We knew where we were. Had absolute confidence on our destination. How to get there? Not a scooby’s. Welcome to part 2 of ‘when it all goes wrong, let’s call it an adventure’ where we abandon riding our bikes for carrying them awkwardly down a trail cosplaying a cliff.
Our arrival at this point wasn’t without incident. After faffery of the critical kind, we saddled up in the pre-dawn gloom to discover a 100m hill hidden in shadow. Pretty sure we didn’t ride down that last night- whatever on arrival at what Si promised was the start of an awesome trail, he headed off in an entirely different direction*
Chris took that as a positive sign and was immediately rewarded with an over the bars dismount triggered by a hidden stump. Who knew it would be even darker under the trees? Not me suffering from fuck all sleep, terrible coffee and apparently 100% memory loss of how bicycles work.
Fetching Chris the right way up, adrenalin caffeine jolted me into riding mode and what skills I have were fully deployed on a trail throwing out shady challenges as the light crept up to manageable levels**. The air hadn’t got the memo tho and i was glad of full body clothing coverage as deep breaths condensed in the visible spectrum.
We needed to keep moving. If only to keep warm. More so in that we had a train to catch. 10:20 at Olette. Some 20 minute drive from where Si’s car was parked and quite a lot further from the Van still abandoned some 1000m above Vernet. The Yellow Train is a fantastic thing but what it isn’t is frequent. Miss our booked slot and we’re three lost hours and shit load of broken logistics from reaching Les Anges sometime before midnight.
Clearly what such a machine-tool honed plan needed was a navigational conference confidently sending us out over an unridable ridge. Which is we came in. We emerged some thirty minutes later, properly late and a bit worried with the sun dialling in time we didn’t have.
We rendezvoused with Si and he sent us down ten minutes of awesome trail that made me forget our day was going to poo. A high speed blast through the forest punctuated by moments of ‘well I hope that corner doesn’t tighten up‘ and ‘if Trusty disappears over that rock step, it’s bigger than I planned for and things may go badly‘. Way too much fun over far too soon, hence we were buzzing and still just about on schedule rolling into town.
Matt headed back up the mountain courtesy of Caty’s van, while we jumped into Si’s barely street legal race-car with plans to reconvene at the train station. Except Si’s car wouldn’t start. Steve and I applied ‘Top Gear rules‘ and headed into the main square for a proper coffee while Si ran a full diagnostic check on his engine***
Coffee fuelled we managed to bump start the cursed Clio and Si was off to retrieve his helmet, while we clock-watched for Matt to wind back down the mountain. Finally arriving with zero fuel adding more minutes we didn’t have. No surprise then to roll into Olette just in time to wave the train goodbye from the car park.
Fuck. What now? No good options until our examination of the timetable cracked out a glimmer of hope. We might be able to race the train up the valley and be waiting for it at the next station. Exciting times as Matt’s spirited driving fully tested the ‘chassis dynamics‘ of our parcel van, while the ‘unbelted three‘ deperately hung on to groaning trim and, sometimes, each other.
Arriving both shaken and stirred, bikes were unloaded with a haste suggesting we may be stealing them, before running across the tracks to a platform where the trains should be. Had we made it? Had we ever, we beat our train and the one that was due in 10 minutes before. Si never shut up about how this was somehow a win for him 😉
Bikes loaded, we took a victory lap of the open coach installing ourselves between some slightly shocked looking tourists. 30 mins up the track on this engineering masterpiece/money pit, we arrived most of the way up the mountain and declared ourselves ready for a second breakfast.
This was the perfect opportunity for Steve to abandon one of the GoPros. A discovery we made some two hours later having climbed another 500+m through first a forest and then an abandoned artillery range. With tanks! So you know we had to mug about there for a bit. Proper boys toys stuff.
This proved a welcome distraction from the climb which I felt was going on a bit. Might have mentioned it. Finally topping out at just under 2500m, we donned knee and elbow pads. Well everyone except me who’d thoughtfully left his to protect the inside of the van.
No matter, we were off on a wild trail that had everything other than obvious lines or evidence of previous tyre tracks. Which didn’t stop us having a properly good time letting the bikes run on grippy compacted dirt. Dirt that was clearly haunted by a root graveyard with questing polished white bones popping up at the most inappropriate moments.
The odd rock appearing as well. This signalled the transition to a full on bolderfest which rocketed straight into one of ‘my favourite five trails ever’. It’s very apparent on the GoPro how the terrain changes as we break out of the forest and onto the edge of that endless ridge. What is less obvious is how bloody great this was to ride.
Absolutely full on, stalks for eyeballs, surfing the line – fast enough for rock rollover, slow enough to set up for the next challenge. Committed, steep, switch-backy, technical and bloody long. At one time we appeared to be riding in a rocky trench walled with sand. Proper ‘feel the force Luke‘ stuff and whatever I was feeling right then should be bottled and drunk on dark winter nights like right now.
Fist pumps and other inappropriate middle aged emoting marked the end of more than ten minutes of the whole ‘this is why’ thing. Amazing trails, jaw dropping landscapes, a train of your best friends synthesising joy from dust. Putting it all on the line, even the bad lines on bikes that are so much fun they surely can’t be entirely legal.
We weren’t done. Still a few hundred metres of elevation to cash in albeit on lesser gradients. Dialled in as we were, this soon became a no braking challenge folowed quickly by some emergency anchor hauling when bravado out paced skill. In our defence reining it in felt impossible – sun was out, bikes felt great, trails were mint and the bar was waiting.
Rolling back into Olette we ran the numbers. 650 metres climbed, 2620m descended. That’s a shuttle day right there with the train doing much of the heavy lifting. It was also one of the best days I’ve had on a bike, and I’ve had many brilliant trips over the years. But this just had everything.
Including me not riding like a dick, so you know there’s that. Pushing back on the whole getting too old for this shit schtick. Thumbed that the finger as I sank a well earned beer. Tomorrow we’re heading out to the ‘Devil’s toilet’ which has a fairly brutal hike-a-bike price of entry.
Another adventure then? Count me in.
*still sans helmet, not even Si is stupid enough to ride full on trails mostly in the dark without some form of brain protection.
**if you watch the GoPro you’ll see how bloody dark it was!
***Open bonnet. Look confused. Close bonnet.