Wednesday, 20 September 2017

The road less travelled

 I have done some big things in my life. Swapping hemispheres on my own at the age of 20, finishing a veterinary degree in a foreign language, taking a leap of faith and swapping hemispheres once again returning to Europe to race pro for a season in 2013 to name a few. I never really truly felt the size of the impact of these decisions until someone would say to me “That is huge”.
I am very independent, to the point that I have been asked at what (low) point I would actually reach out and ask for help. My independency has isolated me a lot, although I am someone who grabs every opportunity presented to me when I want something, most goals I have pursued on my own. Supporting my own dreams and aspirations. Financially, physically and mentally.
I am a few days away from jumping on a plane to ride the MTB Hero Himalayas stage race in India. 8 days of riding, 650kms, 17.000m of ascend through the beautiful Indian side of the mountain range. I have dreamt of doing something like this for a while. And now, for the first time whilst working towards something big, what I am about to do actually feels huge. When in the scheme of things I have probably done bigger things!

when I was allowed to ride over winter it felt like magic

The last few days I have felt the fittest, strongest and most confident I have felt in the last three years. Where previously my seasons were cut short in the summer, year after year due to injury and fatigue, this season I am still improving with leaps and bounces. Improvement is what I strive for. I am someone who likes to keep moving forward whether that is in my job, sport or as a person. I want to keep on progressing into a better version of myself. And this year, after so many setbacks and disappointments I am slowly starting to move forward again. At every level. This is a great feeling.

Not without help though. Over the last 12 months I have had to fight the temptation of jumping on a plane and finding a new destination to hide many times. “Leaving” had been my survival mechanism for so long now and something I had become very good at. It gave me a false sense of security that I was moving forward. Because in reality it was running away from something rather than moving toward something I was doing. 

Lately I have been very lucky to have some really good people around me, who listened, who understood, who were patient, who helped me out, who did not judge. It was not only my body which needed to recover from the abuse I had put it through over the years, but it was also my mind. And as I was working weekly with my physio to repair the broken pieces in my body, I was working with my coach Rab to re-gain my strength and fitness, day after day after day. And as I was ticking off the boxes with such small tiny improvements they felt like I was standing still, my mind had to learn how to be patient, how to be quiet, how to be positive and  how to believe in the process.
Lucky to have this in my backyard

In my 4 years of racing at elite level, this past year has been the greatest learning curve of all. I will be racing in India next week and it feels huge. Knowing where I have come from this year, knowing what the process has been, knowing the ups and downs involved and the fact that I kept going regardless, means for me that whatever happens in the Himalayas, getting to the start line already feels like a success.
A big thanks to the people who  got me through the turbulence this year; physio David Ryan for working so hard with a very stubborn athlete! Coach Rab Wardell from Dirtschool for listening, advising, supporting, keeping me in line and for always staying so positive even when I wasn't! (Not just my coach, also my shrink!) James McCallum from Whatsyourmeta, for guiding me through the final weeks, answering my million questions and keeping me positive. Sandy Wallace Cycling for being so supportive and keeping my bike(s) in order and ashmei for making me looks stylish on the bike. Big Bobble Hats for being the coolest sponsor I have ever had, we are going into our 3rd winter together!!
Naomi, Jantiene, Karin and Sarah (through correspondence!) for being the best friends I could ever wish for, supporting, inspiring,  accepting and believing in me. Last but not least my Michael who rides this roller coaster life of mine with me, for giving me the freedom to do what I love doing and always being there when things fall apart. I could not chase my dreams without any of you!

                                 "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step"

A moment with Michael

Podium with Karin in the Grandraid Adventure race earlier this year whilst giggling from beginning to end

Jantiene and I on our 2 day mountain bike expedition this Summer, what a blast!

Naomi and I on one of our many rides together facing whatever Scottish weather would throw at us

Working with James McCallum at Whatsyourmeta ; pain cave

                                        going into my 3rd winter with the coolest sponsor ever!
My support dream team, Michael and Fynn

Podium at Glentress 7 with SWC team mate Zara Mair

house filled with drying ashmei gear

Catching up with Sarah at the Engadine bike Giro in Switzerland

success is not always defined by winning

Sunday, 20 August 2017

The GrandRaid MTB Marathon;Racing against the flow

The GrandRaid MTB Marathon, a race I have wanted to do for such a long time, the jewel amongst the MTB marathons. The one for the bucket list. And this year I was on the start list.  After a tough 12 months I made it. The route taking riders from Verbier to Grimentz, 125kms with 5000m of elevation gain. Having limited races this year due to injury, this was going to be one of the two big adventures this season. 

Bikes, mountains and horses, my perfect world

I had done everything right by the race, I had taken a full week off work so I had time to properly recover and prepare. I arrived in Verbier the Wednesday beforehand to leave plenty of room for organisation and rest. I felt that my body had been getting stronger with increasing power numbers over the last 4 weeks. And I was more prepared than I ever was with a breakdown of the climbs taped on the top tube of my bike and a nutrition plan carefully worked out. BRING.IT.ON

When I arrived in Verbier I discovered to my excitement that there was an international horse show going on at the same time. Since I was travelling by myself this was the perfect way to waste some time, watching horses and get reconnected with one of my old passions. 

The weather and the mountains were absolutely stunning. It was hard to stick to the taper with fresh legs and so many beautiful trails to explore but I kept my riding to a bare minimum. If I have to blame something to the events that followed, it would be my bad sleeping habits with a lot of hours staring at the ceiling the two nights before the race. I did not feel very relaxed. Although I am someone who enjoys being in my own company, I wonder if too much time on my own before a race gets my mind on edge a little to much. With no distraction my thoughts spiral out of control sometimes.
The climbs broken down taped on the top tube
But with the weather being much better than predicted with a dry day ahead, I stood happily on the start line together with roughly 600 other excited riders, ready to get it done. The plan was to ride the first 60kms at an easy pace so I would have plenty left to give on the two big final ascends. The plan was to enjoy the scenery, to find flow and be in the moment, riding climb after climb after climb. None of this happened the way I wanted it. As I ticked of the climbs lined out on the top tube on my bike, I felt very uninspired. I missed having Jantiene by my side sharing the experience like we did in our two day MTB expedition. I missed the breath taking beautiful unspoilt scenery of the mountains we had shared in the Ecrines National Park. Most of the route was on tarmac or fire roads and I did not sense the magnificent power of the mountains which I loved so much. I wondered if I had been spoilt, riding in such amazing settings the last couple of months. The single track which were present between the long sections on the road were in such random unexpected places that I struggled riding it with any decency of a mountain biker, nothing seemed to flow.  My heart was just not in it and as I moved closer to the finish line, for me the race itself had already become a disappointment. 
The beauty of Verbier
I was on the final climb, and even the thought of almost being on the last descent did not fill me with joy. I was not moving with much speed or strength anymore but in my head with around 18kms to go I knew I was going to make it. But oh boy did I get that wrong. As the climb levelled out into a feeding zone with roughly 6-7kms of climbing to go someone told me to stop, cut the number plate of my bike and said I was done. Just like that. What now?! Not really comprehending what just happened "C'est finis" the man said. I looked around and there were about 8 riders with the same fate as me with another 4 still to be waited on. I did not make the final cut off time? I could not quite believe it. Anger, disappointment, sadness all at once took over my being. How was this possible? This had never happened before. "Not making the cut off time?!" I kept on repeating in my own head. How slow was I actually going?! 
Quickly my feeling of disappointment followed by a feeling of pure panic; my bag with my wallet in it was waiting for me at the finish line in Grimentz, and I had no idea how to get there. Heck I did not even know how to get back to Verbier. How would I get back? I was all by myself. "Have you got anyone in Grimentz?" I was asked. "No, no its just me" "all by myself " Suddenly I felt extremely sorry for myself. A scene out of Bridget Jones Diaries sprang to mind. My head was in chaos. After 9 and a bit hours on the bike my already very basic French had succumbed to next to nothing and in my attempt to ask "what the hell do we do now?!" I only got friendly smiley nods from the organisers not understanding a word of my French/English/Dutch ramblings.
How I imagined Tom having ridden the Grandraid

Like a knight in shining armour, a friendly fellow rider came to the rescue. Despite the fatigue of a long day in the saddle (I was actually picturing his bike to be a horse) he was still very capable to change from French to English and back without a blink of an eye. I am sure there was even some Spanish in there but that could have been due to the disoriented state I was in. Within seconds he sorted out my disarray of thoughts. The story was that we had to ride down to St Martin as a group and wait for a bus there which would take us back to Sion, from there I would be taken back to Grimentz where I had the opportunity to get my bag and from Grimentz back to Verbier. A total of 3-4 hours on the bus I was told. A sense of camaraderie had developed between us riders all defeated by the clock. When I looked around I would not have guessed any of them not being fit enough to complete the distance. This cut off time must have been tight I thought. 

I followed the guys down the long descent we had just battled our way up with a bleeding heart. It almost felt a bit surreal. I struggled to fight back the tears not quite understanding how this had happened. "I did not make the cut off time" kept on going through my head.

May be too much time on my own before the race got me a bit wired

Down in St Martin it was a long wait for the bus which we spend hugging the last little bit of the afternoon sunshine to keep warm. We were now left with about 8 of us. It was almost a funny sight. Tired defeated bodies and a whole lot of expensive bikes spread out on the ground at the bus station. Although at first I felt like hiding under a big solid rock and separated myself slightly from the group, I decided to approach my new friend the multilingual knight and another rider from the UK who had joined his company. As always in these type of situations, connections are made so easily with shared experiences and soon we could all laugh about the adventures of the day. Albeit with a bit of cynicism on my behalf. 
When the bus arrived we were informed that all riders going to Verbier had to join the bus from Sion to Grimentz. Which very selfishly was great for me since my two new made friends had to join me on what ended up being a 5 hour long bus journey. You could not make this up if you tried! 
Relaxing before the race
After two hours speaking English we discovered that the knight and I could speak Dutch since he was from Belgium. And he eventually got a name as well, Tom. Not as knight like as I imagined his name to be such as Rodrigo or Bertrand. Fatigue can do strange things with your imagination!

When we finally arrived in Grimentz navigating windy roads with scary side drops and a very blaze bus driver (in my opinion) we were told there was another bus taking us to Verbier (when earlier we had been told the same bus and driver was taking us) and all the bikes needed to come out of the trailer again. When you are tired simple things like this feel like a huge ordeal!

This ended up in favour of me since I still needed to get my bag which I was told was on the other side of the village from where the bus was. When we walked up to where the other riders were joining us direction Verbier, my new made Belgium friend had multiplied by 6 being reunited with his mates who all kindly made sure the bus waited whilst I sprinted on my bike (felt like a sprint but looked probably more like slomow) up the hill (felt like a mountain) in search for my bag. The event village had a strange deserted feel to it and I struggled finding any sober organisers who could tell me where I could find my bag. Until suddenly I spotted it, laying lonely in the bag zone waiting for my arrival. Another surreal experience, it was almost as if I was dreaming all of this.

I rushed back to the bus going faster downhill than I had done all day only to find my new Belgium friends waving enthusiastically once they spotted me whilst saving my bike a place on the trailer of the bus. What a life savers.  Tom had travelled to Verbier with 4 other athlete friends, who did manage to finish the race. Turned out that they knew a lot of athletes I knew, had done a lot of similar races and were also Xterra fans which created food for conversation and friendly banter. Connecting with people who share the same passion, the very reason why I love racing so much.
Travelling with a bike bag in Swiss is always a challenge when using the small elavators

We arrived back in Verbier  around 11pm a good 6 hours after we had been told to get off our bikes. Tom and his friends had made the disappointment of not finishing the race a whole lot easier for me, making me laugh and the bus journey go a lot faster. They will probably never know how much I appreciated their help and company. As uninspiring the race ended up being, the journey back made more than up for it
Racing  has always been about the people, here with MTBmarathon team mate Will and Sam on top of Ventoux for the 3rd time in one day. Friendships made for life

I am a month away from racing in the Himalayas and this race combined with the Engadine Giro experience has given me a massive knock in my confidence which I did not really need. I am not entirely sure what went wrong on Saturday and I will have to find a way to figure it out. To me it feels like it was a combination of not having found my race speed, not having paid attention to the cut off times and not having found inspiration to dig deep during the race. To cut it short, I felt mentally empty most of the 10 hours experience. Flat is the word to describe it, ironically it being such a hilly race!
The hardest part I find is that I am not just letting myself down but also the people who believe in me. Coach Rab, my Sandy Wallace team mates and mechanics who are always there to offer last minute advise and bike maintenance,  my ashmei sponsors and team mates. Although I do race purely for my own enjoyment, some day I would like to prove that I am not just a fraud and that I am actually able to do what I set out to do. 

No doubt I will ponder over this for a few more days to come because I can rationalise it over and over again, whatever way I look at it, it still ended up a huge disappointment. The goal was the finish line. 

"Figure out for yourself what you want to be really good at, know that you'll never really satisfy yourself that you have made it and accept that that's okay" Robert B Reich

Monday, 31 July 2017

Puy Saint Vincent : The bucket list challenge

Earlier this year I had to choose between planning a 5 day MTB stage race in the Swiss Alps during the month July or visiting my best friend Jantiene in France. Jantiene had just moved to a tiny village called Puy Saint Vincent located in the Hautes Alps. I could not fit both trips in, neither did I have the money. Normally I am quite a selfish person when it comes to my racing and I will prioritise doing a race over any other social activity. Ideally I wanted Jantiene to race the stage race with me but timings did not work out on this occasion. Ironically the race went through her back yard which we discovered later. I decided to visit Jantiene knowing that it would include a lot of laughs, a lot of adventures and a lot of activity! On top of that her friendship meant the world to me and I wanted to see for myself what she was always talking about. It ended up being a great decision

Neither Michael or I had been to this part of the Alps which is famous for its rock climbing, mountain biking, great weather and what I discovered close up and personal:  the Tour the France. And for some miraculous reason Michael and I managed to both get the same week off work without too much hassle which was a first. So off we went. It was an easy 3 and bit hours drive from Geneva airport through some amazing landscapes which made the trip enjoyable.

Since we did not all fit in Jantiene's small but lovely one bed room apartment, Michael and I brought our camping gear. This consisted of not much more than a tiny tent which looked a little out of place in between all the amazing camp set ups at the camping site. Luckely Jantiene lend us a couple of chairs to make us a look a little bit more accomplished. The camping ground Camping Croque Loisirs was located at 1450m altitude just above Puy with spectacular views over the mountains. A little piece of heaven. The owners were lovely and helpful and the grounds had everything it needed. Although busy it felt really nice and quiet with a tranquil atmosphere. A great place to set up camp. (literally)

Right on the door step of the camping ground were some amazing trails

I checked out the local MTB trails as soon as we arrived and was later informed they were newly build. It was as easy as riding out of the camping grounds onto the man made trails which were located in what during the winter would be the ski resort. Graded blue, green and red there was something for every level of rider. I kept on riding back to the top over the quiet mountain roads to access the trails, but for the real downhillers there were chairlifts going up to make it possible to enjoy the downhill without getting too fatigued. I got a little lost, as you do, and ended up going down via the walking trails all the way into the valley. These were equally fun to ride!  I very quickly developed a love/hate relationship with the climb into Puy, although only 5kms long it was a serious tough one -mentally and physically!
Jantiene with her big smile welcomed us with a package including all the information we needed for our upcoming week. She did the promotion for a small Dutch company  which owned the camping ground Camping Croque Loisirs, a hotel; Mountain Hotel Saint Roch and a beautiful private located chalet; Luxe Chalet AlpeLune. She had kindly organised one of her friends, who happened to be the chef and also a keen climber, to take Michael out to the best climbing spots in the area. I had brought my own Mountain bike but one of the other locals very kindly lend me her road bike. Jantiene gave me a booklet which was called  A list of 12 of the best most scenic cols in the area selected by the locals who had been riding in the area for many years.
"keen to do some of these?" she laughed. I love challenges, and this one was awesome. It fitted perfectly with my slightly OCD personality and I immediately started assessing how many cols I could manage in one week. " We will start with two tomorrow" Jantiene smiled when she saw that I was hooked. Lets do it!!
on top of the first col Pre de Mme Carle
I started my bucketlist challenge with riding the Trois Valles Route with Jantiene where I got to stamp off the Pre de Mme Carle . My training program said I had to do 2x20min tempo efforts so as the climb started I left Jantiene who was recovering from a trail run event the day before. All was going great until my 20min effort was over and I hit 15-18% inclines. Where is the recovery?? The 2x20min efforts rolled into a hard 40min effort and as I reached the top. The beautiful scenery however, more than the physical effort took my breath away. I decided that I was not going to follow my training program this week but enjoy every minute and every inch of this amazing Alpine setting. Reunited with Jantiene we continued our chattering where we had left off before my interval and rolled back down to  climb the next col. What an amazing place to be on the bike. The cols were properly hard core and a challenge for any cycling enthusiast.

My solo Col D'Izoard ride
I wanted to ride the cols which I could ride from Puy so I did not need a lift anywhere. I therefore decided that my next challende would be the (apparently) famous Col D'Izoard. This would be a solo ride and starting from Puy a good 115kms with 2300m of climbing. I have a good habit of under estimating things and this one was no exception. At one point I found myself kneeling down on the side of the road because I could hear running water. I was so dehydrated, hot with an empty water bottle that the sound of a stream was torturing me! I found a tiny bit of water and I wanted to roll in it like a dog in a bad smell! "Ca va toi?" this was the third car which had stopped to ask if I was ok. I was told there was a drinking fountain in the next village and reluctantly moved on.
amazing scenery
Again I was in awe of the scenery and beautiful little French villages on the way. Tour the France fanatics started to set up all the way along the climb and I got cheered on the whole way. Not a bad feeling! Almost home I had a "moment" on the return climb back to Puy. Half way up I had to stop. I was crazy hot, crazy thirsty, crazy tired and I did not really want to go any further. "Shall I call Michael?" I thought for a second. "Don't be ridiculous" I told myself, got back on the bike and crawled on.With a few detours (navigating is not my strong point) I found myself back at Jantienes balcony after a good 6 hours of riding, with sunburned arms and empty legs. "Wooooow bikkel" she reacted "That is a big ride!"

After 3 days of riding mountains I needed a well deserved rest day but it was hard to stay off the bike in an environment like this. I followed Jantiene  on the mountain bike whilst she was running  to explore more of the beautiful trails and enjoyed the refreshing water of their local mountain lake for a swim.
Great spot to rest the legs
For my next challenge I chose to ride the Col du Galibier which included the Col du Lauteret. I wanted a big day though so I decided to ride the Col du Galibier up and over to include the climbs from both sides. I got Michael to drop me off at La Monietere-les-bains where he found a Via Ferrata which would take about the same time as I would be on the bike for, 4-5 hours. We did notice a lot of Tour de France signs and hype but when I rode the Col D'Izoard they were there as well so I did not think much off it. As I was climbing up the Col du Galibier I realized a lot of people were going up. Like, an abnormal amount of people. There were police cars driving up and down with their sirens on and as I reached the top I was told to get off my bike. "No way" I thought. I am not a big fan of big crowds, I don't like it when a ride gets shortened due to for me inconvenient reasons, and I don't like noisy places. This was an absolute nightmare. As I found myself between hundreds of TDF fans I was probably the only one who thought it was an absolute nightmare. Irritated I pushed my way through very happy crowds of excited cycling fans to the other side of the Col and asked what was going on. "They are on their way" I was told. For a moment I was tempted to ask "who?" but managed to restrain myself.
When I asked how long they would be I was told 2 hours. Also being an impatient person I did not want to wait amongst masses of people for two hours so I decided to descent down into Valloire regardless of what was going on. Because I was not allowed to get on the bike, my bike shoe cleats died a horrible death in the process. A sad moment. As I got further away from the hype at the top, I managed to get on the bike and slowly descended into the village where there was more space to move. I found a bit of grass to sit down and decided to wait it out. Since I was there anyway I did what everybody else did and took some pictures of Contador and eventual winner Chris Froome as they were riding passed.
Glad I could get on my bike again, I started the brutal climb back. This was quite an experience, I got cheered on in several different languages and as I was passing several guys on bikes the cheers would get louder. "SUPER, FILLE" Oh yeah. I was in the zone! At the top and over the descent into La Monietere, this was less fun. I now had to dodge very happy drunk people on the way down, other (crazy) euro riders, and cars everywhere. By pure fluke I found Michael amongst the TDF traffic. There was no real place to stop, "I will keep riding" I told him, hoping I would find him again closer to La Monietere. This did not happen. Return to Puy it was, an extra 2 hours of riding. It was a long haul back in between the support cars from the tour with whom I was playing cat and mouse with along the traffic lights. This resulted in entertaining conversations with some of the support crew driving the cars. Who would have thought I would be engaged in banter with the likes of Sky racing at the traffic lights somewhere in France.
And then there it was again, the home climb into Puy. My nemesis.
I decided that if Michael would reach me at the beginning of the climb, I was allowed to get in the car, otherwise I had to keep going. I reached Jantienes at 9pm at night with no sign of Michael. I had been out for 9 hours including 7 hours of riding, 119kms and 2800m of elevation gain. When I took of my cycling kit it had developed its own legs through my filth!
Michael eventually arrived and we laughed that this could only happen to us. How could we have missed the Tour went over the Galibier on the day I decided to ride it! What a story!
ashmei QOM jersey and cycling bibs were perfect to spend endless hours on the bike

It was time for a recovery day. Jantiene had to ride 2-3 hours which sounded perfect. "A "lalalala" ride" I asked, "yes" she said "but I will do my efforts on the climbs" Climbs? Jantiene and her damn climbs! After the amount of riding in my body and the crazy hour long ascends which were foreign to me, I had nothing in the legs. Jantienes idea of a recovery ride was 36kms with 3 cols which were each about 6kms long and had 600m of climbing. Including the dreaded climb into Puy. Again the scenery was incredible so although every cell in my body was protesting and I hardly made it up the Cols, said in a simple way; it was rude not to.

Cols on the MTB
There were 3 more cols for Jantiene and I to ride, but these were off road on the MTB and included an overnight stay in a secluded mountain hut. What a paradise for cyclists Puy was, not just for roadies with all the famous cols, but also for off road enthusiasts like me. Unfortunately I was still not allowed to run otherwise I would have loved to also check out the endless amount of running/walking trails on offer. Michael had a blast climbing, for any outdoor junky, this was the place to be, and we only scratched the surface.
Michaels climbing rope attached to my backpack got the attention of a couple of serious climbers thinking we were properly pro! If only they knew...

Although I was not racing a stage race, the challenges given to me by the bucket list were more than enough to keep any competitive person happy and I will be back to complete the rest of the list! It is a great idea for a cycling holiday!

Big thanks for Jantiene for being a great guide, Yvonne for lending me her road bike, Wout for his hospitality, Annemarie for showing Michael the ropes and everybody else in Puy for being so welcoming and showing us what a little treasure this place is. Perfect spot for an active holiday! (or lifestyle...)

"Take a course in good water and air and in the eternal youth of Nature you may renew your own"

Monday, 24 July 2017

Two girls, two mountain bikes, three cols and a map

I found myself on top of a mountain, my legs felt like jelly and my mountain bike was splayed out in front of me. I was far away from any human life yet loneliness had escaped my body. I had never been here before yet I had not felt more at home in a place in a long time. The endless views and the dramatic appearance of my surroundings made me feel at peace. An empty head and joy in my heart. This was the life.  This was what the people who were stuck in the fast track of society missed out on. This was what those who stayed in the comfort of their own living room would never experience.

from the first moment we met, adventures flowed
I was in the beautiful mountain range of Les Hautes Alps visiting one of my closest friends, Jantiene Hannessen  
Jantiene very bravely chose for this life style late last year. Where big houses and expensive cars had no meaning. It was the happiest I had seen her since we found each other two and half years ago. Jantiene and I were not only on the same page, we were in the same sentence and as we had struggled through a couple of turbulent years we grew closer. Sometimes you didn't  need years of friendship with someone to understand each other, sometimes a few minutes was enough.

What started as a 9 day training camp for my Hero MTB Himalaya stage race, ended up one of the most magic moments I had ever experienced on a bike. Under the influence of Jantiene's contagious giggle and "lalalala" attitude I went from riding the intervals coach Rab had programmed for me, to not even looking on training peaks anymore. Instead I studied a local map for inspiration.  

And so my real adventure began. Where people planned a whole holiday to be able to witness a glimpse of the tour the France, I ended up "stuck" in the tour hype, accidently picking a ride that day which included an out and back over the Col the Galibier.

since it was the thing to do I took a picture of Froome
Where people spent a recovery day on the couch, I swam 2kms in an almost surreal alpine setting and followed Jantiene on my MTB whilst she run in preparation for her insane Ironman called the Embruman.

The real icing on the cake was our two day MTB expedition through the mountain range surrounding what Jantiene was blessed enough to call her home. Within half an hour of our departure we already managed to lose each other on a descent and kill a front tyre in the process. In a typical "us" manner this got laughed away with a short stop at a bike shop. Charming the mechanic into helping us before leaving civilization behind. What a treat this little expedition was. There were moments of utter silence and hours of giggling story telling. There were endless climbs over cols and furious descends into deserted valleys. There was a hut next to a river only known by locals and a night spent listening to the thunderstorms outside. There was a first by Jantiene making a fire and a dinner which included soup, marshmallows and chocolate. There were shared life experiences, told deep into the night.
Killing the front tyre

our 5 star hotel for the night with running rivers and candle lights

There were marmots playing in the early morning sun and an encounter with a red fox who looked as if it escaped out of a Disney movie. And as our bodies were slowly fading riding col after col after col, our smiles became bigger and our souls richer. I realised that this was something no race could ever mimic, no win could ever live up to. No achievement could ever beat. This was something where everything came together, heart, body and soul without having any purpose other than just the simple lightness of being.

And as we rolled into Jantiene's garden after a couple of days of pure magic she turns at me with a huge smile and asks me "What's next?"

                                        "Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale" Hans Christian Anderson

The un known mountain hut

Hours long furious descents

There are never too many cols to climb

A moment of silence

Crossing rivers over lonely bridges

The hearts content