The 500km rally commenced in Edinburgh this June, rolling through the Scottish borders, across the Pennines - the backbone of England and finally into the Yorkshire Dales to end the ride in central Manchester.

Most riders complete the rally in 5 days, riding roughly 100km a day but a few speedy athletes set out to ride it in 3 days. Rapha are hot on promoting the fact it’s not a race and that riders can expect a friendly environment, ideal for anyone wanting to dip their toes into the world of bikepacking. TEKKERZ team rider Amy Perryman and bikepacking newbie, was one of the 100 athletes of all ages, genders and cycling backgrounds that set out to conquer the Pennines this year. After an eye-opening riding experience saying “It’s quite a beautifully peaceful life to only focus on pedalling, food, water and where you’ll sleep that night”, Amy has laid out her top 5 reasons as to why you should enter the Rally next year…

1. You're never alone

Although most people enter as a solo rider, you are never short of conversation on route. I actually set out as a pair with my friend @tomhardies because the thought of riding alone scared me. I have never done consistent distances like this before, let alone on gravel, carrying 20 kgs extra on the bike! Entering by myself was a step too far out of my comfort zone. However, 2 days in, Tom had to retire due to a flared injury, as a result I continued on … solo.

As a collective of people all setting off with the same goal, on the same GPX route, with the same cafes/camp spots in mind…actually you are very far from alone. The Pennine Spirit coursed through everyone, every rider up the road was an open invitation for chat, a helping hand or simply some gentle encouragement, we were all in it alone but somehow together. Naturally, being a social butterfly I chatted my way through some sections, (having some of the most insightful conversations with people who were once strangers), yet managed to find peace and comfort in riding with my own thoughts too, something I often find difficult.

2. Switch off from the outside world

When your only focuses are on keeping the pedals turning over, where you’ll next find food and seeking a mosquito free camp spot for the night, you can zone out from the outside world. A significant lack of phone signal in the Scottish Borders and all the way through Kielder forest, meant switching my phone onto aeroplane mode to conserve battery and being totally immersed in the wild. For the first 3 days riding, there was very little contact with civilization aside from our collective of riders congregating at a few local pubs in tiny villages and as the GPX route sent us off up into the Scottish hills, we were met with an abyss of nothing yet also everything. A specific landscape of green rolling hills, very few trees and too many sheep to count had me feeling as though I'd entered a Bob Ross painting.

I speak about riding in “the zone” a lot when describing my cyclocross racing, it’s a feeling that only comes about every so often but when it does you feel like you’re floating. It’s a mindless flow-like state that has me so focused yet completely dissociated at the same time. I found peace in the solidarity of riding in the middle of nowhere, trusting only a small line on a map to point me to home, yet the reality was I'd never felt safer and more at home in the saddle, tapping away at the pedals, thinking about everything, yet nothing at all.

3. The route

Huge kudos to the team at Outdoor Provisions and Rapha UK, they managed to curate a route across the backbone of England so unique, compelling and quite frankly perfect. Not easy to do by bike. With Britain being a maze of bridleways, walking trails and roads it's often tricky to pull the good from the bad from a simple OS map. Aside from one or two sections of intentional bushwhacking on overgrown bridleways through Kielder forest, the route was all completely rideable no matter the bike you chose to ride. Where a MTB has a few more easier gears for the climbs and better handling over loose descents; the gravel bike was often light and faster rolling on road sections or quick fire trails.

Not having to worry about a route and trusting you stayed on acceptable bike paths made planning so much easier. It allowed me to fully switch-off whilst riding, knowing I could have faith in where the GPX would take me.

4. It’s NOT a race

The idea of the Rally is that it isn't a race and positioning or time limits should not be a concern, therefore enabling full immersion into the ways of the wild. Having the whole day to complete the (more or less) 100km route and with no rush to be anywhere, lifts the pressure of wanting to stick to an average speed or various other statistics. The GPS trackers provided enable you to track where on route everyone was but actually a mix of lack of 4G and not wanting to know, meant I never actually checked the tracker. At the end of each day, most of the riders are usually congregated in some pub garden or campsite all together, discussing the adventures of the day. Until the next morning, where people begin to gradually disperse.

As someone who has spent their whole cycling career focused on competing and racing - essentially to win, switching off that competitive side of my brain does not come naturally. It took me a few days to overcome the overwhelming feeling like I was falling behind and not wanting to stop for as long as we were ‘losing positions’. However, once I settled into the adventure, I got completely lost in a different mindset. Every cyclist I passed or was passed by, was simply a new face, with new stories to hear.

5. The perfect entry into bikepacking

With gravel cycling and bikepacking becoming ever so popular in the last few years, many people are keen to get involved in the ever growing community of explorers but are struggling with how to begin. The Rapha Pennine Rally is the ultimate beginners entry, with lots of unknowingness involved to create a challenge but enough support as to not dissuade people from starting. If you've been tempted for a while to get out into the wild but are worried about how you’d cope, this is the ideal beginning point. Allowing you to tinker with your bike setup, test your physical/mental limits, all without stress of route planning. No matter your background in cycling, commuter or racer, the goal is never unreachable, it just depends on how badly you want it.

Will you be entering next year?

When asked to pitch the Pennine Rally to you, it's hard to not mention the realities that you’ll be washing kit in rivers, overusing chamois cream, scanning for tics in unholy places and experiencing some very broken sleeping patterns. But, this is bikepacking. Forcibly putting yourself into uncomfortable situations is often where you find the most beautiful things in life.

Take it from me, it was one of the best 5 days of riding I’ve ever done and I've been lucky enough to ride in some incredible locations over the years; something about back-garden adventuring in my own country made the Pennine Rally incredibly special. You can either trust me or try it out for yourself next year - the cards are now in your hands.

Watch the whole story on my socials @amyperryman_

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