At the beginning of 2020, professional cross-country cyclist Emily Batty only had one thing in mind: the Olympic Games.
She began her chaotic race season earlier than usual, when she travelled to the Canary Islands in mid-January to compete in a UCI S1-ranked stage race. The goal was to acquire more ICU points, and, ensure that she could reach peak fitness levels by the time May’s Olympic-qualifying World Cup competition rolled around.
Despite never before competing in mountain bike stage racing, she landed on the podium in her first two showings, and the future seemed hopeful.
But then, 2020 began to unfold and the COVID-19 outbreak took the world by storm. The Olympic Games were postponed, and nearly every mountain bike event was cancelled, rescheduled, or affected in one way or another. Batty were forced to reevaluate her professional goals and find purpose outside of her detailed racing and training schedule.
Around the same time, her husband Adam Morka, older brother Eric Batty, and famed action-sports photographer, Chris Burkard, were scheming a nine-day, 917-kilometre bike-packing trip across Iceland. Burkard had done some previous cycling in the country, and Batty had been dozens of times, but never to complete an expedition of this scale. The plan was to cross east-to-west, riding primarily gravel and dirt roads, through a vast diversity of Icelandic landscapes. To their knowledge, no one had ever completed the trip.
A vacant competition schedule, alongside an ideal weather window, created a perfect formula to make the trip happen. The crew flew into Reykjavik, proceed to the small eastern village of Dalatangi, and set off.
Across endless fjords and mountain ranges, lava fields, black sand deserts, and jagged coastlines, the team rode a total of 975-kilometres, climbing 40,000 feet of elevation. In doing so, Batty once again found purpose riding her bike.
From redefining what it means to find happiness on a bike, to equipments tips and long-distance preparation, here are Batty’s greatest takeaways from her epic expedition.
Long-distance expeditions require a lot of preparation
Developing fitness levels, determining fuelling strategies and route making, and getting accustomed to your gear are essential components to any long-distance expeditions that should be dialled in months or weeks in advance, not the night before departing.
Emily strongly suggests building up fitness levels, and mixing in longer rides within your training so your joints and muscles can adapt to duration and load. While her training regiment didn’t chance much, she made sure to incorporate one to two long rides per weeks — each totally roughly 200 kilometres or seven to eight hours of riding. This buildup of endurance will ease your mental and physical state while pushing through those long, vigorous days.
Testing out your fuelling strategy and gear is also recommended before beginning a long haul. When cycling for 9+ hours a day, you want your stomach to be acclimated to whatever food you’ll be consuming — to alleviate stomachs aches, or accidents — so begin a consistent diet weeks before, and avoid any foreign foods on the expedition. Also, lay out your gear, test it, and figure out how it’s going to be packed.
Here’s a list of gear that Emily took across Iceland
Having the right equipment is key
For Emily, the greatest obstacle was overcoming the amount of weight and gear strapped to her bike, and body. While cycling up and down mountains for 917-kilometres is gruelling in itself, carrying roughly 80 pounds of equipment and food makes it a much more difficult feat.
“I’ve done many hard things throughout my career as a professional athlete, but bike-packing through Iceland may have been the toughest, between the terrain and challenging route, plus all of the gear,” wrote Emily in her recent blog post.
This is where frame bags come in handy. Transferring the contents of your backpack onto your bike allows you to shed weight and pressure from your body without losing any essential riding gear. It creates a much more comfortable, stable, and faster ride. Properly storing gear goes hand in hand with bringing straps. On major trips, you’ll likely have more items than you need with nowhere to store them, so it’s essential to have the ability to start strapping stuff everywhere.
Additionally, Emily she the importance of bringing the right clothing to be able adapt to ever-changing weather and environments. Iceland’s diverse natural landscape can mean traversing snowy mountain ridges, mossy lava fields, and black sand deserts, all in a days ride.
At the end of the day, biking is about having fun
This year was unusual to say the least. International travel came to a stand still, the Olympics were postponed, and nearly every sporting event was cancelled, rescheduled, or affected in someway or another. For many Olympic hopefuls, this meant reprioritizing seasonal goals and filling up an opened schedule.
I’ve had more fun riding my bike this past year than I ever have
Despite these unprecedented events, Emily saw this downturn as an opportunity to ride more with family and friends, explore new places, and enjoy her bike beyond the confines of competition. She’s continuously riding more to maintain health and wellness, and to simply just get around.
“I’ve had more fun riding my bike this past year than I ever have,” she explained. “It's been a different year for everyone, and with no overall, the races being so late in the year, my main focus was to have fun, enjoy the moment and hopefully collect some UCI points along the way.”
Returning to the competition circuit this past month, Emily placed 27th overall in the Austrian UCI World Championship event. She attributed her finish to a lack of racing, saying that the limited racing opportunities in North America in past year showed in North American athlete race results, including her own.
However, she’s eager to return to competition next season with more fire than ever.
It's been cool seeing how much depth there is in women's racing now, I feel like 2021 will be the most exciting year of racing we've ever seen,” she added.
“I’m ending the season super hungry and motivated for top performances in the new year.”