The second installment from moustached VC Roca Corba rider (ex-pat Essex now Pyrenean mountain man) Camille McMillan. Mountains, big gears & stopping every now & then to take it all in.
As a boy and young man I was fit and racing. I lived in pan flat East Anglia. East of East Anglia is the North Sea, it’s then onto Belgium or Holland and then Russia. When the east wind blows in East Anglia it comes from Siberia with only the Ural mountains to slow it down and that suited me. I was tall and big and speed was what I liked. Give me bitter cold driving rain, put me in an echelon, push me in the gutter, I loved it. Give me a pan flat road race with mud from a tractor thats dropping sugar beet and diesel, get me behind a derny, life don't get much sweeter. A velodrome, a criterium, a dry cyclocross, loved it… It was all about speed. I was a speed junkie.
Naturally mountains were a no no, mountains were the bad lands. Yes I could descend like a bottle of vodka in a bar full off pro bike riders in November, but mountain descending is about as much fun. F*ck Mountains.
The bad lands were for the little blokes who could only do anything once the roads went up… They did everything slow. They even did the downhill bit slow!
Ironically, today I live on a mountain! At the top there are wild horses and (amazingly) there is a velodrome at the bottom. When I first arrived I was so pleased to find this wonderful concrete ‘modernist’ velodrome, I could ride a bike how it should be ridden… I could feel the pull of the velodrome, I started to think about track bikes again, the old ways of speed were on my mind. Fortunately I did not go back down that path, I stayed on top of my addiction… I stayed on the wagon.
My life in the mountains.
I live at 950 metres in the Ariege, it’s 56 bends to the bottom.
The Ariege is one of the most unspoiled areas in France. The weather systems of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic do battle here. Some days it's very hot, sometimes it is very cold. Huge electrical storms can rage… it can be dangerous.
Snow can come to my house, 5 meters is not unheard of, sometimes the snow is only here for a day.
The mountain I live on is the Prat d'Albis (1600 metres) it’s not famous outside of local knowledge. The Tour de France passes it most years on its way to somewhere else… Ax-les-Thermes or like next year Plateau de Beille.
The road up to my house is 15km of single track… after the single track its gravel roads to the top. The gravel roads can be followed to the high peaks, the Med or the Atlantic. The Pyrenees are very much a wild part of Europe, bears have been re-introduced here, boar and stags are common, it’s a very different place to the organised fun zone of The Alps.
I love the mountain I live on. I am exploring and photographing it. It’s easy in some parts… in others, really hard.
I have my old bike (the Puch) with its old school racing gears…Yes! in the mountains with an old school bike with very large old school gears!!!! …you know what I do? I get off and walk.
Now if I had told my younger self “you lad will be walking when you're a vet“ I would have probably bitten the older me’s nose off. That’s how bad a thing that was for me. Getting off and walking was admitting defeat… committing a crime.
Today it’s liberating. Getting off and walking has opened a door. The climb gets very hard… I get off and walk. I see a something I like… I get off and look. I now can ride a bicycle and be free of the race, free of the battle. I no longer ride for the ride sake – I ride to take me to places… and the bicycle has become interesting again.
Freewheeling is king.