Everyone is always searching for the next adventure, and so are we. Since we have summer all year long in Madeira Island, Portugal, when August arrives it’s time to pack the bags, load the bikes in the plane and just go – usually with a European destination in mind. It’s the perfect way to forget about our college studies and focus on something that keeps us alive.
Being young (and sometimes stupid!), our dream holidays were always spent riding bike parks in France. From Les Gets to Morzine or even Chatel, yes these are recommended places to take your downhill bike and avoid the big holes in the tracks during the summer season. This year we wanted to do something different. Maybe we’re getting older or maybe the way we look at mountain biking is constantly changing. We can compare it to our life, which is also under construction all the time and things that we used to love are just getting boring.
We didn’t want to ride our downhill bike, that wasn’t the set up. Instead, we started planning our summer in February, searching for a distinctive experience. That’s when we found Trail Addiction, based in Les Arcs, France. They seemed to have it all: the enormous singletracks, the challenging uphills and above it all, adventure. When you combine all of these aspects of riding you really can’t ask for much more. Scenic mountains with singletracks in the middle of nowhere. Just like we’ve dreamed for years. For most people living in the Alps, big mountains and never-ending singletracks are just plain normal. For us, it’s magical.
We didn’t doubt for a minute about the experience. Dates confirmed, tickets booked and it was time to begin to get fit for the big alpine enduro, as they normally call it. But this decision got a bit easier when Ali, Trail Addiction’s mastermind and big boss, invited me to join the media crew at Trans-Savoie, known as one of the toughest enduro races in Europe. So, before Rui and Paulo joined me in Les Arcs, I was submitted and tested to the limit at Trans-Savoie, carrying my huge EVOC backpack with cameras, lenses, batteries and a huge tripod, following some of the fastest enduro riders in the world… well, trying to survive most of the time. Those six days were brutally hard and you’re continuously invaded by mixed feelings. Generally I praise and love my bike but during the race I was honestly thinking about throwing it down the mountain. However, when your effort is paid off with an amazing landscape and irreplaceable silence, you truly understand that life is to be lived to the fullest. When you empty your mind and reach that state, the pain seems to be the last thing you think about.
It all started with one night at Geneva’s airport floor, holding my bike box and camera bag, but I thought when I would arrive at the camp site, things would get a bit better. How mistaken I was!
Sleeping in a tent was something new for me too. Where do I put my clothes when everything is wet? Why didn’t I bring warmer clothing? Well, the first question does not have an answer. The second question, it’s easy to justify because I really don’t have suitable clothing for the extreme cold that I felt in the first night during camping at Val D’Isere.
The first thing I did after waking up from that freezing night was going to the town centre and buying pants, socks, socks, socks, fluffy-not-touch-screen-gloves and a beanie. I must confess that I slept a bit better in the second night. And what helps you sleep better is the constant and exceptional riding during the day, an excellent meal, meeting people from all over the world and sharing experiences. I went to my tent full of joy, glad to be a part of this big mountain biking community. Every day that went by things got a bit better. I had to film stages but I also had the chance to ride them. I admit that I’m not the most skilled rider, not even close, but I was getting surprised with my skills. Even carrying the backpack, with the tripod hitting my helmet and blocking my view, I was feeling confident riding blind. Tom, one of the guys from the media crew, told me in the beginning that we had the best job in the Trans-Savoie, and I guess he was right. In those six days I rode more trails than in all my life. There were times that I knew I had to stop, take my gloves off, set the tripod and record the action, but I wish I could be racing too with no stopping at all. It is a constant struggle when you’re having fun but you know that you have to stop because you have to work. Regardless, it is also rewarding watching your images together in the final edit and remembering those moments forever.
Meribel, Les Arcs, Tignes, Bozel, Albertville or Chamonix, I honestly can’t decide my favourite day or trail. Challenging rock-gardens, questionable roots, infinite singletracks or impossible steep sections, I really can’t choose my favourite type of riding. I believe that as a rider, it’s always great to test yourself in a great amount of different trails, and when you are racing it blind, it really takes you to the limit. That’s what the Trans-Savoie is all about. The race wants to basically kill you and tear you apart, but you have to be stronger than yourself and faster than your opponents. Looks easy? It’s not.
After those six days, it was time to hear Portuguese-speaking people once again. My buddies from Portugal, Paulo ‘Cabrito’ Batista and Rui Sousa came along for two weeks of riding. By the way, so that you know, the nickname ‘Cabrito’ means literally a goat, and at the end of the trip the Trail Addiction crew just called him ‘Crazy Goat’. Some say that his nickname is due to his close relationship with goats everywhere; some say it’s because when he was a kid he landed on the top of a goat during a downhill race; some say it’s because of his riding style. We believe that it is the combination of all the above. Joining ‘Crazy Goat’ was Rui, another skilled rider with more than 4 million views online. Not bad. I’ve known these two guys for a long time, and they represent the true MAD spirit. Above it all, they are my friends. They understand when I’m struggling with a shot and they are always ready for a laugh. No dull or boring moments with these two.
They welcomed me in the Trail Addiction chalet with hugs and comments about how slim I looked after the Trans-Savoie. Like a kid with candy, that’s how excited they were for riding. Rui was still putting his bike together and Cabrito was just giving the final touches. Luckily Cabrito works and manages a bike shop in Madeira, so I handed him my tired Scott Genius. He just said: ‘Oh my God! I’m on holidays and you’re already having mechanical problems?’ Guys, here’s my personal advice: always travel with a mechanic, if you can. It was good to get some news from where we are from and to hear the funny and familiar accent. I shared my Trans-Savoie experience and they were pretty surprised on how I managed to live to tell the tale. While Cabrito bleeds my brakes, Rui starts taking bike parts out of the bike box. An extra fork, spare wheels, brakes, spokes, pedals and loads of tools. Yes, he had parts to mount an extra bicycle if he needed. I guess those guys were ready to ride hard enduro trails, and that’s what we were looking for.
I was in need of a good shower, a big bed with decent sheets, a closet with hangers and a comfortable sofa. After the race you start giving a huge value to the small details in life. The chalet felt so cosy, and the meals were just phenomenal. Some gourmet delicious grilled taco filled with salad, herbs and cheese for starter. For main course, the best casserole we ever had. A glass… or two, of the best red wine in town, which goes perfectly well with our meal, even if you have to forget about your training plans for a couple of nights. For dessert, apple pie with cinnamon. We’re used to getting dirty in the trails but in the Chazalet we’re treated like kings. After this entire five star treatment we spent a couple of hours in the outdoors Jacuzzi, drinking beer and chatting before bed time.
In the first days we just wanted to scout the area, find what were the best trails to ride, film and photograph. We got two great guides, Tim and Andy, and a van just for ourselves. It was just non-stop and Andy was feeling the rhythm too, claiming that he usually guides much slower groups, which for us is just a good compliment. Cabrito doesn’t speak English or French, however we quickly understood that his favourite word was ‘fast’. In the next thirteen days the word ‘fast’ was the foundation of his sentences, which was always a good reason to goof around. Fast goat; fast trail; me is fast; fast or faaaast? Even when I asked him about the title for the movie he stopped for a bit to think, and suddenly answered: ‘Fast!’
After riding some of the best wood trails of our lives, we needed to take the challenge to the big alpine enduro. We went by van till Arc 2000 and then it was a long ride to get to the top of Mont Jovet. All the guides and Ali were always saying that it would be worth it, and that in seventeen years he had never seen such a bright and sunny day in that area. We started riding up the fire road, and I was starting to feel the altitude in my head, heart and legs. Every pedal stroke was hard and the camera backpack didn’t let me enjoy the ride. After Rui insisted four times, I gave him my bag and switched to his. A couple kilometres ahead, Cabrito took it and climbed the hardest part with the bike in his back too. I was still at the bottom part of the path, asking myself: ‘what the hell am I doing here?’. I was doubting myself and just thinking nonsense, which made me unfocused where I was putting my feet and I couldn’t control my breathing. It’s on those moments that you start doubting about your abilities. After a long walk with the bike on my back, Ali came down to help me in the last part, but I had to finish the journey alone. I’ll never forget arriving to the top. I was tired, but conquering that mountain was a mark in my life. For a while, I even forgot about taking my bike off my back. Behind me I could see the Mont Blanc, covered with fresh snow. In my front there was a huge ridge of mountains that looked like a French postcard or an advert for the Travel Channel, perfectly combined with the dark blue sky and the light green grass. On my right side, Rui took photos with his phone, to keep that memory alive for the next few years. We won’t return there soon, unfortunately. Everybody high-fived me and surprisingly the pain goes away. I catch my breath again. Surrounded by that thrilling landscape you hear nothing, well, except for Cabrito devouring his tuna sandwich with his mouth half open. You want to go down the scenic singletrack ahead of you, but you also want to stay at the top of that mountain forever.
The next day, we have a new adventure ahead of us. We load our bikes in the new Trail Addiction 4×4 van and it’s time to go up, way up. Our destiny is La Varda. Usually groups go up by lift, but in September everything is starting to close because of the Winter season. We reach the top of the mountain once again, and this time I’m really glad Ali gave us a ride. You’re basically following the valley on your way down, sometimes riding on the edge of a cliff. It’s technical, yes it is, but I can’t get out of my bicycle and use the chicken line, because there aren’t chicken lines on this trail! I was glad my mother wasn’t there to hear me swear. Your wheels roll over the big rocks and it’s quite a mental and physical challenge. If I was riding 26′ wheels I would go over the bars a couple of times. Still not sure if that inch and a half makes a big difference. I try to keep my steering in the correct direction, while gently touching my front brake, hooping around and hoping that my derailleur doesn’t hit a sharp granite. At the same time as you’re focused on the trail, there are sheep and goats jumping on the side of the trail. We pass a shepherd and his five huge mountain dogs. He smiles and says “bonjour” while the youngest and smallest dog of the pack chases Rui for a couple of meters.
After a couple of days of pure enduro, we had explored more than all our years riding bikes. Literally, hundreds of switchbacks, dozens of different trails and too many emotions to describe with words. Looks like the French succeeded once again. They know what they’re doing, for sure. France “rhymes” with Eiffel Tower, croissants, Versailles and the mythic stories of Asterix & Obelix. We should definitely add Alps to this short list. I already added it to mine.
The singletracks don’t seem to end and my arms and fingers hold the handlebars with pain and joy at the same time. Between downhill runs we get ready for another long transition. It’s time to use the Reverb, drink a bit of water, grab something to eat, block suspension and shox and pedal. In one of those epic uphills, I feel my bicycle moving faster but I’m not pedalling harder. When I look back I see Cabrito pushing me with one hand in my backpack, pedalling firmly and strong. “No one stays behind”, he says smiling, while Rui pushes me in the other side on the fire road. They make fun of me and tell me that I’m strictly forbidden to eat Nutella again. In those moments you really understand the meaning of life. I live for those moments.
Riding in the Alps is something unique. I can travel there my whole life or even live there, but it would be impossible to know everything and to ride every single trail. When you’re standing on the top of a mountain, you see infinite possibilities and you really don’t know where to start. A stadium or a court, limited by boundaries and rules, can’t beat the freedom of mountain biking.
Cold Beers: Lost count at day three
Km’s per Day: About 45km
Km’s per Week: About 225km
Total Descent: Average 5.000m per day and 25.000m per week
Hours Riding per Day: Between 6 and 8 hours
Crew and Riders Crashes:
French Baguettes: 1 whole Baguette per rider per day
Total time in the Jacuzzi: 300 minutes
Brake Pads: 6 sets between all of us
Goats hugged: 4
Wheel Size: 27,5′
Transfer Time from Geneva: 2:30h