Not Even Half a Badger: Failure on the Badger Divide
Having photographed many races and rides over the years and eager to build up more bikepacking experience of his own, photographer Dan Monaghan took on the 210-mile Badger Divide route between Inverness and Glasgow last month. He learned first-hand that things don’t always go to plan, but it’s possible to find beauty in failure with the right perspective. Find his story and a moody gallery of images from Scotland here…
Words and photos by Dan Monaghan
This won’t be a typical write-up about how well a ride went, and here we are at the finish of an incredible adventure. Incredible adventure, yes. Success, well… no. Lessons learnt, many.
I’m not the most experienced bikepacker. I spend a lot of time following other, more experienced adventurers from behind a camera, so my decision to ride the Badger Divide this year was mostly about building up experience and putting my bike where my camera goes. With a busy year ahead, my friend Neil and I decided a trip to Scotland would need to occur early in the season. So, in early April, we drove up to Glasgow, jumped on the Scotrail train to Inverness, and before we knew it, we had a souvenir photo outside of the castle and were rolling out towards Loch Ness.
The circumstances already started to hint at this not being a successful Badger attempt. We managed to pick up an annoying slow puncture despite both riding tubeless, which meant a lot of faffing and a taxi trip back to Inverness to pick up extra inner tubes (I remained at a pub “watching the bikes”). Whilst we weren’t on a deadline, this took up a chunk of riding time.
Once fixed, a dark diverted ride down towards Fort Augustus saw us pitch up on a logging trail for our first night. A re-think and some encouraging words of support saw us head into Fort Augustus early on day two for a resupply before hitting the formidable General Wades Military Road (Corrieyairack Pass). I’d been warned about the pass, but I’m not sure anything could have prepared me for its relentless climbing, sheer remoteness, and snow!
Looking back, I think this may have been where part two of the unravelling happened. I went too deep, didn’t manage my food and water well, despite filling up with snow at the top, and the pass took its toll. The constant, silent looks I gave Neil as he gave them back told me it was a shared feeling. We made it over the pass, but it may have been a pedal stroke too far.
We descended into another beautiful Glen, where we stopped at Melgarve Bothy to eat and take stock. I was finding it hard to regulate myself after Corrieyairack. Food wasn’t going down well, and I was feeling spent. We rolled out after an hour or so, onwards towards Loch Laggan. Things settled down, and the sun came out. We rolled through the amazing landscape, constantly in awe of what we were seeing. All thoughts of “can I do this?” disappeared amidst the amazing vistas we were treated to—truly one of the best landscapes I’ve ridden through.
As the day rolled on, we made our way through a forested climb and along two more Lochs. On the map, it’s hard to see just how rugged and remote the terrain is. The feeling of being a small part of a big space was ever-present. Mountains seemed to loom over us. I’d noticed how my water reserves had continued to dwindle, as I didn’t have a filter to fill up in a stream. There’s not a lack of water around this part of the route, I just couldn’t source any until we’d made it onto a high access road.
This section felt like it would never end. My only mental refuge was that there was one remote white house off to the side, so I figured we must be near something. I managed to fill up at a rapidly flowing stream and continued to roll very gingerly towards Loch Ossian. The thought of Corrour station, warmth (I had all my layers on at this point), civilisation and the possibility of a dry bed at the Youth Hostel ran through my head. On this seemingly endless road, I remember turning to Neil and saying, “Just to let you know, I’m not sure I’ve much more left,” and the thought of a train back to Glasgow was crossing my mind.
We rolled into Corrour Station, and I was broken. I sat on the floor against a radiator next to the dog’s bed. I had nothing left. I could see people looking at me out of the corner of their eyes. Some even asked if I was okay, where I’d been, and what I was planning. Neil had already phoned the Youth Hostel down the road and found out it was full, but the thought of a night in a tent didn’t appeal. I was too cold.
I know that humans can be amazing, and I’ve come across many good people before, but the generosity of two people at the Youth Hostel brought me to tears. Katrina and Alex set me up in front of the YH fire, made me a brew, offered me food, and helped me get back to normal. Not only that, but in an already full Hostel, they offered me the shed (literally a shed), with heaters and a bed. I think this is where Alex planned to sleep. I’ve never been as grateful for the kindness of strangers as I was at this moment. I hope they read this, and if you ever spend a night there (which you should!), please pass along my thanks.
We decided that the Glasgow train was the best option and booked it for the following day. At this point, knowing it was over, I thought I’d come to terms with a failed attempt. I don’t regret making the decision. I do think I listened to myself and made the right call in the moment. Even during breakfast on the next day, I still felt okay with it. The thought of what I would have to do over the remainder of the route wasn’t appealing at all, however beautiful I knew it would be.
The train journey back to Glasgow was a mix of conversation about the ride we did with the occasional “what if…” thrown in. A three-hour drive home, and it was all over. Back to reality.
I think it was around the second day of being back home that I messaged Neil and said, “Did we make the right decision?” Even now, I’m not sure I’ve come fully to terms with pulling the plug early. It was an amazing two days on an exceptional route with good company and new experiences, and I can’t help but wonder if I’d have gotten more out of the ride by pushing through and sticking with it.
Since I’ve been back, I’ve learnt a lot about packing, weight, resupply, saving my legs, and planning. Am I ready to do it again? I’m not sure I’ll be able to let it go until I try. Maybe I’ll squeeze another four or five days into the diary this year to take on the Badger again… and hopefully finish next time!
About The Badger Divide
The Badger Divide is a 210-mile bikepacking route from Inverness to Glasgow, Scotland, that follows a mix of mostly unpaved estate Rights of Way, Heritage Paths, long-distance trails, and forestry gravel roads. The route was created by Stuart Allen and is part of an annual grand depart event.
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