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.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Summertime and the livin' is easy....

Since the last blog; the weather has taken a dramatic change with day after day of heat, work has changed from the frantic end of  financial year rush builds  - which kinda dragged on into June (ahem), to the more relaxed 'designery' type work of wandering about in lovely forests looking and thinking about trail issues. I love running a big trail project, but I like the peace and contemplation time of designing new trails in my own time frame - it's a ying and yang thing.
The only thing that ruins my karma is having to tender for jobs, I know it's just how things are done these days, but as a sole trader the time taken to put together a good submission is often not recouped on some of the smaller trail projects that are out there, multiply this by half a dozen tenders and that's a lot of non money making time. I'm coming round to the idea that I might not bother with the process anymore unless it's something meaty that I can really get my teeth into and I like the look of the contract.
Call me fussy, but it's my little niche career and I'll do what I want!
At the mo' there are some really exciting and challenging builds in the pipeline, all fairly local and all trails that I have a real love for. The only sticky bit is scheduling them in before winter bears it's fangs again - winter eh! Mid Aug' and I'm already worrying about fitting work in before the frosts and snow!
Anyhoo, July means Scottish school hols, so Cycletherapy closed down for 3 weeks, loaded the van (still very shiny) and drove the family off to deepest France and Switzerland.
We 'did' Disneyland (don't ask) Paris (with small children) and then settled down in a gorgeous campsite in the Jura region of France. The van allowed us the space to take all the bikes and I was able to fit in some lovely road rides including one of those 'col' things, in 35º heat and with a 'proper' chain set. Ouch.
We eventually arrived back home 2500 miles later to the unexpected pleasure of more 30º+ heat, which in our neck of the woods is a rare and delightful treat, resulting in more beach days at the Costa del Loch Morlich and a few more road rides without needing to pack a waterproof!
So, as we head through August it's trying to balance the needs of work / family / kids off and my ever present 'need' to cycle as much as possible ;-)
See you in the Autumn.....

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Monday, 11 March 2013

End of February, and what happens, it all freezes solid...
Glenlivet's done as best we can in this weather; we need to do some fine tuning with the rakes, the final compaction with the various rollers, a bit of tree 'pruning' and just a general once over before letting it rest a bit before serious use starts in the summer (?)
So we're just going to have to go and take care of other business before returning when it's all properly thawed out and settled down.
This time of year is always a bit crazy with various clients deciding they have some money that needs spending asap before the turn of the financial year in early April. All well and good, but this is also the time of year when traditionally we get winter part 2!
Laggan is an old friend and no matter what happens or what I'm doing I always jump at the chance to go and give the old trails a helping hand with some big toys, in this case the old Red has some really problematic wet muddy puddly bits which are past the point of light spade work and really need some heavy duty rock armouring to handle the heavy usage by yer typical Laggan 'hooligans' (insert obligatory winking smiley emoticon) with todays bigger bikes, tyres and riding habits.
Problem is, everything's frozen, so all we can do is ship in rock and armour where we can, when we can. Dressing of the surface with the obligatory crushed aggregate can only happen during the brief spell of 'plus' temperatures in the middle part of the day.
Bit of a 'mare really, but we slowly get the metres done.
Oh, and we are just about to start on a funpark / skills area at Aboyne - did I say I'm busy!
There's other 'stuff' happening behind the scenes as well, but I'll save them for later...

Sunday, 3 February 2013

and then it all melted

At last a thaw and a chance to do some long overdue stone pitching - which you just can't do when the rocks are frozen into the ground.
Trail building on a big scale i.e. 20km + has to be done by machines, it's just not viable, both in terms of timescales and costs (a squad of good stone pitchers is way more expensive than a digger).
Unfortunately, with this in mind, a lot of big trail builds can tend to have a clinical cut'n'paste feel, so with the cracking team of trail builders we have assembled up at Glenlivet we take every opportunity to let then hand work sections of trail - just to give it that hand crafted feel.
Our team all ride bikes; from jumpy hardtails, to efficient full sus' mile munchers and even the 'odd' 29er and because of this all the crucial bits get the hand tuning treatment with the lads testing it's 'flow' as they go, 'cos they liking riding too!
Rock work is slow, hard work, with a few metres taking all day, but the end result is worth it.
The forecast for the week ahead is looking like a return to wintery, so best crack on whilst we can.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Building trail in the frozen North

Long time no blog, but December and now January have been very busy trying to keep the Glenlivet build going with the onset of SNOW!
Ah yes, snow, we love it, pretty to look at, lovely to play in with the kids, great to ski on and very photogenic.
Try building trail in it, 'mare.
Funnily enough, the actual building of good old 'full bench cut' trail isn't too bad: all the topsoil has to be stripped back anyway, so the snow goes with it, leaving a clear and clean bit of sideslope to work on. The problems arise in other areas, like getting to the site - which means negotiating the infamous Bridge of Brown (often snow effected) then progressively less cleared back roads then tracks.
Machines freeze to the ground, or simply won't start, getting fuel and supplies around can only be done with our 4x4 winter tyre shod vans (dumpers with metal tracks tend to just sliiiiide - oops) soil freezes overnight so must be raked into shape straight away and then protected with rolls of material, tools break, trees freeze snap and fall over, and obviously it gets dark really early.
However, we are getting trail down, and the hand squad never grumble, never give in, never drop their standards with a 'oh that'll just have to do attitude', and when all else fails, they walk in, carrying fuel, pipes, spares and whatever is needed to keep the job going - hard as nails. Chapeau - as we cyclists say.