I write this hiding in the shade of the scorching midday sun, occasionally casting my gaze afar to the staggered peaks of the French Pyrenees laid out ahead, the mighty slopes of the Mont Fourcat and beyond to Andorra. Twenty-eight riders set off yesterday morning to ride Further, a self-supported bikepacking race taking in 12 obligatory segments and totalling between 500-600 kilometres, depending on each rider’s navigational strategy. To say that a great proportion of the race is off-road, does not do it justice; there will be miles of tortuous hike-a-bike, mountains to summit, and all with heavily laden bikes.
The reason I’m looking over to the distant summits and thinking of the riders atop them instead of suffering them myself, was a recent decision, essentially ‘scratching’ weeks before the race ever began. A recent epiphany made me really think about what we do ‘for fun’ and why.
In any sport there’ll always be a range of perspectives and abilities, from beginner to pro and casual to dedicated. Cycling is one of those great ones where there are so many different avenues to try, and off-road, multi-day bikepacking just happens to be where I’ve found my happy place. Just finding the balance of speed and distance is one that’s taken a bit more time.
There’s a lot that appeals when you consider a slower pace. Leaving tarmac behind and choosing dirt tracks; whether that’s bridleways, farm roads, mountain bike singletrack or remote sheep trails, takes you to some incredible places that you might not discover otherwise. Having the time to take it in, to poke around that abandoned mine tower, to splash in the sun-drenched river or to watch the raptors circling on thermals high above you - that’s what makes the difference to me.