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Purpose and Determination on the Tiso Overland 500

A-TEAMer Jane Chisholm set herself the challenge of completing the Tiso Overland 500 as her Purposeful Adventure this summer. As we reflect on 2022, we asked her to share her story.

Day 4 on the Tiso Overland 500 gravel trail, I’m 310km from home on an Angus hillside and the self-doubt is creeping in. I have stopped for a rest and a reflection on what my purpose actually is on this Purposeful Adventure. What is my why? I spend a few minutes attempting to video my thoughts in the gorgeous sunshine and I come up with this.

It is true to say I want to inspire others but I also want to be a realistic role model. I am not a typical svelte, mountain goat of an athlete you see on the TV. I am just an average size 16 woman trying to do slightly more than average adventures in the hope that someone says - “well if she can do it then I’ll give it a try”.

I work with young people and want to be someone they can relate to, share the struggle and help them achieve successful adventures. I am also doing it for myself, to prove to myself I can. To regain some love for my “obese” body and show me that it is pretty damn awesome body being able to do over 100km and 1000m ascent of gravel riding every day.

So how did I get into this in the first place? Why the Overland 500? I saw it pop up on social media and the association with Trash Free Trails grabbed my attention. I had already collaborated on a Trash Mob Academy project earlier in the year and liked the idea of an adventure which had a wider purpose. I also love being off roads, out in the wilds and exploring places I have never been before.

Rewind to Day 1. I am setting off from home, feeling a mixture of excited, anxious and fat. Greta - the gravel bike - is well prepared, I am very happy with the set up and she looks awesome! I, however, am nervous and contemplating the distance I have planned for myself. Even today’s campsite seems a very long way…

First stop is Tiso Inverness, a bit earlier to justify a trip to the cafe so I pick up the brevet card and head on my way along well known trails heading east. I have ridden these trails near my childhood home for years and it is a comforting start to the journey. Once I reach the Dava Moor however I won’t be on a familiar trail again until I reach Glen Feshie 9 days later.

The route covers a huge variety of trails from the flat tarmac of the former railway lines and canal paths to the rough, loose landrover tracks of the grouse moors. Some sections were fast gravel, like the forests of Aberfoyle and others were grassy fields - which by the way are very hard work! There were some hike-a-bike sections where the path was overgrown, and one section where I was waist high in nettles. I was even treated to some rooty, rocky singletrack which the mountain biker in me loved and then there was a section of urban cycle path which appeared to be home to the local rave scene?!

By day four the journey had been full of contrasts. It started in a quiet birch wood by a fast flowing burn, it finished under the bright lights of Perth. It was supposed to finish in a community woodland near Scone. Lunch was a spinach falafel wrap, a whole punnet of strawberries washed down with a litre of strawberry milkshake on the wall outside Coop in Kirriemuir.

A classic bikepacking location and one of many Coops I visited. Other than the first night when I rushed my shopping choices and ended up with a ham and cheese sandwich and a bag of Wotsits for dinner and biscoff rocky road for breakfast the next morning, I ate well. The route passes through villages and cities so amenities are never that far away, including some fine pizza restaurants and lovely cafes.

Day 4 was also the day of the first sidewall puncture. I dealt with it well. I’ve never fixed one before but I knew the principles and had the necessary kit. I didn’t even need to take off the wheel. I dealt with the inner tube puncture first with a quick patch, then the tyre boot on the inside and a splodge of super glue and some duct tape on the outside. Job done! It goes without saying that adventures are just as much about overcoming challenges as it is enjoying the journey.

As I approached Scone I was running low on batteries, my front light was on its last legs and then I saw it… the large road sign… “Perth 5”. Cue Premier Inn app, booked a room for the night in the perfect location just off the route in the city centre and rolled down the hill and over the river into a cosy, comfy room with a shower and a plug socket!

By Day 5, my husband had taken the train to meet me. As we sat in the midges on the top of Carn na Lair, the sun was getting low in the sky and we were treated to a stunning sunset before dropping into the cold cloud sitting in the Moray Firth.

It's impossible to choose a single highlight but the area which surpassed my expectations was north of Glasgow. Following the West Highland Way from Milnagavie I met lots of other travellers who were keen to chat, some locals on a bike ride, some foreign tourists walking the route and a friendly guy just out picking up groceries when Greta caught his eye.

I followed a number of long-distance way-marked routes after the WHW. The Duke’s Pass out of Aberfoyle was daunting but as I went into the “Granny Gear” the perfectly graded steepness never got too much and the descent was a joy. I think I may have shouted, “wheeeee…” on more than one occasion! And also - whoever named it Granny Gear clearly hasn’t met many of the grannys I know - if I become half the women, with half the strength of my Mum.

Another time I channeled this strength was over the pass to Glen Lyon,with Ben Lawers looming over me. It was another hot day and I was passed by a number of road cyclists, most of whom were supportive and impressed with climb on a loaded bike. Like the tortoise I later caught up with these hares at Bridge of Balgie Tearoom.

The route continued north to Kinloch Rannoch then a boggy hike-a-bike to meet up with the A9 cycle route. After a short blast on the cycle path I climbed up to the Gaick Pass. A very remote feel with plenty local wildlife (midges).

I took the singletrack section mostly on foot as by this point in the day I was pretty tired and a mistake on this rocky path could lead to disaster. The next morning the local wildlife had gathered outside my tent. And this everyone, is why I opted for a tent…

Words by Jane Chisholm

Thank you Jane for sharing your story! Nothing marks a true adventure like midges! Purposeful Adventures are not just for the summer - if you'd like to find out how you can undertake yours this festive period, check out the webpage.


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