Monday, November 17, 2014

Fill you Summer Quota of Singletrack

Fill you Summer Quota of Singletrack

It's now fall and time for a moment of reflection: was summer everything we wanted, did we fill our boots with adventure, discover new trails and shred with new friends and old? The answer should always be yes, or don't give up and chase it hard into the fall.

Internally over the last few years I have able to identify that fill-line and when I begin to think of cold weather can check back to see if I am satisfied with my summer. In order to move forward sometimes it's paramount to reflect back and set a ground zero - this used to come from racing and it was easy to do - with adventures it's a bit more of a feeling than hard results.

Events, alpine tours, new destinations, things outside the comfort zone, travel and meeting new people, these are the marques of being 'alive' in a cycling world. Where I live, the summer is short and so we must "make hay while the sun shines."

Last year my big goal was the EWS (Enduro World Cup Series) in North America and the prep that lead into those: North American Enduro Series, the Rocky Altitude Team and smaller preparation events like Wade's Excellent Adventure. 2013 was the first year ever for the EWS and I wanted to be part of it from the ground up - it was an amazing experience - but for me too much serious racing.

Earlier in 2013 the Rocky Mountain Team went to Vancouver Island for it's annual team trip - wow what an experience. I travelled farther and rode more places on my home island than I have ever before, in a single week. What a mind blower and it was only April. Throughout the rest of the year we continued with a cooperative project between Mountain Bike Tourism BC and Rocky Mountian Bikes. This project, to film the six different tourism regions of BC and diferatiate their unique individual flavours, not an easy task. It is a two year project that will see completion only by the end of 2014.

The MTBBC tourism project had me on Vancouver Island, around the Vancouver Coastal Region and finally out to the Kootenay Rockies, twice. From surfing on Vancouver Island to alpine rips in Revelstoke and high mountain shreds in Nelson, the summer got pretty full with travel, adventure, singletrack and that doesn't even include 7 days of BC Bike Race.

So it was with a satisfied grin that I put away 2013 and comfortably settled into XC skiing.

This year we finally wrapped up the two year project with Mountain Bike Tourism BC and are deep into editing. The trips we took to Northern BC, Cariboo Chilcotins and Thompson Okanagan were beyond a dream, they saturated my yearn for travel and adventure. I managed a few Gran Fondo's (Valley Fondo, Tour de Victoria) and with a final opportunity to visit Israel in the late summer I pushed the envelope but hey when will you ever get invited back. So while one year took a little longet to fill the other filled up quickly.

At any rate it's the reflection back on the summer that allows us to move forward. Though my goals aren't laid out in too structured a format, I know what I want to get from  my summer and I know when that 'Fill-Line' is hit. I can now plan my winter, plan some ski lessons for my kids and think clearly about where the family might like to take a nice warm holiday while we wait for the snow to arrive.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Trail Boss

Are you riding the same old loops, tired of the boring regular trails. Why not challenge yourself and your riding buddies to be "trail boss" for a day.

It's very interesting how we tend to default to our regular rides and our regular routes. I have seen this over a couple decades of riding in different areas and it was one of the reasons I began racing. Racing takes you out to  new zones, something in itself different, then you are put on a track likely to have never been seen before and with any luck showcasing the areas finest.

Mike Traslin, Wade Simons and Dre Hestler

But riding at home in the months or weeks between races can become monotonous, either because we are alone or with the same group. Usually the guy at the front is dictating the direction, it's hard to back seat drive while aerobically suffering and gasping for every breath.

In this case some preamble to starting the ride or posing the switch to your group can drastically change things and give some much needed variety.

I have taken some time over the last few years on my solo rides to explore every nook and cranny of my backyard. It gives me great pleasure when I take out other locals and am rewarded with responses like "I never knew that was there" or "I didn't know you could ride that trail that way". This gives me incentive to continue thinking about my zone in a different way.
Steve Mitchel and Paul Kalish

My crew has been kicking around an idea for the last few months about a daily designated 'Trail Boss". On any given weekend we will pass the conch over and there will be a new man of the hour, or hours depending on how long your ride is. They will have prepared and given thought to a route that is different and exciting. If the parameters are opened and a bit of hiking can be included - then even more terrain will become available and an adventure is sure to unfold.

Don't forget to take your GPS and record the route for posterity and future missions, sometimes re-finding someone else's route can be a daunting task and we don't want anyone lost in the woods.

Riding the backyard can be fun again but we have to turn it upside down sometimes to appreciate how others see it.

The 'Battery Theory'

“Jazz is music made by and for people who have chosen to feel good in spite of conditions.” Johnny Griffin

Mountain biking and sports in general are for people who choose to feel good in spite of the daily grind. Who are your friends and who inspires you? These questions at the root give us a clear understanding of who we are. 

Over the last few years I have taken time to explore the feeling of inactivity or passivity,  though some will laugh at what they consider my lack of activity for me it was a serious slowing down. I seem to have passed that 'less active' phase, found my motivation and along the way found a different respect for physical exertion. Around me I see neurotic sports enthusiast, passive arm chair athletes and all woks of physical activity levels but what I came to understand from within myself and to reflect on others is the 'battery theory'. 
Photo courtesy of Patric Graham
Battery Theory explained:

We humans are physiologically electric, our hearts pump when stimulated to do so - think about a heart attack and the paddles to revive - pure electricity "charging"! Our brains are firing and so to are our muscles all this takes place at a cellular level by the exchange of chemicals and the atomic spark of a passing electron. So like the movie the 'Matrix' cannot we then make a conscious decision to charge up daily at a time of our choosing?

I have noted in my observations two things
1) personal daily energy levels
2) how to 'get going' by sporting at different times of the day

Personal daily energy levels vary for many people; 'Activity' by it's Greek or Latin root (my personal interpretation)

Ac; to accelerate, to increase to obtain
tact: a state on which two things touch, feet on pavement, feet on pedals
Vit: pertaining to Live, Life

If we know our daily energy levels and needs and understand how our activities can effect this then we can manipulate our energy levels to get the most out of ourselves. Getting up early is against my personal philosophy, but when I do manage a 'dawn patrol' or something early I am charged all day. When I do an activity later at night I am charged and find it difficult to sleep. All this is common sense of course but when we look at not doing activity we see a decline in energy, a decline in motivation and for me - a decline in the quality of life.

Batteries need charging, those charged batteries are our best form of defense for a complicated world of energy demands. Work, play, family and all the other demands of the modern world take time and energy to deal with - what are you doing to charge your batteries and give your 'all'. 

When we look at those around us, we realize that we are within a like minded community -all of our friends are charging hard, living life to it's fullest, but mostly because they take time to prioritize having a full battery.

This quote on Jazz rung a chord within me-people making a choice. Perhaps the conditions around us aren't terrible, aren't truly that bad, but they are trying times and we do live very full lives. Perhaps the best way to combat this is to make a choice and charge your battery. Charge it when it makes sense for you and at a level that Gives you energy.

Remember also it's the rest and recovery that allows those charged batteries to 'give their all'. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Trans Provence - Day 6 - 7

Trans Provence
Photo's Andreas Hestler

Day 6 - St-Dalmas-Valdeblore to Sospel 47.80 km’s

1430 meters UP
3358 meters DOWN

As I sit here in the courtyard of an old villa in Provence, the South of France and attempt to sum up the days events, it all seems so surreal. I know that this lack of mental clarity is one of the mystifying effects of multi-day events, but it’s happening again and I love it.

The last two days have really been the icing on the cake, everything I thought Provence would be and the Trans aspect of it has come to pass. I awoke before light this morning and a little before the kitchen staff kicked into full gear, the sun crept slowly over the hills and finally dropped it’s first light onto our humble camp. Camp located on the side of a hill maybe 4000 feet up from the river bottom below. Between the hedges and the beautifully laid out small vineyard were two long tables, our breakfast tables. Eating outside with a 1000 mile view over the brim of my coffee mug – not bad, and what did I have to look forward to for the rest of the day; a steady diet of alpine trail, singletrack and amazing views.

Day six would be laid out a little bit differently than the other days. Our shuttle would commence at the mid point of the day and because we had been lifted to our high altitude camp the previous night we would head straight out onto course.

It was a chilly climb along the paved road, through the unknown sleepy village and up towards the Col, but we eventually gained some warmth. The last group to leave the camp, the group I was ascending with were not in a hurry and this suited me fine. Eventually we reached the end of the road and we began an awesome singletrack climb, challenging but not too technical a true joy. Another 30 minutes brought us to the alpine, where we caught Weir and Sven shooting some pictures with Anka and Tracey. The scenery was 360 degrees of beauty, with trails branching off in all directions; we were awestruck and spellbound for more than a few magical moments.

Following the big climb a large group formed up for the alpine traverse, though we all rode our own pace it would seem that there is a unifying sense of time to a group in the mountains. It would be nearly another hour before we hit SP 1 and SP 2, they were in truth one big DH broken into two sections. Sven managed to snag his rear derailleur on a rock and so we hunkered down to fix it amid the alpine thistles and long, late summer grass turned yellow.

Once onto SP1 it was pure bliss, trail ripping goodness and a bit of Mach Schnell. My hands and feet were numb, my mind was aching with the intensity of focus and that was only part one. SP2 would take us the rest of the way down into the valley to our lunch and to our shuttle.

Over lunch every one discussed the nature of the trail; the blocky square rocks and huge potential for tire problems. It was agreed that as we neared Nice the final two days would increase dramatically in rocky roughness, not to mention the ever-present ‘exposure’ as we ripped big pedaling singletrack around the side of the mountain. There were a few bumps and bruises at lunch, some bikes were a little worse for wear but in general half way through day six people’s spirits were high.

Riding like a tourist then ripping trail like a madman in pursuit of his lost marbles was beginning to take it’s toll. Everyone was fatigued and we discussed the particular aspect of getting ones energy up for a potentially gnarly special section and then relaxing back to ooh’s and ahh’s. The tachometer was all over the map nobody had done any type of event like this before, and definitely not this long.

Waking up after a nice lunch in a sun drenched shuttle it was hard to get going again, but the trails called and we had two more special sections to complete for the day. SP3 dropped into a forest and was described as ‘your favorite flow trail at home, but moved to the maritime Alps’. Not wrong at all this was everyone’s favorite, just a smooth burn through the woods, with plenty of dirt, leaves and loam under the tires, exhilarating to say the least.

Somewhere near the end of each day something changed, there was a sense of hurry, but no impetuous behind it. Like we were supposed to conclude something while in fact all the necessities were taken care of or would be but we weren’t ready for this day to end.  We had been on our bikes for nearly 6.5 hours and the sun was shining, what else could possibly be more important?

The final special stage of the day, the ‘Rock Garden’ was gospelled to be heinous, un-rythmic and would favour only a lucky few - all the rest would feel the bite of the sharp, jagged rocks that littered the course. It was a love-hate section for sure, technical and gnarly this challenged me and I enjoyed it, but Matt Ryan usually a positive guy, was full of venom and hate for the last special (SP) of day six.

The ride out along the river was itself challenging and beautiful. A short jaunt up the road took us to our campsite where we found warm showers, a nice swimming pool and few cold beers. One more day and the TP would be coming to an end, my head is already fuzzy with the mega-infusion of awesome memories and images – good times on the bike, once again and great people to share it with. I’m glad I have a camera and some pictures to help document and remember all this for the future.

Day 7,  and on the 8th Day- Monaco

I can’t believe we have made it this far and seen so much along the way. The crew has been awesome, my experience on and off the bike has been stellar and now it’s coming to a close. Well, every great adventure must end, but we don’t have to be happy about it, do we?

Some things I would like to explain- Each Special Section has a small box about the size of a walkman attached by a short piece of rope to a tree or a rock, this is what one must swipe their personal chip across, to start the time and to finish the time. The finish is extra fun because invariably one is cooking down a trail trying to make some precious seconds and there is a TP staff member with the unit in hand. While the timing chip on our bodies is located on a lanyard around our necks or attached to our Dakine bags (opposite shoulder to the spigot) we racers come screeching to a halt in a strange fashion thrusting our chests out and wiggling about hoping to get ‘swiped’ as quickly as possible, quite a comedy really, and quit a few near collisions.

All week we have been cruising about the mountains, hammering sections of trail, then liaising to the next hammer section. The battle at the front has been fierce; Nico, Fabien, Jerome, Weir, Matt Ryan and Beaumont – but within each race section and each day we find small tete at tete’s shaping up or more to the point rooster scratching, posturing and name calling. What I have noticed is the different types of terrain change who one matches skill against. I am terrible at high speed and fast, but do ‘ok’ in the techy forested sections or the sections with some up. When I am pointed down I match up very well with Stephen Jones aka Jonesy, when pointed up with Matt Ryan and in between Ian, James, Tracey, Anka and sometimes Sven. Invariably there is a competition, but it changes day to day and it truly forces us to look at our own strengths and weakness as a rider.

Then there is the timing of the departure. Does the code, the ‘man’ code dictate that you shouldn’t follow lines or drop in right behind your closest competitor slash buddy. I say poppy cock (Euro euphemism for BS), my best runs were simulations of ripping trail at home or basically dropping in behind good buddy and slashing the trail together. It’s all new territory for us; this enduro thing is so new that rules don’t really exist. This week it was rumoured that the UCI would be adding Enduro to the World Cup circuit, but what style and what format. Some people are great at ITT (individual Time Trial, like DH) and others need the mass start for motivation, I fall in the later, I like to chase and need a rabbit to hound after for best results. At any rate I truly felt like a different racer on day 7, my head was in the game, my face and teeth were beginning to look and feel like Mark Weir – a full grill, stomping the trail into oblivion, torturing my cranks with focused aggression, you know what I mean.

We had two awesome runs on this the last day, the second coming within spitting distance of the legendary World Cup Cap Die course. I started to put together the significance of the area, the terrain and the local riders – Nico and Fabien, multiple world champion each and I finally figured it out; Monaco isn’t for casino goers or James Bond fans it is in fact the hub of French downhill power.

The last few kilometers took us winding down staircases and narrow alleys between streets and beside residences all on a mission to the beach. We were navigating our selves through the maze of Monaco/ Monte Carlo trying to find the official finish. A motely crew of Media, Sweep, Guides and Riders finally hooked up with the rest of the event all on a pier jutting out into the Mediterranean. Could you imagine a better finish, could you imagine a more elated crowd than this one? We had journeyed far in a fashion never done before, and like a pioneer it felt good to be one of the first.

My first swim in the Med, followed by an awesome banquet at our base camp overlooking the night lights of Monaco- sooo sweet. Emotions ran high and the champagne flowed, but there weren’t any unexpected changes to the GC.  Some of the grudge matches had closed in on a definitive winner and it’s all on paper for everyone to see, so until next year – what is written is the final truth, until it can be re-written – in late september at the Trans Provence 2012 – See you there.

Cheers Dre

Trans Provence - Day 4 - 5

Trans Provence 
Photo's Andreas Hestler

Day 4 – HUMP DAY -Villars-Colmars to Guillaumes 41.5 km’s

965 meters UP
2434 meters DOWN

Hump day (the mid-way point of the week) came on the heels of a 1200m (4400 feet) camp night that means cold. I was ok as my conservative self says - “be careful, carry a good sleeping bag and always have a down jacket near by”. We awoke to another beau day (that’s French for beautiful).

Our shuttle was so beset by ancient ruins on the drive to the alpine that we nearly missed our launch time; ruins, castles and old chalets accosted our vision, all passed by as we ascended an endless stream of switchbacks. Our shuttle felt like a goat on steroids moving us steadily upwards towards the alpine.

SP1 was below us by the time the vehicles stopped well above the tree line. There would be no long early lias today but instead a vertical descent from grass trough the forest and into the rocky rubbly side of the mountain. It was a long descent that had a +60 meters on the description, the question is – would the climbing come all as one or in small bits? At the end of the day, dropping in at 6000+ feet means every climb sucks the air and the will to pedal out of your legs and soul, but every turn inspires and energizes, what a juxtapose as we headed down the first special stage.  Amazingly I lost something like 2 minutes to the fast guys, due to fear of exposure and speed (my lack of), while later in the day I would be within 4 seconds of some of the worlds fastest downhill men, so strange, but that is the beauty of the Trans Provence.

Tracey Mosley and Anka Martin, two of the most amazing gals I have had the pleasure of meeting and riding with. What an awesome additions to the Trans Provence, while the men have stepped up their game, so too have the women. Sometimes during the long days of a stage race I get tired of the ma-cheesmo and it’s so refreshing to have a women’s perspective. These two have a long history in the Mtb world and have criss-crossed the ocean of amazing, I thank god they are here to keep me sane and add a wonderful perspective to this awesome event. This year they started the season with the Cape Epic and now they will finish with the Trans Provence, now that’s a bookend to a great year.

We finished SP1 and headed to SP2. Once there it was to be one of the last special stages with a +110 meters of climbing, or the last time for the XC guys to pick up some time. For me to gain time on guys like Nico, Weir, Jerome or Fabian on a downhill is impossible, but throw in some up and the field becomes vaguely level. I didn’t come to the TP to race really, but pin a number on me and I will go hard and fast like any donkey, flogged repeatedly.

A little down, a little up, a little more technical down and it was time for lunch. SP2 was such a beautiful blend of technical down, punishing up and more flowing down that there was really little to complain about. Not so, someone is always unhappy, getting lost or flatting, this is the nature of the ‘race’ game. Once you pin numbers on, lay out a course you become liable for an earful of opinion – cause no matter what you do, someone else can do it better. Thank god the voice of reason resides with the masses or these loons would sway the sane to insanity.

Lunch in Provence, do I need to say more; on a grassy field above a river in the sunshine with a bunch of other smiling cyclists, sheers perfection.

This day delivered more diversity than any other, from the alpine to the forest and then onto open gravel skree style that instantly brought original freeride to mind. An old course used in the past for Enduro’s -‘Grey Earth’ something reminiscent of  middle earth and Mordor was a smooth fast flowing Utah experience that  one wished could go on forever. Onto SP4 and another ramble through the woods, down fast flowing trails, around multiple hairpins and switchbacks and all the while reading new terrain at mach chicken, what a joy.

Rolling into town, just 3 km’s before the campsite, a whole bunch our brethren were hunkered down having beers at the local café. Ben Cruz had wrecked in the ‘Grey Earth’ stage and was awaiting an ambulance; with mixed emotions we enjoyed our beers. It wasn’t until Ben headed out for x-rays and gave us the thumbs up that we truly unleashed our gusto. This is an adventure in full swing and holding back is just not possible, viva Trans Provence.

Day 5- Another Amazing Day – Deep in the Ozarks of France

Guillaumes to St-Sauvewru-sru-Tinee– 39.2 km’s

977 meters UP
1954 meters DOWN

It’s the journey, how could Ash have found this route, it’s the race, how can we all be shredding the singletrack and having so much fun? And the debate will rage on far into the winter; what is the magic here, why is this a ‘must do’ race? Why, because the people behind the scene really care and have taken the time to put on an amazing all-inclusive event.

Day five is bringing home this strange dichotomy – race or ride, what is the greater part of the experience; I will currently reserve judgment for myself, but know where my thoughts are leaning; we shuttle up to another amazing small French town perched high on a hillside – “what do they do for work” I think to myself, and begin a traverse around the mountain through grassy fields and stunted oak trees. The trail climbs up to our first special stage and it all begins again, but there seems to be a prevailing empathy for the overall journey, and while some are still focused on the ‘race’ many are defaulting to the overall experience.

This particular route demands 110% and is technically challenging, seven minutes later we are in another town, breathing hard and remembering the recent blur of trail. Moments later our wheels are pointed up towards the next segment of our adventure, lias 2. Up into the mountain the Trans Provence winds, with panoramic views at every turn we navigate into the ski resort of Valberg and continue on. SP2 is short but enjoyable and delivers us to lunch, another amazing small town with a history we can only sense through the plaques and battered shutters, it feels like we are riding ourselves off the grid of civilization and backwards into history.

We are moving into the Maritime Alps getting closer to Nice, the topography is getting steeper and it feels like we are more cut off and more remote than ever before. Like turning back time, access to modern conveniences are becoming harder to find, at the same time, paths wind through hillside villages and mountain farms with fertile vegetable gardens, there is ‘plenty’ here, it’s just not what we are used to.

SP3 delivers us to Ruobion the proverbial hillside town – we are riding the walking paths through the town center, under tunnels and arches. We can’t stop ourselves from photo shooting what is an absolutely iconic reflection of old Europe and this amazing area.

Onwards we go towards the end of day five, descending some singletrack, I take Rowan Sorrells wheel for a number of turns and giggle just a little, because the trail is so sweet. The traverse to our final stage is very special; the sun is setting over large mountains to our right, from where we have been, it is warm and strong as it shines down the valley like a beacon to where we are headed. Another town, paved corners and painted murals under red terracotta clay roofs, stacked on a hillside and between town and field our ribbon of wicked sin – the singletrack of the Trans Provence.

This last SP whips corners, blast berms and slices rural hinterlands the likes of which we only wish were possible elsewhere. It’s a short run to the finish, steep and deep, I find another sharp edge to frustrate myself on, but c’est la vie, it’s the end of a ‘wicked, wicked’ day and the French pub we roll into is already populated by our people. Weir, Beaumont and the crew have already stacked up a bunch of beers, and without hesitation we jump in.

Trans Provence - Days 2 - 3

Trans Provence 
Day 2 - Clamensane to Digne-les-Bains, 53 km
2012 - meters UP
2740 – meters Down
Photo Irmo Keizer
Day 2 dawned a blue bird day. Breakfast was had early at 6 a.m as this would be one of the biggest days of the week. The first shuttle headed out a bit late but still a reasonable 7:30, shuttle 2, us slated for 8, hit the road at 8:30 a.m.

Shuttling is a pleasant way to start a ride and in fact does mimic how we often get to our favorite trail locations. Our buses here are filled with other singletrack hounds and bike aficionado’s, this means we had no shortage of chit chat and even at such an early hour there is always someone cracking jokes.

Today would be another true all-mountain ride, four timed sections and some monster elevation gain. It all began in such a benign way, riding up a gentle gravel road shooting the breeze and rubbing shoulders with heavy hitters; Nico Vouillez, Fabien Barrel, Jerome Clemenz and Mark Weir. Based on yesterdays actions these were also the top three and main contenders – also Matt Ryan sitting in 4th and 4th at the Whistler Enduro should be watched carefully, another ninja on the bike.

Photo Andreas Hestler
Rounding a corner after just 3 km’s the trees melted away to grass that ran in abundance all the way up to the jagged peaks above us – we had hit the alpine and it was stupendous. Everyone whipped out their camera’ and started clicking, this event truly does create an environment of enjoyment and camaraderie, yet the Trans Provence does not shirk from flow core ‘action’.

Flowcore: we believe this to mean ‘hard core flow’ or wicked fun singletrack. It was an adjective used in a SP segment description.

With a little dilly-dally and some more photo’s we milked the alpine into a wonderful morning activity, but I was worried that we had made so little a dent in the big itinerary of this day that we were not going to make it home before dark.

SP1 began at the top of the alpine and snaked down a ridge crossing a river a number of times – here were boulder fields mining the trail, thin gravel lines etched into loose sandy slopes with plenty of consequence at every wrong turn. And at the top of the section we sat discussing the entry, the turns, the style of each rider as they dropped in. Here we sat with Mark Beaumont, Nico, Jerome, Weir, Barrel and any other number of honch riders assessing the lines. Another delay to the day as the queu sorted itself out and the numbers on the top finally thinned.

It was a short jaunt through a deserted farm over to SP2, nothing like what we had just ridden; this was in fact the antitheses. From boulder fields, rock gardens and choose your own adventure to the nicest most defined piece of singletrack we had switched gears completely. Without hesitation this time people dropped in and ripped the trail.  Flat out for a minute across the ridge then diving into the forest to find wonderful natural berms and perfect turns, such a variety of trail, terrain and experience.
Photo Irmo Keizer
Food was next on the list and a long lias to SP3. After that we knew there was the final monster climb to SP4 and what was rumored to be – one of the best trails of the week ‘ Donkey Darko’, but first we had to pick up the speed or we would be out in the sun in southern France, all day.

I’m not sure at this point whether to mention the amazing transfers and how vast the mountains, views and feelings are. This area seems to be a recreational mecca; trails abound, but we saw few users, the views are forever, but we see no cities and no end to the possibilities, this is in short a well kept secret. I doubt you would be able to carve out the experience we are having without the wisdom and experience of a good local ‘Trail Boss’. The south of France has now been exposed and the way to experience it is the Trans Provence.

SP3 flew by, we heard rumor later that Ben Cruz and Mark Weir had topped 40 miles per hour, it was fasssst! What came next was the ‘monster climb’ we all knew though that this would lead to the rumored sweetest singletrack of the day.

Up, up and away, the sun baking our backs and no wind to cool us at all, this was truly earning our turns. It’s always less than one thinks to make the climb, but there is still a price to pay, our weight in salt and sweat and it’s always right at the edge of snapping when the trailhead appears. Sitting up at the top of the world were the cameramen, the videographer and the card swiping machine that would lead us to the promised land.

Photo Irmo Keizer
‘Donkey Darko’ so called for the night it was pioneered and the asses that appeared to confirm the designation. Nobody knows what goes into naming a trail, but once named- always appropriate. Shralping down the trail, over alpine grass and through small rock gardens into tight switchbacks and long ribbons of trail beside an edge hovering just above the precipice of the river valley below – down, down, down till the hands and feet let me know that this was an ‘epic’ and still there was more. Finally reaching the river, we crossed over and the singletrack snaked alongside the dry gulch. It continued to turn and undulate, with natural river rock corners, slightly banked and unbelievably bike friendly – how had this not been created purposely for mountain bikers. And finally the end arrived, hoots hollers and high fives all around.

The camp is buzzing with the excitement, but there is an underlying fatigue as day 2 comes to a close. What will tomorrow bring, can it be as good, we don’t worry too much as already we have exceeded 90% of all of our expectations.


Day 3—Digne-les-Bains to Villars-Colmars—48.5 kilometers
1428 meters UP
1339 meters DOWN

Photo Andreas Hestler

 Holy smokes! These guys are fast and these hills are big! It’s a bit wild to be sitting around talking DH strategy with a bunch of world champions and enduro super-dudes. While I have a strong passion for vertically inclined slopes and gnarly roots, I am seeing that I chose wisely when I headed into XC, these guys are just a little crazy and more than a little calculating.

What was most evident in today’s post event discussion, besides the obvious- Wow, this area is beautiful and amazing was the recognized style difference between the riders; Weir and Nico have been doing split timing on each other and recognize the corner vrs high speed difference, Fabien and Matt Ryan are discussing the meters up per SP section and Jerome Clementz smiles in the corner as we all believe he is likely to smash everyone everywhere and come out on top. The rest of us quaff beers and share war stories, talk about Mark Beaumont’s birthday hangover on Day Two and generally love the entire tourism aspect of this adventure.

Photo Andreas Hestler
Today began with the usual shuttle up through some amazing geography—I am pretty sure I’m not in Kansas anymore. We pedaled, we hiked and we peaked out at a very high point on a very big ridge, which meant SP1 (Ed. Note: SP stands for special stage, a mid-stage timed portion) was a wicked-long singletrack descent. Again, so sustained that the arms are reaching ‘pump’, the calves and legs are on the verge of ‘cramp’, but somehow it all stays together and me and my trusty Rocky Slayer reach the bottom.
Photo Andreas Hestler
Photo Andreas Hestler
 Tires for most people here are, Lust, double-ply or Tubeless 2.35 (beefed up side walls). Last night I changed my rear tire from a single-ply Minion Front 2.35 to an EXO Minion 2.5. The terrain here is generally rocky, fast, and line of sight is covered by bushes and tight corners, so flatting is a distinct possibility, but, so to is careening off the trail into a deep crevasse. This sort of exposure is talked about in each nightly briefing and the organizers are not exaggerating. If not for absolute fear and concentration, the view over the bars could be very, very troublesome—keep your eyes on the trail.

Our liaisons (Ed. Note: mid-stage portions that are aren’t timed) are amazing as we pass over gentle rolling hills, past vineyards and lonely old churches. This is the Europe I came to see and Trans-Provence is in fact exceeding my expectations.

SP2 is a mid-week hurdle with 120+ meters of climbing located in the very middle of the section, that roughly equates to a 6 minute threshold effort on a 30-pound bike, ouch! But this is where I make my time back, it’s a raw scramble for every second and I am generally loosing ground. Let me once again reiterate the quality of the riders here—impressive!

Fatigue is definitely rearing it’s ugly head and there are many tired bodies littered about the course today, mine included. It’s just a general malaise, nothing specific, but the reactions are slow, the motivation to ‘charge’ is absent and the climbing prowess is non-existent, but if that is what I am feeling, my only hope is that it is much, much worse for my competitors.

We wind down the valley through a number of small villages, looking to the left and right we see tight alleys and brick buildings, some windows are closed with shutters that seem to have been around since the turn of the century. There are no stores, no gas stations and nowhere to stop but the town squares and their amazingly unique fountains, this is not North America or one of the more modern parts of Europe, we are deep in the old school and it is awesome.

Creaking up towards the final special stage of the day, we are all baked; from the sun, from the distance and from the elevation and this is only Day Three. I drop into the smooth singletrack trail that carves around the side of the valley, gingerly skirting some exposure, the line plummets into the forest, shimmies around a few trees and along a barbed wire fence—fun, but scary. Life is wonderful and suddenly there is a hill—did I see this on the profile? Oh damn! It looks short, but I dig deep to find the summit and hammer on. The blood pumps and the legs do what they are trained to do – ‘Go Hard’ and take me home to the end of the section. Two more climbs, one demands 20 feet of running, but I push on to the end and gasping for breath, swipe my card for the last SP of the day, whew!

It’s 2 kilometers down the road to base camp and we’re finished the third leg of the Trans Provence, I think, but I’m not sure – this will be one hell of an adventure.

Day Three Results
1. Mark Weir 0:26:50
2. Ben Cruz 0:26:55
3. Jerome Clementz 0:27:05
4. Matt Ryan 0:27:40
5. Nicolas Vouilloz 0:27:47
6. Fabien Barel 0:28:08
7. Andreas Hestler 0:30:02
8. Rowan Sorrell 0:30:46
9. James Richard 0:30:58
10. Iain Matthews 0:31:01

Trans Provence - Days 0-1

By Andreas Hestler
Photos Andreas Hestler Unless otherwise mentioned

The Trans-Provence, now in its third edition, has been stated as the ‘Definitive All-Mountain MTB Race’. It has been flying under the radar for the last two years, but it would seem that the secret is now out. The field this year is deep, talented and motivated, as much for the singletrack riding as for the shared camaraderie of the whole experience. Fifty-eight intrepid adventurers will journey from Gap, France to Monaco on 26 timed downhill sections. The average day is approximately 25 miles long, and within this distance the riders will swipe their timing chips and test their technical skills–repeatedly.
Who doesn’t want to go to the South of France for an all-mountain adventure slash race? Shuttle up the first climb of each day, descend anywhere from three to four timed sections per stage and repeat for 7 days, until arriving in Monaco.

Photo Andreas Hestler
Photo Irmo Keizer
Day 0 –
After an amazingly long and uneventful flight (19 hours) to Nice, France, I was picked up at the airport along with Tracey Mosley and a few other Brits by the organizer of the event, Ashley Smith. As we were whisked deep into the mountains, my sleep-deprived brain was absolutely floored by the beauty surrounding us; steep striated rock, with arid Tahoe-like vegetation. All this had me believing I was driving to Big Bear or Mammoth, if not for the French Villa’s and extremely old road infrastructure I could have been somewhere much closer to home.
We arrived at ‘Camp 1′ in the late afternoon while Fabien Barrel, Mark Weir, Jerome Clementz and Nico Vouilloz followed soon thereafter. It was nice to come in early, spend some time with the crew of the Trans-Provence and generally ease into the whole experience.
Glamping – ‘glamour camping’. Like car camping only much better; gourmet food on tables under electric lights, music, beer and a lounge, we were just beginning to understand what the Trans Provence would be all about.

Day 1 – Rochebrune to Clamensane – 42 kilometers,
1363 meters Up
1686 meters Down
Photo Irmo Keizer
Waking up early to the sounds of church bells ringing is not a normal experience, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and pause… …and again, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. I roll over to check the time, and wadya know it’s 5 am, yikes. Jet lag rears its ugly head, but not for long, and I drop back into a peaceful slumber.
Next thing I know, it’s seven a.m. and the camp is stirring. The first wave of shuttles goes up at 8:30 and the second wave at 9:30. There’s time to consume a great breakfast, enjoy some coffee and pack our bags before our shuttle.
I am nervous, we have all heard a lot about the day, but nobody has been here before. This fact is very exciting–no advantage for anyone, a level playing field. This is a big part of the excitement of the Trans Provence; it is new and fresh for all.
After the shuttle, there is a one hour gravel road pedal to the start of SP 1 (special stage), we mill about a bit and then drop in, my riding buddy for the day Whistler resident, Matt Ryan. Running along a ridge, undulating and moderately technical, the ups leave us gasping and the downs begin to challenge. One steep chute eats a number of participants, and we finish our first taste of the Trans Provence gasping, amazed and with our nerves thoroughly worked out.
SP 2 is a brief affair, and we are beginning to understand what the unique vibe of the Trans-Provence is. Everyone is yapping away discussing the last SP and postulating the length, depth and technical challenge of what lies ahead. Many of us managed to scare ourselves on the first downhill (SP 1) and hedge thoughts of reigning it in a bit. Groups of friends are starting to form up and figure out how to most enjoy the character of the downhills and the transfer segments. SP 2 falls under our all-mountain steeds, it isn’t as long as SP 1 but has some amazing berms, whoops and challenges.
Photo Irmo Keizer
The feed zone is next and the energy is high. Leaving lunch, we head to the last SP of the day, which was described as a luge run. There is much animated chatter and many huge smiles, ‘That was awesome…did you see the line by the tree, near the…and oh yeah, but I dabbed and…it was soo rad!’
The sun is setting now and dinner is waiting on the patio. The mountains are glowing with a pink hue that seems extra special today, maybe it’s just the jet lag, but perhaps there is something different going on here at the Trans Provence, in France.

Results after Day One:
Nico Vouilloz 28.19
Mark Weir 28.48
Jerome Clementz 28.57
Matt Ryan 29.09
Marc Beaumont 30.15
Fabien Barel 30.34
Andreas Hestler 31.29
Steve Jones 31.44
Rowan Sorrell 32.22