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Don’t confuse simple with easy. While it’s true that bikepacking and in particular racing, can strip away the largely superficial aspects of life and provide a simpler existence … it often, isn’t an easy one. Changeable weather conditions, long days and big miles and lack of sleep aren’t the usual ingredients most people would include, were they asked to write a recipe for ‘easy’. 

Some people don’t like ‘easy’ and will at times, follow the path of most resistance, choosing to make life that little bit harder and more challenging. Now, you might think the Highland Trail is hard enough without imposing any handicaps on yourself or you might be one of a small group who think like Rich and Shona and believe that attempting it on a tandem is a really good idea.

1/ I have to ask this first because everyone’s thinking it – The HT is known for hike-a-bike sections amongst other things, so why a tandem?
Well, we both wanted to ride the route and were closing the shop to do so and wanted/needed to get back around the same time, so in keeping with the ITT ‘rules’ we decided riding the tandem meant we would get back at the same time (unless it went horribly wrong!). Also, we’d been waiting 5 years to get our hands on a Powderkeg- so it seemed a good opportunity to fully put it (and us) through it’s paces. 

A Powderkeg in it’s natural environment – what were the thinking?

2/ You used a Salsa Powderkeg, did you make any specific alterations for the HT?
Yep, we took all our lightweight stuff off our other bikes and threw it at the tandem to make it as light as possible. We rebuilt our wheels onto some Velocity Blunt SS rims (after checking with Velocity they’d be up to the job) we kept the Rohloff and dynamo hub.  We swapped our cranks to some Race Face Next SL carbon ones changed to carbon bars and that was about it really. By the time we’d finished it was 55lbs* all in with luggage. *To put that into perspective, the average bike at the WRT Weigh-in is heavier!

3/ Were you ever conscious that people around the world were following your every move via Trackleaders? 
No, apart from people we knew we didn’t think anyone would be that interested in our progress.

Simple perhaps but not easy.

4/ You looked to have packed very light, was there one item you wish you’d taken but didn’t?
We’re gear geeks so are quite lucky to have lightweight stuff, our kit consisted of 2 PHD Minim bags and 2 x Terra Nova bivys in the front roll (we don’t use sleeping mats).
Rear harness had a spare set of clothes each, waterproof 3/4’s, spare food. The frame bag had bike spares, batteries, more food and 2 synthetic jkts. Accessory pouch to the front money, charging cables, extra gloves, Smidge.
There wasn’t anything we missed, although more suntan lotion might have been useful (who’d have thought in Scotland!).

5/ What was the best thing you ate? … I appreciate that might be more to do with your condition than the actual quality of food consumed.
After our hardest day breakfast the following morning at the Whistlestop Cafe in Kinlochewe was amazing. It was worth the early finish to wait for it. Quinoa with pan fried mushrooms, spring greens and fried egg on top, toast, peanut butter., smoothies and gallons of coffee- we’d earned it!

You push it up there, I’ll just get a picture.

6/ Would you like to share you darkest / lowest moment with us?
I think we each had a different one. For Rich the we had pushing, hauling, carrying the bike from Fisherfield was it. The bit of path from Letterewe to Kinlochleven when we hit the tree filled ravine was certainly his low point. 
For me it was the last night when we realised we’d be spending another night out before pushing over Devils staircase. We’d really wanted to get back in 6 days- but disintegrating shoes (with no toes)  and very sore and knackered feet put   a stop to that. 

Luckily, the good weather this year meant it didn’t have to float.

7/ How much sleep did you get in total?
About 38 hours over 7 nights.

8/ Did you ever think you weren’t going to finish?
No- we just realised it was going to take a little longer.

9/ Did you use any gels, bars, drinks or potions or were you managing to eat ‘real’ food?
Mostly real food, we left with an accessory pocket bulging with burritos, our emergency backup was a couple of baggies of Peronin stashed away in case we lucked out on food stops and needed to keep going. 

The HT can quickly and easily turn new shoes into flip-flops.

10/ You now hold the Highland Trail Tandem record, will you be going back to see if you can better it?
Not next year- apart from the obvious hike a bike sections there were also large sections just unrideable on a tandem. Bits of single track just too narrow or twisty, for the longer wheelbase, we’d like to do it ‘solo’ next time to see how much faster and how much more we could ride. 

If the idea of ‘Tandempacking’ has caught your imagination, you might be interested to know, Rich and Shona have their previous tandem frame / forks for sale. The frame was custom built by 18 Bikes and is based on the geometry of 2 (small) Salsa El Mariachis and the forks are White Bros Tandem Loops. It can be run with 2.8″ b+ tyres or with 29″ tyres. If you’re interested and have £900ish contact Keep Pedalling and have a chat.


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