Tell us a bit about yourself, and how you got into long distance riding...
I’ve been progressively moving towards the hills and now live in Aberdeenshire on the edge of the Cairngorm National Park where I can ride off-road from my door in any direction. Because of this my quality of life feels very different from living in London and escaping on weekends and trips planned far in advance.
I began riding longer distances after reading Alaistar Humphrey’s book Moods of Future Joy in 2016 where the notion of travelling by bike was first revealed to me. Not long afterwards I became a courier and found Restrap’s Saddle Bag and Pedal Straps. I began riding as fast and as far as I could across the UK, doing my first multi-day trips and learning as i went along. This was immensely satisfying and it really felt like the world was opening up before me. I quit my job late 2017 and rode around Wales between WWOOFing sites and friends. That winter I left the UK and rode to Serbia. Little by little these experiences nourished a growing confidence in the possibility of - and my ability to - get places under my own steam.
What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned while bikepacking/racing?
I think the hardest lesson I’ve learned is that the most important thing - maybe the only important thing - is to feel good about myself and what I’m doing. Acceptance, I suppose. I spent my first few riding years battering myself mentally whenever I wasn’t riding “fast enough” or “far enough”. Before I had a gps my mind would be consumed with mathematical equations working out my average speed between places; when I got a GPS it was worse as I always had metrics to stare at. I have spent so long trying to prove myself to the world. And it’s brought so much suffering because it isn’t an attainable state, the goalposts constantly move and the feeling of satisfaction is fleeting.
This is brought into high relief when racing because you have SPOT tracker. So the notion of good enough or noteworthy is transposed onto a leaderboard and it is so hard to leave the worry and comparisons behind and focus on (even enjoy!) what’s in front of you. This is such a hard lesson because our egos are so strong and letting go of those well-established metrics of what success looks like feels a bit like a death.
Success surely, is purely my own ability to feel good- whether that’s fast or slow and whether anybody knows about it or not. Don’t get me wrong, I like to ride hard and I feel most satisfied having done so. I have a competitive streak even if it’s less pronounced than some. And I want to be a better rider. But it’s a case of reorienting the why and keeping a healthy perspective. I love that I now have the ability to be more flexible even if the lesson of acceptance is an ongoing one.
What makes cycling and bikepacking truly great for you?
Bikepacking is great because it holds the key to so many important life lessons and experiences. Whether it’s letting go, or digging deep, we are so often confronted with opportunities to respond in different ways. We can find ourselves in difficult, uncomfortable, scary, painful situations and will always come out of it a little bit different than we were before.
My mental resilience has improved from days in remote places in cold, wet weather; my confidence has improved from riding steep technical terrain or from handling a medical situation high up a col; I have learned to let go of arbitrary social pressures and just enjoy where I am - not all the time, but each time i manage it creates the positive reinforcement loop to easier access it in future and back home. Basically, through putting myself out there on a bike I have access to my best self: strong, curious, peaceful, and open. I’m able to actually connect to what’s going on around me and this has an impact off the bike too.
What’s your go-to riding food and why?
My go-to riding food is seasonal….at the moment it’s hot cross buns! I wish I was a lean endurance machine….on GBDuro I packed about 5,000 Kcal of mixed nuts and biltong for some efficient protein energy. I carried it for I think a week before binning the majority of it, my body just didn’t want it. I accept that I crave and fuel myself on sweet, stodgy carbs. Loaves of soreen, multiple chocolate croissants squished together. It aint clean but I never grow tired of the sweet stuff. When I eventually reach a resupply I’ll try and eat something different and cram some vegetables in.
If you have a top tip for someone new to bikepacking, what would it be?
Find groups! I cannot emphasise enough the importance of community in increasing my confidence, sense of belonging, and opportunity for adventure. There are so many rad groups cropping up at the moment and so many friendly events being put on around the UK. Stepping out of your comfort zone to join a ride or an event once could be the beginning of many good changes. It was for me!
What rides are you getting up to at the moment?
At the moment I’m riding exclusively off-road and on a mountain bike to retrain my body to a different riding geometry and the slightly different muscles it targets. I’m going out on grim days for grim rides as part of mental resilience training for the HT550 and for life in general. I’ve got a lot of local loops with steep climbs and lots of walking. After the HT550 I’m looking forward to a summer of being at peak fitness and just surfing that wave for fun. Bit boring but I’ve got a PHD to complete before the funding runs out so can't fill my calendar with events this summer. I’d like to do a couple of ITTs on some local loops but I’m jealous already of all the fun I’ll be missing out on.
You can check out the film 'What Would Mary Do?' (Alice and The Adventure Syndicate's latest project, retracing the steps of Mary Harvie) here:
Alice Lemkes (@lemkiss)
Maciek Tomiczek (@tommy.check) - http://tommycheck.com/