At the end of last year a new event by Durty Events caught my eye. It raised a question I don’t ask very often: Can I complete that.

It is a 24 hour event. The aim being to complete all of the 7 stanes mountain bike trail centres and ride the connecting road sections between them in under 24 hours. The total distance roughly being 430km. One could take part in the event as a solo rider or as a team of 2, 3 or 4. Although I am tempted to do it solo, I asked my mate Alan if he fancied it as a team of 2. He did and we entered.

We had little time to plan how we would go about it, but did fit 2 meetings in prior to the event and had mapped out a decent approach to the 24 hours with options to change if required. Our challenge on the day would be that one of us always had to be on the move on the bike, so we had little time to talk to each other.

Doing it as a team of 2 meant that we’d be doing it in relay format (not riding together). We also both like road and mountain biking so wanted to ride some of the road sections and some of the mountain bike sections.

We hired a van for the event, travelled down to Glentrool with a ton of kit, 4 bikes and several changes of cycle clothing.

The plan was for Alan to start in Glentrool and ride to Kiroughtree trail centre – a mix of gravel riding and trail centre black. I’d then take over and ride on the road to Dalbeattie, change bikes there and ride the Dalbeattie trail centre, Alan would then ride the road to Mabie and the Mabie trail centre, I’d then do the same to get to Ae and do the Ae trail centre, then it was Alan’s turn again to ride to Newcastleton and do the trail centre there. Finally I would ride half the road section to Glentress, Alan would ride the other half before I would finish by completing the Glentress trail centre. This gave us both around 12 hours of riding each, 3 trail centres each, and suited the bike set up Alan could bring for the first sector.

The event started at midday on Saturday July 24. We had a leisurely start as we’d driven most of the way there and spent the night in Ayr. 25 teams/solos left Glentrool in 3 groups separated by 3 minutes (to fit in with Covid regulations) and the support vehicles headed to Kiroughtree via the road. This was a short 25-30 min drive while Alan was on the trail for just under 3 hours. I had some time to chill at the trail centre but didn’t have much to eat as I had a big dinner the night before and a big breakfast too.

The weather was very warm and we both got a bit dehydrated in our first stints. I took over from Alan in a reasonably swift handover. The route the Dalbeattie was nice and quiet from traffic. I don’t know the area much and from looking at the map thought it was a coast road that could have a fair bit of traffic with the warm weather but that wasn’t the case. My biggest problem was the Garmin watch. We were given a gpx file for the entire road section of the event and I had it uploaded to the watch. My watch for some reason couldn’t really handle this and presented me on regular intervals with a ‘blue triangle of death’. It would thereafter restart, refind the route, start navigating again and eventually die again. After 10 of those incidents and losing more and more chunks of recorded data I gave up and decided to navigate by OS map on viewranger on my phone. This did slow process down a little bit, but thankfully not much as the route was pretty straight forward. I was overtaken by 4 or 5 other teams (or solos). Rolled into Dalbeattie after just under 3 hours having covered just over 60km.

Dalbeattie trail centre next. Alan waited for me at the checkpoint with my MTB, MTB shoes, a Red Bull (energy drink) and my MTB backpack. Switched over (remembered my watch) and off I went. Alan’s prediction was that it would take me around 3 hours. I had no idea as I’d never done Dalbeattie. I had 25 km to do here. Headed out onto the trails just before 6pm. Dalbeattie is pretty rough and I was glad it wasn’t this one I’d be doing at night, not that I knew yet what Ae would be like. But for all the technical stuff Dalbeattie has, it also has quite a lot of connecting forestry roads which helped up the pace. I was passed by 3 others doing 24 Seven but ended up finishing with them as they got lost just at a point when I was about to make the same mistake too. We all missed a key sign somewhere. I wasn’t surprised at being caught/overtaken here as I’ve not had much (any) trail centre practice in the last months/this year. It was beautiful evening light and still very warm riding round Dalbeattie Wood. I finished well inside Alan’s prediction, i.e. just over 2 hours. We were up on our very rough schedule by about 30 min which was nice to see but pretty irrelevant. A quick handover to Alan – I only had to give him the gps tracker (with which we could keep an eye on where the other team member was, the race organisation could too, as well as the rest of the world via a link on the website). The support car also had a tracker for similar reasons. After a quick check between the 2 of us Alan was off for a roughly 30km road ride to Mabie with the sun starting to set.

It was less than 15 min for me to get there in the van, so even though Alan would be riding for not much over an hour I’d still have time to get stuff ready when there. I parked up the van got and got his MTB sorted (we had to switch race numbers regularly with reusable cable ties). I was a bit worried that he wouldn’t have put his lights on for the night ride. I shouldn’t have though, it was all ready to go with the lights on. He’d start in light but gradually finish the ride in darkness. I pushed the bike up to the checkpoint and waited for Alan to come in for the handover. Again, quick check in between the 2 of us and off he went. I now had a couple of hours before he’d be back, got both my bikes ready for their night rides coming up and made myself dinner, pot noodle pasta and coffee. We brought a stove. Then I just chilled and kept an eye on the tracker. On the tracker, it was easier to know where the other rider was on the road sections, than in the trail centres as the maps were not that clear but we got those pretty right too.

As expected, Alan finished in the dark (or nearly dark). It was past 10:30pm. I’d advised him where the van was in advance and we handed over there. We had done the same at Dalbeattie. It may have added 30 seconds over doing it at the check point. I now had the shortest road stint to do from Mabie to Ae through Dumfries. At nearly midnight this was a serene affair with the last bit of light still hanging in the sky and traffic in Dumfries and on the A75 being very light. Even now it was still warm enough for shorts and short sleeves. The trail centre car park in Ae is small and we handed over at the van. I left there for my night ride around Ae at just before midnight and it was a delight to ride this. Easy to navigate, pretty gentle trails apart from one part where the trees had been felled  in the last few years, and a full moon in the sky. There were pockets though where the air temperature had notably dropped. This was the first time that I’d done any MTB night riding in summer. With the warm weather we have had the trails were very dry and the MTB returned home dusty and not muddy.

I got back to the van around 2 am. Alan now had a 70km road ride ahead of him which meant I could take my time to get to Newcastleton. I took on some more food, dressed up warm as temperatures had dropped significantly. Having been mid to high 20s during the day we were now at 5-8 degrees C with some fog patches in the valley. I had finished my ride in shorts and short sleeves but Alan was layered up for his ride. Sensibly so.

Here is Alan’s take on the next few hours: “This proved quite a surreal leg. I set off from Ae in the cold, with the full moon for company, and the road shrouded in mist. Almost immediately, I was surprised to see bright bike lights heading towards me. Soon these were to turn around and catch me, and proved to be a fellow competitor, Chris, who’d returned to Ae to get his tracker and phone from his race partner, but (being unable to find him) had set off without them. We agreed to ride together for safety and eventually reached a closed road sign. This road was almost to prove our team’s undoing. It was passable (just), but in the dark, with the occasionally thick fog, it was difficult to spot the ramps, holes and unsurfaced sections. I suffered the inevitable puncture, and Chris (who’s a mechanic) offered to repair it. As I attempted to inflate the replacement tube, I couldn’t get my pump to work. Chris didn’t have his, as he’d put the wrong jacket on, an illustration of what sleep deprivation does to you on these events. Having realised there was no phone signal, I was contemplating a very long walk, but was eventually able to clear a blockage in the pump’s tube, and we were gratefully on our way again. As we approached Langholm, the sky was lightening and Chris’s partner was waiting for him, so I continued over the hill to Newcastleton. This section proved a pure joy, with the dawn giving way to a spectacular sunrise and the air warming up. The only hazards now were the cows and sheep that had made the road their bed for the night.  I gratefully descended to Newcastleton to find Karl, and swap to my mountain bike for a thankfully uneventful early morning ride of the red route, accompanied only by a few roe deer.”

In the meantime:

The gps took me (in the van) on mostly better roads to Newcastleton and I got there with lots of time to spare, not just because of the puncture. I felt quite tired and should have given myself a bit more time for the drive. Once in Newcastleton though, I put my head down for a bit on the front seats of the van. We’d actually brought an airbed but the time between changeovers never really gave us time to use it, nor did we have space to put it anywhere to lie on. Even though I had time to put my head down it wasn’t really restful as I constantly wanted to check if Alan was approaching. He rolled in around 5:30am updating me on this puncture, changing bikes and heading out again. Another beautiful day had dawned by then and we handed over once more just after 7am.

I now had a road ride from Newcastleton to Roberton. We changed this as originally we were going to swap at Hawick but Alan was worried that he wouldn’t have enough time for the swap as he also needed to investigate a gearing issue. So, I rode just over 40km to Roberton with very little traffic. It is a long steady climb out of Newcastleton and then an equally long steady descent into Hawick before a gentle ride into Roberton. Surprisingly the mist had settled on the Hawick side of the pass and I was glad that I had layered up before I set out. Some others that had left before me in just short sleeves may have got rather cold. This ride was uneventful but beautiful. We also knew the clock was ticking and at least wanted to make it to Glentress by 11am. We always intended to complete the route even if it would be over the 24 hours and we’d have to hand the tracker back. The handover at Roberton may not have been quite as slick as the others had been but Alan got sorted what he needed to get sorted (well it held until just before Glentress) and we may have lost a few seconds which in the grander scheme of things is negligeable. Most of this event comes down to speed on the road and trails in my opinion.

I was surprised how tired I was driving up to Glentress. On the bike was fine, off the bike less so.

When I arrived at Glentress, Paul the race organiser said that if Alan got into Glentress not long after 11 then we could ride round Glentress with the tracker and be counted assuming we wanted to do that. As mentioned, we would have done that anyway. Alan got into Glentress in very good time, well ahead of Paul’s prediction. I think it was 11:04am which technically gave me 1 hour and 2 minutes to finish inside 24 hours. That would be a record for Glentress Red but I did what I could. This is a trail centre I know pretty well but I don’t usually ride it in one go. As it is pretty much up, up, up for the first half it is quite demanding down, down, down for the 2nd half. Just over 100 minutes for my Glentress lap saw us finish in 24 hours and 34 minutes as last finishing team. Together we rode around 430 km in that time.

This event was very much about can we do it? And we could. Stunning weather throughout, great idea for an event. Things mostly went well, we both had our small hiccups which we dealt with well. I realised during the event that I was feeling rather stretched on my road bike but only when I loaded the bike into the van at the end did I realise that my saddle had come loose. Handovers were pretty slick. A support person or 2 would have been sensible and a good useful to give us a bit more rest. Other teams mostly did but at least one other had the same set up as we did. I don’t know how they got on. Other approaches also were that others had dedicated folk for the road and dedicated folk for the trail. Would it have made a difference? Who knows, but our approach did confuse the checkpoint marshals at Newcastleton.

Would I do it solo? Not sure, maybe.