Q: What is your relationship with solo bikepacking? What are some of the highlights and lowlights that come to mind when you think of a typical solo trip?
A: I’ve been doing solo bikepacking trips since my early twenties. Generally I would say that I love them. They give me an incredible connection to nature, allowing me the opportunity to move in silence through the landscape. I love the freedom I feel when I’m alone. No one else to worry about, I can move at my own pace, stop and make a brew or watch a river. I often feel huge amounts of joy and peace when I’m out alone.
Sleep is very important to me and solo trips give me the chance to have a really long sleep, away from noise and lights. I often use camping as a way to combat migraines, as sleeping out seems to help.
Saying all that, I dont always find it easy to head out alone. Sometimes the motivation isn’t there even when the weather is nice. Sometimes I feel incredibly lonely, even if I’m only away for a night. Sometimes, when you get to camp cold and wet, it’s really nice to have someone there to help get a stove on and collect water. On stormy nights when the tent is flapping and rain is pounding, I find it much nicer knowing I’m not alone.
Q: Do you have a solo trip experience that has really stuck with you or changed you in some way? Can you tell us that story?
A: One of my first trips bikepacking, I headed out just for a night, but into the local mountains. My route actually took me over the tops of some mountains. The forecast was good, but once up high a thick mist came in and I found it hard to navigate. Some guys hiking told me to follow them, as we were planning on the same route, but it turned out they were lost too.
I was able to use my map to find a safe way to drop height off the mountain, even if it meant pushing down a rough hillside. I came out of the mist and found a great camp spot at a loch. The night was awful, I had a very cheap tent and had to put my bike on top of it in the night to keep it down as the wind was so strong.
I was able to rejoin my intended route the next day. I think its the first time I felt really vulnerable and had completely misjudged my ability. But I was able to problem solve out of it, keep myself safe and still have a good time. I took a lot of confidence from that, and booked myself on a navigation course when I got home! It was also the first time I’d really explored the scottish mountains by bike, and I remember feeling so excited at all the possibilities that had opened up for me through that.
Q: When you first started taking solo trips, what were some of the initial learning moments? How do you avoid making those same mistakes now?
A: There were lots of learning opportunities as I got into solo bikepacking. Before I had nice kit, I couldn’t carry everything, so often left my mat and stove behind. I learned pretty fast why an insulated mat is important! Shivering on hard ground isn’t much fun.
I wasn’t very good at fixing mechanicals or navigation. Both of those issues are easily solved by booking on a course or trying to head out with someone who can teach you. I’d highly recommend knowing more than I did when I first started! The boost of confidence knowing you can look after yourself is huge.
One thing I did struggle with was choosing where to sleep, and feeling safe. I think this is really common amongst woman. When Im in the mountains I worry about natural things, wind blowing my tent away, tree branches falling, rivers rising and being uncrossable, critters eating my food. All these things are easily dealt with and within my control with route choices, checking forecasts, putting food inside the tent and so on.
However when I’m camping in more populated areas I worry about men, because let’s be honest, they are one of the biggest threats to woman. As with any discomfort, I try to be rational about this — the majority of people are amazing. You could get unlucky, but that could also happen in your local pub. So I try not to worry about it too much. I will camp as hidden as possible, and often sit for a while before pitching my tent to make sure I feel comfortable.
I also worry about things like drunk drivers veering off the road, controllable by camping further away, dogs ( in Taiwan I slept with a heavy stick). Oh and I never read thriller books before bed!
Q: Tackling a solo trip can feel super intimidating – what advice would you give folks who are interested in going out solo?
A: Start small. Don’t feel you have to go out on some big mission on a new route. Go out on something familiar, maybe even split a normal day ride into an overnighter. Camp somewhere you already like, maybe where you have camped before in company. It takes away the stress of not knowing what’s coming.
Its normal to feel lonely or uncomfortable. Embrace it, ride with it. Don’t let it overwhelm you. I actually find it gets easier the longer the trip, often the first night or two is the hardest, then I relax into my company and really start having fun. The more often you camp alone, the easier it will get, so just persevere through the first couple and be proud of yourself. Sometimes I like to camp within riding distance of a good breakfast café, knowing that a croissant and hot tea are close by can be a real morale booster!
Something I’ve not tried, but has been suggested and sounds fun, is for a longer, more intimidating route where you will be out of phone signal, use radios to stay in touch with a nearby friend. You could ride together but camp separately, and still be able to chat and help each other through. You can also do this for any route really, especially if you’re just starting out going solo – knowing a friend is camped somewhere near by helps with those first trip jitters!
Q: Do you have any advice you would give to women specifically who want to head out there solo?
A: I think women often have less self confidence and we are more likely to talk ourselves down. Rather than focus on negative things, or things you don’t think you are good at, keep reminding yourself about all the things that are going well and anything you problem solve through. I use self talk in my head a lot “well done Annie, you rode that river crossing” “good work fixing that puncture” It sounds funny, but learning to talk yourself up is the best thing for confidence.
I’d also just reiterate how good going on a trail side fix course or navigation workshop can be. It can be a massive boost for getting out there and feeling in control.
Q: Any items you bring that are specific to rolling solo?
A: A good book and more chocolate :)
You can follow along with all of Annie’s adventures by following her on Instagram at @a_girl_outside, she’s always sharing fun trip notes, tips, and wonderful photos from her adventures.