A Tale of Two Days

As I have decided to race the WEMBO Solo 24hr World Champs, I thought I should at least start training. I decided to start this by going bikepacking, turns out Scotland is great for bikepacking.

First off, let us discuss my bike choice.

surly instigator bike in the scottish countryside

Yeah, I picked a Surly Instigator.

Why did I pick the least bikepackable bike in the Surly line up?

I picked the Instigator because it is fun and cycling should be fun. If it is not fun why are you doing it? I also wanted to have great fun on the descents and the Instigator loves it when you point it downhill even when loaded.

Despite my name it also has gears at the minute, mainly because I gave myself the fear. I will be riding the 24hr champs single speed but as I haven’t properly ridden in a few years I wanted to give myself the choice of gears as a mental break. Just to make sure I didn’t allow my anxiety to take over and stop myself from riding completely, it is a crutch and they will come off when I feel mentally strong again.

As I slightly hinted at I fancied the 140mm travel for going downhill, if you are going to kill yourself going uphill, you might as well have fun going down. This it turns out may have been a slight mistake. I pretty much had the Fox fork set on climb the whole time, except on a few climbs when I set the fork on descend so as to have the front end stick into the ground as I climbed. The massive Surly Dirt Wizards set up tubeless had more than enough suspension for myself even when I was going full gun. I even forgot to switch on any travel when I hit the red runs at Innerleithen.

innerleithen red runs

Now if you would like to see the routes I went on my Garmin decide to die so I can’t show you via GPS map but a couple of links may help. Day 1 was part of the Capital Trail and Day 2 was the John Buchan Way and then onto Lanark.

bikepacking route
Day 1, stolen from a friend’s private Strava
bikepacking route scotland
Day 2, also stolen.

The first day started with an early reminder of how great Scot Rail are, the answer is not great in the slightest but I am sure anyone who has experienced Scot Rail will understand that. The weather forecast was for a dull day with figures edging into double figures. Therefore when we got off the train at Tweedbank it was sunny and a degree below freezing, stands to reason really.

the river tweed

The Tweed was going full force when we set off along its banks heading towards The Three Brethren. At first on the road sections I was leaving the folks I was with to climb at my own speed, there was one main reason for this and that was that I had knocked my rear derailleur at some point and my top gear had nicely become a 32/32. Everyone else with me had one of those lovely expanded cassettes with a 42t and with a 32t front, they were twiddling up the climbs whilst I was trying to stay upright at a faster pace. I only realised that my derailleur was knocked on the final climb up to The Three Brethren.

Stopping to enable myself to fix the rear mech and get a nice 36t low gear was nice. It was a boost but not for the final bit of The Three Brethren where my legs after getting off to sort my gears, decided to stop working and put up a fight. Fighting myself I got to the top, the highlight being the fact that I was overtaken by a walker. I may have gone too quick at the start and was now paying the price but the views were so fantastic that any pain in my body quickly drained away.

the three brethrenIMG_0895

After The Three Brethern it was a slog over to Innerleithen and then down into Peebles. Riding a fully laden bike down the red runs at Inners is way more fun than doing it with an Endurobro bike, trust me. Hitting the jumps on Cardon Bank in the dark with a good few kgs of gear moving about is great fun, especially when all you want is to get to the Co-Op to buy your dinner and you have nothing left in your body, so little energy that you have no fear as that may use extra calories that you do not have left to give.

The icy flat ride to the Glentress Wig-Wams from Peebles felt like it took forever. The food I bought just waiting to be heated up and devoured, honestly all I could think of at this time was dinner. Dinner was followed by Series 1 of Father Ted, because it is one of the greatest TV series ever devised.

The night though was an issue for myself. I got 3 hours sleep and then my depression and anxiety decided to kick in and I did not feel tired again until the alarms went off first thing in the morning. Anxiety keeping you up all night is not fun, it did though stop me from thinking about  riding. In the morning I then started to worry if I had had enough rest for the forthcoming ride.

With a quick stop at a Greggs (highly trained athletes that we are) we were on our way up the John Buchan way, nicely it goes up straight from the off. On the first climb waiting on a member of our party climbing up I got to see a weasel hunt out and kill a little vole, this was probably a portent, nicely I didn’t take it on board at the time.

The first few climbs of the day were set out at a nice tempo. I found my rhythm and kept my pedals turning. I used the issues that had kept me up all night as fuel for my pedalling. Every pedal stroke moved the issues further away, the burning of my quads setting fire to the thoughts of the night. Those thoughts in the flames of my legs pushing me onwards and upwards.

The first climb up Cademuir is rewarded  by a supremely fast descent back down, a smile will have no choice but to cross your face and will hopefully not be joined by too much sheep poo. There then follows a nice little road section, the next offroad section starts in a field where you will be determined that the farmer has created the ruts just so as to catch you out. They are bastards, nicely though the Dirt Wizards just gripped and they help winch your way up a climb. You may like myself find yourself slowly dropping the more fit members of your crew as your tyres do so much work for you.

The slog then just kept on going, going slow but turning the pedals. Climbing all the time. Ironically you will go passed a cottage Harrowhope, it is now a set of ruins and that was what my legs were beginning to feel like. They were full of hope at the start but were now in ruins. Then you discover that hope doesn’t mean hope in the Borders but side valley, which is a much less metaphorical description of how my legs were feeling.

Eventually Penvalla should be filling your view, I cannot testify that as by then I was surrounded by low cloud and all I could see was a nice misty fence. After another great little descent yow will come to Stobo Hopehead, seemingly one of the most isolated houses in all of Scotland.

stobo hopehead whilst bikepacking

The photo above was taken about 2 minutes before my biggest issue of the trip. After this little house you turn onto a little drove road between Broomyside and Hammer Head. For some reason I thought I was climbing straight up one of these climbs rather than snaking through them. My legs and morale just died. Causing Paul to pedal into the back of me as I slowly slid off my bike. That was my wall. I was ready to just wait and die out in the middle of nowhere, why bother moving, all my anxiety and depression came crashing back, why bother?

It took me everything to say “Fuck Off” to my head. I managed to grab some gummy strawberries and lay across my bike, watching the group carry on climbing. Slowly becoming bobbing little blobs of colour. This became a point of honour, fuck my legs, fuck my mind, I was not going to be put off.

I managed to set off in pursuit, my legs shouting at me to give in. My head telling me I was going to blow up. Slowly though those distant blobs started to closer, imperceptibly slowly at first but as I started to realise my legs started to lose their resistance to the relentless torque they were having to supply to get through the sloppy mud. I could see where those ahead were making mistakes, allowing me to not take their lines, slowly I was getting closer.

Then I could see them at the stile waiting. My legs were now back to shouting to give up, I looked up and all I wanted to do was throw up. I felt like I was burning up, an overheated motor ready to explode. Somehow I was there, there was huge relief. I was alive. Now I had a mostly downhill run to Broughton. I started to relax, my body started to come back to life. I felt alive.

The downhill to follow was a fast, technical downhill. Mud, ice, burns, and sheep all to be avoided or ridden straight through, speed, the speed was exhilarating, all my aches and pains were dissolving. After this it was a nice ride to Lanark, all hills were conquered at a nice even tempo, nothing could stop me, nothing, well nothing except a field with alpacas and pigs.

alpacas whilst bikepacking in scotlandIMG_0936

Somehow I am impressed that I have not made a 39 Steps joke.

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