Highland Trail 2021... What worked, what didn't

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ChrisS
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Highland Trail 2021... What worked, what didn't

Post by ChrisS »

I remember one of these threads from a few years ago and I found it really helpful, so here's my contribution from this year's event.

What worked

Dropper post - So glad I had this. It helped turn my XC hardtail geometry into something a bit more confidence-inspiring on steep ground. I also used it lots in the last 24hrs when I was too tired to lift my leg over a full height seat post :grin: Worked very well with the Apidura seatpost bag.

Bontrager XR4/XR3 tyres - Team Issue 2.4” set up tubeless with 21psi front, 24psi rear. These tyres fit really well on my No Stans rims. Grippy, corner well and the XR4 excels in loose over hard surfaces. No punctures even though they took a battering later in the ride when my concentration levels were receding fast. Had to put a bit of air in the XR4 on the middle day, but otherwise didn’t touch them.

No stove - Never regretted not packing a stove. Managed hot food most days at pub/cafe stops anyhow.

Cumulus 250 quilt - I’m new to quilts, but instantly fell in love with this. As a restless sleeper it’s way better than a bag and just stayed where it was supposed to inside my bivy bag. Thought I might miss a sleeping bag hood, but didn’t. Packs down tiny.

Arcteryx Nuclei synthetic hooded jacket - I bought this jacket almost 10 years ago and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say it’s saved my life on more than one ride. This time it was the northern loop in heavy rain and wind. Wore it under my waterproof and it kept me just about warm enough all day even though it got soaked.

Proper mountain waterproofs - I witnessed a few people suffering in superlight cycling waterproof tops and shorts. I went for full length Goretex trousers and a Rab jacket and didn’t regret it.

Running hydration vest - This had about 10l of storage which I used for a small first aid/hygeine kit, midge kit, money, phone and all the food I could stuff in (quite a lot), with two 0.5l soft flasks for water on the shoulder straps.. I’m not a fan of backpacks, but this never felt heavy and most of the time I forgot I had it on.

Heavy duty latex gloves - I went back and forth on bad weather glove choices but in the end took my winter gloves and layered them over the latex gloves. They just about kept my hands warm enough on the northern loop and meant that when I took my big gloves off to fiddle with gear my hands weren’t completely exposed.

Garmin Etrex - Simple, just works and batteries last ages.

Bamboo toothbrush from Joe’s shop - Minty fresh teeth and it’s not plastic. Perfect.

What didn’t work

Close-fitting shoes - My feet swelled so much I had to take the footbeds out for the last couple of days. If I ever did a similar ride again I’d buy a half size up and start with a thicker sock - or fit flats and wear approach shoes. By the last day, my right ankle was so sore that unclipping was really painful. For a route with lots of on-off HaB, flats make sense.

Any sports nutrition - I took some recovery drinks and Cliff bars. Couldn’t bring myself to eat a Cliff bar by day two and I could never be bothered with the recovery drinks. Nuts, cheese and Creme Eggs turned out to be the things I really wanted, plus soup whenever it was available at food stops,

Flat tarp - I will own up to some poor pitching but it was dark, raining and I’d ridden 190km… On the second night my sleep kit got wet when I ended up too close to the side of the tarp and the water started to drip into my bivy bag. Not good. I think something like a Deschutes or Gatewood tarp would have been a better, more idiot-proof choice.

Alpkit Numo mat - Not insulated so not great when using a quilt. I didn’t notice when pitching on grass, but I spent one night in Fisherfield bivied on decking in front of a cabin and the airflow underneath chilled me to the bone. I think I got less than 2hrs sleep which did not set me up well for the final two days, possibly costing me the sub-six day finish I was going for.

Undecided

Revelate Designs Mag Tank 2000 - This top tube bag is totally solid, holds a huge amount of food and is easy to pack. But I’m not sold on the flappy lid. Opening it on bumpy terrain risks stuff flying out and I didn’t find the magnetic catch on mine that effective. Might return to a zippered top tube bag

What I didn’t use
Buffalo mitts - my emergency back-up handwear. I used every other item I took.

What I wished I had
Skills like Htrider when I saw him float his bike across the Loch na Stac boulder field like a butterfly :-bd
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htrider
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Re: Highland Trail 2021... What worked, what didn't

Post by htrider »

:-bd
What worked:-
Paramo jacket, Shimano MT91 goretex boots (minor foot swelling noted the day after I finished, now gone), montane lightweight gaiters (very light and kept everything inside dry.), goretex active over trousers, Knee length sealskinz socks. If hadn't dropped one of them in the sealga I'd have finished with two dry feet. HH thick merino polo-neck top combined with a torm merino short sleeved jersey kept me warm, even when wet, except on a couple of long downhills. BB cap, buff to keep rain out of neck and easily deployed as a face covering for sticking up shops.

Bike - worked totally. Had a few hand issues on and off on the long rough sections but they were fine at the end excepting a couple of blisters, actually caused due to pushing it.... Re Chris's last comment, a few others noted my 'prowess' on steep rocky stuff and commented on the fact I was stood nearly upright rather than crouched over the front. It's all about having the bars higher than the seat, this is the Jones secret! Oh and check out Liam G's bikes riding position :grin: 3" tyres are also the biz for rocks. Its now looking like proper 29+ is doomed which is a tragedy / outrage....

+1 for droppers - there are a fair few super steep bits on the various descents that are otherwise rideable. Being able to shove yer backside over the back of the seat (even with a seat pack) makes such things much easier.

Uberbike metal pads - new when I started still plenty of life left in them.

3 season bag - I was warm. Flat tarp OK for me as I was very particular on bivvy spots. This did reduce flexibility on stopping places so the Deschutes would probably have been a better bet.

What didn't work :-
Dexshell gloves - wetted out after 1 hr and got binned in Ullapool. I also nearly went with latex work gloves but in the end I wanted something I could wear all day and I figured work gloves would be sweaty, leaving my hands damp and cold...

Assos shorts - good for roadies out for a few hours but not for several long days. The pad is far too soft and thick resulting in it rubbing in a sensitive spot and causing a painful saddle sore. Should have stuck with my ancient DHB shorts.

Topeak barloader bag - back panel started pulling away from the bag requiring a carefully deployed voile strap.
My guts after the first 5 hours.....
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Re: Highland Trail 2021... What worked, what didn't

Post by thenorthwind »

Really interesting stuff, particularly for those of us considering it for the future. Thanks for sharing.
ChrisS wrote: Mon May 31, 2021 1:02 pm I also used it lots in the last 24hrs when I was too tired to lift my leg over a full height seat post
I know exactly the feeling! Sometimes I feel a bit lazy lowering it just so I can get off with less effort, but it does genuinely help when you're really tired.
htrider wrote: Mon May 31, 2021 3:23 pm For a route with lots of on-off HaB, flats make sense.
I'm a fully paid-up flats user, but do be aware that you will inevitable gouge holes in your shins getting on and off and at gates, particularly when tiredness or frustration creeps in. Or maybe that's just me.
htrider wrote: Mon May 31, 2021 3:23 pm easily deployed as a face covering for sticking up shops.
:shock: Saves you carrying cash I suppose, but have you got an ultralightweight pistol? Is that within the self-supported "rules"? :wink:
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Re: Highland Trail 2021... What worked, what didn't

Post by ChrisS »

Forgot to add…

Didn’t work
OS maps app, not once. Despite supposedly ‘downloading’ all the maps I needed for use offline. What a pile of crap that app is. Luckily I had ViewRanger as backup.
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Re: Highland Trail 2021... What worked, what didn't

Post by AlasdairMc »

ChrisS wrote: Mon May 31, 2021 7:19 pm Forgot to add…

Didn’t work
OS maps app, not once. Despite supposedly ‘downloading’ all the maps I needed for use offline. What a pile of crap that app is. Luckily I had ViewRanger as backup.
Well done for completing it!

The OS maps app has a fatal flaw - check whether you’re storing on iCloud or on the device. It lets you download maps for offline use, but then stores them in the cloud which you can’t access when you’re in the middle of nowhere!
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Re: Highland Trail 2021... What worked, what didn't

Post by GregMay »

I did not know that. Thanks Alasdair.
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ChrisS
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Re: Highland Trail 2021... What worked, what didn't

Post by ChrisS »

AlasdairMc wrote: Mon May 31, 2021 8:53 pm
ChrisS wrote: Mon May 31, 2021 7:19 pm Forgot to add…

Didn’t work
OS maps app, not once. Despite supposedly ‘downloading’ all the maps I needed for use offline. What a pile of crap that app is. Luckily I had ViewRanger as backup.
Well done for completing it!

The OS maps app has a fatal flaw - check whether you’re storing on iCloud or on the device. It lets you download maps for offline use, but then stores them in the cloud which you can’t access when you’re in the middle of nowhere!
Thanks :grin:

I’d turned off iCloud, but it didn’t make a difference. Could never get it to load a map. Whereas the ViewRanger 2018 app you just turn on and boom the map’s there. I was expecting the os app to fail so wasn’t really a bother.
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Jurassic
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Re: Highland Trail 2021... What worked, what didn't

Post by Jurassic »

What an interesting thread (even for someone who's highly unlikely to ever attempt the HT550), thanks ChrisS and htrider.
Regarding OS Maps, I agree. I tried to download the maps covering An Turas Mor as I was planning to accompany a couple of friends who were riding it for a day or two. On my Android phone the offline maps only work sporadically and there's no way I'd rely on it for primary navigation. Viewranger is great, I hope it continues to be usable in future after the merger.
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Re: Highland Trail 2021... What worked, what didn't

Post by faustus »

Jurassic wrote: Mon May 31, 2021 10:18 pm What an interesting thread (even for someone who's highly unlikely to ever attempt the HT550), thanks ChrisS and htrider.
Regarding OS Maps, I agree. I tried to download the maps covering An Turas Mor as I was planning to accompany a couple of friends who were riding it for a day or two. On my Android phone the offline maps only work sporadically and there's no way I'd rely on it for primary navigation. Viewranger is great, I hope it continues to be usable in future after the merger.
I'd echo the sentiments about this being interesting hearing what does/doesn't work for people.

Agree viewranger is a good tool, and i've been using the outdooractive app (it's replacement) side by side for a little while and it's pretty good, which is reassuring.
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Re: Highland Trail 2021... What worked, what didn't

Post by Mart »

ChrisS wrote: Mon May 31, 2021 7:19 pm Forgot to add…

Didn’t work
OS maps app, not once. Despite supposedly ‘downloading’ all the maps I needed for use offline. What a pile of crap that app is. Luckily I had ViewRanger as backup.
I used OS maps all the way round on my phone, with no problems, but i suppose it depends on what you were expecting it to do and what you think you needed

When out of reception i put phone into airplane mode to save battery and used downloaded map section.
when in phone in reception i downloaded the map needed for the next section i was going into
if I couldn’t the detailed map it didn’t really matter - you just follow the red line anyway regardless.
i did know the route up to poolewe so that helped me feel less anxious when i couldn’t get the detail.
Left the gps in the car and didn’t regret it at all
2924 miles per Gallon
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Re: Highland Trail 2021... What worked, what didn't

Post by Mart »

worked

light ‘chemical’ marigolds from B&Q
These fit great over cycle gloves and keep yer hands cosy

Full length running trousers for over padded shorts
cosy on the colder days

Full length waterprooof trousers
better coverage than waterproof shorts

Phone only (on quad lock) no gps
solid mount and phone doubled as camera
ran OS maps all the way no issues (see above comment)

Voile straps on Salsa strap deck
quick to deploy and reattach drybag
deck didn’t move, and bag solid all the way

didn’t work so well

Dyno hub
Ok it did work but speeds too slow to be any real use for charging duties and lights not really needed as days so long.
could have ditched the light as i had a petzl headlamp as well

SPD shoes - got trashed with all the HaB
they were summer variety and toes got cold on the first few days. OK after that when things warmed up
Last edited by Mart on Tue Jun 01, 2021 12:03 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Highland Trail 2021... What worked, what didn't

Post by htrider »

Just to add to this, I've been thinking about why I (and a few others) blew up on day one. I had an interesting chat with Huw Oliver regarding this at the finish and he came up with some good advice.

I definitely went off a bit too quick but not obviously so - single speed tends to dictate your pace and it is quite hard to throttle back. On a geared bike I've a good trick whereby you always change down twice instead of once when the gradient goes up and get it in the granny gear at the first hint of steepness. Not an option for the single speed but I should have walked more on the earlier steep climbs instead of going all out to get up stuff. Huw noted that the difference between a sustainable pace and a pace that is going to break you can be very small.

Drinking - thinking back I was definitely not drinking enough as everytime I did drink I was guzzling water, not sipping it. Huw noted that the more you eat the more you need to drink otherwise you won't digest food properly leading to gut issues and no energy. That definitely rings bells with me. Cool, breezy and dry conditions will dehydrate you nearly as quickly as hot sunny conditions, particularly given I was slightly over dressed in view of what was coming.

Food - I think I got this right eating stuff that I knew worked well for me (wraps with bacon, cheese quinoa and other grains as well as crisps, snickers and peperami) thanks to lots of practice but not enough water..... This was my huge mistake in 2014 (apart from also going off way too fast) as I was eating too much crap. But you can't beat a handful of haribo for an instant pick me up. Or better still a can of coke or irn bru. I was tanning the Lucozade sport a fair bit when I could get it which also seems to give an instant kick. I did use a few drinks powders this time and they actually worked well for a change. I think they do if you are going at a higher intensity (i.e. single speed climbing) but not if you are able to maintain a steady pace throughout.
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Re: Highland Trail 2021... What worked, what didn't

Post by ChrisS »

Mart wrote: Tue Jun 01, 2021 11:48 am
ChrisS wrote: Mon May 31, 2021 7:19 pm Forgot to add…

Didn’t work
OS maps app, not once. Despite supposedly ‘downloading’ all the maps I needed for use offline. What a pile of crap that app is. Luckily I had ViewRanger as backup.
I used OS maps all the way round on my phone, with no problems, but i suppose it depends on what you were expecting it to do and what you think you needed

When out of reception i put phone into airplane mode to save battery and used downloaded map section.
when in phone in reception i downloaded the map needed for the next section i was going into
if I couldn’t the detailed map it didn’t really matter - you just follow the red line anyway regardless.
i did know the route up to poolewe so that helped me feel less anxious when i couldn’t get the detail.
Left the gps in the car and didn’t regret it at all
I'd downloaded the maps in advance as I kept my phone on airplane all the time apart from meal stops. Didn't need the app for nav, it was more to get an overview on what was coming the next day. But it just hung every time with a blurred, low scale map or blocks of purple. iPhone 11 so reasonably up to date phone. I would try a reinstall but I've had the same issue for years now, despite repeated conversations with OS support. If the browser app wasn't so useful I would have cancelled by subscription a long time ago.
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Re: Highland Trail 2021... What worked, what didn't

Post by ChrisS »

htrider wrote: Tue Jun 01, 2021 11:55 am Just to add to this, I've been thinking about why I (and a few others) blew up on day one. I had an interesting chat with Huw Oliver regarding this at the finish and he came up with some good advice.

I definitely went off a bit too quick but not obviously so - single speed tends to dictate your pace and it is quite hard to throttle back. On a geared bike I've a good trick whereby you always change down twice instead of once when the gradient goes up and get it in the granny gear at the first hint of steepness. Not an option for the single speed but I should have walked more on the earlier steep climbs instead of going all out to get up stuff. Huw noted that the difference between a sustainable pace and a pace that is going to break you can be very small.

Drinking - thinking back I was definitely not drinking enough as everytime I did drink I was guzzling water, not sipping it. Huw noted that the more you eat the more you need to drink otherwise you won't digest food properly leading to gut issues and no energy. That definitely rings bells with me. Cool, breezy and dry conditions will dehydrate you nearly as quickly as hot sunny conditions, particularly given I was slightly over dressed in view of what was coming.

Food - I think I got this right eating stuff that I knew worked well for me (wraps with bacon, cheese quinoa and other grains as well as crisps, snickers and peperami) thanks to lots of practice but not enough water..... This was my huge mistake in 2014 (apart from also going off way too fast) as I was eating too much crap. But you can't beat a handful of haribo for an instant pick me up. Or better still a can of coke or irn bru. I was tanning the Lucozade sport a fair bit when I could get it which also seems to give an instant kick. I did use a few drinks powders this time and they actually worked well for a change. I think they do if you are going at a higher intensity (i.e. single speed climbing) but not if you are able to maintain a steady pace throughout.
Interesting... I felt utterly crap on day one - couldn't face eating, had bad gut problems and lacked energy the whole day. I put that down to my body going into a sort of shock after an extended rest period pre-race trying to keep my knee in good shape. But in retrospect I think I was badly dehydrated - I downed two pints of fizzy drink in FA without even thinking. I'd also had my first Covid jag a few days before and while I didn't experience any obvious side effects, I guess that might have had an impact.
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Re: Highland Trail 2021... What worked, what didn't

Post by Jurassic »

I think the Covid jag thing could explain it ChrisS. I've had both of mine now and both times I've felt off the pace while riding my bike soon afterwards. I believe that the side effects can last up to 14 days and even if you don't feel completely terrible it wouldn't be surprising to feel not quite right. Interesting about the OS maps thing, I got the paid subscription a few years ago for printing off A4 sections which I laminated for use while canoe sailing and I've just let the sub continue to run. I'll have to try again with it, it would be nice to be able to access large scale mapping rather than just the Landranger/ 1:50,000 that I get (totally reliably) with Viewranger.
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