Feature: Emma Bateup Into the Wild
Updated: Jul 7, 2022
Emma Bateup is always up for an adventure. In fact, if she’s not out on her bike completing a challenge she’s set for herself, she’s plotting and planning her next endeavour. Whether it’s Burbing, Everesting, or completing the Olympus Mons challenge, Emma never shies away from intrepid, unique adventures that take in the best this country has to offer.
Emma first got behind the handlebars at age three, beating her younger brother to the punch – he didn’t start riding until he was six. Despite that, Emma says her brother is one of the main reasons she is so into mountain biking now. Having parents who regularly took them into the great outdoors, meant both siblings progressed at riding from a young age. But, in her early high school years, Emma switched and started road racing. At the same time, her brother was getting into mountain biking in a big way and soon started dragging Emma out with him.
“On some of my first rides with him, aside from just family rides, he would just take me down a Grade 5 downhill track – so I think I just walked a lot of it! But it meant I was exposed to some pretty gnarly stuff, right from the start,” explains Emma.
That baptism by fire happened when she was just 16 and, over the past six years, Emma has channelled her competitive energy into a variety of different racing styles, with a focus on Enduro for a time.
“Now I just do a heap of random stuff!” Emma laughs. But she’s not joking – take one look at her Instagram account and you’ll see what she means: there’s bikepacking, solo missions, racing, multisport training and even some pre-pandemic overseas bike trips to make you feel extra envious of this intrepid adventurer.
In this industry, it can sometimes feel like the only people venturing out into the wild – particularly on their own – are men, so it’s somewhat refreshing to know that Emma is doing just that.
“I think sometimes women are just a bit more planned,” she explains. “There’s still women out doing really gnarly stuff and massive adventures, but I would say they tend to pre-plan it a lot better. Although, I definitely don’t! With the Olympus Mons, I decided I was going to do it on the Sunday evening, and I started it on the Wednesday. I was always planning on doing it at some stage but deciding to do it that week, when the weather was good, was a pretty last-minute decision.” Emma agrees that perhaps us women don’t shout about our achievements quite so loudly as our male counterparts, either. “I often find it hard when people ask me what I’ve been up to. I always just say ‘yeah, I’ve been riding my bike’ – it’s kind of hard to explain that I’ve just ridden the height of a mountain on Mars....”
Thankfully Emma doesn’t have to explain herself too much to her parents or old friends anymore – they are starting to understand her constant quest for adventure and are no longer surprised when she tells them she is off on her next ride, even if the route is somewhat obscure. “It’s been interesting this year because I’ve got a whole new friend group, from studying, and their reactions have been great!” Emma laughs. “They’re not overly outdoorsy, so what I do is even more foreign to them. Sometimes I just stay quiet because it’s almost harder to explain it.”
Emma says that although her adventures are hard for some to comprehend, to her they feel like ‘just another weekend’. When things start to feel too ‘normal’, Emma kicks it up a gear and starts planning something bigger or longer or more challenging – she’s constantly plotting and planning where the next adventure might take her. “There are some things I have been thinking about for a year or so, but then some things I might think of the week before and go ‘ok, cool, I’ll go and do that!’ I’m quite an impulsive person, so that keeps me excited,” explains Emma. “I like pushing the limits, I don’t like going and doing the same – or similar – thing twice. If I’ve done a 300km ride then I want to do a 400km ride and so on, until it gets out of hand and then I’m going into nights....”
Lack of sleep, and riding through the night, is not something Emma shies away from despite the fact she is almost always tackling these challenging rides on her own. During the Olympus Mons challenge she completed in November, Emma only slept for 10 of the 72 hours it took her to finish the ride. The fact she even completed the challenge puts her in a pretty unique position – only one other person has completed it in its entirety. The Olympus Mons was something Emma had been thinking about since March this year, waiting for the perfect weather and finding the ideal loop to ride. Completing the challenge completely off tar seal also makes Emma a unique participant in the Olympus Mons, as the only other person to do it completed it mostly off tar seal but with a few sections of tar seal as well. She even incorporated a little bit of singletrack into each day – you know, just in case the challenge wasn’t already tough enough!
Although Emma undertakes these challenges on her own, her friends are always only a phone call away and offer their support by charging lights, delivering food and even giving her bike a tune up after hours of riding. “Some of my friends even came and rode a few laps with me [on the Olympus Mons and Everest challenges] .... but no one wanted to come out and ride on the last day!” laughs Emma.
This summer, Emma will take on the ultimate self-supported challenge when she rides the Tour Te Waipounamu – a ‘warm up’ for GodZone, which she’ll be competing in a month or so later. “In a way it’s something that is really familiar to me, because I do a lot of riding, but I’ve never done anything quite like Tour Te Waipounamu before, so I feel really inexperienced,” says Emma. “It’ll be interesting. It’s a lot of sleep deprivation so....”
In terms of planning for 2022, Emma is focusing on Tour Te Waipounamu and GodZone, particularly over summer, but she’ll be looking for other adventures to tackle once she’s completed both of them. “There will be other races that pop up and while I’m doing adventures I’ll think of other things – like ways of linking up a whole heap of trails – and so I’ll do that over a week,” explains Emma. “I never used to have this need to constantly do things, but now I just like seeing how far I can push myself.”
Emma says it’s been interesting to see the progression and keep building on it. “With the long-distance side of things, it’s easy to get burnt out, but it’s not like you really peak,” explains Emma. “It’s just constantly building up. I might have a slow period but then I’ll build up again. I don’t have much fast speed anymore, which is a bit sad, but I can just keep going. Physically, I’ve got a lot of capabilities, but mentally – with the sleep – that’s the hardest thing. I know my body can do it, but I’ll be beating myself up thinking I’ve got another two days to go! It’s a work in progress.”
As well as her own self-imposed challenges, Emma has completed some of the better-known ones as well. Everesting, a Mount Cook challenge, Burbing and, of course, the aforementioned Olympus Mons. For the uninitiated, Everesting involves riding a hill – any hill the rider chooses – over and over again, in a single activity, until you’ve completed a distance equivalent to the height of Mt Everest. The Mount Cook and Olympus Mons challenges are the same concept, except riders complete the height of Mount Cook and Olympus Mons, which is the highest mountain on Mars. Yes, Mars – as in, the red planet.
These sorts of challenges – self-imposed or otherwise – require a certain level of resolve, and Emma will be the first to admit she has a ‘just keep going’ attitude, on or off the bike. “I don’t like quitting things,” says Emma. “With riding, this year, I’ve pulled out of one thing and that was because the weather got really bad and I was on a main road, and I probably would have been hit by a car. That was hard to do. I guess I do have a mentality of, when I’m in something, I’m fully there. I really beat myself up if I don’t finish something. I know if I don’t do it, I’ll regret it – and that keeps me going.”
Being ‘fully there’ sometimes means choosing between her beloved bike adventures and studying. Emma is a first-year nursing student and, while she loves studying, she admits she sometimes just wants to be outside, on her bike. “Riding has been my way of switching off and resetting my mind,” explains Emma. “I struggle to just not do anything – even sitting at home watching a movie, I get so bored! I definitely like to be busy but, that does make me tired. A rest for me is going to work. I work weekends in a bike shop, I just get to talk about bikes all day – which is awesome!”
Emma is full of encouragement for others who might want to take a step into the unknown and eventually try out a solo adventure or challenge for themselves. “To start with, find other people who are in the same boat – if you’re scared then it’s likely someone else will be too, so you can conquer something together. When I first started riding, me and another girl from school would go out together and try out these Grade 5 trails – and mostly walk down them. But it didn’t seem as hard because we would both be struggling and we’d both spend all weekend crashing! If you’ve both just crashed on the same corner, you can generally just have a good laugh about it, which makes it okay.”
And what about the times everything is not okay? Bearing in mind Emma is often out exploring on her own in remote places. “It makes me sound like a bit of a wimp.... But I’ll generally cry!” laughs Emma. “If I’m having a bit of a shit time – sometimes I’ll stop, sometimes I’ll just keep going – I’ll have a good cry and let it all out, then I’ll get going again. I’ll have a quick breakdown, then I’ll go, ‘harden up!’ and carry on. I didn’t cry during the Olympus Mons, though, so I was really proud of myself for that!” It’s hard to imagine Emma crying – she sounds like someone who permanently has a smile on her face! But, knowing she’s not immune to tears makes her even more of an inspiration.
So, how can we all be a bit more like Emma? How should we go about setting challenges for ourselves, packing up last minute and heading into the wild? “Throw yourself in the deep end,” Emma suggests. “It is scary at times, but you’ll always be stoked you did it.”
Words: Kerrie Morgan
Photography: Henry Jaine