Last month we were delighted to welcome Cal Nicklin, Brand Manager at Mason Cycles to Zero Neuf. He spent what turned out to be a particularly enlightening week in the Pyrenees as he bike-packed his way deep into the mountains and spent time exploring with me and Camille McMillan as we set out on a journey of self discovery and ways of going FURTHER. Cal has written about his time in the Ariège and and we are delighted to share his wonderfully thought provoking words below:
All colour images are Cal’s own and the black and white images in this article are by Camille J McMillan.
“When in the company of Mike and Camille I was extremely well looked after and following this trip I feel my mind has been deeply and supernaturally changed.” Cal Nicklin
“We seek new ways of going Further and look at cycling through fresh perspectives. We celebrate the culture of cycling and that which surrounds it. We explore the boundaries of sport and experience, travel and culture.” FURTHER
We were going to cross over Mont D’Olmes. Finding a route upwards through forests from Saurat, across a ridgeline and down slope towards Gaudies. This was the idea.
The plan was to head up a mountain, share a bottle at the top and catch coo.
Camille, Mike and I left Saurat early morning on a northerly bearing. Our provisions comprised of wine, saucisson, fromage and InSearchOfs.
We traversed the treeline using old ways built for transhumance. They are still in use.
Out of the treeline, off the forest roads and onto tarmac again. We climb Pas de Souloumbrie to Cazenave and it’s hot, everyone is in sweats. Mountain water refill, Saucisse de foie, dried bananas.
Alt. 900m. We spot the trailhead on the left, a wide gravel track of reasonable incline framed within a gate. We consult the map then proceed.
There was nothing on the map to suggest and no signposts to tell us this climb’s name. It could not have been very old, for it would have been a considerable effort to excavate its path and certainly this wore the scars of mechanisation.
Imprints and tracks visible on the path suggested recent but minimal use by vehicles, probably a farmer on their round or la Chasse in search of boar.
This trail led us up the mountain to 1800m in a series of 10 switchbacks followed by 2 insinuating sections of rocky footpath to reach a plateau.
Subsequent research suggests the name of ‘A L’Agreou’
Inevitably, the topic of walking with bike – Hikeabike – emerged.
“I have to walk but that’s okay, I don’t have a problem with this. In my youth that would obviously have caused me great concern, feelings of defeat by the mountain. Now it is just what it is and I have a much better relationship with the landscape and my bicycles than I did in my youth.” Camille J McMillan
In the preceding days I had hikedalotofbike. 6 hours along a GR hiking trail, bike across shoulders. And it was fine. Bicycle became backpack and I became hiker. This change of pace and change of movement opened my self to the mountains, I was affected by them in ways I would not have been if I rode.
At some point a rider will have to dismount and push. They have reached the point where maintaining the forwards cyclic movement is not possible for them. Perhaps it’s terrain, often it’s fitness, many times it’s a loss of will. All riders climb onto their bicycle; where does the negativity of climbing-off rise from?
Perhaps it’s a notion that we are ‘conquering’ our landscape, and a dismount is defeat?
“Someone told me how they enjoyed the meditative process of living the moments of being on, off or carrying the bike and looking ahead to piece those moments together. After scoffing in their face, those words stayed with me and I approached hike-a-bike with a new sort of calm resignation – it’s just a different type of challenge where there’s always something rewarding to be found.” Philippa Battye
Camille recognises that his relationship with his surroundings has changed, as has his acceptance of the hikeabike.
Perhaps a mindset of moving ‘in’ to the landscapes and into the mountains might redirect our paths of conquering and dominance. Perhaps an alternative notion is a path influenced by né korwa, strive to be pilgrims of the cycling world on a respectful journey inwards.
It was around lunchtime and we were getting close to the plateau. 2 of the steepest and roughest switchbacks remained, I looked forwards to riding back down these after much wine.
We spent an hour or two on the plateau. We ate the local: shared a fantastic red, goats cheese and the liver sausage. Our water sourced from the mountain we were exploring. The surroundings floored me, my senses flooded hit by waves of Ariege.
I still find it hard to vocalise that moment. Feelings of ancient ecstasy.
The three of us spent the hours in discussion, the sort of introspective talking spurred by a communal search for meaning.
At some point we reviewed our choices. We did have a deadline to get back to Mike’s for 8pm, which meant we wouldn’t continue over the top. Instead, we’d follow our paths in reverse, then press on to Mike’s. Time was tight – 60km to cover in less than 2 hours.
Our pace was set, the chaingang ensued. Made it.
ZERO NEUF WILL HOST THE INAUGURAL FURTHER RACE AND RALLY AND WE ARE DELIGHTED TO BE WORKING TOGETHER WITH MASON CYCLES, HUNT BIKE WHEELS AND CAFÉ DU CYCLISTE, TO SUPPORT CAMILLE MACMILLAN’S NEW MULTI-DISCIPLINARY PROJECT.
“FURTHER CELEBRATES ADVENTURE, ART AND CULTURE VIA BICYCLE. IT IS A LONG-OVERDUE COMMUNION FOR ULTRA-RIDERS, ARTISTS, ADVENTURERS AND CURIOUS MINDS. A MEDIUM FOR THESE HOPEFULLY-WILD WANDERERS – ADVENTURE CYCLISTS – TO GO WHERE NO ONE HAS BEEN.”