Sisters in the Wild
As a relative newbie to the bike scene (getting my first bike outside of childhood only last summer) I have to be honest and say I didn’t jump at the chance when Luke & Christian offered me a ticket to the inaugural Sisters in the Wild event. I was very keen, but incredibly nervous; would I be good enough? Would I get dropped? Would I fit it? Would I just end up in a heap on the floor if I couldn't unclip from my pedals quickly enough in a group? The answer to that last one is yes, fyi.
A bit of cajoling later, they had convinced me that I would survive the weekend and that the Lakes Gravel Gang (who'd they'd got to know recently) weren’t in fact as intimidating as my mind was leading me to believe.
I’m new to cycling but I’m no stranger to hiking and camping, plus I'm generally keen to try new things & meet new people, so I wasn't sure why this was making me so nervous. With this in mind, I put my big girl pants on, packed my bike down and squished it into the car along with a big box of energy bars and nut butters and headed north to meet the Sisters, nervousness slowly turning to excitement.
Before this weekend, I had never ridden my bike with anyone but my partner, Dan. I had never ridden on my own. I was also, I hate to say, reliant on Dan for any mechanical issues with my bike. I knew that if I wanted to progress with my riding then this had to change. On my arrival, Charlotte (chief organiser) introduced me to some of the other women and I started to settle in.
I swiftly got chatting to a group from all over the country, some who had come on their own, some with a friend and some with an entire gravel bike community in tow. First night nervous tension was in the air but the base camp vibes were soon in full swing. After a beautiful dinner and a beer later I was ready for an early night under the canvas.
I had signed up for the early bike mechanics session in the morning to meet the ‘Dan reliance’ issue head on, so wandered over with my bike and a coffee in hand. The session was run by Nottingham based community bike collective Women in Tandem who diligently ran us through our M-check (I was confused too... it’s an 11 point bike check recommended before all rides, creating an ‘M’ shape beginning at your rear wheel) and a puncture repair from start to finish, holey tubes provided!
Absolutely zero judgement, just women helping women, sharing knowledge and generally getting sh*t done.
There were two routes planned for the first day and I opted for the shorter, less technical route which ditched some of ‘the rough stuff’. We all quickly learned that any ride in the Lake District is not akin to one of equal distance in some of the less hilly parts of the country! (You can check the routes out on the Sisters in the Wild Komoot). It was easy to see that a lot of effort had gone into making these routes accessible but challenging and absolutely jam packed with some of the finest views the Lakes have to offer.
I won’t pretend it was an easy day but for me it was definitely more of a mental struggle than a physical one. Riding in a group on a very busy Lake District weekend took a fair amount of determination and luckily only one major wobble along the way. Although that’s not to mention the ill timed hand cramp rendering me unable to stop with the group at the bottom of a descent & putting my bike handling skills to the test... Turns out that under a lot of pressure they’re not as bad as I thought!
Back at camp Emma Kingston (Bikepacking England author) and Rachel Walker (Komoot ambassador) gave a Bikepacking 101 talk, sharing their abundance of knowledge and experience on everything from route planning and kit packing to poop trowels. The rest of the evening was passed sharing tales of the day around the campfire whilst toasting marshmallows and yes it was as idyllic as it sounds.
On Sunday there was a slightly subdued feel at base camp - tired legs from the day before or maybe one too many campfire marshmallows.
After another brilliant hands on session on gear maintenance, I opted for a shorter ride again with a busy drive back home looming and an intent to finish the weekend on a high. The guides were absolutely fantastic once again as they took a small group of us on a lake hopping tour of a very busy Ambleside, Coniston and Windermere.
Tent packed down, a quick dip in the nearby stream and it was time to start the journey home. The nerves of a couple of days before were no more and the weekend had passed by in a flash. I was leaving with so much more than I had arrived with. New friends, new Manchester based riding buddies (NorthernRoll.cc), my first puncture repair and first group ride. First cycling event, first time riding in the Lakes and a ton of new confidence.
SitW showed me that I am actually capable of more than I think and that riding in a group can be an amazing experience. I gained so much from watching others fly down descents and over loose sections of gravel that I would previously have questioned. The party-pace, no drop ethos of the women’s gravel riding and bikepacking community is something I would highly recommend.
Thank you Charlotte and your clan of trusty helpers - you absolutely nailed the first SitW event.
(Ed - and thanks Roxanna for the use of your images, they capture they weekend perfectly)