Working on a new film about the John Muir Way, a 134-mile-journey through the Central Belt of Scotland forced me to remember a few basic things about adventures. One is that activities do not have to be on an epic scale to be an adventure. While there is something magic about longer trips, like my round the world trip, cycling the Silk Road or most recently the Atlas Mountains, they require a fair bit of planning. While I had a few trips lined up for this year, they have all fallen victim to the recent pandemic.
Another thing working on the film (due in late September on my YouTube channel) has told me was that there is beauty to be found in many parts of Scotland, no matter how close they are to an urban area. While the remote Highlands and Islands offer some breathtaking scenery, there is also a wealth of opportunities around my home in Edinburgh. Those opportunities often require very little travel and preparation to escape the normal pace of life for a short while and reconnect with nature.
Cycling to a beautiful spot, pitching the tent, getting the stove out for heating water for tea and cooking some basic food, and ending the evening with a sip from the hip flask while munching a nice piece of chocolate. All of those things are nice by themselves, but combined they make an even better experience.
Now imagine leaving the office on a Monday evening, or your newly established home office, do all the above, and return the next day just in time for the next Zoom call or email catch up. It’s called, I believe, a micro-adventure. And it’s the best start of the week I could have hoped for.
I have stopped counting the number of times I got asked what to pack for a bikepacking trip since I founded Bikepacking Scotland in 2017. There have been many. While it comes very naturally to me now to reduce myself to the bare minimum I need, it might be a big barrier to others who don’t have the experience of a round the world trip on a singlespeed and various bikepacking trips in Scotland under their belt. Through developing routes I was keen to give people new to bikepacking inspiration on where to ride, often working with local tourism agencies in less-touristy parts of Scotland. And while it’s often quite a very subjective choice, I am happy to share my knowledge on what to pack too.
When I packed my bike for filming on the John Muir Way I was keen to select functional kit which doesn’t break the bank. While an expedition in the Tian Shan leaves little room for error, an overnight trip through the Central Belt of Scotland in summer or autumn is not on that scale, and it doesn’t require top of the range ultra-lightweight kit. This idea is reflected in my kit list for this adventure. While packing size is crucial for bikepacking, you can buy items that pack small at a reasonable cost. The mattress and sleeping bag I used retail at around £200 together. The stove sets you off by around £25, and the cook kit (pot and lit) is about £20. The only exception is the tent I used. Simply fascinated by the idea that I could pump up my tent with a bike pump I tested the Project Hydrogen tent from Vango, but at £600 there are much cheaper alternatives to that.
My singlespeed mountain bike is prepped with some expensive additions from sponsors, but I have also ridden a £400 non-sponsored bike across Tierra del Fuego in 2018, and the experience wasn’t that different. The only thing that annoyed me were the squeaking plastic pedals, the rest was just fine.
For a microadventure a simple GPS is a bonus, but a mobile phone will be just fine. There are plenty of route planning apps on the market. maps.me is free to use (at least for now). I personally prefer komoot, which requires a subscription to use advanced features, but I also enjoy the magic of simply cycling up a hill to see what’s on top. And that’s exactly what I did on this trip.
And it was simply fabulous. Leaving the office at 5pm I caught a train to Stow, a small village in the Scottish Borders. Arriving forty minutes later I cycled along a rather busy main road for a short stretch, but soon spotted a large gravel track leading to a wind farm on top. The climb required some effort, but I was soon rewarded with beautiful views across the area, with nothing but curious cows, sheep and a few wind turbines to break the silence. After another short cycle on a minor road I spotted a community woodland, and pitched my tent at the edge of the forest, facing east in anticipation of a nice sunrise in the morning.
My plan was to stop at a local grocery store to top up my supplies, but there was nothing open in Stow, so my packet of microwavable rice, two sachets of porridge, some tea, a yummy all-natural energy bar, a half-full hip flask and 750ml of water in my bootle had to be enough, and they were.
After I pitched my tent I enjoyed the last light of the day while marvelling at the combine harvester in the field further away. I cooked my dinner, gradually emptied my hip flask and enjoyed the energy bar in small bits with the whisky. I was ready to sleep soon afterwards and set my alarm for 6am.
I woke up to an amazingly beautiful sky, had my porridge and some tea for breakfast and set off soon afterwards. A combination of quiet roads, gravel tracks and a flowy singletrack took me from my camp spot to the train station in Galashiels, and about an hour later I was back in my office, refreshed and with new ideas for future projects. But also with the intention to repeat this, as many times as I could, before the weather would require a bit more planning again.
- Swobo Mutineer Singlespeed MTB, with Absolute Black oval chainring 32 teeth, Halo Vapour 650B wheels, 18t freewheel, Schwalbe Rocket Ron tubeless tires, 45NRTH flat pedals, Avid BB7 brakes with Fibrax rotors and pads
- Lezyne Mega C GPS, Exposure Maxx-D front and Blaze rear light
- Lezyne Alloy Drive pump, bottle cage & 750ml drinking bottle
- Chrome shorts
- Chrome merino t-shirt
- Chrome merino socks
- Running shoes
- Cycling cap
- Face mask
- Credit card, £20 in cash, headphones
Apidura Racing Frame Pack 2.4l
- Anker power bank with iPhone and USB charging cable
- Tub of chlorine tablets
- Toothbrush and toothpaste, small piece of soap in plastic bag
Apidura Racing Extended Top Tube Bag (prototype, available in mid-November 2020)
- Canon G7x Mark III camera, mini tripod, remote control for camera, small torx key for adjusting brakes
Apidura Expedition Saddle Pack 14l
- Vango Atom stove
- Vango Cobra 200 sleeping bag
- Vango Aotrom sleeping mattress
- Lightweight down jacket with hood
- Head torch
- Microwavable rice 250g for dinner
- Running tights
- Small gas canister 100g
- Tea bags in plastic bag
- 2 sachets of instant porridge in plastic bag
Apidura Backcountry Handlebar Pack 9l
- Vango F10 Project Hydrogen tent
- Vango Hard Anodised 1 Person Cook Kit
Apidura Expedition Downtube Pack 1.5l
- Schwalbe spare tube, tire levers & glueless patches
- Lezyne multitool
- Fibrax brake pads
Apidura Expedition Accessory Pocket 4.5l
- Hip flask
- Small sponge
- Hand sanitizer
- Insect repellent
- Plastic spork
- Opinel knife
- Apidura packable backpack 13l
- Overland Barricade jacket