Steezy Lakeland 200 Project: Part 1 (Film)
Last month, six friends from the Steezy Collective—a UK-based group of women, non-binary, and trans riders—took on the challenging Lakeland 200 route, soaking in five days of adventure through the beautiful Lake District. Find the film they shot along the way and a written recap of the trip here…
After a trip last year, we onboarded Jade Field, endurance rider and aspiring off-road ultra-distance athlete, onto our organising committee. Jade had signed up to the infamous Highland Trail 550 and proposed doing an off-road practice trip that could potentially be a Steezy trip later in the year. We were in!
Searching BIKEPACKING.com for routes in the UK, we discovered the Lakeland 200. It looked hard but challenging enough to satisfy the needs of someone heading to the Highland Trail. When we landed our eyes upon the creator, Alan Goldsmith, we knew we had struck gold! A route by the HT550 organiser himself. After emailing Alan, we knew it was the best trip to train for the Highland Trail but, he also provided some extra information: there is yet to be a women’s record for the Lakeland 200 (this is important later!). The language around the route has always seemed very intimidating. Knowing our capabilities and attitudes, this wasn’t off-putting, but it could be for many. This became part of the mission, create a film that shows the good bits, the bad bits but also that six amateur riders can do it.
We assembled a group of six to scout the route and give Jade the training boost she needed. A range of experience and skillsets created our Lakeland 200 dream team:
- Kitty Dennis (she/her): The organised one who had a spreadsheet for everything, but maybe wasn’t the biggest fan of pushing her bike for miles.
- Alice Clews-Smith (she/her): The Lake District local, provided some tidbits for us as we swooped around the Lakes.
- Taylor Doyle (she/her): An unstoppable bundle of good vibes who can tackle anything you throw her way.
- Jade Field (she/her): A machine who uses her gravel bike for trails most wouldn’t ride on a full-suspension bike.
- Pau Wong (she/her): Has been mountain biking for 15 years yet has never wild camped before!
- Vanessa Lowe (she/her): Relatively new to mountain biking but no one can top her smiley disposition.
And the final recruit was filmmaker Catherine Dunn, brought on board to document our mission whether we loved it, hated it, failed completely, or finished in a day (more than unlikely). Catherine has worked with the inspirational Adventure Syndicate, and you can’t find anyone else more capable of pushing a fully loaded bike with 20 kilograms of camera equipment while still filming.
T-minus one day and the call no one wanted to hear came: Catherine had COVID. Wow. Out of everyone, this was the lynchpin of our film. It was time to get creative. With two old DSLR cameras, a mirrorless camera, and two GoPros from the early 2010s, we had some filming equipment. With six sets of semi-steady hands and a willing stand-in for a day of cinematic shots, Dave MacFarlane, the panic was over. Catherine guided us through the process, and suddenly the bikepacking world had six new Michael Bays on its hands.
With a mid-March kick-off, we had packed winter kit ready for rain and mizzle as a constant companion. Our week of uninterrupted sunshine felt like a gift from the bike gods. It would be cold at night but the sun rays followed us like a magnet and made the route a little more inviting.
Day 1: Pleasant Riding Ahoy!
With a messy mix of anticipation and excitement bubbling through the warm air at Staveley on our first morning, we headed out, the opposite way the route was presented here on this site. Out and over the back of the fells to Troutbeck and into Ambleside, the sun had dried out the boggy sections and the flowing trails comforted us. This section of the route is deceiving, with easy riding, very little hike-a-bike, and a few gentle road sections. Even after Ambleside, the route over Loughrigg is a staple of Lake District riding. A tiny hike-a-bike brought us to our wild camp spot at the top of Iron Keld. Five days of this, it was going to be a breeze!
Day 2: Tree down
A crispy frost greeted us with the sun gently rising through the trees, it was another day of sun and mild temperatures. A win. From the minute we woke up until we hit Coniston at around halfway, we were tackling downed trees. A recent storm had blown through and ripped up all of them. The bridlepaths and fire roads offered a weak spot in the interwoven tree root network and ultimately led to a pile of impenetrable trunks strewn across the path. We spent hours traversing the woods, climbing over trees and bushwhacking as we went. A 50-kilometer ride can quickly turn into a chore when it involves carrying your bike like an injured animal for miles on end. The reward was sweet: a stop at the Esthwaite Fishery Cafe overlooking Hilltop, Beatrix Potter’s house.
Day two is where the hike-a-bike began and never finished. We hiked up Walna Scar, descended into the valley, and continued in this manner up a few lumps until we hit the pub at Seathwaite and filled ourselves up on warm food and laughter all the way to our hidden campsite.
Day 3: We don’t talk about Day 3
Of course, we had all read about Black Sail Pass. We knew it would be hard, but there is something quite different between reading about it and doing it. When a hike-a-bike turns into a carry-a-bike, it’s entertaining for about 20 metres before it becomes tiring and finally untenable. We were cooked as we crawled down into the valley toward the most remote youth hostel in the UK. The 5 p.m. darkness was encroaching. What was the next step? A thing to note about the UK’s network of youth hostels is that the biggest organisation, YHA, closes all minor hostels in the off-season, including Black Sail. We missed it by a week as they opened the first week of April. There was no choice, we had to get to Keswick for 10 p.m.
Climbing back over to the other side was less challenging as the in-built steps provided stability and the gradient eased off somewhat. The descent, however, was in the dark, and it could be classed as more of a scramble than a walk. The only thing that guided us to the bottom of Honister Pass was the well-placed cairns along the path. Broken lights and broken people we routed along the road to the YHA in Keswick, making sure we made it by 10 p.m.
Day 4: The Reward
We were beginning to wonder what we’d done in a past life to deserve day three but, after a wash and some food, day four explained it. With mostly rideable doubletrack, another day of stunning weather, some of the Lakes’ most sought-after mountain biking routes, and minimal perilous hike-a-bike, it was unmatched in any of our riding experiences. Even the hike over from Dalehead to Brotherswater was worth the swooping descent. It was even worth deviating from the route slightly to hit the Sykeside campsite, attached to the Brotherswater Inn, for a shower and a meal.
Day 5: Closer
Three miles in four hours. High Street. This wasn’t like Black Sail. It was a different kind of hard. Where Black Sail had chunky rock steps cut into the side of the fell, High Street has sloppy ground on the grass and small rocky sections littered around the fellside. A slog through and through. Alice, the local, had promised an unbelievable descent on the other side, so we pushed on. Vanessa’s Achilles Tendinitis flared and Jade’s 6 p.m. train loomed ever closer. We got there, and the old Roman ruins atop High Street provided enough shelter to jacket up against the mizzle. Ready to descend along the flowy trail, smiles spread infectiously around the group. On we went to the sound of bleeping GPS devices. Hang on, why? This was Alan’s last gift for the Lakeland 200: we weren’t going down the flowing route, we were going down the sheep trail to the right.
Thank you to all the people who made this possible! Rapha UK, Hope WMN, Komoot, Apidura, and a big thanks to Dave for coming to join us last minute on Day 1.
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