Much like the ups and downs of stand-up comedy, bikepacking has given me some of the very best experiences in my life, and some of the toughest. Sometimes on the same day. Like day five of my cycling trip around the North Coast 500 – a 520-mile coastal route around the top bit of Scotland. Hope was receding by mid-afternoon. I stupidly hadn’t eaten enough to fuel my legs for the climbs. The hills were killing me, my bike seemed to be worryingly close to breaking and the town I was pinning my hopes on was… not much of a town. Nowhere to fix my bike, nowhere even to buy a new book, just one weirdly posh chocolate-based cafe with no fucking vegan options. I was as far away from home as it’s possible to be on this island and I was done. Then I found the town’s one little shop.
Bikepacking is a new name for something people have been doing in various forms for years… For me, the real spirit of it is cheap, punk-rock adventure.
Two hours later I was sat cosily on a blustery beach, facing out to the North Sea, eating Linda McCartney sausages, red onion and beans, drinking hot chocolate laced with cheap whiskey. As dusk fell the brightest, clearest stars I’ve ever seen came out, showing the Milky Way as a slash of brightness across the dome of the sky and then… on switched the Northern Lights. My concerns receded beyond the horizon and I was utterly, deeply happy.
The only way those particular highs and lows were possible was bikepacking.
Bikepacking is a new name for something people have been doing in various forms for years. Basically it is cycling long distances and camping, with all the gear you need strapped to your bike. What gear you need and how you strap it on is up to you.
For me, the real spirit of bikepacking is cheap, punk-rock adventure. Matt Gauck, author of the amazing book Next Stop Adventure, did his first big bike trip using the heavy mountain bike he’d had since he was 14 and his little brother’s sleeping bag. He bin-dived for food. That austere method may leave you cold, wet and hungry, and it’s not strictly necessary – you can achieve a more comfortable adventure without spending lots of money. Capitalism loves to trick us into spending loads of money on our hobbies, but you don’t need expensive gear. I rode and camped along the EXTREMELY hilly South Downs Way on my old commuter bike that was Very Definitely Not Designed For Muddy Hills.