No Fuss Tour de Ben Nevis 2011 - John’s Story…
September 29 2011
It all started on a wander down the high street at this year's Fort William World Cup. Adam suggested to me that it might be a good idea to do the Tour de Ben Nevis, was I up for it? For some daft reason we grinned and shook hands committing ourselves to the challenge. How hard could it be?
Adam and I cross paths sporadically through the year and each time we met during the summer months we sized each other up, denying any training. But I'm sure he was getting some miles in, rumours going round that "Adam's as fit a a butchers dog lately" were not helping my cause. And to add further doubt I went out for a spin with Fort William local Steve Bradley around some of the Nevis Range trails and he comprehensively thumped me. However, it's a head thing isn't it? If you know you're fit, you are.
Inevitably the date on the calendar arrived, and the Orange truck was hurtling towards the highlands with me and my bike. There didn't seem to be any way out. Maybe No Fuss's Frazer would find some tiny rule infraction of which I could be found guilty and would have to bow out. However hard I tried Frazer didn't seem to have any problem with me flouting any rules so I was in. Time to M.T.F.U, as we say.
Adam contemplating the day ahead. Chloe from No Fuss trying to get the party started
To add to my busy day, I planned to photograph the ride as I raced. Equipped with the brand new LowePro Photo Sport backpack, I packed as much as I thought I'd need and as little as I dare carry. Setting myself up for quick access to a camera and some other bits and bobs I thought might be needed. My first thought was "too much stuff!", but once on my back and strapped up it was surprisingly unobtrusive.
Once 'dibbed' in with your electronic wrist tag, the 320 riders gathered in the Fort William High Street on a (briefly) sunny Saturday morning. Double the number of riders from the previous year. We were pipe-banded down the high street before being 'released' like a truckload of racing pigeons scattering upwards on the Lundavra Road, a long climb leading to the track to Kinlochleven. This opening section of the 70km loop is a taster of what's to come. You're in the middle of nowhere, look in any direction and the view is a stunner. I stopped to take a few pictures, then realised there may be a flaw in my plan. Lots of people go past when you stop to ponder a photo, and rapidly you go backwards.
Streaming up the hill, all smiles now.
I finally caught Adam up at the top of the second timed section (the first one being the whole distance). The Kinlochleven downhill. A challenging descent full of slab rock rain bars. I knew it well, and my strategy was go smooth and whatever happens do not puncture. So dibbed in at the top we set off, as fast as we dared to go safe. Having got caught in a little traffic and politley asked for a passing slot through some tight turns I heard that dreaded "Pssssssssstttt"! I hadn't hit anything, it must be someone else. Then my rim clunked the next slab. It was me. So a slow careful roll down to the bottom seemed a faster time option than changing a tube on the track.
2 mins BP! (Before Psssssttttt!!!!)
At the bottom of this downhill is pretty much your last opportunity to decide the day isn't for you. As from here it is up into the far reaches around the back of Ben Nevis. A short road climb took us to the next 'dib' point and a timed climb. At this point we'd had pretty much every kind of weather on the scale. When I was reminded we hadn't yet had thunder, as I heard it rumble ominously in the distance. One more box to tick. I kept seeing fantastic pictures all around me, mostly passing them by, conscious that every time I stop time is slipping away. Finally catching Adam again at the stage finish, we rode together along the side of Loch Eilde Mor. While this should be flat and easy, the amount of water on the hill just now makes it a wet challenge. No point in avoiding it, we just plough axle deep through innumerable water splashes.
If you only look at the trail ahead you miss stuff like this.
We arrive at the river crossing that everyone has been worried about. It's been raining a lot in the past few days and there were fears that the planned crossing would be too dangerous so No Fuss have found another one further downstream. By this time you're so wet walking knee deep across the river seems routine. This is the start of timed stage 4, and we dib in, before the hike-a-bike section. This is no ordinary hike-a-bike, this is an M&S hike-a-bike. You definitely get your money's worth as just when you think it's over, cross the next ridge and there's loads more to enjoy. But while on foot, at least it's easier to take pictures. Although my camera is now covered in rain and highland grit, it manfully snaps away. My LowePro backpack's raincover earning it's keep big time.
River crossing. No bother we were wet already
Adam is some way ahead now as I've dawdled again. Crossing the final ridge leads to a great technically descent that most people seem happy to keep pushing down, however, I let the Five fly and got the grin factor turned up to max, before dibbing out of stage 4 at the next river crossing. By now Adam's got cold and carried on. I have a picnic at the bothy before setting off for the Spean Bridge turn. This section contains a super fast blast down a 4x4 track, normally I would hate this kind of thing, but today, it's the thought that I'm covering miles fast that spurs me on. At the bottom of the track I find our Michael Bonney and Stu Thomson from MTBcut with their trials bikes which they've been using to get about on the easy parts of the route. Stu's wife Amber is handing out flapjacks and Slices of Mars bar. A very welcome offering gladly received.
Smiling on the inside
I head off again this time into the forest tracks until eventually I find myself in the trails around the Nevis Range that I recognise. Finally climbing the Blue Crane section to stage 5 downhill. I dibbed in and found some more energy from somewhere to fire the bike down the boulder section, through twisty singletrack, over northshore boardwalks to dib out, satisfied that I reckoned I'd beat Adam's time down that section.
At this point I felt home free, it was now simply a matter of spinning down to the Ben Nevis distillery to dib out of the overall race and stop the clock. All sorted and a 'well done' from the brilliant No Fuss marshalls that had been supporting and encouraging all day I rolled back to Fort William high street and one last bit of fun with a quick climb to the top of the Rocky Brae, a short but, truly technical descent to the finish proper. Always up for a challenge I hit the Reverb's button, dropped my saddle and rolled in. At which point my brain rewound the entire day and played it in fast forward in my mind, concluding I'd got this far, still had two of everything, wheels, arms, legs etc. Why spoil it now with a slam? I opted to dab down and roll out the bottom, to later be told only two riders had done it all day. Chapeau.
One stolen cup of tea later (thank you Chloe from No Fuss for not ringing the police) and my day was done. A true challenge, and one that I won't forget in a hurry for all sort of reasons. As for my plan to shoot pictures of the event from the saddle, I'm not sure I was that successful. However, the LowePro Photo Sport did a great job of carrying a surprising amount of bike and camera related paraphenalia, definitely a worthy investment. Preparations already afoot for next year, the race is on...
A tired ponder on next year's tactics...
Part II will tell the rest of the story, so stay tuned...