Sometimes I think it’s important to step outside of the bubble, away from the comfort known as the everyday in search of a place that you know exists yet no matter how hard you try you rarely find. For me, such experiences help to realign my thoughts and offer perspective on the highs and lows that we all face in life. Not only is it a chance to explore the unknown, it’s an opportunity to learn about myself when both body and mind have to work together to realise what may be possible.
When I look back at the amount of hours I spent preparing for this single ride, what I put myself through in training with sessions that no modern-day coach could comprehend, and certainly not recommend, I feel a warmth inside. At the time I couldn’t have felt further from this – nausea, sleep deprivation, unsociable hours – with a single desire that verges into becoming an obsession.
Maybe I follow an unorthodox approach in my preparation, training and diet, but in doing it like this it means I can only ever point the fickle finger of blame at myself should I not reach my dream. For me that’s important…
It’s all too easy to dismiss your responsibilities and blame someone else should things not go your way, when the reality is that you are the only person in the world who can control your destiny. And then, the moment arrives when your whole universe feels like it’s confined to the size of a pin head. The second when everything you’ve hurt, worked and lived for is put into practice. 9.00am, August 5th, Evian les Bains. When life begins…
Your hands start to shake and every atom in your body feels like it’s going to split clean in two, and a deep breath only seems to fuel the internal fire that’s blazing inside instead of helping to calm your nerves – all whilst your mind is sending a direct order to your body desperately telling it to relax and remain in control. Already the power struggle between both has begun.
As you climb in what feels like slow-motion towards the next summit it’s impossible to escape the furnace of the day. No shelter. No remorse. Air temperature so hot that it feels like you’re suffocating on your own breath hour after hour. The only thing that keeps you moving forward is knowing that eventually the beads of sweat that are building on your arms, legs and face will be your saving grace on the descent.
The invisible evil of every cyclist. As if a 10% gradient wasn’t enough, and after 11 hours straight on the bike, the slopes of the Glandon with a block headwind are enough to strip every piece of your soul back until you’re left with nothing more than the rawness of a subconscious state of mind reminding you that you’re still alive, and therefore there is still a way forward.
I could spend hours just looking at the sky on a clear night, trying to spot the brightest star and dreaming of the mystique that each one holds. A clear night offers a sense of realisation that no matter what you are doing you are nothing in comparison to its size. In the heart of the mountains it also brings a much needed moment of reassurance that all will be okay.
The moment during the deepest, darkest, hours that you feel will never arrive. Minutes seem like months as you wait patiently for the first sign of light on the horizon. Whatever state you find yourself in from the night, as you inhale the cool morning air every part of you feels refreshed – like you’re breathing for the very first time once again.
Knowing that whatever happens everyone surrounding you at that precise moment is there with the same goal, offering you encouragement and support whenever your eyes turned glazed is humbling beyond words – providing secondary belief beyond your own mind.
Freedom and exhilaration to the point where you’re sure if you put your arms out you could fly. Carving turn after turn, focusing on every apex with laser-like precision whilst poised like an arrow from summit to valley.
And finally, you find that place you’ve been searching for for so long. A state of equilibrium when everything is balanced and you feel so light that you could float above the clouds, your body is at one with your mind and no matter what mountain lies in your path you know that you could cross it and continue to ride until the sun sets once more.
Photos by Loris von Siebenthal