The Highland Trail Race was absolutely amazing. With some stiff competition from strong riders, it was pretty sharp at the sharp end.
Through a mix of luck, wisdom, stubbornness, and toughness, I managed to come out on top. Full emotional reporting to come, but kit-lists are easy to write while I still sort my head out.
My overall philosophy was to try to make sure I could continue to make progress without moving into a downward spiral of losing body heat (e.g. core body temperature dropping to uncontrollable shivering or hands losing dexterity). I wouldn’t be able to just wait out any cold/wet conditions, so I had to be able to keep going through them.
Additionally, I didn’t think I could make much of a guess at opening hours or arrival times for resupply en-route. So, I filled my whole frame bag with food
|Specialized BG Sport velcro shoes||Cheap; no ratchets to get jammed with grit.|
|Bridgedale wool socks, Innov8 running socks||Inov-8 socks have very minimal seams for long-distance comfort. Bridgedale wool keep you warm even after wading rivers. I wore the Inov-8 socks for 2 days, then switched to the wool to start day 3 in the wet.|
|Endura MT-500 MTB overshoes||Gives layering options, and keeps warm when wet (day 1 on the trail was very hot, the night of day 2 was very cold and wet).|
|Sugoi RS Zero Bib longs, no pad||I considered leg warmers instead, but these tights have proved themselves to me on the Iditarod. When it’s cold windy, and raining, there’s no such thing as too warm.|
|Sugoi RS Bib shorts||They fit my arse and don’t cost crazy money.|
|Gore Bike Wear Active Shell shorts||Having used waterproof shorts once on a bikepacking race, I’d now never be without them. Keeps my main shorts dry enough to avoid needing to change them, comfortable enough to ride in all day, and now seem to stay up better than the model I had from a year ago.|
|Singular short-sleeve synthetic jersey||Merino can get a bit worn through in these conditions, and you’ve got to show the team colours!|
|Mountain Hardwear Polartec 100 fleece||Works with Gore Tex jacket below. Considered arm warmers instead or as well, but decided to be ready for the worst and minimise on intermediate kit. I’ve read that fleece works better than synthetic down when wet – I don’t have synthetic down to compare to, but fleece under a waterproof certainly does perform well even when wet.|
|Gore Bike Wear Path II Pac-Lite Shell jacket||Soft shells I’ve found to just wet out, hang heavy and never dry until you get back to civilisation. Hard shells with mesh are too hot to be used in anything other than real cold. This shell works in normal rain and as a windproof, then adding in the fleece underneath provides comfort even when it gets really hostile outside.|
|Roadie cap + helmet||A bit of variation so that I can easily wash the cap and choose to have it on/off.|
|Black Diamond Mercury Mitt||A piece of kit from Alaska. No cycling glove I have used has lived up to claims of keeping you warm when it’s around freezing and the rain is hard. These monsters do exactly that and with no gear levers, reduced dexterity while wearing them is fine. I considered some winter bike gloves, but simplified to just these or bare hands.|
When I got up in the rain at the start of Day 3, having bivvied in the rain with no shelter and already being soaked when I lay down, I had full-body shivers going on. Once I ate a bit, put on all available clothing and rode for a bit, I was able to make progress in comfort. Having all that gear was a big aid to getting out of bed and onto the bike.
|Singular Swift Frame||Always dependable, always fun to ride.|
|Rockshox Revelation 100mm forks||The Cairngorms Loop was pretty savage on my hands, so suspension seemed like a good idea here. In retrospect, definitely a good choice. Rigid is still more fun for local trails, though.|
|Wheels: Front – SP Dynamo hub/Stans Crest Rim, Rear- Hope Pro2 Evo SS Hub/Stans Crest||Built by Just Riding Along, the wheels simply run well. More on the dynamo later. The rear has taken a lot of hub servicing, but at least it’s easy to do at home and cheap.|
|Maxxis Ikon Tubeless-Ready (tubeless)||The new tubeless ready version of my favourite treads are slightly beefed up compared to the EXOs I had been running. Fast, grippy, and suitable for pretty much everything but claggy mud.|
|Hope Headset||Fit + forget|
|Velosolo 32t SS chainring, Andel 18t rear, SRAM PC979 chain||Works smoothly, looks right, and lasts for miles|
|Shimano XT cranks, M520 pedals|
|Hope Ceramic BB||Eventually, I not only wore through a number of old Hope BB bearings, I also wore the metal off the cups so much that they wouldn’t hold the dust caps any more. So I had a Shimano for about a month until it seized and then fitted a new Hope Ceramic at 7.00am on the day of the Highland Trail start. It was a good excuse to visit my old LBS, Cycle Care on the way up.|
|USE Carbon Seatpost, Selle Italia Flite Saddle||This post has been lightweight, comfortable, and durable over a year of bikepacking use. So much for fears about “fragile” carbon parts. I just wrap in it tape before fitting the rear bag, and it’s great.|
|USE Carbon Bars, USE stem||These bars are the right width, and the right weight. I’ve been hauling on this setup for over a year and been happy all the way.|
|Avid BB7 brakes||My Shimano XTs had got very unreliable in the days leading up to the race and I knew I could get these fitted and working well very quickly so I did. Also, they’ll be just the job for the Iditarod Trail next year.|
|Exposure Revo, Diablo, RedEye lights||The Revo provides plenty of light and dynamo power is great for riding as long as your legs will carry you. The Diablo is still very much worth having for technical sections and looking off the trail for bivvy spots. The combination of a dyno hub and Revo light are actually lighter than a normal hub and an Exposure Maxx-D, so it’s a lightweight setup. Despite many river crossings and much rain, there was never a flicker of a problem from either light.|
|Garmin Dakota 20||Simply works for me. Easy to keep fed with AA batteries and so waterproof that it has survived multiple capsizes in kayaks.|
Bags + Camping
|Wildcat Gear Frame (Clouded Leopard), Front (Mountain Lion), and Rear (Tiger) bags||The frame bag is high-quality and great for packing heavy stuff like food. I had it custom-made to fit around a single bottle as I like to have a traditional bottle to-hand. The front harness is fiddly to fit in the first place, but secure and makes popping your front dry-bag on and off simplicity itself – all without rubbing against your head-tube. Likewise, the rear harness takes a while to fit the first time, but makes it very easy to access your stuff on the trail. It’s stable and hardly noticeable in-use.|
|Inov-8 Race Elite 15 Hydration Pack – 15L with 2L Camelbak bladder||Hip pockets for easy access to multi-tool + snacks, stuffed with bulky lightweight items and valuables. I finally decided to get over my hangup about using a bladder on bikepacking rides. Definitely worthwhile here as I rarely had time to pull out my actual bottle.|
|Mountain Hardwear Lamina 32 Synthetic Sleeping Bag plus silk liner||With a high chance of rain, and a low chance of having time to stop and dry my gear, synthetic seemed like the way forward. It’s a lot bulkier than the down bag I’ve used on other recent trips, but it is rated to 1C and I was confident that it would be warm enough when used with the liner. I take a liner to provide layering options, and to keep my sleeping bag relatively clean.|
|Terra Nova Discovery Lighty Bivvy||I’ve slept in this for many nights and not once have I woken up dead.|
|No sleeping mat||Pick somewhere soft!|
Plus various of the usual tools, spares, and first aid.