Stealing Autumn. 

No need for division, play nice now y'all.

Back in 2016, I imagined what would happen if the then president elect went biking in Chamonix. Four years later, leaving office with the legacy of being the first president to be impeached twice, he’s here in his own words again*; A timeline of how autumn was stolen. 

04/11/2020 Election night speech: “I want to thank the first lady, my entire family….for being with us all through this. And we were getting ready for a big ride. We were riding everything and all of a sudden it was just called off. The rides have been phenomenal and we are getting ready… I mean, literally we were just all set to get outside and just ride something that was so beautiful, so good. Such a trail, such a success for riders of Chamonix to have come out in record numbers. This is a trail. There’s never been anything like it to support our incredible riding. We rode trails that we weren’t expected to ride. Flatiere, we didn’t ride it. We rode it a lot. 

And all of a sudden everything just stopped. 

This is a fraud on the Chamonix public. This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to ride this trail when it was stolen by the snow. Frankly, we did ride this trail. We did ride this trail. So our goal now is to ensure the weather for the good of this nation. This is a very big moment. This is a major fraud in our nation. We want the law to be used in a proper manner. So we’ll be going to the Supreme Court. We want all weather to stop. We don’t want them to find any snow at four o’clock in the morning and add it to the trail. Okay? It’s a very sad moment. To me this is a very sad moment and we will ride this. And as far as I’m concerned, we already have ridden it. “

Last of the park days. Morgins in the clart, late October. Photo Toby Bradley

Tweet 04/11/2020 How come every time they count snow falls they are so devastating in their percentage and power of destruction?    WHAT IS THIS ALL ABOUT? 

Tweet 04/11/20 We have claimed, for riding purposes, the Commonwealth of Flatiere (which won’t allow legal observers) the State of Servoz, and the State of Les Bois, each one of which has a BIG dry trail network. Additionally, we hereby claim the State of Les Houches if, in fact,..there was a large number of secretly dumped snow as has been widely reported! Our lawyers have asked for “meaningful access”, but what good does that do? The damage has already been done to the integrity of our trails, and to the riding itself. This is what should be discussed! 

Tweet 05/11/20 STOP THE SNOW! 

Flatiere. Where it's at in Autumn, Fiona and Patrick on one of the first laps of "Kenny Loggins"

Tweet 07/11/20 09.41 Lawyers press conference at Four Seasons, Philadelphia 11.00 A.M. 

Tweet 07/11/20 09.45 Big press conference in Philadelphia at Four Seasons Total Landscaping – 11.30 A.M. 

Tweet 07/11/20 Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia: To clarify, President Trump’s press conference will NOT be held at Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia. It will be held at Four Seasons Total Landscaping— no relation with the hotel. 

These things don't find themselves you know, "Kenny Loggin's" and creator. If you're not sure, google it, but add Top Gun to the search.

Tweet 07/11/20 Winter should not wrongfully claim the trails of Chamonix. I could make that claim also. Legal proceedings are just now beginning! 

Tweet 07/11/20 I had such a big ride on all of these trails late into November 4th, only to see the trails miraculously disappear under snow as the days went by. Perhaps these trails will return as our legal proceedings move forward! 

Tweet 09/11/20 Chamonix meteo, meteo france, meteoblue were so inaccurate with their forecasts, that it really is tampering with the weather. They were so far off in their forecast and in their attempt to suppress – that they should be called out for weather interference…

This claim about weather fraud is disputed 

If you can dodge the hunters, autumn is a grand time to explore. Somewhere above Les Houches on a trail that didn't work out. Photo Toby Bradley.

Trump and Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, phonecall 02/01/2021: “So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 dry trails, which is one more than we have. Because we won the season. The people of Chamonix are angry, the people in the country are angry” “And there’s nothing wrong with saying, you know, um, that you’ve recalculated.” “So what are we going to do here folks? I only need 11,000 dry trails. Fellas, I need 11,000 dry trails. Give me a break. There’s no way I lost Autumn. There’s no way. We won by hundreds of thousands of trails.” Brad Raffensperger: “Well, Mr President, the challenge that you have is, the data you have is wrong, winter always follows autumn.” 

Winter follows autumn. 74 million is less than 81 million.

Tweet 12/12/2020 Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!

06/01/2021 Address to rally near White House: “But our fight against the big winter, big snow, big ice, and others is just getting started. This is the greatest in history. There’s never been a movement like that…. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have dry trails anymore….Because you’ll never take back autumn with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong…. And I had to beat Oprah, used to be a friend of mine. You know, I was on her last show, her last week, she picked the five outstanding people. I don’t think she thinks that any more.”

06/01/21 Pre recorded address to ask protesters to stop storming the Capitol: “I know your pain, I know your hurt. We had an autumn that was stolen from us. It was an endless season, and everyone knows it, especially the other side…. But you have to go home now. We have to have skis. We have to have ice and snow…. We can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have winter. So go home. We love you; you’re very special.”

Tweet 06/01/2021 “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred season is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great riders (on Orange Patriots presumably…) who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”

Toby back when we discovered that despite it not raining for over a week; Morgins was still mochit.

12/01/2021 Alamo Texas, Trump address to crowd: “Free trails are under assault like never before…. The 25th amendment is of zero risk to me but will come back to haunt the snow and the snow administration as they call, I call it winter

13/01/2021: Congress voted to impeach D.J.T, Presidential pardons released: NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT KNOWN that I, D. J. T, President of the United States of America, in consideration of the premises, divers other good and sufficient reasons me thereunto moving, do hereby grant clemency to the said Autumn, and 70 others.

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength

19/01/2021 Farewell address to the nation: “I did not seek the easiest course; by far, it was actually the most difficult. I did not seek the path that would get the least airtime. I took on the tough rock slabs, the hardest corners, the most difficult line choices – because that’s what you elected me to do.”

“I go from this majestic season with a loyal and joyful heart, an optimistic spirit, and a supreme confidence that for our bikes and for our trails, the best is yet to come. Thank you, and farewell. God bless you. God bless the United States of Flatiere.”

20/01/2021 Final public words as President: “So, have a good life. We will see you soon.”

Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Once again, all of the above is basically his own words, this time culled from tweets and press conferences and public addresses since he lost both the popular and electoral college vote.  

The last go at this, back in November 12th 2016, saw an interesting anomaly this site’s analytics. The number 1 and 2 countries for the most hits are always the UK and France. They swap places, but it’s always one or the other. For the month after I posted Post Truth Biking, Russia rushed the number one spot, being responsible for 32.3% of all traffic to the blog between 12th November and 11th December 2016. Anyone care to hazard a guess at why that happened? 

Weird wee blip that eh.

*So I had been chipping away at this post for a while, with a nice document listing tweets that I might use and with simple to follow hyperlinks to show that yes, Trump really did say that, when he staged a rally on the same day that congress was certifying the election of Joe Biden. At the rally, Trump encouraged his supporters to “walk down to the Capitol” and you know the rest. Alas this also led to Trump being permanently removed from twitter and all his old tweets disappearing. Along with my links. So if you want to check, the date and shape of each tweet is there, I’m sure your favourite conspiracy theory approved search engine can do the rest.

The problem with getting involved in all this is, no matter who's right and who's wrong, everyone ends up covered in shite. Airdrop Edit V3 covered in neutral Swiss clart from the final days of autumn.

Dorenaz

 

Dorenaz. A long way above the valley.

I got a fair bit of feedback on the last post here. Apparently the physics of time and space and time were/are/will be a step too far. Folk were worried. It’s nice to know people care. And read the blog.

With that in the mind, lets bring things back down to earth with something more cheery.

Parasites.

Where is this going? Well, Wayne's going down and north, I've no idea where the blog's headed.

Damn they’re amazing. Take toxoplasmosis. Until recently all I knew about it was you get it in cat poo and it caused Tommy’s death in Trainspotting (err, spoiler). Well, it didn’t really, his death was the result of a chain of events that surely couldn’t have been foreseen but that doesn’t help my point, whatever, choose life.

Some of this is relevant. Toxoplasmosis is a parasite that lives in the guts of cats. To proliferate it needs to spread from cat to cat. Obviously, this is difficult when you live in the gut of a cat. So, toxoplasmosis leaves through the usual channels and sits on the floor. Cats don’t eat cat poo. Cats eat rats and mice. So instead the parasite waits for the rats and mice to eat the poo and get one step closer to the guts of the next cat. This would be interesting enough, but the really good bit is about to come. Normal mouse and rat behaviour is to stay as close as possible to the edge of a room or some other shelter. Not those that have been infected with toxoplasmosis. These rats and mice throw off their agoraphobia and make a b-line for the middle of the room, maximising their chance of ending up as cat snack. It gets weirder. Some studies into rats have shown that after being infected with toxoplasmosis they might become sexually attracted to the scent of cat urine. Which raises some interesting questions about the perfume industry.

Doesn't that bike look good....

This tiny wee parasite completely alters the behaviour of a host animal for it’s own gain. Where could analogies with day to day life be found in that?

Thinking about it, is this blog parasitic? Does it alter your behaviour when you read these posts and keep seeing yon lovely Airdrop Edit on the finest trails in the world, you start associating the two. Probably not your behaviour, but does it alter my behaviour? I’m keen to keep riding the bike (it’s the most fun bike I’ve owned), and I’m also keen to keep getting them, so does that worm its way into my mind and alter my picture choices?  How about when you see ideas for rides that are notchamonix and they work on your mind to change your behaviour to do that, leave the safety of the bikepark, head out into the open. Does this blog make you attracted to the smell of marmotte pee?

Pedal back up hill this way for the telecabine. Oh look, Mont Blanc.

So many questions with no intention of finding an answer. On with the riding.

In a valley not so far away there is a magical lift. Ok, maybe magical is pushing it a bit, but unique should cover it. Dorenaz is public transport, a quicker easier way up to Champex than taking the bus. That makes it fairly rare. It takes bikes, at least 6 of them, for a small extra fee. This makes it rarer. You hang the bikes from hooks on the underside of the lift and hope they’re still attached when you get to the top. There’s not many lifts that make you do that.

It might be autumn, but it can still be damn hot out.

Normally when you use uplift you sling the bike into the carrier and forget about it until you have to unhook it from the chairlift at the top. Not so much in Dorenaz where I challenge anyone not to have a quick glance at their axles to make sure everything’s done up good and tight. It’s funny the things that get inside your head.

How does this image make you feel about the security of your wheels?

No matter how amazing, the lift only gets you so far. We stood about in the slightly cooler air of 1124m altitude, looked at a map, discussed options, and decided it was way too much like effort to go all the way to the Tete du Portail, and definitely way too hot and dry for the descent. The lower trails on the south facing aspects from the Dorenaz lift are loose and dry at the best of times, as it doesn’t seem to have rained this century in Valais we couldn’t really call this the best of times.

Pointing at maps. We have to pass 6 separate modules on the subject at guide school.

Instead we started traversing and climbing along the west facing slopes, linking trails we knew with trails we’d heard of.

It went pretty well. We basically ended up with 2 descents, the first steep, slow and technical the second faster looser and more flowing.

Technical or flowy, your call.

The first was what I guess BC Canada would feel like if it rained less and was warmer. So BC in about 10 years then. The dirt didn’t quite have that hero tack of Whistler, but it wasn’t just loose dust either, and the rock lined trail dropping down through old growth forest with the early autumn light filtering down to the green floor made you feel like you were in another Frenchie-living-in-Squamish shredit. Stills make this myth easier to perpetuate than video.

Just like BC. Well, green and forested at least.

I can’t really remember the climb, which is probably part of the bike being a parasite thing, altering memory to suppress the bit’s that aren’t fun, so maybe the first descent led straight into the second?

It didn’t, but we get to make our own truths, so it did. Which will be part of the parasitic behaviour of society thing.

Brake hard, tip'r in and look for the exit. Textbook.

The second course was a much quicker affair, which was good and bad. Lot’s of fun, but it’s all over so much quicker. It was good to be in nice wide spaced trees, and being early autumn there was a fine combination of orange on the forest floor, orange in the canopy, and less intense orange sunlight dappling down amongst the shadows.

Orange, truly the colour of our time.

Orange. Here until November at least.

I alluded to it being quick, 850m had been lost in a dusty, slidy, hairpin-y flash and we were left with the pay off from going right for the last few hours. A sharp turn to the left and heading back home. We can but hope. Turned out the fun wasn’t over. Whilst going right had been a steady downhill trend, going left still had some fun singletrack next to the Rhone to pump and pop along before the final few kilometers of vineyard track back to the car. Chat turned to where next in 2020’s adventure. No idea, but I’ll probably write something for it. Photos for this week come from the phone’s of messieurs Oliver Carr and Juan Coatez, ta muchly!

I said it was loose....

Plaine Morte.

Plaine Morte. Where to start, 3000m altitude by a glacier perhaps?

Plaine Morte. Literally dead flat. A plateau devoid of life. A place where time has ended. But then, what is time….?*

Is time a linear constant thing, do we all start at the cradle and progress at 60 seconds a minute to the grave? Physics says no, we all take our own journey and the faster you go the longer it takes. If Sam Hill and me sync watches and agree to meet in 1 years time, he’d be late. The faster you go, the slower time moves. Which is why Greg Minaar has maintained his form, he’s younger than his age measured at our frame of reference.

Wayne is almost as ageless as Minaar, the rocks of the half way point on the other hand, very aged.

That’s the non controversial part, Einstein’s theory of general relativity explained in downhillers. More fun is when you move onto the theories of time progression. Do we move along a fixed chronological line (that’ll be presentism) where neither the past nor future exist only the now or has/does/will everything that happens/ed/ing exist in the same instant (this one’s block theory) and can be located by coordinates in the same way a geographical location in a cube (…or block)?

Dude, what are you on about? We're here for the pictures of bikes, give us pictures of bikes. First turn of the trip, downhill from 3000m.

You don’t get intros like that in MBUK do you? It was/is time to go biking.

Following a 7am start in Chamonix, which is no damn time at all to be dealing with riding bikes, the ChamonixMTB party bus was parked in Sierre and a motley selection (a more sophisticated, European way of saying crew) of riders were headed for the first of a long series of lifts.

Safe to say it was a bit cloudy to start.

And our first pleasant surprise. At the Sierre-Crans funicular the convivial conductor quickly established that the 8 of us trying to buy the cheapest possible ticket up the 900m to Crans were out of our depth when confronted by the automated ticket machine and directed us to the book of 6 passes, which we could split between us. Thank you friendly conductor.

Well out of time sequence, but that's just something you'll have to deal with today.

From the funicular we progressed with classical presentism the short distance along the road to the Barzettes-Violettes lift. Once again, the Swiss failed completely to live up to their national stereotypes and the lass behind the desk correctly surmised we a) wanted to ride the Plaine Morte trail and b) had a limited idea how to deal with the lifts. Eight discounted online purchase tickets later (visit here for cheap lift passes in advance should this piece convince you to follow in our footsteps), we were headed for block theory.

Block theory mtb stylee.

Yes, the Barzettes lift exists in multiple times simultaneously. Both in the now when bikes are allowed on the lift, and the past when lifts didn’t need to take bikes. Even the 26″ Yeti needed its front wheel removed to fit inside. All good practice for things to come.

Will you look at the colour of that rock!  Sets off the black/red Airdrop Edit combo something lovely.

________

And then, it was time for lunch. At the pleasingly named Plan des Roses lac. We were back over the rosti line.

We were still at 2360m and with a bit of wind running through the valley, we were all aware of the approaching change of seasons. It wasn’t just the season changing, the trail character moved too. Less gradient and more playfulness.

Block theory. All events exist at the same time, like all the pages of a book exist in the same time and you need to choose the order to read them in. Theoretical physics jokes too much for you?

_________

The final lift, in and out of the clouds in a small box containing a lot of bikes.

1700m down (or up) 640m to go. A coffee stop whilst we waited for the next telecabine rotation then it was on to the summit. At a kick to the nads (or a Reverb for Jamie…) shy of 3000m, the views were stunning.  At points in time before and after, just not the point in time we were at the summit. I’d love to write that we burst through the clouds to the stunning summit views, and I guess we did burst through some clouds, only just to emerge into another layer. We hung about for a bit but even in August 3000m is chilly. It was time to go bike.

Oliver on the edge. Well, Karl's closer I guess.

With no trees or grass, no real sign of life, at this altitude the trail is simply a worn line through the rocks. Surprisingly smooth, almost bikepark flow trail like in the way it rode, we worked our way along the plateau on short climbs and short descents past the out of sight glacier. The biggest distraction was the in your face nature of the geology all around you. In the past all this was ancient seabed or shore, the varying energy of the water moving sediment apparently deciding how friable the rock would be. As the rock breaks smaller and the planet warms, grasses then trees take hold and the plateau is a verdant loam filled forest. Block theory can really mess with your head when you’re pushing up in the mist.

We might have just done 2600m of height gain in the lifts, but we still had a bit more to go the old fashioned way.

The first few km of the ride follow this up down traverse theme, it’s a long day out so why rush. Still, reaching the Wisshorelücke (you ain’t in Kansas now Dorothy, there’s umlauts in that and everything) and a short section of snow to pass, it’d be fair to say the descent truly started. It’s 44km of mostly down though, so a precise start point isn’t exactly crucial.

The crew. Possibly discussing fruit based desserts. Or Sean Bean saying bastard. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tE8d-uGmIWk

Perhaps you could say the Wildstrubelhütte (anyone else hoping for a Germanic forest fruit based dessert here…) is the start of the descent? Maybe it was just where we popped out of the cloud and could finally see that most fabled of bike photographers vistas. Big mountain backdrops with a thin singletrack line snaking off into the blue lake’d distance. It was certainly where the trail started getting more interesting.

And like that we were out of the clouds. Although Jez still seems to be going the wrong way....

Off camber slabs, loose gravel hairpins, chaotic rock steps. There was something to puzzle anyone, and to provide entertainment for everyone else as we worked out way towards lunchtime (lunch time, the best of all known types of time?)

Confused by the gap? Blame your understanding of block theory.

Then that changed too, back to plummet, more rocks and consequence, our first tunnel, the first indications of the exposure to come (which time model are we working with again?) and the return to proper human footprints.

Benoit drops into the glare of a hundred social media accounts.

The Barrage de Tseuzier is small by Swiss standards, but it’s still well impressive to hang your head over the edge and look down. And assume all that damage has been repaired… If you looked just a bit further out than straight down you could in theory see our trail down the valley, but I could just see cliffs and scree. This should be a clue as to where the trail character is going. I guess you don’t need to be a physicist to theorise on the future, you don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows. etc.

Still some way above the barrage. Infact, still above lunch, but you should be ok with being outside of chrono-logic by now.

Sure enough, the next section of trail starts innocuously enough, with some pretty fast riding and just technical enough to stop it getting silly sections. But every glance up confirms that the cliff wall is still approaching and there’s nothing remotely like a breach appearing in it.

Looking for a breach in the ramparts.

When the trees finally part to see the narrow band hacked out of the side of the cliff it’s almost a relief to finally know that at least there is something like a path ahead. You’ve still got to ride it though…

Skinnies, swiss stylee. s'alliteration....

And then you’re at the bisse. An old open viaduct to transport water between fields, now a conveniently only just graded downhill trail next to a cooling stream, that flows efficiently into the next cliff face.

So when was the last time you started a ride at 3000m altitude and had to take a subterranean water way to get to the end of it?

Stepped round the face of the cliff are the remains of the ancient wooded walk and aqua way that carried water and people around the cliff. In 1991, which really isn’t that long ago, it was decided that a tunnel through the cliff would be better. Whether or not the residents of the 1800’s version of the valley imagined bikes would be trying to use their walkway is an interesting but irrelevant point. Whether the architects of the 1991 tunnel did is more pertinent. Perhaps they had seen John Tomac race DH on his drop barred MTB and assumed that was where the future was, a tunnel only needed to be a human plus 450mm bars wide. Perhaps they had a portal to now and could see gravel bikes. Perhaps Tomac is not just a farmer, but a preeminent physicist. I don’t know. I do know the tunnel was bloody tight with a bike.

At least the lights worked.

Have you any idea how damned hard photos are to take in light like this!?!? Very hard. Which is a shame, as they're some of the best moments, beautiful light, contemplative trails. Bliss innit

Back to the bisse, back to flow.

We weren’t done with the surprises yet, there was still one more tunnel to go. And this one was proper small.

Claustrophobic? At least no one was on a geometron.

Remember the throwaway comment in the early paragraphs about removing wheels for the lift? Well, that shows that the human perception of time is relative. The amount of time you feel has passed, and what your watch will have recorded, are not that same. One is much longer. And that we now have to remove our front wheels again. It was a pretty small passage and I’m glad I’ve neither the biggest frame or frame because both would have got pretty scratched. The lights weren’t working either.

In the absence of working lights, this photo was brought to you by a handful of phone torches and some very quick playing with the dials in the dark. Ben seems fairly non-plused.

Back to back to the bisse, back to flow. Then back to junctions. With a selection of mapping devices at our disposal you would imagine the navigation went smoothly, but GPS was obviously channeling time confusion and those of the group that had ridden the trail before were called on to remember which trail was which.

But if we’re running on block theory, surely the trail we would take was as known as the trail we had just finished? If all of the days events were occurring simultaneously but experienced concurrently then we had no more free will to choose which trail we would ride than under presentism, where our choices are shaped by our environment and the genes our ancestors pass on rather than anything happening in our 3lb lump of head jelly that makes us build bikes.

Stop making me think, take me back to that lunch time time.

I know, it’s all a bit much when really you just want to know if the trail is worth the effort of the logistics. The right choice was made and we were back to some of that fine low mountain singletrack that Switzerland does so well.

Swiss singletrack. Also, #26aintdead

A final wee sting in the tail, the last drop of tech down through the vineyards, and we were out on the peleton chain gang spin for the van.

Worth the logistics effort? Most definitely, especially when someone else has done all the effort on your behalf, hence a big cheers to Wayne, Oli (also on photos, double cheers!), Karl, Jez, Ben, Benoit and Jamie for doing all the hard previous bits and making a pretty big day out happen with (broken derailleurs excepted) no mishaps. 2875m of down for 525m of up over 45km. Finally some plain and easy to understand numbers.

Oliver nailing the last tech section, quite a contrast to the moonscape of the trail start!

*This is not the greatest blog in the world, no. This is just a tribute. After the ride over a week ago a post was slowly crafted, full of wit and clear eyed scientific explanations. Then the laptop died. During backing up files. Taking inspiration from several prominent world leaders, my complete lack of education, knowledge or experience in computer repair was ignored and I set about the Toshiba armed with a screwdriver and access to google. Hence, this was written on an unfamiliar “azerty” french laptop using memories. Just imagine how good the first draft was…

Always finish on a banger. Lucking out with the light about half way down, spot the 4 riders. Also, what is finish if everything is concurrent?

 

 

Backpacks in the bikepark // Pila

Pila Bkepark. Toby's wearing a backpack in this shot, but you canny tell, so it's ok.

Ninety six percent of the human body is made up of just four elements; carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen*. As best science can currently tell us, the only way to form these elements is inside a star. The nuclear alchemy at the centre of a distant supernova, eons ago, created these atoms and flung them out across space. In the void of the galaxy, their tiny gravitation forces slowly drew them to other elements. Greater objects exerted greater draws and eventually they were pulled on the fused ball of spacedust we know as earth. Over further millennia these same atoms formed the building blocks of increasingly complex organisms. Bacteria, virus, plants, fishes, mammals. Finally, in 2020, these bits of actual stardust, form us.

With such an improbably fantastic heritage inside us, what have we been inspired to achieve? Mixed bag really. After that amazing journey to arrive where we are you’d think it would be easy enough to accept science as it is, you wouldn’t have folk claiming the earth is flat, that people of slightly different skin colour deserve to die on a beach, 5g gives you coronavirus and vaccines aren’t tested, all because it sounds too complex, too improbable. But we do, blame the solar system.

Any of the atoms in this picture, in the screen you are looking at it on, could have existed since the birth of the universe. Just have a think about that for a minute. Or 13.7 billion years.

There’s been some good stuff too.

Like Italy.

Coffee, ice cream, stylish engineering and Pila bikepark. These four elements may not be as vital to life on earth as C, H, N and O, but they compliment them well.

Mmm. Ridges. Been riding a lot of ridges recently.

So Pila, yeah, it’s all that.

Unfortunately I only really get to ride the lower section due to summer work clashing with opening dates but with the selection of atoms know as SARS-CoV-2 limiting that, best make hay whilst the sun shines.

Which obviously it always does in Aosta.

Bikepark. Why would you hate on this?

The bikepark gets all the attention on the socials, and it is right good with some new to me trails and features since I last lapped the Chamole chairlift in 2018, but if you can handle the fashion faux pas of wearing a backpack in the bikepark then the stuff you explore to from the lifts but outside the tape is every bit as good…

Not the bikepark. Why would you hate on this?

Traverse from the top of the Chamole chairlift along a newly built blue flow trail and you’ll quickly arrive at the Couis 1 chair. Assuming it’s running (it closes Sunday 23rd this year) and you’ll then slowly arrive at the top.

Really slowly.

Took us 30 mins bottom to top, so it’s just as weel the views are good. They get even better at the summit as the Cogne valley unveils itself below and your eyes get drawn to the ridgeline stretching out towards Aosta town.

Said ridge.

You can ride that ridgeline, and if you like ridgelines you should. Then you too can take photos like these.

Look like your cup of tea?

You need to make choices though, turn off left to ride to Cogne (we didn’t), keep going all the way along the ridge to join walking trails 23 and 21 to the valley floor (again, we didn’t, you had to climb a bit, too hot for that game), or turn off right to rejoin the Desarpa trail that winds it’s way back to Pila for more coffee and more fun.

Pull up and look optimistically at the backside. It;s a still so no one will ever know if I made it.

After dingying a climb at 2600m altitude, we instead climbed from the top of the Chamole chair at 2300m. The air was a bit denser, or we were. Either / or.

It’s just a short climb to the Lago Chamole though, then another short climb onto the Testa Nera ridgeline. Definitely got a thing for ridgelines these days.

Chamole muddy funster. (now that is a niche joke)

Again we eschewed the classic choices for a bit of exploring. Where normally you’d turn right for long descending adventure or left for a quick and enjoyable return to the lifts, we went straight.

Then wandered about in circles a bit, turned around, went back to the junction, tried going straight 10 meters further to the left, and found what we were looking for.

A little overgrown, but still grand riding.

Unfortunately it seemed no one else had been looking for a while as the trail was a wee bit overgrown and unloved. A shame as the basic shape of it was classic Aostan gold but them’s the breaks.

And it really wasn’t too shabby where it wasn’t too shrubby.

Still a long way above the valley floor (trademark Alpineflowmtb Guiding) but heading down quick.

Assorted trails later we were at the valley floor, where it was too hot to hang about so headed straight back up again and stayed up high until the lifts closed and we figured we’d have to head for home.

Via ice cream obviously.

From Chamole to Gelato. It sounded better in my head.

Pila; we are stardust, we are golden.

There's a trail to the right, but it's better to join it a little further along the ridge.

All pictures of me taken by Toby, on his bloody phone! All pictures of Toby taken by me on a Sony RX100 which I’ve gone back to playing with the dials on and as a result most shots are out of focus, over/under exposed, too grainy/too blurred. it’s a learning process.

Ciao Pila, grazie mille.

*Of course, these elements don’t just create life, they can destroy it too. Take the next major threat to life you’re going to be hearing lots about: dihydrogen monoxide. A clear, tasteless acid which turns up in nuclear waste, acid rain, fossil fuel power plant fumes and even in human cancers. It can corrode metal and rock, and is thought to be responsible for the deaths of over 350,000 people a year, yet is found in most food stuffs and drinks. There’s several petitions desperately trying to raise awareness and get this poison banned, hopefully at least one will get some traction somewhere.

Emosson dam / Things are generally better than you think they are.

Dams. They look so solid to us yet barely register on the timescales of the landscape they impose upon. Silly humans and their concepts of permanence.

Here’s a question for you*:

In the last 20 years the percentage of the world’s population living in extreme poverty** has?

A) About doubled
B) Remained about the same
C) About halved

Whilst you ponder that one, here's James right at the tippy top of the trail this blog is ostensibly about.

A, obviously.

How about this one then:

How many of the world’s 1 year old children have been vaccinated*** against at least 1 disease?

A) 20%
B) 50%
C) 80%

Here's another thought provoking image of the descent. Good mix on this one.

Again, surely A isn’t it. Depressing but that’s how it goes. Certainly not C. What optimistic fool would think that?

Optimist or pessimist? Over the rise is the best trail you've never ridden or 25 meters drop to pointy rocks?

So yeah, it’s C. Both times. Don’t worry, most people get it wrong. You’d assume by the wonders of multiple choice averages then about 33% would get those questions right, but no, its closer to 13%

And your education doesn’t seem to help either, apparently that last question has a strong correlation where the better your education, the more likely you said A. Which makes sense, as you’d be more aware of the complexities of creating, storing, transporting and administering a vaccine that needs to be kept refrigerated at all times and delivered by highly trained professionals.

Things are about to get dark.

Why’s this? I don’t really know, but clevererer folks than me think it’s because there’s a lag time between your education and your current place in the world. What you learnt at school was probably right(ish) 5, 10, 20, 30 years ago but the world has moved on. It’s just your knowledge that hasn’t. You imagine that because you were taught about famines and corruption and destitution in many regions across the world, things haven’t really changed. If a country can’t feed their population, how can they have a refrigerated transport network? Well they can by having moved on over a 20 year period and now most citizens live a lifestyle similar to the UK not that long ago. In general, on almost any metric you care to use, the world of right now is a better place than the world of your school days. Things really are getting better.  So essentially, before making a flash judgement on something, you need to check what the state of the art is and re-assess your existing knowledge. Then crack on with your whataboutisms that the statue is there because of his philanthropic work and historical context, not the other dubious bits. Like, why else would you want to keep the statue of Jimmy Savile?

It's dark, but keep heading for the light.

Bikes then Graham, how are you pulling this back to bikes?

Way, way, way back in the '90's there was a rider called Jez Avery who's signature move was the "Switzerland Squeeker". It didn't look quite like this, but then not much in the '90's did.

Weel, a similar thing happens with trails. You might have ridden a line on the map 8 years ago, but mountain geology is an active thing, trails change, work gets done to make things less or more rideable. Riders change, our tastes change, our bikes get better. Basically, you need to go back to places every so often to see if the situations changed.

This trail will have changed over time. So has the rider. That's life, life is change, the absence of change is the absence of life. I guess we should embrace change.

Years ago I more or less wrote off Emosson Dam as being not worth the effort of biking except the classic line from the dam to Martigny. James got in touch to see if I wanted to try and find a trail he’d heard of over Emosson dam way. I was fairly sure it’d be ok, just not worth the effort you’d put in to get there, but I’d not seen James in ages and playing bikes is only ever an excuse to catch up with the amazing people that ride them. So I said aye, where shall we meet and a day later we’d both taken the same different train and were sat in a cafe in Finhaut drinking coffee out of antique tea cups whilst a giant cat pinned me to the chair and a road climb in the sun waited for us.

No Mr Brickell, I expect you to die!

Long story short, turned out to be a great trail. It wouldn’t have been a great trail 15 years ago because my bike would have broken on the way down (twice) and I’d have broken on the way up if I’d tried to pedal something that would survive the down.

This is not the most hardcore bit of the down, but it still caught both of us by surprise!

We explored a bit, we turned around from the first attempt due to too much snow, we found the second plan, we sessioned a few bits, we looked at dragon flies, we rode some great trail, we talked about all sorts of shit.

Actually, that’s not praise enough. It really was a good trail. We chose not to ride a couple of short sections, partly because we are now old, partly because even though both of us are happy to represent for bike companies that produce bikes we really like (obviously mine is better though, covid compliant fist bumps to Airdrop for the new Edit which has taken the baton passed to it by my old Edit and Bolted down the hill) we don’t want to replace those bikes too often and big piles of rocks do shorten bike lifespans when you drop them into it.

Like a bridge over funiculaaaar, Switzerland takes trails seriously.

The upper section had the most bike threatening terrain, but past the initial couple hundred meters of descent things mellowed out and it turned onto one of those trails that you know is older than your grandparents yet somehow was built with 2020 bikes in mind. Tight switchbacks but with supportive berms, assorted small lips with perfectly placed backsides to aim for, rocks that roll or launch depending on your preference. Like I say, really was a good trail.

Impeccable form on display by James here,just look at those dropped heels and hip-hinge.

It’s the trail between the dam, Gietroz and Chatelard. That should give enough clues to tempt you away from the increasingly busy Chamonix without taking away too much of the fun of updating your knowledge.

Seconds after taking this photo, that giant dragonfly grabbed James and flew off towards Mont Blanc. No one's seen him since.

*If you’ve read Factfullness then none of this is news to you. I’m confident most of you haven’t, so I can get away with stealing content.

So many notes that I get to split them with photos. Through the portal we go.

**Extreme poverty is generally defined as living on ‘less than a dollar a day’ but that’s based on 1996 prices, so the world bank considers, for 2019, that extreme poverty is living on less than $2.16 a day. In 2018 an estimated 8.6% of the world lived in extreme poverty, in 1998 24% which is closer to thirded than halved, but there’s plenty room for error in the stats. Unfortunately, and in opposition to the general aim of this piece, the predictions are that for the first time in a very long time the percentage of people living (perhaps surviving might be a better term) in extreme poverty looks set to rise due to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Which is shit. And also a reminder that the restarting of economies in the rich nations has knock on effects world wide if we stay with the current global economic model, or that if the world is going to change to a new more human/less $ focused system then we’d better do it quick sharp as time really is running out for a lot of people. Don’t worry though, the ultra rich still got richer so that’s good isn’t it.

18/07/2020 Also, just to clarify and I should have had this in originally; Things getting better isn’t the same as things being good. 8.6% of the world living in extreme poverty whilst the richest 26 people in the world hold 50% of global wealth is a fucking disgrace and needs to change.

Mmmm, steep tech fun.

***Interesting facts for all you die-hard, or at least die-of-preventable-illness, anti-vaxers: the very first vaccine was made in 1796 to neuter smallpox, a disease that was eventually eradicated thanks to that thar vaccination. Regrettably no double blind study was carried out 224 years ago, we had to wait over 150 years for that to start happening, but it does happen. Seriously, how can you believe despite all the evidence that these vaccines are unleashed on the public untested, how does that great conspiracy theory run through governments that can’t even get the trains to run on time?

Light dark light dark. Are you picking up on the subtle themes running through this post or do I need to lay it on more thickly?

Queyras

Queyras Natonal Parc. Or Flowy McFlow Face.

About now I should be busy working, showing riders mostly from the UK or US around amazing alpine trails that I know really well. But, whilst life is a fair chunk of the way back to normal here in France and most of Europe, the UK and US are taking longer to control the pandemic and a summer biking holiday isn’t on the cards for most folks.

Lots of other MTB guides are in the same boat, so we’re off exploring new trails instead.

We're not in Kansas anymore Toto. Fun fact, Toto the dog was paid $125. a week, the Munchkins between $50 & $100. (allegedly)

Somewhere a little over four hours drive from Chamonix is a mythical place where the food is cheap, the sun shines 300 plus days a year, and the trails are the golden flowy perfection of bike magazine covers.

David angling for a cover shot. I don't think the blog is quite the same.

No, not Italy, the Queyras. And conveniently Emily of The Inside Line was headed over there to scout out more trails and get some quality #content to use to persuade the world that they should be booking a holiday with her to ride said trails. Which is why last week I packed up the car and headed south over a road bikers dream of cols. Dream / nightmare, the cols Telegraphe, Galibier, Lautaret and d’Izoard are things of legend. One for another day.

Going uphill. Heat doesn't rise, it's just everything sweats when it fights gravity.

As the trip was for a mix of searching out potential new trail gold to mine as well as filuming known trails there was a lot of working around the golden hours of early morning and late evening to get the perfect lightbro. I hate mornings so was happy to be starting out at the respectable time of 5pm to go and bag our shots.

What goes down must go up. Like the graph of a second wave.

Sure enough, an hour or so of pedalling from the Col d’Izoard later we were above a mountain lake, staring towards distant mountains that framed a sinuous snake of singletrack, and bathed in soft evening light.

Oh look, singletrack bathed in evening light.

…and discussing how best to shoot it. Which usually involves riding the same bit of trail several times over to get footage from umpteen angles whilst I alternate between washing out the front wheel and forgetting to turn when I reach the corner. Pattern set for the week.

Shooting done we could enjoy the hundreds of meters of flow through the forest, and move on to the carpark that would be home for the night.

A different day and a different descent, but it carries the mood.

Sun comes up, time to ride bikes again. We pedal through the ever so slightly odd village of Abries, and up tarmac then gravel towards the morning’s objective. Slightly odd, very odd might be better. For reasons none of us felt like exploring, Abries has chosen to populate the sleepy streets with assorted stuffed mannequins performing the mundane tasks of everyday life. Whatever gets you through lock down.

This is not a trail above Abries. Well, it kinda is, but not the trail currently being talked about.

Every meter pedalled was a meter away from the village and towards our trail however. A lovely thing of a trail. Starting up by an idyllic alpage, swooping serenely alongside a meandering river, in and out of copses of trees and meadows of alpine flower, round a mellow unsighted corner, into an obligatory gap jump drop over sharp spiky shale.

Said gap over said shale.

It was a slightly unexpected change in character, mibbies the unstable terroir explains some of the unstable mannequins? Eitherways, it was dispatched and photographed and we continued on past churches and yet more flow. A reminder that alpine trails pretty much always have a surprise of some sort for you.

David on trail, Emily piloting drone to get video, Graham hiding under the eves of a church out of sight of the drone getting snapshots. It's how the magic happens.

If the morning’s trail was about getting footage, the afternoon was about checking out a promising looking line Emily had seen on the map. Without the shuttles you have when guiding it was going to be a bit of a pedal, but how bad could it be really?

Up some road, then some gravel road, then some 4×4 track, we should be able to pedal all the way to the top. And we could, but it was definitely a bit more than any of us had accounted for. Talk turned to trail snacks, peanut M&M’s, Bombay mix. All our food was long eaten.

"You can't eat beauty" which is a shame as chowing down on the view back to the climb would have been really welcome right about here.

No matter, the views were grand and we traversed happily round from the top of the climb to the start of the descent. What did matter was the trail had washed away. A work around was found, and lo, it was flowy.

Light's not quite right here, but the mountains look mint in the background, and there's just enough dust getting kicked up to give you an idea. It was a right good trail.

It stayed flowy. From wide and open top, into thin, then thicker, trees. Snaking straights with sick hairpins. Seen just enough traffic to have a bike line worn in, but no danger of brake bumps. Banger all the way to end. Best trail I’ve ridden in a long time.

We got back to the van under cloudy skies and destroyed every unattended salted crisp, peanut and beer bottle in the van.

A shot from earlier in the day, when it wasn't quite as hot.

Another morning and blue sky again.

We were going for another explore, a look into the unknown, but with the comfort blanket of sections of the trail having been visited before. Known unknown’s if you like. After yesterdays unknown unknowns we stocked up on stoke, food and drink. That mistake wasn’t being repeated.

This shot was taken from a shaded bench where I was eating my sandwich and drinking water I'd just got from the fountain 5 meters away. It's a wonder we left.

The climb was hot and sweaty, 1250m of up in the middle of the afternoon so you can summit in time for golden hour is only ever going to be hot and sweaty, but with some picture perfect wee hamlets to stop in and some stunning cols to admire the views from, it could have been a lot worse.

If you're going to climb, you might as well do it somewhere picturesque.

Even better, the trail to the 2500m summit that looked pretty marginal on the map turned out to be one of the most rideable bits of the climb. A rewarding bench cut track working its way round corners that kept revealing more views and more interest. The reccy bit of riding is where it’s at. What’s over the next ridge? The joy of exploring that got so many of us on bikes as kids.

Bike in high place. Some fine product placement of my Airdrop Edit.

No matter how agreeable a climb, 2545m is 2545m. A semi derelict observatory post was a fun distraction, but we all needed the rejuvenating powers of cheap sugar and e number laced sweets to get us ready for the descent.

And whit a descent. Bit loose up high on the grey rock, but fun. Contouring round the hill inbetween hairpins. From the Col de Fromage a wee traverse drops into a Queyras classic. Maybe a few too many rocks on the trail to truly call it flow, but shit tonnes of fast straights and just supportive enough corners.

Part way down the down.

Turning off the worn line to cross a bridge and the trail changes character. Less angle but still just enough for you to pump more than pedal. A lot more than pedal. Beautiful swooping balcon trail through a stunning forest with lush grassy forest floor. A briefest of shower from the clouds that had been building all afternoon couldn’t ruin the mood, just improve the light. Sunlight dappled through the trees with beautiful rain drops.

This is actually much higher up, but without the go-pro footage of the stunning forest trail, it's the closest you;re getting.

It ended back in the village, 10m from the ice cream selling gite. Result, best trail I’d ridden since yesterday.

We packed up the van and headed on out and up.

Col Agnel is the 2nd highest paved col in France dontchaknow. And has view things.

Camped nearly at the top of the Col Agnel, we were poised to be at the top of the climb in time to catch the light whilst getting started as late as possible. At nearly 2700m the air is pretty chilly and a little thin, so we were all a bit tired and grumpy by the morning. We pedalled up the last of the road towards Italy, then over bog, path and snow up to the Col Vieux and the col view.

This is the reality of shooting stuff. Being up so early the sun is weak enough to stare directly into.

This last big trail was one Emily and David knew well, so the surprises were all mine on the way down and with about 1300m to descend there was plenty of opportunity to surprise. Even once we’d left the high alpine and settled into what felt like familiar Queyras flow territory the trail turned into a cobbled highway. Not one of your nice flat cobbled highways either, a wall to wall wtf of rounded stones at all angles and heights. Pick a line and stayed loose.

Pick a line and stay loose. Top technique advice for pretty much any terrain you choose.

We cruised back into Abries where we’d left my car days before and headed for morning crepes only the cafe was closed, so coffee it is and on to the next village for a boulangerie lunch.

Before lunch. Long before lunch. We can't even see lunch from here.

The weather hadn’t quite broken yet, so why not try one last unexplored line highlighted on Emily’s map. Traverse for 20 mins then fast fun through a burnt forest reclaimed by a carpet of flowers. But with the odd (very odd) slab and tech to keep you on your toes. Fitting end.

A slab of definitely not gabbro. More of a drop than you;d like to riders right.

Driving home the weather finally broke. Not far up the road to Col d’Izoard the thunder started to be accompanied by lightening, the spots of rain became a torrent became hail. The road went white. Or yellowy brown. The Izoard is possibly the most beautiful col I’ve been over, but not in a storm when the slopes get washed across the road. Where were those 300 days of sunshine now?

If you move quick enough, you'll stay in the light.

Lifts in a time of Corona. Lift openings 2020

La Mole October 2019 // A big cloud coming to swallow our future.

Nope, never read the book. Or seen the film. Never found the time really.

Normally by now I’d’ve put up a post with the summer opening dates for lifts within an hour or so of Chamonix. Seems 2020 isn’t doing normally. Instead, here’s a list of what might open and when according to each of the bikepark’s official outlets, some of which are more up to date than others. I’ll update it as more details emerge, but I wouldn’t book a holiday without double checking the info at source first. Last update 07/05/2020 12/05/2020 13/05/2020 21/05/2020 23/05/2020 27/05/2020 28/05/2020 04/06/2020 11/06/2020.

There's no current riding images for you, so this piece will be brought to you by the north east of Italy. Here's Claire, the guidess with the mostess, leading the group out on day 3 of the Lake to Lake tour. Bit rocky.

We still can’t quite get out to ride bikes on Chamonix’s trails, but hopefully that starts back on the 11th May. Until then, read the preliminary lift opening info and look at pictures from last Autumn’s work guiding the Lake to Lake trips in the north of Italy.

Jonnie on without doubt the most exploratory of the days. Some of the trails were well known, but others don't see much traffic. This is one of the latter that even includes a wee bit of via ferrata to keep anxiety levels high...

Chamonix, from CdMB, provisional dependant on evolution of government advice *NOW CONFIRMED*.

Planpraz: 6/7th June then 13th June – 20th September
Flegere: Weekends from 13th June then 4th July – 13th September, then 17th October to 1st November (delayed to 20th June due to weather)
Brevent: Weekends from 13th June then 4th July – 13th September
Tramway du Mont Blanc: 13th June – 20th September
Le Tour: Gondola weekends from 13th June then everything 4th July – 13th September (delayed to 20th June due to weather)
Vallorcine: Weekend of 27th June then 4th July – 30th August
Bellevue: 27th June – 20th September
Prarion: 4th July – 13th September (+ weekends from the 6th June, except it looks like the weather’s too bad to open for the weekend 6/7 June)
Grand Montets: 4th July – 6th September, with restrictions on hours.

Away from Chamonix you’ve got:

La Thuile: 4th July- 30th August are the published dates. Fingers crossed they can manage it, and that we can visit. I need my coffee. www.lathuile.it/en/chairlift_time.html
Megeve: 4th July – 6th September. Megeve is now 2 resorts, so the Mont Blanc natural resort bit is www.montblancnaturalresort.com/fr/horaires-tarifs-megeve and the Jaillet side is ???? megeve.com/fr/ete/se-depenser/remontees-mecaniques-ete/
St Gervais: 27th June – 30th August Access to the “Whizz” trail from 0900 to 1800… ete.ski-saintgervais.com/fr/e5-liens
Les Contamines: 8th July – 6th September. Information up on their website as usual. www.lescontamines.net/home_calendar.html
Grand Massif: 27th June – 30th August. Assorted start and finish times across the area, with a big caveat that these are their target dates and it might change yet. Basically between 4th July and 30th August with the added super bonus of Les Carroz from the 27th June. summer.grand-massif.com/mountain-biking
Pila: 27th June – 7th September, plus bonus weekends of 13th and 21st June for the gondola. Hopefully. pila.it/en/summer-season/
Portes du Soleil: 13th June – 20th September. Again, the PdS have caveated the shit out of this being very government regulations and weather dependant, but they are hoping to open Les Gets for weekends only from 30th May (now confirmed!!), Avoriaz have recently confirmed July 4th opening, Chatel confirmed 27th June, with full opening in June until end of August when lifts will start closing. en.portesdusoleil.com/
Courmayeur: Wait, what, Courmayeur? Aye, seems bikes now travel for free on the Courmayeur lifts. woop, etc. Unfortunately no confirmed dates for now. www.courmayeur-montblanc.com/?q=tariffs&language=ja
Verbier: 6th June – 25th October. Over the border in Switzerland things are a bit more relaxed, so…. Weekends only from 6th June, all the days from 4th July – 21st September, then weekends though until 25th October. Big question, can we get over the border? www.verbierbikepark.ch/horaires_fr.php
Les Arcs: 4th July – 29th August. Not all the info is up yet on the website, but they’ve been busy advertising 4th July as the hoped for opening date for 2020. Fingers crossed. lesarcs.com/hiking/summer-area-les-arcs-peisey-vallandry-opening-hoursprices.html

Mountains in October sometimes means 'atmospheric' weather conditions. Bruce demonstrating fine colour choice on the Swiss/Italian border.

That’s what’s lifts are opening, hopefully, and when, hopefully. Borders, accommodation, cafes, bars, shuttles, public transport? We don’t know the answers to that yet, but I guess things will get clearer as we go on. In France the best, or at least most official, source is the government. ‘Cos, like, they make the rules. www.gouvernement.fr/info-coronavirus or the EU wide reopen.eu

Last day last descent of the tour, dropping down to Lake Como and beers.

Normally I start these things with some fanciful, unrelated tale that’s caught my interest recently and drag the analogy kicking and screaming round to bikes. I really wanted to write something about what seems obvious right now maybe wasn’t quite so obvious in the past. To write about Florence Nightingale, statistician and social reformer (and nurse), and data analysis being more useful than a lamp at stopping infections in the Crimean war. Then about people analysing damage to planes that came back from WWII dogfights and concluding that as they had no bullet holes around the cockpit and engine, those bits must be armoured enough already without ever asking what holes were in the planes that didn’t come back. But I just don’t really feel like it. As mentioned before, it’s not normal times. If you’re stuck for things to do, try googling both those subjects. It’s really interesting.

Scotland or Italy? After a committing drive to a refuge then several coffees, you start the 700m climb with a bit of scenery.

I have a feeling there’ll be plenty of exploratory riding content appearing in the next few months as many of us in the alps remain unemployed and look to the hills for escape. Maybe this summer’ll be a grand opportunity to explore closer to home? Maybe the borders will open and I’ll be off working as a guide around the Alps? Hopefully the optimists are right and 2020 blossoms into a fine summer for everyone. Do what you should for where you are and I guess the trail etiquette adage is more accurate than ever just now. Be Nice, Say Hi*.

Some of my best memories from the trips were whilst on shuttle duty. Just sitting at the side of the road looking at the views, or drinking coffees whilst waiting in cafes. I am very much looking forward to getting back that life.

*Saying Hi removes the need to shake hands. good forward thinking that.

Playlist.

 

Probably the last day of lift accessed skiing in winter '20. Average skiing, above average light.

Has it come to this? Where do I begin…. I’m bored. Stuck in time, indefinitely inside, I just don’t know what to do with myself. Safe from harm, yes, only what do I do now?

Get ready!

Ready to start bicycle season, all of my thoughts turn into try try trying 2 remember whatever goes into the bag, (little black backpack best, bit you can try basket, case, brown paper bag…) Riding solo’s easy; whenever it all comes down to you I can’t forget safety stuffAfter all, the the superheros of BMX never mind tu pac first aid kits, what if I want to fall off my bike today?

I know where I went wrong, This time, krafty like, empty everything after all my generations last rides in the fallAll I need’s laid out there. Good riddance toto the mouldy peaches / garbage, alvvays at the bottom of everything, This is the kit this charming man wantedlay it down on a plain surface, this time document everythingPhotograph taken, now I know all I needed 2 ride. All we have is now loaded, ready (or not) 2 leave home; go bike rider.

A reminder. This is a low, travel is dangerous, transmission; it’s so easy! Remember, it’s hard to kill a bad thing. I’m gonna be going out encore une fois, just right here, right now, stay close sit tight. Today has been ok. Tomorrow we carry on. We can work it out  The world’ll be ok.

If the instagram post is now thought of as long form content to complement your insta-story, then the blog is as dead as print. So lets go old school and use some windows paint to edit the photo.

1. Evoc FR Trail 20l bag
2. Pump. A big easy to use one because there’s usually 18 tyres to puncture per ride, with added duct tape
3. Inner tube 650b
4. Another inner tube 650b
5. Zip ties, ski straps, tie wire and toe clip straps. For holding bikes or riders or vans together
6. Tyre plugs. Where would we be without tyre plugs
7. Puncture repair kit. Sometimes you gotta go old school
8. Spare new brake pads
9. Wee bottle of chain lube (or salad dressing…?)
10. Spare tubeless tyre valve x2
11. Chain magic links (plus another one just for my bike taped to brake hose)
12. Tyre boots. Just add duct tape and an inner tube to save ride
13. Tyre levers x3. Mostly for pushing caliper piston back in
14. Spare jockey wheel
15. “Broken in” brake pads wrapped in tape
16. Random bolts, cleats and spacers in a bag
17. Spare gear cables x2
18. Leatherman. For fixing everything you shouldn’t fix with a leatherman
19. Spare mech hanger
20. Multi tool. crank bros 19
21. Laplander 19cm trail saw
22. Hat for under the lid
23. Nice sunglasses. I like sitting in cafes drinking coffee
24. Free clear sunglasses. I like not getting mud in my eyes
25. USB cable for charging stuff in the van, and
26. MP3 player for tunes in the van, if only there was a playlist somewhere…
27. Spare phone for emergency calls (normal phone in pocket)
28. Buff
29. c.r.e.a.m.
30. All the licences
31. Knee pads (wee ones)
32. Proper wee camera
33. Limited edition Sapaudia Brewing 500ml water bottle
34. Maps, compass, whistle and map case
35. Light dry bag for sandwiches, no more single use plastic (idea stolen from Bike Verbier,  sandwich eaten previously)
36. Random snacks
37. Riding gloves and wrist brace
38. Sunscreen
39. First aid kit
40. Bivvy bag
41. Survival blanket
42. Synthetic insulated jacket
43. Spare riding gloves
44. Shell waterproof mitts
45. Waterproof shorts
46. Waterproof jacket

Not pictured because they weren’t in the bag. Mini headtorch, mini rear & front light, tracking beacon or radio. I guess there’ll be a facemask in there for the next wee whiles too.

Yo Mary Poppins, what you got.

Raconte-moi une histoire…

Don’t overthink the above. I really struggle to remember what I put in my bag at the start of each spring, personal or professional riding. In the past I’d cheat and look at bike guide’s online articles (like this one, cheers Julia) but I finally realised a lot of stress could be avoided by just writing a list at the end of guiding season when I emptied and cleaned the bag. So that’s what I did. Then…

Then we got told to stay at home for 2 months and not ride our bikes. (Two months off. See, can’t help it.)

They say write about what you know, currently I know about listening to music, being bored and plotting for future bike trips. I got bored and tried to write a post using only song titles and band names. It’s served the triple purpose of being a handy note of what I need in the bag, distracted me from more useful projects and created a bit of poor quality content to keep google’s algorithms happy. What more can you expect right now?

These are mostly ting tings from my ipod, but google and desperation was needed to get this thing finally finished (and even then there were some tracks I could’t bring myself to use and just truncated something better), so apologies for the Peter Frampton. And Stroke 9. Sorry about that.

Stuck in time, indefinitely inside. Brand new bike. Unridden and going nowhere. Sad face.

Tracklist: The Streets, Has it come to this? The Chemical Brothers, Where do I begin. Iggy Pop, I’m bored. Drever McCusker Woomble, Stuck in time. Travis, Indefinitely. Moby, Inside. The White Stripes, I just don’t know what to do with myself. Massive Attack, Safe from harm. McAlmont and Butler, Yes. The Charlatans, Only (teethin’). Sleeper, What do I do now. The Temptations, Get ready. Arcade Fire, Ready to start. John Cale, Bicycle. Ash, Season. Spiritualized, All of my thoughts. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Turn into. Julian Cope, Try try try. Blur, (song) 2. Ella Fitzgerald, Remember. Oasis, Whatever. Glasvegas, Go square go (not exactly right, but I get a couple of fudges allowed for quality tunes). Mazzy Star, Into (dust). NOFX, The bag. Stroke 9, little black backpack (sorry, google found this, it’s horrendous). Beth Orton, Best bit. Glasvegas, You. Can, Halleluwah. The Magic Numbers, Try. Green day, Basket case. Roni Size, Brown paper bag. Hinds, Riding solo. Faith no more, Easy. Beth Orton, Whenever. Peter Frampton, It all comes down to you (least bad version of a bad track, sorry). Leonard Cohen, I can’t forget. Beth Orton, Safety. Miles Davis, Stuff. The Cardigans, After all. The the, I saw the light. Mogwai, Superheros of BMX. Nirvana, Nevermind. 2pac, California Love. First Aid Kit, Emmylou. Bombay Bicycle Club, What if. The Lovely Eggs, I want to fall off my bike today. Roddy Woomble, I know where I went wrong. DJ Shadow, This time. New Order, Krafty. Belle and Sebastian, Like (dylan in the movies). The Cranberries, Empty. Idlewild, Everything. The Cardigans, After all. The Who, My generation. Green day, Last ride in. Teenage Fanclub, The fall. Radiohead, All I need. James, Laid. Dinosaur Jr, Out there. Green day, Good riddance. Toto, Africa. The Mouldy Peaches, Jorge Regula. Garbage, Milk (Massive Attack remix with Tricky ‘cos Tricky got cut from the original text). Alvvays, Archie marry me. Bright Eyes, At the bottom of everything. This is the kit, Moonshine freeze. The Smiths, This charming man. The Cranberries, Wanted. Cowboy Junkies, Lay it down. Nirvana, On a plain. The Chemical Brothers, Surface (to air). The Verve, This time. REM, Finest Worksong (from the Document album). Manic Street Preachers, Everything (must go). Weezer, Photograph. Anna Meredith, Taken. Cowboy Junkies, Now I know. Radiohead, All I need. Lily Allan, 22 (well, the first ‘2’ anyways). Ride, Vapour Trail. The Flaming Lips, All we have is now. Primal Scream, Loaded. The Lightning Seeds, Ready or not. Lily Allan 22 (makes sense now). The Chemical Brothers, Leave home. Public Service Broadcasting, Go. Mungo’s Hi-Fi, Bike Rider. Radiohead, A Reminder. Blur, This is a low. Mogwai, Travel is dangerous. Joy Division, Transmission. Guns n’ Roses, It’s so easy. Jimi Hendrix, Remember. Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan, It’s hard to kill a bad thing. The Proclaimers, I’m gonna be (500 miles). Supergrass, Going out. Sash!, Encore une fois. Radiohead, Just. Fatboy slim, Right here right now, Malcolm Middleton, Stay close sit tight. Emiliana Torrini, Today has been ok. James, Tomorrow. Portishead, We carry on. The Beatles, We can work it out. Teenage Fanclub, The world’ll be OK. (and some bonus tracks)

And if you’re really that desperate to listen to someone else’s taste in music, it’s all on a playlist here.

A day in Italy

About 45 days ago in Italy, Hamish Frost having a good day on skis. It probably wouldn't have been as good on a bike.

There are many odd questions you get asked living in Chamonix. Where’s the lift to the Mont Blanc? Is it pronounced Chamonix or Chamonix? Are you a skier or snowborder? Which do you prefer; summer or winter? If you could only do biking or skiing; which?

Obviously these aren’t questions people are interested in the answer to, it’s just humans wanting to avoid silence and keep the distractions going, but the “if you could only…?” questions always intrigues me. Like, what freak scenario are you imagining that will leave the circumstances that would create only being able to ski OR bike?

I mean, obviously we’ve created a freak scenario where the alps might be snowfree within many of our predicted lifetimes, but apart from that…
Light at the end of the tunnel or train? I don't know. But I do know that almost all my rides outside the valley seem to involve tunnels these days.

Bearing in mind the impending environmental doom, was this acceptable? Some exceptionally rough calculations later (Renault trafic producing average 198g/km, Chamonix to Chamonix round trip 170km) I think we fired out 33.66kg / C02 in total, about 3.7kg / C02 pp.

This is equivalent to about 31 km commuting (single occupant at an EU new car average of 120.4g/km the average EU commute being 28.56km  ), 26 minutes heliskiing (based on the Eurocopter AS350 B2 with 5 passengers [so including the guide, not including the pilot] but VERY roughly [turns out C02 emissions for helicopters are quite complex so this is probably under]  so more than one drop, but not including your drive there from home), or a very very short distance of flying, like a really really short distance. I couldn’t find 2 airports close enough together to give an example but feel free to find something to prove me wrong!

This just gives some numbers to what we did, it doesn’t say if it’s acceptable. That’s up to you to decide. Is anything fair game in the pursuit of enjoyment or do we have to accept that all our actions will have a negative impact and we should stop breathing? I don’t know, but I know I feel less guilt that if we’d hopped in the spare helicopter. I can tell I’m losing you.

Hey Millennial. Yup. If you were born in 1990, that's how far the glacier has receded in your life. Photo taken 13/01/2020. Those wee dots on the glacier are people. Yeah, it's receded that far.

Birthday lad Ollie riding out that freak snow free scenario in style.

Anyways, the answer is generally thus. The average day biking is better than the average day skiing, but the best days on bikes don’t come close to the best days on skis. And the best season is the one you’re in.

So in the middle of winter, in a period of average ski days, Ollie’s message to say it’s his birthday and he’ll bike if he wants to was most welcome.

Light bro #shuttlelyfe

Load a van and head to Aosta.

Because in Italy it’s always sunny, the trails always dusty, the coffee always perfect.

It was a bit chilly at first, so we sat in a cafe for a bit. No complaints.

Aosta riding then. There seems to be a very Italian thing that lends itself to shuttles. Assorted sizes of roads weaving up the hills across the country, all with a convenient lay-by, pull in, kerb or dirt shoulder to stop a (invariably) Renault trafic and trailer in, and a cracking bit of singletrack just alongside.

Oh look, they even marked the trail for us.

On a crisp, sunny January morning it was hard to think of a better place to be. Cafe stop to start, foccacia and pizza in the bags for lunch then up the hill to the first drop off of the day.

Where does the trail go? Down. The trail goes down.

Obviously with a trailers worth of bikes (every bike a different brand, 3 wheel sizes, 3 frame materials, we’re a diverse group of white western males) that hadn’t been used for a couple months there was some faffage (1 punctured tyre, 1 punctured brake hose. Not a bad score for a days riding, good guy award goes to Emile for lending his shiny new Starling out to Martin so he didn’t have to skip the rest of the day), but not too much. A few more minutes for the obligatory pees-with-a-view, can anyone remember how to wheel and who’s got a new bike and can we all bounce up and down on it to marvel at how plush fresh suspensions feel like, and we were ready to drop.

Dynamic framing and agressive riding position conveying a sense of movement and urgency.

As 2020 has gone in heavy on the dry January front, the trails were running great. Dusty yet with enough winter frost glue deeper in the dirt to give grand grip. The leaf free trees let plenty of low sunlight through, sunglasses obligatory for much of the day. If you forgot that you were wearing a down jacket you could be fooled into thinking it was summer.

Maybe.

If you’re the gullible sort.

Just like summer. Kinda.

Ride down to the pick up, load up, back up, see who’s driving back down, repeat. Not quite as catchy as eat, sleep, ride repeat, but about as accurate.

Trains. So hot in 2020.

Not that every down was the same. Even when repeating the trails, the introduction of the “leader can’t cut” rule lead to surprisingly carnage free free for all down the most multi optioned trails. There’s something to be said for trying to ride a trail whilst staying on someones rear wheel, and simultaneously looking where the trails goes but checking where the trail doesn’t and you should. Who said we canny multi task.

Where's the cut line? About 3 meters to the right. Whaddaya mean you canny see it?

This wasn’t quite the strava cut fest you’re imagining. Above Saint Christophe is such a maze of trails that you can criss cross your way down the hill, all on a different line but all going in the same vague direction. Best to look uphill as you come into some of the junctions though, the Red Arrows ain’t got shit on some of our formations…

When the trail goes right but the lead rider chooses left... Team pile up.

Not every uplift was the same either. The highest point of the day was reached by pedal power, Renault Trafic’s can only climb so much ice. Worth it for the trail but.

Mediterranean or Alps? Definitely a train.

Basically, it was a day spent taking the piss out of each other, riding in trains at questionable safe distances whilst taking the piss out of each other, and standing about in the sunshine taking the piss out of each other. It’s the formula for a grand days biking and goes some way to explaining why the average day’s riding is so much better than the average day on snow.

Wayne aka ChamonixMTB, Chamonix's first French qualified UK guide drifting into 2020.

Now, who’s birthday’s next…

Something old, something new. something borrowed, something tree.

Chamonix. Does good backdrop. But then, you know that by now.

“The first sentence is the hardest to write.” Once you’ve got a beginning then the rest of the piece should follow easily. I’ve not made this up, it’s been written about here and here, and they’ve earnt way more money than me from writering.

But that first sentence was pretty easy to write, nae effort at all frankly. The issue is the next bit, the quality content.

Quality content. Supplied by Toby's photography skills. #phonephotae.

Charlie Brooker is a bit of a hero of mine. Many years ago he wrote columns for the guardian, which were brilliant because he is a god that moves amongst us mortals. The problem was he didn’t think the content was adding much to the discussion, so stopped them. One of the best writers currently putting finger to keypad stopped writing columns because he didn’t want to add to the piles of dross out there.

Which puts the rest of us in a bit of a shitty position. Just like Candide Thovex killed the headcam with his “oneofthosedays” series, Charlie Brooker essentially killed off all opinion pieces with that opinion. If you’re not improving on what they’ve done, what are you doing?

Not so much piles of dross as piles of choss.

This concept of “infinite piles of dross” got mixed with the old “an infinite number of monkeys with typewriters will eventually write Shakespeare” idea and fleshed out into Jorge Luis Borges’ book “The Library of Babel” which describes an infinite library that contains not only every 410 page book that has been written, but every 410 page combination of letters of the alphabet.

Obviously though, things in fiction never cross into real life.

This trail is brought to you by the letters T, E, C and H.

Except 2019. Go to http://libraryofbabel.info/ and you’ll find the Babel Library. Every possible combination of letters, commas, spaces and full stops, all archived and waiting for you to read it. All of Shakespeare. All of Romeo and Juliet except where they just spoke to each other rather than getting rash with chemicals. All of the entries of this blog. All of the entries that will ever be written for this blog. The story of your life in the style of your favourite author. The exact details of when and how you will die. All of this exists in the library. You just need to find it.

Toby finding flow.

Which is, finally, where we pull this back to biking. See, in the above not-quite-infinite example are all the greatest pieces of writing (and the possibility for some very interesting intellectual property cases) but they are damn well hidden amongst an ocean of incomprehensible drivel. Though at least we now know where the (insert newspaper that least represents your political and moral opinions here) journalists get their inspiration.

Pan shot Thursday. Maybe I should have published this on a Friday?

In the hills above Chamonix there is near infinite possibility for trails, but very finite number of rideable trails. It wouldn’t take too much work to write a programme to scribble lines on the map (I suspect this is how some open source mapping works…though in the novel suicidal librarians scour the bookshelves looking for the index which, as all books possible exist in the library, must be in the library. Hence said mapping may indeed be the key.) but it takes a bit more effort to find or create them on the ground.

It's a rock. Get over it.

So. Blog needs good trails to create good content. Blog doesn’t want to repeat writing about trails it’s already done. Blog has pretty much exhausted the exploration of lines on the map. Conclusion. Blog needs to get off sofa and go and make some more trails.

Why build a trail when you can just ride a little known one instead.

Being a bit lazy, I figured it would be easier to take little used existing trails and just tidy up the bits inbetween, so after a fair bit of wandering about the woods above Les Bossons I’d found enough old hunters trails, cleared away enough bits of shrub and branch and moved enough stones around to call it a trail.

It just needed ridden top to bottom.

The trail starts here. Well really it starts about 10 meters back, but the picture wasn't as good from there.

Enter Toby who, in good late season riding form and on a day off, agreed to ride one of my “it should be a good trail” ideas.

There’s a few easy ways to get up to the Mont Blanc tunnel. From there there’s an easy way to the Chalet Cerro. From there it’s just grunt work getting you and your bike up to 1550m, the start of the trail and the (current) end of the Bosson’s glacier.

Some parts of the climb went easier than others.

You’re going up the same way you ride down for this part, which is good as you know what you’ll have to deal with on the way down, but which is bad as you know what you’ll have… etc, etc. I assume repetition takes up a considerable part of the 104677 books in the Babel Library. In the height of summer there’s a fair bit of pedestrian traffic on the trail here but outside July and August it’s fairly quiet. You’re never going that fast anyway…

The upper half of the trail is best described as challenging.

We’d wanted tech, and we got tech. Sitting at the top of the trail looking at the hills had been a pleasant wee interlude, but from the tenth meter in the trail demands concentration. In Toby’s words ‘you wouldn’t want to ride it everyday’ but once in a while is good to remind you what “technical trail” really means.

Looking good Toby, looking good.

Toby was riding on good form, Toby got to the last trail feature before the trail mellowed to the Chalet Cerro. Toby committed to the line. Toby committed to the crash.

Full commitment. To a subluxed shoulder.

The full descent would need to wait, fortunately it wasn’t going anywhere.

I was however. A few weeks guiding in Italy and a holiday later I was back in Chamonix ready to ride. By now winter made a return the the valley and the trail above Chalet Cerro was too buried to be worth the hassle. But, all this content was written and I felt the need to get something posted before the bike hibernates, who could I persuade out in the snow to finish it off?

Jesus riding the line between winter and not quite winter.

Jesus is leaving the valley to go back to Malaga and if there’s one type of riding you don’t get in Malaga it’s snow covered trails following terminal moraine banks so he was game. The snow didn’t make the trail any easier but there’s still more grip than you think there should be so it pretty much all went as intended.

Not every tree was in for the chop. Mind and duck eh.

It turned out someone else had been in, seen what I’d started and run with it. The chainsaw owning trail pixie had cut out the trees that I’d had to leave to improvisation and improved riding technique and the trail is starting to wear in nicely through the more hidden parts. Flows much better now, cheers. It doesn’t make the top ten descents in valley list, but as 500m descents that start from the foot of a glacier and end by a motorway, passing almost all possible types of terrain (but only one full stop) on the way go, it’s pretty good.

Lovely light. For the 1 hour the winter sun gets onto the trail.

The top half is pretty obvious. For the lower section, after a long traverse rightwards, look out for the second trail heading off to the right. Then just keep following the cleared trail, moved boulders, small benchcuts, occasional chainsawed fallen trees and tyre marks. Or search for “Cosmiques (fondu)” ‘cos the trail follows the melt of the line and is best finished with some IPA.  The more traffic the merrier. For now.

"Every sort of trail"? This'll be the bikepark style bit.

The Library of Babel was formed complete, but the Trails of Chamonix are still evolving. There’s more building happening that ever before, which means the mental index of trails needs constant updating too. More reason to keep riding, but mibbies there’s some skiing to do first.

Keep riding, keep looking, keep finding. (& keep failing...)

Confused by the title? Search the library.