Steezy: Gravel Nomads at the Pennine Rally
As a Co-Director of the Steezy Collective (alongside Kitty and Taylor) Alice is a champion of inclusive cycling spaces and breaking down barriers and gatekeeping within the sport, and at Apidura she helps riders from all backgrounds discover bikepacking as part of our customer service team. Despite a successful crit racing career, competitive bikepacking has never appealed to Alice but she’s recently found a happy middle ground at rally-style events. Read on to find out how riding the Pennine Rally helped Alice discover a new side of bikepacking.
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Growing up surrounded by arguably the most stunning mountain ranges in England, my cycling roots are in mountain biking and I will never turn down the opportunity to ride in the mountains. That said, I have always been hesitant to sign up for time-limited events as I prefer the relaxed sense of adventure that comes with casual bikepacking. No clock watching, no pressure, just the challenge of surviving in the wild.
The Pennine Rally, however, is billed as part long-distance audax, part multi-day stage race; half cross course, half hill-climb with an emphasis on the spirit of adventure. The type of event that you can ride as hard as you want and still have time to enjoy the wilderness while pushing yourself to go a little farther than normal. This not-quite-race particularly appealed to me as it seemed like the ultimate multiday, off-road adventure.
I was sceptical about whether I would enjoy this style of riding and the added pressure but the rally added an aspect to my adventure that I had not realised was missing. I had to push myself that little bit further every day to make it back to the finish on time. There was a sense of being a part of something, enough pressure to push limits without removing the enjoyment. The flexibility to choose your challenge, whether that be getting from A to B and staying in luxury or being fully self-sufficient. Safe to say, I chose the latter.
In true Steezy fashion, we completed this rally self-sufficiently, with no sense of urgency. 50km in, the stove was out, the noodles were on and the coffee was brewing. We decided to enjoy the awe-inspiring landscapes and soak up the serenity of the Northern hills. Whilst everyone else stopped at the first town, Peebles, we decided to truck on to the nearest river and get out the water filters.
This sense of exploration and escaping the city life that I’ve become so accustomed to was interwoven throughout the rally. We didn’t stop to resupply, we didn’t need to refill water, we just kept moving through the countryside and enjoyed the serenity that only a few fleeting days away from modern society can bring. In a world where everything is done for you, there is something very rewarding about being completely self-sufficient. The knowledge that I had everything I need to finish the rally from start to finish on my bike added to the immersive experience of diving into the unknown. We were prepared for anything when we were miles from any other people, tucked away from the elements. This feeling, where you feel like you could live like this forever, was what made the rally such an exciting experience for me.
The nature of the event as a rally, rather than a race, was responsible for this shift in mindset. Essentially having a taste of what life as a nomad could really be. We had the luxury of a little more time to explore, a little more weight, carrying our non-essentials but still had the push of the event timing to keep us curious and carry on to the next breathtaking viewpoint. After a long day riding, we still had enough time and supplies to pitch a tent, cook a delicious hot meal, and enjoy a good conversation about the events that had transpired on the day’s ride. Some days were harder than others, nonetheless the ability to set up camp and prepare some sustenance really did make the rally seem more adventurous and enduring than racing, which always has a sense of real urgency.
The highlight of the experience for me was sharing it with my two sidekicks and Steezy companions. Through the ups and the downs, we carried each other to the end. An adventure with friends transforms the experience as a whole; each event along the way becomes a part of a shared experience and a lasting memory. From the trail-side coffee to the high fives at the top of a gruelling climb. This is what Steezy is about, riding bikes and creating special memories with extraordinary people.
A rally is the perfect balance; no great race to the finish but still an ever-present urge to move and explore every moment of your journey. Rallies remove the gatekeeping that comes along with racing, and they provide a sense of empowerment that allows you to determine your adventure. I can’t recommend entering a rally more to anyone that enjoys bikepacking and wants to try something a little more spirited.