… Scottish gravel tracks dust is settling down, tan lines fading out on calves and necks, hormone levels getting back to normal…
Scottish Road Trip with SSEC Evanton in the back ground is history now.
And that’s the way it went…
After spectacular SSEC 2016 in picturesque Kobarid in Slovenia, this year organization passed to kilted brigade from The Highlands. Location was booked north of Inverness in a small village of Evanton.
From the early November, as soon as it was obvious what location of this year SSEC – at the moment it was still next year – would be, I started my planning and propaganda alike.
After considering few options, declarations and cancellations from several individuals, final plan was to hire a van or rather mini-bus, which was supposed to contain 3 musketeers with me at a driving helm. The Team consist of Maciejas, Itr, Jakub – immediately nicknamed by me as Dżejkob – and me as a coachman.
In Evanton we expected Kaziu with his driver and local and completely unknown to me gang from Inverness. That was looking to me as the biggest Polish Contingent in Modern History of SSEC xD
Due to various reasons likes of Koval, Kuman, Mariola and Yarr dropped off from the participants list. Great shame 😦
As it was looking like pretty epic road trip – minimum 421 miles one way – we decide that it would be very rude not to try to see and ride some places on the way to Evanton. That was playing into my hand pretty nicely as despite over 10 years presence in the UK I’ve never been any further north than Cumbria and Northumberland.
The plans were forged, melted and re-forged once again. Finally thanks to Hive Mind of STW Forum we decided to try 2 classic Up’n’Down rides. Plans were to tackle towering over picturesque Loch Lomond summit of (surprise, surprise…) Ben Lomond followed by Ben Lawers at the foot of Loch Tay.
Looks like only a few miles but all 100% uphill. We were expecting full-fledged enduro with hike a bike sections guaranteed and some tough, techy downhills.
Half a year blasted past and in the middle of May I started receiving boxes containing bikes and other stuff guys decided to take with them for the trip. Nervy ending of that process seen me collecting Dżejkob’s Codein only less than 24 hours before Grand Depart. Additionally to all this tense situation mini-bus I was supposed to collect evening before trip proved to be massive piece of machinery powered by automatic transmission. My first experience with a car for idiots and immediately on such a long distance. What possibly can go wrong? Especially when I’m the only registered driver? Oh, well… Will see very soon…
As a final modification before packing frenzy I managed to remove completely very last row of seats. That appeared to be one of the best things as after logging all bikes, food, kit and stuff there was scarcely any free space left.
Slap-bang rear door, silent prayer under my breath and already slightly late I’m hitting the road to pick boys up from Robin Hood Airport.
First, rather lengthy leg of the journey we spend catching up one with each other, chatting up bike and non-bike stuff, trying to nap a bit to compensate for early start of the day – at least some tried – and occasional navigation mistakes.
The further North we went, the bigger was our awe with landscapes.
Thanks to early start and pretty light traffic we managed to reach Loch Lomond mid-afternoon. Hostel check-in, wee, grub and the most “exciting” point of the day, bikes assembly.
One little fail re Rowardennan SYHA. Hostel doesn’t have bike shed. That only made last minute purchase of Bike Pyjama from PX even more purposeful. Especially that it was raining during the night…
Maps checked, plans made, alarm clock set up for some nazi hour and we are off to bed before morning attack on Ben Lomond.
We are hastily swallowing brekkie, moving all our stuff into Vito and we are starting to ride up hill. At least we thought so for a moment xD
Very quickly we are finding out that Ben Lomond is treacherous and demanding mountain. Boulders, steps, draining channels, almost vertical scrambles… All of that is pushing your focus to the limits if you want to keep on pedaling. Otherwise is all walkie-walkie.
Temperature and hart rate are rising up very quickly. Looks like Dżejkob is having the hardest time as he started all clad in armour. First longer stop and he is dropping it off.
After initial, steep and difficult section we are finally riding through gently undulating plateau section. It is still technical but at least ride-able. Sun is baking us mercilessly, top of the hill is hiding behind clouds and we still have 4 football pitch lengths to climb.
Pretty interesting interactions with walkers and runners we are passing on our way up. From mild disbelief, forehead knocking gesture all way up to horror infused respect.
… and this local talking lilt…
“rite, yaddayaddayaddayadda, mountainbiking?”
Sure thing, but what you just said to me mate?
Final part of our struggle is classic, enduro-like hike-a-bike.
Despite hard work, we are a bit more positive as summit just decided to drop cloudy invisibility cloak. Unfortunately only for a moment. We are peaking in white mist that decided to disperse again as soon as we left top of the hill. Mountains…
Obligatory picture next to trig point at the top and we are running away from big crowd of people and biting insects alike.
Gears up, saddles down and we start to extravagantly spend our hard earned meters.
Downhill is emotional fight with terrain, own weaknesses and mechanicals. Luckily we managed all way down with only 2 punctures, 3 minor offs and no casualties bot in gears or manpower. Special appreciation for Marecki that was on the HT bike, with mechanical brakes and 160mm rotors only.
Humbling experience, as usual in the mountains.
Back to hostel, quick shower, all stuff into Vito and we are off to Loch Tay where we booked another night and planning to conquer even bigger mountain tomorrow.
Uneventful drive seen us early evening at Boreland Loch Tay, where super-nice landlady tirelessly answered all our stupid questions and gave us bucket-loads of local information.
Spacious, modern but cosy kitchen seen us deliberating over gin with tonic and maps – thanks to young Scottish lass from Isle of Mule – what to do with tomorrow. Reality check suggested to drop even harder and more technical mountain in favor of something more accessible with guarantied fun factor to suffer factor balance on the right side. Secondary plan of scraping Ben Lawers for Laggan Wolftrax was accepted. Probably less epic option, but at least all of us can have some fun without major, uphill punishment.
After hearty supper I’m driving guys to town nearby to allow them to try local beer. Chilling outside of rather swish bar sometimes pretty passionately we discuss possibility of organization of SSEC in Poland in next year. Final outcome is that we are not yet ready for such a challenge. On top of that it would be very handy for potentials to see how others can do it prior to final decision.
Early morning view of Loch Tay as expected is breathtaking.
We are slipping swiftly into morning routine with another early start, grub, packing and with only slight detour we arrive to Laggan around 11am.
On the way there, we are observing longingly what seems like endless gravel tracks only waiting for monster cross bash. Maybe even with some bags strapped to your frame and handlebars.
Upon arrival nice surprise. Apart of café and bike shop in the visitor’s centre there is fully operational shower room. Unexpected bonus especially in the light of still blazing hot weather and ride induced sweaty bottoms.
Trail center itself offers nicely maintained and enjoyable singletracks carved into side of the mountain. Almost stress-free we are hitting both upper and lower red loop. After that quick tea and cake and we are off to the lower trail once again to allow Maciejas to take some action shots.
In the meantime text from Kaziu: “Just arrived to Evanton. Looking for some beer xD”.
(or rather Whisky xD…)
Quick shower, short rest and we are on the way again to cover last stage to Novar Estate.
We are skimming Inverness and over surprisingly water-less east coast bays early evening finally see us arriving our final destination.
Quick registration, freebie packs picking up and we are up trying to find reasonable camping spot. Not such an easy task without one, dedicated location.
Finally we pitch in one place under Polish, Scottish, GT Flag and pair of Kaziu’s pants for good measure.
First welcomes with old and new friends, rumors from the main camp as well as presentations of newbies from Poland to some of the prominent figures of single speed community.
Top find by Kaziu and Bam was local brook, where we could re-fresh ourselves.
Long evening, turned into late night and pretty early morning. I guess that some might regret partying too hard especially under quickly rising, blazing-hot sun.
After late-ish start of the day we were donning our Slavic Gurls fancy dresses as well as finalizing positioning and content of our Polish Feeding Station.
We presented ourselves as interesting rag-tag with Old Whoring Wench, Nightmare Doll of Cepelia, Jesus Himself, Suspicious Gent in a Top Hat and Bearded Folk Girl in Mini-Skirt.
Organizers made sure we had lavish introduction to the main race with local Pipe Band leading all participants into the village and back to the starting pitch, professional warm-up routine and traditional Where’s my Bike opening Run.
None of us, maybe apart of Itr, had any racing ambitions and we decide to focus on our feeding station where we planned to serve soured gherkins, bread and Polish vodka. And all of that mixed with banter, laugh, talks shared with organizers and marshals.
But I must admit that actual champ’s course proved to be very demanding, treacherous and vicious task to complete. Enough to mention that only one person managed to clear monstrous climb 3 times without relying to 3rd Single Speed Bike Gear. That is walking, for these not familiar with single speeding lingo. Even the best were reduced to that occasionally.
After initial moderate enthusiasm in the second part of the race our feeding station all the sudden started to be bloody busy and popular. Our fears about all the vodka, gherkins and bread going to waste proved to be absolutely unsound xD
t is worth mentioning, that our humble table was only an addition to Official SSEC 2017 Beer Stop.
When finally all the fast and serious boys and girls – probably no more than 6-7 individuals in total – finished 3rd lap, all the beer and vodka was downed, our mini-bar get strapped once again to Dżejkob’s back pack and whole bunch of mildly grilled participants made their way to the main camp for promised meal.
Fingers has been licked, toasts has been raised, after race interviews recorder and chillaxed and easy-going atmosphere took over completely. Some brave or should I say silly people decided that quick, really, really quick dip in oh-so-goddamnedwarm river is good idea. I beg to differ, especially from the perspective of my tea-bag temperature-shrunk ball sack xD
Next, precisely planned point of the event was weather breakdown with so required heat drop and 2 hours or so of rain. Not to be wasted as we decided to refresh ourselves with BBQ carbonized sausages and local beer.
Invigorated as well as encouraged by jolly shouts and laugh from the main tent area we returned down to see and participate in traditional after-race competitions.
A bit disappointing was fact that, probably due to weather slump and incoming evening, Organizers decided to skip bike throw. Especially that extremely important matter of SSEC 2018 organization was still unsolved.
Upon descending into main area we saw strong lads and lasses throwing big-great stone ball. Part of a traditional Highland Games. So why not to join the fun? I tried but with miserable effect, however Emil (Suspiciously Looking Gent in a Top Hat) unintentionally and unfortunately thanks to my encouragement caused quite a stir, confusion and upset. After his second attempt that proved to be the longest throw recorded all the sudden whole camp erupted. “We are going to Poland!!!”. WTF??? That was just a competition, wasn’t it? Wrong you numpty… That was THE COMPETITION and you just managed to beat Dutch and English counterparts in the race for SSEC 2018 organization. Sweaty bollocks, nervous conference at the side with Kilted Brigade and I managed to turn it around. Andy and Ian are understanding that we won by mistake and can not really embrace such honor and responsibility. Second round of the competition is proclaimed – we are wisely skipping it – and final result allows guys from Netherlands win caber toss and seal their well-deserved victory. Nobody is losing face and reputation. Hurrah for Netherlands! We are going to Arnhem next year. Happy days 🙂
After that nerves-wrenching event together with Maciejas and Dżejkob we are having quiet talk on the side confirming 2019 aspirations. 2 years should give us good head start especially in the light of Polish Single Speed Scene still in it’s infancy. I’m sure we will be debating it during Singlova Picnic in Bydgoszcz at the end of June.
And the funniest it this whole drama and emotion roller-caster even the slightest didn’t bother Itr who after the meal and beer retired to our little camp and slept it all through. Ignorance bliss xD
Rest of the evening seen official ceremonies, freebies and prizes giving as well as live band gig.
Need to add that Organizers decided to give rather special awards for both Female and Male Champ. How about something a bit local, like full size, battle ready, replica of Great Scottish Claymor Sword eh? Yep, you heard it right 😀
To the music of rustling leaves and growling of late-night party goers we fell into sleep dreaming about tomorrow’s Hangover Ride.
Morning after slightly damp night seen us packing up and saying farewells to Kaziu and Bombel. They had the longest ride back home to Brum. And on the returning leg still wanted to say “hello” to Nessie and try some stuff from local distilleries. Also Inverness locals packed their tents and quickly drove away without leaving any sign of their night-time antics 🙂
Without haste one final time we converted our bikes to geared (gasp…) and with ambitious plan started once again climb on the Horrible Fire Road. Interestingly it wasn’t much easier than on single speed. Reality and tiredness caught up with us pretty quickly, so 70k ride was reduced to 30-odd-k bimble with nice relaxed time at the side of Loch Glass.
Early afternoon one final time we packed Vito in and departed towards Glasgow, our final stop on the course of Scottish Adventure. Empty main yard, abandoned Raleigh shopper bike and quiet event tent seemed pretty unreal after last night classy SSEC Closing Party…
After rather uneventful drive South we are arriving Glasgow in the evening. Quick check into Euro Hostel next to Clyde Bank, even quicker shower and we are hitting the city to find something to eat and drink.
As it is pretty late most of the restaurants already stopped serving food. Bummer 😦 Luckily we are finding pretty popular chippy and that is saving our evening. Also despite ambitious plan to see Cathedral we only made it to Dog House where over glasses of excellent Brew Dog beers and ciders we celebrate quietly Trip, Adventure, Past, Present and Future.
Monday morning, last cord of our trip seen us saying farewells on the Glasgow-Paisley airport carpark where I dropped guys.
Luckily returning drive to Yorkshire was as uneventful as you can only dream about after tiring road trip.
So… SSEC 2016 Evanton, Nover Estate is history now. Time for a little summary…
First few words from SS event newbies, as my opinion might be a bit biased, based on 4 years of experience.
For single speed virgins. That is not an event for silly celebrities, but for easy-going people that thrive is social dis-organization. Despite pretty thick racing competition whole of the event main vibe was party-like, relaxed social gathering with single speed bicycles as a background. Enough to say that called by nature early Saturday morning I heard glass clanking and half-legible chanting. Party still going or early start of a new one? Doesn’t matter 😀 It was friendly, relaxed and cult event. Wholeheartedly recommend!!!
… and my, slightly more seasoned opinion.
After last year, almost perfect SSEC in Kobarid, in Slovenia goalpost has been placed very, very far. So it seemed almost impossible to organize even better event. It would be probably fully sponsored one, without any entry fee, unlimited free beer supply and
Rolex Surly for every single participant.
Dream on :p But life hardly ever matches dreams and reality check works like bucket of ice-cold water after long night in the pub.
So what was the success for Kilted Brigade and what could have been done better?
In my opinion SSEC in Evanton as a whole event was much lower profile than Kobarid or Sant Gregori – my personal, organizational benchmarks. Even number of participants seemed a bit smaller than last year.
Biggest advantages were IMHO spectacular and epic location and landscapes, very well marshalled and way marked champ’s course, massive main event tent that proved extremely useful especially during few hours of rain on Saturday evening, strong drawing on local resources (Pipe Band from the village, local beer, local whiskey) and folklore stories woven into fabric of SSEC as well as very good life band.
On the negative spectrum first thing that was clearly felt and visible proved to be logistics and camping space provision. No one, communal camping space and extremely basic hygiene conditions made feeling of community slightly diluted as quite a few people decided to stay in nearby hostels or registered camping fields. Epic location is only half of the success without showers, toilets and other amenities. Time after the race could have been organized a bit better. There seems to be lack of direction and program after main event. That resulted with no competitions available for everybody, including traditional bike throw. Also lack of organized night ride on the Friday evening was a serious over look. Finally 2018 organization contest was muddied by politics (as usual…) and lack of clear rules. But that one wasn’t anything different to previous years so I’m passing it on.
So… Was it total disaster? By all means NO :)!!! The core of SSEC extraordinary charm is the people. And they were as usual top notch.
I’m also a bit sitting on the top of the fence regarding difficulty and physical demand of the champ’s course. Even the fastest admitted the fact of course being the hardest in their living memory. I understand, that was probably especially straining for average pedal pusher, but also made top competitors working 110% to earn their laurel wreath.
In this place I also allow myself not to combine traditional costing of SSEC trip as it was 6 days for me.
However Kaziu very kindly offered his budget break-down 🙂
Summarizing. It all costed us around GBP150 per head. That included SSEC entry fee (£52), fuel for 1000 miles trip (£70) and food – part transported from Midlands, part bought locally – and drinks spending – probably around 12 pints and one bottle of something stronger. Fancy dresses not counting xD
Last and not least I would like to say great-massive thanks for Maciejas, Itr, Dżejkob, Kaziu for quality time and one of it’s kind adventure. Bring on 2018!!!
Few links you might find interesting: