The Pink Dots: A Story from the Highland Trail 550 (Video)
“The Pink Dots” is a new video from Annie Le that focuses on the women who took on the 2022 edition of the iconic Highland Trail 550 bikepacking race in Scotland. Rather than highlighting only the racers at the front of the pack, Annie set out to share the stories of riders from across the field, including those with differing definitions of success. Find the video, photos, and a written introduction here…
Words, photos, and video by Annie Le
The Highland Trail route was created by Alan Goldsmith in 2013. The first edition ran as a 400-mile route, skipping what is known today as the Northern Loop. Alan designed the route as a warmup route for anyone hoping to ride the Colorado Trail. Widely regarded as one of the more rugged and challenging bikepacking routes in existence, the 550-mile Highland Trail carry riders over a wide variety of surfaces from smooth tarmac to rocky, boggy terrain where there’s hardly a path to be found. The weather in the Scottish Highlands is always unpredictable, and riders should expect to encounter rain at some point.
Iona Evans was the first woman to take on the route, joining the 2014 grand depart on the now-550-mile route and finishing tin 9 days, 12 hours, and 54 minutes. Three women took on the challenge the following year, and their numbers trickled upwards until 2022, when they doubled, jumping into double figures with 17 starters. Over the nine editions, 421 men have registered rides on the route, compared with just 54 women, meaning the pink dots make up 8% of all starters. The women have a slightly higher finish rate, with 57% of starters going on to complete the route compared with 54% of men.
Lee Craigie set the current women’s record in 2018 with a blistering time of 3 days, 20 hours and 53 minutes. The men’s record was set in 2017 by BIKEPACKING.com’s Neil Beltchenko in 3 days, 10 hours, and 22 minutes. Only two women have completed the route on a singlespeed, with Gemma Baird taking the record from Isla Rowantree in 2022 with a ride of 5 days, 9 hours, and 48 minutes. The men’s singlespeed record is held by Liam Glen at 3 days and 11 hours, set in 2021. Amazingly, the route has been completed on a tandem, with Shona and Rich setting the bar at 7 days and 4 hours in 2016.
A combination of Alan’s motivational powers and the women’s bikepacking community will hopefully raise the starting number of women riders to try and have equal numbers on the start line, as well as making trans and non-binary riders feel more welcome and encourage them to sign up. With organisations like the Big Ride Gang and the Steezy Collective’s Trailblazers project, the future feels bright for inclusion in bikepacking and bikepacking races in the UK.
This film was created to try and fill a gap I noticed. It’s unusual to see a race film that features the women’s field or even riders outside the top few. There’s so much more to racing than the few at the top chasing podiums and records, and I wanted to show the camaraderie and the socialising and give an insight into the motivations of those who choose to sign up for a grand depart. Every rider is valid, no matter their aims or the end result, and all riders have stories to tell from the experience. I hope you enjoy watching The Pink Dots and that maybe it will inspire one or two more women to sign up in future.
Highland Trail 550
The Highland Trail explores 550 miles of the most rugged and remote terrain in the Scottish Highlands. The route features world class singletrack and dirt roads with stunning views throughout, but you must put in some serious effort to reap the rewards. The most impressive sections will require some hike-a-bike for even the most proficient mountain bikers. Find the full route guide here.
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