Le 304

Adventure (noun)

  • an unusual and exciting or daring experience.

The word ‘Adventure’ means different things to different people but if we take the dictionary definition above, I am less of the daring and more of the unusual and exciting, but what matters most for me is the experience you gain as a result.

Adventure is certainly subjective; the ‘unusual’ can be something simple, like taking a different route to reach the same destination and the ‘exciting’ can be a spontaneous river swim on route but how we ‘experience’ it will be different for everyone and for me, this is the key component in any adventure.

I have long been inspired by the concept of adventure and the use of a bicycle as a means to experience it. As a kid, I would lose myself in the words of Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson and H Ryder Haggard, take to two wheels and disappear into the West Wales countryside with mates for hours on end. My dad and grandfather imparted this love of adventure on me and my passion for geography and nature stems from hours on the bike and foot living the great outdoors with them both, listening and hanging on their every word.

The adventurers drawn to the early editions of the Tour de France and the seemingly inconceivable distances they would ride were also a big inspiration for Le 304. The captivating prose of Paul Fournel and the immersive storytelling of Tim Krabbe and Vélocio another. Modern day adventure racing fascinates me and I was keen to gain an insight into this world.

I plotted the course using our routing partner Komoot. The plan was pretty simple – explore an area we knew very little about, ride north, east, south and west chasing the sun on its summer solstice. The 304? It was simply the number that fell off the screen.

The alarm sounded at 04.30 and after a Grimm size bowl of porridge, a big mug of Workshop Coffee and a rude awakening for our hens, I was on the road at 05.15. There is something ethereal about riding just before dawn and I would encourage everyone to experience it at least once.The dawn chorus was building, the air was still and I felt an enormous sense of wellbeing as I road in the dark towards the rising sun and a rendezvous with my good buddy and partner for the day, JC.

I had recently taken delivery of a new Mason Bokeh and my decision to jump aboard it for only the third time and take it on a 300km daylong adventure was greeted with derision by some. Despite loving the brand and investing in a new rental fleet of the ever popular Bokeh, I had questioned the decision myself but any doubt was short lived as I quickly forgot I was on a ‘new’ bike. When you feel like you’ve been absorbed into the fabric of something and your connection with the ride is felt as much in the mind as in the body, you can congratulate yourself on your choice of bike partner.

The ride itself took us to four very different departments; the Ariège, the Aude, the Tarn and the Hérault (all of which come under the Occitanie ‘super’ region). We are blessed with incredibly varied terrain in our home department of the Ariège but travelling around our closest neighbours presented us with a kaleidoscope of sensory stimulation; the changing architecture, topography, flora and fauna a natural performance enhancer.

The speed at which the landscape changes in France never ceases to amaze me; one minute we were riding through a deciduous forest of oak, elm, chestnut and ash and in just a few pedal strokes we were transported to olive groves, vineyards and views of the Mediterranean. Flat pasture, sleepy farms and dairy herds, gave way to rolling hills, dense forest, deer and boar, before they were swallowed whole by deep sided river gorges, hilltop villages, cascading water and the deafening sound of cicadas.  The experience was intoxicating and the feeling of escape utterly restorative.

This was not a day to commit to ‘I’ll be back at’ times, although I had suggested a rather bullish 21.30 to Joss earlier in the day.  When we realised we still had close to 100km to go at 20.00, we accepted we would be riding back to Zero Neuf in the dark. A series of poor hunger-induced decisions found us ordering food at the drive-thru in McDonald’s. Anything would suffice at this point and we set about devouring our triple cheeseburger and frites and attempted (somewhat foolishly) to down a large coke with ice. Once the ice-cream headache had subsided, we turned on our lights and set off on the final 50km.

“I ride to rest and to tire myself out. I ride to do myself good and to do myself harm.”

Paul Fournel

I am not used to riding in the dark and at first I felt incredibly vulnerable. Leaving the lights of Limoux behind, we were quickly in the countryside and with no light pollution it was very, very dark. This felt unusual, exciting and daring and thus a very different kind of adventure but it turned out to be a major highlight of the day.  The incredible sights we had experienced in our daylight hours were replaced by unfamiliar sounds and smells and an overactive imagination. It was a new and life affirming experience, an unexpected bonus from an already incredible day.

I reached home at 00,10 and Le 304 had become Le 320 but the distance travelled was never the objective, it was the experience of adventure we sought and that’s exactly what we found.

A big thanks to James for the first and last images and for his company. A ride of this distance and the number of hours spent on the bike sends you on a rollercoaster of emotions. If you’re considering it and you’re thinking of doing it with someone else, make sure they’ve got a very good sense of humour, a similar outlook on life and a degree of madness.

The details

Bike  – Mason Bokeh GRX Di2 / 35mm Schwalbe G-One / Hunt Carbon Wheelset

Ride Distance: 321.1km 

Ride Time: 13hrs 44mins

Climbing: 3,680m

Food – 2 x Snickers / 4 x Raw Velo Gels (various flavours)/ 250gms Figs / 2 x Bananas / 1 x Saucisse + Frites + Salade / 2 x small packets of Haribo (merci James) / 1 x Triple Cheeseburger + Frites / 1 x Pain aux Raisin

Drink – Copious amounts of water / 2 x coke / 2 x café alongée / 1 x sparkling water / 1 x Beer

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