Sunday, June 30, 2013

What's an adventure?

I watched a highly enjoyable film last night. If you have 25 minutes to spare, so should you:

Aside from a slight lack of variation in Kyle Dempster's vocabulary (everything is 'sick' and he is always 'stoked', see this article for further discussion), this is a beautiful documentary about someone willing to step into the unknown. He also gets a two thumbs up from me for doing it on a bicycle!

Kyle concludes: "Real adventure is not polished... It burns brightest on the maps edges, but it exists in all of us. It exists at the intersection of imagination and the ridiculous..."

I like this sentiment very much - go find adventure! But what is adventure? To me, adventure doesn't have to mean throwing yourself naked into a raging river in Eastern Europe, all alone. Adventure doesn't have to be death-defying, and it doesn't even have to be something no one else has done before. It's more about pushing your personal boundaries.

So go out, and hike or bike or run far. So far that you think you probably should turn back by now. Then go a little bit further, further than you actually thought you could. Find a place you've never seen before. Go with a friend if you want, or go alone if it's more convenient. And maybe, in the moment when you've pushed yourself past the edge of your mental map, you will see the world just a little differently.

That is your adventure.

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Fear and mountain biking

I do a lot of things that I find scary. I don't know if I'm an adrenaline junky or if I just like to challenge myself. Either way, I like to push my limits, and have definitely done things that weighed on the side of 'too scary'.  Somehow, across the deep pit of fear spans a narrow bridge of euphoria. So the trick is just crossing correctly.

Downhill mountain biking is a pretty pure distillation of most things I'm scared of when I mountain bike. Steep slopes, jumps, technical sections - all supposed to be taken at top speed. It's definitely great practice to feel more in control on the trails. On Sunday, Sophie, Andreas and I went to Deux Alpes, a large ski area about 60 km from Grenoble that becomes a large bike park in the summer.

Andreas is ready for a big day.

The trails at Deux Alpes have a different character than the smaller bike parks around Grenoble. They are heavily built up, with lots of graded turns, small jumps and Northshores, where many of the bike parks around Grenoble have smaller, more technical trails that allow for less speed. At Deux Alpes, you can go fast. As fast as you want.

Sophie in the turns
Deux Alpes is also nothing short of spectacular. Three thousand meter peaks soar up all around you. The landscape is so vast, the slopes so steep that it's difficult to take pictures that do it justice.

Small bikers on a vast slope
A whole day riding downhill trails is a good way to build some confidence. I found myself going faster and understanding better how to jump and land correctly. Casper can take a jump or two!

That said, I'm always surprised how tiring downhill biking is, both physically and mentally. It's much more static (less pedalling) than trail biking, and your head gets tired from trying to process all the stuff flying past you. Good thing we're in France and eclairs are readily available. In our second lunch break, we snarfed two each. Yum!

Sophie finishes her real food so she can have an eclair.
To another good day spent on the bike!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Friday, June 21, 2013

My motorcycle diaries

I have a confession to make. Since buying a road bike last August, I have developed an irrational loathing for motorcycles.

I feel my choice of words deserves an explanation. This feeling is irrational because I can't explain it reasonably or coherently. The mere sound of a motorcycle driving past invokes a physical tremble of rage. My pulse quickens and I feel the urge to yell rude things. Which is why I would categorize this feeling as loathing rather than dislike.

Imagine yourself in the position I often find myself in. You are biking up a steep, lonely road. You are surrounded by forest and mountains and other beautiful things. You are moving slowly and working hard. You might kind of be hating the ride right now, but you know that somehow, at some point, you will reach the top and everything will be....


A terrible noise shreds through the quiet sound of your breathing and the wind in the trees. A shiver of anticipation tingles up your spine, disturbing the smooth cadence of your grinding legs.

Then, at at least a 4356 miles an hour, a motorcycle tears past you. You'd think motorcycles would take less space on the road than cars, but they have developed a superautomobile ability to expand as they pass you. You find yourself checking if all the skin is still on your arm.

And then, just as your catching your breath, another one flys by. And another. And another. Because, for some reason, motorcycling can only be done in large groups. Every one of them is wearing an oversized helmet and thick, ugly padding, making them reminiscent of Star Troopers as opposed to real human beings. Faceless, passing so quickly a friendly greeting is impossible.

The smell of gasoline lingers on the pavement behind them.

Will someone please explain the allure of the motorcycle to me? Should I, too, have the urge buy a hunk of loud metal to speed around the countryside on? Would you rather see the world through this lens:

or this on?

I think I'll go get myself some help now.

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Endless possibilties

One really nice thing about living somewhere for a while is you have a chance to really get to know the region, in a much deeper way than you would just on vacation. I have seen all four seasons of Grenoble now, going back into summer for the second time. And although I've racked up a couple thousand kilometers (no joke!) biking in the area, I still keep finding new places.

Google maps is an amazing tool. I can just sit down and scroll around the roads around Grenoble, looking for new possibilities. And they seem to be pretty endless. Saturday's 99 km (so close to 100!) ride had me traversing under the Vercors balcony all the way to Monestier de Clermont. I didn't know anything about the height profile when I left, but there was a steep climb up to a spectacular view at Le Verney.

I meet lots of cyclist going down as I was going up, and at on point someone shouted 'C'est par là', which basically meant 'Your going the wrong direction'. So I guess there must have been some sort of race going on.

After Monestier de Clermont I took a large road through the valley back towards Grenoble. There was more fast moving traffic on this road, but it was a fast road to cycle on as well.

I took it really easy for the whole ride, just enjoying the view and taking plenty of small breaks. This was definitely nice, because I wasn't tired at all the next day. Building endurance, brick by brick!

I rounded off the weekend with a climb up to St Nizier followed by 30 km of descent. Check out the Strava tracks here and here.

Although I've had a nice weekend cycling, I can't say much for my running performance since Pic St Michel. My quads were shot for 3-4 days after the race, and then on Thursday I stupidly crashed my city biking, shoving my knee into the gravel and picking up a large, oozing scrape (I'll spare you the pictures). I think I might have bruised the bone, because it hurts when I try to run. So I might stick to cycling for a few more days until the pain clears up.

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Gorges de l'Ardèche and the Trail du Pic St Michel

The Ardèche gorge is a 30 km stretch of river about 30 km away from Grenoble.
It's famous for the towering limestone cliffs on either side of the river, and is a popular tourist destination as the river is easily navigable by kayak or canoe.

I got into a trip down the gorge in typical Erasmus fashion - completely cluelessly. "Hey, wanna go kayaking or canoeing or something on Saturday?" "Sure!"

When we left Grenoble at 7 am, it was raining - a great start of a day outside. We spent most of the car ride discussing how cold it would be to spend a whole day on the river in the rain. A few hours later, the rain had cleared and we pulled into a boat rental place lined up next to a row of other boat rental places. After signing a form that said we could all swim, and being given a few cursory instructions about how to cross the rapids, we were sent off down the river.

Sounds like a great idea, right?

Needless to say, there were hundreds, maybe thousands of clueless tourists on the river that day. And we were among of them.

Preparing to launch the boats near the nature bridge called 'Pont de Arc'
There were some mild rapids along the river, and at every one there was someone who had flipped their boat.The strong winds on the river that day made things hard, especially for people with little to no boat experience.

Alex in a funky-looking cave thing
Our group experienced our fair share of spills, including one dramatic moment when a boat tipped and then started to float away down the river. The boat was rescued, the tipped party swam over to the river bank and then the sun came out.

During the dismal weather of the morning, I hadn't even thought to bring sunscreen. So I ended the day with a lovely sandal-and-wetsuit tan from these shoes:

My feets
Gorges de l'Ardèche: 8/10 for enjoyable way to spend a day and beautiful place, but 2/10 for tourist attraction (sooo many people)

On Sunday I did something that made me feel like kind of an oddball. I got up early, took a bus into Vercors, and ran a race. I felt odd because I didn't know anyone else competing. I had just found the race online and thought it sounded fun. I felt odd when I had to ask the race organizers to watch my stuff while I race, because I was the only competitor who didn't arrive by car (apparently).

When I started racing the Trail du Pic St Michel, however, I felt anything but odd. I was mostly just having a good old time. The race first took us 900 vertical meters straight uphill from Lans en Vercors to the peak of Pic St Michel. As it was a mass start, the trails were rather crowded at first and running turned into uphill powerwalking.

Peleton up the first big hill
I spent time taking selfies (never gets old):

Working hard or hardly working?
We can over treeline to spectacular views, and a steady, steep climb.

A train of racers zigzag up the mountain
The trail finally brought us to the edge of the characteristic Vercors balcony cliff we see from Grenoble.
Peaking over the edge
 Then finally, 1:20 and 8 km from the start, I reached the top of Pic St Michel

Last grind to the top

Thank god I'm on top! The pure joy of finishing a long climb.
From there, the trail dropped steeply into the fog for a few hundred meters, and rolled along the balcony for a while before descending in earnest. There were some patches of snow here and there, and it had been raining, making for a slick, difficult descent. Just the way I like it! I bombed down the larger part of the descent, passing people and completely concentrated on not falling over and straining my ankle.

Needless to say, by the time I started the 150 meter climb the organizers had so kindly put in 5 km from the finished, I starting to feel tired. But 23.8 km, 1435 vertical meters, and 3:21 later, I crossed the finished line, super happy to have spent another beautiful day in the mountains.

Three days later, I'm still having trouble walking. I really shot my quads bounding down the descent! (Check out my Strava track)

- The Wild Bazilchuk