Words by James Heaton
Photos by James Heaton and Stef Amato (www.pannier.cc)
It's Friday evening and the sun is still shining. Actually, it's been warm and dry for a couple of weeks here in South Wales, which is extremely unusual but very welcome. Nikki Whiles, from Marin Bikes, and I are locked and loaded in my van, with fresh Riddler 37 tanwalls fitted, as we road trip north to the Peak District in Derbyshire. Kinda feeling like fish out of water here, as a couple of Valleys boys off to a cycling event without our mountain bikes!? Enter....
The Distance is a 2-day, self-navigating, self-supported bikepacking event with a unique format. The faster you ride... the further you go. Everyone hits the same checkpoints, but depending on what time you get to each checkpoint you’ll be issued an appropriate route to the next one, and so on. Sounds ideal for first timers like us, no pressure to ride faster than you want, no pressure to ride further than you can handle. We packed our bags, prepped our bikes, and at 9am we rolled out for our first bikepacking adventure.
There are no way markers at this event, so we head off following the GPX files found on the event website. It's a really exciting way to ride. No detailed idea of where you are going, just simple directions and opens trails. We'll all end up at the same overnight camp, but the route is what you make of it.
I've been so lucky to have grown up in a National Park with mountains, rivers, rolling hills, fields, farms, and forests all right out my doorstep. It's been the perfect setting to use a bike to explore on and off road while taking in stunning Welsh views, weather permitting of course.
I love living in Wales and never thought anywhere else in the UK could match it for beauty, but the Peak District is a close contender. It's only a few hours away, but it feels like a totally different country. There's a completely different feel to the landscape, so untouched and natural. The valley sides aren’t as steep as home, so there seems to be a lot more well maintained byways and bridleways that roll across the landscape. It really feels isolated out on these trails, in a good way.
On we go. Winding our way through open moorland and picking lines through technical descents that seem to spit you out in one quaint little village after another. The vibe of the event was so relaxed. We heard of riders stopping in shops, cafes and even pubs along the way. It really was what you made of it.
Nikki and I decided to make a quick pit stop in Eyam for some fresh soup and a sugar hit before saddling up and getting stuck into the final few checkpoints. We finally reach the overnight camp, and thanks to @panniercc...the beers are waiting! Freshly baked pizza, potato salad and Bakewell tarts for all, along with an open fire and plenty of chit chat about the day's adventures.
The campsite woke to a cool morning mist which soon burnt off, and by 9am our wheels were turning again. Day two was a short and simple ride with everyone following the same route, regardless of time. Some motored on and got back to the event HQ as quickly as they could, but most of us ended up grouping up and rolling the final few kilometers together. It's an individual event, but there was definitely a strong sense of camaraderie. Riders stopping to help others navigate, while others assisted with mechanical mishaps. No one was left behind.
We ended the event with big smiles on our faces and around 100 miles in our legs. A few thousand feet of climbing, and a new love for adventure cycling. I completed the event on a borrowed bike (huge thanks to Oli Brown), but since I’ve been home I have been chewing the ears off the boys in the BikePark Wales shop about all things gravel. It's only a matter of time…
I can’t wait for the next one!