This will most likely be the hardest blog post to write about all year, because I just don’t know how to put this event – more like an adventure down into words. How do you explain to people what you experienced over 7 days out in the wild countryside of Provence on your mountain bike along with 50 other nutters, racing down super sketchy foot paths with extremely exposed cliffs on either side. Sounds pretty strange that you could be out in the wild, and in the middle of nowhere in Provence of all places, even I was super surprised at how rugged, dramatic, stunning and completely remote this part of France was. It was mind-blowingly beautiful. We rode through and up and over massive mountains, rugged and barren like high altitude Colorado mountains, then through green lush rolling hills, then through Alpine meadows and every now and then we’d end or start a stage in some small gorgeous, medieval village, usually built into and on top of a rock outcropping with old, and I mean ancient ruins and equally old men & women sitting on the benches overlooking and contemplating the world and wondering what the hell we were up to. We even rode on moonscape terrain, completely surreal and it looked like a grey version of Utah. Provence? Was I in the right department? I thought Provence just had pretty (but boring) lavender fields and picture perfect houses you’d see in Architectural Digest & Elle Décor….boy, was I wrong, and very pleasantly surprised.

And so we pedaled our bikes, and carried our bikes. Up, up and over. Over and over, day in and day out. I don’t think many of us expected this event to be as physically demanding as it turned out to be. I think everyone just read 26 timed DH stages and signed up – forgetting to read the fine print as usual, the 10 000+ meters of climbing, 7 days & almost 400km sort of didn’t stick in my memory, but I could still feel the effects of the climbs & hike a bikes a week later, walking the streets of Paris with my mom. And this was just the Liaisons in-between the timed stages, then you still had to do between 3-4 races per day, and they were not just pedal out of the gate and roll down the hill downhill type racing. O no. We had our work cut out for us during these downhill stages, and they were hard. We had to climb, run, push, hike, pedal, hang on, navigate (which was the biggest challenge for me – trying to go as fast as possible, but to go as fast as possible on the right trail), and then to make sure that you didn’t have one of the World Champions’ coming up behind you and getting in their way. O, yes, and you had to try and nurse your bike through 7 days of really rough, rocky, bike eating terrain to actually finish this event.

The mileage went by pretty slowly, but the days were amazing. I don’t think that I have ever done an event like this, and I don’t think that it will ever be the same again. Like I said before, I don’t really know how to put my experiences down into words. I’ve had some time to reflect upon everything in the complete opposite environment and world to where we rode – in Paris, and all I could think about was how thankful I am that I was able to experience such an adventure with so many amazing people and that I have been so lucky that my life has been so enriched and fulfilled by the simple pleasure of riding my bike in the mountains. Never will most of these city dwellers ever experience what we all went through.

The riding was spectacular in every sense. It was rough and very challenging and I take my hat off to every single one of you that finished this pretty crazy event. It was so great to see some of the top elite cyclists suffering and asking about chamois butter and what the hell to do with it, and wrenching & helping others wrench on their bikes with headlamps every night. Spare parts were getting handed around and shared like a bags of candy. Classic memories.

The food was unreal and the crew was just amazing. Where else do you get specially cooked vegetarian & gourmet food like paella, mussels, giant prawns and a delicious different gourmet fancy type of soup every night? The massage team actually knew how to massage and not just rub oil around your body, and the shuttle drivers were more like rally car drivers than shuttle drivers – the shuttles up to the top was quite exhilarating. This event was quite the logistical feat, and hats off to everyone involved and all their always smiling faces – when they all wanted to ride their bikes, but instead worked their assess off for us to ride our bikes.

Anyhow, I can go on and on, but until you actually just go and ride this race, and experience it for yourself, the words don’t really mean much. Sven killed it winning a few stages, and ending in 3rd overall after a terrible first day of running and just experiencing a complete shock to the system – not too shabby for someone that managed to get 2 rides in total before this race. I ended up getting 2nd place behind Tracy Moseley, which I was super happy about. I did actually end up winning one stage, which felt pretty great, but T-Mo knows how to ride that little Trek of hers pretty damn fast, down some pretty damn gnarly trails, and I was honored to be able to experience another amazing adventure with her and ride bikes in cool places. There were 8 women in total, and they all kicked ass – it was really great to see these girls pushing themselves to their limits and having fun while doing it. Never complaining, almost always smiling and returning day after day covered in more bruises.

Cheers to Trans Provence and the masterminds behind a true mountain biking event!

Right now I am sitting on a jet plane listening to Ali Farka Toure heading back to the US (or to our storage unit & friends couches) after spending the past 6 months in Europe – mostly France. I am sad. I have grown to love France and it feels like home to me. It is familiar. We have made & met some great people, we had amazing quality family time, drank boat loads of champagne & red wine and had very rainy trips in our trusty van and my French has actually progressed past the menu food ordering phase, and now I feel like I am leaving home…au revoir noisettes, and hello giant sized 2 pump, skinny, no caffeine, sprinkles on top starbucks coffee jugs.

Always hard to say good- bye to family, but we have our next adventure to start plotting & planning in the Southern hemisphere, a summer to go and catch and a storage unit to empty out.

Peace out

Anka x