The Highland Trail 550 (HT550) is, unsurprisingly, a 550 mile, solo and unsupported mountain bike race around the North-West coast of Scotland. The event has been on my radar for a good few years, however being a mountain bike race, it always felt beyond my perceived ability. Further, at university May is exam period, which takes me out of racing around that time. However, for 2019 I have been on a placement year from university, where until the 10th May I was working as a Bridge Engineer at Mott MacDonald.
The Italy Divide was a steep learning curve for me, off road is totally different. The lessons I’ve learnt from four years racing Transcontinental did not apply. I was a rookie and I knew it when my lights were not good enough, my GPS ran out of battery, and I was left with nerve damage in my left hand.
The hard lessons aside, when I finished the Italy Divide, I had an epiphany. A moment of real clarity. Off road racing is hard, on the body, the mind and bike. It pushed me way beyond the known and outside of my comfort zone. My horizons shifted and I knew I wanted more. It also made me realise that I’ve been suffering some form of anxiety attacks while cycling on the road for a while. I have had a few nasty incidents with cars this winter and now I sometimes get anxious when cars come from behind at high speed; it will be good mentally to spend a bit more time off road. I had been in contact with Alan the organiser of HT550 for some time about a possible entry in 2019, though he initially graciously rejected me for having no experience, and requested I ride one of his other routes as an entry criteria – a requirement I deeply respected. However, the day after the Italy Divide finish, I got an email from Alan asking if I still wanted to come. Hell yes!
I was eager to reply and say yes, and once I hit send, I realised I didn’t have a mountain bike… a mere hurdle.
I am incredibly grateful to everyone mentioned here that has helped me get ready to race HT550 at such short notice.
Thanks to my friends at Canyon for an Exceed, if it’s good enough for Mathieu Van Der Poel, it’s more than good enough for me. I’ve already begun my ‘customisation’, a beautiful bike becomes functional for the demands ultra-racing.
Thanks to my friends at Exposure for some proper lights. I had real issue with lights in Italy – batteries dying and low visibility! I now feel confident to ride off road at night having the Six Pack and Diablo models. The Six Pack rear LED gives remaining burn time information – incredibly useful.
Thanks to Rusjan for working flat out to hand make me a set of custom frame bags, they’re amazing quality, fit perfectly, and completely waterproof! I also really appreciate her quick responses to my many emails fretting the details.
Thanks to Veloforte for some natural food, with high calorie per gram it’s perfect for my stomach and legs. Unsure on the resupply availability, I will be taking a good amount.
I am so excited to go racing again; I’ve never been to Scotland, I can’t think of a better way to see the Highlands.
I’ll be bringing a full bike and kit check spec out later in the week – once I’ve decided what I’m taking!