbing chamois cream into the inside of my shorts, I rubbed it into the outside. This amused Tom greatly!
The weather was a mixed bag that day, though I do recall plenty of wind. We also met lots of riders.
At Contin we met more riders who had stopped for their last restock of food, and whilst we topped up our supplies too, I'd already made the decision, that when we arrived at Oykel Bridge, that we would not head up on to the Northern loop, but instead would head South on the original Highland Trail 440 loop. The time and weather weren't on our side.
By the end of the day we'd travelled 59 miles. We camped in the lee of some old farm buildings at Lubachlaggan, the first night on this trip that we'd slept in the Alpkit Ordos 2 tent. It was a cool wet and windy night, but we slept well.
The alarm went off at 6, and though we thought we were organised for a quick get away, it wasn't until 7:05am that we rolled out of Tyndrum. Marion and Kevin had come along to see us off and took these pictures. Thanks!
It rained quite heavily for the first couple of hours. I felt the rain was saying to us, do you really want to do this?
Heading toward Rannoch Moor the weather improved and we stopped for some food and a drink.
From there, a steady climb, and then a blast downhill to near the Glen Coe ski centre.
At the Kingshouse we were planning on a hot drink, but their power was out, so onwards to the first big climb of the day, the Devil's Staircase.
Tom rode more of the climb than I due to his lower gear, but there was plenty of bits where we both had to push. We took it nice and steady.
The descent was a hoot, and we were soon in Kinlochleven for lunch.
Revived by cheese and ham toasties, it was time for the other big climb of the day.
Some pushing low down, followed by a steady grind upwards.
The next obstacle, is the crossing of the Abhainn Rath, which was somewhat deeper than it was in 2014.
After that bit of excitement, and my unfinished sentences, then followed the boggy trudge along side the river.
Some hours later, or so it seemed and we were back riding, on our way towards Ossian YHA.
We stopped at the YHA and had more food and drink. We both felt fine, the weather was good, so just kept on riding.
Into the night we rode, now with our Exposure Toro lights illuminating the way. Last year from Ossian to where we were planning on spending the night seemed to last little time. This year it took around 4 hours. In retrospect this was not the wisest decision. The lure of a bothy to stay in was enough to keep us going though.