The 2016 Fatbike Champion!


This weekend saw 700 people on a start line on the Pembrey coast. When I say the coast, I do mean the actual line where land meets sea. The Battle on the Beach course involves a 7km time trial on hard packed sand followed by an 8 km wiggle back through trees and dunes to complete a lap. This well organised race, unique to the UK, attracts competitors from Holland  who are well versed in riding their bikes on flat, fast surfaces and have plenty of their own coastline to practise on. Beach racing there is a big thing which is why having Dutch pros at Battle on the Beach is testimony to it’s popularity.

battle on the beach start line

Cross bikes, mountain bikes, Fatbikes and tandems all lined up on Saturday night to begin the weekend of racing in an after dark individual 11km time trial. We were set off at 20 second intervals to enjoy the sound of our own breathing, the feeling of surreal speed and space under moonlight and the drag of tyres on sand for a 30 minute hard effort before collapsing into the bar at Pembrey Country Park for essential carbohydrate replenishment ahead of Sunday’s main event.


The UK Fatbike Championships was what I was targeting this weekend and so it was I found myself standing astride my Specialized Fatboy with 5inch tyres amongst the tiny cyclo crossers in their team lycra at 12 o’clock the following day. We set off en masse and were soon spread along the beach like ants. I went backwards off the start line being dropped off skinny wheel after skinny wheel until we turned off the hard sand and into the soft dunes where my massive tyres came into their own. Unfortunately by then all the cross bikes had stalled in the deep sand in the singletrack and so I had to wait until the queues had cleared and I could let the Fatboy go.


Each lap I would gain time in the technical trees and dunes then hemorrhage it on the sandy sprint. I would try to hold wheels and would manage for a while before involuntary grunts that I didn’t recognise as my own would escape from my mouth preempting the inevitable, sickening moment the bunch would pull away.

Overall, I managed to hold my own in the main field to finish a respectable 83rd, just a few minutes down on the overall open female category and first female Fatbike. Turns out I finished 3rd female in the evening time trial too.  It didn’t make me want to take up xc racing again but it did remind me how much fun can still be had by making your legs go round fast. I’ll be back next year to defend my title!




Cape Wrath

Cape wrath crossing 5
Cape Wrath : The Turning Point. The most north westerly point on the UK mainland. A wild, impossible place. To reach the lighthouse on it’s point is a real mission requiring boats and a long walk or ride. It had always refused me entry although I had tried on countless occasions to get across the sound and out to the rugged cliffs and sandy bays of the peninsula.
Cape Wrath
Cape wrath on the beach 02
In the past, I’d been dealt rough seas, incompatible tides, illness, injury and even military action. Perhaps I should have given up and accepted that it just wasn’t meant to be but then this happened. I was at a road race in an out of the way north eastern coastal town shortly after yet another failed attempt to visit the Cape when a guy came up to me and told me there was a gig about to start in a nearby lighthouse. I ambled along after the race and became engulfed in a friendly fold of woollen jumpers and wellington boots while the wind and rain did their thing outside. On a small, makeshift stage there sat singing a Swedish angel. Sofie Livebrant had written her entire album “Lighthouse Stories” using prose taken from a book set at Cape Wrath. In the days that followed, I listened to Sofie’s music and read the book that inspired her album (“Lighthouse Keeping” by Jeannette Winterson). Both touched me deeply and a theme emerged that sent me reeling. It was that of attempting to balance two powerful aspects of my personality, the need for freedom and the need for belonging. I was heading back to Cape Wrath.
Cape wrath lighthouseI was going with Andy and Kirk. Andy runs Back Country Biking / Boating; an organisation that takes people into the wilds of Scotland fully self supported on bikes or using pack rafts. He’s also a friend, which is handy, because I had long decided the only way I was ever going to get to the lighthouse on the Cape was by packraft and Fatbike. I had the bikes, he had boats. Kirk operates Perfect View Productions, a one man adventure film company. Kirk, fortunately, is also a friend and always up for a challenge. If everything worked out this weekend we would have the makings of a fine wee Fatbike / packraft film exploring this dramatic landscape. What could possibly go wrong (other than the biggest military exercise in NATO history). You see, Cape Wrath is so remote, the military use it as a training ground and like to drop bombs and pretend to shoot each other on it. It would seem the stars would have to align to allow us entry this weekend.
bomb sign
Cape wrath cliff ride 3
But they did. It panned out. We killed time while the army fluffed about on the Cape by fatbiking some sand dunes and paddling into caves. Then, as night fell and the army downed tools for the weekend, we paddled over the sound with our bikes, gear and film equipment and rode into Kervaig bothy in the settling dusk accompanied by an eerie soundtrack of bellowing, horny stags. The next day, we nailed some incredible drone footage while riding a cliff edge then made our steady way to the lighthouse that marked the end of our adventure. I rush over the detail here because what we did wasn’t really the point (and it’s much better represented by the film if you’re interested, anyway). What was intriguing me was why.
Cape wrath smoo packraft 7-2
Cape wrath smoo packraft 6
Cape wrath on the beach
It has occurred to me that this fascination I have with exploring wild places is an attempt to make sense of the wild place within myself. I’ve always raged against being tied down while simultaneously longing for the security and simplicity of belonging to a person or a community. It was becoming clear that I strive to bring wildness under control by conquering mountains and paddling against the tide and this way, believe I can experience both the wild and the tame. But I was realising that the wildness in people and places cannot be controlled and any attempt to do so risks destroying a beautiful thing. The best one can do is accept the darkness and the light, the good and the bad, the wild and the tame and appreciate that one only exists because of the other. Cape Wrath had let us in this time but it felt irrelevant. It was up to me to determine how much I should challenge myself with adventure and how much I should challenge myself with stopping and sitting quietly for a while in the present moment.
Cape wrath bothy 5
So now with the film made, the lighthouse reached, I have to start the real challenge of feeling trapped and staying there. Of feeling lonely and not rushing home. Only by mastering that will true freedom exist for me.
Cape wrath lighthouse 1
“What should I do about the wild and the tame? The wild heart that wants to be free, and the tame heart that wants to come home. I want to be held. I don’t want you to come too close. I want you to scoop me up and bring me home at nights. I don’t want to tell you where I am. I want to keep a place among the rocks where no one can find me. I want to be with you” Jeanette Winterson

Bikepacking the French Pyrenees with a Faroese Viking. Read about it here (or just look at the pretty pictures)

It quickly transpired that I was in charge. Durita had no stomach for navigation or campcraft, and happily abdicated all responsibility.

“Yes I did navigate around the world by boat but all I had to do was keep going west and try to stay on the ocean.”

“Ok, ok. I just need you to remember one thing. We are looking for the D933. Can you just remember that?”

“But that’s four things! I can remember the D.”