written by Alice Williams, Gillian MacDonald and Abby Poppleston
SITW is built on the community that it nurtures so we thought it would be best to ask a few of the 2022 attendees to share with us their experience of the weekend. We asked them to keep it short but hopefully you'll agree that we couldn't edit these down, it's a slightly long read but oh so worth it.
To Charlotte & the team, an amazing job once more, 2023 - sign us up!
Alice Williams - @a_may_williams
Coming into this event I really didn’t know how it could top last year's gathering, which literally turned my life around. I entered the 2021 gathering in a really bad spot mentally, having lost my love of riding and left the bike industry. I arrived alone, but luckily, so did many other people, and I soon found my tribe of new friends, who have all gone on to be adventure pals in so many ways! I was invited by my friend Charlotte, the organizer, to help out with mechanics. I enjoyed sharing my skills and the amazing off road rides so much, that come September I left my job as a primary teaching assistant and re-started my life as a mechanic, refurbishing old bangers for The Bike Project, a charity which gets refugees riding.
Arriving at 2022’s event, I was buoyed with confidence, having spent the past year testing out my new found off road cycling legs and rejuvenating my professional career. SITW 2022 did not disappoint. It maintained all of its low key friendly DIY ethos but with added perks of a more professional event, coffee van, free cakes, inside campfire space, even showers! The vibe however remained as friendly as ever, as a social introvert, even I can make friends at this event! As a mechanic my calendar was jam-packed with sessions, Charlotte had really made sure to cover all bases for all riders, and everything they might need to learn. I was surprised and pleased with how well attended the sessions were. I had thought people might just want to hang out and ride, but I also think I take for granted knowing how to fix my bike. There turned out to be so many riders who I look up to as more experienced than me, that still don’t feel confident around mechanics. I met some amazing people who are taking on big challenges this year, and I really hope that the knowledge I shared will be helpful (though I also hope they don’t need to use it!).
It was so inspiring to meet a woman who has the confidence to branch out on her own, and not feel the imposter syndrome that so many of us in male dominated environments experience...
I was lucky enough to be assisting the amazing Vicky Bikes, who was running and teaching all the sessions. It was so inspiring to meet a woman who has the confidence to branch out on her own, and not feel the imposter syndrome that so many of us in male dominated environments experience. Vicky has an infectious enthusiasm and calm energy, embodied by her Mindful Mechanics ethos. I am trying to carry this zenergy through into my everyday life, but I have to admit, I still get absolutely fuming with trixty bikes on a daily basis, and have to step away to avoid velo violence. I learnt so much from her teaching style, and as we have different ways of explaining things, felt we complemented each other perfectly. It was also so joyful to be joined by Vicky’s daughter Cece, who was a fantastic addition to the SITW team, making everybody feel welcomed, loved and appreciated. Another person I enjoyed meeting was Abby, who recently took on the Montanas Vacias Rally on her 90s GT Zaskar. This can do confidence and any bike will do attitude has inspired me to take my own 26 inch wheels on the Komoot Torino Nice Rally this autumn!
On reflection this wonderful weekend has pushed my life forward in a number of ways. I have realized that if Vicky can do it (whilst looking after her kids!), so can I. I am now thinking about solo business plans for the autumn when my freelance work at The Bike Project dries up. I have never before met somebody in the bike industry who I can really see as a relatable role model, striking out on their own. When introducing myself at Vicky’s sessions I realized I have been a mechanic for over 10 years. Of course I can teach other people! It’s strange how as women, even a decade of experience sometimes still isn’t enough to instill self belief. It was also teaching and sharing knowledge at Sisters which made me appreciate actually how much I do know, there’s rarely a question I can’t answer! I look forward to working with Vicky and Cece again, I feel hopeful and excited for where my career could go now. I feel empowered and energized to take bold steps forward in my work and cycling life, thanks once again to Sisters In The Wild.
Gillian MacDonald - @gilly.bones
I have a confession to make: I didn’t actually cycle that much at Sisters in the Wild this year. This was my second year going, and I was really looking forward to it. Last year I was slightly nervous. I went on a whim after seeing an Instagram notice from someone I had met a few times (hint: it was Bird Outdoors founder herself, Hannah) and I was intrigued. I had recently started cycling longer distances, but I had never been gravel cycling before. But I thought it looked like a fun opportunity to meet some new outdoorsy friends and enjoy a wholesome weekend in the Lake district. So I got some gravel tires put on my bike, and that was that. It was an incredible weekend, full of amazing people, and the most exhilarating time I had ever had on my bike.
One year later, I was excited and nervous for a slew of other reasons. I had made some friends and found some local groups through last year’s Sisters in the Wild, and I was excited to see those people. I was excited to catch up with people I hadn’t seen since the last event. And I was excited to see some cycling-loving friends who were attending for the first time. And I was a bit nervous, as well. I had been focusing on other sports lately, and hadn’t done a lot of hours on my bike this year. I had gone out in the Peaks a few weekends ago, and had noticed that I had a weird injury bothering me a bit on hills that I hadn’t been able to get checked out. I didn’t know how I was going to fare on those big Lake District hills. But I shrugged it off, and didn’t let that stop me.
I arrived pretty late on Friday night, but driving into the event, I was greeted by the bright face of a rider I met last year who recognised me instantly. That instantly put me at ease, and I spent the night catching up with friends, riders I hadn’t seen since last year, and meeting a slew of new riders (and very friendly dogs) as well.
The next day, when we started riding, my weird injury reared its ugly head almost immediately. It flared up and made every single hill I rode up painful. I won’t lie that it was pretty demoralising. I’m not great at hills as it is, and having to give up and walk up most of them didn’t help my hill insecurity. Halfway through the short ride, I ended up listening to my body and tapping out. I had the energy, but didn’t want to push through the pain. I’ve just started training for a marathon, and I didn’t know if pushing through would be fine or make things worse. It was frustrating. I sat down and had a little cry. And for a few days after the event, I felt sorry for myself. Annoyed that I didn’t get as much out of biking as others did, or as much as I did last year. It felt like I didn’t make the most of the weekend.
Even if much cycling wasn’t in the cards for me this year, the community this event brings together is just as worth it.
After a few days, I tried to shake that feeling of missing out, or not being strong or fit enough, off. Cycling aside, there was so much I still got out of the weekend. Last year I went into this event nervous, only knowing one person out of a group of 80. It felt great arriving this year and instantly recognizing so many people. Hearing stories of new adventures, and getting the real stories that aren’t always shared on Instagram (who would have guessed cycling around a Spanish mountain range is actually, you know, really hard?) Being able to see bright ideas come to life, like Hannah making her idea for Bird Outdoors into a whole community and physical stall in under a year! Reflecting on all the groups it’s brought into my life this past year. And meeting a whole gang of wonderful new people, as well! Even if much cycling wasn’t in the cards for me this year, the community this event brings together is just as worth it. The event may only be a weekend, but the community it brings together has made a much longer lasting impact on my life.
Abby Poppleston - @abby_popplestone
When I came to the first Sisters in the Wild event in 2021, I was brand new to bikepacking and didn’t know a single person. I felt nervous. Would I fit in? Or would I embarrass myself by revealing just how much of an amateur I was and be immediately shunned from the group? (THEY’RE GONNA KNOW).
I got there late and most people had already pitched their tent. Like the new girl arriving half way through term, I tentatively shuffled my way through the tents, hoping someone would take pity on me and invite me into their camp.
Within minutes I was enveloped by the New Forest Off Road Club and ushered to a spare spot just big enough for me and my little tent. I quickly set it up and as I finished, Sue handed me a beer and I exhaled for the first time that evening. I settled next to my canvas palace, surrounded by a mysterious group of people. Could they be new friends?
I thought, alright, so far so good, but will everyone else be this welcoming? What happens when we go riding and I can’t keep up?
Turns out, everyone WAS that welcoming.
I signed up for a beginners group ride, meaning I rode with people like me. Our ride leaders, Rachael and Rachel, were fantastic and made a real effort to get to know everyone and passed on excellent tips like when to change gears and how to position your body when climbing. We took it steady with plenty of snack stops (important) and we embraced every photo opportunity. This wasn’t a ride for high mileage or stats, it was about having fun on your bike in a lush landscape with gorgeous people. It didn’t matter if you were slow, you weren’t left behind. No one batted an eye when I caned my inhaler 25 times up the first climb.
The rest of the weekend was much the same. I attended bike mechanic lessons and learned LOADS, I dipped in rivers, ate delicious meals and felt the warm sun on my face. Sisters in the Wild attracts people with a great energy and I left feeling empowered to ride my bike, and that I'd made a bunch of new friends.
Coming back to the event this year felt like coming home, so many of my friends were there and lots of new faces, too.
I spent much of the next year visiting people I'd met at Sisters in the Wild and now they’re proper mates. I feel like wherever I go in the country, I’ve got Sisters in the Wild pals I can ride with. Coming back to the event this year felt like coming home, so many of my friends were there and lots of new faces, too. Charlotte stepped it up so much this year and it’s going to get bigger and better every single time.
I’ve fallen in love with bikepacking and I’ve got Charlotte and this event to thank for giving me the confidence and skills to lean into it, and for introducing me to friends who wanna ride their bikes, too.
Whoever you are, whatever your experience or knowledge you’ll be welcomed with open arms at Sisters in the Wild and I guarantee you, you’ll leave fired up with a bunch of new ideas, skills and friends.