The start was typical for a multi-day. Low key, everyone checking out bikes and gear, riders and friends gathering at the start, lots of pictures, last minute questions, jokes about last year’s follies and then off we roll with some low key jockeying for position up the first hill.
Within a few miles everyone will find their pace and settle in. It’s always interesting how within the first few hours you can tell who you will most likely be seeing and possible riding with over next few days.
I really enjoyed the first several hours, unlike many multi-days I was not really focused on my pace or effort. Rather I just could not drink in enough of the scenery. Every cottage, lake, stream, stone wall, old arched bridge made me think I had stepped into a post card. I was giddy like a child on their birthday with lots of cake, ice cream and big boxes of presents.
Race wise day one is a ‘make miles’ day over mild, mixed terrain. The first 100+ miles consist of rocky two track (everything is rocky in the Highlands), gravel roads,some sweet bikeable flowy single track but no technical riding, that would come later. Strategically there was only one objective on day 1. I wanted to reach Fort Augustus (95 miles) in time to get some re-supply. Other than that is was just ride steady and long, enjoy and get as far as I could go.
If I was to make notes to and comments to myself for a future race day 1 was like this:
· First extended climb at mile 26 (a non-technical but steep gravel road climb from the valley floor up into the hills). This 1st real climb was where I realized my poor shifting was not just my imagination but really had gone south. Once up the climb I remember being surprised to see small logging operations & trucks in the area.
· Soft marshy area with disappearing trail as you approach and skirt the edge of Loch Ericht around mile 49. Route stays above, to left of Benalder Cottage/bothy (I lost some time and effort thinking the trail would go to and on past the bothy)
· Closed Café around 72 miles at Laggan Wolf Tracks Mountain Bike parking lot TH. Closes at 5pm and I did not roll by till 6pm. Might have possibly made the Café if I knew it was there and hadn’t stopped several times and adjusted [make worse] my derailleur.
· The steep approach to Correyairack Pass about mile 86 was a huge surprise. It shouldn’t have been as this is our Check Point 1 on Trackleaders. But for some reason I had not picked up on it in my pre-race prep and was not expecting it till I saw it. One of the few roads that had switchbacks vs a straight up is better approach. Ha , still had to walk some of it. Anyway it’s quite an eye full on the approach and very intimidating when you are a bit tired and trying to make a re-supply cut off time. This pass (not really that long) was particularly hard for me because I was mis-reading the time on my GPS clock by 1 or 2 hours and thought I was going to miss making the re-supply at Ft Augustus. I had fiddled with my GPS and got it on 24 hr instead of 12 hr time. I did not want to fiddle again and dump my track so the 24 hr clock threw me off several times on day 1 and again on the last day when I was really tired.
· Ft Augustus at 95 miles. I made the cut off, barely, and proceeded to made what I consider to be one of my biggest mistakes of the entire race. I got to the only open restaurant a few minutes before closing and ordered a pizza. Mistake you think? Well a couple that was picking up their earlier order collected two trays of fish & chips. I wanted to just reach out and snag their order it looked so good. Ahh, huge crispy golden fish fillets and perfect chips. But my mind was locked into ordering a pizza and so I did. Mostly because that’s what all the race reports had mentioned so it was in my mind to do so and also so I planned to eat some on the spot and slip the rest into a zip lock for a late night snack. The pizza was not very good, never order a pizza right before closing, and even if it had been I can still see to this day that tray of perfect fish & chips…yes this mistake will be a lifelong regret……..If you do the race, order the F&C and let me know how they were.....
·I wrapped up my 1st day at midnight with a bivy in the weeds on the side of the road, around 110 miles. I had hoped to get 10-15 miles farther but considering my middling training effort that had produced a slightly overweight race engine, one with some extra padding around the middle I had no room to complain. And it HAD been such a wonderful ride across the Highlands I was stoked for more.