Sunday 5 June 2016

Highland Trail 2016 - Indescribable

I got to the end.

After two previous failed attempts in 2013 and 2014, I have managed to complete Alan Goldsmith's Highland Trail 550 mountain bike route.

I finished two days ago, and am still buzzing. I have been trying to put into words what it feels like, what it was, what happened, how hard it was, how amazing it was. I have talked to friends, family, and strangers, but not managed to convey even 10% of the feeling.

Maybe one of the very few pics I took conveys it better?

Looking back to Fishefield from the climb to the plateau. Shadows can move faster than the speed of light, I was going considerably slower.
After all the physical training that is needed, all the obsessive gear selection, all the worrying about food supplies and the weather, once I was rolling, all that fell away. What is left are the senses and emotions.

The emotions can be extreme. Keeping them in check, whist acknowledging them and enjoying them, seemed to be a big part of it for me. The fear of doing another attempt that could easily end up in another failure. The impatience of the final week before the start. At the start line, everything was strangely familiar yet different. The first few hours of feeling strong, but knowing that will fall away.

Further in, there are moments of utter joy mixed with exhaustion. For me, it is like an overwhelming sentimental happiness of 'being there', of being alive and able to attempt this. Of thinking of my friends and family rooting for me. I am almost in tears in these moments, overcome with it all. I savor this.

The hike-a-bike sections come with their own emotional challenges, and I know them only too well. It is so easy to descend into a pit of negativity and self-loathing, cursing the route, hating it. I had made a conscious decision this time to avoid this if at all possible. It makes it so much easier! The realization that I can refuse to be annoyed or frustrated. It seems like a psychological game, and one that is truly worth playing in order to get the most out of things. During the Glen Golly section, I found myself looking at the steep climb up Creag Dubh, knowing all the hike-a-bike ahead, and smiling. This is a good thing!

Another thing I noticed I fell into were little rules and rituals that appeared out of thin air. "No running over slugs" was one. Not that I make a point of running over them usually, but I went out my way to avoid them - and there were a lot!

I also developed a 9am celebration ritual. I'd stop and have a can of fizzy juice to celebrate a day on the trail;

Sunday: Glen Orrin Shelter (after "road of 1000 puddles") - Tango Orange
Monday: Lochan Sgeireach (plateau after Glen Golly) - Coke Cola
Tuesday: Mullach a' Bhreun-Leitir (singletrack between Oykel Bridge and Ullapool) - Orangina
Wednesday: Smiorasair (postie path) - Fanta
Thursday: Beinn Bhàn (climb after Tomich) - Cherry Coke

There is no doubt that 2016 was a charmed year for this route. The weather was amazing, making it so much easier to go far and not worry about where one ended up. This was truly a gift, and I loved spending every night in my tent, sometimes high in the mountains, always in a random spot. 6 days in a row under canvas in Scotland is something I have never done before, and I doubt would be possible in bad weather for most mortals.

I have so much more I could write. I get the feeling I am going to talk everyone's heads off about this ride in the weeks to come. Little did I know that when I emailed Alan in 2013 about doing the route because it looked interesting, it would have such an impact on my life. Topping this is going to be hard.


  1. Hey Nik, great to meet you at the finish in that infamous cafe. I enjoyed your write up. I like your style with the fizzy drink ritual and the motto 'This is a good thing'. I definitely agree it is! All the best!


    1. Thanks Lars! Great to meet you as well. Glad you liked my take on things. Being the eternal optimist is hard, but worth it :-)

  2. Nice to meet you, Nik. Finishing HTR at xc pace at night was crazy! Love your fizzy drink ritual. I've got mine, too. I don't touch alcohol for 6 years or so but I celebrate finishing HTR with half a pint of beer. Next beer, hopefully next year?? Take care!

    1. Hey Javier! Very nice to meet you as well. Wee rituals are important when doing thins kinda thing I think, gives us goals and guides to keep us entertained and focused.

      I need to do another post on the 'race' to the finish. I loved that bit!

  3. Hi Nik, if you could help me identify these rims from your post I'd be really grateful:

    1. Hi - sorry, I don't know what those rims are, that isn't my bike, it was just a random pic I found on the internet.