Footpaths, Cheese and Grounded
So where did I leave off? In my first Dirtbag Diary, ‘Ducato Dreaming’, I introduced my mission – simply to drive all over Europe riding bikes and taking photos of the major races. One World Cup (Leogang), four World Champions and plenty of rad days on the bike later and here I am, stranded in a car park having lost my van keys. Let me tell you what’s been happening in the last few weeks.
Adios Schladming and the World Cup circus
We left Schladming and the Dirt/Orange boys with a heavy heart, as the riding there was incredible, no wonder why it’s still a rider’s favourite! I hope they get it, and other tracks like it, back on the WC circuit… The Dirt/Orange team were great to have around, there’s chemistry between those guys that constantly keeps spirits high. Having Ben Reid steering the ship – both the van and the team – it’s no surprise that things run so smoothly for them, he’s got his head screwed on. Unfortunately we had to hit the road mid-week before the iXS Downhill Cup race there, as I had to shoot a bike in Turin for a Dirt feature (coming soon…), which sent us south and through Italy.
La bella Italia
As we trucked through Italy we noticed signs for Venice, and at about midnight we thought, ‘Fuck it, let’s go to Venice.’ Firstly, a word of wisdom to all: Venice is not cheap. Yes, yes, it definitely would be an amazing place to take a significant other, but perhaps not your mate on a pikey trip around Europe. I bought two beers, one for me and one for my pal Harry, and with a broken bank balance we supped them slowly as the world went by. After a night’s sleep in a charming little car park just on the outskirts of Venice we headed west towards the snow-capped peaks of the French Alps…
After a small stop off in Turin we continued the mammoth drive through to Valloire for the Enduro World Series. At the EWS races there is such an incredible vibe, everyone is there for the love of mountain biking and just to be with friends in incredible locations. I really like the fact everyone loves everything about mountain biking at these races. It may seem a bit OTT ‘enduro is so cool’, and it gets a bit of jip from the cool downhill kids, but it is genuinely like that. Dirt office regular and part time vegan/full time bike rider Paul Aston was out here running his van on a mix of vegetable oil and diesel just to make it to the Valloire, such is the pull of these events. Even over a thousand miles from Dudley’s fruit market he was happy.
As we were living van life we needed to take a shower somehow… Just at that exact, quite stinking moment I bumped into Cannondale’s Ben Cruz and he told me something along the lines of, ‘Ahh dude, the river is amazing!’ That pretty much had me sold, and while searching for a suitable swimming spot we noticed a waterfall that looked pretty much perfect for a mountain shower, piercingly cold but seriously refreshing. What more do you need on a summer Alpine road trip?
Each evening we were parked up outside a free Wifi hotspot to get my daily EWS photo galleries uploaded to the Dirt website, and kept the engine running to charge the batteries for another day of shooting. It’s a very high-tech, eco system we have running here at Dirt.
As the racing came to an end, we hit the road with our sights set on the bright lights of Morzine and Opera night club.
Manzine is it?
As we arrived to Morzine we met up with newly crowned 4X World Champ Katy Curd and ex-Dirt Mag Tea Boy (before I took the reigns) Jake Ireland, and headed out for a cheesy date with ex-DH and current Enduro World Champ Tracy Moseley and partner James Richards. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much cheese in my entire life, but we were told we weren’t allowed to leave without finishing, so we finished and as we left the garcon said, ‘Good luck with tonight.’ Ha, successful cheese date I think…
The following day we all felt pretty clogged up, and I was on airport duty to drop Harry off. I was all set to continue #bumageddon as a lone wolf. This left me a couple of days to relax and get a bit of riding time on the slopes of the Portes du Soleil with Jake and Katy, who were determined to get me over my fear of jumping doubles… After all that time spent watching other people racing their bikes it was a nice to finally spend a bit of time on the bike.
Following my spot of relaxation time the next days couldn’t have been any more different. I picked up James McKnight (ex-Euro Pikey now full time paper carrier at Dirt Mag) from the airport, and his first words as I pulled into the valet parking area of Geneva airport (it’s free there) were: ‘Let’s go back to Morzine as quick as possible I NEED to go for a swim.’ In the true style of my meandering trip around Europe, we didn’t get back to Morzine very quickly at all, to say the least. It started out badly after James mentioned about an awesome spot for lunch, then after a lengthy stop we remembered we had to shoot a bike test and decided to go scouting for locations, which involved McKnight pointing towards a mountain where he remembered there being some decent trails and me driving Chalet Ducato as close as possible…
We ended up on numerous footpaths, and when I say that I mean actual footpaths. Unfortunately we didn’t find a single photo spot, but we did find a pretty dodgy swimming spot, a greeny-blue pool in a cascading, metal invested river – this kept simpleton McKnight happy. Six hours later we eventually arrived in Morzine for a swim in Lac Montriond (what a great place to end the day), then straight to the night life of Morzine to get into the swing of the Pass’Portes du Soleil weekend…
This left us feeling a little fuzzy the following day to say the least. After meeting up with Evil Bikes’ Morgane Charre (2012 World Champ) she decided to join us on our fuzzy-headed ride, so we made our way across the mountains starting pretty slowly, which rather rapidly turned into a monster of a ride as McKnight’s sense of direction took hold of the bike ride. He was showing us all the tracks he used to ride while he lived out here, with a little added ‘not-quite-sure-where-I’m-going’ thrown in and obviously this entire process required many, many food and drink stops too.
The ride finished with a 45-minute hike-a-bike that was ‘a little awkward at the start’, but actually transformed into some of the best singletracks I’ve ever ridden. Flying through the Alpine trees and bumping and jumping over rocks and roots is definitely one of the better ways to get over a hangover… The following evening unfortunately was more of the same and also finished in Opera nightclub where we bumped into Jerome Clementz (that’s four World Champions in one article, phew).
The next mornteroon* there was only one thing we could do, and that was head up on the lifts and straight to the food tents of the Pass’Portes, which is where we realised there were certainly some interesting looks going on for the event… check ‘em out.
Winding it in a bit and heading to Crankworx Europe
So after a day of going up in lifts and riding back down fire roads in the rain we went for a quieter night, didn’t even end up in Opera, and spent the following day trying to find a photo spot to shoot the bike that we attempted on the way back from Geneva, eventually finding quite a special locations right up in the hills somewhere. That evening was spent with some friends, Jill and Jono, who put on one of the most incredible feasts, definitely the best meal I’ve eaten on the whole trip so far! It was a perfect end to a pretty tough weekend.
Time to drop McKnight off at the airport and head out to Crankworx Europe in Les Deux Alpes, which consisted of a serious amount of cheese eating, beer drinking and photo taking – more of the same really and pretty standard when in the French Alps.
But the great racing and festival atmosphere was not the tale of Les Deux Alpes that was the biggy, in my case at least. During Sunday’s Air DH race I managed to drop my (one and only) van key… cock. After getting up the top of the hill at 8.30 Sunday morning and realising the loss at about 6.30, there were 101+ places the key could be hiding. So after checking with lost and found, I started to re-trace my steps and headed up the hill. As the sun started to set I realised that perhaps I may not find my key that evening, tried breaking in (let’s just say I’m clearly not going to cut it in my new career as a criminal…). I ended up calling the French RAC to get them to break into my van for me, at least so I’d have somewhere to sleep and could continue looking for the key the following days.
Over the next couple of days I hadn’t had any luck in the search for the key, and after spending near on 10 hours scouring the hillside I realised it was probably best to try and get a new key sorted out. So now I’m sat in a Coffee shop in Les Deux Alpes waiting to get a tow to the closest Fiat dealer to have a new key made up, then I’ll be heading straight to La Thuile for the EWS to hopefully not miss too much of the racing. Just to rub it in a little, someone told me earlier this week, ‘The funny bit is the irony of living the nomadic free life in a van, but not being able to go anywhere.’
Many thanks to More Mountain in Morzine for putting up with us for a few nights in one of their fine apartments.
*This is a word I am fashioning to describe my standard merge of morning/afternoon.
If you want to follow the stories as they unfold then follow me on instabanger @benwinder6 or #bumageddon.