Skip to main content

Highland Trail 550

Posted on: 03/28/23
Last modified: 04/17/23

Photo Credit: Paudie Spillane

As the cold weather riding season is winding down and we prepare for shoulder season riding between spring and summer, we find ourselves thinking about the lessons we learned during this past winter. One of the lessons was how to gracefully deal with disappointment. There is no better example to look to than 45NRTH rider Steve Bate and his December attempt of the HT550. Read his story below.

Over the past few years, I’ve changed my relationship with failure. Maybe, as a professional cyclist, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll end up losing more races than I’ll ever win. This, however, has taught me many valuable lessons along the way. Such as how to be gracious in defeat, yet have humility in victory on those rare occasions. Sometimes it’s just not meant to be, that’s bike racing, and that’s okay. Failure can give us our greatest lessons if we are willing to search through the shards of our broken dreams. The difference between adventurous journeys as opposed to racing, is that the trail will always be there, and failure is only failure if you have failed to learn anything from it.

The Highland Trail 550 is arguably the toughest bike packing time trial in the British Isles, and the changeable weather patterns on our small island play a big part. It’s obvious why this trail doesn’t get much winter love. With the amount of hike-a-bike and mountainous terrain, it often feels like torture with a bike than bikepacking itself. Setting off in mid-December — over the darkest nights and shortest days Scotland had to offer — the only thing guaranteed was an unknown outcome. Riding across frozen rivers, wading through knee-deep snow over mountain passes, crawling along at less than 1 kilometre per hour at times. When blizzards raged, I embraced them and fought with all I had to make progress. I was in a game with myself, and the stopwatch was the stern umpire.

“The difference between adventurous journeys as opposed to racing, is that the trail will always be there, and failure is only failure if you have failed to learn anything from it.”

After four-and-a-half days, the toughest of my life, my race was over. My dream of becoming the first and fastest disabled rider to complete the arduous HT550 in winter was shattered. With a million thoughts and emotions buzzing through my sleep-deprived brain, the only one that mattered was, “where is the closest hospital?” Frostbite is something I never thought I would have an issue with in Scotland, but alas, I now did. As I sat with my feet in rewarming baths in A&E, messages flooded my phone like the blood flowing back into my toes. Friends, family, and people I had never even met congratulated me on a solid effort and checked in to make sure I was okay. Some of the messages brought tears to my eyes, like sinking my feet into that lukewarm water. I had no idea my failure would reach so many people in such a positive way.

I don’t recall any negative comments, which surprised me. After all, I hadn’t achieved what I had set out to do, so surely this was failure in the first degree. I was braced for the “I told you so” comments from keyboard warriors, but they never came, which reinforced the positives of the adventure I had just been on. What an amazing journey. I’d pushed further and harder than ever before. I’d found a level I didn’t even know I had. I broke personal boundaries and gained so much wisdom and joy in the suffering. I wanted to feel sorry for myself, disappointed at my mistake: I’d failed. Yet I wasn’t. I was proud of myself for stopping when I did. I know I had more to give and the disappointment is in not finding my limit, having to stop before that. This was just another setback — one of many — on the road to finding my full potential.

“I had no idea my failure would reach so many people in such a positive way.”

Over the past couple of years I’ve had some major setbacks. Crashing out of our main event at the Tokyo Paralympics. Hip surgery at 45. Multiple injections into my right ankle just to ride. And, while every time it feels like my world is caving in around me, it offers me a chance to learn about myself, the people around me, and understand maybe there is a reason for it all. Failure doesn’t have to be a negative. Maybe they were just valuable lessons I needed to learn at that time to grow as a person.

As I gear up for another season of racing, I’m excited to see what lessons lie ahead on the road this summer. However, I can’t help my thoughts fast-forwarding to the cold winter months at the end of the year. That intimidating journey north to the infamous Highland Trail 550 for a second attempt. It terrifies me in many ways just thinking about going through that again. But I do know I would end up failing myself if I don’t as least try.

So grab a brew, and reflect on what defeats you’ve had this winter, and, if you’re brave, share the lessons learned. I’m not judging you, I’m interested to learn. Maybe you could help me avoid making the same mistake.

Peace y’all

Gear List

Riding the Highland Trail 500 in the middle of winter is a challenge that requires perfect preparation. See 45NRTH rider Steve Bate’s (@stevebatembe) gear list from his epic attempt in December 2022:


  • Salsa Beargrease
  • Whisky Parts 26” wheels, 45NRTH Dillinger 4 studded tyres
  • SRAM GX AXS drivetrain
  • Whisky Parts carbon handlebars and seatpost


  • Ortlieb 10-litre dry bags in Salsa Anything Cages
  • Two spare pairs Merino socks
  • Spare 45NRTH Sturmfist 4 gloves
  • Spatzwear base layer
  • Spare Merino leggings
  • Smith Goggles (clear lens)
  • Smith Wildcat sunglasses
  • Salsa beanie
  • 45NRTH Greazy cap
  • Alpkit down jacket
  • Spare head torch
  • Spare food
  • Small trowel
  • Packet of wipes
  • Two 45NRTH insulated 750ml bottles


  • Spot tracker
  • Waterproof jacket and gloves
  • 13-litre Ortlieb dry bag
  • MSR Hubba Hubba tent
  • Ground sheet
  • Oversized tent pegs
  • Small bottle of Peaty’s wet lube
  • Gels and energy bars
  • Garmin Edge 530
  • Exposure Revo light, run off a Son28 fat bike dynamo hub

Ortlieb 4-litre frame bag:

  • Pump
  • Small tool kit
  • Electronics (2 x 28,000 mAh battery pack and cables, plugs, and chargers).
  • Small collapsible backpack

Frame triangle:

  • Flask for hot soup and hot chocolate
  • Two inner tubes in a small dry bag

Salsa Alternator Rear Rack:

  • Ortileb 30-litre dry bag
  • 20-litre lightweight dry bag
  • Alpkit Pipedream 600 down bag
  • Lightweight bivvy sack
  • Exped R3 sleeping mat
  • 6-litre lightweight dry bag
  • Sleeping clothing
  • Thick Merino socks
  • Merino tights
  • Devold Tuvegga Merino hoodie
  • Three buffs
  • Small, flashing red light (with a spare)
  • Salsa Anything Bag with Alpkit stove, Ti mug and small and large gas canisters
  • 8-litre dry bag with all of my food

Top tube bag:

  • Multitool
  • Tyre plugger
  • Headphones
  • Cheese and bag of trail mix to graze on during the day


  • 7mesh foundation briefs
  • 3/4-length Merino leggings
  • 45NRTH knee-high Merino socks
  • 7mesh Callaghan Merino jersey
  • 7mesh Seton vest
  • 7mesh Sky Pilot jacket
  • Waterproof pants
  • Neck gaiters
  • 45NRTH Sturmfist 4 Leather gloves
  • Fingerless mitts
  • 45NRTH Ragnarök Tall boots
  • Smith Session helmet