I step carefully to the first rock. Leaning on my bike as a third leg for balance. Turbulent, chaotic whitewater rushes over my feet, through the wheels of my bike and disappears over the edge, crashing onto the rocks below.
With all external noise drowned by the roaring cacophony, I find Dr. Seuss’ words softly guiding me across:
“So be sure when you step.
Step with great care and great tact…”
I edge my way, gingerly testing each foot and bike placement before committing. I jump the final step to safe ground beyond. I look back to check Josh isn’t about to be washed over the edge. He steps across like an agile gazelle, I’m not even sure he got his feet wet.
“…and remember that Life’s
a Great Balancing Act.”
We are here in the great Fisherfield Wilderness, seeking Balance in our own lives the best way we know how; racing our bikes. As I was carefully negotiating these swollen and raging rivers I had been riding continuously for 36 hours, off the back of 1.5 hours sleep. I had already experienced some serious hallucinations and was riding as though in a dream.
People find Balance in different ways. This is mine.
This was not the place for a wrong step. This was not the place to lose focus. I channeled my entire remaining consciousness into each step. I had never been more intent, never more present.
“Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.”
54 hours earlier Josh and I were 2 among a group of the 8 ‘fastest riders’ who were lined up at the start of the epic Highland Trail Race.
We all had a good idea what was coming and were aiming to complete it in under 4 days. We were racing each other to the finish, but, in reality, we were racing ourselves.
Months of preparation and overthinking about all future eventualities had led us here. It was time to focus on the now, to be present. I was mentally ready for a mindset of continuous forward motion for the next 4 days. I was ready to live in the moment, to pedal when I could, and walk when I couldn’t. Everything else in life; eating, drinking, sleeping, was secondary. The clock is always ticking.
‘Moving forward is always the priority.’
Tyndrum. Day 1.
The aim for day 1: Ride steady to conserve energy, and don’t stop.
My biggest fear is that I go too hard on the first day. It is too easy to do. The excitement, the adrenaline, the fitness gained from months of intervals. Body and mind are ready to ride hard. But I need to hold back. It is an anxious juggling act of throwing each pedal turn with just the right amount of force to keep moving forward at a fast, but sustainable, pace. Throw too hard and I’ll drop the ball, burn out. Use up precious energy that will serve me better in the coming days.
Somehow I find myself leading the group of 8 of us nervously out of Tyndrum. I feel like I’m going easy, they are going easier.
‘They’ve done this before, they’re better jugglers.’
Thankfully James Hayden and then Chris Pitblado soon take the lead and I try to settle in to my own pace. I try to relax a little. They are riding faster than me, as it should be at this point.
Rich Rothwell eases alongside me up the steep climb over to Loch Rannoch. Almost imperceptibly, our pace increases. Or at least mine does, maybe he is taking it easy. The hill goes by too fast, too much energy used.
It is too easy to go hard.
We settle the pace a bit and I ride with Rich on and off all the way to the bottom of the Ben Alder singletrack. It is a brilliant trail. It is great fun to be out sharing fantastic riding with likeminded riders.
We pass James Hayden at the side of the trail. Maybe he got too acquainted with one of the water bars, we’ve all done it. Within moments he overtakes us again and Rich goes with him, chasing the dot that is Josh Ibbett over the horizon. I stay back, let them go.
‘Don’t chase. You will see them again.’
It is too easy to go hard.
In this years Highland Trail Race I had one main goal: Enjoy it.
I rode the race in 2014 and it was incredible. I surprised myself with what I was capable of. How hard I could push. It was the ride of my life and I have been desperate to do it again ever since.
Life took other courses and I wasn’t able to give it the time needed until now. I never thought it would take seven years to return.
So I was, above all, excited.
Excited for the freedom. The wild, empty landscapes that feel endless. Not seeing any other people for hours, days.
Excited for the beauty. This route offers up scene after scene of panoramic Highland masterpieces.
Excited for the meditation. Nothing focuses your attention and clears the mind better than the singular pursuit of continuous forward movement.
But I was also incredibly nervous.
Seven years is a long time to dwell on the future success or failure of such a vast challenge.
I couldn’t ignore my previous success. I couldn’t just push aside my belief that I should be able to ride this fast. I found myself looking closely at the race record and couldn’t help but think: ‘I could do that’.
But I had no proof. I had no recent successes to go on, and I had a few failures. It was just a dream. I did not know what I was capable of.
In the weeks before the race I strategically shelved the goals that could be well beyond my ability. I couldn’t have these hanging over me during the ride or else, if I was failing to achieve them, I was setting myself up for disappointment
- Finish well within 4 days – My 2014 time was 4 days 8 hours.
- Finish on the podium – There were 8 of us labelled the ‘fast riders’. Surely I could beat some of them?
- Finish with less than 16 hours of stop time – To be close to what was done by Neil during his record. My 2014 stop time was 24 hours.
Maybe they were dreams to be pursued at a later date, or in another life, or maybe not by me at all. I had no real idea if I had what it takes to compete. But I was ready to find out. If I was capable of racing at the front, it was time to prove it to myself.
Contin. Day 2. Sleep: 1.5 hours.
I awake, confused.
Reduced to a rustly caterpillar nestled between the roots of pine trees, a bivi is a disorienting place to wake up at the best of times. Sight and sound impaired to ensure cover and warmth. I pull out my hand, my phone still clutched in its numbed grasp. It is open on the alarm page. But nothing is set.
‘How long have I been asleep?’
I have no idea. I can’t even recall looking at the time before I slept.
I had bivied in a familiar patch of the forest near Contin, earlier than I intended to stop due to the cold. As night had fallen the temperature had plummeted and already cold and wet feet were repeatedly submerged along the track of puddles. They were painfully numb. Lead weights hanging off my legs. My body had given up trying to warm them. I had to get them dry, my warm sleeping bag already worth it’s extra weight.
I pack up as quick as I can. It is nearly daylight, maybe 4am. A rider goes by. James? Josh? Rich? I’m not sure, it could be anyone.
‘It can’t have been that long. What time did I stop?’
I pedal anxiously onwards into the increasing daylight. I pass Rich packing up further along the trail.
‘I’m still in touch with Rich and it’s only just daylight. My internal clock must be on my side.’
It is the second day. Very quickly it feels different. I relax, I enjoy it. First day anxieties soon forgotten, it is time to just ride. And what a ride! I don’t see another rider for a full 24 hours. The miles go by happily. This is what I came for, big miles in wild places by myself. I enjoy the solitude.
I exit the road in the far north and pass through the portal to the other world of rock and water and bog.
Glen Golly is beautiful, a steep sided cut in the valley with gushing waterfalls, lined with young trees. The mountains around Bealach Horn are formidable, giant slabs of rock frozen in place and then scooped out by ice. The peat hags look delicious, slices of soft chocolate cake that you sink right into. I love it. I am here. I am alone. I am content.
In solitude, the mind wanders. There is a lot of time to think. I never truly escape from daily life, but that is no bad thing. An endless reel of children’s music, rhymes and stories propel me along the trail.
“And out of the bushes on thundering paws, there bounded a dog, with the hat in it’s jaws.”
“I’m just a little black raincloud, pay no attention to little me…”
“What’s the lesson, what is the takeaway? Don’t mess with Dad when he’s on a breakaway! What can I say except, you’re welcome.”
“Look for the, Bare Necessities, the simple Bare Necessities….”
It is perfect. I love being a Dad.
Ledmore. Night 2.
I’m crouched inside a tiny shelter. A shelter designed for other occupants. In a sleep deprived whirlwind of driving rain and wind, it is a veritable haven. An oasis in an unrideable desert of boulders.
I had been walking for hours. Any evidence of a trail on the ground obscured by the darkness. Invisible to my lights reflecting back at me off the relentless sheet of rain. I had stumbled on, blind faith put in the line on my Garmin. At times it felt like I was going round in circles, or retracing my steps. There was no way to tell. The boulders all looked the same. I couldn’t see anything beyond the beam of my lights, no landmarks to orient myself by. The beauty and contrast of stark hills rising out of the untouched landscape completely lost on me as I clatter and stagger over the rocks.
I had to cross the Ledmore Traverse in the dark.
I hadn’t seen anyone all day and, due to my early cold feet bivi, I already felt I was being left behind. If I stopped before the traverse and waited for daylight then I would be able to move a lot faster and complete it quicker. But the dark lasted too long. That would be a lot of wasted time. The fast guys had already passed this way, they were way up ahead. Stop now and I would never see them again.
I was being left behind.
I didn’t have choice.
With persistence and time, all things come to an end. The boulder field stretches off into an infinite horizon, until it doesn’t. The lights of a lone car slowly move along the road in the distance. The only thing I’ve seen beyond my own bubble of light in hours. A lighthouse in the perpetual darkness, leading me to a safe passage through the rocks. I pass an upturned boat on the shore of the loch, a hole in it’s hull. A casualty of the landscape. These rocks are unforgiving, the lighthouse impermanent. I hope its crew escaped unscathed.
I come ashore on the road, never more appreciated than at this moment. I struggle to readjust my body to accept the movement of pedaling instead of stumbling.
There isn’t much out here. There is a lot of empty space between villages and houses. The road may provide a path of less resistance through the landscape but it offers nothing more comforting than that. As I roll slowly onwards a small wooden shelter appears out of the gloom. In my sensory deprived state it is practically glowing. Radiating a cozy warmth that would provide a welcome relief from the rain outside.
It is a bin shelter.
It is 3am, it is at the end of a long driveway, and I only want a brief dry respite to sort some things out. No one will ever know I was here. As kindly and respectfully as I can, I remove the obliging bins from their delightful shelter and slip in with my bike. It is cramped but it is perfect.
A quick change of layers, fresh gloves and I feel refreshed. Like hitting reset. I mentally turn the page. The difficulties I have just suffered through are in the past. Untouchable and irrelevant to the future. This is the first moment. I have just started. I’m back in the race.
I’m in and out in 10 minutes. I leave no trace. No bins are harmed in the undertaking.
Ullapool. Day 3.
We bounce from closed café to hotel to café like hopeful dogs seeking shelter, warmth and nourishment. Peering in windows, loitering in foyers. Nothing is open, we are too early. Civilization can be cruel when it’s perceived comforts are unfounded.
Josh and I had met up early that morning. He had crossed Ledmore just before dark and then spent the night in a motel along the road. A stark contrast to my night out in the weather. I didn’t mind, it reassured me that pushing on had been the right decision. I had caught up.
It was the start of a full day of riding together. We took on the elements and landscape together. Us against the trail. Allies for the day. Racing could wait.
Eventually working our way to the garage on the way out of town. It would open in 20 minutes. It might seem trivial, but the clock never stops ticking. 20 minutes not moving is 20 minutes wasted time.
I don’t need a resupply, I hadn’t planned to stop in Ullapool anyway.
“How long till the next resupply in Poolewe?” Josh asks.
“About 5 to 6 hours or more I think”
Seven years absent, a night with no sleep and a completely new route through Fisherfield does not lead to accurate estimates.
We carry on to the main event.
Fisherfield. Day 3.
It had rained all night and all morning.
It starts to rain a bit more somewhere near Shenaval. Everywhere is already soaking wet. The paths are all rivers, the rivers are whitewater. It is wild. It is intimidating. It feels like we are in the hull of a rapidly sinking ship, the sea spewing over the sides in raging torrents of ferocious water. We wade onwards, following the flow downstream towards where there must surely be a plughole to let the water out.
I’ve been experiencing the familiar minor hallucinations for most of the day. Where stationery objects appear to be moving. Particularly those in my peripheral vision.
But that is nothing.
Crossing the river is a whole different experience. Reality and dream merge into one. A new scene where the movie takes a strange and unexpected turn. Alice’s Wonderland. Unique to my mind in time and place.
I shoulder my bike, Josh just behind me, and start wading. It is flowing faster than usual but it’s not deep. I look at my feet as I walk. I can see the stones on the river bed. Far from being stationery objects with the rippled water flowing over them, the entire stony surface is clearly little moving plasticine men, both red and white.
They are dancing.
Their bodies bob and sway. Their arms ripple and wave by their sides and above their heads. Their legs shuffle back and forth. They are hugging and jumping and grooving and laughing. They’re not holding back. It is the most joyous celebration of little plasticine people I have ever seen.
It is so real.
Every time I look up at the shore it is like I have skipped a scene. Like the crossing is undertaken in a series of photographs rather than a continuous walk. Strangely fitting with the stop motion animation also going on beneath my feet. The moving men feel more real than my progress across the river.
Before the race, I had re-lived my 2014 experience by reading my old blog, and the blogs of others. I had studied the route in detail, thought through every part of the trail that I could picture clearly. I had ridden the entire race in my mind many times before I got to the start line.
It didn’t nearly do it justice. Every section of trail was longer than I had visualised. Every climb harder and steeper than my imagination had allowed for. Every view more stunning, every trail more fun. The mountains seemed bigger, the water fresher, the air clearer, the isolation more complete.
It was great.
We cross the turbulent, white-water rivers on the great descent to Canmore. Simultaneously awe-struck by the stunning watery vista and the causeway below whilst also focused on our feet, stepping with great care and great tact. The classic HT550 view. The one everyone photographs. Words, images and hazy memories can’t do it justice. You have to soak in the moment. Appreciate the splendour, the masterpiece of Highland scenery. Embrace the feeling of wonder and freedom it instills in you and remember that. The trials and tribulations of the past 54 hours suddenly fade into insignificance.
This is what we came for.
We push hard on the singletrack out to Poolewe.
“It was time to get all over the front of the bike and stuff it into the corners.”
So I did.
Aidans blog inspired me to be out here all those years ago. His writing struck a chord with me and it still does. Having read it again before the race I am excited to ride this section. The infamous Postmans Path, still an unknown to me, will have to wait for another year.
I enter a trance like state. An out of body experience perhaps, but it is more a sensation of just not being present. Really as though I am asleep and this is a dream. I am viewing it through my eyes but from the hazy, no-time continuum of a dream. Time lost all sense. Movement the only remaining grasp on reality.
“Time ticked to the beat of hallucinatory camels rather than seconds on a watch.”
Whatever it is, it is fantastic. I am riding the
trail river fast. I am flowing like the water beneath my tyres. I desperately want to get to Poolewe but I don’t desperately want the trail to end.
We sought nourishment, warmth and somewhere that the rain couldn’t reach. The Poolewe Hotel provided a takeaway and a covered seating area outside. Soaked to the skin and uncontrollably shivering we loiter inside as long as we can then eat quickly and get moving again. A big meal, a brief shelter from the weather and clothes that are damp instead of wet makes a huge difference. As soon as we start riding again we feel great. Even laughing a bit at how miserable we felt literally seconds before. If you’re feeling down, riding your bike is a great remedy, even if riding your bike caused it.
My spirits are buoyed even more as I think of my daughter, age 3, in the paddling pool in February. Soaking wet and colder than she has ever experienced;
“I’mmm sooo coooold!”
“Shall we go inside and get warm?”
And she jumps out for another shivery run round the garden.
What an inspiration. My absolute hero. I smile with joy.
Embrace the discomfort.
Torridon. Day 4. Sleep: About 6 hours total.
“James! This is my favourite place in the whole world!”
High on a potent mix of adrenaline, exhaustion and caffeine I catch up with James at the top of the Torridon climb as my enthusiasm involuntarily bubbles over and escapes.
James smiles and offers to let me go first down the descent. Knowing he is relatively new to mountain biking and feeling like I am king of the world, I take the offer and set off at a ridiculous pace. Tearing down the hill, through the rocks, up the rock slabs, down the steep drops.
I can ride anything. I am invincible.
A very steep section into a sharp left hand corner and I pop the front tyre off the rim slightly.
I pull over to get out my pump and let James by. He is literally right behind me. My ridiculous and reckless speed gained me nothing and nearly lost me a lot. James just cruises by with another calm smile. He is clearly both a gentlemen and a very capable mountain biker.
Cringeworthy excitement and recklessness over I enjoy the rest of the descent at a more suitable pace. It is a fantastic piece of trail, one to ride smoothly, safely and fast.
I’ve not been awake long at this point having just had my 2nd and last sleep of the race. Josh and I had parted the evening before and I settled down under some pine trees. 42 hours riding and 250 miles since the last sleep, I was more than ready for a rest. This time I was sure I set an alarm and I promptly fell asleep.
Some time later I’m awake. I look at my phone, the battery is dead.
‘Not again, no alarm! How long have I been asleep?‘
I have no idea. I can’t even recall looking at the time before I slept.
‘What an idiot. Can’t even set an alarm. This is supposed to be a race!’
It is beginning to get light.
It takes an age to pack up, the aches and pains of my body in strong disagreement with this sudden movement. The first priority is always to get moving. Waking up, eating and drinking can all come after. I roll down the track, ignoring the dissent and forcing muscles back into motion. James rolls up next to me, very chatty and riding at a brisk pace. I keep up, happy to see another rider, but he must have been awake a bit longer than me. I’m struggling to ride and listen and think and talk all at the same time. The only part of me that is awake is the unyielding desire to keep moving forward. My body hasn’t yet relented, still hoping that it may negotiate some further stillness.
I open up the negotiation and agree to stop, very briefly. I am struggling with this pace after all. I let James go ahead and sort myself out.
Eat. Drink. Caffeine. Awake. Go.
I need to be more awake because this is Torridon. To any mountain biker who knows, I need say no more. To everyone else, this IS mountain biking. This is my favourite trail in the race route.
And it isn’t raining.
This is the land of pristine rock, untouched by metamorphic influences. Torridonian Sandstone mountains sit like islands with precipitous sides falling hundreds of metres into the deeply eroded valleys. The much older Lewisian Gneisses are exposed in the valley bottoms. Heavily altered and weathered they give the landscape its distinctive rough topography of bog and lochan, the terrain we have been battling with through the Ledmore Traverse and Fisherfield Forest.
But now we are on the top. Where fresh rock still stands tall. The last remaining ships surviving the eternal battle with water and ice. Brushing off any attempts by the damp Scottish weather to reduce it to a watery world of peat and heather. We are in a natural mountain bike playground. Exposed rock slabs, steep chutes and well drained gravel trail invite you to throw the bike around a little and have some fun.
And I did.
Glen Affric. Day 4.
I see James on and off along the next section and through Dornie. We have a chat along the road. I really enjoy these race encounters. The shared enthusiasm, the joy at just being out here, doing this. The only ones who can truly understand the experience each other is having.
“Fast friends. Strangers at the start line. Now comrades in arms. These aren’t enemies. They’re allies.“
He stops at the shop, I carry on to the garage. He passes as I am packing to leave. We are leapfrogging each other. My mind is whirring.
Fast friends. Sure. You can’t race head to head from the start. For a few days the race is against the landscape, the elements, ourselves. Move as fast as you are able to maintain. Riding together is faster as you battle the trail together.
But it is still a race. If you are still riding with someone later in the race, at some point you have to make a move.
But I am racing James Hayden, an experienced racer of some of the biggest ultra races, both on and off-road, winner of many of them. A veteran of a much more recent HT550 than me. Realistically, I don’t think I have any chance of beating him to the finish at this stage. I content myself with third place, this is a great result and easily fulfills my hopes of proving to myself what I am capable of.
But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try.
As we head up the next glen I think about what we have left to ride. A big hike-a-bike to get in to Glen Affric, then many miles of technical trail and rough track. Good fun riding and difficult to move fast through. The kind of stuff I like.
But after Glen Affric we have some big, non-technical climbs over to Fort Augustus and then the Great Glen Way to Fort William. That is a lot of pedaling.
Chasing James down the canal to Fort William was a race I feel I would lose, he has won road races after all. So what could I do? The hike-a-bike and rough riding could be where I have an advantage. I could hike fast and ride fast. Push hard, then ride harder. Put a gap on James and then I would just have to maintain it.
So a 100 mile breakaway and well over half a day of looking over my shoulder? What could possibly go wrong?
It felt an overly ambitious plan. But at least it was a plan.
I have to try.
James pauses right at the start of the singletrack climb for a bite to eat. Perfect. Overtaking on hike-a-bike singletrack isn’t going to happen unless someone stops. I move fast and efficient. Riding everything I can and not pausing when getting on and off the bike. A small gap gradually builds. As we round the steep bowl with a gushing waterfall near the top, I can clearly see James. It isn’t much of a gap, but it’s a start.
My light wobbles around as I set the bike back down. Dam. Not a fix it later job. If the bolt comes completely out it will be gone. I have to fix it now. Right as I am building a gap. Near the top I round a boulder and disappear from sight. ‘Do it now’, I tell myself, ‘when he can’t see you’. Be quick, be calm, be efficient. Allen keys out, light off bracket, tighten bolt, put it all back and go. A taxingly difficult task with sleep exhaustion, very numb fingers and self-imposed race pressure hanging over me. But I manage.
Of course, James doesn’t know I am making a move. These kind of gaps between riders happen all the time and then disappear. You leapfrog each other the whole way through the race when you ride at similar speeds. But that doesn’t matter, it’s all part of this kind of racing. A mental advantage is easily as powerful as a physical one. A solid plan is enough to give a mental advantage. I am going for it. James could have done it to me.
As I crest the top, it is time to ride again. I pedal and pedal. Riding as fast as I can.
I don’t look back.
The Home Straight. Day 4 and into the night.
After Glen Affric I feel good. My breakaway has worked. I’ve not seen James since the hike-a-bike despite straining my eyes as far back down the hills as I can, nearly riding off the trail many times as a result.
Fort Augustus, the last stop. I buy too much, worried that I will run out of food in the next 12 hours. Whilst filling up with water and packing my bike I glance back at the road every few seconds. What if James appears? What if he has already ridden by when I was in the shop?
The sun is shining and Fort Augustus is bustling. People out for the day, enjoying themselves. I relax a little, it feels nice. I even have a chat with a couple out for a day ride whilst packing my bike. They are concerned about their 6 mile return journey from wherever they had just cycled from. It brings me back to the now, to the real world. I am comfortable and present. I am just another person in a busy world.
With a fresh perspective and a slightly relaxed mind, I turn onto the canal with renewed focus. I am just riding my bike. I know how to do this, I love doing this. The sun is shining and it is beautiful here. I can ride hard and enjoy it.
The canal eventually gives way to Fort William and it feels like the antithesis to it’s sister town. Maybe Augustus and William did not get along. It is busy, people and cars, dogs and children. I’m in their way, they’re in mine.
I sense a cyclist right behind me as I struggle along the road.
‘He’s caught me! I knew it would happen on the flat canal!’
I glance back.
An old guy on his town bike, no helmet, regular clothes. He is just gliding along leisurely. I thought I was riding fast, he makes me feel weak. I can’t drop him. I don’t want to be near people right now. I want out but Fort William doesn’t want to let me go.
Eventually I find my way out of a busy car park and onto the West Highland Way. The home straight. Familiar trails. What kind of a race has a 40 mile home straight that’ll take you over 7 hours? It’s brilliant. It’s hard.
The hills and technical trails are a relief after the canal. The sun sets as I climb out of Kinlochleven. It is a fantastic sunset, lighting up the sky above Ben Nevis behind me. I try to appreciate it but it takes some effort. It’s not what I’m here for, not in this place, not at this time. I am racing the light, the freedom of easy visibility not something I feel ready to let go of. The onset of darkness brings with it a deep fatigue. I have taken huge deposits out of my circadian rhythm for 3 nights, now it wants a rebate. As the sun sets, so does my mind. It closes down the focus on the trail and the drive to keep moving. It turns off the broadband and sends instructions to my muscles via snail mail. It demands sleep.
Right as I crest the summit it is time for lights on. It couldn’t be worse timing. That frustrating half light where you have the worst visibility. It’s better when it’s fully dark and you only have your lights beam to focus on. I wobble, fumble and trip my way down the Devil’s Staircase. Missing all the good lines. My minds split second decisions reaching the muscles once the obstacle has already passed. Waiting till the worst moment to decide not to commit to anything technical. I had emptied my mountain bike skills account that morning in Torridon. Now I was an injured animal limping my way off a mountain.
I didn’t enjoy that descent.
At the bottom I feel like I am finished. Everyone does. There is still at least 3 hours left. I carry on in a frustrated trance. My body numbed, my perception of time and place turned off. It feels like the course will go on forever and I am doomed to pursue an end to the magenta line that does not exist. The track becomes a horribly cobbled road. It’s rough but fast. It’s steep in places. It’s boring. It hurts.
“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”
I don’t stop. I go so slowly. I have nothing left to give. I can barely walk when I have to get off the bike. I can barely ride when I have to get on it.
I glance at my Garmin. A habit deeply ingrained after days of closely following the magenta line. Taking a wrong turn could add miles to your ride, or worse, you could miss a section entirely. The track we record is evidence of our ride. Proof we rode the full route. Hundreds of miles ridden to produce some bytes of data that ensure our entry on to the leaderboard. A tie to the digital reality of normal life whilst out there escaping it all.
The screen is blank.
I pull on the brakes, wobble to a stop. Tired and frustrated. I’m on the final descent down to Bridge of Orchy. I could ride from here without my guide easily. I don’t need it anymore, it has served its purpose.
Except I can’t. I have to record the ride.
I fumble with fiddly screws and small batteries. The unexpected stop sucks my mind toward a deeply craved slumber.
One last challenge, right at the end. So close, but not yet complete.
I look back up the trail frequently, as I have been doing for the last 12 hours. A newer habit, but no less ingrained. Constantly fearful of what I might see. Lights on the trail, heading my way. A harbinger of a rider bearing down on me. Moving stronger and faster having waited till a more sensible moment to make their move. Riding hard, keen to get to their own finish, irrespective of my own plight. Getting overtaken this close to the finish would be awful. I’ve experienced it once before in another race. It still grates me 9 years on.
I need this.
The eternity of the magenta line eventually ends. Over the last few rises and down toward Tyndrum and there is my wife at the gate. I can’t believe it. It is 2am. I wasn’t expecting to see anyone! But of course she is here, she is my biggest supporter. I am so happy to just stop. I am so happy to not be alone. I am so happy my purgatory of endless forward movement can finish and my favourite person is here to guide me back to the stationary world.
But most of all, I am very happy with the result. I came here to push myself. To break through the boundaries of what I thought I was capable of. To reset my self-belief. It had been 7 years since my last good result.
It was a test. A challenge against myself. Could I ride through the night and keep going till the next night? Am I good enough to race against the best? Can I get round in under 4 days?
Now I know. I can. I am capable.
And I can do more.
3 Days 17 Hours Total Time. 15 Hours Stop Time. 2nd Place.
And I enjoyed every moment. All goals complete.