Words and photos by Kona Ambassador Tim Wiggins.
In 2017, on a quiet afternoon in early summer, I pulled out a map of Europe and marked on it the locations of friends and family across Europe. A route took shape: from Copenhagen—Denmark, to Andorra in the Pyrenees; via the Swiss Alps, Dolomites and Provence. Seven countries, and seven major mountain passes.
And so, it was with my Kona Rove packed with tent, supplies, and spares that I set off on the 3200 kilometre journey, in September 2017. The account that follows is from the longest day I have ever experience on a bike; the final ride to the finish line in Andorra. It is not the farthest I have ridden, or the ride with the most elevation gain; but this final day was a mental and physical amalgamation of the preceding fourteen days—it will never fade from my memory.
Dawn breaks on the vineyards of the Corbieres. The French commune Lagrasse lies silently beneath unusually dark and clouded skies.
Shorts and a jersey are pulled on overweary legs and shoulders. Over the past fourteen days riding across the European continent, this is a ritual that has been performed everywhere from mountaintop wild camps to the spare rooms of friends and kind strangers.
Today is the finale of the #7Countries7Passes tour. The final climb to the finish line. Like the days that have preceded it though, it will be no leisurely ride; plentiful challenges lie on the road ahead.
Coffee is drunk. Porridge is eaten. Bags are packed. Shoes pulled on and ratchets tightened. Clip-in for the final ride.
Today, for this final day, there is the novel luxury of having a friendly face and great photographer following in his iconic Land Rover: capturing the climax of the journey.
Within minutes of departing, the darkening skies give way. Rain pelts down onto dusty ground.
A quick stop—rain jacket pulled on.
Back on the road, and the climbing begins. With the Pyrenees approaching, the pedals begin to slow.
Heaving 26 kilograms of bike weight over some of the biggest mountains in Europe has taken its toll on the legs. Panniers packed with tent, stove, kit, and supplies; they now feel like sea anchors keeping the ship from harbour.
Moving home is never easy, they say.
The first foothills climb done, and the temperature is dropping. It is time for a patisserie pick-me-up.
Off the road, and into the patisserie and then the Bar Tabac: grab a pastry and an espresso. Fuel for the ride.
Leg warmers, overshoes, waterproof cap, and gloves are pulled out from panniers.
Flandrian conditions demand all-weather protection.
Now into the Haute-Vallee de L’Aude. A puncture encourages an impromptu lunch stop, in a deserted picnic site; looking up at the mountains imminent on the horizon.
Arrival at the foot of the Col de Pailhères. The rain abates briefly; revealing a background of grey and green hairpins.
As the elevation reading climbs, the temperature falls further. There are few others on the mountainside today – a solitary road, up towards the clouds.
Before long that cloud is all-enveloping. Visibility falls to a matter of metres; as the wind, rain and fog arrive in abundance.
Summit. A quick memento shot next to the long-abandoned refugio. Then, the long descent to the valley floor below. The penultimate pass complete.
After 19 kilometres clawing at brake levers with frozen frost-bitten fingers, a café is found in the Pyrenean town of Ax les Thermes.
It is 18:00 hours – dinner-time for most. The surrounding tables order salads and sandwiches; this order though is for ‘Rocket Fuel’ – (triple espresso in a Chocolat Chaud, with extra Chantilly); accompanied by a Speculoos waffle. Fuel for the final climb.
With darkness closing in, a long delay in the warmth of the café is regrettably not sensible.
A dry base layer retrieved from the depths of a pannier, water wrung out of gloves. Then, head out once more into the Pyrenean mountains.
The Port d’Envilara looms ahead. 39 kilometres of 8 percent gradient.
The low sprocket is engaged on the cassette; a rhythm set. The final summit, of the seven great summits on this tour, will be another long and taxing climb.
Past the graffiti covered bridges and burnt out cars. Into the mist.
Lights ablaze, and skies darkening.
Extra layers donned, as the temperature falls.
Water beads on every surface, as the unrelenting wind finally dies, and the road heads into the darkening cloud.
The arrival into Andorra marks the seventh country on the #7Countries7Passes tour. It has been a diverse and beautiful marathon.
At 20:55, the final summit is reached. The beams on the photographer’s Land Rover illuminate the scene.
The signpost, up in the clouds, marks the end of this 3,000 kilometre ride.
From Denmark, through Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and France; over mountain passes, and past vineyards and forests.
This has been more than a bike ride. It has been an incredible adventure for bike, body, and mind.