A motley bunch of assorted Dons, S(l)imes and Rockets hit the hills in Rob Roy country
Oh, well so much for the barbecue summer then as we pitched up in the car park at Aberfoyle. The occasional shower had blighted my journey north and west which was of particular note to me given my Rover’s recent penchant for flipping the rear wiper occasionally whenever I use the fronts. Not good with a hatch-mounted bike rack, you’ll agree. While the sun did threaten, layers were the order of the day whether it be jackets or – like me – base and jersey. Rarely for us, it was All Present And Correct, Sir before the 10am kick-off time but – less rarely – it was nearer 1020 by the time the pre-ride faff was complete.
Sunday’s roll call was depleted thanks to holidays and prior (subsequent?!) engagements but nevertheless included the usual suspects of Baz and Rossco Potter, the less usual but still definitely suspect Stephen, plus Alan and Michael with whom I’d never ridden before. As I would muse with Baz later, I have a terrible habit of remembering people by their bikes so, for the record, Michael was toting a gorgeous carbon-framed Rocky Mountain Vertex, respendent in white (oh how we’d laugh at that later) and Alan came along with his Cove Stiffee FR. Bikes fettled, daysacks on, it was time to head off.
Turning off the main A821 and up a rough track it was noticable just how quickly you got the feeling of being in the hills. The track rose steadily, becoming a proper trail as we skirted the edge of the Queen Elizabeth Forest and so caught up in the feeling of remoteness was I that looking down the hill to my right I was actually surprised to see the fairways of Aberfoyle Golf Club. And then a nice lady on a horse stopped to let us by. I think we were meant to let her by if my understanding of the Outdoor Access Code is correct but she was cheerful enough. The broad track continued round the hillside until our route was interupted by a style which had been commandeered by a couple of walkers. We’d spread out a little on the ascent so it was a welcome opportunity to regroup before starting the singletrack.
Mud is Murder
The trail was a mixture of rocks and mud bordered by ferns which had clearly benefited from the recent rainfall. Strangely, there was traction to be had in the mud although the rocks would often just take this away. (At this juncture Alan would like to inform you of a pair of Conti High Rollers which are for sale.) We continued on the trail with brief pedally sections interspersed with comedy dismounts, associated bad language and “helpful” shouts of “oh, this is much worse than last time”. The ferns were particularly b’stard-ish, either smacking you in the face or simply covering the trail so you couldn’t actually see which way it wended. Strangely, they too gave some traction but at the rather obvious expense of actually being able to see what was under them. I rolled the dice a couple of times and was lucky.
By now mud was clinging to rear mechs, shock linkages and anything else on the bikes it could gain a hold. Fortunately the first of 2 water splashes appeared (ie the ones that weren’t just big puddles) so the worst of the clag was immediately rinsed. The trail continued up, along and – finally – down with a rooty mudfest of a descent which eventually spat us out by the southern shores of Loch Venachar onto National Cycle Network Route 7.
You make the rocking world go round…
Regrouping, we were passed by 2 comely young ladies also on bikes. They passed us with a cheery “hello” as we tried not to admire the view too much. After a discreet pause, the S(l)ime boys gave pursuit and, as their unsuccessful break was reeled in, our collective peloton took perhaps just a little too long to pass the ladies at the tete de la course. Ahem.
The cycle path began to turn south, away from the banks of the Loch and we paused for food and bike fettling. Earlier it had been Ross’ steed which had given cause for concern as he’d felt some play in his headset. “Helpful” advice was pitched in ranging from “oh, it’s the stem” to “it’s the wheel” via “it’s your fork”. I may have thrown in “ovalised steerer tube” just to make matters seem much worse than they actually were. Anyway, at this stop it was a stiff link on Alan’s chain. Oh, and the ladies just happened to pass us again. Nice shorts, miss!
Onwards and Upwards
From here we joined the forest drive which meant we were weren’t the only traffic now, and climbed up the fire road before rejoining NCN 7 and heading along the shore of Loch Drunkie. The NCN was a welcome blast for wearying legs before we stopped once more with the option of a steep singletrack climb or a more gentle (they said) fire road assault on the hill. We opted for the latter, although how gentle this actually was is debatable. However, from my perspective it was a case of finding an easy gear and spinning away; hardly fast but nevertheless effective. I was more likely to test positive for IPA than EPO at this stage (thanks to Fun Run Robbie for tweeting me that gag!) but I was able to rejoin the pack at the top of the climb without having succumbed to the temptation of stopping.
And back down again
Then we dived back into the heart of the Queen Elizabeth Forest initially on the main drive and then onto some technical singletrack (“for experienced mountain bikers only!” warned the sign) which overlooked the Go Ape! Centre below. After picking up the shattered remains of my bottle (I was tired, Stephen!) on one bit, the trail emerged back onto the main forest drive and then once more it disappeared off and down to the right. This time I elected to join Michael on the fire road, with my head becoming as weary as my muscles. Sometimes discretion is the better part and all that.
A quick portage of the bikes over a wee bridge and we rejoined the other 4 before hitting the final sections of trail which were shared with walkers coming up the way and then, passing Dounans Centre, it was over. Back onto the main road and into the throng of traffic and tourists. A wee old man even seemed quite taken by the sight of 6 muddy mountain bikers on the road before we turned left once more and into the car park.
As a final footnote, it was noted that at least 4 of the party were contravening the second part of Rule 12 of the Eurocyclist’s Code. This was especially disappointing as there was at least one actual roadie among the group. It’s a good thing that BMFW was in post-Ventoux rehab and, in any case, the commissaires shudder to think how the bibs were being worn.
Until next time…
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