OK, putting aside the Brokeback Mountain jokes for a moment, how do two guys get on when spending ten days together for 24/7 biking, rooming and camping. It takes a lot to get on with anyone for that long. Personally, I even manage to irritate myself after a while, which many who spend time around me can attest to I’m sure.
Sam and I have known each for over five years. We worked together previously and worked well, developing a good personal friendship, borne out of a deep respect professionally. We aren’t BFFs but are close and share a lot of similar values and life experience, being also largely age equivalent. This was our third ride and would be the most challenging physically. When you take this kind of trip, there are two key elements to it, the activity itself and compatibility off the bike.
Probably the main reason we get on so well on these trips is our matched levels of focus on what we were looking to achieve. Not everybody could or would want to do this. It’s not a holiday but a journey and its hard graft with a lot of pain and exhaustion at times, matched by incredible highs.
Never once in any of the trips has either of us had to talk to the other to pep them up, support them or carry the other person through. We were the same when we worked together, acutely focused on outcomes, compatible and loyal to each other, our teams and senior staff.
Like any good friends, we’ve learned a dialogue and behaviours that respect the other person. We know when to abstain from and when to offer feedback, which 99% of the time works. Inevitably there are always the odd moments when both of us are low on energy so temperance is always harder to seek then, but we manage it.
On top of that, we are both gentlemen with impeccable manners, a relatively high EQ and self awareness and know what boundaries are. There’s no bawdy locker room back slapping or adolescent behaviour, just two guys enjoying the journey and each other’s company. We respect each other’s way of being, tolerate the idiosyncracies and support each other without question and always unspoken.
As men, we have strengths and weaknesses, one of those being we don’t possess the compulsion to speak all the time, share, open up, be in contact with our emotions, let it out etc etc. We’re as comfortable with words as silence. And anyway, the realities of a day’s cycling is that you spend up to eight hours riding solo, stopping, planning, adjusting etc. On top of that is finding/putting up accommodation and all the practicalities, which leaves little time to speak too much, and often too little energy.
I don’t choose lightly who I spend my time with, particularly at this stage in one’s life, and you can afford to be more selective as time and choice are two of the greatest things I value. It is not often you find people in your life with such a value set as Sam. He is studious, trustworthy, kind, caring and one of the most honest people I’ve met and always straight down the line. These are the type of people who are rare in your life and add to who you are. So when you find them look after them.
We were keen to get on the road on Saturday. St Jean had become a ghost town by 8am, the daily school of pilgrims heading south after getting up from 4am onwards. We headed east and doubled back into the mountains to get some more climb in – managing 2000m that day. It was humid and hot and the climbs were long as the lower foothills meandered under the cloud of the storm above.
The scenery was green and lush, like most of the region had been. There weren’t many flowers in this part of the world, the more colourful plants reserved for further south in Spain or east on the Cote d’Azur. Here, at times it was like riding through the Cotswolds on a summer’s day. We were riding at about 300/500m above sea level, and the air had been life affirmingly clean and fresh almost the whole trip.
We passed through beautiful villages and hamlets that had stood for hundreds of years, at one with the surroundings, before descending into Oloron, a typical French regional town with its renaissance architecture and set on the river Gave d’Oloron. The auberge (bed and breakfast) was typical and we took a typical local dinner at a very typical local brasserie. It had been an unexpectedly long 80km day with a lot of climbing. It was our penultimate day cycling together and we were beat.
We'd ridden for 80km today and climbed around 1,500m, averaging just under 14kmh, which in the stifling heat wasn't bad. There had not been many flats until we reached close to Oloron, then spent another 10km looking for accommodation.
A true friend will freely advise justly, assist readily, adventure boldly, take all patiently, defend courageously, and continue a friend unchangeably - W. Penn