Winner Best Experience - 7stanes in 24hrs! by Neil Purves

“Whose idea was this” were the first words uttered that morning at 3am as we emerged from the parked van into the cool night/morning air at Glentrool. This was to begin the first run in our epic MTB challenge to ride the red routes at each of the 7 Stanes sites within 24 hours. Those words were to be uttered more than once over the course of the next 24 hours! And so the challenge begins…..

…..6 weeks earlier….

I’d wanted to come up with a massive challenge to help raise sponsorship money for a local cause and came up with the idea of a mountain biking related event. Ultimately with having a 7 Stanes mountain biking centre almost on our doorstep in Peebles, (Glentress) I thought I’d see if it would be possible to ride the red routes at each one of the 7 mountain biking centres within 24 hours.

After some investigation and working out that it looked like it was possible, I chatted to my cycling buddy Forbes about what he thought of the idea. Thankfully he didn’t try to talk sense into me, but instead said he’d want to take part as well. His smile faded a little when I broke the news that I wanted to do the run in 6 weeks time!

The aim was to start at the most westerly site, Glentrool, and to work our way back east towards home, taking in Kirroughtree, Dalbeattie, Mabie, Ae, Newcastleton and finally Glentress. We figured a 3am start at Glentrool would make a lot of sense in terms of maximising the burn time on our lights as this was reportedly the easiest route, it should be quite safe riding this short route in the dark and by the time we’d get to the next site at Kirroughtree, the first light at sunrise should help us limit the use of the lights. This would mean however that we would definitely be starting our final run at Glentress in the dark but reckoned this was less of a risk since we both know this route very well and we’d still have plenty of juice in the lights to see us safely back.

6 weeks isn’t long to get match fit. Thankfully both of us had been going out on a weekly basis with a group of mountain bikers from Kelso so already had a reasonable fitness level to build upon. Over the next few weeks we upped the frequency and length of our runs to improve our stamina but both knew we’d never be in prime condition before the 24 hour attempt.

We’d never attempted to organise anything like this before and it soon became clear that we would need extra help with transport, bike prep, food, water, etc. That’s when our friend Keith stepped up to the plate and offered his time to help and was signed up as our driver, mechanic, cook, chief bike lugger and doctor. His offer of his services as a masseuse was ignored and we quickly changed the subject! 

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Forbes' and Neil's Great Adventure

The prep day before the 24 hour challenge came around and after work on Friday we meet up, picked up the van that was to be home for the weekend and loaded up. We set off from our native Scottish Borders and headed to the exotic west. Dumfries was about half way to Glentrool so we stopped off in town, had a wander around the centre and ended up in a great wee Chinese restaurant for a bite to eat. Fuelled up, we continued to make our way to Glentrool. An hour or so later we arrived at the 7stanes site. It was almost dark by this time but we managed to have a wee wander around to get our bearings for the run in the morning. We’d never been to this centre before so we were quite happy to have a little time to see where the start was because in the morning it’d be pitch black and much more difficult to get started.

One amazing thing about Glentrool that none of us knew is that it is a Dark Sky park and apparently one of the darkest places in Europe and an excellent place for stargazing. As night fell, the clouds parted and treated us to one of the most amazing views of the night sky you could hope to see with the naked eye; a beautiful view of the Milky Way a hundred times clearer and more vivid than at home. For any stargazer, this is an amazing place if the weather is on your side.

After a cup of coffee or two, sorting the bikes and gear out for the first run in the morning, we thought we’d better try and get some sleep. Bed was a couple of inflatable mattresses in the back of the van but it was pretty cramped with all the gear so Forbes went to stretch out in the front seats. It had gone 12 o’clock by this time and as we had agreed to get up at 2:45am to get ready for the first run to start at 3am, this didn’t leave much time for sleep. As it turned out sleep was pretty evasive for all of us, as the pressure of knowing we had to get some, coupled with the multitude of thoughts and last minute checklists running through our heads for the coming day and the worry we’d sleep in, meant that by the time 2:45am came around no-one had actually slept at all. Not the best start to a 24 hour ride with the added burden on having been awake for 20 hours prior to the first crank being turned.

Glentrool – Run Number 1 

The time of 2:45am shouldn’t exist – it’s just not meant to be a time any normal person starts their day. The weather confirmed this as it was cold, misty and damp. Don’t know if it was this or the lack of sleep but we were pretty sluggish getting ready. Lights, camera, phone, gloves, helmet, backpack, first aid kit, water…bike; all things we knew we’d need but proved elusive to get them ready in a timely manner. After much faffing, we were off! The time, 3:05am.

The Glentrool route is quite a nice wee family route and there’s nothing too difficult or strenuous to encounter along the way. It was pretty surreal riding all the same – the mist only giving us a limited viewable distance throughout the run and it also seemed to muffle sound so it felt like we were riding in our own wee bubble. We knew we were passing the river at a few points as we could hear it but had no idea where it was. Not a great time to go riding here if you want to see some sights but a great start to our 24hour attempt. By the time we got back to the van, we had warmed up considerably and felt almost human. After a quick coffee and a bite to eat we loaded up the van and set off for Kirroughtree.

Kirroughtree – Run Number 2

We arrived at Kirroughtree much earlier than we had estimated, partly to do with getting around Glentrool quicker than expected, partly to do with Keith’s driving. After picking up the gear that was strewn around the back of the van we figured we were ahead of time enough to have breakfast. After scoffing bacon butties, coffee, porridge and flapjacks we made a start on route 2 of 7. We know it’s not big or clever to eat and ride almost immediately after but this was to be the norm throughout the day.

Kirroughtree was a gem of a ride with lots of tight gnarly wooded and rocky sections. The partial light made it a little tricky to navigate the best lines through some rock gardens much to the dismay of my ankle, calf and knee which came of worse when I took a couple of tumbles. Thankfully nothing serious. It was a fun run throughout - definitely worth another visit in the future.

We felt good by the end of the run and had covered the distance in a reasonable time. Our plan had been to keep a steady pace throughout the day so not to exhaust ourselves too early and burn out.

Back at the van, we had some more to eat and drink, piled everything in the back, and headed off to Dalbeattie.

Dalbeattie – Run Number 3

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We arrived in Dalbeattie in good time, pretty much on schedule and looked forward to the run. We felt good when we started; it was light by now and even quite sunny. This was one of the routes we knew least about and weren’t quite prepared for what we had to face. We both started well but it soon became clear on some of the climbs that this wasn’t going to be an easy route. Technical and tricky climbs combined with a fresh layer of loose chips on some of the fire roads took its toll on us. Even the descents were difficult. I don’t know whether the effects from the first two runs were beginning to tell or whether the lack of sleep was playing a bigger factor in our state than we had bargained for. Perhaps the two were inextricably linked, we’d been awake for 26 hours by the halfway point on this route and it was 6 hours since we set off at Glentrool, perhaps this was our wall and we just needed to knuckle down and grind it out. Needless to say, we persevered. 

We passed the Slab, (the massive rock feature on this route) but didn’t attempt it, even if we felt a little more energetic we would probably have passed just in case it went horrible wrong so early on in the day. 

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Helpful gnomes point the way forward in these parts

Sometimes, (OK…more often than not), my perceived skill level is different than my actual skill level and I find out moments after attempting something which one is true. The rocks on this course were remarkably grippy so I’m sure it would be great to try it, but it would have to wait until another time.

We made our way onwards and slogged it out and were only too happy to eventually make our way back to the van. Keith was starting to get worried as we had taken longer than anticipated.

I was so exhausted I was truly worried that I’d not be able to complete the challenge, although decided to keep this little nugget of doubt to myself. Found out later on that Forbes was thinking exactly the same thing!
We slumped down and Keith made a quick coffee as we started to eat and tried to get some quick energy into us and slowly started to feel better.

One of us would later regret our choice of food stuff
Although we had a slightly negative viewpoint of this route, that’s probably grossly unfair; it’s just that we happened to be at Dalbeattie when the culmination of low energy levels and a severe lack of sleep hit. It’s unfortunate that this tainted our view.

We had covered 31 miles at this point but had encountered some serious climbs through the forests. Still another 4 routes to go so not quite half way.

We continued to eat in the van all the way to Mabie and weren’t hopeful for the remainder of the challenge. 

Mabie – Run Number 4

This is Mabie the start of something beautiful!   

What a difference a rest and some food can make. After arriving at Mabie we both felt better, a bit more revived and ready to get going once again. We knew that by the end of this route, we’d be over the halfway point and this had a massive positive effect on us. After stuffing our faces once again, we were off.
What can I say about this route apart from – brilliant! The climbs were interesting, the views great and the descents were fast, flowing and fantastic fun. It had just the right amount of climbs to descents ratio if there is such a thing, giving us frequent downhill adrenalin rushes which rallied us around and propelled us onwards. There was nothing too technical, just a great fun filled run. This was exactly what we needed to perk us both back up and get back on track with our attempt. The smiles ran from ear to ear throughout the ride and by the time we got back to the van, we were buzzing and felt like completely different people.

The challenge was back on and looking positive.

Ae – Run Number 5

With the now obligatory process of a quick drink, prep food, load van, Keith driving whilst we’re eating/resting, unload van and eat some more, (we liked to eat… it was purely medicinal you understand), we found ourselves at a sunny Ae Forest and ready to take on whatever it could throw at us. What it did throw was a series of long gradual climbs and as a reward, some great downhill sections with jumps, tabletops, berms and lot and lots of smiles.

Our legs were holding up pretty well although our pace was a little slower on the climbs but on the whole we were doing pretty well all things considered.

Man v Hill - Man wins!!!
The final descent was excellent, perhaps geared more to the downhill element as opposed to our preferred cross country riding but still perfectly manageable and fantastic fun. A great end to a great course.

By the end of this stage we had covered around 56 miles, 5 of the 7 Stanes were now behind us and it had taken 14 hours and 15 minutes to get to this point. We had 2 routes to go and less than 10 hours to do them in but considering there was around 1.5 hrs drive between each one and factoring in food prep time and the fact we were covering the ground at each site slower now, it was still a challenge that could slip away from us if we weren’t careful. So it was eat, load up and go.
Newcastleton – Run Number 6
Newcastleton was about 1hr 25mins drive from Ae and after a slight detour due to closed road, we arrived early evening dusk in a shower of rain, the first real downpour all day. The midges came out to greet us in the damp conditions –it was the fastest prep and start to the ride all day. Thankfully the rain eased off pretty quickly and we really enjoyed the trails. The rain worked its magic on the trail and added to the fun and was the first bit of real mud we saw all day. The damp conditions, colours and the fading light gave a great atmosphere to this run, it really felt like you were riding through some ancient woodland. Given it was getting late and the fact that we were the only ones on the trail at this section, just added to this feeling.

Things got a bit sketchy at one point in the forest where the route takes you along a banking, followed by a tight left corner and along another banking with a narrow ledge; in the dim light this was one point where I’d wished I’d brought my lights along for the ride.
There’s no major climbing at Newcastleton but more a series of little climbs and descents which is exactly what we needed on our second last ride. There were some great sections and the lack of light (especially in the wooded sections) boosted the adrenalin and added to the overall feeling of the place.
Heading back to the van the rain started to return, the sky was black and ominous and the light was practically gone. We had made good time and the fact that we knew we only had one more route to complete had a huge positive impact on our morale. Confidence was high we’ve make the final run within the 24 hour target.
Glentress – Run Number 7
The road to Glentress was one we all knew well as we were heading into home territory. We crammed our faces for the final time and tried to relax as much as we could during the journey.
It was 11pm by the time we got to the car park and obviously completely dark. A quick exit, set up the lights and off we went on the final run.

Glentress is an old favourite and we paced ourselves well as we climbed up through the trees to the top of Spooky Wood, a particularly apt name on this occasion as we had edged over the top just as the time edged itself into the witching hour. What a cracking descent awaited; lots of our favourite sections enabled us to push on and keep the speed up throughout. We were so close to the end of the 24 hour challenge we relaxed a lot and hammered on down as if it were the first and only run of the day – thankfully we got away with it. We slowed up a lot as we entered the Pie Run as the tiredness didn’t mix too well with the roots and perhaps we had started to get a bit sloppy, our lights danced around trying to find the best line but didn’t always find it. I’m sure I saw a bear though but maybe that was a sign that being awake for 40+ hours was playing with more than my body.

As we were completing the last section, we were buzzing from the adrenalin, happy to be seconds away from the finish of the day’s trials but also immensely proud of what we had achieved. We reached the van at 1:23am, over 22 hours since we started the day at Glentrool, and gave ourselves a well deserved pat on the back – it had been a truly epic ride, carried out on a shoe string budget and with only 6 weeks training.

So the most memorable Scottish mountain bike ride for me happens to be my most recent but one I know for sure will stay with me all my life. I always feel that the most memorable aspects of mountain biking is when you have extremes, either extremes of weather, of the thrills along the way, of the scenery, of the lucky escapes, of the idiot who falls in the water, (or was he pushed), of the physical and mental demands you put yourself through; whatever it may be, this run had it all and more.

We were so lucky with the weather, (mostly) and still can’t believe that we had no mechanicals whatsoever all day and no real injuries to speak of apart from a few scrapes and bruises.

We passed through some fantastic scenery along the way and went through some lovely wee villages and towns. My only regret is that we didn’t get a proper chance to slow down and spend a bit more time at a few of them. I guess that gives me a good excuse to go back to a few sites again, at a more leisurely pace and partake in some of the local amenities….ok, I mean pubs.

By the time the last crank had turned in Glentress, we had covered 75 miles, (off road, technically challenging mounting biking) in 22 hours and 18minutes, had been awake for 44 hours, spent well in excess of 10,000 calories, eaten about the same, (had about the same number of midges eat us), and were just so happy not to have only completed the challenge but had beaten the time we had set ourselves.

A friend asked me the day after we’d completed the run whether I’d ever do it again….I replied “No, not a chance!” However after having had a couple of weeks to recover and having put the story down on paper, it’s helped me remember not only what we went through but also what fun it was, I may just revise my answer to “maybe…just maybe!”

Neil Purves

My favourite mountain bike experience was probably worst as well !!! 

It was nearly 15 years ago we decided to go from Bridge of Orchy up the West Highland Way to Kinlochleven via The Devils Staircase returning by road up Glen Coe. 

Everything was going great until we hit the road up Glen Coe not realising the gradient of the road, a killer and it was getting dark (no lights!)! 

The actual riding over The Devils Staircase was fantastic with a technical downhill then a super fast landrover track down to Kinlochleven, its a route that every mountain biker should do.