Mindful Bikepacking | A Journey Through Scotland
The bikepacking world has been abuzz this last week with talk of the new European Divide route release: a 4723 mile mostly off-road route spanning the European continent from the Arctic Ocean in Norway down to the Atlantic coast in Portugal. The creator is Andy Cox, a cycling nomad who has spent the last 4 years of his life finding these quiet routes to join together so anybody can peacefully experience this diverse continent upon which we live. In recent weeks, Andy has returned to the UK and is now in Scotland where we met with him for a coffee and a chat. We asked him about his ethos and his plans, so here's Andy in his own words.
Oh, that's a bit steep!... Am I sure I'm on the right route?
I'd just ridden around the small peninsula of Ardgarten following some of the Wild About Argyll bikepacking route, and after the seemingly relentless climbing on forest roads to get to the end of the peninsula, the trail turns to a walking track and goes up steeply. And then again, and again.... And then once I couldn't see any other place to climb it drops like a stone on what I quickly recognise as a MTB trail centre Red graded route. Steep, rocky, rough and cut up in places, certainly with some flow to it, but I think not designed for my Bombtrack Bicycles Beyond Plus weighing in at over 25kg with all my equipment.
I'm Andy, creator of the European Divide Trail bikepacking route, which goes from northeastern Norway to southwestern Portugal, 7601km of mostly off road tracks and trails. I'm here in Scotland spending most of the summer planning and riding my UK Extension to the main route that I'd spent most of the last 3 years putting together. The idea behind this 'extension' part of the route is to try to link together existing bikepacking routes around Scotland, with the aim of creating a big loop of sorts. It'll be a meandering dirt road touring route taking in many highlights of this great country, and showcasing the diversity of landscapes, culture and history.
My ethos when making longer distance routes is to try to make them as rideable as possible, to try to make them difficult in their length rather than the technical aspects of the riding. There's plenty of physically and technically demanding routes out there but not so many longer ones that you can ride loaded up with months worth of gear, or just with more stuff for a shorter trip so you're more comfortable when not riding, or perhaps with a partner or friend who isn't as experienced as you might be.
So with all that in mind, back to the tale at hand....:
The rocks and steep climbs eventually relented and I was able to enjoy my surroundings more and worry less about cooking my brakes or destroying a wheel or tyre. Scotland really is stunning. Truly breathtaking in places, and so surprisingly compact in its variety and beauty.
Piecing together parts of other peoples routes is an interesting prospect for someone who's more used to making his own. It's equal parts enjoyment and frustration, as I might wonder 'why are we going along here when there's a perfectly good track over there' but to then realise that local knowledge is a great thing to utilise. There's some real gems hidden away in what from looking at a map seem like a pointless diversion, and so it's definitely been worth the effort to follow in others footsteps (tyre tracks?), along the ancient trackways and modern forest roads that cross this ancient landscape. If you look at my route so far it is hardly comprehensive in that I've just kind of chosen in a relatively random manner where I'll go next, but that's part of the joy of uninhibited bike travel. I've got no set agenda or time limit really, at least at the moment, I'm going where the wind and my whims take me, and I'll work out which bits I need to fill in later. Call it mindful bikepacking, to enjoy the moments more than the big picture.