Going the Distance with Jenny Graham

Going the Distance with Jenny Graham

Tell us a bit about yourself, and a little bit about some of the rides you’ve done in the past.

It's fair to say I'm fairly obsessed with most things bike related (except maybe cleaning them!) but the thing I love most is the freedom they give you to travel long distances, self-propelled. There's something about the pace of life and the world gradually changing around you that I find quite enchanting.

I've raced in some cool bike-packing events like; Highland Trail 550, Arizona Trail 750, Pan Celtic, Cairngorms loop, Capital Trail, Yorkshire dales 300 and as much as I love the community and challenge involved in these I probably most enjoy a good point to point route, particularly if its crossing mountain ranges, countries or even continents. Some of my favourites have been; The Haute Route, Trans Pyrenees, The Colorado Trail, Winter LEJOG, Trans-Romania and Round-the-World.

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How did you get into long distance riding?

I've ridden a bike since the age of 3 and always had great fun on it but it was mostly used for quite practical reasons. Getting to friends houses, shops, school or to the woods to make dens. It wasn't until I was a young adult that I was introduced to mountain biking as a sport. I instantly fell in love with the fun you could have hooning down the hillside and the places it could take you. Slowly over the years my miles expanded, each time I hit a new milestone in distance it left me questioning: "How much further could I go?".

My first insight into ultra-distance racing on the bike was when a friend showed me Track Leaders page for the Highland Trail 550. I begun following Iona Evans who was the only pink dot out there that year and the first ever female finisher!! I was confused why more woman weren't taking part in this clearly awesome event... and that was the start of it.

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What’s your favourite local ride, and what makes it so special?

I'm so spoilt for choice with the Highlands of Scotland as my playground. I frequently ride in Torridon, Fisherfields and the Cairngorms which all have world class trails!

But there's this 20 mile loop that I do from my front door that takes me to a stony beach on the shores of Loch Ness. There's a pub and tonnes of driftwood so it's great with pals or just for a midweek camp out on a starry night.

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Tell us about your most epic ride yet…

The biggest one (to date) has been my pedal around the planet. It was a trip of purposeful adventure as I was on a mission to gain the Guiness World Record and become the fastest female to circumnavigate the world by bike. I travelled solo and self-supported riding 18,300 miles in 124 days and 11 hours.

The route took me through 16 countries, across 4 continents and without a doubt was one massive EPIC! I averaged 156 miles per day throughout, bivied at the side of the road and was powered mostly by cheese puffs and chocolate milkshake!

What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned while bikepacking/racing?

It doesn't matter how many times you do it! Putting on your wet chamois the next morning never gets any easier!

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What makes cycling and bikepacking truly great for you?

It's the simplicity of carrying only what I need to survive on the bike with me. Each item is carefully selected and I'm hyper aware of any luxury I've taken as they weigh me down on the hills.

When I get back home after a big trip, I feel the suffocation of all the stuff that life allows you to accumulate (stuffocation- it's a thing!)

Without truly testing how little I can live on whilst remaining content, I think I'd continue filling the spaces in my life with things that bring very little joy and indeed only weigh me down.

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What piece of kit could you not live without?

Oooooh my bike of course!

If you have any top tip for a newbie bikepacker, what would it be?

I have 3 pieces of advice for any newbies -

1. KIT - Don't get too bogged down with feeling like you should have the best of kit before you can have an adventure! I travelled the length of Romania with some dry bags and bungee cords so get creative and have fun before you splash out.

2. FRIENDS- Try find people to go with but if you can't - go do it anyway! I'm a big believer in "your vibe attracts your tribe". Go solo, reign in your expectations and shout about it. Your people will find you and you'll be all the more capable when they do!

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3. BITE SIZE - Social media makes it look like we all just rolled out of bed and rode for 1000's of miles, but we didn't!! Even the gnarliest of adventurers talk about feeling intimidated on their first few nights out! Pick a route that excites you but also has some bail out options. You'll probably never use them but having them in place will help you leave the house! Expect to be exhausted after it - it doesn't make you rubbish it just means you've had a great time!

If you feel like you can take it one step further, try going for two nights. In my experience the first morning is spent rejoicing in the fact that you're still alive but by the second morning you are becoming feral and it's at that point the real magic happens!

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What’s your go-to riding food and why?

Squeezy cheese and oatcakes. It's just classic isn't it.

What are your plans for this year ahead?

I'm currently making my way home from the south of Spain by bike. I've linked up a number of pre-established gravel routes and so far it's been an absolute treat! There's no heroic efforts going on just slow and steady as I'm working on editing my upcoming Round The World book as I go so LOTS of time laying around by my tent with my stove on seemingly endless boil.

Jenny Graham (@jennygrahamis_)

Photo Credit: Markus Stitz (@reizkultur) & Andy McCandlish⁠

jenny graham bikepacking restrap