This weekend is the 7th edition of the Highland Trail 550 and my approach this year will bedifferent to last year. In 2018 I completed the trail in four days and seven hours, this year I hope to finish in under four days….there... I've said it....no pressure!
So how does my approach differ for 2019?
Well last year was all about completing the trail, getting to the end and recording a time, this year it feels like more of a race to try and beat the clock, this is part of what makes these type of events so interesting as so many riders have their own agendas where you end up having a race within a race.
From the lessons learnt over the last year and other big bike packing events the French and Italy Divides I am a lot more in touch with my own body and capabilities, kit choice will be more streamlined “do not pack your fears” is a moto I stand by but it is a fine line also - especially in the remote Scottish Highlands!
Sleep management is what I have learnt most about myself and how much or when I need to sleep, this doesn’t have to be at night you could ride for thirty hours to get past a certain area or avoiding weather and take a two-hour break midday, everyday routines become a blur eating and sleeping when needed not necessarily because its dark. In terms of racing a lot of time can potentially be lost setting up and packing up your sleeping system so for this year I will be trying out a different set up this time with no tent or sleeping bag.
This years sleep system
Instead I'm using a Filoment down jacket and elephants foot halfdown bag paired with ultralight Kloke bivi, using clothing layers for extra warmth if needed. This will be quick to setup particularly if I don’t take my Cloud Base sleep mat which I am currently deciding and awaiting theforecast on the morning ofthe event -the mat will provide extra warmth from the ground in lower temperatures, but also adds a bit of weight and time to inflate and deflate.
Last yeas sleep system - too cosy - meaning I spent too long resting.
The idea behind this is also not to be to comfy, losing an hour or so because your all warm and cosy makes it harder to get up, I literally want to lie down sleep get up and ride. If the weather turns I know how long I can ride through before resting, so it may turn out I need to keep pedalling through an area or until I find shelter. This is the biggest kit change and mindset for 2019 which will also significantly reduce weight on the bike, whilst keep packing to a minimum and overall be more efficient.
Prototype 'Elephants-foot' half bag paired with Filoment Hoody down jacket
Cloud base sleep mat – to be decided on the day.
Bike Packing Bags:
Stingray frame bag - custom made for my Sonder Broken Road
2 Lodo stem bags
Fuel Pod for tools and spares
Tivaro 13L in reserve for sleep kit and extra space asneeded for food/supplies
Gravitas ultralight waterproof
Parallax lightweight waterproof trouser
Filoment Hoody light down jacket
Kelper Velo mid weight merino wool jersey
French Divide cycling jersey
2 pairs Gloves
The other big change in my set up for this year is that I will be riding a hardtail Sonder Broken Road Ti rather than full suspension bike.
TheBroken Road Ti has been kitted out with Rock Shox Reba 100mm forks, 29er x 2.4 Pirelli Scorpion MTB tyres, Hope components - withRace brakes, Evo cranks, Tech XC wheels, Evo hubs, Stem and Carbon bars, along with ESI grips, Thompson dropper post, Brooks saddle, Shimano XTR pedals.
Having ridden over 2,500 km on the Broken Road it has proven itself to be worthy of taking on the Highlands. The bike is at home eating up the miles on gravel roads, tackling steep climbs or tearing up single-track, when the going gets really tough the bike can turn its hand to the technical terrain the Highland offers during the trail with little fuss.
With everything in place to tackle the notoriously difficult event thanks to Alpkit and Sonder bikes I find myself excited and ready to go and take on the personal challenges during the Highland Trail 2019