MEET KATE O’CALLAGHAN: “I HAVE DEDICATED MY CAREER TO BRINGING MORE YOUNG PEOPLE TO THE OUTDOORS”
August 9, 2021
Kate O’Callaghan is a Scotland-based rider and an ambassador for the Wonderful Wild Women community. Wonderful Wild Women is an organization that aims to encourage all women to experience the outdoors and get active, regardless of age, experience, or ability. We couldn’t help but feel inspired by Kate’s passion for bringing more people outdoors and asked her some questions about her work, her recent adventures, and what’s next.
How did you come to be involved with the Wonderful Wild Women (WWW) community?
Sarah (Gerrish) started the WWW community around five years ago. When she realised there was something to it, she asked me and Bex (Tatham) if we wanted to be ambassadors and help get the project off the ground. At the time I was really honoured and excited to get involved—fast forward and now there are eight of us in “Team HQ” and at least another eight contributors.
What are some projects you’ve done with Wonderful Wild Women that you’re especially proud of?
In the WWW 36-hour Relay Challenge a couple of years ago, Sarah, Bex and I each biked 12 hours. My section was around 40 miles with 10,000 feet of climbing—I had just been put into remission and it was a huge achievement for me.
Other than that, I just love all of our social walks, swims, hobby swap weekends, etc. That is what this is all about: getting people outdoors and providing a safe and supportive environment for them while encouraging people who would otherwise be unsure to come give it a go and sparking that love of the outdoors and it benefits.
What do you feel are the main benefits of spending time outdoors?
For me, it is the freedom and mental health benefits. Being outdoors and appreciating your environment really makes you feel alive. You escape from the daily stresses and your troubles seem lighter. The power of the outdoors is that the overwhelming beauty and silence gives you the headspace to consider options and clear your mind. Another huge benefit is the incredible feeling of self-achievement and confidence-boosting moments that allow people to realise they are capable of more than they think.
I have dedicated my career to bringing more young people to the outdoors, and that fills my soul.
You recently completed a bikepacking trip with your friend, Sophie Flanagan, to raise money for a few of your favorite charities. Can you tell us more about the trip?
We cycled off-road from Ardnamurchan Lighthouse, the westernmost point of Scotland, to Aberdeen, the easternmost point. We covered 420 km and more than 6,000 meters of ascent in five days. We had planned on six or seven days but smashed it out in five. We raised a massive £8,050, and we couldn’t have been more overwhelmed.
How did you come up with the idea to do a bikepacking trip?
We had both separately been thinking about doing it without talking about it. The idea for me came the year before, when someone I knew did a road biking coast to coast trip, so I started investigating mountain biking routes. I had hoped to do it in August or September 2020 but COVID interfered. Sophie was inspired by her husband’s bike and rafting version from a few years ago. I was so pleased when she mentioned doing it, and I decided to gate crash. I am so glad we did it together—we wanted to do something significant, and this seemed perfect.
You mentioned this was your first-ever bikepacking trip, and you chose to go self-supported. How did you prepare?
We took advise from anyone and everyone we knew who had been bikepacking. Nils and Scott at Lyon equipment were so helpful. We wrote lists, Sophie planned the route, and I broke it down into days and explored it in detail. We did a couple of practice runs, one in 12 hours of relentless torrential rain in which various items of kit failed, so we knew what to replace and learned quickly that waterproof gloves aren’t actually waterproof!
Can you tell us more about your bikepacking setup?
I ride a Salsa Blackthorn, full suspension 29er with 160 mm travel up front, and 140 mm in the rear. I use Ortlieb bikepacking bags—I had a front roll, accessory pack, seat pack and a top tube bag. And many, many pieces of Alpkit gear, from cooking equipment to sleeping equipment. For tyres, I had been using the Teravail Kessel during the practice runs and then for the challenge I switched to the Teravail 2.5 Honcho.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?
The biggest challenge for me was sleep: I could not get to sleep in the tent. Other than that, there were a few pretty brutal passes and a six-hour, mentally-scarring bash through Glen Geldie. One trail we came across had been felled, and we carried our bikes for a good hour or so before it got so impassable that we had to go back on ourselves and find another route. All in all, we kept each other focused and worked through the challenges we came across. In hindsight, the challenges contributed to what it was: awesome.
What were some of the highlights?
The views, the unwavering beauty, the many delirious giggles! We met some incredible people along the way. The riding was brilliant and just generally spending so much time away from civilisation was fulfilling. We also sat together in emotions that made it all worthwhile: I had just lost my mum a couple of months before and was raising money in her honour, while Sophie was raising money for a charity who had supported them when her twins were born prematurely and needed life-saving treatment.
Is there anything you’d like to do differently next time?
I would maybe sleep in five-star hotels along the way. No, it was incredible, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I did pack way too many snacks and carried most of them 420 kilometers across Scotland for no reason at all.
What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about doing a similar trip?
Go for it! What have you got to lose? I can guarantee you won’t regret it. Prepare well, get the right kit, and take advice from those who have been before you. Once you’ve packed, remove half of it—you honestly won’t need it all ??.
What have your various outdoor endeavors taught you about yourself?
That I am more capable than I thought I was. People always say I am resilient, and I see that in myself when I am outdoors. I have grit and determination, and if I need my mind to take over when my physical capability is wavering, I dig deep and pull myself through. I have learned that my body is strong and powerful (my husband calls me “Mighty Mouse” haha!). Most importantly, I have learned that I am happiest when I am outdoors, so I spend as much time as I can there.
What’s next for you? Anything coming up that you’re particularly excited about?
I did the Jenn Ride a couple of weeks ago, another brutal 200 km bikepacking trip, and it was mega! I have lots of fun mountain biking trips planned, lots of surfing and paddle boarding trips coming up, and a bikepacking/ hammock trip with some friends. No specific challenges yet, though I am about to start thinking about my next challenge. God only knows what it will be!!
Are there any organizations or supporters that you would like to shout out?
Voom Nutrition for hooking us up with all the energy drinks and bars. Pace cycles for organising a huge raffle that contributed to our fundraising. Ride Bikes at Ulverston for getting my bike in top shape for the trip.
If you’d like to stay up to date with Kate’s various adventures, you can follow her on Instagram.