Alpine Biking

Fall in the Alps. The summer inferno has past giving way to more pleasant temps for bike riding. T shirts at 3300m. Everywhere you look there is a blaze of orange and red as the larches and grasses go off.

I should be in New Zealand skiing new lines but my L5 disc herniated onto the root of the sciatic nerve the day after I finished guiding this summer. No I wasn’t out shredding but simply  walking on a forest trail. Biking is a major feature of my rehab as I try to overcome the partial muscle paralysis of my calf and glute – its kept me sane and frustrations at bay. It turns out the Aosta Valley holds some of the best trails Ive ridden in 25 years and my Bronson is now riding sweet with saint brakes – many of these descents are in the 1600 m category so things get very hot!

IM0011

My unhappy spine!

22429419_1814505545244951_2111587243_o22496844_1814505448578294_1588401086_oIMG_20171015_160249_20CSIMG_20171015_212759_38222522452_1814505585244947_801957464_o22426162_1814505665244939_1490182348_o22550651_1814505748578264_1332332661_o22553503_1814505741911598_1336039711_o22553737_10155525571795269_1878338083_oIMG_20171015_211641_06822555948_10155525573055269_1046860855_o22561180_10155525571950269_1765252586_o22553454_1814505778578261_2022275527_o22497172_1814505788578260_1154234412_o22531985_10155525573485269_1102800899_o22561353_1814505958578243_682537324_oIMG_20171017_190406_07122555920_1814505901911582_1687614557_oIMG_20171019_12024322643226_1818199034875602_1599297061_oIMG_20171019_12140722664068_1818198948208944_774200110_o22662746_1818198974875608_1142783188_oIMG_20171019_141814IMG_20171019_142053IMG_20171019_143124_1IMG_20171019_175755_16222690359_1818198894875616_773054408_o22643198_1818198878208951_1574587661_o22664073_1818198824875623_1702749965_o (1)IMG_20171019_144959IMG_20171019_14581522664097_1818198744875631_1313718739_o22690117_1818198731542299_988122448_o22690603_1818198704875635_163855805_o22690608_1818198671542305_1727832631_o22550884_1813319188696920_435879880_o22546693_1813319152030257_951084554_o22547046_10155522981005269_188958984_oIMG_20171019_151205_1CS

Full Enduro

This will definitely go down as one of those seemingly endless long hot summers. One heat wave followed the next with the occasional rain shower just prevent things getting too dusty and maintain optimal grip.

After a year off the bike in 2016 with a heavy crash affecting my back, I was really keen to get back out there, albeit with some nerves about having another heavy stack. The main focus of my summer was working as an aspirant guide and staying alive while short roping clients up and down 4000 m peaks and I couldn’t afford to get inured biking. With some amazing rides on my doorstep and the lifts providing easy access, the temptation was too great and on my days off I was able to get free of the rope umbilical and  go biking.

It was actually such a busy summer that I rarely had time to sit and contemplate and it was while I looked back over the few photos taken that some amazing memories were triggered.  I also got to ride Finale for the first time with local Luca Martini and Filippo Gualtieri showing us some incredible trails and even enlisting the services of the Italian enduro champ just to show how slow we’d become in old age. The possibilities seem endless there and by the end of a day when brain fatigue looms, its time to hit the beach to relax, swim and have an apero. Whats not to like?

I’m really glad I did as much riding as possible this summer. Growing up in Scotland I could only dream of living in a ski resort and being able to clock up 10000 m days on the bike. Reading the bike mags just made me jealous of our American friends in Moab, Durango and the like which seemed to be the ultimate alpine playgrounds back then. I write this with some nerve issue giving me a lot of pain down my leg and Im not sure yet how that is going to pan out – but it hasnt stopped me dreaming of more bike adventures!

 

IMG_20170729_172953_158#1

20149043_10212149842453147_145518596_o21886765_10155923201168984_1960359919_o21886594_10155923203743984_1636225578_oIMG_20170904_182352_33221931022_10155923203143984_380688431_o20524272_10155316882540269_310547649_o21908699_10155923907438984_329389592_o21895214_10155923905023984_1208060096_o20180472_10212149842973160_436593044_o20148819_10212149843333169_1515245521_o20148728_10212149841333119_1375251004_o20137989_10212149840453097_1878073033_o20137894_10212149841613126_1225465963_o21908606_10155923904658984_343958851_o20133779_10212149842373145_1725939619_o20133376_10212149843373170_1873683746_o21931527_10155923908718984_220167159_o21909021_10155923904243984_221467173_o21908980_10155923203243984_837366793_o21908893_10155923203538984_609370550_o21908743_10155923904083984_1666356692_o21908653_10155923907958984_853995017_o20495700_10155316881450269_982111261_o21908627_10155923908233984_623516450_oIMG_20170905_235729_89321908576_10155923199433984_1481048293_o21908439_10155923199873984_468370497_o21908269_10155923203513984_564157024_o21875951_10155923903928984_54849437_o20495599_10155316882120269_1081453510_o21908061_10155923904713984_2000170203_o21908003_10155923198078984_508159988_o21895257_10155923903573984_605175826_o21895209_10155923198058984_1187109341_o21895161_10155923906198984_962453343_o21895133_10155923904108984_1094391453_oIMG_20170906_104002_06521895101_10155923907803984_2082913973_o21895073_10155923201448984_1724512061_o21895062_10155923908163984_414689057_o21894969_10155923203793984_901334390_o21894884_10155923198873984_850814758_o21894865_10155923903588984_2044841678_o21886959_10155923908383984_740768150_o21886952_10155923907308984_254056211_o21886888_10155923903988984_372778992_o21908240_10155923199773984_1062793847_o21886819_10155923904033984_1529475030_o21886747_10155923906513984_810731363_o21886735_10155923907628984_834374934_o20495878_10155316882025269_1453429603_o21886708_10155923199558984_1285479205_o21886701_10155923904003984_1369245292_o21886640_10155923904978984_1237336896_o21886557_10155923904613984_231409295_o21886520_10155923908978984_1066479250_o21875756_10155923201528984_113984272_o21875598_10155923200553984_474899827_o21875581_10155923199598984_1330652243_o21931251_10155923198373984_693281405_o20495665_10155316881870269_1423514617_o

Tour of Mont Blanc by Road Bike 330 km, 8000 m Vertical, Single Push

tour of mont blanc 20150819_174128

Last week I rode the Tour of Mont Blanc on the road, in a single push. Being late August the days are getting short fast requiring a 4 am departure that meant 2 hours of riding by headtorch to start the day. During those 2 hours I would pass over 2 cols and in the 4 degree C predawn temps I would be chilled to the bone. It was the first time I had ridden a road bike on alpine cols in the dark and despite taking the head torch I regularly ski with I found those descents fairly nerve racking; are those wet patches on the road or ice?  I was praying that all those eyes that flashed in the undergrowth just stayed put and didn’t run into the torch light.

20150820_060213

Once in Martigny at 6 am my legs were wooden with the cold afterr the descent from the Forclaz and I rode for the next couple of hours with my Berghaus race smock on to generate some heat. I kept looking right and seeing the line of sun creeping down the hillside, estimating the sun would hit the road at 9 am but by then I had entered the endless avalanche tunnels. My left foot was really cold and hurting me but worse was the pain in my pelvis from changing my saddle. My previous saddle had collapsed on my last ride so I replaced it with the same model. It seemed fine when I tested it, being weary of any changes to the bike that would haunt me on an 18 hour ride. Now I just couldn’t get comfortable with nerve pain and numbness, having to change the motion of my pedal stroke on my right leg to compensate and get out of the saddle every minute. As I rode on I was thinking I could use this as a recce since I had not done the Grand aint Benhard before. From the col it would be and easy roll down the 30 or so kms back to Martigny and the train home. Finally I got clear of the avalanche tunnels, the road kicked up, the sun came out and the scenery got interesting. What a contract to the psych and monotony of the graded main road. I enjoyed those last few kms to the col where I stopped to massage some blood back into my feet and eat a block of cheese. The long descent would give it time to settle in my stomach and I would need those fatty calories. There I made a snap decision to get on with it based on not ever wanting to do the long boring climb up to Grand Saint Bernhard again!

Dropping into Italy it was pretty windy and again the descent was cold and spent dodging the fluffy lupin pollen seeds. Swallowing those make you gag like a cat with a furball. In Aosta I stripped off my smock, long sleeved top, arm and leg warmers and my shoes. Planting me feet on the warm tarmac allowed them to absorb some of the stored energy from the sun and defrost. The next stage is pretty flat and I was worried about potential headwinds but it was fairly benign and I arrived at Pre Saint Didier to fill my bottles with cool water from the village fountain.

20150812_075031

Now I rejoined the route I rode the week before with a tired body the day after a hard rock climb. That was part of the strategy and even after 8-9 hours riding I still felt better on the climb to the Petit Saint Bernhard that I had the previous week. On the ride up a Swiss guy who I met on the GSB caught me up and told me about his nice restaurant meal in Aosta while I was churning along at 120 bpm. We talked for a bit before he shot off to get a coffee in La Thuile were, upon seeing me riding by, ran out of the café and started shouting allez!

At the top of the PSB I stopped for a good Italian coffee before entering back into France which just isn’t the same. I now was pretty sure I would be ok. I had 2 worries, firstly the week before I got nuked in the 35C heat on the 900 m climb to Col de Saises and secondly, I wasn’t looking forward to riding in the dark at the end. This time I would start up the Col de Saises at 6 pm so the shadows would be growing on the road and the temperature much more amenable. As for the dark, I reckoned I had 1 hour on autopilot on local roads from Fayet to make Chamonix for 10 pm. On the plus side my saddle was now broken in and fitting my bum so finally I was comfortable and able to resume my natural pedal stroke. This had a massive lift effect on my psych and I was enjoying being on the bike once more.

The descent to Bourg St Maurice is long and graded so I just coasted down at 40 mph sitting upright and saving my neck from unnecessary tension. Arriving at Bourg at 3 pm I felt it was time for some proper food and I spotted a drive by MacDonalds on the road. Not exactly proper food but its easy to get down your neck and digest. 2 double cheeseburgers and a coke had me ready for the grind up the Cormet de Roseland. This is a 2 stage climb with a flatter section in the middle. Once gain it was hot in the lower gorge and I could see my heart rate creep up in the 130s and 140s coping with the additional stress. Once out onto the high pastures there was a strong wind coming down from col as usual, and the storm clouds were gathering. At the col I was rushing to get all my clothes on and get down to Beaufort before the storm broke, the weather was better to the West and in the end I avoided getting a drenching.

20150812_114915

I started up the 15 km climb to Col de Saises at 6 pm, exactly 14 hours in. The temperature was a perfect 20C by now and I was climbing nearly twice as quickly as the week before. The last couple of kilometres of this climb are a bit of a grind a go on forever after you see the resort as the col is right at the far end of the village. From here I knew it was easy going to Le Fayet with only 400 m of climbing left up to Servoz and then the Vaudagne. Twilight had me stopping at Saint Gervais to put my headtorch back on as the descent there is in thick forest. I felt really happy to be climbing well up to Servoz. After 5 hors cat climbs the short sharp Vaudagne was not a mental worry but a final chance to feel some burn. I’m remember my heart rate was sitting at 130 here even though I was working hard – I had taken on a lot of fluid on the easy ride down from Saises so probably had more blood volume and the 15C temps were ideal for a Scotsman but it was probably also a sign of being tired. As I crested the Vaudagne I flashed a couple of doggers cars in the woods with my headtorch before shooting down the descent and into Les Houches. A few km on the flat and I was home and ready for a good shower and a quick meal before sleep!

I was super happy to get this ride down which had been talked about with various people for about ten years. Injury, work, etc all getting in the way before. This year I had a high end of season fitness from skiing stuff like the Matterhorn and I’d also ridden my mountain bike a lot. My road biking had been limited to about 10 rides, half of which were in February so my leg power was shocking even though my endurance was high.

I’d never ridden that far on a road bike and a 60 mile ride aged 11 stood as my limit for years. While I was working in Aberdeen in 2013 I did the Tour of the Cairngorms and the Tour of the Snow Roads which were  166 miles and 200 miles respectively. The road bike really is a great way to cover a lot of distance and take in the scenery. Read about them in the links below.

Tour of the cairngorm mountains

Tour of the snow roads 305-km 5000m vertical

Mixed Climbing – Rebuffat Terray V5 550 m Col des Pelerins

The Rebuffat Thierry route was first climbed in winter by Rab Carrington and Alan Rouse who followed a series of ice runnels that drooled down from the Col des Pelerins. Fpr some reason or another I had never got onto this route. A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of spending a day climbing at Gogarth with living legend Rab Carrington and knew I had to amend this obvious omission to my Chamonix winter climbing resume. Aged 60 odd Rab is inspiring to watch on the rock, still climbing big E5s and 8a with impressive flexibility, a testimony to the benefits of a stretching regime. After a year off climbing myself with being busy skiing, this was going to be a challenge to my residual climbing fitness and break me back into shape. I headed up with Sandy Simpson who was keen for a mid length day route and is fit from time well spent dry tooling at the Zoo.

The route itself was in good to lean conditions with a couple of breaks in the ice at the steeper cruxy locations due to traffic. It was great fun being back Alpine climbing and moving quickly in the mountains and not spending much time searching for protection (unlike Scotalnd) – even if slowed slightly in freeride touring boots!

On the way down we descended Pre de Rocher which contained a mixture of awful crust, disgusting wind buff and treacherous frost coated boulder fields. Hopping from sugar coated boulder to boulder was the order of the day (or night by now) and after 600 m I gave in on the skiing and decided to walk. Rebuffat Terry

Rebuffat Terry-2Rebuffat Terry-4Rebuffat Terry-5-2Rebuffat Terry-5Rebuffat Terry-6Rebuffat Terry-4-2 Rebuffat Terry-3-2 Rebuffat Terry-2-2Rebuffat Terry-7

Tour of the Snow Roads (305 km, 5000 m vertical)

This summer I had a few weeks in Scotland after the Alpine ski season and before heading to South America to work and ski. The UK was experiencing a heat wave that was long over due after the recent cold wet summers. Temperatures after work were very conducive to road biking and form started to come with hours spent in the saddle. I’d done the tour of the Cairngorms road ride a few weeks previously, a stunning 165 miles round one of the older Mountain Ranges in the World that had confirmed road bike fitness. I’d had a yellow fever jab that week and the words of the nurse created doubt in my head all the way round – ‘ just don’t do anything strenuous for a week.’ I felt pretty good at the end of that ride, and a plan formed to go ride the Tour of the Snow Roads before the reduced daylight hours in August would mean riding in the dark. I believe this Tour had been conceived by the Arbroath CC boys and had become a classic ride covering 305 km and 5000 m of ascent over some of Scotland’s high passes; Cairn o Mount, Glenshee, Crathie – Gairn Shiel, Gairn Shiel – Corgarf, Lecht and Cabracht.

I made a plan to go on the following Saturday as the forecast was good, if a little hot, and it would give me the whole of Sunday to relax and recover. The first part of the week was hectic travelling with work but I was back in my own bed on Thursday night. It had been at hot week and my apartment was still scorching long after sunset and it was around midnight before I finally drifted off to sleep. When the alarm went off at 5am I felt mentally tired from the week, not really ideal considering it was psych that would make the difference on a ride like this. Opening the curtains I was greeted with thick fog and a check the webcams on the route confirming the same weather. Not being motivated to ride for several hours in the damp until the fog burnt off, made it an easy decision to go back to bed. 5 hrs additional sleep confirmed I’d made the right decision and in the afternoon I went out a rode a 4 hour loop over the Lecht and the Cabrach. Scorching temperatures and melting tarmac reaffirmed that it wasn’t the day for a long ride.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and my work routine was developing into a major energy sapping grind leaving me wasted by the weekend. I realised a change of strategy was required in order to get this ride done so I planned for a midweek day while still feeling fresh and psyched. My alarm went off at 5 am and after a quick breakfast and 20 mile drive I was riding by 6 am. The heat wave had come to an end and been replaced by more typical Scottish weather meaning a low of 10 C with a high of 18 C forecasted. The first hour was a stunning start to the day riding past fields with low-lying mist lurking and first sunrays crystal clear. I wasn’t used to the cool air and my hands and neck were numb with the cold but fortunately the steep 12-14% climb up the Cairn O Mount got the blood going.

The next couple of hours went without incident except to stop for water in Kirimuir, plug in my Ipod, and get down into that committed rhythm and continue on quiet roads up Glen Isla. A ‘diversion – road closed’ sign was cause for concern as on a ride like this there was no way I could handle an extra 25 miles. I rationalised that it was probably due to flooding from the heavy rain earlier in the week and whatever the issue, it would be passable now. Approaching the Glenshee road the reason for the diversion became apparent and was due to a new junction under construction. Shouldering my bike across the neighbouring fields enabled me to re-join the main road.

Braemar came after 6 hours and with it the decision to have a sandwich or just a top up snack before the group of 3 climbs which formed the most prolonged mountain section of the entire route. In the end I was feeling good and decide just to have a coke, crisps and a double decker before getting going. Back on the road the temperature had dropped and even with my goretex I was feeling cold. That soon changed on the Crathie-Gairn climb when the sun came out and I had run dry by the time I got to the start of the biggest and steepest climb of the day over the Lecht. The temperature swings of the day were quite tricky, always hot and sunny on the climbs then cold and shady on the descents. Arriving in Tomintoul forty minutes later at the 8 hrs 30 mark it was definitely time to rehydrate and all that stood in the way was a woman in the shop that wouldn’t stop talking and get one with paying! A litre of water and 1.5 litres of coke disappeared into me and my bottles in preparation for the final 3-4 hours.

The road to Dufftown is one which I often ride and it was a case of getting lost in the music, sticking to my food and water intake religiously and admiring the scenery. An hour later in Dufftown I refilled my bottles and ate a pain au raisin before embarking on the last major climb of the day over the Cabrach. My spirits were high after crossing this pass and after the decent I mentally calculated that there was less than 30 miles to go. Approaching Alford the Lumphanan road heads off right before Alford. I didn’t want to make any detours for shops so I continued not thinking much of the 10 miles to Lumphanan sign. Having never been on this section of road it was a surprise bonus to find a fairly long drag of a climb which had me working hard as my body started to run hot and dry. A fast descent took me down to Lumphanan where I found all the shops closed! A few miles further took me to Torphins and I raided the shop for water.

The last 7 miles was all on the flat and the monument on Banchory’s Scolty Hill was a friendly familiar sight visible from several miles away and acting like a homing beacon drawing me back to the car. The bunions on my feet from skiing were pretty sore by the end along with my right shoulder and I was glad to finally climb off the bike and into my car after 13 hrs 10 mins car to car. The main factors in making this ride solo was a day with no wind and cool temperatures and keeping heart rate below 140 throughout with a 160 limit on the major steep climbs.

Fuel intake on bike

15 bars/gels, 1.5 litres water, 1 litre water, 0.5 litre coke, Double decker, Packet crisps, 1.5 litres coke, 1 litre water, 400 g chocolate, 1 litre water, pain au raisin, 0.5 litres water.

Tour of the Cairngorm Mountains

2013-07-06 13.01.07

The other day I went out and rode the ‘Tour of the Cairngorms’, a fantastic road cycling route that I’d been thinking about for a couple of years now. I started at Ballater and the route took over 5 passes; Gairn Shiel, Lecht ski centre, Drumtochter, Dalnavaid and Glenshee ski centre over 165 miles. It takes in some of the UK’s finest mountain and lake scenery, continuously varied from the moody Cairngorm massif (formed 40 million years ago), ancient Scots Pines in the Caledonian forests, lakes around Aviemore, barren Arctic tundra near Dalwhinne, and the broad leaf forests and craggy mountains of Perthshire.  The route also follows three of Scotland’s finest rivers, the Spey, Garry and Dee which is essential in making fine Malt Whiskey known by the Scots as the ‘water of life’. Several of the well know distilleries are situated along the route such as Enochdhu, Dalwhinnie,  Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, and Lochnagar to name a few. It would have been nice to stop for a dram but that would have been the end of me!

Heading West from Aviemore was hard going into strong wind for 4 hours and going over the Drumtochter pass at the 7 hour mark I felt pretty committed, a long way from home with no short cuts available. Arriving in Pitlochry at 7 pm and it was time to eat and I need some salt but also felt pretty sick. That feeling only got worse when I saw a roadsign saying 60 miles to go – whoops – I must have missed a leg on the paper map that I glanced at in the morning – I was banking on 35 to go. I’d also forgot my bank card as the idea to do the route was spontaneous that morning and it had been a bit of rush getting out of the house. Thoughts of a night out in lycra and being eaten to death by the midges spurred me on and those last 60 miles only took 3 hours. In the cool air at 9 pm I was working hard and running hot going over the Glenshee ski centre pass but the last 25 miles down the river Dee through rolling hills and forest was a treat. 11 hrs 15 mins.

Screen Shot 2013-07-07 at 12.07.20