Nick Maher is a British expat living in the French Alps – ‘living the life’ as so many people like to say. What Nick is certainly living is a fantastic outdoors lifestyle aided by a passion and devotion to sports and having fun that far exceeds that of the average human being.
Nick rides all sorts of bikes – his constantly changing/breaking line-up can include anything from rickety 90’s Specialized rigids, to trail bikes, to full-blown downhill sleds. In more recent times though his interests have been in adventuring truly into the thick of it, that is, deep into the Alpine valleys and to inaccessible huts and lodges located as far from the beaten trail as is possible.
Nick will be telling us some of his tales, retrospective and current, in his new regular blog.
First-up, a motivational snow story for your weekend of powder riding:
Winter has arrived
Words: Nick Maher
People always say that (“winter has arrived”) at the first sign of any inclement weather any time after September, as if anything else was possible? Winter is inevitable. The bitter cold darkness sweeps across one half of the world at a time leaving vitamin D deficiency, heating bills, influenza and general grumpiness in its wake.
At my particular latitude winters can be exceptionally harsh. Up in the hills around these here parts we have metres of snow, bottomed out thermometers and frozen waterfalls.
Doing anything becomes a pain in the ass. You have to dig your car out and try to wake it from its frozen slumber before taking your life in your hands to battle other wayward vehicles just to get to get some milk for your muesli of a morning.
However none of this matters. As soon as the snow comes excitement starts to build as it means the ski season is upon us. Soon I’ll be making those turns that I’ll remember until the next winter, choking on powder and riding that buzz that only snowboarding can give you. My bike is sometimes totally forgotten, stripped down and packed away in the same spot the snowboard lurks all summer long waiting to be rebuilt through a hungover haze after the winter closing parties.
But this Autumn it was the hangover of an incredible summer that was still lingering. I could still taste the dust in my mouth while I picked at the last few scratches on my shins as the cluttered memories of roots and berms start to file themselves away in my head. My forearms and thighs still felt like they were fizzing from a days riding and it didn’t feel right to think about packing away the machine that gave me such good times.
I spent the last few months swapping out tyres and mudguards, battling the changing seasons and fighting that inevitability that it would soon come to an end and it would be time to embrace another love.
But why should this be? These bicycles are called mountain bikes and those things surrounding me are mountains. The MTB has another less used acronym: ATB. An All-Terrain-Bicycle. So in theory, if does what says on the tin, if a spades a spade etcetera a bit of snow shouldn’t really bother my trusty steed.
So one day early in the season of snowfall a friend and I loaded the bikes on the rack as the first big dump arrived in the Alps and skated our way up the road, my little car scrabbling for grip, to the top of one of our favourite trails. My last time on a pushbike in the snow was at the Megavalanche in Alpe d’ Huez a good few years ago (barring a sorry and unsuccessful attempt at riding home from the pub in a blizzard). The half melted slushy rut-fest at the top of Pic Blanc near Samoens was a very different beast to the hub deep fresh powder we were eyeing as we did up our helmet straps. A tentative sortie around the car park proved that the tyres seemed up to the job although you didn’t want to be getting too aggro with them…
The trail opened with a minute long blast through a meadow.
Tight turns, long turns, weight forwards, weight off the back, do the brakes do anything at all? And then like anything in mountain biking once you get your head around what you’re trying to do and find the particular chapter of physics that applies it soon clicks and the smile comes back to your face.
Soon the fingers were relaxing on the brake levers, the speed went up and I was taken aback by the amount of snow flying up in my face and ricocheting from my goggles. The capability of modern bike geometry and tyres still blows me away and the bike responds and carves a path through the powder, much less gracefully than ski’s but just as purposefully.
This was not a fish out of water, it didn’t feel out of place to be out in these conditions and neither of us fell once. It wasn’t a hardship or a failed mission, just a whole lot of fun, something new that delivered more than expected. *
We paused as the trail peeled into the woods and laughed at our yin-yang appearances, our riding kit completely white on our fronts with only the bright colours of our jackets showing on our backs.
We descended through the black and white of the forest with the occasional dab as an icy root sought to stop our fun, then as we passed through the snowline the surroundings became more familiar. The lines from the summer came back to the front of our minds as the ground went from white to the harsh orange of the autumn leaves below and finally to the dark mud and black roots as we rolled out of the forest and onto the road back in to town.
Pedalling back towards warmth and the promise of dry socks all I could feel was the urge to keep riding.
Mountain bikes truly are all-terrain and mine won’t be packed away at any timethis winter when there’s that much fun to be had.
*The only glitch we had was that the cassettes got too much snow packed into them a couple of times and the chain just span uselessly on the tops of the sprockets. A quick poke with a stick though and drive was restored.