It has been a couple of weeks since Chris 'Marquis of Darkness' Marquis and I took on the Capital Trail 2015. You probably have heard of this event, organised by Markus Stitz and run alongside the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling.
After a discussion on where to aim our efforts, Chris and myself decided to travel fairly light, bivi near Peebles - around 150km into the loop - and after refuelling with a hot breakfast and coffee at Glentress after an early morning spin around the trail centre, head for home on the second day.
This is probably not aligned with a true race-head perspective and we were both entirely happy with that. We had no real idea how the first half of the loop would go, given then-recent unsettled weather, strong winds and our general lack of knowledge of the trails Markus was using. The second half of the loop was more of a known entity, Chris and myself both having cut our chops riding in Edinburgh as young bucks.
It was great to see a good number of 'Moulineers on the start line, some looked in better shape than others with illness taking its toll in some cases. I'll let them tell their tales, but Russell put in a fine effort on his Shand, outfitted with a fairly tall gear range for the climbing required! chapeau!
Otherwise, there was a range of intentions on display from fat bikes, hip flasks and happy banter to serious faces and chiselled legs.
The first few hours were a joy: we zipped along with barely a breath of wind and the warm air and dry trails were rewarding. Far from the dull drove road and canal path it might have been, these trails tested and engaged. After passing through Melrose, the energy levels began to become noticeable. Bikepacking, even lightly loaded, still means you are carrying considerably more weight than on a more usual ride. The steep climbs as we hit the Southern Upland Way were sobering.
One poor chap's bike snapped at what was likely the most isolated point of the loop: the 3 brethren near Selkirk. It would be a strenous way to end the evening dropping down to Innerleithan wheeling the bike, but he remained in good spirits.
The good spirits were also in abundance as we enjoyed the fare in the Traquair Arms pub, along with around half the riders from the grand depart - or so it seemed! This was a particularly timely stop for me as Chris had had a small mechanical with his bike, necessitating a MacGuyverism and due to my disaster style packing, I had fairly minimal warm kit. By the time we sat in the pub, I was in full blown shivers. Orders were large and we washed it down with some ale before leaving and making the long climb, back into the hills.
Fairly late in the planning stages, there was a change in the route. Markus removed the initial HAB up Dun Rig, which was welcome, but we still had to push the bikes a fairly long way up into the thickening clouds on the route between Innerleithan and Peebles. There was a good bivi spot prior to hitting the grassy slope at an old estate building, where quite a large number of riders decided to stay. We pushed on, getting the climb out of the way as we aimed towards Gypsy Glen, where we intended to overnight. Just as the dark began to set in, the rain became a little more of an issue and by 11 we were thoroughly wet, which was not ideal immediately before getting into a bivi sack, however a couple of cans of Dale's pale ale made up for it and we were soon relaxed and chatting over the highly enjoyable day. Later, a couple of sopping wet riders careered down the trail with lights illuminating the drizzle. We snuggled into our sleeping bags gladly as we sheltered in the woods.
Day 2 dawned not-so-early and both of us slept fairly well. As we packed and got moving hunger and a powerful need for coffee gnawed at us. We climbed on the Red route at Glentress trail centre before dropping down the Blue to arrive, like several other riders, not long after the cafe opened. Full Scottish was a given and sated, we rolled off into the mild dreich to finish the loop off.
Wet trail and repeated grassy climbs sapped energy, which was in short supply by the time we pushed from Nile Mile Burn, high into the Pentland hills. Nevertheless, the reward was a fine loop on well known trails and a grand view of Edinburgh, sun now out and beaming, with only a few miles to go.
With a final, odd tweak of trail on the side of Arthur's Seat (I suspect Markus originally planned for us to ride round the volcanic lump, but could not due to a scheduled running event) we dropped to the coast and wriggled through the sun-worshipping crowds on the esplanade back to the finish at 4.30pm or so.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable loop. The trails were excellent quality - nothing was too challenging and the lack of 'exposure' and proximity to escape routes means it could act as a fantatsic introduction to multi day bike rides for an inexperienced bikepacker. Indeed, with Peebles sitting as a major destination point for overnighjting and recharging, a credit card tour with a stop in a bunkhouse or B&B is an easy possibility.
Of course, those shooting for a ITT will go as long and as far as they can - as evidenced by David King, the 'winner' completing in 15 hours 15 minutes, but my view of this loop is that it lends itself to a slightly less intense pace and the calm, enjoyment of the environment that Southern Scotland can bring.
More details here:
Edinburgh Festival of Cycling
fearless and unique