Words and images by Thomas. View Strava ride here.
If you think straight, it might seem a bit odd to tackle 1000km in one go. When we entered life, we never thought we would encounter it all at once - the reality is that we are on an 80+ year journey. It never occurred to us to picture the way ahead as one stretch – a straight and monotonous road. What most of us, generally, do is split it, divide it, and try our best to engage with the present moment. Sometimes we plan projects ahead but never too far.
Well, this is basically the mindset you’ll need to set yourself up for taking part in a bike race of 1000km with 20,000 meters of elevation gain.
Over a year ago I signed-up for the Bikingman Ultra France. Bikingman is an organization of several ultra-races around the globe. Known as a ¨sprint¨ format, each of them is around 1000km. This was the first time the organizers drew a map on French metropolitan soil (except Corsica), going through some of the most stunning landscapes in the south of France. Mont-Ventoux and the Col de la Bonnette (one of the highest passes in Europe) were on the menu and convinced me to sign-up.
Before being a competitor, I’m a map lover! I love geography and I love to explore. It feels like every time I ride my bike I’m fully living. This way, racing is just a means to an end.
Like an artist with his brush, my bike is the tool I use to draw my own canvas and discover the scenic places earth has given us to see. Like an artist, I take care of my tool and accommodate it to my needs whether it is for an 80km ride or a 1000km adventure.
To travel far, pack light
Obviously going for a 50+ hour mountainous ride ain’t the same as a three-hour Sunday coffee ride. As a settled person living in a two-bedroom apartment and having many cupboards, I can’t say that I’m a minimalist person. Even though I’m trying to not stockpile, it is clear that I’m not 100% successful at it if I refer to Joshua F. Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus the minimalist guru! So, when it comes to packing for a 1000km ride, I’d say it takes me some effort to stick to the essentials:
Arms Warmers, Long sleeve base layer, Rain jacket, High visibility gilet, gloves, Buff.
To choose is to renounce! Making these choices I knew I would renounce the comfort I’m used to. But it is my choice. By doing so, I set myself outside the boundaries of regular life, and it feels good. It actually feels awesome. I can only guess that the thrill I felt when packing was only matching the level of uncertainty of finishing such an adventure on so few possessions.
Leftover storage space on my bike packs was dedicated to food and spare tools. Simple as it is.
Effort counts twice
I’m lucky enough to have a pied-a-terre (apartment) close to the Mont-Ventoux. I climbed it dozens of times this year. When I saw it would be part of this race, it thrilled me. I know it's like a second home, but I knew I would rediscover it while racing. Well, the race's promises have kept their words.
Being caught in a thunderstorm ain’t funny. Being caught in a thunderstorm at the top of a mountain ain’t funny at all. Being caught in a thunderstorm at the top of a mountain in the middle of the night left me very scared and close to hypothermia. Nature called it back and reframed my position on this earth: we are the small ones. Mother Nature is deciding for us.
To move forward, you must develop a purpose. To find your WHY.
It is not about the race, it is not about the fame, it is not about your rank on the finish line, either. It is about the journey that got you to the starting line, it is about the journey that will get you to the finish line. It is about the process. Life is about choosing to push forward or not.
Mine at the time was to remember Angela Duckworth 's words about resilience and perseverance in her books ¨GRIT¨.
I choose to be there, in the midst of a thunderstorm, which I consciously saw coming. I decided to push through and to put myself in the situation. While shivering I remember it all - from the passion I have to ride my bike to the luck I have to do what I love the most. I choose to be cold. I choose to be where I’m at. Part of the process is to accept and embrace what you do. I did embrace my conditions and decided to push forward. Because after the rain the sun will eventually shine again. Because without effort, even the most talented rider is likely to give up.
Momentum does not come alone
Endurance sport, and for what I know, ultra-endurance have that thing that helps you connect deeper with yourself. I guess this is a big part of my WHYs of doing it. Often called the ¨flow state¨ or ¨being in the zone,¨ is an elusive and hardly explainable state of mind when everything you are doing feels easy, natural, in control, and endless - when what you are doing absorbs you. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the first scientist to ever put this into words described Flow as ¨the process of achieving happiness through control over one’s inner life." Additionally, he put forth that, ¨the best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile¨
I wouldn’t say it was easy or natural to sit for more than 46 hours on my saddle. The roller coaster of emotions you go through during such an experience will have you looking at the inner core of yourself. There were some ups and there were some downs. I put my head down and hammered the pedals. It wasn’t effortless. It came with pain, tears, doubts, euphoria, happiness, gloom and so many other feelings. But in the end, it leaves you smiling (and a little bit weary).
By doing what I love, by doing what makes me happy, I discovered that I was able to share those feelings with others. By finding my inner momentum, some of you tagged along and experienced the thrill, the joy and the doubts I’ve been through.
After all, it wasn’t about myself anymore. It was about the experience of being whole.