The Pink Dots: A Story from the Highland Trail

Words and film by Annie Le

I enjoy a bikepacking film, especially ones that follow races. But often feel a little disappointed that the films inevitably only follow a select few fast riders. Whilst I appreciate how hard it is to follow an entire field as they split up, I often feel slightly cheated out of seeing stories from further back in the group.  

The Pink Dots is my attempt to create the type of film I want to see. I’m not a professional film maker and used a week off work to trot about the hills with my camera to try and catch the racers. I hope you enjoy the results. With bikepack racing and its self-sufficient rules, there’s often a debate about the role of media. When I had the idea for this, I immediately reached out to Alan Goldsmith, the route creator and race director to ask his thoughts. He is very supportive of trying to get more women racing, and close the number gap, so he gave me some guidelines and his blessing for the film.  

I emailed the women signed up to let them know my plans and give them an opportunity to say if they felt uncomfortable being filmed. I wanted to respect everyone’s wishes and was clear they could give me the finger any time and I’d put the camera away. As it was, I found myself opting to stop filming when riders were having some low points, it felt too invasive especially as I only knew a couple of riders in person prior to the event. I’d asked everyone to self-film if they felt comfortable and hoped that might allow the chance to capture those real big highs or lows.  

The Highland Trail is a 550 mile route around the Scottish Highlands. One of few mountain bike ultras in the world, it has a reputation for its ruggedness, river crossings and bad weather.  Over the nine editions it has seen 421 men register a ride either as a group start or Individual Time Trial compared with only 54 women. The last couple of years have seen a big push in the UK to try and change those numbers, with groups like the Big Ride Gang and Steezy Collective holding events and webinars to try and get more women on the start lines. Despite lower numbers, women have a slightly higher finish rate, with 57% finishing, compared with 54% of men. That’s including numbers from 2019, the year of the rain, which saw all nine women starters scratch.  

I made this film last year, 2022, which saw the first edition with women’s numbers in double figures, with 17 starting, making up 25% of the field. For this year, 2023, we managed to get equal numbers signing up, but unfortunately, with no wait list, those numbers will have dropped by the start date.  

The women’s record is held by Lee Craigie, set in 2018, its an incredibly fast 3 days, 20 hours and 53 minutes. No other woman has come close, with Jenny Graham holding the second fastest time in 5 days and 2 hours. In 2023 we will hopefully see that gap closed with a bunch going under 5 days.  

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