Back Issue | Scotland: Live and Unplugged
Do we even live in the present anymore? When life’s greatest moments are happening all around us, we watch them through displays, capturing them and posting instantly on Facebook. We measure coolness and importance in likes and comments, our lives rolled out to the world in single sentence updates. In our age of social networking, have we lost the ability to just enjoy the moment?
As mountain bikers we are all united in our love for exploration, and sometimes we need to disconnect ourselves from the digital world to really feel connected. There are still remote places where WiFi and 3G cannot reach, but how far do we have to travel to be able to truly unplug? For us it was five hours!
As we crawled up the A9 in Scotland with a van full of bikes, our destination was Torridon, a name that rings out for those who have experienced it’s brutal granite beauty. Lying on the West Coast of the Scottish Highlands, Torridon has become synonymous with rugged biking adventures, a rite of passage for those looking to delve deeper into the remote lands.
As we began our final leg of the journey, cutting through the imposing mountain passes, first the radio faded and died, and then one by one our phones slipped offline, frantically searching for a signal that no longer flooded the air. 3G and mobile browsing was replaced with conversation and excitement. Our adventure was about to begin, we had put a pin in a map, formed a crew, done our research and the weather was looking good.
We were going to ride one of the classic routes in the highlands and we could not have been more excited. After a summer of riding steep local enduro trails, it was now time to get up into the real mountains and challenge ourselves on Scottish rock. As we unloaded the vans, the frantic midge dance began, but we were soon on our way, smiling, joking and easily outrunning Scotland’s dark secret. As we wound away from Achnashellach, the trail became more rugged, sometimes power and luck kept things moving, but sometimes it was time to carry. Gathering clouds on the horizon warned us of things to come, but the heavy packs on our backs reassured us that we were prepared should the Scottish weather put on a show.
With the weather turning, we negotiated the endless stream of sharp drainage ditches, carefully bunny hopping the tyre slashing rocks, but no sooner than we caught sight of the Coulags Bothy up ahead, confidence grew and the speed doubled. But haste in the big mountains always comes at a price, and two of our party rolled to the sturdy door nursing punctures, knobs torn and sealant mixing with the increasing rain.
Perfect timing, we dived inside the mountain refuge to refuel and repair. Smoke from the rusting wood burner had stained the walls, and there was a smell of musty wood and sanctuary to the air, this bothy had stood resolute against the hardest winters and had provided shelter for explorers over many generations. After the usual battle with micro-pumps, tyres were reseated and we took a moment to enjoy the refuge, and a drop of single malt, while waiting for the rain to ease, soon enough the sun pierced through the clouds and it was time to push on.
In a time of GPS tracking and STRAVA, it is easy to forget the simple pleasures of trusting to a dotted line on a map, not knowing what lies around the next turn, free from the constant pings and distraction of the digital world. As we climbed from Bealach to Corrie, we skirted pristine lochs brimming with the purest of water, each new ridge revealing a fresh new vista.
Phones sat forgotten in backpacks, disconnected and silent, this was adventure. Our excited babble was endless, our voices seemed sharper in the void, we were united in the adventure, but each alone in the moment. Again we shouldered the bikes to climb up another imposing granite fortification, the towering buttresses of Sgorr Ruadh and Beinn Liath Mhor looming overhead.
Talk soon turned to whisky, the quintessence of Scotland, where every sip is a reminder of the land of its birth, peat, bog, sun kissed lochs, driving rain and salt spray: rich in the complex aromas of the land itself. For over 500 years whisky has traced its original lines through fire and water, and its complexity remains an enigma.
As we rode through the craggy land, we could see why this fabled drink could not be replicated elsewhere, wildness seeped from the very ground itself. As we talked I realised that real adventure and whisky were alike in many ways, both born in a rugged mountain environment, and distilled from the finest ingredients, friends, fun and good times. Maturing in richness as the years roll on, then savoured through stories to be enjoyed for many years to come.
As we climbed the last climb, we looked down over the huge descent, a sinuous ribbon of granite strewn trail. There was no need for Instagram or selfies, we were riders, and we had travelled here to ride. This was a wild place, a remote and unforgiving trail that would punish mistakes, but our cutting edge bikes were primed and we were going to hold it wide open. The descent was a rush of velocity, technology versus brutal rock slabs, loose boulders kicked tyres sideways but we were the kings of the trail and it was riotous fun. One by one we charged for the horizon, riding that fine line, we had climbed as a team but now we were each absorbed in our own battle.
As we regrouped on the road, brakes fried, arms pumped and spirits high, excitedly the highlights were retold, tales of epic corners, big slides and more than one trip out the front door. After the high fives and post ride banter was done, we dodged midges while loading up and hit the road.
As we travelled south, one by one our phones lit up, reconnecting us to the world of bite sized updates. For sure we would post tales of our journey, but each of us now knew that sometimes adventure is best tasted unplugged.
Words & Photos: Trev Worsey