From Alpkit to Alpkit, a Bikepacking Adventure

From Alpkit to Alpkit, a Bikepacking Adventure

By Gavin Pickup>

This is a story from a couple of our customers, who rode from Alpkit Edinburgh to Alpkit Ilkley. Thank you Gav and Col for sharing this with us, it was a pleasure to be a part of your journey.

I’ll admit I’m a big fan of Alpkit, their clothes, kit, gear, friendly staff and then, last but not least, their bikes! After a brief stop at the store in Ilkley, Assistant Store Manager Adam threw a copy of the Outpost into the bag of some camping gear I’d just bought. I flicked through the pages and came across an article about the Twin City Divide, a cycle route from Glasgow to Manchester a few folks had done and bike packed along the way. I read in excitement at the adventure unfolding within the pages and immediately thought I want some of that and it was then that the seed was planted.

I studied the route, studied some more and more, but then looked at some alternative routes, not quite as long, but still long enough for a bit of an adventure and equally as epic.

I’d visited the Ilkley store again a couple weeks later and I took a test ride out on the Sonder Camino they had in store, I managed a bit of single track stuff despite the snow, the wheels were all over the place under me and I was laughing away to myself, I was hooked. I wanted one. Only one decision had to be made and that was the colour… Sage green.

Back to the route; I’d noticed that there was an Alpkit store in Edinburgh and then that was the eureka moment We’ll get the train to Edinburgh, visit the Alpkit store and we’ll ride back to the Ilkley store in Leeds. That’s it! Maps were scoured, Komoot app was poured over as well as my Garmin. I spent hours and hours looking at routes and using Google earth to see if the tracks were “doable” as I wanted to do the whole route pretty much all off road or as very little road riding as possible. I spoke to the guys at both Alpkit stores and asked if they could help in anyway, to my delight they both said they could sort us some food and a “goody bag” as well as offering us a discount on any more gear we would need or want. Bonus!

I discussed the idea of the trip with a pal of mine Col. He's crackers and he didn’t bat an eye when I asked if he fancied doing it with me.

It was at this time we decided to do the ride in honour of our recent family losses, Colin lost his wife Judy to ovarian cancer almost three years ago and more recently I lost my father in law Barry to prostate cancer in November of last year. We set up Just Giving pages for the relevant charities and I started riding my bike a lot more. I was way behind Colin on bike fitness.

The morning of 15th August finally came round and we met at our local train station in Pudsey bound for Leeds, then onto Edinburgh. We were both a bit apprehensive wondering if we’d packed the right gear, had we forgotten anything? We studied the weather too, forecast was thunderstorms which was pretty grim as we’d just had a couple of weeks cracking weather, we both concluded whatever will be will be. We watched the world go by noses pressed against the glass like kids as we made our way on the train up to Edinburgh.

Sadly Joe at Edinburgh was on a meeting when we arrived at the store, but Rab looked after us, made us a brew, gave us biscuits and took a few pictures as we chatted about the trip we were about to embark on gave us a few goodies, wished us well, took a few more pictures and we were off.

2 men sitting at Alpkit Edinburgh ready for their gravel ride

Day 1

We estimated that the whole trip was approximately 256 miles give or take a few. We planned to ride that over five days. We’d not long set off when the rain started. Luckily the thunderstorms forecast didn’t materialise, but the rain got heavier and heavier as we made our way round the Pentland Hills. We had booked accommodation at a place in the borders called Hawick, but the trail was heavy going and the rain was horrendous. We decided to stick to the roads to get to the place we’d booked quicker, but we soon realised that as we were running out of daylight (neither of us had lights) we weren’t going to make it.

Plan B! We managed to get booked into a place at Innerleithen and we rolled in there just before dark. Wet, cold and hungry, 44.5 miles done, 2725 feet climbing and 7 hours 59 minutes.

Day 2

two friends bikepacking with grassy backdrop

We had managed to change our booking from the first night to the second, so we had some accommodation again and it wasn’t that far to go. We set off with wet feet as our shoes were the only things we hadn’t managed to dry out. We travelled through Traquair and climbed (read pushed!) and climbed and climbed some more. We were a stones throw from Innerleithen mountain bike trails, once we were on the downhill single track stuff I couldn’t help but laugh as I was on my Sonder Camino, the heather and bracken whipping my wet cold bare legs. Colin was on his hard tail and was loving the downhill tracks. We mixed it up a bit road wise, but most of them were single track roads, quiet with very little traffic. We made it to Denholm in the Borders. 32.2 miles, 3125 feet climbing, 7 hours 12 minutes.

Day 3

two bikes leant against graffiti wall

We woke to blue skies and sunshine poking through the clouds, we knew today would be a good day! On we went, single track roads through a valley, busy farmers making and gathering hay bales. We ended up riding through the old Waverley Line (an old disused train track) dwarfed between a deep valley and came out onto some magnificent gravel roads, just what the Camino was built for, it was awesome.

We passed through a couple of tiny villages and then we hit a huge climb, we both managed to keep the pedals spinning. Eventually we had to stop, we chatted to a couple of rangers who were working in the area, they gave us some much needed water and then we carried on. Once at the top we could see the mountains of Scotland, the Lake District, Silloth on the Solway and then where we were heading south into Kielder Forest.

On we went through more and more single track stuff barely wide enough for our wheels, but was great fun. We were then spat out onto gravel heaven right in the heart of Kielder Forest, blue skies, the water out in front of us glistening, it was picture postcard stuff. We stopped at the visitor centre for a brew and to take on some food as we still had a good few miles to make up, on we went, back into Forrest tracks, it was amazing. On and on we pushed through more gravel roads we were heading for a place called Alston.

We came across a bothy, unfortunately it was too far north of where we wanted to be, shame as it would have been cool to stay the night there. Col had a trip OTB as light was fading, we weren’t going to make it to Alston, we found a caravan site in Haltwhistle, we called to see if we could pitch our tents, no answer, we went on anyway, we knocked on the door of the house with the lights on, no answer. We decided to pitch out tents at the bottom of the site away from anyone.

We were cooking up our food on the picnic tables in front of the reception when we were approached by the owner, they charged us a few quid for the night and left us be, we only had our Alpkit dried food rations, but we quickly boiled some water and ate, I followed with the apples and custard and I have to say it was the best apples and custard I’d ever had! Bedtime. 60.7 miles, 4475 feet climbing, 11 hours 56 minutes.

Day 4

bikes leaning against appleby sign

We packed up and ate breakfast at a local cafe, stocked up with bananas, haribos, chocolate and plenty of water as we followed the cycle route 72. Legs were aching, but we knew we had another long day in the saddle as we were playing catch up due to the weather and a tough first couple of days. On and on we went, we passed through Alston and then we had a climb, a brutal climb into a headwind, always a headwind in a climb! Why? We eventually got to the top and dropped down into Melmerby, we had a break here and decided to book somewhere for the night, a place just outside Hawes called the Green Dragon at Hardraw, job done we were now on a mission. We passed through Appleby in Westmoreland, then we managed to lose each other as we got into Kirby Stephen, Cols phone had died, the heavens opened, the wind whipped up and we plodded on. Eventually we caught up with each other, both pretty low, tired, wet and hungry. We egged each other on, sang a few songs, moaned about the rain and the wind and pedalled a bit more and sang a bit more. We were losing daylight again pretty quickly and we couldn’t get there quick enough, I was thinking that the place would be closed as it was after 21.30, but we ploughed on and eventually got to the Green Dragon at around 21.45. The landlord was a diamond, he showed us to our bunk room, informed us that the chef had gone home, but he would “knock up” a curry for us, the showers were amazing and we were down in the bar shovelling beef curry down our necks and washing it down with beer, life was good and we’d lived a bit that day! 71.7 miles 4875 feet climbing, 12 hours 29 minutes.

Day 5

two friends arrived at alpkit ilkley

Last day! We left knowing that we only (ha ha only!) had to do about 40 miles today, started off with a brutal climb out of Hawes though Fleet Moss Pike, I’m not ashamed to say I pushed it most of the way up, it was hellish! We made it though and the decent down the other side was beauty. We passed through Buckden and starbottom before seeing some of the scarecrow festival in Kettlewell. We were on the home stretch, we had actually ridden from Scotland, Edinburgh back to Leeds, I was feeling all sorts of emotions, hopefully some of our family members were going to make it and welcome us back at the Alpkit store in Ilkley, we saw the sign for Ilkley 9 miles! Giddy as a preverbal kipper we pedalled on. We made it up the high street, Cols brother was shouting and cheering us on, my two granddaughters Ellie and Ruby were there cheering and waving a couple of posters they’d draw and painted for us, they ran along side of us both. We turned the corner and there was a small gathering of family, customers from the store and Alex and Adam, all clapping and cheering. We had made it! A few beers and a bit of food was laid on from the guys in Ilkley, we chatted, laughed, high fived and hugged everyone. We had an absolute blast despite the tough (at times) conditions, but we’d lived a bit that week, seen some stunning scenery and we’d raised some money for our charities. Would we do it again? In a heartbeat! 39.3 miles 2525 climbing 5 hours 26 minutes.

Totals 248.4 miles 19800 feet climbing 44 hours 42 minutes

We did deviate from our original planned route due to time lost on the first couple of days, but if you would like to ride the route from Alpkit to Alpkit please feel free.

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