So when does a ride become an adventure? At what point does everything familiar flip into an entirely new experience? And is this always a good thing? Anxiety can spike when variables – weather, terrain, navigation – are mutable in a way they rarely are on your local trails.
I think the point is when the bike becomes the least important part of the ride. It’s essential, of course, to get you to your destination, but the adventure is the uncertainly of how you’ll arrive there at all. Living in the moment is something I’ve always struggled with, and yet resting here and glancing skywards, I’m not quite sure what happens next. Whatever it is, it certainly feels nothing like riding at home.
We’ve just topped 2000m above sea level with distant peaks shrouded in cloud. All the time watching mountain weather racing down steep sided valleys and darkly threatening hail or cold rain onto those aping Prometheus* and claiming these high places for themselves.
Fuck I love this. Being too tired to carry on but with nowhere else to go. Another 400m of climbing on broken fire roads with ever thinning air and the Gods of Thunder rolling a double six. Get back on the pedals, marvel at the wind exposing the peak before shrouding it back in cloud, feel the first raindrop, determine the top is ‘quite close‘ all the while husbanding energy in case it is not.
We clear the last switchback. Lean the bikes on a gate. Attempt to discern what happens next through switching clouds and mist. Whatever happens, it’s only happening to us. no one else is up here today. We’re 500m above our planned refuge for tonight but it feels so wild and exposed our here, we’re struggling to believe a man made building might be somewhere in the valley below.
Only one way to find out. Climb a little more to the ‘white rocks’, lose ourselves in a a landscape carelessly categorising you as totally insignificant. Feel the bikes shimmy on shale long torn from the mountain edge, gibber a bit when the cloud lifts giving even the hardened agnostic a view from the heavens.
From there we finally began to descend. It lasted all of 30 seconds before the sound of sealant failing to close the tyre rip begat by a knife shaped rock hidden in a water bar. Three of us expelled liquid and air as tyres slashed rims and one of those rims pringled in a manner suggesting weighing it in was pretty much the only option.
You can see the carnage on the video above 🙂
Except we were above 2000m, so many miles from a bike shop and attempting ghetto fixes under skies increasingly keen to dart hail at our rapidly waterproofing persons. My tyre was toast, Steve managed to shove enough anchovies into his to maintain temporary inflation. Matt tho was left with a stoved in rim looking to have barely survived an asteroid strike!
Tubes were retrieved from packs. At which point we counted our remaining spares. Above zero, but only by one. And no chance of replenishment for at least a day separated from right now by quite a few rocky descents.
Rolling on hard rear tyres, we made tentative tracks to the refuge. 35psi is a horrible way to travel when you’re used to about half that. Still one tube left and all that, chances were not being taken especially as the weather had that ‘go on, I dare you‘ look about it**
A wild trail separated us from some form of safety at the refuge. A trail about as wide as a well upholstered walker firing poles out either side would need. 780mm bars had us punching shrubbery that didn’t move much while seemingly keen to grab a brake lever or a pedal.
You really don’t want to crash here. Not much short of a helicopter is taking you out. It’s not like riding at home. You settle in for 2 hour+ climbs and back off when gravity sirens you down the other side. Trails are not groomed, mistakes have consequences, mountains are not your local hill. Respect is due.
Respect was given. We trained out of the singeltrack onto a fireroad which lead us to our destination for the night. Completely off grid but still stocked with an impressive bar and a hammer***. The refuge owners were serially surprised that those of us riding tomorrow were keen to have at least one more beer.
And I’ve been here before. Lucky not to be barred I suppose 😉 Still got our heads down, didn’t sleep much due to snorey bastard in the next bay knocking out his greatest hit ‘none of your fuckers are getting a wink’ which made the next days 7am start one of those things I’m keen to forget.
But somewhere that day, I forgot about what comes next. The mountains don’t care and neither should you. Just being here, on my bike with my friends. sharing an adventure is such a bloody privilege.
Fab as that is, time doesn’t stop. Tomorrow we were cashing in our gravity credits before breakfast and then grabbing an uplift train.
That’s as awesome as it sounds. And after today nothing else could go wrong surely. Really? I mean REALLY?
Whatever, it’s going to be an adventure. And that’s always a good thing.
*more attempting to steal beer from the gods.
**300 days of sunshine apparently. Clearly all used up when we arrived.
***Which Matt used to ‘re-profile‘ his rim.