Last year was both overwhelming and exciting. It was my first year as a sponsored rider and I couldn’t have been happier or more excited. I love learning and I wanted to learn from every mistake, race and experience I could get. Unfortunately things didn’t pan out and after racing the Strathpuffer I felt like I was hitting every brick wall, then, when my hardtail mountain bike broke and there was little sign of my first full suspension one, instead of getting experience I found myself sitting out for a season without an injury.
I still kept training and this summer I was extremely lucky to be given the opportunity to spend over 3 months out on the road with my mountain bike. It took a little while to settle into the road, I was tense from the steep learning curve of the previous year. I don’t like setting out with a definite plan, I like finding and following my flow.
Leaving my Lil rock (Orkney), I was incredibly lucky to land on the Big Rock - as I call it - in beautiful sunshine. I headed to Golspie, the first trail I hit on leaving the Island. There is an amazing wee coffee shop – The Coffee Bothy based at the bottom of these trails and the views from the top of Ben Bhraggie are more than worth the climb, as is the descent.
From here I headed to Laggan and Lairin Ghru in the Cairngorms, ticking all my old friends off the list, getting back into big day riding and seeing the progress winter had brought. Not content with exploring familiar trails and knowing I had the time I decided to dive deeper into areas, exploring longer natural trails such as the Maust near Inverness.
The Mast is a place I had come to hear loads about, but never visited. On my first day here I stumbled upon two guys unpacking bikes from their truck. I asked for trail advice and they offered to show me around. On unpacking their bikes one of them discovered they had a rear flat. I can safely say this is the first and only time I have seen a tyre being hack sawed off a rim! With a destroyed tyre, I was left to explore by myself. Riding in the trees isn’t a favourite of mine, but I knew it was an area that I needed to work on.
With family in the Borders I headed to the Tweed Valley to take on some old favourites at GT & Inners. Announcing that we were heading for a ‘short cycle’ my brother bombed me round the Black climb at GT. I hadn’t ridden here before and just as I was explaining that my fitness was still getting back to what it was, he left me for dust. (A few weeks later, I came back and cleared the climb!)
Next I headed over to Skye and found a new favourite campsite. It felt like I was wild camping: beach on one side, Cullens on the other and amazing coffee to top it off. Clear blue skies and plenty of sand flies were there to greet me. It was good to explore, chat to Mark at the local bike shop, scope out routes and just hike into the Cullens, settling into the pace of life on the road on another little rock.
The Fort Bill World Cup was a short time into my trip. I got to meet up with loads of friends, Hannah & Ben from Flare & meet Kellie which was great fun. I organised a skills lesson with my friend Jono the next day. Jono has helped with my skills for a couple of years now. We just go out riding fun trails around Laggan, Aviemore - sessioning skills on the trail. I get my limits pushed. There is always plenty of high-five happiness too. On this day, once again a beautiful one, I got the option to head out for trails I knew or we could go for a hike-a-bike. Hike-a-bike. No question.
This is exactly where I wanted my riding to go and there were a few big routes that I was going to head for that would require me to hike. We set off chatting riding, racing and skills. I had no idea where we were headed, but I was seriously stoked! Seriously! We came across a beautiful green loch and the story goes that there used to be a giant who lived here and the fairies would wash his clothes in the loch, hence it turned green.
Then we headed to a Bothy at the bottom of the start of the climb. I’m looking forward to a mtb Bothy tour soon! We left a little something in the Bothy, as is the tradition, then we started the hike. It was steep steps which were good to climb, tough in the heat, but we just set out at a steady pace. All I needed was one stop to adjust my pack and the bike. It felt like a kind of meditation and when I reached the top, my face said it all. Refuelling at the summit I was beyond stoked. It meant so much to me and was opening up the possibilities of where I could now ride.
Serious high-five happiness! We kept riding for the rest of the day on chilled trails that once felt like a challenge to me. A highlight of this summer, I finally felt my riding starting to really progress.
Next stop - The Lakes!!