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“There’s a weird, glorious magic in doing something for the first time.” ~Neil Gaiman
Annie Lloyd-Evans & Two Girlfriends Find New Experiences & Stunning Landscapes Bikerafting Scotland
Story and photos by Annie Lloyd-Evans, Alpacka Raft Ambasasdor.
Can you remember how as a kid any new experience could be thrilling, a new ice cream flavour, a trip to the beach, finding a new bug? OK, I still get excited about all of those. But, often as adults it’s easy to go through life in a little bubble of things that we mostly know quite well. Occasionally we may venture onto the grey margins, but we never really step into the dark mysterious unknown world swirling outside the borders.
Instead, we attempt to recreate that childhood feeling of wonder and importance in ways that are often more socially acceptable than heading off into the hills to a destination unknown. We focus on fitness, gym time, trying to get stronger or faster in exchange for a buzz. Perhaps we drink, to make our weekend seem more exciting than it really was. Or, we might ride that same route, but aim to be the fastest to try and spice it up.
This is Where Packrafts Come In
Ultimately though, none of these can live up to that childhood delight in truly doing something for the first time. This, to me, is where packrafts come in.
Yes, I can hear you thinking, surely packraft once and the thrill has gone? Well I’m several years into it, and I still get a joy in arriving at some remote loch, by foot or bike. I love being able to unfurl my boat, inflate in a matter of minutes and be on my way. Maybe it’s the transformer element, now I’m a bike, now I’m a boat, now I’m a tired Annie pushing my boat on my bike up a hill.
A few weeks ago, I took a couple of work colleagues out on a bikeraft mission. I wanted to share this crazy cool sport with them and show them some amazing trails that can only be accessed with packrafts.
We picked the one weekend, out of eight with glorious weather, that had a named storm rolling in. Still, we are all outdoor instructors, so we decided to carry on with our original plan. After all what’s a bit of wind and rain?
Setting off into the last of the evening light, the storm was nowhere to be seen. The golden rays tickled our backs as we followed a land rover track away from the road and into the hills. Passing ruined walls, memories of lives once lived, the track steepened, the surface deteriorating. Gradually it narrowed to single-track, a thin line to guide us through the rocky outcrops and deep peat bogs.
As dusk deepened, the trail deposited us at a beautiful rock beach. The loch, surrounded by steep hills, led up to some spectacular summits. By the time the tent was up, the summits were gone, shrouded in fog. The storm arrived.
Awakening the next morning to the tent flapping and rain pelting, we used up all our excuses before deciding the rain wouldn’t stop. Time to put on our big girl pants, waterproofs, and get out there.
Introducing Iona and Mhairi to their boats and inflation bags was hilarious. They expressed incredulousness that these bags would inflate seemingly flimsy boats. And, really, would they then supposedly to transport us on what was becoming quite rough water? Eventually the giggling wore off, and the wind helped the first-time inflation. Before long, we secured the bikes and set off.
“Wooohooo!”“This is great.” “These are good, aren’t they?!” “Yeaaaah!”
I think they were sold. The wind made lazy paddlers of us as it pushed us down the loch. Waves rolled and whitecaps surrounded us. Soon we jumped out, with no trails around and nothing but a rotting upturned rowing boat to differentiate this spot from any other on the rough moorland.
Fortunately I’d pre-warned the others; there’s a good path, but you have to get to it first. Up and up, pushing and carrying, we skirted cliffs and followed deer trods until, deep under the sphagnum, the ghost of a trail emerged.
On our bikes, the rain finally let up. The single-track, although slowly disappearing back into the peat, led us on a sinuous line. It snaked through amazing scenery, crags, and head-deep peat hags on either side. Dropping off sharply, our concentration kicked in as we turned tight switchbacks. We paused only to look down on an amazing waterfall and herd of estate ponies, out at grass till the shooting season.
Down at the estate, we jumped back into the boats and set off to explore Isle Maree. This island’s fascinating history included a Viking tragedy, stories of Druidic rituals, a well that cured illness and waters that cured lunacy, and a wishing tree started by Queen Victory.
An eerie place, haunting memories hide in the ancient holly trees and under the Viking gravestones. We escaped before any ghosts could find us and found somewhere to camp.
The morning dawned bright, but up the loch we could see big squalls rolling in out of the hills. No easy paddling this time. We fought the wind, waves breaking over the bows, and got pushed backward as we battled to shore.
Rebuilding the bikes with just a few miles of road to go, Iona discovered she had abandoned her quick release skewer to the beach of the island, amazingly admitting it was not the first time. As it was her rear, and your rear wheel very rarely falls out if you are riding on the road, even without the quick release skewer, we figured it would be fine. So, we zoomed off to get coffee, dry off, and let an amazing weekend of new discoveries sink in.