So, it turns out that if you tell all your coached athletes not to get sunstroke in a weekly email – it nearly happens to you at your next race. Whooda thunk it?
When the thermometer on your Garmin reads 30 degrees, your heart rate is stuck at 130bpm at rest, and you can’t get it higher than 145 during what feels like maximal exercise…there is a good reason to stop. Not having pee’d for 7 hours, and having stopped sweating many, many hours ago despite pounding back the fluids should have been a sign, but being the fool I am I tried to push on – ignored my own words – and suffered a real China Syndrome. What a plonker.
Sitting in the shade of the pit cramping all I could think about was my own words – watch out in the heat, it will get you – and it did. Lesson learnt, I can’t race as I used to when I was young, my thermodynamics have changed, or it’s just wasn’t that hot in the old days
So what can you take from it? Well not much other than words of warning – if it looks like its going wrong on your heart rate monitor or power meter, and you feel like it’s going wrong, and people are telling you it’s going wrong: Don’t ignore it. It’s better to fail today, than spend tomorrow on a drip, or in hospital. Safety first.
On the plus side, 7 hrs – 9 laps – an ace course of perfect dry trails – and I still finished 60th somehow…nuts.
As ever thanks to the folks at Keep Pedalling for my bike and bits, thanks to Sean, Oli, Jen, Rob and “Cider hands” Claude for pitting and putting up with me. Hopefully something better will come at the worlds which can’t help but be cool.
Day 4: I wake up as the sun brushes my face for the final part of my ride. I’ve slept like a log shaped Greg on a bed of the softest grass. The views are spectacular as the sun creeps into the valleys below me. Flowing light fills the steep sides of yesterdays final descent and runs into the sea some miles away. I’ve one high point for the day and it’s all down hill to the finish.
I spend some time just sitting, watching the animal world wake up. Sheep pop their head over my bivi ledge and stare not understanding how, let alone why, there is a large orange slug lying on the ground. Some Babybel and Penguin bars to start the morning before a luxurious 8am roll-out across dry firm trails.
Today was to be a shorter day, but no easier than the others. No sooner had I finished the first descent of the day than I was back up again. Exposed to the warmth of the day, getting brutalised by the lack of wind. Following now the esoteric Sarn Helen trail which changed from road, to dirt, to nothing at a whim before opening up into MX shredding pools of fetid black water locked between dry stone walls.
Push, pull, drag the bike through it all. Just get passed it to the dry land ahead. Repeat. The day felt like it was getting worse, only to offer the slightest hint of perfection in a piece of fast flowing trail, or technical rocky rooty descents.
Straight Roman roads cut through the terrain stopping for nothing. If there was a hill, it went over it, a forest, through it, a swamp, in it. Every now and again it would detour for unavoidable things like rock outcrops. Where it had no option it just dropped into perfect gullies full of rocks and mud. Wonderful on a light MTB, brutally difficult on a fully laden bike. Still, you’ve got to try.
The gullies lead to the final section into Neath. The local MX club use this trail extensively and it shows. If it wasn’t for its rock base, the weather and the gradient of the trail this would be a mudfest. In the dry it was astounding. On the limit of what I could ride, but had me thinking about pushing back up to go again. Probably some of the most fun riding of the trip. Over far to fast.
A trip into Neath to raid the local shop for breakfast after 4 hours with no food. Sitting down outside the charity shop cooling off in the shade and downing liter after liter of fluid and food in an attempt to stop the dizzyness. A second trip to the charity store bought some shorts and a T-shirt to wear for the train ride home. £4 gets you nice clothes these days.
The final road ride to Swansea and the end was dull and boring. Along the canal I was brutally reminded that I was back in civilisation with locals wanting to stop me to ‘have a go’ of my bike. I roll on feigning a lack of English. In Swansea I push across the soft sand of the beach to the start of the pier. It feels only right to finish amid the sea of the south coast after starting in the sea on the north coast.
It’s done. Just under 72 hours total time from start to finish to cover the 383km from sea to sea. Not the fastest, not the slowest, nevertheless a nice few days out. It was time for a quick wash in the sea, then back on the train to Manchester.
Day four: 4hours 06mins ride time; 52km; 569m of climbing; 6hrs 15mins on the trail
MMMMABBBAAAAAA – this is your 6:30am alarm sheep. Get out of bed you lazy shit. Fluffy is relentless, she wants me gone, I’ve had my time and it’s time to move. 8 hours of peaceful sleep was more than enough and I thank my host for it. Time to move on and give you back your home deary. Maybe we can meet again?
I take my time packing up, the weather is perfect and the view stunning. Sitting on the rocks letting my body warm up before another day of perfect weather and hopefully passable trails. I push for a bit to finish the Monks Trudge (Trod) before moving across to gain a ridgeline that totters between ride and push. It reminds me of a cross race, hop on-off- hop on..off. This continues for 30mins or so before I get enough gradient to ride through everything. Then down, down into the Elan Valley headwaters perfect sinuous brown trail the only real obstacles are my brain and the sheep laying on the trail basking in the sunlight. I take to herding them along in front of me, knowing they will provide a soft landing strip should I need it.
I pass out of the valley and onto the road again, climbing up a steep incline to find early morning drivers confused by my presence on the correct side of the road. Maybe they drive on the wrong side of the road in Mid-wales? The standing stone above Rhyader proves a bit of a disappointment, but the trail into the town that runs parallel to the road – utter bliss. Fast rock slabs and baby head boulders together, this is what I remember of from the Trans Wales. Except without the rain, or dysentery.
get into Rhyader for 11am and go straight to the hotel for breakfast. A full fry, two coffees and a coke for less than £7. I pop into the bike shop to replace my brake pads and get run of the tools, all for the price of a chat. By the time I’ve raided the shop its 12:30 before I’m leaving, just as the temperature is starting to turn up. If I thought it was warm yesterday, today was going to be a sufferfest.
This was the last real stream I saw of the day. Wading out to cool down feet and tired legs i refilled bottles and wandered along roads in ever increasing temperatures. The wind had dropped off and was never going to rear its head again. So along came the horsefly’s, and they were hungry for blood. Every climb, every time I stopped to open a gate –they came to feast. Nothing would stop them, the smell of a sweating human was too much to resist and they feasted unbidden by my shouts or flailing arms.
I pushed on the climbs until I could no longer. Falling over myself to get away from them. In my hair, my beard, my clothes, everywhere. Eventually I crested a hill and found some wind that gave the briefest of respites. I was at the lowest point of the trip – hating every minute of my existence and wanting to just cease to be. The next few hours passed as such:
Ride as fast as possible on the road trails – push up shouting and flailing arms – scratch self – shout and flail – descend at warp speed.
I didn’t remember to drink much during this stage, or eat much, just keep moving. By the time I reached Builth Wells I was cooked. I’d stopped at a small post office in Newbridge on Wye to try get some anti-histamines and water. They just looked at me and said sorry, just water here. The itching continues until B.W where the lady in the chemists warns me they may make me drowsy. I opt not to tell her where I’d come from in the past 48hours.
I crash out in Builth for an hour beneath a tree with some shade drying out my sleeping bag. It would be so easy to stop, but I know the temperature will start to drop. But the horseflies will be with me until at least 7pm. Another three hours at least. I eat more anti-histamines, and man up.
I don’t remember a huge amount bar roads, lots of road and lots of grassy climbs. It was probably beautiful; the pictures I took make it look so anyway. But I don’t remember much except the buzzing, always biting me, hateful little things. By the time I rolled into Brecon nearly 5 hours had passed and I was starting to come around again. The weather had turned in my favour and the wind had picked up and the temp dropped by 10 degrees or so. We’re back on track I thought through mouthfuls of every food type imaginable from the Co-op.
The bemused teller at the till sold me more and more fluids until I could carry no more. This was to be my last fuel stop until Neath some 100km away, so I needed to be smart. I also had a load of change that was better off being calories rather than coins. I swing past the local dodgy chip shop and sit on a bench eating chips, chicken legs and a recovery drink. An odd combination and one that only just stays down. The heat of the day has made any food difficult to consume – but it needs to go in.
Rolling out of Brecon I feel a little worried for the first time. I’m not feeling great and I know I have a lot of climbing before I get to sleep again, I start to break it down, lamp-post by lamp-post. Kilometer by Kilometer. Small bits to step it all together. . By 10pm I’m climbing up a long valley and the temperature has dropped, the flies have gone to bed and I’m starting to come round again. The past 8 hours have been hell, but still my body wants to go on.
I realise I’m actually on the Sarn Helen trail itself now and the speed starts to increase again, I’m feeling fast – I know I need to use this to get some more distance in. The climbs come easy, the descents even easier. I switch the lights on around 11.30 as the clear skies and full moon give all the light I need over the non technical sections. 45 minutes later and I’m riding up a perfect piece of grass when I see a white limestone face ahead of me. Within a few seconds I’m decided, this is my bivi. I spend 10mins climbing over the tiers of limestone, spoilt for choice of a perfect bivi – I settle on a 3rd floor apartment with perfect views off the veranda. I’m asleep within minutes.
Day three: 8hours 58mins ride time; 112km; 2,104m of climbing; 14hrs 30mins on the trail.
Day 2: What is it about waking in a bivi bag on the side of a hill at 5am and 3.5hrs sleep is it that makes it worthwhile? I toss in my bag for another 30mins before I have to get up to join the sheep in my morning ablutions. Jacket off, jersey on, cram some cheese into my mouth, some granola bars in my pockets. Helmet, shoes, gloves on, hit the button on my GPS. 30mins from awake to rolling, a slow start to the day.
A quick up and over a shoulder before dropping down fast loose gravel into a valley trail on towards the sea and the bridge crossing at Barmouth. The fast trails fly by as I deplete my food and water supplies. I start to wonder if I’ve taken enough when a river comes by, I fill up and move on wondering if my watch is off. It can’t be this warm at 8am. Can it?Up and over fast bridleway trails, down grassy hills, and up the inevitable climb the other side. The general store in Llanygryn gives me an early morning laugh as I inadvertently insult its octogenarian owners poor sight, but I turn on her fridge and all is forgiven. Apparently, I’m lucky to be tall. I run out of water about 10km outside of Machynlleth but shrug it off as I know it’s mostly down hill. As ever, something goes wrong and the wind picks up for the first time cooking my body even more as the heat is driven into me. Hot, headwind, hungry. Not a great combination.
I arrive in Mach cooked, physically and metaphorically. I raid the Spar buying nearly 3 liters of various fluids and calories beyond measure. Cheese and Haribo – works. Peperami and yogurt – works. Coke and orange juice – not so optimal. 30 minutes sat in the shade before my body temperature starts to plateau. The thermometer on my GPS says 28 degrees, in the shade, at 10am. The biggest climb is yet to come and I know its out in the sun. I buy some suntan lotion and slather everything in the sickly sweet smelling coconut lotion.
The climb up to the lakes is long and brutal. Out in the sun for all of it, carrying a belly and bike full of fluid. Holding me back, but allowing me to continue. By the time I crest the climbs 4 hours have passed since I’ve left Mach. 4 hours to cover <20km. Brutal, but with a huge payoff. Massive vistas, a lake that begged me to swim in it, free roaming horses wandering over for a petting. Best of all, no one but me. Not a soul. This is why I do these things, to be here and now, with no one else. It clouds over and I am grateful for it. My arms a bright red despite repeated applications of coconut smelling stickyness.
The next few hours are a bit of a blur. I ride along a trail that ends at the end of a sheep run. I have vague memories of having ridden here before and they grow with every push. I recall the river I climb through, the bank I scramble over. I’m here, that Valley that I rode though back in 2008 that I could never locate again, the one that goes on forever with the most glorious singletrack I’d ever experienced.
Bags checked, suspension opened I throw myself at it with all my legs can muster. The bike is heavy but the trails are perfect. On and on it goes before I drop into Afon Hengwm and strip to climb into the river submerging my body with the ghosts of the long deserted farmstead. The valley is a bowl with a push in, and a push out. I know I’ve not ate in an hour so I take my time enjoying the breeze and filling up my water stores. It’s good to just sit and enjoy the silence.
Clean as I’ll be until the end of the ride I start the long, dull push out. Were the weather not treating me so well I’d be angry. But I can’t complain. A light breeze, not too much sun, and nothing but my bike and I. After a while I open up again on some singletrack before the fire-road comes – fast and sweet on big wheels - distance covered is good after a slow going day. At least most of the climbing is behind me now.
I reach for a bottle and get air. Nothing. I go for my spare and find the same. I’ve finally done it, I’m out of water. Bugger. I think ahead. I’ve passed all the lakes and the rivers are running dry. My next chance is the visitors centre at Nant Y Arian. It’s 4pm and it closes at 5pm. I’m about an hour away. I rummage through and find a can of Redbull, warm, sticky and bitter. It does little to quench my thirst. I don’t grow wings. I do get a bit angry. I need to get there to get water. Food would also be good.
I ride on and on cooking in the heat which decided now would be a good time to come back. 30mins to go, 15, zero. I’m rolling into the trail centre at 5:05pm. They’ve gone home. Closed up. I’d have done the same. I grab some water in the toilet block, but I need food. I’m close to running on fumes when I pass a garage. Time to practice the Tour Divide diet; chocolate, lots of chocolate later I’m feeling a bit better. I pick up some shitty cheap white bread and sweating salty ham and cram them in my bag for dinner/breakfast.
I roll on, and on, for what feels like forever through hedgerow climbs of 20% pushing through vegetation and its inhabitants. The flies get to me, I swat out in anger at them, releasing my stress on the trail on insubstantial little black blobs. It’s pathetic how something so small can make me so angry. I sit on top of an old Roman fortification eating my dinner at 8pm. The wind keeps the flies off and I find myself reaching for my jacket for the first time.
I’ve entered the Elan valley now and I know what is a head of me. A mix of road, fast riding trails inter spaced with pushing. Lots of pushing. I had an idea it was going to be bad. I had no idea just how bad. As I roll along the trails are drier than I’d expected and I get further along faster. I drop through dried river beds being aware that I’ve not got huge water supplies left. A climb over a running river bed has me filling everything, I’m not running out again today, sod the extra weight.
Fireroad leads me down before the signpost to the Monks Trod chirps on my GPS. It’s the one section I’ve not been looking forward to. Aidans description didn’t describe it as something I’d enjoy. He’d had a hard time, I was expecting no different despite the warm weather I’d had. What I hadn’t expected was to take nearly so long to trudge through knee and thigh deep swamp to get across 10km. It was mentally harder than it was physical, but only made better by the thoughts that it’d be over soon. Finished, something I’d never bother with again. If the Sarn Helen has a Fisherfield equivalent where you’re likely to break – it’s here. As an added bonus – you get the wonderful sign at the end.
Another trudge – when I decided the trail should be changed to the Monks Trudge – allowed me to wash all the accumulated sheep shit off in a stream. Up, up, up until I saw on the horizon something that made my day. A raised set of rocks, off the trail, out of the swamp, and on a ridgeline with wind to keep the flying nasties away. 10:30pm and I was done for the day. I stripped and bedded down taking a chance to dry out my kit. The sight of a lone sheep standing guard over me, or her flock, made me smile before bedtime. See you in the morning Fluffy.
Day two: 10hours 30mins ride time; 112km; 2,774m of climbing; 16hrs 30mins on the trail.
I was supposed to be at the Tour Divide – then I was supposed to be at the Grezestien Trophy – then I was at nothing. So, with a week annual leave booked off I opted to try something ‘local’.
I’d read about a route that traversed the length of Wales from Conwy to Swansea called the Sarn Helen trail. A combination of walking trails, 4×4 tracks and an old roman road something that MTB books and magazines had touted as an 8 day epic ride. With not unimaginable distances per day, ~120km, the route looked like it would go easily in three days if I was to pack light and ride it slightly different to the normal – early start/late finish. This was in no means a racing ride, it would probably go in a single 30-35 hour push, more of a touring individual time trial. TITT?
A quick internet trawl turned up an article from Aidan Harding who had done the SH back in 2010 as preparation for the Tour Divide -more or less the position I was in now, but a year out. Aidans ride had aimed for around the same time I had and I figured the most obvious way was to use his route as well. Consistency and all that. Nothing to do with me forgetting to copy the files onto my GPS the night before….
Day 1: A leisurely 9am start had me on the train from Manchester to Conwy Castle as I was aiming to start later in the day. Extraordinary Welsh weather forecasts had showed that the next 4 days was going to be dry and with temperatures in the mid to high 20′s. Little was I to know, it was going to be much warmer than that. So I packed the new shiny Salsa Spearfish* with more kit than needed, but none the less the same kit I’ll be using on the Divide next summer. I may as well keep it similar I figured. With the bike and kit paired up I think I now have the perfect blend of off road capability and all weather kit. The Fargo is excellent for longer gravel/fireroad rides, but the new Spearfish is just lush. Honestly, this is one of the best full suspension bikes I’ve ever owned. Hands down.
The opening miles were on tarmac winding their way up, over, down and round valleys. With no wind and oppressive heat I started to go through my water supplies a little faster than planned. Rationing within the first 3 hours, not ideal. Eventually the climb led up the Lyn Colwyd and more water than I could shake a stick at. Tempting as it was to jump in I refilled and then started along the excellent valley trail before climbing up and out over a steep trail – read push. At this point I had my first crash of the trip.
Sneaking a “dry” line ended up in an OTB moment as my wheel buried itself to its hub. No time to un-clip I ended up pinned below my bike all my weight on my now aching wrist. Game over…. maybe. Hopefully not. After finally extracting myself I hobbled my way down to Capel Curig and some food. A quick icing with two cans of coke and a massive scone and jam treat and I was on the road again. A momentary lack of perception leads to crash – a note to stay a little more in the moment.
At this point the real climbing began. Into the real guts of Snowdonia and up, up, up. Always climbing the heat kept pounding down. Searching for ridable shade at any opportunity took over as I climbed into the woods behind Penmachno. Then it started. Initially just a few water filled MX ruts, then full on hell. Kilometer after kilometer of flooded knee deep ruts like Gaia herself been repeatedly run over by all the MX and 4×4 drivers in the world. There is a place for motorized fun in the mountains, but on wet peaty forestry trails it is not. Well done for screwing it up for everyone else.
After an hour of pushing, carrying and cursing I was spat out above the trails I know in Penmachno. The road came as a wonder as my speed crept above 2kph for the first time in hours. The sun was starting its trend downwards as I rolled into the Glanaber Terrace and entered what felt like the start of Mordor.
The traverse across the slate slag heaps and the following “trail” are a blur. I constant feeling that I don’t belong here, that I should just turn around and leave. Why keep going on, this is just shit and you hate it, leave, go find a nice pub for the evening. Cresting the trail near Lyn Pysgod I felt like it was over. I knew the road down towards Blenau and figured I’d just turn right and head for a friends house in Llanberris. She’d have gin and some floor space.
I’ve no idea if it was the near crash with the chav and his Imprezza, or the food in the Co-op in Ffestiniog but I decided to keep rolling. A quick call to Pauline to let her know what I was at and I was on the road again. 7 hours in and less than half what I wanted to do for the day. It was going to be a long day with my aim for the evening being to sleep somewhere near Dolgellau.
But it changed, hilly roads not withstanding, the trails became ride-able, faster, dryier. As the temperature dropped my pace climbed. Riding along trails parallel to the road to Coed Y Brenin the lights had to come out of the bag. Hammering round sections of the MBR trails the wrong way in the dark with a huge grin on my face. Back in the night, where I belong, loving every moment of it. The trails flew beneth my wheels and I could feel myself getting back on target. 10pm flew past and then 12am and the next day.
As I drop onto the road to Dolgellau I stop to debate the turn. I can go left to a hostel I know will have space, or up the road, try Kings or just push on? I ride on, past Kings stopping only to get some water, before climbing all the way to my highpoint in the fields at the top of the valley. 1:30am, tired, I crawl into my bivi ingesting my dinner of Babybel and two Penguin bars.
Day one: 8hours 50mins ride time; 106km; 2,486m of climbing; 10hrs 50mins on the road.
*Huge thanks to Shona at Keep Pedalling for sourcing the Spearfish for me, and to Ison Distribution for making a price I couldn’t refuse.
There are some out there who want to know all this, so I may as well pop it down. Words about the ride itself are here (or will be).
I am lucky enough to have got my hands on one of the two fully build Salsa Spearfish that came into the UK. Major thanks to the folks at Keep Pedalling for sorting this out – and Ison Distribution for playing ball price wise.
I’ll be doing a separate post on this which I’ll link here. Suffice to say, I put 500km on the demo in a month in before I asked to buy it. Bar the Avid Elixr 5 brakes – which are rubbish – this bike is perfect.
Addition of a pair of Jones bars and some XT brakes with Ice-tec rotors and it is the perfect bike. For me anyway.
My front bags are two fold – a Wildcat Mountain Lion harness with an Alpkit double sided entry drybag, and a prototype Wildcat Lioness pocket that goes over the harness and bag. They work well together and hold the minimal kit I need up here.
Showers Pass waterproof trousers – they pack small, I’ve only had to use them once.
RAB Nutrino 200 down sleeping bag – small pack-size, light weight, I sleep warm so it is perfect.
Outdoor Designs Xchange Gore-tex bivi bag – I’ve had this 10 years..it’s a bit bulky but it works. I’ll possibly change it at some stage.
The Lioness contains:
Food and stuff. It mostly contains food. I tend to just cram things in here – spare batteries, sunglasses, suncream, money, a fold down Camlebak bottle – all the bits you need to get to in a rush. Beside it is an Alpkit Stem-cell, this tends to get my camera and food put into it. It also tends to clip my knee when I climb…so it’ll maybe not get used on a “proper” MTB style route again. However, you can cram a lot in it, including 1L Evian bottles
My rear bag contains all my bits and pieces as well as acting as spare food storage. The bag I used for this trip was a Revelate Designs Pika – nice, but not light. I normally use a Wildcat Tiger harness, but decided to try something else.
Patagonia Nanopuff jacket – without a doubt the best synthetic jacket I’ve owned. A staple for the past year on every bike or climbing trip – I love this jacket.
Repair kit – tube, patches, cables, multitool and some other bits.
Pump – shock pump from Topeak as I’d not rode the Spearfish with this much kit on it, and a real pump from Lezyne.
Sportful “no-rain” legwarmers – they go on at night if I need more kit.
Spare Sportful shorts.
Long sleeve merino baselayer – also doubles as clothes to wear home.
Lowe Alpine windproof hat.
Clothing on me:
The easy bit as this never really changes. Links for the kit I think is worth looking at.
Lazer Ultrax helmet – possibly the most orange helmet in the world.
Endura Equipe custom team kit* – fits well, has pockets for stuff and my SPOT.
Sportful shorts – best chamois I can find that work with my bits.
Sportful baselayer – looks like something Rab C Nesbit would wear, but it works. No slevees, it stays on start to finish.
Garmin HR monitor strap – gets taken off at night.
The middle of summer. Good weather. Dry trails. Quiet evening roads.
The temptation is there to bulk up on the training. Do more, ride harder, run faster, pile on the hurt so it feels like we’re training smart. But you’re not, are you? Adding more is not the way forward, not how we progress. It’s how we fall off the health train, how we crash, how we fail.
Every time summer rolls around I look and see people training far to much in the middle of their racing season. Assuming it will pay dividends, looking for the quick training pill that kicks them up a gear. But you drank to Kool Aid* over the winter, committed to the training and you are where you are now because of it – in form, racing well, riding well.
Adding more is the way to fall over – to pass out all that training that consumed you over the winter -and for nothing.
If you think you can do more – that’s good. Save it for your targeted events.
If you think you can go harder – that’s great. Read above again.
if you think you’ve done to much – it’s probably too late
Hopefully, you don’t feel like the latter. If you do, you need to step off the gas.
“So I say, “Why don’t you try to get good at something?” Pick one thing and do it to the exclusion of other things. Develop it. Progress. Rise. By doing so you will reach a height from which you may observe what you have left behind, what you sacrificed in order to achieve.”
I suck at riding a bike fast uphill. Or at least, I suck less than those who are faster than me in races. Or in reality, i suck more at riding up short hills fast over short duration. It used to be less of a visible weakness when I couldn’t ride fast downhill. But now, it is a noticeable difference in short races as I can’t ride fast enough up hill.
So what to do?
Well what I used to do was work on what I was good at and get even better at it in the blind hope that it would help me. What I should have done was obvious, work on the weakness, remove it, gain not necessarily a strength, but less of a limiter.
For most of us the problem is not in knowing that we are weak, but in identifying our weaknesses and acting upon them. But this goes against what I’ve quoted above I hear you scream! “Pick one thing and do it to the exclusion of other things. Develop it. Progress. Rise.”. Well no, it doesn’t.
What I’m saying is to ditch all the unnecessary shit. The worry. The crap that takes up the time and effort that stops you being good at one thing.
You want to be a cyclist – great. Stop running and swimming – their not compatible.
You want to be a mountain biker – then ride your mountain bike lots, the road bike is holding you back.
You want to be a bikepacker – then stop looking at kit and get out and get cold/wet/dirty/lost/hungry/tired/dehydrated.
You suck at riding up hill – ride up hill more.
What I’m trying to say is stop talking about it, over-analysing, looking at every nuance when you should just be out there doing it. If you want to be something, or someone, then only you can get you there. No one else can help you, you can’t buy your way there, you have to make it happen.
No one else who matters cares what you do, once you do it as well as you can. The sooner you realise that, the sooner you’ll get there.