So this report was supposed to be from the west coast of the US of A. From Monterey, to be exact, where i was going to be doing a bit of arms-race research for VCM at Sea Otter. A volcano put paid to that: instead i hit the west coast of Scotland as the sun was out and i wanted to see how much i have in the tank at present.
Most years, the lowland contingent of VCM put in a biggish mtb ride at this time of year. Primarily to get the long-site going (there's this strange thing that happens to time when you ride for more than 6 hours straight) and also to dust any cobwebs off the bikes.
For one reason or another, this has become known as F.B.R.O.T.Y - the first big ride of the year. Most often the route is one that has become legend as Mangrunt. Named, if i remember correctly for the hump out of Inversnaid after tackling Loch Lomond sides technical singletrack, before re-entering the Queen Elizabeth forest park and closing the loop.
The loop is about 45 miles and is usually started at Drymen, then to Balloch - either by Conic Hill if you are feeling masochistic (not because of the gradient or the altitude gain - its just the trail is chewed up entirely from rain damage) or on the trails to the south and west.
Then up Loch Lomond side, pump the big meat from the Inversnaid hotel up to Stronachlachar, and then back in to the forest and run along side Loch Chon. After muscling up to the top of the Mustard route, a roll along forest trails before a final pinch up the back road to Drymen and you're done.
This time, i decided to start the same, but take the switch back climb over the bealach between Cruinn a' Bheinn and Ben Lomond. This drops to Comer, where you can take the trail north west past Loch Chon, to Stronachlachar and circumnavigate Loch Katrine, before taking the trails south of Ben Ledi and climbing out of the forest past Loch Drunkie, decending into Aberfoyle from the north and join the Mustard route at that point, following the Rob Roy Way, and hitting the road back over to Drymen. I have no idea how much further this variation of the route is, but it adds a chunk of climbing.
I started at Garadhban - where incidentally i met the support/fim crew for Rob Lee who was attempting the West Highland Way there and back. I passed on my commiserations about Conic Hill and took off myself. The trails were in startling condition.
The recent sun and heat have dried things up and everything was running fast with epic traction. After Balmaha, i made it round to Sallochy with minimal walker-action.
Then up for the first glimpse of the Ben. Fast trail until the Cailness Bothy and then i adopted the position.
Up and up and up...
To give some idea of the gradient...
At the top, the view onto the North face and Coire a Bhathaich was spectacular.
The decent down to Comer stole tears from my eyes, but the heat was back on as i made the decision to bite off the Loch Katrine loop. The legs felt good. so up the steepish climbs on the north side of the Loch after the Macgregors burial ground at Portnellan. As the stone there says, "E'en Do bait Spair Nocht", even do and spare not.
Ducking back into the forest as the sun began to set and i knew i still had 3 long-ish climbs to make. The first up and past the Dukes pass Toll took the wind from my sails.
(click to make big)
Fortunately my Heed was doing the job and i dropped to Aberfoyle ready to push out the last 1.5 hours or so.
Round the Mustard loop and the temperature dropped by 10 degrees as the sun finally became obscured by the horizon. A tail wind until the last of the forest trails was free-speed and a cheery wave from a forestry truck was a good sign.
Then out into the wind turbine that was blowing down the Dryment road. A cruel way to end but a world class ride to make up for being grounded in Scotland.
7.5 hours on the nose. Distance: some. Climbing: lots. Visuals excellent. Route assessment: tough guy but worth it.