MTB C2C Expedition Overnighter Dated 15/16 September 2021
On a phone call with Mr Jules Fincham, British Cycling Tutor, Legend and director of Cycle WIld Scotland, I presented and talked verbally about a few options to do an overnight Expedition on Mountain Bike as confirmation of my Exped Leaders qualification.
Options presented were, Affric Kintail Way, Loch Ness 360 on the Great Glen Way side and Coast to Coast (Bonnar Bridge to Ullapool). We settled on the Coast to Coast as this was an area I nor Jules had ever ridden before. Also on initial appearance, it lent itself to being BOB trailer friendly and not too challenging.
With this in mind I set about planning the route, I initially used Komoot as this is the best-off road planning tool available for MTB. I merely inputted the start point (Bonnar Bridge) and finish point (Ullapool) and the algorithms of Komoot selected the most appropriate off-road route to Ullapool. I then transferred this route over to Strava using the Heat Map to confirm suitability and because it is easy to upload to any device. As is Komoot, however, I am more familiar with Strava after several years of use.
On studying the route profile using both applications, I could see that the start point of Bonnar Bridge is only there to reflect an official Coast to Coast of 37 miles. Therefore, with my local knowledge of the area from Riding Blablair MTB Trails and numerous North Coast 500’s I knew there to be a better start location. My rationale was parking and toilets as well as minimising time spent cycling on road.
I also studied the Ordnance Survey (OS) map of the route online, selecting useful and visible on the ground checkpoints. By using OS online, I was able to get grid locations, distances, elevation gained and elevation loss quickly and efficiently to each checkpoint. This proved super useful as the track whilst easy to navigate was good to mark for elevation gained and loss, this also helped visualise how physically tough or not this would be on your person as well as assisting with time management. I also referred to the Mountain Bothies Association handbook which details all bothies in Scotland, giving a brief synopsis of the bothy and its history.
The plan was to depart Inverness at 10am, arriving approximately 11am at Ardgay carpark, now known to be the Kyle of Sutherland Development Trust carpark who are proponents of Adventure North. Then depart 1130-1200 to ride ¾’s of the 35-mile route. We would find a suitable camp location, set up and ride the last 10 miles (the most arduous) or so into Ullapool get something to eat then head back to our camp for the night, completing 45 miles give or take of a total of 70-mile return journey. We would then only have a relatively easy return the next morning.
On the morning of departure, I took Jules through my plan and the process, time distance speed and plan of action before checking and confirming enough kit and equipment to do one night. We also discussed the merits of different setups and made sure that we had enough emergency kit between us should anything go wrong.
I was to take my newly purchased IBEX BOB Trailer (14 kg of kit) with a medium RESTRAP frame bag and my guiding daysack (5kg). My bike with frame bag weighed 11kg whilst Jules was riding with Restrap bar, frame, and medium saddle bags, his bike a specialized Rock Hopper with pannier rack weighed 17 kg with all his kit and daysack a further 5 kg. By having the BOB trailer allowed for the larger bulkier and heavier items to be carried. A first for Jules and only my second time using a BOB trailer. We both had experience with the others setup and were able to help and give tips and pointers with how to use them efficiently. I believe I may have taken more tips from Jules experience than him from me.
We were a little late leaving Inverness and did not arrive in Ardgay until 1300, by the time we were on our way it was approx. 1330. Not to worry as the all-in total time to get to Ullapool was 4.5 hrs so 5.5hrs in total to our camp for the night. I had built in the contingency plan of either The Old School House (19.45-mile point) and or Knockdampf (26-mile point) Bothies.
Prior to departing I hooked up my BOB trailer and posed for a picture with the bike stood up by itself using the support of the weighted trailer to prevent it from falling over. In hindsight I subsequently believe this bent my hangar resulting in 3 miles down the road a gear indexing conundrum. Bike and trailer were setup and tested the day before with the indexing fine. After 25/30 minutes of fettling and very slowly visually realigning the hangar and resetting the cable I managed to get it indexed. Lesson learned there to never allow the trailer to support the bike at an angle.
So, we cracked on and followed a simple difficult to get lost route. We entered Croick Estate stopping to take pictures along the way. The BOB trailer was handling superb and tracked well. I was super pleased with my purchase. On one of our stops, I lay the bike and trailer down on the track, when I lifted it, the skewer dropped out on the non-drive side wedging the rim of the disc against the underside of the brake pad. Again, another lesson learned to select angled ground to rest your setup on and also to take control of the trailer and rear seat stay of your bike placing your foot on the rear tyre acting as wedge when lifting back up. All useful learning points.
Shortly after continuing and around 1530hrs we were caught in a persistent rainstorm, we still had another 10 miles or so to go until reaching our second stop of The Old School House. On arrival were drenched and getting eaten alive by the mighty midge. Our appetite for continuing and sharing a tent albeit the excellent MSR Hubba Tour Two (with its own substantial admin area porch) was somewhat washed out. So, we elected to stay overnight in the School House and discussed plans for the next morning.
On working out the timings and even if we went light scales from the Old School House it would still amount to 50 miles of mountain biking followed by collecting our kit before cycling the remaining 20 back. A big day indeed, so it was agreed to break camp the next morning and head back to Adrgay, leaving the Coast to Coast and return for another day.
There is a stretch with no mobile phone or data signal so you must have alternate communications and a robust check in/late back procedure. Be sure to take a physical map and not rely on OS online. We caried open network mobile VHF radios which most services and farm/ land managers use. There is function on it that cycles through every channel until it finds one in use that is in range. Useful to know in an emergency whilst out in a remote area.
A non-technical trip that fulfilled all criteria for a short expedition utilising two different setups. I found the BOB trailer fantastic and something I intend to make full use of. It was the first time I was able to carry my pack on the trailer and it felt very nice, allowing me to look around more and enjoy the scenery. The Bike bags also proved to work well, being able to carry all of Jules kit. The usual issue of a swinging saddle bag was mitigated by using a securing strap to hold both roll mat and saddle bag together around the pannier rack. It was not top heavy, however, I would recommend a full frame bag if you can, as this will allow for heavier items you have to be placed more centrally close to the Bottom Bracket.
Overall, a very successful overnighter in a stunning part of the Scottish Highlands. I look forward to doing this route again at a time of year with less midge.
Strava route profile going East to West.