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Explore your boundaries: New film charts lockdown adventures of cycling champions Mark Beaumont and Markus Stitz

Mark Beaumont and Markus Stitz cycling through a tunnel in Edinburgh.
Mark Beaumont and Markus Stitz cycling through a tunnel in Edinburgh.

Blairgowrie-born cycling star Mark Beaumont teamed up with Bikepacking Scotland founder Markus Stitz to make a film about exploring their local area during lockdown. Gayle Ritchie finds out more.

Being in a state of lockdown for months on end has left many of us feeling trapped and frustrated.

Rules which tell us we’re not allowed to stray beyond the confines of our local council area – and, for a long time, to stay home – have seemed to squeeze every drop of joy out of life.

Initially, the travel restrictions put a dampener on Mark Beaumont and Markus Stitz’s hopes of venturing further afield, but instead of grumbling about it, the duo decided to get out and explore everything on their doorstep.

Perthshire native Mark, who broke the world record for cycling around the world, and Markus, the founder of Bikepacking Scotland and the first person to ride a single speed bicycle round the world, teamed up to map 11 routes across Scotland.

They then rode the boundary around Edinburgh, where they both live, plus a few rugged, hilly locations close to the city in Midlothian.

The idea was to show that great adventures can indeed happen from your front door; that the possibilities for discovering the new and exciting in familiar territory are endless.

Mark riding through deep snow.

The cyclists created a collection of routes around the city, and then worked together to produce an inspirational documentary titled “Explore your Boundaries”.

Thereafter, they created 23 routes based around Scottish boundaries.

These range in length from 30 to 315 miles and explore a wide range of terrain across Angus, Aberdeen, Fife and Perthshire and beyond.

“The concept of ‘Explore your Boundaries’ aims to encourage people to see familiar and local areas in unfamiliar ways, showing how great adventures can happen from your own front door, no matter what season, time of day or other external influences,” says Markus, 41.

Markus enjoys a cold, dark cycle.

The pair headed out in the depths of winter, battling snow and ice in sub-zero conditions. It was tough.

After Markus filmed a series of drone shots, he needed an hour to warm up his fingers which were frozen solid from being exposed to the cold for 15 minutes.

“The film is a great example of how much fun winter cycling can be,” reflects Markus.

“Lockdown presented a lot of challenges, but also the opportunity to explore our home areas in much more detail.

“There are still places I discover around Edinburgh each day. With the right mindset and attitude the city isn’t boring, even without all the great amenities it usually offers.”

Mark and Markus enjoyed embracing all the rides on their doorstep.

Mark, who met up with Markus to cycle together once a week, where possible, throughout winter, agrees.

“Within a short distance of a city of half a million people you’ve got proper wilderness,” says the 38-year-old.

“You’ve got the Pentlands, you’ve got the hills, you’ve got this incredible landscape.

“It’s great cycling has been allowed throughout all lockdowns, and as someone who naturally ventures away from people, it has given me the opportunity to get to places lesser known.”

The snow didn’t put the cyclists off.

Once they had thawed out, Mark and Markus hooked up online to map a further 12 adventure cycling routes along the boundaries of other local authorities before uploading them to the route mapping app Komoot.

The routes include Angus – which Markus describes as “especially fascinating” as it includes coastal tracks and some of the highest passes you can cycle in Scotland in the Southern Cairngorms National Park – and Aberdeen, which was mapped, planned and tested by their cycling comrade Craig Thompson.

“It’s great cycling has been allowed throughout all lockdowns, and as someone who naturally ventures away from people, it has given me the opportunity to get to places lesser known.”

Mark Beaumont

 

They’re now considering mapping routes for the few remaining Scottish local authority boundaries to complete the collection.

“The concept of ‘Explore your Boundaries’ works on two levels – as physical routes and journeys that inspire sustainable adventures and responsible access to the countryside, but it’s also about pushing our own ambitions, physically and psychologically,” muses Markus.

“We want to guide locals and visitors away from crowded hotspots to lesser known parts of Scotland, places that have spare capacity to welcome people.

“By riding our bikes responsibly and promoting those areas through social media, as well as in a film, we hope to inspire people to continue to ‘explore their boundaries’, in the same way we explore our own.”

Mark Beaumont on a snowy cycle.

Both hope their winter experience will inspire others to follow in their footsteps, or, well, bike tracks.

“As long as you know what you’re doing and you’ve got the right kit, there’s no weather, no time of day, no month of the year you can’t get out and explore,” says Mark.

“ The ‘doorstep mile’ is often the hardest as you make that step into the cold for a run, dog walk, cycle or any other cold weather exercise, so being mentally prepared is key.”

Cold? Wet? Snowing? Mark and Markus advise just getting out and cracking on with it!

And while winter cycling is often portrayed as a cold, uncomfortable slog, Markus hopes the film will paint a picture of an inspiring and amazing experience.

““There’s a very different side to cycling in winter and we want to share that joy,” he says.

“I first discovered winter cycling in 2010 when I rode home from Edinburgh to my parents’ place in Germany for Christmas – and that was the last year I remember loads of snow in Edinburgh.

“While the journey was pretty tough at times, it also introduced me to the joys of cycling in winter, of cycling in the snow.

“And ever since then I get my bike ready for winter and try to go out as much as possible and really enjoy the elements.”

Markus Stitz – frozen but happy.

The adventurers have known each other a few years, first having lunch together in 2015 before Markus set off on his round-the-world trip, but “Explore your Boundaries” was their first shared project.

“It’s been fantastic riding with Mark as he is a strong rider,” says Markus.

“We’ve both done larger expeditions around the world and needed focus and motivation to get us through a difficult period.

“We both love storytelling and inspiring others on social media, so it was great to share the experience of those rides.”

Sunset cycling.

Mark, who has broken records galore, and doesn’t seem to possess the word “limitation” in his vocabulary, finds it amusing when he meets people who don’t understand his desire to get out and explore in poor conditions, or in the dark.

“When I tell people I love night riding, some say, you can’t ride your bike at night,” he says.

“I say – I can. They don’t turn the hills off, there’s no gates that go up. There’s no barriers to adventure at night-time or in the middle of winter. The only barrier that exists is in our mind.”

“People ask, why would you do that, because there’s no view, you can’t see anything. But that’s kind of missing the point. It’s not always about the views.

Mark cycles into the dusk along a beach.

“The journey is your personal journey as well: it’s exploring a place with a different dimension.

“Some of the best adventures I’ve ever had are lost in that pool of the floodlight in front of you from your bicycle or head torch, and I guess that needs to be experienced to be understood.

“You can stand on top of a hill and not see anything in the middle of the fog or the middle of the night or the middle of a snowstorm, and just have the best possible connection with the landscape around you and the friends that you’re with.

“And the best thing is you don’t need to go far. Yes, you can travel around the world, but right outside Edinburgh, there’s adventure within miles.”

Beautiful ice formations on a ride.

Mark reckons there’s a “kid inside” that loves ending up in “tricky places” and creating memories through big night rides, or being out in the snow seeing “quite familiar landscapes but in a completely unfamiliar way”.

He adds: “It’s not just because I want to push myself on the bike; I’m also going to almost ‘collect’ something on the way.

“It could be landmarks.. it could be churches or murals.

“That idea of going out and creating a journey with a reason by giving it some sort of storyline is something I’ve always really enjoyed.”

Mark believes there’s plenty to explore on your doorstep – you just need to get outside.
The wilderness is never far away when you’re on a bike.

  • All “Explore your Boundaries” routes are available for free at bikepackingscotland.com
  • Filmmaker Markus has just created six new cycling itineraries in the Cateran Ecomuseum, a “museum without walls” in Perthshire and Angus. Two are aimed at mountain bikers, two at gravel cyclists and two are predominately on quiet roads for all abilities. One includes  Monega Hill, which, he says, boasts “some of the best views” in Scotland. He rode the trails on a 1970s Claud Butler bike, which had been restored by a friend. He plans to launch an accompanying film next month. Check out the routes at cateranecomuseum.co.uk

 

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