Alpacas and Andean inspiration

Posted by Megan Owen on

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Hailing from Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, I’m blessed with smooth country lanes in rolling countryside. One thing this sunny county does lack however, is hills and far reaching views.

Having only really been riding for the past 5 years, I’ve very quickly become hooked on the sense of freedom and adventure that two wheels bring. Whilst I own road and mountain bikes, I feel most comfortable and enthralled when I’m off the beaten track in search of somewhere isolated and untrodden, thus leading me to own a fleet of mountain bikes and one for the road.

Serving in the Royal Air Force gives me an excellent chance to travel to parts of the country, and the globe, which might be unattainable should I not be in this role. I have raced for my service, completed numerous adventure training packages and more recently, qualified as a Mountain Bike Instructor.

This not only allows me to enthuse others in the service with my passion for cycling, but to take them out of their comfort zones into some fairly harsh environments, where looking after your own admin, your team, and crucially your bike, takes them out of their happy space and puts them at stretch.

Controlled stretch is crucial in this line of work, finding out how you deal with situations and emotions when things aren’t in your control, when everything you own is wet, and you have to complete a task as part of a team can be summed up quite easily with cycling in remote areas whilst carrying all of your equipment.

All of this training for me and the small team I was part of, culminated in a once in a lifetime opportunity at the end of last year, bike packing from North to South Peru.

Looking back on all the training as we sat in our accommodation on the coast in northern Peru, suddenly it got very real. We had a route planned which would take up through the dry, barren expanse of the north, breathlessly climbing to altitude in the Peruvian Andes before descending very slightly towards Lake Titicaca on the southern border.

The ups, and wow were there some ups. Riding in Suffolk wouldn’t compare to what was around the corner. We had steadily climbed for weeks to around 3000m above sea level without noticing too much the decrease in oxygen levels, the steady pace of cycling the climbs was nothing to walking up a flight of stairs in a substandard back street hostel.

As a team we were hit hard by heat, illness, food poisoning and minor altitude sickness, but we managed to press on to our main goal of reaching the Huascaran National Park in the Peruvian Andes, topping out at around 5000m above sea level.

We remained at altitude, breathless and exhausted for some weeks after that, even dropping into the relative ‘low’ of Lake Titicaca we remained at an altitude that saw holiday makers sat in hotel lobbies taking on oxygen from the abundance of O2 canisters.

I was fairly done with bike packing on my return to the UK, but my appetite for instructing and seeing new things never left me. I have continued to travel, to lead groups across varied terrain and complete challenges which I constantly set myself.

My perception of what makes good kit, has changed. We used a variety of bike packing equipment whilst in Peru which was provided for us as part of our expedition kit, and although it stood up to task, I felt that I wanted more from certain aspects.

With these required qualities in mind, I took time to research and kept coming back to Restrap, some early YouTube videos caught my eye and seeing the frame bag on a friends steed gave me a good opportunity to take a closer look.

I was impressed by the quality, the robustness and firm feel of the kit whilst on the bike, so bit the bullet so to speak and bought a set. I own the saddle bag, bar bag and small frame bag. I regularly use the frame bag racing Enduro, it's compact and fits everything I need to keep me going on the trail. The saddle bag is used every day on my commute to work while the bar bag is yet to lose its bike packing virginity.

Fear not, I have plans!

I take much of my passion for travel from Levsion Wood, I find his enthusiasm infectious and his story telling captures my imagination be it in book form, or watching his recent TV programmes. Ranulph Fiennes interests me for some very similar reasons, yet his back story is a little more tasty.

Neither of these are known for their cycling exploits, but I don’t see how that matters. I draw on their passion for travel, knowledge, courage and if I would take away one thing from them, Levison Wood said “and above all else, travel”

by Jon Vogel