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.