What's the HT550?
The Highland Trail 550 is a self-supported ultra endurance mountain bike race. It's an arduous route in the Scottish Highlands swallowing up 550 rough miles with 16,000m of elevation. It's notorious for bogs, waist-high river crossings and needing to deploy various methods of hauling loaded bikes around. Above all, it has a reputation for having an array of captivating sights and special moments to cherish forever. I'm so excited to experience it, in all its rugged glory.
I'm no stranger to cycling and wild camping on multi-day trips or even 'type 2' fun but, being completely fresh to the ultra race scene comes with assorted woes. I'm worried I won't physically be strong enough to haul my bike up and over boggy, hills. I'm worried the river crossings will be immensely high and rowdy, I'm worried that historical injuries and niggles will show their faces. I'm worried I will be endlessly cold, fatigued and miserable. I'm worried I'll be so slow that next years racers will lap me. However, I'm not going to belabor on the negative, I'm trying to develop an alternative mindset to my self-deprecating default.
I've had an enormous amount of time to organise my kit and construct a loose plan. This gift of time has contributed to an overall feeling of calm and readiness, albeit intermittent. I've received an overwhelming amount of support; from strangers on Instagram encouraging me to sign up and offering advice, my friends and family being my clutch and listening to me catastrophise every detail to the companies that demonstrated their support by answering countless questions and providing me with the kit needed. I'm truly grateful.
You might be inclined to think it would be easy to pack some kit and clothing, but it's been a time consuming process. When I'm on multi-day adventures I tend to have the same continuous concern about staying warm. I'm a very petite woman and tend to run cold, add some unpredictable Scottish weather, being in the remote Highlands for several days and you can see why I need to choose wisely.
What I'm packing and where
As a 5ft 3 bikepacking enthusiast I'm continuously trying to piece the jigsaw together. My XS bike frame means less space and clearance for bikepacking bags as well as using bags with smaller volume. Nevertheless, I'm content with my setup, it's not too dissimilar to my regular one, and the familiarity brings me some comfort.
In the handlebar pack I have my sleeping bag and tent, the 'accessory pocket' at the front will hold my waterproofs and electronics. In the saddle pack I will store my tent poles, clothing and sleep mat. I have an additional top tube bag for tools, phone and chain lube. Food and water will be in my hydration rucksack and sweet treats will be (possibly too) accessible in the food pouch at the front. Voila, I'm HT ready.
I'm opting for comfort and hoping that my choices will give me warmth and reassurance in the bleakest of weather conditions. I'll be using my trusty Alpkit Soloist 1 person tent, a 3 season synthetic sleeping bag by Mountain Hardwear and my Thermarest Uberlite sleep mat. I will be feeling cosy wearing my favourite FINDRA merino layers (photographed) and a beanie if required.
A couple of myths;
Your sleeping bag will warm you up.
One size fits all.
Sleeping bags are designed to trap the heat your body produces and prevents it from escaping. Consider doing some star jumps prior to jumping into the sleeping bag, having a snack or hot drink before bed will also get your internal thermostat running.
If you're a woman I'd recommend sourcing a womens specific sleeping bag and mat. We tend to lose heat from our hips and buttocks, this is why women specific items will have extra insulation in these areas. I'm a huge advocate for merino wool layers to sleep in, they're effortlessly comfortable and assist with regulating your temperature, which makes merino an easy choice for my HT550 efforts this year, both on and off the bike.
Choosing sustainable options
I hate the idea of fast fashion, we have become so used to throwing things away so readily. I adore FINDRA's approach to sustainability and 'slow fashion' and choose to invest in merino wool where I can.
"Slow fashion is a commitment to respecting the planet we’re on and the clothes we wear. It is the antithesis to fast fashion, which encourages customers to buy clothes that they will quickly discard. Slow fashion is committed to sustainability at every stage of the process".
Why Merino wool?
Firstly, "Merino is recyclable and doesn’t shed microplastics when washed, like some synthetic alternatives. Its odour resistant characteristics also mean it needs to be washed less often than other fabrics, reducing its everyday impact on the environment." My impact on the environment is important to me, it's where I spend most of my time after all so why wouldn't I want to protect it?
More reasons I choose to support slow fashion and invest in natural fabrics; I'm a very tactile person and can become irritated with certain fabrics but merino wool feels soft and comfortable. I wear it throughout the year, doing a host of different activities and sports in a wide range of places. I'm never worry about getting sweaty as it's quick wicking and absorbs moisture, keeping you dry and you can honestly wear merino for days without any offending smells and in turn reduces your wash load. It's super versatile, you could wear the same piece in Summer and add another layer in Winter. I have a few pieces and will be wearing FINDRA layers throughout my HT adventure.
There's a wealth of knowledge on their website if you're interested.
Packed and Ready?
I've used my kit a lot over the past few years and I'm very confident it will perform well, the bikepacking bags are new and I've tested them recently on the Capital Trail, everything was as expected. I have a few newer pieces of clothing that are very versatile and will be used regardless of the weather. I feel ready. I know I'll have to continue working on my mindset, in particular on the tough days but I've done as much as I can for now. It's a pleasant feeling. I hope my body keeps up.
If you're curious about staying up to date during the race then feel free to follow me on my adventure(s).