Here is a story about half day that I will remember for the rest of my life!
It was this wonderful morning in one of the most amazing spots in the European Alps, my beloved village of Chamonix which proudly lies in a valley of the footsteps of Mount Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe with its peak at 4860? meters.
I had a dream to try out real mountain biking for a long long time. It was never the experience of the kind that I would have planned a whole trip just to do that (as I would for say skiing or windsurfing), but it had been on my list for a while. I obviously love biking, I have a mountain bike, so I thought that I have the mountain bike sitting back at home in my garage. Where I live there are no mountains, but most of us use mountain bikes. At its best every once in a while I would go into the forest and push my limits into pure forest with a few obstacles and soft moss.
I turn up at the bike shop on a sunny morning and start exploring my options. I described my vision of what I want to do to a local guide who gave me a slightly surprised look after he heard that I want to rent a bike to take it up with a ski lift to 2.8km altitude and go downhill from there. To me that sounds very normal, well if you do come to the Alps, I would assume you want to ride a bike not on a paved road, but push it bit further. Lets get this clear right away, no I had never ever done anything like this before and I guess it was my luck not to tell the guy. I doubt I would had received any bike from him. To my naivety and big surprise he pointed out the bike category which sits all the way at the very bottom of the price list, ouch… with the reason of course, that was more per one hour than I had paid for my rental car per all day.
My next built up and bit of the check was when instructor asked my weight (in order to adjust suspension) and my preferred brake handle positions (I had no idea what he was talking about). Apparently when you mountain bike you have your preferred front and rear brake positions, left or right. Well I had no preferences, like whatever he will do, I will check and I will use them. This was a bit silly but very fair from my side. I suppose he grasped the idea of my biking levels…
When the instructor gave me protective gear for not just elbows and knees but full chest, spine and massive helmet I had to keep my face straight as if that was normal, but believe me this was a final moment when I got that I have put myself into something way more serious than I had originally imagined. My heart started beating like hell and I was still at the shop.
I dressed up and looked into the mirror as I exited the shop, I looked like a terminator and my bike was almost like a motocross bike with no engine. The bikes price to buy was also more than my car worth back at home. I was super happy already and extremely excited to see what is awaiting, though I do admit I was seriously scared. By the way, I was on my own, since I was traveling with my girlfriend who surprisingly has chosen to sit in a cafe and enjoy the amazing mountain sunshine and scenery. Should anything a bit more serious happen, I only have a hope that my phone will be in working condition and that my girlfriend will be quick to organize a rescue. Well, my hope was that this is not gonna happen in the first place.
I bought a single ticket up and enjoyed a scenic and long ride up in a cable car on the opposite side of the valley in front of Mont Blanc. I had a map and had preliminary planned my ride down. I was seriously scared when the cable car went into the station and my adventure was about to begin (or quite possibly continue, since I trust it had started from me entering a bike shop). Go on the bike and carefully started getting to know the bike, the conditions, the altitudes, tilt levels and obviously the brakes. Going downhill its quite an essential thing to get right.
It was amazing! I absolutely loved it! It felt like I am learning to ride a bike again, but there was an obvious progress and confidence gradually was increasing. There is no idea how long it took me to go downhill, but that was rather quick in comparison to what I had imagined it to be. I enjoyed every single second of it. Track has varied from field, to single track serpentine, to truck or tractor gravel roads with huge rocks and then forest tracks with some substantial descents and angles I had never tried before. I got down to Chamonix village and with little consideration got a second single up.
The second round was already very different. I know what to expect, I knew the track at least roughly, I knew what are more or less speeds I can allow myself to pick up. Speed was increasing all the time as confidence and experience was building up. Required reaction, speed and attention to details are incredible. There are big stones, sand on the corners, long and tempting straights before 360 degree sharp serpentines. Now that was fun! Lots and lots of adrenaline which as you know is very tricky thing and bodies get used to it, start liking and demanding as soon as levels of adrenaline drop. This was clearly happening to myself too. I get down and I want to go up again straight away. But mistakes started appearing, and some were worrying and incredibly dangerous. Just tiny bit of too much speed when entering a 360 turn, with obviously no side protections and massive drops, means that your days are over. And I was close at one point. There was the biggest rush into my head, I got burning hot in milliseconds and safety limits have put me back to reality.
There was enough rational thinking to stop this amazing experience and to finish it before something more serious has happened. I was tremendously happy. Mountain biking is very high on my most favorite experiences, I would love to try it again (and I did try again in Tenerife a few times). I can recommend it to anyone who rides a bike and has some sense of self control and safety up in the…. Chamonix mountain biking experience as well as guided Tenerife mountain biking downhill tour are part of Tinggly Essential Collection and I comfortably recommend it as a gift for the lifetime!