Cycle and Climb : The beautiful story of a trip around the world
Many people dream to go around the world for a climbing trip. But there are few who take the leap. Noémie and Adam did not hesitate a long time. And to discover the world, they made the choice to travel cycling ! Here is the story of a huge cyclo-climb trip. (Noémie talks).
In a few words, could you introduce yourselves and tell us how your project came about?
Adam grew up not far from the Peak District in the North of England before leaving to study and work in music in London. His love for the mountains and climbing never left him and that’s what led him to quit his job as a sound engineer. In 2014, he began working as a climbing instructor and focused his efforts on organising and preparing for a two-month trip to Yosemite with two main goals: the North Face of Half Dome and the Nose of El Capitan.
I grew up in Bourgoin-Jallieu in the Isère – France – not far from the ski slopes and hiking trails of the Alps. I have always been motivated and interested in my studies without ever forgetting to spend time outdoors walking, cycling, rollerblading or climbing. After obtaining my master’s degree in economics, I worked for a year in a non profit organisation promoting renewable energy and took advantage of my holidays for a first cycling trip to Italy.
Once my contract was over, I went to Canada to work as a waitress and learn English. By the end of the summer of 2014, I had saved enough money for a four-month bike trip to Mexico. In my panniers, my climbing shoes and my harness encouraged me to make a detour via Yosemite.
I have always been motivated and interested in my studies without ever forgetting to spend time outdoors walking, cycling, rollerblading or climbing.
By chance, we ended up sharing a site at Camp 4 for five days. We kept in touch during the rest of our respective trips and we ended up meeting up in Chamonix in January 2015.
What were the initial motivations? Trip? Ecology? Climbing?
Shortly after moving into a van together, we imagined returning to Yosemite to climb. I suggested we go by bike. In the end this simple idea was soon drowned out by a simple desire for adventure. We knew how to live with little and so we would have room to carry our climbing gear in our panniers.
The motivation of this trip is to live simply, to take the time to discover the world at our own pace without any constraint of duration and to build a route around the climbing areas that attract us when possible.
We were also very attached to the idea of not flying. It seemed important to us to avoid the resulting pollution as much as possible. Administrative constraints finally forced us to take three flights including two to fly over China who refused us the visa, twice. Nevertheless, we do everything to avoid them. Travelling slowly with the strength of your calves is the best way to immerse yourself completely in a place and in the present moment.
How long did the trip take to plan?
We spent a few months researching routes, visas, closed borders, crags en route. For countries requiring visas, we knew we would have to make requests on the way since we had no idea of dates. The book Parois de légendes by Arnaud Petit and Stéphanie Bodet was one of our sources of inspiration in terms of itinerary, as was endless hours researching on the internet.
Other than these administrative issues, most of the preparation was to save enough money to stay on the road as long as possible.
We set ourselves a goal of 20,000 euros, which we managed to gather in three seasons in Chamonix. Living in a van and not paying rent greatly facilitated our saving efforts, without having to kill ourselves at work. Other than our van insurance and our annual ski pass, our expenses were limited and we could spend most of our free time in the mountains and the inter-seasons on cyclo-climbing trips.
Did you do any trial runs?
Yes, we did several cyclo-climbing trips in Europe. We started with two short days out in Britain from Adam’s parents’ home to climb in the Peak District.
Then in June 2015, we started from Albertville heading towards the Dolomites with two ropes and all the metalwork. Cycling French, Swiss and Italian Alpine passes of more than 20 kilometres, it was a good challenge for our first real two-wheeled trip together. Once there the rain greeted us but we still managed to get the gear out and have fun for a few climbing days before taking the train home.
The summer season over, we took the road from my parents’ home in Isere towards the Calanques. On the way, we climbed in the Drome with my uncle, at Buis-les-Baronnies and at Buoux before enjoying some multi pitch over the sea next to Cassis and La Ciotat.
Cycling French, Swiss and Italian Alpine passes of more than 20 kilometres, it was a good challenge for our first real two-wheeled trip together.
These trips were not really training runs but more tests to make sure Adam liked bike touring and to see how feasible carrying all the climbing gear in our panniers was. The only time we left with the idea of ”training” was in June 2016. Adam had decided that we were able to do the Tour du Mont Blanc in two days. 330km, 9000m of ascent between France, Italy and Switzerland. A good training for the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan, the second highest road in the world. Needless to say that with our loaded bikes, the challenge was greater than expected and we ended up calling work to ask for an extra day off to finish this loop of hell!
What is your itinerary and how long will it take?
Our basic idea was to cross Europe and Asia from west to east then descend from Alaska to South America before going back to Africa to return to Europe, all while trying to climb as much as possible on the way. The day we left in October 2016, we thought we would be gone for 2-3 years. But now, it’s been 28 months since we left and we are only in Canada!
We have almost exhausted our savings but luckily we both got a two-year Canadian Working Holiday Permit that will allow us to work here. At the end of January, we bought a truck (why change a winning recipe?) and we are now in Squamish. Before we start working “for real”, we have a film project about our first year on the road.
The day we left in October 2016, we thought we would be gone for 2-3 years.
At the moment, this transition period is full of uncertainties. To link Alaska to Argentina by bike while climbing on the way, it would take us a minimum of two years to which we must add time to refill the bank account. The idea of being away from our families for another 4-5 years is hard to conceive, we may adapt our journey to make a few month detour to Europe.
What place does climbing occupy in your trip?
Ideally, we try to spend as much time on the road as on the rocks. In reality, it does not always work as we would like. When we left in October 2016, we thought we could discover the German, Czech and Croatian cliffs before the winter. Our optimism was short-lived and the snow storms only stopped to let rainy weeks pass. We managed to spend a few days on the rock in Croatia but it was only in March once on Kalymnos that we could really get back to it.
Ideally, we try to spend as much time on the road as on the rocks.
In Turkey the rain caught up every time we reached a new climbing area. At the end of May, knowing that the possibility of us climbing was low in Central Asia (short visas and long distances to cover) we abandon our now well worn rope. We then spent six months without touching rock. Despite exceptional moments cycling in very little touristic places, Adam realises that it is difficult for him to spend so much time without climbing.
After a year on the road, we need to change our system to rebalance the time allocated to our two activities.
Then you experimented the cyclo-climb concept in Asia ?
Yes ! From November 2017 to March 2018, we spent 4 months climbing in Thailand and Laos with a 10-day cycling break to get to Thakek from Crazy Horse Buttress. Then in April, we take off for South Korea. Between traditional climbing on magnificent granite in a totally exotic setting to reasonable distances to pedal between each crag, South Korea wins the gold medal for cyclo-climbing paradise.
For two months, we had a rhythm of five days on the bikes, five days on the rock, three rest days waiting for the rain to stop. Ideal !
At the end of June 2018, we land in Canada and we set up the tent in the Squamish rainforest for a month and a half to explore the Chief‘s cracks and to train for Yosemite big walls. The size of North America forces us to hit the road two months before the Yosemite climbing season.
Cycling from Canada to California is definitely worth the trip.
In Yosemite we managed to climb three big walls even though we lost the fitness built up in Squamish. Nights on the portaledge, hauling bags, aid climbing, in two months in situ we hone our big wall systems on Liberty Cap, Washington Column and Mount Watkins. Winter finally catches up with us again and we pedal the 900km that separate us from Joshua Tree in a fortnight before spending the last two weeks of our US visa there. It is the train that brings us back to Canada, where for the first time in five years we stepped foot in a climbing gym whilst waiting for the return of good weather.
See U for the next episode. Stay tuned 🙂
If you want to follow Noémie and Adam on social medias, it’s here.