As a bit of a challenge and Strathpuffer training me and Robin decided to tackle the Rob Roy Way (http://www.robroyway.com/ ) in a one-er. It seemed possible – 124km of mostly good tracks from Drymen up through the Trossachs and Bredalbane. The target was the 8:30pm train home from the finish in Pitlochry. Cheap advanced tickets were confidently purchased. We planned for a 7am start in Drymen so it would involve quite a bit of riding in the dark.
We needed to average around 11km/h including breaks to make it comfortably. A lot of the route is on good tracks, using parts of national cycle network and minor roads so this seemed like no problem. We both had an eye on the deteriorating weather forecast from a few days in advance. First it was meant to be windy and showery. Then very wet and windy. Then very wet and windy followed by heavy snow. Naturally we dismissed the amber weather warnings and decided it probably wouldn’t be that bad.
The start in Drymen heads up the steep hill towards Gartmore. The forecast rain hadn’t arrived and it felt good to be off in cold but still conditions. Things started to look a bit ropey after about four minutes, when the road started to have a covering of snow. Progress was good along the tracks to Aberfoyle as we passed the Corrie Aqueduct that carries water to Glasgow. The Roman Pont du Gard aqueduct it is not, but interesting anyway.
We had daylight as we climbed steeply out of Aberfoyle and there were some great views of snow covered hills. The singletrack across the Menteith hills was quite challenging with lots of slippy boulders and boggy sections. It was at this point I got wet feet. Robin had managed to get his feet wet in Drymen by standing in a puddle so I was thankful for at least one hour of dry feet. Fast forest tracks with great view north over Loch Venachar quickly brought us to Callender.
We were well ahead of schedule and feeling energetic. The cycle route out of Callender was underwater as the river had started to flood and the Fall of Leny were looking awesome. Never good signs for a bike ride. The rain turned to sleet but the going was good and we arrived in Strathyre still going strong. Thankfully there was a steep climb out of Strathyre which allowed feet and hands to thaw after the windchill on the fast section.
It had now started to snow heavily with up to 3” on the high parts of the track. It was fresh snow so OK to ride and progress was being made. I’m lucky not to suffer from cold hands normally, but by now I was suffering. We found some shelter in a bus stop to change wet gloves and thaw out a little. We decided it was really miserable but still much better than being at Braehead or Silverburn two days before Christmas.
The track climbs up through Glen Ogle to Killin along an old railway that traverses the glen through giant boulders and viaducts. Unfortunately the snow was getting worse and there were up to 6” on exposed sections. It had also changed from “fun snow” to “claggy snow”. Assuming it was possible to find a gear that wasn’t frozen and the wheels weren’t jammed in the frame, we were able to do 5km/h at full effort. I was regretting my choice of semi slick tyres at this point. I’d also borrowed a bright yellow Fizik Gobi demo saddle off of Dales. It was a bit risky testing it out on such a long ride but it turned out to be brilliant, so at least that reduced the suffering a little. Another odd phenomenon was observed – Robin’s 29er wheels didn’t seem to collect snow. I pretty much had solid wheels by the end so maybe this is a marketing opportunity missed. It’s yet to be seen if 650b wheels provide the ideal balance between snow shedding and reduced inertia.
The objective had changed from getting to Pitlochry to just getting to Killin. It took two and half hours to go ten miles through the snow. We were over half way to Pitlochry but the route climbs to over 500m on the second half and stays high most of the way. It just wasn’t going to be possible in these conditions and it would get dark soon.
We were also wet and cold and the slightest mishap could easily have turned into an emergency so we retreated to the excellent McGregor’s Cafe in Killin (it’s a community run project and has a really nice feel compared to a lot of “tourist” cafes in the area).
Robin spoke to his wife Becky who declared us a pair of pussies for not getting to Pitlochry. So to at least regain some credibility we decided we had to get back without calling for a lift. So plan B emerged – ride to Crianlarich (21km away) and pick up the
WHW to the Drovers Inn. We could then, suitably refreshed, catch the evening train back from Ardlui. The road to Crianlarich was OK apart from getting lashed with salt and grit from the passing traffic. It was good to be back off road on the WHW but riding on the snow covered rock was tough going after such a long day. The Drovers was a welcome sight and we managed to dry off before catching the train home. It was 106km all in from Drymen, so a good day out. We hadn’t managed to reach Pitlochry but it was good training for Strathpuffer. Sometimes it’s just not meant to be, but at least it was better than going shopping at Braehead.
I’d still be very keen to do the whole route next year. It would be ideal on a cross bike and takes in great scenery and nice villages. There are also options to add on more interesting mountain bike sections. Hopefully one for April / May 2014.