Imagine for a moment that there was only one more.
A single day, a final chapter, a last ride. Of all the miles covered and all the roads ridden, which would draw you back to experience them one more time?
CANADIAN CAMPFIRES & WILDERNESS
Writer, Ultra Distance Rider & Explorer // @laura_scott
I wake up to the sound of a loon calling for its mate across the lake. The smell of the fresh pine is everywhere. I pull myself out of my bivvy bag and head straight to the lake for a quick dip before making some oatmeal and coffee over my little camp stove.
Well fed and caffeinated I pack up my bike and hit the road, following the Highway 60 through Ontario's Algonquin Provincial Park, one of the oldest and largest wilderness parks in North America.
The park is where I spent most of my childhood, canoeing through its, 2,000 lakes with water so clean you can drink it, home to moose, bears, beavers and wolves.
It is one of the rare places where you can feel solitude and silence are possible. It was my childhood summers in this park that introduced me to camping and instilled an unquenchable thirst for adventure.
In the last few years, I took up bikepacking as a way to recreate some of my childhood adventures. So it seems fitting that my last ride has brought me back to where it all started.
There is something special about viewing the Canadian wilderness from your bike. The road winds between many of the park’s pristine lakes as it rises and drops dramatically through the hilly terrain.
After a long, tiring day in the saddle, my last ride would end at a campsite with a roaring fire surrounded by friends and family sharing stories of our previous adventures and enjoying s’mores.
Racer & Romantic // @bswh
Maybe I’m still dreaming. I only just got home from Colombia but if you told me I only had one ride left, I’d be on the next plane back out.
In my top five there are probably two in the UK (more for what they mean than what they are), a huge day in Mallorca and the sublime climbs around Lucca.
But in Colombia - just southeast of Medellín, Antioquia - there’s a road, after you’ve climbed Las Palmas to get out of the city (and checked to see if today you got any nearer to Rigo’s ridiculously fast time), after you’ve picked up the group in Llanogrande and ridden out together laughing, fuelled by cheap coffee and an arepa to La Ceja, after you’ve floated up La Union - a dream of a climb - and bombed back down, there’s a road - heading towards Retiro - where it sinks in.
This is paradise.
You’re spinning freely over the velvet-smooth tarmac. The deep golden-yellow painted line in the centre of the road snakes its way into the distance. You know you’ve still got to climb Carrizales but it’s the last one and you’re ready for the burn. The green trees are so green. Of course there’s a waterfall. You get childishly dizzy with excitement when Fernando Gaviria rides by, but then so do the locals who see him all the time.
Even the group - a tight band of Paisas who are always quick to crack a joke and masters at keeping the laughter bubbling, bouncing from one rider to the next - settle down to appreciate this road in silence.
That waterfall you passed earlier is called Tequendamita. If you told me I only had one ride left, you’d find me there.
Watts per style // @ben_od
I’ll never swing my leg over a top tube in anger again? I quickly realised this ride will be the ride of all rides. The culmination of all my efforts on the bike. The sum total of sweat gathered from after work turbo sessions. The final appreciation for a bizarre physique adorned with tanlines that scare civilian bystanders.
At first I was tempted to ride to my favourite café stop with friends once more. However my last ride requires a a change of menu, provided by the Bormio region of Italy. I set about preparing for one last expedition in the usual manner. Quietly layering on lycra in the dark. Before consuming a sizeable quantity of porridge, some fresh fruit and an espresso. My music plays; disco or something equally chipper. I dance like an idiot in my cycling kit.
Rolling. The route ahead is one I’ve wished to crack for some time but fate has forced my hand. My sights are set on the Italian high mountains, inspired by numerous overdramatic Giro d’Italia trailers that use, an almost comical, epic voice over.
Standing on the pedals I shake my legs out. Hoping to wake them from their slumber sooner rather than later. For a moment I question why I do this? The answer is simple. Cancellara used to do it in the Spring Classics, moments before he would attack. As an amateur cyclist with a very limited palmares, I briefly chuckle to myself about this attempt to imitate my heroes and press on.
Cruising down undiscovered Italian roads, friends join. A small peloton of international riding buddies forms. We laugh, we joke. We do as a gruppetto should do. All the while the terrain undulates beneath us. Demanding just the right amount of effort to maintain our two up formation as we flow through the Italian countryside.
Picturesque fields on each side fly by. Village after pretty village. The sun blazes upon our backs and necks. Salt stains start to appear on the hides of the group’s ‘more efficient coolers’ as they lose nutrients. Fortunately there is enough wind to break the sweat from pooling on our brows. I look down to check I have brought two bidons. Good.
The occasional town sign sprint provides an opportunity for a jousting of egos. A chance to see who has the legs today. And more importantly, who will be buying the coffees later.
Following a stop for a quick espresso, which in defeat I pay for, an old Italian friend and ex-pro takes charge of the group. We ride on. Soon the climb approaches, my friends peel off in twos and threes. Each parting with a handshake or jovial pat on the backside.
Upon leading me to a signpost stating that the Mortirolo is 12.4 kilometers in length and climbs 1852 m in elevation, my Italian companion departs.
Climbing the Mortirolo, I feel the heat rise up from within. My internal engine feels like a furnace working overtime to turn pedal over pedal. Legs like pistons singing in a rhythmic harmony at around 90 rpm. A glimpse between the trees to a scenic outlook or a cool change in temperature being just enough to ease my feeling of pain and suffering. Close to the edge and still climbing metre after metre, I reach with my right hand and remove my helmet.
Near the top of the climb a purposeful looking rock approaches. The effort of the climb has begun to play with my head. Not wanting to break my effort, I toss the helmet to the foot of the rock.
With my grave now marked I press on the pedals, driving into the fearful descent.
Wind blasting through my hair. I feel exposed, naked without that flimsy lid I discarded. I tear down the mountainside. A battle is taking place between nerves and will. While an uncomfortable feeling wells up inside of me.
As the temperature and I plummet in tandem, I become slightly braver, daring myself to barely touch the brakes as I round corner after corner. Growing in confidence. ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ plays in my loose head. Until, snap! A slip on some oil! Somehow staying upright, I make a lucky escape. I can’t believe I’m still here. Fate conspires that I make it to my final brutal course. The Stelvio.
The 21.5 kilometer climb looms large above me, my heartrate barely dropped from the previous descent. I gaze upon the endless hairpins disappearing into the clouds. I climb and begin to feel free. My mind washes clean.
Eventually the images of serenity that had just washed over me are now replaced with images of cycling champions locked in fraught battles with each other and the elements. Visions of Nibali flanked by tifosi or Coppi climbing solo despite the conditions are now etched in my skull. Before I know it, snow surrounds me. It is deeper than head height, but with a clear road ahead my mind can see the finish line.
It is at this point, lungs ablaze, I am reminded that climbing alone is one of the purest things you can do on a bicycle. A window into your soul and a chance to reacquaint yourself with who you truly are.