TRANS(formative) PROVENCE

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Chris Ball and Hannah Barnes on infamous day two of 2012. This photo makes that morning seem like a Centre Parks all-inclusive holiday. Imagine a United Airlines flight, multiplied by the force of a Mother Of All Bombs and you’ll get somewhere into the ballpark of how savage TP can get. It’s brilliant. 

It wasn’t just when Sven Martin needed a helivac after bending (and snapping) his forearm around a tree.

It wasn’t just carrying Jon Cancellier the last hundred meters to the finish line of the last stage after he had broke his foot. (Which was also the same day as the above happened. #carnage)

It wasn’t when I came down with a stomach bug that left me evacuating everything inside me (from both ends) for an entire night and day; a day that began with a two-hour hike-a-bike that took me four because of all the stops I was forced to make.

It wasn’t just the seven straight days of 40-50km riding.

It wasn’t just the 10,000m of climbing throughout the week.

It wasn’t the mechanicals that I had to resolve with just the tools and parts I carried in my backpack each day.

It wasn’t just the late nights drinking wine, even though I knew an early night might actually help my physical wellbeing for the following days.

It wasn’t just taking the wrong turn, multiple times, and going widely off course in a part of France that I was not familiar with.

It wasn’t just the crashes.

It wasn’t just when the baguette I was carrying in my backpack, my only food lifeline between breakfast and dinner, shot over my head and disappeared into the bushes as I careened along a rocky narrow piece of trail.

It wasn’t just nearly falling off a certain-death cliff edge while trying to avoid a hiker.

It wasn’t just when the beep of the timing device went off.

It wasn’t just looking at the maps presented each day but knowing everything we would ride would be for the first and last time.

It wasn’t just the thunderstorm that swooped in upon us on day two while just as we got to the top of an exposed col.

It wasn’t just the resulting flooding that forced us to abandon any sense of racing and just make sure we each got out safe as roads washed away and the trail became a (muddy) river.

It wasn’t just the blue lips and shivers that many of us had when we eventually found the lunch stop later that day.

It wasn’t just that Ash Smith (the event organizer) didn’t bundle us all into a van like scared lambs and take us back to camp where we could warm up and lick our wounds.

It wasn’t just that everyone simply shrugged everything off and kept going, leaving me with no choice but to follow suit.

What it was was the sum total of all of these moments (and many more minute and massive experiences) that reorganized the neural pathways in my brain, forever changing me.

Throughout that one week in 2012, when I did the Trans-Provence race for the first time, something, a few things maybe, changed forever. What I thought was possible prior to the event was very different to what I knew I could achieve once I’d finished that event. I left knowing I could ride further, that I could ride beyond the fatigue, that my body wasn’t what would stop, it was my mind, and now that its reality had been stretched I wondered what I now was capable of.

Since then I’ve felt more comfortable on my bike further and further away from human habitation. I feel more sure in my capacity to muscle through situations if needed. Or to figure out a solution and do the smart thing.

Trans-Provence was one hell of a battle at times. It really did feel like the racing was the easiest part of the week. The times I shared with some of the best people I have ever had the fortune to meet made it a truly special week to be alive. But the weeks, months and years that have gone by since have been even better simply because of that one week in the south of France.

Which is why I’m going back this year, five years later, to reaffirm what I learned that time and to perhaps restructure the fabric of my mind once again.

 

 

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