Monday, 16 March 2015

A Busy Start to 2015

Personally I'm having one of the worst ski seasons I've had in years; hardly any runs open on my local hill, poor snow cover and relentless high winds. Yes, there have been the odd good days, but not when I'm around.

There is a silver lining to this though - it has been a great winter to build trails, with construction starting earlier in the year than is the norm. I normally don't like to start builds until April, just in case winter kicks in and we're halted mid build with snow and frost, but this year we started in mid feb'.

A cracking wee contract to ease ourselves into the trail building year, with a freshen up and rejig of the Moray Monster trails. A tricky one this, as revising old trails is trickier than a new build and there are a lot of people who like old rooty, characterful trails (me included) but in this case there were some stretches that were just too muddy, worn out and just not enjoyable anymore. So, a delicate hand was needed, with a three tiered plan of hand works, minor machine tweaks and then full rebuilds where required.

I was working with the usual team - Chris Rogerson Contracting and for me having digger drivers that I've got to know over many kilometres of trail building and themselves are keen bike riders makes life so much easier. They know what I want, they know how to build it and they know that if it doesn't ride right then it needs tweaking until it does - and that's without me saying anything!
Bike riding digger drivers rock!
We are heading off to Tarland (near Aboyne) next to build more jumpy, pumpy, woodsy trails - looking forward to this one - a good client brief and some new ideas from me and the gang!

As always, in the background, I am involved with the consultancy side of things helping new clients take their initial ideas through planning and funding to hopefully get more builds happening in the near future. Some exciting things on the burner, but as usual can't really talk about them here!

Blinking photography keeps getting busier too - this wasn't meant to happen 'til my late fifties - when I'm too crippled to build trails, but not complaining about the workload, good to be busy and every photo gig I land I learn something new. I seem to have hit a niche market of architectural photography, not quite the action sports pics I so love, but it pays well and action sports gigs don't.....
I'm also trying to develop my weakest skill i.e. portrait photography, an aspect of the art I'm not too confident with, but keen to work on. It might not lead anywhere, but I enjoy making myself do something I feel awkward with. Mind you, my latest gig is made easier by having a model that is easy to shoot.

Ann Vestano local artist
Riding wise, things are looking up: just started getting some 'base' miles in and although I had to miss the locals hot weather training camp i.e. Aviemorons go mad in Spain, I've got the bit between my teeth and am trying to get out whenever possible in whatever weather is happening. Grim, but essential if I'm going to try pinning on a number this year - not saying anything - just in case like.

Anyhoo, Easter next, family time and the next time you pop back another build update hopefully. 

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Into the dark months

October hols over and it's into the dark months that take us up to Christmas and hopefully the skiing season too. Hard months for trail building as less light per day equals less trail built equals less money! Thankfully there aren't many builds planned for this period (good planning that), what I do have is more design, planning and consultancy work - all office based, and photography work - mainly indoors (nice planning again) so should get through to the longer days aok. I always feel that once you're passed Christmas you may still be in the depths of winter, but as the daylight starts to increase things get easier. As usual can't say much about works in progress, but three lovely wee builds on the cards and a plum of a design job that is the start of a major project in the central belt.

Lewis was an epic trip, in that we arrived at the same time as Hurricane Gonzalo! Add to that the house we were renting was about as exposed to the Atlantic as you can get and we had a few sleepless nights listening (and feeling) the house being battered by storm force winds and torrential rain (kids slept through it). Even with dreadful weather the Uig peninsula was a beautiful place to be and it was no bother keeping our two young lads occupied with walks to see the full might of the weather hitting the cliffs and beaches - having a gorgeous house to retreat to helped as well!
the most amazing foam party ever!

cosy gaf
Just a geeky kit note; I'm using the wee Olympus omd em-1 these days, a family holiday is no place to drag around a hulking big Nikon and the Oly is small enough to stuff in jacket or wee bag, totally weatherproof (camera was washed down in the shower several times to remove salt spray) and with built in wifi there was no involved editing type nonsense, just send to phone or iPad, a quick tweak and off to Instagram the image goes! Can't see me going back to a traditional DSLR anytime soon. 

Prior to leaving for hols had to squeeze in a weekends work for Singletrack mag covering the World Endurance 24hr solo champs. I was sort of thinking of going over anyway, but to take the usual flash lit racers racing type pics that seem to sell well directly to competitors and sponsors.
This time I was going to leave the flash guns at home and try and capture more 'reportage' style shots, a challenge, but massively useful for my development as a photographer. In the end I shot 1300 odd images, slept for all of 4hrs and came away with some shots I was quite happy with, whether Singletrack use them is another matter! Can't publish any of the pics, but here's a 'B' roll pic I quite like. 
Again used the little cameras, omd and the ever faithful fuji x100, both cracking wee cameras to use, especially the fuji for candid moments. Both cameras were cranked up to high ISO's - 6400 at night and all images fine enough for use. 
Geek note here again, the oly has amazing image stabilisation allowing hand held at about a second, mental. Geek note over. 
Anyhow that's enough of that, I'm off for a run as this is my traditional 'let's go back to being a runner' time of the year! 

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Into the Autumn

Well it's a new season (well it feels like it here) and time for a catch up. Autumn's a good season for me, the kids go back to school - I love them dearly, but very little gets done whilst they're off (home workers). So me and the mrs let out a large sigh of relief and get on with work and some more 'me' time! Which in my case means trying to get fit again (my sort of fit) with loads more riding, both road and mtb. Eventually the body remembers, big hill fitness returns and it's time to squeeze in some epic mtb rides before the dreich months that end in 'ber roll around.  Torridon is good even on a bad day, but we hit it with blue skies, warm sun and no midge, truly some of the best riding this year.


Local trails have been getting a good hammering too, with some old classics getting as much use as possible before harvesting kills them dead. I know it's a crop and needs harvesting, but even so, forest I've ridden trails in for nearly twenty years are scheduled to go.... 

going, going, nearly gone.

But, with the weather so good, it would be a crime not to get onto the local high trails before winter closes them down (at least on bikes!) so some quick up and downs combined with longer forays across the plateau were in order, sometimes alone, sometimes with like minded 'mountain' bikers. 

Coire an Sneachda 

Work has ramped up with a fairly equal mix of Cycletherapy and photo work. Trail stuff at the mo' is a mix of helping clients through planning applications, designing new tracks, trail surveys and a wee bit of trail maintenance training for various government bodies - I quite like this stuff, as I get older I like the idea of passing my info on. The photo work is progressing nicely with a steady influx of properties to shoot and something new to be learnt every contract; from dealing with tricky properties, to new lighting techniques, photoshop skills and streamlining the workflow through to the client. I love it! it's not quite the action shooting I thought I'd specialise in, but a niche I'm keen to develop and capitalise in. 


Anyhoo, that's enough for the now, it's time for a wee dram before settling into watching how the Scottish Independence results play out - whatever happens there's tricky times ahead up here! 

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Mid Summer Madness

Hi all.
That about sums up summer for me, what with trail builds, design reports, trail maintenance contracts, the photography business (more on that later) family and the endless desire to squeeze rides into any gap I can.
I'm amazed that with the economy the way it is I still have clients that can find money for trail builds, I think the biggest change is that trail builds these days are driven by the local user groups, not by external agencies. These groups know what they want, do their research, have the community behind them and with all the right boxes ticked have no problems gaining planning permission and finding the money.
Smaller jump parks, pump tracks and skills areas built right in the heart of a community are where the fundings at these days; not requiring transport to get to and being able to be used by kids all the time - not just when mum and dad can load up the van and travel to an 'uber' centre.
All good by me, but I still pine for building endless k's of good old honest xc riders thin flowy single track  hugging the side of a lovely remote hillside with stunning views, maybe with a few rocky problems thrown in, the odd berm, maybe a little tabletop here and there, ahhhh well, maybe one day again.
The Aberfoyle build went really well, working with Chris Rogerson Contracting and his merry bunch of young keen trail builders, they're are always great fun to work with - what with their willingness to throw themselves over partly completed jumps all in the pursuit of good flow! See Pete above.
Alyth's next on the to do list, with their build imminent and much to do before the kids break up for the summer hols and Cycletherapy closes  down for a wee break somewhere hot and sunny.
Designs are out to various clients to start on their journey to a build, hope these happen, they're really worthwhile projects and would be a delight to build.
The photography business is also busy, I never intended for it to come on stream so quickly, rather I saw it as a long term plan to slowly develop my skills and client base to the point where I could use it well into my old age when trail building becomes harder. Call it future proofing (or my version of a pension plan!) However, the architectural photography side of things is very busy, with a good client, nice properties to shoot and the ability to learn something new with every gig - also, the level of accuracy and attention to detail required appeals to my OCD side!
Much as I love the action sports work, it simply doesn't pay that well and photography in my busy world has to earn it's keep, but every so often I have to grab the gear and head off to the trails to scratch that mtb photography itch!

No racing for me this year, not an issue just now, as I've regained my mtb 'mojo' and I'm simply in love with just riding my mtb on local natural trails, official and unofficial trail fairy work and just enjoying the ride.
Til the Autumn - bye for now.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Spring Update

Ok, blog update, long overdue, but that's cos I'm busy - which is a good thing (sometimes).
At the start of the winter I said no winter trail builds this year, as last winter was just too damn hard to build in  - and what happens? we get a relatively mild easy winter (well certainly at the low levels I build at)
you can build in that...

So because of this I decide to step up my sideline of photography, and what happens? that gets really busy, really quick! Which is fantastic, but now the trail building season is with us I'm going to have to play it canny to fit everything in, as well as be a dad, husband and keen cyclist!
event piccies
house pics

people pics
product pics
action pics (Nash Masson) he's really very good!

I love photography, but for me it's gotta pay it's way or else Cycletherapy will not give it any calendar time at all! Luckily, all photo gigs so far have been at a good rate and long term it gives me the flexibility to use it as an income stream when trail building has to stop because of weather or me being knackered! 
Trail building stuff continues, but as I've said before a lot of my stuff can't be talked about due to planning considerations. However, I can talk about the next couple of builds that will take me through to the summer hols (that's half the year gone) Aberfoyle is getting a wee skills area and Alyth is getting a wee trail, jumps, pump track, fun park type thang. All good fun. 
The keen cyclist part of the life / work balance was satisfied with a weeks good 'beasting' on the road bike is Spain - 38,000' of climbing and near 400 miles in a week, of course as soon as we get back the weather turns all cold and wet, so it's out with the winter road bike and layer upon layer of winter thermals - groan! 
Luckily here the local 'real' mtb trails are in good nick so the Tallboy has been out and about and I'm glad to still feel the love for all that trail riding thing. Mojo still intact - check. 
Ski season rumbles to a finish: it's been a funny old season - heaps of snow, but rubbish weather with lots of days ruined due to high winds. Family Masson has been up as much as poss', but if I'm honest it'll not go down as one of the greats.... anyhoo, the boys have had some good blasts and NÂș 1 son is going to finish of the season at Easter with a 'freestyle' skills clinic (gulp) 
Right that's all your getting for now, going by this rate there'll be another update going into the winter! 

Monday, 13 January 2014

Cycletherapy has mostly been here!
It's the planning phase for a lot of jobs at the moment, which needs doing or no more builds, and to tell the truth a winter without building trails is not a bad idea after last years struggle.
Some nice little community skills areas on the cards to do this Spring, those in conjunction with some bigger Forestry Commission jobs this summer will keep me nicely out of mischief for another financial year!
On a different tack, the photography work has picked up and as this may well be the long term plan for when I'm too old to build trail I needed to focus (sorry) back on it again and as much as I love taking pics of bikers and outdoor sports, my main source of clients appears to be the housing market. A lot of high value properties, whether for sale or as holiday let businesses, have truly awful pics and I think people are realising that a snap with a point and shoot or an iPhone really doesn't cut the mustard these days. It's funny that with the proliferation of how to capture digital images - phones / tablets/ etc there is still a market for professionally taken images. I don't think it's about the gear, I just think someone who is being paid to deliver a quality set of images worries over the quality and style of pictures far more than someone who just snaps away.
My biking has taken a back seat to running just now - it's a seasonal thing - I always seem to prefer running when the weather is truly awful and it sure has been rough out there for the whole of the festive season, with regular storms bringing down trees  all over our local fave riding trails. I have been swinging a saw again for a number of clients keen to get trails open asap for paying customers, but really I would like to get onto my local trails as this has a more direct impact on what I like to ride.
The skiings kicked off again for the season, but apart from making sure our kids get as much ski time as they can, the conditions aren't that great for a fun days telemarking, so I'll quite happily ignore the urge to ski 'til conditions improve and spent any free time working on the portfolio and running around wind blown trees!
Til next time....

Friday, 8 November 2013

Glenlivet is Open.

So, Glenlivet is open, and the trail builders no longer have 20km of trail to themselves!
It was a long, hard build, with the above November picture taken in a rare spell of gorgeous, dry, bright weather. From there on it it started to snow and that's the way things stayed right through to the Spring.
I started detailed route selection and flagging way back in July, prior to the first digger turning up in August and by November we had five diggers and five labourers (well actually they're far more than 'labourers', but more on that later) scattered all over the site. In fact, November was a fantastic month of building, with over 4km built.

A typical day was up at 6, pick up the lads by 7, 45 mins drive, drop everyone off round the site and then walk in to whichever digger needed me first - this was usually the digger driver that had worked latest into the night and needed a wee checkover before he was good to carry on. Most of the digger drivers worked 14hr days and one hardy operator even saw out the entire project from his caravan parked up where the cafe now is! Hardcore. Headtorches on by 4, walk out to the van by 5ish, home for 6.
Once the diggers had formed up some trail it was up to the 'labourers' to turn it into finished trail: this involved raking out the larger rocks to leave a surface that would compact down hard, fine tuning the cambers for 'flow' and drainage, test riding, placing rocks, pruning trees and branches, compacting with the 'wacker' plate or big drum roller (of various ages and degrees of cantankerous-ness!) and generally tidying up and landscaping before moving on - oh, and carrying pipes and fuel to the various machines
And all this behind five diggers! But they did.
Of course this was whilst the weather cooperated, but as the weather deteriorated into snow and regular frosts the 'lads' on the hand team had to figure out ways to protect the freshly dug trail left by the digger before they could get to it - the late night working diggers would leave raw trail that would either be covered with snow and/or frozen solid by the morning. We eventually had to unroll a 'carpet' of material out as the diggers progressed, rolling it back to hand finish as and when we could. This, combined with always trying to get the days freshly dug trail raked and compacted by nightfall - 3.30pm! kept us all warm enough on even the coldest days....
Me? I walked between all the diggers constantly, sometimes clocking up 30km of traipsing around a day. If a digger was on a tricky bit, such as a drop off or berm, I would hang around as he roughed it out, sometimes raking a bit, sometimes running through it to check the flow and if possible trying to ride it - better to get it right as the digger was there rather than try and sort it later. To tell the truth after a good walk through and talk through, with a bit of 'handwavingimaginaryridingdemo' and precise flag tweaking the digger drivers virtually always got it right first time - they were that good.

So we soldiered on, with conditions deteriorating into daily 'interesting' drives over the (in)famous Bridge O Brown, longer and longer walk-ins in knee deep snow, diggers and rollers freezing to the trail, digging out machinery and generally just getting on with it albeit it at a far slower rate than the earlier months. Nobody ever moaned, the team was so into what we were doing everyone just did what that had to do to keep trail going down.
The hand team had it the worst, and on really bad days we would all rendezvous at my van, turn on the engine, crank up the heating and thaw out whilst having our 'piece' (sandwiches to you). In addition, the on site office permanently had the generator on keeping it a warm dry refuge for drying out wet kit.
As I have already said the term 'labourers' doesn't really do justice to a trail builders skill set. The hand squad were all bike riders - good ones at that and they could be relied on to not walk away from a section of trail 'til they were happy it was 'waterproof' i.e. drains well, and it rode as it should. As we left longer and longer finished sections of trail most of the gang (and digger drivers) would use their bikes to ride into the various work sites - and if there was something bothering them we would fix it there and then.  
Eventually the diggers were done, but by now - mid Feb', there were sections of trail that even with all our winter working techniques had frozen too hard to properly hand finish, so we pulled everyone off the job and had to return in the Spring. On our return we decided to not only hand finish the remaining sections, but to go over the entire 20,000m again just to re-compact and check all was well after the thaw. Hard to go back to the beginning knowing just how much trail there was to do, but the lads never complained, just packed the chainsaws, rakes and spades and set off on the long days trundling behind the rollers.

But winter had the last laugh, because even on one of my last work days in late April I got snowed on whilst walking in to clear some snow snapped trees!
So, it's open to the public now and I need to just leave them to it, most will like it (the MBUK crowd - Russell and Doddy), some won't (those wanting it to be harder) but hey, it's a cross-country trail, go to Laggan or Golspie of you want more of a challenge.
Me? I always find it hard to enjoy a trail I've built, I'm always analysing the trail, rather than just going for a ride.
But the build was awesome fun. Thanks guys

The team:
Digger drivers - Mark Hedderwick, Gregor, Chris, Duncan, Hans and of course Ewan Beaton (R.I.P)
The hand team - Rory and Ewan Thain, Hamish, Pete and Hans (although he left us for a digger!)
Tree cutters - Graham Collard, Sandis, Jamie.