Developing a new bikepacking route is a challenge. There’s the uncertainty at the beginning. The first task is to find enough good paths, tracks and roads to create something that delivers a great experience.
Then there’s the challenge to combine all parts to something that challenges me, but at the same time gives me the opportunity to enjoy myself. Carrot and stick. A good mixture of technical and demanding riding, paired with some fast-rolling and flowy sections. Hard work and reward. Sweat and smiles.
And then there’s the ultimate coffee, cake, pint and burger question. When I ask myself ‘What’s the point’ there needs to be an opportunity to prove the point. Battling through pouring rain, getting eaten by midges and sweating my heart out under waterproofs. Bikepacking is far removed from comfort. When there’s no opportunity to stop, eat and drink too much, to justify to do it all over again, I might run out of arguments.
When I got approached by Carron in May, I had already noticed the Wild About Argyll campaign. I had been to Argyll several times, although I sometimes didn’t even notice I was there. It stretches far and wide, in fact it’s huge. Just looking at a map and understanding the range of possibilities Argyll offers was enough to get me utterly excited about a potential new project. And then there was this very special memory.
Having lived in Scotland since 2009, with a number of visits before then, I finally understood how passionate I am about the country when I returned from cycling the world in 2016. I can still picture setting my feet onto Islay’s soil after 33,500 km around the planet, this first time back in Scotland after exploring 25 different countries, enjoying a drink and snack. By the time I had finished my wee picnic it rained. It stopped when I finally arrived in the hostel in the evening, but it didn’t bother me at all. I had been through deserts, climbed high altitude passes, and experienced extreme heat exhaustion in South East Asia. When I cycled across Islay in the pouring rain and howling wind, I felt alive. It was a wonderful feeling. The sunshine over the coming days was a bonus, but no necessity.
I felt the same when I finished riding the Wild About Argyll Trail in Helensburgh. I had been soaked for six days straight, with hardly any sun to sweeten the ride. But it didn’t matter. I was looking back to a great ride, with the good feeling I had a proper adventure. My standards were pretty high, and this route exceeded them.
When I cleaned up the GPX files, sorted the pictures and zapped through the video material, I asked myself what ‘wild’ really means. There are endless definitions, some rather odd, but three things stood out for me: Indicating distraction. Indicating strong emotion. Lacking restraint.
Three things the new trail is about. Bikepacking is distraction from our ever so busy lives. It is the need to reduce myself to the very minimum, focussing on the experiences along the route, not the things I carry with me. Bikepacking is also about eliminating distractions. Standing on the top of a hill, with the face battered by rain and wind. Feeling the warm glow of the first sunshine on the face. Smelling the sea, hearing the birds. Things we too often forget about.
And then there’s the emotion. The incredibly amazing feeling when you walk into a nice pub, sink into a bench and whisper ‘yes’ to yourself. The moments when you curse the world, the flat tire in the pouring rain. The slip on a mossy section. The wind when you least need it. But then there’s always the great feeling you’ve done it.
And in a vast landscape like Argyll offers, there’s no restraint to one’s imagination.
Those three aspects of ‘wild’ are what the new route is about. Take less and enjoy more. If there’s one way to enjoy Argyll’s wilderness, bikepacking is it.