Monday, 3 September 2018

Silk Road Mountain Race 2018

skirting the Chinese border

It took us 14 days to cover the 1700 kilometres to complete the first Silk Road Mountain Race. Four days longer than we had originally anticipated. That seems the going rate for the under-estimation for all 97 riders that toe'd the line in Bishkek on that Saturday morning.  Of those starters only 32 completed, that's an astonishing dropout rate. Broken bikes and bodies, poor hygiene and high altitude taking it's toll - many times the route was between 3000 and 4000 metres. Some riders just didn't have time to complete with flights home booked on a tight schedule. 

Flying in on the day before the race we crossed everything that our bikes would arrive and they did! We were not so lucky on the return trip as a delayed flight out of Bishkek scuppered the chances of our luggage making it to our London flight. 

rock gardens, good times

With little time to acclimatise the drug Diamox turned out to be a sensible precaution for us, we had little effect from altitude and often camped at around 3500m.  Kyrgyzstan is a country of extremes, some days we were sweltering in 46 degree heat while at night camping high meant temperatures down below minus 8. This time of year we had darkness from 8.30 to 5am which usually meant finding a campspot in the dark and getting going in the dark too - so very cold coming down from high up! 

soon to be sag wagons....

We have developed an attitude of 'grab it while it's there' over the years and this is especially true here. Water is abundant except when it's not. It's often glacial too so beware when filtering, choose your source wisely.  It can take a bit of hunting around for shops and they are often poorly stocked - we took some ready meals and ate a lot of noodles!  The word vegetarian just doesn't exist...

Voile straps for fixing stuff to other stuff, never enough water.

The organisers recommendation to take bikes with at least a 2" tyre was spot on, though some coped with less volume the washboard roads that went on for miles took their toll. We'd consider a suspension seat post of some description to take some sting out of those craters that sneak up on you. Elbows bend, bums don't. Saddle sores were obviously abundant and just looking after yourself at the end of a long day takes time out of the schedule but should't be underestimated. While there are some long stretches of tarmac along the Chinese border and near the big dam construction they were a small percentage of the route. For us there was a deal of pushing over steep passes especially towards the end and from the very start washboard surfaces on old unmaintained military roads pummelled us unrelentingly. 

cold up at 3900m

We were so lucky with the weather. Rained on for just a day we had mostly big blue skies but some sections of unrelenting headwind. Like all mountain environments things can change pretty quick either way and we were lucky to have bogs turned dry by a day of high winds before we got to them. Others had stories of waist deep bog trotting the same paths. There were many opportunities to get your feet , calves and waist wet and you should be prepared to plan to get to the bigger crossings in the morning before things have time to warm up and the crossings get deeper and faster flowing.

Buhanka 4x4 vehicles 

summit monuments

Dust, dirt, sunshine and cold kept some sort covering on our faces for most of the ride.  Dust gets everywhere and it's good to keep the sun and the wind from lips and noses too. Suffered a bit from swollen ankles once we stopped stomping and have the usual cuts, bruises and bashes but nothing at all that we wouldn't expect. We wore compression tights at night for the first time, no idea whether that helped but probably kept us warmer!

never enough gravel, right?

in the zone

We took a +5 rated PHD sleeping bag reasoning that we took a tent and primaloft jacket so should be warm enough. Like most reasoning when planning this ride we underestimated...  Minus 8 at 3500m in Kyrgyzstan is chuffing cold and we should have taken a warmer bag - 0 would have done it and made us better rested. No way would we have taken a bivvy and unless you're really at the pointy end  you probably shouldn't either.

more snowy hike-a-bike

We rode Salsa Cutthroats. Tool for the job, counted 7 on the startline. Would have added a suspension seat post but that's all we would change. 2" Maxxis Ikon out back and 2.25" upfront kept it reasonable comfy - we did discuss suspension forks while hunting for the ever elusive, mostly non-existent smooth line on those gravel roads but weight and added complexity rule them out.  As little bike as possible and all that.

route high point, celebratory thumbs!

final scores.

So, finished up in 14 days and a bit. Took far too many photo's (Ricoh GRii if you need to know - lightweight and does the job), lost some weight and generally suffered a bit but had a fab old time all in all. Hats off to everyone involved in putting this event on in what really is in some parts the absolute end of the earth.

happy days, time for a beer.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Love at first ride, my Surly Midnight Special.

Love at first ride, my Surly Midnight Special.

As soon as The Official Intergalactic Surly Regional HQ announced the Midnight Special I knew I had to have one.

Fat road- what's not to like? Yes the geometry is more road than off road- but I reckoned some fatter tyres, a slightly more relaxed set-up and this bike was gonna be as much fun off road as on.

My Straggler 650b was my donor bike for the build the only new components being a headset and some fatter tyres (Panaracer 27.5 x 1.9 Gravelking SK). As this was going to be my commuter as well on went the dynamo hub, light, mudguards (sorry fenders) and rack. Surly even make some little adaptors to let you run quick release wheels in this bolt they frame. Remember, it runs bolt thru hubs in 'open' dropouts.

We built it on Sunday and at 4.30am Monday left for it's shakedown ride. 90 miles on and off road from Lancaster to home. A mixture of riverside paths, open fells, rocky bridleways and road, if the bike and I hadn't bonded by the end of this then there was no hope for us.

First impressions were great- the larger volume tyre certainly didn't slow me down and was noticebly more comfortable. Off road the only adjustment made was to let some air out of the tyres which stopped me bouncing off rocks. Conditions were 'interesting' it had been raining heavily since we left Manchester, trails were streams, it was windy and cold on the tops and 4 hours in all feeling had left fingers and toes.

All in we rode for 11 hours and it rained for at least 10 of them!
We rode rocky stuff that i'd only ever cleared on a mountain bike, steep hills i'd only ever done on a road bike and the Midnight Special breezed it all.

By the time we got home I knew this bike was a 'keeper', now I just need to figure out why it's called a Midnight Special (answers on a postcard please.)

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

The 2nd Torino - Nice rally.

After seeing and hearing about last years inaugural Torino - Nice rally we decided it was definitely on our 'to do' list. We managed to be organised enough to book our flights to Italy and our first nights accommodation in January and then we promptly forgot about it. 

Fast forward to 2 weeks before the event and suddenly we're randomly picking our route from the cue sheets, planning a route from Milan airport to the start and throwing stuff into piles on the floor- no kit grid photos here!  As events go the TNR is a little different to most, there are no winners or losers, no fixed route to follow, just a series of GPX files that take in a series of POI's (points of interest). It's mostly up to you how you string them together, on road, off road, flatter, hillier, use one of the short cuts if running out of time or not.
Start in Turin finish in Nice. Simple!

We arrived into Milan the day before the official start and got into the swing of things by riding the 130kms over to Turin. A pan flat ride this gave us time to warm up and sort out any packing issues before the 'grand depart'. That evening 120 riders gathered on the Piazza Giambattista Bodoni for a meal of pizza, pasta and beer. It was great to catch up with lots of people we knew, discuss route options and weigh up other peoples bike choices.

Day 1 Turin to Colle delle Finestre.

We gathered on the square next morning from 8.30 for a 9am departure, every conceivable type of bike was there, gravel bikes, cross bikes, mtb, mid fat, full fat, single speed there was even someone with a trailer who had broken off from their European tour to take part in the rally. We'd opted for the lightweight combination  of our Salsa Warbirds with minimal luggage, we knew there were some big climbs to come and wanted to make it as easy as possible - this was a holiday after all.
After some group photos we rolled out of the square a little later than anticipated and made our way through the suburbs of Turin rather like a critical mass on vacation. For the first 224kms we'd all be following the same route, after that you started to make your own  choices. It wasn't long before we reached open countryside and the climbing began following roads that twisted through small villages, steadily upwards with many stops to refill bottles at fountains. At 67km we turned off the road to start the first 'big' climb of the day the lesser known Colle Columbardo.  Our first real taste of Italian off road it was lots of loose gravel and switchbacks eventually topping out at 2000m, it was also our first big grin inducing descent, fast, loose, sliding back ends and trying not to blow out tyres on water bars. 

First descent off Colle Columbardo.

Eventually we rolled into Bussoleno as the only restaurant in town opened. Within an hour there must have been about 40 hungry riders stuffing themselves on pizza and calzones with more riders arriving all the time. We ate and decided to push on to get some more km's done with very full bellies we headed off to start the the Colle delle Finestre climb.  After a couple of hours riding into the dark and starting the first of  it's 54 switchbacks (yes 54!) we found our bed for the night, a small ledge above the road with some tree cover and bedded down for the night. 

Day 2 Colle delle Finestre to Chateau Ville Vielle via Col d'Izoard.

A good nights sleep and we were off pre dawn to get some more climbing done before it warmed up. The tarmac on the Colle soon gave way to gravel as we rolled past more people sleeping trail side.  We continued to climb steadily through tree lined slopes which eventually gave way to bare slopes and the sounds of the alpine cattle with their large bells. Eventually we topped out 2178m with 1750m gained climbing this one and from here it was a definite downhill to breakfast at the refuge. Coffee and eggs certainly tastes better after a long climb!

Strada dell Assietta

After breakfast it was more strada and stunning views followed by a bit more road climbing on the Col Montgenevre before making our first crossing into France and heading to the walled town of Briancon to pick up more supplies before heading up the Col d'Izorad. 

It was early evening as we climbed up the Col traffic had died down and it now became a playground for the long boarders. As we winched our way slowly up they flew past us with a van behind to shuttle them back to the top. They must have managed a good 4 runs down the length of the Col in the time it took us to reach the summit. It was now starting to get dark so we popped on our lights, pulled on some warm layers and set off riding down over the graffitied names from this years Tour de France.

Day 3 Chateau Ville Vieille to Stroppo via the 'Death road' 

Colle dell'Agnello

We awoke early at the foot of the Colle dell'Agnello freezing in our bivvy bags and covered in frost. This climb was to be one of the high points of the rally at 2744m and at it's base we were still pretty high and bloody cold. We soon started to warm up as we climbed the 30km's up through the valley towards the summit. A couple of hours later we reached the top and another border crossing this time back into Italy, we celebrated with brioche and jelly beans before another fast road descent heading for Sampeyre.

Obligatory high point- border picture.

After a lunch of mozzarella and pomodorino paninis (sounds more exotic than cheese and tomato sandwiches) we felt almost human again and ready to take on another climb. The Colle di Sampeyre was another 1320m climb topping out at 2284m, as we climbed it became very 'muggy' and we soon realised the weather was about to break and we were in for a soaking. Half way up the mist rolled in, the tarmac stopped and the Colle suddenly became quite eerie, we plodded on (though maybe a little quicker now) till we reached the top and found a sign in the mist showing our way off the top.

Topping out on Colle di Sampeyre.

From here it was all downhill to the infamous Vallon d'Elva SP104, aka the 'death road'.
The 'death road' descends a steep-sided valley with tunnels cut through the rocks, for much of it's length a bit of bailing twine is the only thing stopping you going over the edge and down into the gorge below and rockfalls and landslides are common. . We stopped frequently to take photos, this was one of the 'must see' points on the rally for us and we weren't disapointed.

Death road clinging to side of valley.

Rock tunnels.

On reaching Stroppo the weather really upped it's game and the rain became torrential with no sign of letting up, from here our route was to take us back up into the mountains again.  Faced with a night of being soaked and cold we headed for a campsite we spotted. Luck was on our side they had an empty yurt hut we could sleep in and even brought us two mattresses to throw our sleeping bags on. It rained heavily all night eventually stopping about 8am the next morning, to say we were glad to have not had to sleep out would have been an understatement.

Day 4 Stroppo to Colle di Tenda via little Peru.

After leaving our yurt we started the long climb up the Colle de Preit (2076m), soon we were stripping off layers of clothing as it warmed up and tarmac became gravel. We climbed past the Refugio Gardetta to reach the high altitude military road which would climb to 2460m and take us to Little Peru. The weather was stunning affording us amazing views as we kept climbing. We passed a few other off roaders en route (Lada Niva anyone!) before we were off and pushing under the gun nests high above the valley that Little Peru is famous for.

Four Horsemen of the Gardetta.

Top of the Altipiano de Gardetta.

More Strada Bianca.

From here it was more Strada Bianca, more amazingly fun and fast off road descents followed by more road descents. Soon we'd lost all the height we'd spent half a day gaining and were rolling along through valleys and towns heading towards Colle di Tende our last climb for the day.    

Day 5 Colle di Tende to Nice via Col di Turini

We arrived in Limone Piemonte early evening and picked up some supplies to keep us going that evening as we started the climb up the Colle di Tende. We'd decided to bivvy half way up to give ourselves an easier start the next morning. It was a chilly and misty night with the wind picking up which made for some hard going on the last of the climb the following morning. We were however rewarded with the famous dirt switchbacks on the way down before heading off to St Dalmas di Tende and finding possibly the best bakery in the world for breakfast.

St Dalmas di Tende

We were now into our final day with one last big gravel climb (the largest on the rally) up to the Fort de la Forca and Col Turini. The weather was about to break again so we headed off hoping to beat the worst of it. We climbed steadily eventually breaking clear of the tree line and onto the open slopes. Ahead of us was the Fort sitting high on a hill and from here it really was downhill all the way to Nice (about 55kms to be precise).

Last big gravel climb

Fort de la Forca in the distance.

Just as we reached the Fort the weather broke, we pulled on all our warm clothes and set off on for coldest ride we'd done for a long time. Riding the road used in the Monte Carlo rally in the torrential rain we shivered our way down to the Col di Turini stopping frequently to try and warm fingers, toes and shake uncontrollably. Another couple of hours and we'd made it to Nice, the finish point of the Cafe du Cycliste was now closed so we grabbed a hotel for the night, warmed up in a hot bath and decided to visit the Cafe the following morning to grab our finishers tyres (thanks WTB) and drink some very good coffee.

The TNR is a fantastic event, all credit to James the orgainiser for an amazing route and all the hard work he puts in (cue sheets in 3 languages, sorting the pre ride dinner and no doubt answering hundreds of questions from would be riders).
 It's also a not for profit event with all the money from sales of the rally patches and rider donations going to the The Smart Shelter Foundation a project James came across whilst riding in Nepal.

The finish point, the wonderfully hospitable Cafe du Cycliste.

We rode 702km's
We climbed 15,959m's
We ate 4 Pizzas and 8 Mozerella and pomodorino paninis (each!) 
plus assorted bakery goods and only 1 ice cream :-(

2 x Salsa Warbirds
2 x Salsa Anything Cradles for sleeping bags
2 x Apidura rear seat packs
1 x Porcelain Rocket camera bag


2 x PHD Minimus sleeping bag
2 x Terra Nova Moonlite Bivvy bag
1 x Rab silwing tarp
Spare shorts
Spare jersey
Spare socks
Berghaus primaloft jacket
Arc'teryx waterproof jacket
1 x Surly junk rag
Chamois cream
2 x Exposure Joysticks

Gear/brake cable
Chain links
Park tyre boots - carried for decades, used this time!

Used everything- didn't forget/ miss anything.


Monday, 13 June 2016

Riding the HT550 (or a big walk with a long bike).

It's 8.45 on a saturday morning and outside the real food cafe in Tyndrum 48 people are waiting for 9am, the official start time for the Highland Trail 550. The HT550 is a long distance, self supported 550 mile off road time trial route around the highlands of Scotland. There is no entry fee, no prize and definitely no outside help. The route is notoriously hard with around 16,000 metres of climbing and traverses some of Scotlands wildest and most beautiful landscapes. 

Fresh faced with shoes intact!

We'd been trying to make the group start for the last two years but circumstances had dictated otherwise, not this year though. We also decided that we would attempt the route on our new Salsa Powderkeg tandem, it would be a first if we could but we also knew it was going to be a tough ride. 

Blue skies.

9am came and we rolled out of Tyndrum following the West highland Way for the first few miles before turning off to head towards Ben Alder. The fast boys and girls raced off and we tried to settle into a steady pace knowing it was gong to be a long week of riding. By mid afternoon we'd already had water crossings, hike a bike sections and the first of many climbs. 

Long climbs.

We pushed on late into the evening, passing through Laggan then heading for our final big climb of the day up and over the Corrieyarick pass before dropping into Fort Augustus and  heading on a couple of miles before we stopped on the edge of a clearing for the first of a week of bivvys. Knackered we climbed into our bags to grab a few hours sleep before heading off again at dawn. 

Early morning hike a bike round a loch.

Next morning was an easy start following the fast rolling trails of the Great Glen Way, some hike a bike round the rocky shores of a hill top Loch and a bit of bog trotting before dropping into Cannich and the finding the cafe for breakfast. With 5 hours of riding already done we'd definitely earnt the large plates of food that arrived. We were hoping to manage another 100 plus mile day as we knew the route was going to get a lot tougher, the hike a bike sections harder and inevitably we'd be slower. More hills, more glens, a stop in Contin to stuff our pockets with food then a few more hours till we stopped just outside of Okyel Bridge to grab some sleep.

Soloing the switchbacks.

Two days in and we'd notched up about 210 miles, from here however it was going to get slower and harder. We were headed up to the most northern part of the route- through Glen Golly and the loose switchbacks, the start of the big pushes, near vertical loose slopes, trackless paths, huge peat hags, more pushing up the Bealach and long fast descents off the other side. 

Places to not take a tandem- yes we are on the route!

We continued on heading past the most northern point on the route at Achfray before dropping down to the north west coast. A brief respite from the loose tracks and pushing came in a road section to Lochinver - however this too was typically hilly but with stunning views it helped take our minds off tired legs and numb bums. 
We stopped on the coast that evening hidden away behind some rocks a nice breezy spot that helped keep the midges away.

More early morning pushing.

4 hours sleep and another early morning start, we knew day 4 was going to be a hard one.
 A short spin along the coastal path dropped us in Lochinver sadly before the famous pie shop had opened, a climb out along a glen heading for Glen Canisp and the first  'proper' hike a bike. Having done this section of the route at Christmas we knew we had a good 
5 1/2 hours of bike hauling ahead of us. Eventually we hit the road on the far side, passing a school group en route who didn't believe that we'd just carried the bike over. Back on tarmac it felt good to be logging the miles again as we headed again for Okyel Bridge this time timing it perfectly for brunch and re-stocking our pockets with flapjacks. 

The old road to Ullapool.

Bellies bulging with food we trundled off slowly onto the old road to Ullapool, for a while we made pretty good progress with wide open tracks until the path became a ribbon of single track overhanging the Corriemulzie river. More off and on the bike, more chatting to estate workers about what we were doing and a bit more pushing thrown in for good measure. It was as we headed to Ullapool we realised that we'd managed break our cache battery which meant we were without a power source for charging our Garmin. This was potentially a big problem as without the Garmin we'd be relying on maps which would slow us down again. We made the decision to head for Ullapool asap to find the outdoor shop and get ourselves sorted. We  came off route a couple of miles out and hurtled down the road to town, we made the outdoor shop 5 mins before closing but they had no cache batteries or Garmins. We did however find an electronics shop where the owner was amazingly helpful, we bought a huge cache battery off him and while we went to eat some chips he helpfully made sure it and our Garmin were fully charged. A couple of hours later with our crisis averted we rolled up out of town and back to where we'd left the course to regain the route. 

Above the aptly named Coffin road.

A short section of road took us to the aptly named Coffin road, a steep seemingly almost vertical push up and over the tops before dropping down to Dundonnel. It was cool and bright night so we pushed on for a while until eventually we started to drop down and found a flat (-ish), dry spot to bivvy for the night. Tomorrow would be a big day- the loch crossing at Fisherfield and the Postmans path.

6am and bright sun, the climb to Fisherfield.

An early morning push/climb took us up behind the mountain tops before a fast, loose decent into the valley bottom heading towards Fisherfield. Some single track took us past the Shenavall bothy and onwards to the shoreline and the crossing point for the infamous loch crossing. Unlike last year when some riders had been at chest level when crossing the loch for us it was just past the knees. 

Surrounded by mountains the loch crossing at Fisherfield.

This was to be our longest and slowest day, we managed a total of 35 miles, our estimate is we pushed, hauled, carried the tandem over 26 of them. Another long steep rocky climb followed as the day got hotter, more hauling the bike over loose rocky slopes and three point turning it to get it around harpins and over rocks- this was definitely 'Type 2 Fun'. Once we reached the plateau we found this too was unrideable, the wheelbase of the bike being a little too long, more walking and scooting followed. Eventually we were rewarded by the amazing view of Dubh Loch and Fionn Loch as well as some bits of track that were rideable.

Dubh Loch and Fionn Loch.

Not all tracks are rideable. 

We crossed the causeway between the two lochs and started on a long slow grind up the 'Postmans path". The Postmans path is a historic path about 10 miles in length that runs from Letterewe to Fisherfield causeway where once a month the postman would make the journey to deliver mail. One heck of a route!
We'd thought that once we'd made the end of the path we might be able to make it to Kinlochewe for tea. We couldn't have been more wrong.

Somewhere there is a path...

Sense of humour failure.
 Manhandling a tandem over a tree filled ravine has that effect.

The trail suddenly disappeared to become a footpath barely 3" wide in places that clung to slopes that were about 75 degrees. Covered in a mixture of ferns and rose bushes we dragged the bike along being scratched, torn, burnt in the sun and eaten by midges when we stopped. Progress was slow and only got slower as we encountered one of 3 ravine crossings that was filled with fallen trees. After much swearing we manhandled the bike over, under and through the trees- having a 'moment' or two in the process. 
6pm came and went and any thoughts of tea at the Whistle Stop cafe were well and truly dashed, we decided to camp a few km's outside of Kinlochewe get a proper nights sleep and roll into town for breakfast in the morning. Tempting as it was to push on the prospect of a large breakfast and good coffee was all we needed to call it a day. Absolutley knackered we crawled into our sleeping bags, the last thing I heard was another HTR rider cursing as they bounced down the path towards Kinlochewe. 

More mountain tops in Torridon.

A short spin into Kinlochewe and we hit the Whistle Stop cafe for breakfast. Smoothies, quinoa and mushrooms with fried eggs on top, peanut butter on toast and lots of coffee, now we were ready for another day of bike hauling. So far the bike had been perfect (except for losing a chainring bolt- which was holding together nicely with  zip tie!) it was just us that were starting to feel it. Riding a tandem seems to necessiate a lot of sitting down- especially on the loose slopes of Scottish hills. We both had developed a rather uncomfortable saddle/pressure sore on our ass plus rather worryingly our shoes had started to split across the soles. It would seem that dragging a bike across many hills had taken it's toll on our footwear which was patently not HT550 rated. This was not what we needed when the mornings objective was to haul the bike through and over Torridon. We rolled out of town and had a few gentle miles of road before turning off onto some fast rolling fire road, this didn't last long before we started the inevitable climb into the mountains. We popped our heads into a bothy we passed and managed to find some suncream someone had left- winner! Maybe today we wouldn't fry as much. We eventually reached our high point and then started to drop down, we did manage a bit of riding before deciding that maybe a full suspension bike would be a better choice for the large slabby drop offs. A quick and fun  blast through some wooded trails at the bottom and then back onto the road for a while to knock out some more miles. By now we were pre-occupied by the fact we wanted to get to Dornie before the general store closed otherwise it was no food for us. More hills, more swearing at the non existent river side path to haul the tandem along before finally hitting tarmac again. By our reckoning we had 15mins to get 5 miles to the shop, we decided to give it everything we had and screamed down the road, a headwind was not what was needed right now. We didn't arrive in the 15 mins- but it turns out we had the opening times wrong by half an hour and it was still open. Result!
An impromptu picnic outside followed as we stuffed restocks into bags and bellies for later. 

Misty start in Glen Affric.

We climbed out of Dornie, stopping briefly at the viewpoint before heading to Shiel bridge and the turning to Glen Affric. We then had a few miles of nice fast riding as we dropped into the Glen before realising that the footpath that clung to the mountain side above us was where we were headed next. Off the bike again for another night of pushing the bike up and over rocky paths that clung to the glen side, crossing waterfalls, and becoming more remote the further we travelled along it. We knew we were going to be passing Camden bothy en route and guessed it would be a full house in there as we spotted a couple of other HTR riders heading for it. We rolled on by saying hello to the few riders outside who were trying to quietly get their stuff off bikes and inside without waking the others. Shortly after we decided to bivvy for the night as the mist had dropped in and visibility was deteriorating. 

Old military road to Fort Augustus.

An early start as we kept heading through the Glen passing the SYHA hostel- surely one of the remotest youth hostels in the country. It was a misty morning and gave the glen quite an atmospheric and spooky feel. Eventually we crossed the river at the end of the Glen (bridged) and continued on fire roads. Progress quickened as the going got easier and we could see where we were gong, we picked up the military road heading for Fort Augustus climbing up and through more forests, hills and past remote hilltop lochs before the hitting a massive long fire road decent- the sort of decent that leaves you with the smell of overheating brake pad in your nostrils. A final hill to climb, another descent through a gorse filled hillside of switchbacks before arriving in Fort Augustus. 
More food (pizza!), a restock at the petrol station and a visit to the chemist for blister pads.

Nice venting!

Our deteriorating footwear meant we now had a number of blisters on heels and toes so a quick stop on the banks of the Caledonian canal gave us some time to patch these up. It should also be noted that a Compeed blister pad can do pretty good service to a pressure sore on the ass- and apologies to the couple cycling by who may have witnessed what probably looked like some pretty deviant behaviour as I was applying said item to Rich's backside. 

After the relentless hills we'd encountered spinning along the flat banks of the canal was a welcome relief, some woods, some lochsides and a few hours later and we hit Fort William. We'd forgotten it was World cup weekend and were a bit shellshocked by the amount of traffic and people we suddenly encountered. We skirted the edge of town and started the long climb through the woods heading for the old military road to Kinlochleven. It was mostly easy going except we'd blocked out the memory of a set of stairs we'd have to contend with.

Stairs- *sigh*

Once on the military road we trundled on our thoughts being to push on through the night and get in on a 6 day finish. However, with Rich's new open toe spd arrangement it became apparent this wasn't the best idea and he was probably risking a broken toe or two in the process. As darkness fell we made the decision to stop and crack on again in the morning, a 6 day finish wouldn't be likely but we would have 10 working toes each.

Last view of the 'Ben'

Another early morning start of walking the bike down to Kinlochleven, followed by our last big push of the trip up and over Devils Staircase, we were definitely glad we hadn't tried to do this in the dark.  Once over the other side we followed the Military road to the Kingshouse hotel (too early for coffee!) and on to the Glencoe ski station. A fast stoney downhill took us past the many highland Way walkers that were now on the move and on to the Bridge of Orchy, we had a quick caffeine & cake hit here and then pushed on past the station and onwards to eventually rejoin the route we'd last been on 6 days ago. 

We rolled in to the Green Welly stop at 7 days 4 hours and 44mins after we'd left.

We lost one chainring bolt, trashed 2 pairs of shoes, and can honestly say that taking the tandem around the HTR550 is the hardest physical thing we've ever done. 

It's taken a week for the cankles to go down but we're already talking about which bike we'd 'solo' it on :-)

Free to a good home, one careful owner.

Bike specs and kit list.

Frameset Salsa Powderkeg - awesome
Wheels. Rohloff & SP Dynamo hubs built with Sapim Race spokes onto Velocity Blunt SS rims - straight as they come
Tubeless system by StansNoTubes, faultless - as was the mix of Schwalbe Nobby Nic up front with a Rock Razor on the rear. Grippy, tough and fast rolling - no punctures.
Chainsets RaceFace NextSL - super light and tough enough for the rocks of Torridon
Pedals Issi, colour matched and a lot more cosmetically challenged than when they left
Seat posts Thomson and Cane Creek Thudbuster
Saddles both running SDG
Bars Salsa carbon flats - flex enough to take the sting out of riding rigid
Grips Ergon of course. 
Chains & chainrings provided by KMC and Hopetech - took the knocks without complaint.
Lighting provided by an Exposure Revo and a pair of Joysticks
Luggage provided by a mix of Salsa frame bag, Apidura feed pouches and Wildcat seat pack and handlebar harness - mixing it up was essential for the special needs of the tandem. 
We carried chain links, tubes, lube, Park multitool, Leatherman plyer type tool, zip ties (thankfully) no spare chainring bolts (oops) cables. Luckily we only used lube and a zip tie. 
For shelter we carried a small dog tarp, ultralight Terranova Moonlite bivvy bags and PHD Minim sleeping bags. 
Spot tracker, Garmin 800s x 2, a Canon G7X and a couple of back up cache batteries for electronics.