Monday, 25 August 2014

Euro Trip Challenge: Week One: The Plan, The Views, The Crash

I am writing this from a Cafe in Chamonix. it’s the start of my second week into my Euro Trip Challenge and many things have happened and plans have changed on a daily basis.

The initial plan was to live out of my havebike van,  touring the mountains in Europe and undertaking 4 mountain bike races in 4 weeks. I was given the opportunity to make it into a video diary for The Cycle Show and thus, the concept became a reality.

As with most things I do there was no plan, even less of a plan than even I was comfortable with. I left my house on Saturday morning with the van packed and still no clue as to where I was heading!

First though, I decided to sneak a race in in Brighton, the famous Brighton Big Dog. All my teamies the MuleBar Girls-Sigma Sport were racing and I got an on-the-day entry to do a Onederdog lap, which is a one-lap race that you can start whenever you want. It’s more of a fun category but I was grateful simply to get a ride!

It was an awesome day out, the girls were on form and loving it and totally dominated the podiums, I was so proud to be wearing my team kit and part of the day with them! I still don’t know the time I got but I tried really, really, really hard to the extent that I could taste blood and my lungs were on fire! It felt so good to be back putting that sort of effort into riding, I am not fit enough to be going particularly fast even when I try that hard but there is nothing like a race to force you to push your body to it’s limits and I loved the feeling….

At night time of course I was peer pressured into staying and partying and was offered a floor to sleep on at race organisers Rory and Sabrine’s house.

On Sunday I took myself to a cafe to book a ferry and have a look at the footage and audio I got from the race. It’s quite a big deal to me to be trying to self-film and record, it’s fiddly, takes organisation and commitment throughout the day and with the support of Rebecca and V I felt like I was happy with what I had got.

I booked a ferry for that evening, got stuck in traffic on the M20 and made it on with 5 minutes to spare. I was just thinking “Is this seriously what my whole trip is gonna be like?!” because, to be honest, that’s what my whole life tends to be like…

On the ferry I set about filing the footage I had got from the race...only to discover it had disappeared!!! I was devastated, my Go-Pro was refusing to work too. I drove a few hours south from the ferry and set up camp in a lay by and as the rain pelted my tent I really felt a lonely feeling of “what the hell am I doing?!”

The next morning I made my way down to Chamonix, unable to use sat nav in the van because the lighter plug doesn’t work I had to get on wifi in service stations and memorise the motorways and big town names to head for. Eventually I arrived and hooked up with Nina, a girl I had met at my first and only proper race this year. I had contacted her on Saturday to ask if she wanted to ride with me….and it’s still the best decision I have made this trip!!

I was made super welcome in her boyfriends little flat, where they pulled out a bed for me and took me in as if we’d known each other forever. Together we talked about my plan and it started to come together. I knew I had to get to Eurobike in Germany at one point and I contacted a few race organisers that I had come across thanks to a facebook shout-out and as I waited for the replies we could then just concentrate on some local riding.

Riding. That’s what I came out for after all.

I got my Go-Pro fixed at Epic TV in Chamonix and took a ski lift up Brevent with Nina and Spencer to check out the riding on their door step.

From here, it’s really best to look at the pictures on facebook as the words can’t describe the variety and enormity of the riding I have done in the last few days. Chamonix, Le Tour in Switzerland, Pila in Italy and Tignes/Val D’Isere in France. There have been times that my little London brain has felt fit to explode with the views and the magnitude of the mountains, to get to the top and then let loose ride, ride and skitter down the rocks and paths to the bottom is truly an incredible, incredible thing to do.

It has been taking me a while to get back into the flow after a long time off of my mountain bike in the UK, but each run I felt more confident and relaxed.

The thing that has really fucked my brain up is the cliff edges. Here it seems to be normal to find tracks away from the main Bike Parks and off the beaten track and no-one seems to bat an eyelid at the mountain drops along the side of the path, shrugging it off with a simple “yeah, you just can’t commit to riding at 100% when you are here as the consequence is too high”
But somehow riding at 90% seems totally fine!!!

After a few days in Chamonix and no positive response for a race for the first weekend, Nina decided to join me and show me around Val D’Isere and Tigne and it appears that I have picked up a little riding and travelling buddy for the next week or so. It’s AWESOME!!!

We had some good days riding, we started with a black run and then moved on to blues and reds. Bit of a backwards decision, but decision making does not seem to be the strong point of this trip!

At one point we came across a big ladder drop, about 2 metres high. Higher than any drop I have ever done before. After looking at it for a long time Nina decided to go for it, her analysis being that it looked fine from the top and she had done bigger drops before. I was unsure, but trusted her judgement and took to the camera to film her.

I was inspired and impressed that she went for it but without having seen someone do it ahead of us she hit it with too much speed and landed miles down the landing. She held on but the speed and rutted landing was too tricky to maintain and she hit the floor a second or two later with a big bruise developing immediately.

I was then even more unsure and after some more deliberating decided not to do it, we had the last ski lift to catch anyway. Which we made with less than 2 minutes to spare!

I went to bed that night feeling really annoyed with myself. I think I have a really strange brain and all I thought about that night was doing the drop. It was annoying me because I felt the only thing holding me back was will power, not ability. I was absolutely determined to do it.

So the next day we went to it first thing because it was far away and we needed to make sure we were able to ge the ski lift back, which meant i couldn’t practice on smaller ones first. I was feeling scared but steely determined. Thanks to her crash and general “meh” mood Nina wasn’t up for it again so I couldn’t just copy her (which is a favourite of mine when it comes to new things!)

On the run in my brain said something like this “No, yes, no….oh fuck, yes…”

And then everything slowed down, I heard Nina telling me it was perfect, but I knew it wasn’t, I was dropping the front end and I knew I was gonna crash.

The thing that saved me  (aside from my Lazer Helmet) I think was the fact that I am good at relaxing when I crash on an MTB, I rolled pretty far and hard, smashing my helmet and goggles on the way. I sat up and Nina got to me and I was pretty scared as I knew I’d hit my head pretty hard, I was shaking and I wanted to get to the bottom of the mountain straight away in case I started passing out and before the pain kicked in. Nina convinced me to stay still for a bit. I dunno, both choices have their pros and cons, if I had been more badly injured I didn’t want to be stuck in the woods with nobody around. As it was, I was OK, just really, really sore.

I managed the three hour drive back with some singing along to the radio to boot and now it’s time to go and have my bike checked over. I’m hoping it’s A. able to be sorted fast B. Not extortionately expensive.

The best thing of all? it was all caught on camera! Go check it out here:

The next stage of my trip starts tomorrow as i head north with Nina to Switzerland and then Germany, with my next race booked in back in France this weekend. Fingers crossed the plan continues to (sort of) stay together…..