I wait at the top of the trail. We’ve been hike-a-biking for maybe an hour or so, although we’ve not travelled that far. The nearly 3000m altitude has something to do with that, as do the views above the majestic Coll Agnel – dropping down into Italy and across into the French Queyras range. The huge Monte Viso stands proud in the crispest of early autumn skies. Our group has been together for most of the week: twelve Norwegians, guide Julia and me in support. Along with drivers Bry and Indi, we’ve spent the days hunting out the best trails that this part of the Alps has to offer and the nights enjoying traditional alpine cuisine and maybe a glass or two more red wine than strictly necessary for someone riding again the next day.
As I watch the first riders drop in to high-alpine switchbacks, with a sinew of flowing singletrack stretching out as far as my eyes will allow be to see, I smile. It’s a familiar feeling, but one that I don’t get on every ride, and one that I wouldn’t have if I were here by myself. It’s a sense of joy that comes from contributing to someone else’s enjoyment. Hearing their whoops as if they were my own, already looking forward to the high-fives at the bottom of the trail.
I don’t need to go to the alps to experience that. Every time a friend visits, I love showing them my local trails – the fun bit round the fallen tree, the tricky rock section that needs a tight left turn to clean – I love hearing their appreciation for a place that feels like home to me. Further afield, one of my best rides of the year was bikepacking through the Lake District with a new friend, relatively new to mountain biking and the Lakes. Her laughter at clearing a section of tricky trail or smile at seeing the next valley open up in front of us was infectious, and amplified my own sense of love of a destination that I’ve passed through so many times.
There has, of course, been the odd time that I’ve got it wrong. The friend who I took bikepacking and suggested he just bring his light sleeping bag… only for us both to shiver through a colder than expected night. The new route that I’d planned and took a few mates on that turned out to be a shit-show of bog and fireroad. There’s been the odd time that waiting for friends has left me cold and grumpy – a planned short blast that turned into a slow slog, filled with mechanicals.
Those occasions are rare though and even then, in hindsight at least, are rewarding if the other person has taken some fun out of the experience. Anyway, more often than not, a shared ride is simply more fun. The weight of responsibility (whether that be professional or simply the hope that the other person will enjoy the ride as much as you) is a small burden to carry for the magnified happiness at the end of a great shared ride.
At the bottom of the trail, some 10km and 1200m lower than we started, the Norwegians are wide-eyed and even-wider-smiled. I don’t need to understand their language to know how much they enjoyed that. And as the sun dips behind the high ridge line, I do the most important bit of leading of the day – to the bar to share a beer.