Photos by Adam Morka
An incredible trip across Iceland with Emily Batty, Chris Burkard, Eric Batty and Adam Morka, biking a route said once to be impassable. We caught up with Lululemon Global Ambassador Emily Batty after the trip to find out more about the experience.
How did the trip across Iceland come about?
Iceland is the gem of all bikepacking destinations. It's one of the harshest climates for bikepacking, but that also makes it the most rewarding because the challenges one must overcome to be successful is where true growth and a sense of accomplishment comes from. It also features some of the most spectacular and diverse scenery on the planet. Experiencing Iceland made me feel so deeply connected to the planet earth as I've never felt before.
Initially, the timing with my race schedule wasn't great, but that was a sacrifice I was willing to make, to be honest. Once the race season was nearly entirely canceled, the trip became a blessing in disguise and gave me a renewed sense of purpose in my training and a goal to focus on. I was able to ride across Iceland with my brother and my husband, and I get to say I rode across Iceland by bike for the rest of my life now. It was such an amazing experience.
How long did it take you to prepare for the trip? Had you bikepacked before? Did you do a test bikepacking trip?
We had been planning the trip since January, and it took nine days from start to completion. The preparation wasn't too far off how I would normally build towards a race season, except for some much longer rides thrown into the mix. I would focus on 1-2 rides a week that were 180-200km long and 5-8 hours in length. And not just to build fitness, but to get my body and joints adapted to being in the saddle for 10 hours a day.
Did you change anything about your bike set-up for the ride? How much did your bike weigh? What was it like to ride with so much extra weight on your bike?
Yeah, I did. I flipped my handlebars from a race position to a touring position and utilized a set of touring grips, which gave me multiple hand positions. I chose to run 2.4 tires, and I'm glad. I increased my suspension pressure by 30-50% as my bike with all the gear was weighing in at around 60 pounds.
How did it compare to other hard athletic events you've done before? Was it harder or easier than racing Olympic cross-country World Cups?
It's a different hard. It's a long game hard. I mean, training every day for XCO racing is a long time, so I had ample mental capacity to draw upon, but it's not like a typical World Cup XC race where you smash it at 95-98% max HR for 90 mins. I would say Olympics are ultimately more challenging because it's like aiming for a year's worth of perfect preparation, followed by one 90 min chance for everything to come together and get it right. When I was 4th at the Rio Olympics, I was so well prepared. The heavy lifting is done during the preparation phase. I just had to show up and do my job. On the other hand, the heavy lifting while bikepacking across Iceland happens during the here and the now, and it's not done until you reach the very end.
What was the highlight of the trip for you?
I think day 4 when we were rolling up to the Star Wars hut, which was very close to one of Iceland's largest glacier, and Adam looked over to me and said, what other couples in life get the opportunity to do this together? That was a pretty surreal moment for me.
What was the hardest part of the trip for you?
I think the biggest challenge was the sheer amount of gear and food each individual needed to carry. We used a divide and conquered strategy to overcome this, which was fun coming from an individual sport. It was nice to have that team element bring us all together and have others around me where I felt truly supported. The other challenge was the mileage and hours. You have to take a progression over a perfection mindset for a trip like this. You need to keep moving forward and never sweat the small stuff. I think that the same attitude could be applied to 2020 in general. Most people are just doing their best with the circumstances they have been dealt. These are the great life lessons I get to experience and learn through sport and share with others.
Was there anything you didn't pack that you wish you had? Anything you packed that you didn't use at all?
Easy to say after the fact, but we were certainly over-prepared with food and extra clothing. I mean, it easily could have been a different trip if we had ten consecutive days of rain, 60mph winds, and snow, which it easily could have been. We were so fortunate. Even the locals said it was the nicest week of weather they had experienced in 25 years.
How did the trip fit into your training for the 2020 season and prep for making the 2021 Olympic team?
I mean, from an aerobic standpoint of view, it was very beneficial. Did I give up some top-end speed by taking it on? Yeah, I'm pretty sure I did based on my performance at the last two World Cups and World Champs, but those were such an unknown that I didn't even train as though they were going to happen anyway. I think a few athletes burnt themselves out training this year while the racing was so unknown. I'm not sure the bikepacking trip will hold any merit in the bigger picture of things, but if anything, it was enlightening and fun. It felt so good to experience my bike differently, and happiness is a significant component of an athlete's success.
Do you have any plans to do another bikepacking trip?
Of course, I would like to do more bikepacking trips in the near future, but I have huge goals and aspirations for next year. I'm more hungry than ever to get back on the podium and medal at the Olympics after finishing 2 seconds off the bronze medal in Rio. That's left a fire burning inside me, and I know that 2021 is the year I need to focus on being exceptional on the performance side. So, in short, all my attention and focus is being channeled towards performance.