It all started with Dad and I driving across the UK, into France, through Belgium and Germany and ending up in a snow covered Tirolean valley. Innsbruck was now home, and we celebrated with a couple of days skiing just above the city. I couldn’t think of a better way to start living in the capital of the Alps.
By February I was really starting to get the hang of living in Europe. I had thought that the numerous ski resorts around every corner would curtail my desire to ride bikes, but I was wrong. I wanted to ride more than ever, and it was the perfect excuse to escape the high-rise inner city and head out into the Inn valley. I rode deserted lanes through pretty villages in the freezing cold. Courteous drivers probably more concerned with my mental health than anything else. I got to know the valley pretty quickly, finding out that the towering walls of mountains on every side aren’t really a limiter if you use your imagination.
As the snow receded for another year, my adventures took me higher into the Eastern Alps. Escaping the grey city was an immediate relief, and the ratio of ski to bike days changed drastically. I had some good friends in the city, and started riding with Christoph, who would from then on become Trainingspartner number one.
I found dirt. Untouched flowing singletrack running through the hills. I spent hours alone with my thoughts, pedalling up dirt roads with no idea if they lead anywhere. Most of the time they did. I found peace, quiet, shepherds guarding high mountain sheep. I found tiny Alms hidden in the lee of huge valleys. I found friendly people. I didn’t find any other Mountain Bikers though!
In May, Christa and my parents came to visit the Alps. Or maybe they came to see me: It changed everything. This majestic place in outdoor heaven was suddenly filled with familiar voices, and people to share my adventures. I realised that this place would never be home without Christa next to me. We spent two weeks driving between mountain towns, riding our bikes and eating proper food. By the time she left, I knew that I would be back to Boulder as soon as possible, even if it meant leaving behind a quickly developing life in Austria.
The Highcountry was finally accessible. The snow was now a patchy mess of white splattered onto the coldest sides of the hills, and singletrack extending way above treeline was rideable. Tracy Anderson, a friend of Christophs, set about showing me the gems of trails he’d spent the last few years curating. It was worth it. A ride friend with a passion for the less taken path. At this point, I knew departure was immanent. It’s amazing what that does for your mindset. When things aren’t going to be around for long, life becomes a lot more positive. The good things always prosper.
Just 45 minutes south, I has so far avoided the dolomites, but I wanted that to change. Christoph invited me to stare at his rear wheel for six hours as we pedaled over the highest peaks around. Endless winding switchbacks, each corner marked with a number. I had no idea how high they counted, but each pass seemed to grow in stature. Not even a snapped chain after a mountain top sprint could stop us! 100 miles and roughly 14,000 feet of climbing made for the best ride of the year.
How better to be welcomed back to Colorado than with a hike to its highest point? Christa, Erika and I climbed Mt Elbert (14,440 feet / 4401 metres), stopping at the top to take in the American size view of the central Rocky Mountains. It was great to be back with Christa in Colorado, great to be with good friends in Boulder, and amazing racing my mountain bike well. Life was still turbulent, but finally I felt like I could let my guard down a bit and relax into a rhythm of work and play.
Sam, Deidre and I headed west to Grand Junction. We raced in the heat of the desert under a blaring sun that never let up. It was my first time in the high heat all year, and the first test of whether I was actually still a decent bike rider. I came fifth in a strong field; better than I could have hoped for. More importantly, though, we spent 3 days playing mini-golf, relaxing, and living life out of the back of a packed sprinter van.
The seasons changed suddenly; summer seemed to melt quickly into winter, with just the briefest of glimpses of the golden Aspens of Autumn. With a new job and lots to learn, I didn’t get out into the Mountains as much as I wanted. A few stolen weekend in summit county to race bikes was enough though. I also journeyed to the other side of the US to race a collegiate National championship, which I won. After doubting whether I really should be racing, I was glad for the amazing response to my success, and it set me on a good path for racing Cyclocross for the rest of the year. It’s amazing what other people’s confidence can do for your own attitude!
Life finally slowed down a little bit as the snow started coating the streets of Boulder. I didn’t feel like I was constantly a week behind on my entire life, and I think (hope) I got a little better and getting on top of the important things. I had a couple of good results racing cyclocross locally around Colorado, and looking back on it I was really glad to turn down travelling to any more races. Sometimes you really need to learn when to say enough is enough. Free weekends lead to good times with friends, and that makes life worth living.
I pulled Christa back to Devon with me for 10 days of Baddick family time. We rode bikes under amazingly clear skies, we sat by a roaring log fire, and made the most of my parents home grown food and proper slow cooked meals. I’m lucky enough to spend a lot of time at the Ghent house, so I really appreciated Christa foregoing her own family for mine. It completed my Christmas.
After a year of riding bikes on two continents, in multiple countries, and on all kinds of amazing roads and trails, I was reminded that it’s really hard to beat Exmoor: the winding country lanes, huge hills, and endless sea views are the perfect start and end to every year.