What’s in the bag?

Currently, nothing. Soon a bike-packing inventory ruthlessly configured for autumnal days in proper mountains. Thursday at stupid o’clock we’ll be driving past  at least two local airports to endure the depressing couplet that is ‘Ryanair‘ and ‘Stansted‘.

Once we’ve navigated check in queues, bike bag wrangling, the walk of pain to outside baggage while being sliced by each mini death from a thousand lowest-cost-bidder cuts, the Pyrenees await. And I’m beyond excited by an itinerary including a night high up in the mountains, a sweep of loops showcasing everything this southern half of a proper range can offer and – I expect – a fuck ton of banter, booze and bedazzlement. The latter from horizon bending views and awesome, dusty trails.

This is not our first rodeo. Since our good mate Si swapped Shoreditch for sunshine, we’ve sallied forth on ambitious adventures conceived on wine drenched maps and instantiated through 4 hour hike-a-bikes and 1000 metre descents down the WRONG MOUNTAIN. Love Si as I do, he’s a flakey as a late stage leper when it comes to any kind of rigorous route planning.

2010 called and it wants that bike back
A rare riding shot on that first day.

Recognising his limitations*, Si has handed much of the route planning to those more skilled at surviving big mountain adventures. Including his daughter who hopefully takes her mothers side. Assisted by local french dudes who appear to close the competence gap. The six days of fun has the whiff of a military plan**, accommodation has been booked, vehicle logistics located by waypoint, even a train uplift shuttling us up a 1000m from sea level.***

Juliette – Si’s daughter – taking on the role of ‘responsible adult’

Reassuring as this sounds, it’s left me with a nagging worry that unexploded logistical ordinance labelled ‘clusterfuck‘ awaits. As my favourite project manager used to explain ‘the law of unintended consequences rarely arrives lubed’.  Meaning we’ll be sleeping under the stars, risking frostbite while making difficult decisions who to eat first*****

Reminds me of those B Movies when the hero opines ‘it’s too quiet‘ triggering a latex alien face eating incident.  Whatever, we’re committed now or at least probably should be. It feels like the right time – had a pretty shitty summer, hardly left the valley, bored of local trails, desperate to insert ‘mountain‘ back into mountain bikes.

oooh a train. I wonder if it has a bar?

Before then though, boring stuff needs to happen. Packing for 27 degrees at blue sky sea level and ‘fuck me it’s cold up here‘ some 2000m higher in the clouds. Existential angst on which bike to take. Paddle steamer kit selection, diving deep into the drawer of plenty selecting almost everything. Then realising Ryanair charge a million pounds a kilo and reluctantly placing the ‘4 season rain jacket’ on the optional pile.

Of the three packs, the Evoc has a back protector which is a boon when 99% of the trails we ride over there are spine splitting rocky. The Osprey is basically a Tardis. I could pack the house and kids in there with space for an emergency helicopter. The Camelbak tho has a special place in the pantheon pack having been campaigned on the 2010 route when just about everything went wrong.

Never let this man read a map 🙂

It was such a memorable trip tho. The exhaustion, the navigational disasters, the ‘full Ghandi‘ barefoot experience in a posh French town, the Gin bar where Si befriended the owner and we watched 1950s movies on a cave wall while getting properly limb loss drunk. A lift over the mountain from Rob which pretty much saved our life the following day.

It was emotional 😉

Great memories. I’m very much invested in making some more of those. Based on the increasingly diverse whatsapp group, we’re definitely in synapse firing territory. The night at the refuge has a nearly double figures riding crew rocking up. Which is fantastic for all sorts of reasons including riders who can actually speak French. Last time out I expanded my vocab more in four hours than four years sitting in a classroom. If hand waving counts.

The – slightly fuzzy headed – morning after saw the rising sun clawing at a palisade of rocks stretching long shadows above the refuge. It was an amazing experience watching orbital mechanics burning through morning mist. I’ve seen the Northern Lights and they’re a long distanced second from a high mountain wake up call.

Stepping back a bit, this is my third riding trip in 2023. The first was shared with Carol and we cheated on eBikes. Didn’t stop it being brilliant. Then a week in Molini which is officially my bestplaceintheworldtorideabike(tm).  And now back to a landscape I know a bit, but nowhere near enough.

The passing of time is definitely a thing. A thing I’m trying to ignore. We’ve a week living in the moment smashing up against my inability to do so when faced with non riding priorities. Pack the bike, pack a bag, set the alarm, sleep barely a wink before it trills.

As stated, I am beyond excited. Filling the bags needs to be done. Filling the memory banks awaits.

*and not wanting to be thrown off a cliff. Arriving back at our start point having climbed that 1000m in 30 degree heat, his life was in the balance. Had I not been so completely knackered, I’d have dispatched him there and then 🙂

**Which brings to mind “No plan survives first contact with the enemy

***Which still leaves about 1200m to go. But you know, I’m sure it’ll be fine.

****Not that difficult. Si Steaks all round 🙂

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