Written by Caroline Ciavaldini
Photos by Jannick Long
The door on our van slide shut with a clang as James, Arthur, and I waved a final farewell to our friends who graciously let us park our home on wheels in their garden outside of Briancon, France. Swinging a leg over my bike, I savored the moment–walking out the door, getting on my bike, and directly setting off in adventure and fun mode. No boring travel time, no planes, no cars, and low emissions.
Over the last four years, these trips have become a traditional voyage for James and me as we find new ways to approach climbing travel. This time along with Arthur (now two and a half years old), and 'baby Z' (birth t-minus 5 months), we were setting off for a three-week trip using only bikes to visit some of our favorite crags along a dirt road route spanning from Briancon back to our house in southern France. And while our aims were meager in terms of speed and kilometers, our climbing goals were ample as we set off on our electric bikes with a baby trailer and a gear trailer in tow. Along the way, we planned to stop off and climb at five-star crags, including Rue des Masques, Céuse, Orpierre, ST Leger du Ventoux, La Carrière de Maupas.
Yes, instead of hopping a plane to Japan, the USA, or even further abroad, we chose a France trip. And while staying closer to home during the pandemic has its benefits, decidedly, the choice stemmed from our passion for slow travel. This concept isn't about going as fast and far as we can, nor in spending a lot of carbon. Over the years, we have done that, and our environmental footprint has been in the back of our minds for a long time; even as we began offsetting plane tickets by planting trees with Mossy Earth, we both knew we could do better. But it wasn't until 2018 that we found a new approach to incorporate into our climbing trips. It started with a trip to Spain–crossing the Pyrenees by bike to climb A Critical Eye in Ordesa–which gave us a taste of expanding our experience by traveling greener. Then after Arthur was born and I found my climbing again, COVID restrictions bound us to a 100km radius of our house. Hungry to climb, this presented the perfect opportunity to get creative and adapt a trip closer to home entirely by bike, and we loved it!
Setting out by bike hasn't only motivated us to explore some of our favorite crags again, it also gave us an appreciation for the small local spots and gems we often overlooked because they were too close for a weekend trip and too far for a day trip. This new approach to climbing has made me feel like a kid, eager to explore climbing just out my door. As a parent, I relate the excitement to watching my son discover aspects of nature for the first time, like the busy line of marching ants he found outside our door and now methodically inspects on his daily community to school.
Experience has taught us that excitement and curiosity aren't the only essential requirements to enjoy a climb and bike trip, though. By now, we have learned to do our homework, and planning is even the starting point for exploring where we will be going and what opportunities or compromises we might have to make for a realistic and enjoyable excursion. This trip required pouring over maps to connect crags and local villages by dirt roads on our e-bikes. In our dreams, we could manage without e-bikes, but we chose to say off the road as much as possible–both for fun and safety–and I am definitely not fit enough to pull a trailer up the big ups and downs without e-support, so we accepted this compromise.
THE LONG ROAD HOME – A BIKE AND CLIMB TRIP
by Caroline Ciavaldini
4.0 minute read
Over the years, we have also learned that the tricks to enjoyment and avoiding nightmares upfront are in the minor details, which includes:
1) Not being overly ambitious with distance (especially at four months pregnant).
2) Ensure your trailers are as light as possible without forgetting the essentials, which for us includes:
• A new rope (this affords that you can cut a bit off if needed)
• Versatile climbing shoes
• Harness, Chalk, REVO
• Super light quickdraws (weight is essential)
• 3-4 t-shirts (accept you will smell bad by the end)
• Even fewer shorts
• A decent bike repair kit and first aid kit
• Snacks and Arthur's favorite books and small toys
• Suncream and sun hat
• Digital Topo of the crags and route
• Rain covers for every bag
• Hydration bladders (drinking on the go is essential)
• A very light backpack on the bike (after peddling for many hours, your ass will thank me)
• A decent GPS fixed on the bike bar so you can read it on the go
3) Have an itinerary and route planned with the name of several B&B's along the way, but don't book more than two days out; flexibility is key.
4) Ensure where you stay has electricity for recharging your e-bikes.
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I would be lying to tell you that everything will be easy with this mindset and packlist; it won't and wasn't. We had one full day of rain that we had to bike through, which left us soaked from head to toe, except for Arthur, who was perfectly content in his trailer, even if a bit less fog would have suited him well. Then there was arguing about the route on day four– James the optimist and me the pessimist–in disagreement over his aim of a longer, harder path and mine opting for the lazy route of more road and less km. But hey, shouldn't the pregnant lady always win? And then there was the broken trailer in the middle of the single track, and discovering on the longest day of riding that our spare bike battery hadn't recharged, which made for a long and slow afternoon uphill.
But accepting these troubles lets you further relish in the successes, and there were plenty! Like a perfect B&B host in Chateauroux-les-Alpes, who had incredible chard savory cheesecake. Or the surprise of an empty Ceuse with 25m of simply joyful climbing up Super Mickey, a historic 7b. Then there was the soothing comfort of Orpierre, a village where everything, from the local supermarket to the campsite, is made especially for climbers. The list rolls on with the astonishing surprise of good shady climbing on the north faces at Saint Leger du Ventoux where James made a quick 8b+ ascent, and I managed over two days and a final desperate fight to sign my last 8a before slowing down for pregnancy. Then there was experiencing climbing in the hand-dug, 2000-year-old Roman quarry of La Carrière de Maupas. And the unforgettable experience of biking it all with Arthur, who took it in from the comfort of his trailer, climbing in his little shoes, or giggling from the seat perched on the front of James's bike.
At the last crag, Gargantua, only 20km from our home, James and I knew that we had been lucky to experience one of our best adventures and to share it with Arthur. This kind of adventure always begins with a bit of a question mark, will we be able to do it? Will we break something, get too tired, or just not enjoy it? But for this one, especially because I was pregnant, we set off allowing ourselves the possibility that maybe we wouldn't manage to complete the trip; we would have to take a train or call a friend to bring us home, but that was all okay too. Adventure is about going for the unknown, and during these three weeks, as we climbed and peddled our way home, we had plenty of it.
Now the big question is, how do we fit one more baby in our setup for the next climbing trip?
Watch the full adventure below
Watch the full adventure below