Wow, just back from another great challenge: mountain biking Coast to Coast (North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean) across the Highlands and mountains of Scotland. Marc-Antoine and I met our team (predetermined) at the train station in Aberdeen Saturday morning 22nd August at 11AM. Our guide Mark Cox from Wilderness Scotland got us sorted out and shuttled the group just out of town to a lighthouse with a huge red ‘foghorn’ above the lapping waves of the North Sea to begin our adventure across hills and mountains, single track and double, bog, river beds, glacier valleys, rock, root, sand and shrub, and some connecting roads, to the most western point on the mainland of Britain; Ardnamurchan Point. We rode about 9 hours a day over 6 days and traversed approximately 380 km over hill and mountainous terrain.
Day 1 we followed the Royal Deeside, the route of the old railway line built for Queen Victoria. We then climbed up into the hills and descended some decent singletrack to Glen Tanar, and on to the village of Dinnet just inside Cairngorms National Park (64km).
Day 2 we started on some cool singletrack on the Deeside through birch and pine forest. From Ballater, the route climbs into the heart of the Cairngorms and through Glens Gairn and Avon. This is beautiful wild country and we continued climbing to Tomintoul, the highest village in the Highlands (60km).
Day 3 was my absolute favorite but most difficult day of our trip. We started in rain climbing up some back roads winding up to pastures and grazing fields to a rocky snaking river bed that we continually crossed that led to a steep double track that rose to a hilltop with stunning views of rolling hills and long valleys. We dropped down to another river crossing, and then spent the next few hours climbing, dropping or flat out on the best singletrack I have ever been on. It was rocky surrounded by Heather, earth and roots choked by shrubs, it snaked and surprized you at every turn. We crossed barren exposed countryside and beautiful ancient forests to the village of Newtonmore (80km).
Day 4 we followed an old military road into Laggan Wolftrax – one of Scotland’s best mountain bike trail centres. Next we headed up into a remote glacial valley which passes through the heart of the mountains on double and single track which leads us into the West Highlands. We spend the night in Spean Bridge (64km).
Day 5 we followed a man-made canal to Fort William where we took a short ferry ride across Loch Linnhe and arrived on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. We then headed south and west to ride through (what they call) “one of the Highlands finest glens – remote, wild and dramatic.” We followed the shores of Loch Shiel to the historic village of Glenfinnan and then charged up and down a dirt road bordering this narrow 30 km long loch to a ‘middle of nowhere’ wharf where a most cool ferry piloted by an even more cool captain suddenly arrived to collect 9 weary but happy ‘crazy’ bikers. We motored up the extraordinarily beautiful Loch Shiel to Acharacle (60km).
Day 6 was another truly awesome day as we headed past a sandy inlet straight up double tract into the hills to some of the most challenging singletrack of the entire trip. We had breathtaking views of Skye, Outer Hebrides and the Small Isles. It was a bit cold, windy and rainy but that added substance and character to the remarkable exposed and astonishing landscape. I was in ‘seventh heaven’ on those rocky, slanted, wet singletracks cramped full of scrubs and low lying bushes. The views of ocean and layered distant hills, the smell of pure misty air, the thrilled apprehension of the gang mountain biking on the real stuff we had come all this way for, was pure unabashed delight.
Finally we pushed on following the coastline and eventually went inland climbing and descending through some villages on roads to an epic finish at Ardnamurchan Point – the most westerly point on the UK mainland (52km).
A vital part of any challenge or expedition is the team – or more specifically the team dynamic. Over the years I have experienced many different types of teams and of duration from 2 to 65 days. When a team gels it is magic. It is fun, inspiring, and productive.
Mostly unknown to each other, diversified from New Zealand to Spain to Canada, we rolled right into the spirit from day 1. We knew ‘why we were there’ and that we were going to have a great time. We certainly did and now it is called the ‘whisky coast to coast mtb run’.
I came across a poster in the bathroom of my hotel in Inverness that read: ‘LIFE IS NOT ABOUT WAITING FOR THE STORM TO PASS, IT IS ABOUT LEARNING TO DANCE IN THE RAIN.’ Sounds like an excellent way to live your life.
Team: Guide and mentor extraordinaire Mark Cox; Mark Leadbitter, New Zealand; Marc-Antoine Laporte, Canada; Shelagh Munday, Scotland; Jose Luis Fernandez, Spain; Max Cadonna, Italy; William Neville, England; Craig Little, Scotland; Theodore Fairhurst, Canada.
Back-up, bike repair and support: Paul McCaffrey
Wilderness Scotland organized and delivered an excellent program managing logistics to a tee. Cheers.