In the north of Scotland in winter, the winter weather is poor (at best) and the nights are long. It takes a special sort of motivation to get out and keep the legs turning over these long months.
Even for the hardiest it sometimes requires a little extra inspiration to brave the elements. The promise of some new trails and an ace ride crew is normally enough to seal the deal so with some wild lines in mind and Scotty Laughland and Greg Williamson in tow we headed for the hills...Keeping it Short and Sweet in Kinlochewe
With an urgent pace around the perimeter of the van, sending bags, bikes, and other personal belongings flying, Greg’s face drops as he gazes down upon his favourite pair of Adidas kicks in disbelief: “Please tell me you guys have hidden my riding shoes and I didn’t leave them lying on the driveway…”
By now we are parked up in Kinlochewe, a few hours from home, a pair of Five Tens down, and staring rather reluctantly at the bands of sleety snow hammering the mountains. Scotty, Euan, and myself, of course, offer little-to-no sympathy to Greg who by now had somehow been summoned into an elderly local’s residence to ‘help lift a washing machine’… He seemed a lot happier about life when he resurfaced 10 minutes later. We asked no questions.
Our original plan was swiftly scrapped and it was a bit optimistic from the start given the weather warning for wind and rain. It is December in the west of Scotland after all. Instead of a fresh hike-a-bike and heather bash across a boggy moorland to Beinn Eighe we went for a more ‘vanilla’ in and out, less adventurous but crucially grippier for those of us repping Adidas skate shoes, and a little less exposure to the elements for all involved.
Plan B. Ride, push, hike as far as we dared, or until the cold and wet got the better of us. Any initial tentative optimism of avoiding the worst of it was quickly swatted as we left the valley floor and crested the first rise. The wind wasn’t gusting, rather more of an unrelenting howl that cannoned the passing rain showers directly into our faces. Our leisurely climbing pace involved more chatting than it did crank turning, for which we got instant payback in the form of the crippling cold that took hold whenever we’d stop for a blether.
Progress became swifter and swifter with a certain urgency to get up to get down. The path plateaued slightly meaning we could begin spinning the wheels again and make progress towards Beinn Eighe which joined our presence intermittently through the grey. Reaching a fork in the trail, another battering of rain and wind made it an easy unanimous decision to take neither left nor right… It was almost a relief when we could point our wheels down the hill, that was until we made it a grand total of 10 metres with the hiss of air making a break for freedom from Greg’s tyre.
An F1-esque pitstop kept us on the move and blasting the brake-teasing, washboard, drag-strip top section which lured you unsuspectingly into a steep chute filled with baby head rocks, the closest feeling I’ve had to skiing on a bike… Bottoming out the forks and riding on the front end for what felt like an eternity (to the amusement of the crew watching from behind) I eventually regained composure and continued on my way, unwilling to stop and give the hyenas their satisfaction.
Clinging to the height above a fast flowing burn seasoned in pine trees we carve through the brown muted landscape under battleship grey skies with the rain hunting us down. This is the dictionary definition of Scottish mountain biking in winter. Greg and Scotty are in their element popping off nothing and feet up drifting loose turns, leaving me and Euan to pick up the pieces as they scampered off into the distance.
After a final flurry of flowing and undulating singletrack, we roll back onto the flat glacial valley floor feeling slightly less aggrieved than we had trudging into the rain on the way up. Even when Mother Nature tries her damn hardest, it’s almost impossible to leave the Torridon valley without trail-induced satisfaction. Although we were all in agreement that we’d prefer the rain 10 degrees warmer like it is in the “summer”, and a certain individual was left questioning skate shoes and their clipless compatibility.
To follow in Greg and Scotty's tracks in Torridon visit mountainbikeworldwide.com