The previous post concentrated on the details of the terrain from the recce of the Glencoe Marathon route, but it didn’t really say anything about the experience of cycling it!
The plan was to start at the beginning and ride the route before continuing back to Roy Bridge where we were staying. After showing LSS the route back from Fort William and seeing the traffic on the A82 (as well as the mess I had made of myself a couple of days before) she made me promise not to go along the road, but do the full distance off-road as was feasibly possible… Naturally I acquiesced to keep the peace, besides cycling off-road would be more fun over churning out the miles on the road on the MTB with nobbly tyres on.
Dropping me off at the campsite start on the edge of Glencoe village I headed off… And was breathing out of my arse in a matter of a couple of minutes due to the short sharp climbs on the road as it made its way in to Glencoe proper.
Hitting the A82 I was struck by the sheer majesty of the glen - there was mercifully little traffic on the road as I cycled along, able to enjoy the silence and the soak in the atmosphere.
The road is a slight uphill for the whole distance from west to east, so it is a real slog and every pedal stroke made me long for my road-bike which would just eat-up the mileage. By the time I hit the point where the West Highland Way crosses the road I was absolutely creamed, and had to dismount to push the bike up the Devil’s Staircase.
Dear God that was a chore - pushing a lump of metal on wheels all the way to the top, however the view back was worthwhile… But not as worthwhile as the descent that came next :)
This was the first time I have cycled a proper downhill trail like this and it was great fun to just go for it and let the bike take itself. When at the top of the ‘Staircase I bumped in to a MTB tour with their guide who was leading them in to Kinlochleven, so I thought I’d tag-on the back of the group to feel my way in to the riding, however in a very short period of time I found myself sailing past the lot of them and I was on my own again.
Shortly after this section I had to abandon the descent on the bike in favour of doing it on foot as the trail was just too rocky - large loose round rocks that kept throwing your wheels offline and in one case causing me to come off and take the pragmatic decision to push until the terrain calmed-down again.
On the trail just before the descent to Kinlochleven I bumped in to a gent walking the ‘Way by himself and we stopped for a chat. He is a native of Houston and was over here for a couple of weeks with his daughter to walk the West Highland Way from start to finish, before heading off to Spain to walk some of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela!
Through Kinlochleven and there was a beast of a climb up the hill to above the tree line on the mountainside… The trees held the humidity in on this section and with the sun coming out to play it was getting uncomfortable in the still air under the leaves… And then there was the midges to contend with when you were out in the open. After this hellish bike-push to the top, it was a relief to finally be on a path that had a bit of down rather than just ups. Savouring the views I rode and pushed my way to the section where it evened-out and I as able to finally get a proper ride going on the undulations… And finally let-rip again over the next 5 miles or so, getting a good head of steam-up and worrying the sheep - and a vole at one point that decided to race alongside my bike before ducking in to some rocks. The path here was still pretty rocky and with the rain of the previous few days it was almost a river in places which when combined with the streams that crossed the trail here and there created a pretty soggy cycle, but immense fun picking your path over and through the rocks at speed, bouncing around like crazy.
Negotiating my way down from mountain valley was an enjoyable breeze, with the trail being a wide forrestry road and I was able to just freewheel at speed in to Fort William. As I hit the road at the bottom I decided to gather my thoughts and stop for a snack before continuing on the way back along the cycle path eastwards for the last 15 miles to the holiday gaff. Finding my way on to the military road, I followed the undulations at a steady pace - I was absolutely wiped by this point as I had been cycling for 6 hours! and as another rain shower started, my chain snapped… Great. Fortunately I had taken a spare quick-link with me so I was able to affect the repair without too much of a faff, and carry on along my soggy way.
When the military road came to an end I had no choice but to get on to the A82 and the final mile in to Spean Bridge before turning off in the direction of Roy Bridge… Only a matter of about 5 miles to go and the chance of a good rest and a warm shower, working out that it translated to around 20 minutes away from the end.
I think the bike was feeling it more than me, as the left crank - the bit the pedal attaches to the frame started to feel like it was slightly wobbling side to side… Then the slight turned into significant to the point it seemed like it was about to fall off, so I had to stop again to try and tighten the nut. I could not get anything in to the confined space to properly tighten it, so over the last few miles I had to stop every half a mile or so to do it back up… Those last few miles seemed to take an interminably long time.
When I pulled-up to the holiday home it was just over 7 hours since LSS had dropped me off and I noticed my van was not there - it turned out that LSS had been so worried about me coming a cropper after the Ben Nevis incident that she had gone out to look for me - even stopping in to the A&E at Fort William to enquire if I had been brought in to there in pieces! At least this time I managed to get back in one piece. Bless! although my name was mud for putting her through the anguish :(
Whilst I was unscathed, the toll on the bike was pretty high: The brakes are worn-out after all the downhill action, the saddle-bag for the tools has been shaken to near oblivion - tearing the stay on it, plus the crank arm will now need replacing after slightly rounding through the continual wobbling over the last few miles. Safe to say it needs a bit of TLC to get it back working properly!
The ride itself was very enjoyable, the challenge of pushing the bike up hill for all that time was far outweighed by what came afterwards. I know for sure that you cannot cycle the West Highland Way, and from looking at the average speed of 5mph, its almost as quick to run it as it is to ride it! The countryside throughout was a treat to behold, and the old military road was better to look at than asphalt with being hemmed-in by trees all the time, although this was nowhere near as quick as taking the road which also has a pretty good view from it as well!.. If you’ve got a bit of time on your hands its certainly worth doing Glencoe to Fort William yourself on foot or by 2 wheels.
It’s safe to say I’m glad I’ve taken the time cycling the route in advance of the run, as I now know the route from start to finish, so come October the course holds no real surprises :)