Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Summer Loving, Loving Summer!

As an Outdoor Sports instructor, Summer is traditionally the feast time.  I remember years of hungrily gathering sessions, working 40 day stints with no breaks fuelled by the primeval fear of the Winter time famine to come.  Luckily for me, my work situation is now a bit more guaranteed and so many months ago we booked a ferry for a loosely planned month long Summer holiday.  As the months went by, the plan evolved into a definite week of camping in the Chamonix valley followed by two weeks of luxury apartment living at Lake Garda finished off with an unplanned week that we could decide on at the time.  Although it was definitely a family holiday and the chance to show my boys some real mountains and hopefully sew the seeds of future inspiration, it was obviously no coincidence that we were heading to two of the World's best biking spots!

Packing for such a journey is a fine art, especially for someone as pedantic as me and it was a very pleasant four hours of squeezing in all our kit, bikes and enough entertainment to keep a 4 and 1 year old amused for an outward journey that would take over two days!  The journey itself wasn't too painful, the 17 hour ferry crossing passed easily and the epic drive was split by a night in a non-descript hotel somewhere.  Finally we rolled into the familiar but always spectacular Chamonix valley ready for the boys first camping experience.
Running and glissading up to Brevent
I'll not lie, a week of changeable weather and a one year old in a tent made for a bit of a challenge but I got in some great running up to Brevent, Flegere and Montenvers, loving the steep climbs and smells of sap that always evoke memories of many previous visits to those trails.  The biking was as techy as ever and I felt fast despite a spate of punctures which were made much less annoying by the views I was enjoying as I fixed them.  I was amused to recognise many trails that I'd hit and successfully navigated over 18 years ago when 3 inches of fork travel and 2.1 inch tyres were the order of the day.  I think my kit obsessed 18 year old self would've imploded if a crystal ball had shown me the swoopy carbon 160mm travel beast I'd be piloting in the future!  I wish my skills had advanced as far as the technology!
Rowan's first cable car!
After 5 days of changeable weather we were rewarded by a beautiful last day allowing us to hire a double bike trailer and head off to the idyllic Paradis des Praz to splash in the icy glacial river.  Highly recommended if you've got kids or you want to relax away from the bustle of Chamonix town.  The next morning another four hour packathon preceded a five hour journey in ever increasing heat and excitement as we headed for Lake Garda.  The road doesn't actually reveal the lake until you've driven the full length of it and curved around into the mountainous North shore.  I've been in many beautiful places before but I don't think I've had my breath taken away by a view like the one that greeted us coming into Torbole since I first laid eyes on the Yosemite valley.
Incredible views, amazing place!

I'll sum up the next 17 days with a sentence that lacks in punctuation but hopefully conveys how much I loved the place.  World class biking unbelievable pizza new friends stunning apartments great value warm breeze relaxed atmosphere bikes bikes and more bikes huge climbs killer descents loving the Lidl bike shop bling ice cream and more ice cream one euro peroni 20 mile run before breakfast 4 hour ride after dinner swimming pool chilling World U18 Mountain Running Champs rocks like marbles and rocks like babies heads loose and fast scary and lairy 601 descent 222 descent Skull descent dropping roadies beautiful people sunshine warmth style over substance and substance over style smiles for miles we'll be back.....
The 601 trail.  You have to ride this!

We'd only been there five minutes before we decided to stay on for the last week of our holiday and in all honesty I'd have easily stayed longer.  One word of warning though, we left at the start of July, seemingly at the same time as the German and Italian holidays began and Torbole had doubled in population overnight.  If you go there, I'd really recommend June.  Another word of warning, on my very last ride of the holiday three police stopped me at the end of a trail and fined me 60 Euros for riding on a walking track.  I spent 20 minutes arguing my case based on the clear fact that the trail I was on is marked on the map as a biking trail but they did the classic shrug in reply.  I did the classic give a false name and address before dismissing them with a wave of the hand and burning off.  I had pointed out that seeing as there were three of them, one could be busy putting up signs advising of the legal status of the trails whilst another was addressing the issue of a map that will always catch out bikers and they'd still have one free to rip off tourists.  It's a revenue gatherer pure and simple, although I can't see who would actually pay up unless they start confiscating bikes or arresting people.
I fought the law, and I won!

That brush with the law did nothing to dampen my love of the region and we left the next morning knowing we'll be back very soon.  A three day return journey went without trouble, split by a very relaxing couple of days in Normandy and we returned to Ireland in the middle of a heatwave!

So after a month off it was time to settle back into a routine of work.  Except four days later I was off to the Snowdon International Mountain Race with the NI squad!  We had an amazing and very successful weekend with some tough racing and hard drinking (some harder than others, I didn't see anyone else from the team on the summit of Snowdon the next morning!).  It was great to be competing with and against some of the real names of the sport and although I was disappointed to lose my record of never being outside the top 10 in a fell race I was well up with the International elites and I got on TV loads including getting a mention for an amazing (and fruitless) sprint finish.

Back again and four TCL assessments, a TCL training and plenty of fun coaching later I've now got my eyes on the World Long Distance Mountain Running Champs at Pikes Peak in Colorado where I'll again be flying the flag for team Northern Ireland.  I'm in final training now, a week that involves a fast 18 mile hilly trail run, a fast double Slieve Donard, a measured triple Slieve Donard and a couple of recovery runs.  Deep down though I know that whatever I do won't prepare me for the infamous Pikes Peak course, an all uphill 13.3 miles that begins at 6,500 feet and ends at over 14,000!  There aren't many half marathons where the average men's time is over 4hrs 20mins, can't wait to see how I get on.

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