I finally made it out to Carron Valley Mountainbike Trails yesterday, taking my brother along for the ride. Setting off a bit later than I’d wanted and dealing with very slow traffic on the Loch Lomond road, it took us about an hour to get over there. A little longer than I’d like it to be, but still not too big a haul for access to some custom built trails.
When we arrived the weather was perfect – dry and sunny with some broken cloud that would prevent it from getting too hot. Once I’d pulled the bikes out of the car – five years after buying it I’m still delighted that my Honda Jazz can swallow up a couple of bikes – and loading up pockets with bananas, cereal bars, and spare inner tubes, we set off up the forest roads.
At first there were groups of walkers and I was thinking it might be a pain if we encountered them all the time, but after that we didn’t see another person for the whole ride. However, even before we got off the forest road and onto the trail proper, Andrew was finding it difficult. He’s not particularly fit and he’s not exactly a keen biker, but I’m trying to bring him along in order to solve both those issues. Fortunately he likes spending time with me and I think that kept him going on the hardest parts. He had to push the bike up pretty much all of the climbs, but that’s the trouble with mountainbiking – the climbs are inescapable and without them you wouldn’t get the enjoyable downhills. They do take the most out of you, though, and it’s tough to get up to the level of fitness that makes them an inconvenience rather than torture. If he keeps at it he’ll get the hang of it.
The first climb came to an end as we got to a T-junction, where it looked like we could turn sharply up hill or head down and around a small valley. Andrew wanted to go down the way, naturally, so we did that and were rewarded by the first fast-flowing part of the trail. This was excellent – lots of gentle rises and falls through the woods, before it started to turn and climb to the left.
At this point there was a rest area and the view was great, so I thought it would be a good idea to stop for a breather before we hit the climb into the forest.
Unfortunately the climb was a bit steep and twisty for the breather to make much difference to Andrew and he had to push for the most part. I was feeling bad for him, as pushing a bike through the woods whilst the flies attck you does not make for a fun day out.
He soldiered on, though – I think riding my training route a couple of weeks back and the survival course he went on just last week have improved his mental fortitude.
Eventually we made it up to a sign post marked “The Cannonball Run” – this would prove to be fast, fun downhill section with a couple of technical drops over boulders and some sweeping, slightly banked turns. I went off a bit fast here and realised that Andrew was nowhere to be seen when I looked over my shoulder, so I came to a halt and waited on him. Just as I was starting to worry that he’d crashed, he appeared around the bend and didn’t look too stressed, so I guess he was just taking it easy.
I had to keep reminding myself that he was on a hard-tail bike and I was on a full suspension machine that was soaking up all the bumps for me. The rock-strewn sections were probably a bit sketchy on a hard-tail – I had a few hairy moments myself, but then I was pushing hard whenever I got the chance.
At the end of The Cannonball Run we reached a junction with a sign post pointing to the left that said “Pipedream” and one pointing to the right that said “The Runaway”, with the latter having a sign for the car park on it, too. I told Andrew to take the right hand route, as the left was probably much more technical, and said I’d see him back at the car.
I was right that Pipedream was fast and technical, but wrong about it being the skill section. The trail eventually led me back to the T-junction we’d been at around half an hour before, with a sign saying “No Right Turn”, meaning I couldn’t just head back down the trail to the car park.
Still, I had loads of energy left and decided I’d just do the whole thing again. This was when I realised that if Pipedream wasn’t the skill section, then I’d just sent Andrew on his way to certain disaster. Ah. I put the hammer down and rocketed through the flowing trail, up until it got to the climbs and I lost a bit of pace there. Still, it only took me about 15 minutes or so to get back to The Cannonball Run, and I went through that with a bit more confidence this time around.
Over-confidence, it turned out, as I almost went off track a couple of times, but doing a technical trail with speed on the limit is what mountainbiking is all about and I was loving it! 😀
When I got to the junction where I’d left Andrew I took the right fork up The Runaway and pressed hard to see if I could catch up. Shortly the trail joined up with a forestry road, with the trail sign pointing me up hill, so I followed that for about another kilometre until I found another sign that pointed me back onto the purpose built mountainbike trails.
Beside the marker post was a sign that began; “Make this trail as exciting as you wish, but…” I didn’t really need to read any further to know that this was the skill section and if Andrew had gone this way he might not be doing so well. I took off like a robber’s dog in hot pursuit, rounded a corner and came face to face with a steep camel-hump jump in front of me. The first of many, it would turn out.
The trail was fantastic – really fast and flowing, with nice banked corners and straight runs into the jumps. I didn’t get much air off the top of most of them until I saw I was on the final stretch and put a bit more speed into it. Two jumps in a row I cleared the top and landed smoothly on the other side, but then I got it a bit sideways on the last one and gave myself a fright. Still – two out of three is pretty good and I had a huge grin on my face as I headed for the car park.
Happily, when I got there, Andrew was there safe and sound, and said he’d enjoyed the afternoon despite the amount of pushing he’d done on the climbs. He’d turned down the forest road that I’d headed up to get to The Runaway, and that took him down to the car park. Instinct, I tells you – you can’t teach that!
Done for the day, I packed the bikes carefully into the car and we headed back home, with the intention to return in the very near future. I reckon you could do the trail once, have some lunch and then set off on another loop to make a good day of it. I think that’s what I’ll do next time out.
What’s interesting is that Carron Valley trails are just one example of the numerous trail centres that have sprung up over the last few years. There are dozens of mountain biking centres in Scotland now, all much larger than Carron Valley, too – the kind of places you’d need a full day to explore, although they are much further afield. Even so, yesterday was the best fun riding I’ve had in years, so I’ll need to try and get in a trip to one of the trail centres before the summer is out.