Joining the Dots | Lee Craigie Interview.

“Joining the Dots: The Highland Trail 550 Journal” aims to give the reader an idea of what it is like to cover 550 off-road miles against the clock in Scotland’s untamed wilderness.

It’s written by former World Cup XC racer and adventurer extraordinaire Lee Craigie.

Joining the Dots The Adventure Syndicate Lee Craigie Highland Trail 550 Wideopenmag
Lee straight after completing the Highland Trail 550 epic.

Pete and Lee sat down to chat how this racer-turned-adventurer set about not only racing around Scotland, but also how she turned it into a limited edition print run. Photos courtesy of James Robertson.

Who is Lee Craigie?

(To the sound of whisky being poured) I am a former professional cross country mountain bike racer, 2013 British Mountain Bike Champion, member of Team GB, then after the Commonwealth Games, ditched all that to get back to the roots of riding a bike for adventure purposes, which was why I got into it in the first place.

I am a strong believer in the social and emotional benefits that outdoor adventure exercise can have, so I started a bunch of projects with disadvantaged groups of people to try and get them healthier and happier via the medium of bikes.

How did Joining the Dots come about?

The day after completing the Highland Trail 550, for the first time ever, I couldn’t stop myself from writing. I’ve never before been gifted with an experience that made me just vomit words. I realised there was a lot of words and there were a lot of other people that had been on that ride and had a similar experience. A lot of those people had written of their experience and the photographer James Robertson had managed to capture the essence of that with photos and there just seemed like there was a collaboration waiting to happen.Joining the Dots The Adventure Syndicate Lee Craigie Highland Trail 550 Wideopenmag

Why a book?

It will be more like a journal than a book, it’ll be softback in a B5 size. There’s something special about holding something tangible in your hands, as opposed to digital, especially when it comes to photography, you get to employ all of your senses, just as we employed all of our senses to experience the landscape we were moving through on the Highland Trail.

There just seems something more earthy and fundamental about having something in print. We wanted to create something that exists, that people can thumb through, that will reach a wider audience over time and get the message across that outdoor adventure can affect people socially and emotionally on a bigger level. Print is likely to fall into different types of hands than if it was in digital.

Why a limited edition run?

It is going to be a limited edition run, but how limited all depends on how our Crowdfunder goes. Since these questions arrived, we’ve surpassed our original target, which we’ve now increased. We need to raise capital in order to make it happen.Joining the Dots The Adventure Syndicate Lee Craigie Highland Trail 550 Wideopenmag

How many people make up this project and what do they do?

There are many different people at many different levels of this project.

Firstly, there’s the people who contributed their words. This bit was very difficult as there were so many riders who wanted to contribute, but it was important for the narrative of the story to have it running consistently throughout. Where the narratives of different riders meet, those different stories will be included. The 4 or 5 riders who’s stories intertwined with mine are the ones that will feature most prominently. So there’s my story mixed with those of Ian Fitz, Javi Simon, Liam Glen and Philip Addyman. There’s also the ‘dot-watcher’s’ perspective of my sister Kim, as I thought that was a very interesting slant to the story.

That’s the first part of the project, then there’s the small task of getting it out there. Co-founder of The Adventure Syndicate Emily Chappell who is an amazing athlete and an amazing writer in her own right, has helped massively with editing the original copy and has helped from day 1 in getting these words into some sort of shape.

“We need to get the message out there that there is an alternative female sporting role model available to the dumbed down version the media and bike industry often portray…”

There’s Russell Stout from Shand Cycles who comes from a graphic design/formatting background who’s helping out with that part of the project voluntarily.

James Robertson obviously supplied the photos, was out in the field and is really hands on with getting the aesthetic of the journal together.

Finally, Ian Fitz who was a big part of the story and a big part of the social media push.

None of this is about the money. The Adventure Syndicate is not about the money, so me and Emily have been working full time on The Adventure Syndicate for a year with no financial incentive. We get paid for the talks we do, nothing else although we do need to be thinking about ways to make the organisation viable long term now.

Joining the Dots The Adventure Syndicate Lee Craigie Highland Trail 550 Wideopenmag
The man, the myth, the legend, Mr. Ian Fitz. Fellow 550 competitor and contributor to Lee’s new book.

We need to get the message out there that there is an alternative female sporting role model available to the dumbed down version the media and bike industry often portray and building a community of people around us that feel the same way has been the first step on this journey. The result of this Crowdfunder is that we’ve found people, both male and female who feel the same way as us ; that outdoor adventurous experiences change lives and that by pushing the boundaries of what you think you might be capable of, you usually realise your are capable of more Those are two really key messages.

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Why a Crowfund?

We don’t have an awful lot of money, but we are really well connected in the cycle industry, so the obvious route to go down would be advertising. Just get loads of brands on board and get them to fund it. Then we thought that maybe we don’t want to sell it to the people with the money, and have the project ‘Brought to you by XXXX’, this was about the people involved, their voice and what adventure means to them.

So it made sense to get people involved to make a pledge and be part of the project and have those people on a level playing field with brands. Give everyone the voice to make their own adventurous pledge for 2017 thus stating nobody is more important tor influential than anyone else.

What is your adventurous pledge for 2017?

Well this year it was supposed to be with the Tour Divide, that’s how this whole Highland Trail thing started because I couldn’t quite get my act together in time to get to the US, so my adventurous pledge for 2017 is the Tour Divide. And a whole bunch of other things before then!

How does this fit into the bigger Adventure Syndicate picture?

Almost all the other athletes in The Adventure Syndicate are writers as well, all very good communicators, so this seems like a really natural way to go, to have quality things in print like this. This will be one aspect of how The Adventure Syndicate communicates from now on, We’ll likely produce more than one of these. We’ll also continue delivering our talks, events , workshops and podcasts. It’s about inspiring with adventures of our on but it’s also about communicating and giving practical encouragement. This journal is just one of the tools.Joining the Dots The Adventure Syndicate Lee Craigie Highland Trail 550 Wideopenmag

How did you learn what you needed to know to get the book idea off the ground and then moving towards having them in hand?

Like every good idea, it was fanned by a group of creative minds. Ian and I began talking about it the day after the Highland Trail ended. Then James and I picked it up. We got Russ on board to muck up the first chapter for us. Emily has a very good understanding of social media and Crowdfunding, so she put together a very clever spreadsheet with the campaign scheduale. Then we began scrolling through our contact lists, and realised that we know loads of folk and are actually really well connected.! That’s where it all started, we’d never done a Crowdfunder before.

What’s your favourite moment of getting to this stage in the project and why?

It was a lot of work to set up but when I first hit live and the pledges started rolling in I was shocked. I was supposed to be eating my tea but needed to to thank everyone instead.

What’s your least favourite moment of getting to this stage in the project and why?

I went around to James Robertson’s house after a fairly hectic weekend of guiding and I had to re-record my narrative for the Crowdfunder video and it… was… shit. I couldn’t get my point across at all and it had to go live that night. That was horrible.

Joining the Dots The Adventure Syndicate Lee Craigie Highland Trail 550 Wideopenmag
Another one of Lee’s fellow 550 racers enjoying some mid-ride nutrition.

The problem was, like everything I do I thought it needed it to be 100% brilliant and it wasn’t. Of course it didn’t need to be, but that was a good learning experience. I should have just set it live ages ago and saved myself all that stress. Things don’t have to be perfect. You do need to inspire confidence before asking for backing though. I’m glad I put the ground-work in to make sure it would succeed before asking for everyone’s support. I have a lot of ideas!

Any disasters?

I’m not sure if anyone saw the first video I did, but it was really impersonal and didn’t really have my voice on it. I learned quite a lot about that and listened to the feedback. I had made a video that was just text and images, trying to get people to invest in the production of this journal and I sent it around a bunch of folk.

I’m so grateful for the feedback I received saying that they didn’t get a sense of what this was or it’s social aims. I am really grateful to Alan Goldsmith, the founder of the race, who came back and said that it needed more about me, where this has come from and what’s behind this project. As a result of the feedback I went and re-recorded the whole thing.

Also, the night we decided to go live, I went for a run, got stuck on the wrong side of a river in spate, and didn’t get back until midnight. The campaign has been running 24 hours behind schedule ever since.

Where next for Joining the Dots and the Adventure Syndicate?

Joining the Dots The Adventure Syndicate Lee Craigie Highland Trail 550 Wideopenmag
Fellow competitor Javier Simon, the mountain goat extraordinaire.

We’re going to publish this journal and post it out to all the people who supported us in getting it made. We’re going to publish a fair few more copies than we thought we were going to.that we can then sell at our talks, events and workshops in order to invest back into the talks, events and workshops series. Any profit from this goes straight back into inspiring, encouraging and enabling more and more people, especially women and girls to go out and challenge themselves in this way.

Anybody to thank at this point in the journey? Long suffering spouses/parents/friends?

In terms of The Adventure Syndicate, there’s so many people to thank, and Joining the Dots has got here because so many people have donated their time and expertise to getting The Adventure Syndicate to where it is today.

There is a network of incredible people behind The Adventure Syndicate, more than you can imagine but directors Emily, Laura, Pamela and myself would like to thanks Awards for All for funding some talks, Shand and Findra for supporting our growing brand all our contributing athletes especially Harriet, Kate and Rickie for the extra time taken to help steer this ship. Dog Digital for getting us online. Lindsey, Katrina , Velocity Café and the crew for the North Coast 500 attempt and all the incredible people who email us daily to offer us their help and encouragement.

A huge thanks has to go to Alan Goldsmith too. The Highland Trail 550 was his brainchild and we hate and love him for it.

This community is growing…

To find out more about Joining the Dots, or to make a pledge to their Crowdfunder, head here. For everything to do with The Adventure Syndicate, you need to go to their website.

Both Lee and the Highland Trail 550 have their own respective websites, should either pique your interest, you can find them here and here.