Thierry Crouzet

Automatic translation from french

For months, I have been pestering Florida's flatness, not really the most exciting for a cyclist, especially when you add to the damp heat of stabbing motorists to the less maddening, not to say criminal. So I was eyeing on the first rises within reach, the Smoky Mountains which complete the Blue Ridge Mountains , eastern part of the chain of Appalaches , between Tennessee and North Carolina, with a peak in Georgia. But that's not the door next door. We must go back to Florida, pass Orlando, then the university town of Gainesville, enter Georgia, cross Atlanta, before finally see the first sheep. No less than eleven hours drive. I needed a great opportunity. Kim Jordan Murrell gave it to me by organizing for the second year the Vista 300 / Moutain 420 , a loop for bikepackers with beautiful climbing program.

Mes entraînements
My workouts

How to train? For months, if I climbed two or three times a week the sixteen meters of elevation of Vista View Park, a pile of garbage landscaped ten kilometers from home, traversed by climbing trails down, with sometimes slopes to 20%. I took my courage in both hands. During the month of April, I carried out between three and four trainings a week on this austere ground, going up, down, sometimes by grinding, sometimes by forcing, indulging me in spite of myself to exhausting and depressing fractions. In the morning, I was almost nauseated at the thought of having to do the same stupid sessions over and over again, eventually accumulating between 700 and 800 m of vertical drop.

Online, I chatted with forty other participants in the adventure, some registered in The Vista (316 mi / 35,000 ft) others in The Mountain (429 mi / 49,000 ft) . I wanted to find fellow travelers. For me, riding alone is like playing tennis against a wall. It does not have much interest. Most of the participants who chose The Moutain, I imitated them, hoping to find a bikepacker of my level and in the same state of mind as me, that is to say, to ride in the light of day if possible.

Profil de The Vista
The Vista's Profile

I made white cabbage. Most came with the goal to complete the course as quickly as possible, that is to say to roll until exhaustion. Take a nap at the edge of the path, leave again. It is not then a question of bikepacking, but rather of survival. I intended to pitch my tent at nightfall and dismantle it at dawn. For them, sleeping was wasting time.

I had met the same fanatics during my first HuRaCan . They do not pedal very fast, but they do not stop. They practice the endurance bike, where I, without being a cyclist, I take things more lightly. Their reason is not only sporty, it is also economical. In the United States, they have two weeks of vacation a year, plus a few bridges. Riding for three or four days without sleeping is then a simple optimization, a way of bending to a prison system rather than turning one's back on it.

Scotty, the veteran of the event and my eldest of three years, told me one day in private: "They are crazy," but, for all that, he counted himself driving late into the night: "I'm slow , I need time. We quickly realized that we were not cyclists of the same type. Nobody responded to my proposals to team up.

Graham, a single speed endurance specialist who competed in the 2018 edition of The Moutain, told me not to worry. "You'll catch a lot of people on the way. You Europeans have a bike in their blood. At home, it's less innate. It was not to reassure me. I was going on a long trek in the mountains with no serious climb to the counter for ten months. And I was going to find myself alone in front of myself.

Also, two days before the departure, when Scotty proposes to me to cut the road and to sleep at his place in Ocala, I accept. It's dark when I leave Interstate 75 to slip into a coniferous forest. Scotty lives in an elongated house, lurking beneath the trees, with a traditional driveway connected to the road. Scotty is slender, with a graying collar beard, a smiling face. We sit in his living room, each in a good old leather sofa, with two poodles sleeping between us.

Even if a few weeks rather Scotty has completed the Florida Divide he is hardly more reassured than me. We decide to leave together, even if Scotty is slow, but am I really faster? I do not know. Our status as veterans of the event brings us closer. Scotty gives me a mission: "Tomorrow, you'll arrive before me in the Smokies. Immediately after the start of the race, you have to cross a river. It seems that last year they had water up to the chest. Can you go see? If it's too deep, we will make the detour proposed by Kim. "

Friday May 17th

I'm leaving at dawn at Scotty's place, having to drop his dogs in a kennel later in the morning before setting off. Very quickly I join the interminable Interstate 75, which draws slow waves between two lines of trees where are inserted huge billboards near the agglomerations.

An idea of ​​romance emerges, the first for months, I have fun with while my phone shouted at me all the time "Watch Out! Vehicle stopped on shoulder ahead ". He is not mistaken, there are always abandoned cars on emergency lanes in the US, with a fluorescent green sticker on the rear windshield. When it's not cars, we find torn tires.

After entering Georgia, the landscapes become more agrarian as well as more hilly, without the horizon having anything to reveal. The hours go by accompanied by my romantic reverie. The traffic thickens with the approach of Atlanta, which soon I see the skyline not spectacular. The 75 crosses the city, without saying anything. I turn my back, always going north, to take the 411, an old national almost parallel.

I enter a forgotten America, an America in distress, with dilapidated shacks, carcasses of cars, skeletons of gas stations, dating back to the time when the 411 was an axis of importance. By a miracle, suddenly, cluttering shacks in the shade of venerable oaks, asleep forever, remembering another time that reminds me of Simak. Impossible not to think At the crossroads of the stars , novel that I reread on my arrival in Florida with an intact pleasure. Which book ! Maybe I started writing because of him.

Gradually the blue line of the Smokies appears, a vaporous blue, to taste with a spoon with large gulp of sun. A blue of mirage, but a very real blue, a blue degassed by the trees, the isoprene whose veil inspired the name of this chain of old mountains.

I'm only ten kilometers from Reliance, the starting point of the race. Before leaving the 411, I have a wrong thought for my nipples. Sometimes, by bike, more often when I run, the jersey abrases them and the pain becomes almost unbearable. I forgot to pack some tape to protect myself, just in case. I stop at a convenience store dotted with a door closet, almost hidden. A waitress patibular. Two tables with moleskin bench along the bay window. I run the shelves half empty, to no avail.

Reliance
Reliance

A flock of laces leads me along the Hiwassee river, a powerful course, glimpsed through the trees. Soon a bridge, a last corner, I enter a green and luminous valley. Here I am at the campsite where everything must begin and end. There is a wooden house with a shaded terrace where burgers are served. I ask the waitress about the river to cross. She has big eyes, obviously she never went lower than her back kitchen. She points to a tall guy sitting further, leaning on his phone.

I introduce myself. He's Mike, a recidivist. Last year, he did The Vista, this year he's leaving for The Mountain. This thirty-year-old with nervous movements, with a high-pitched voice, talks to me about the dogs who ran him, about the one he had to protect himself by interposing his bike, his bowl in a gravel bend, the endless ascent called the skyway that leads to the culmination of the event at 1400 m, the last coast that pops up when you think everything is over.

I mention the mission that Scotty has given. Mike offers to accompany me. We embark in my car, leave the campsite, cross a railway, take the small road by which we will leave tomorrow. We pass a tourist train with three vintage wagons. Five kilometers further, we continue on foot by the path along the path. The river, tributary of Hiwassee, is wide, but shallow.

After our return to the campsite, other competitors appear. All know each other. They run American endurance races. They talk about their ambitions, give me advice, have fun with each other. Kim arrives in turn. Enthusiastic, generous, open. There is a beautiful atmosphere. In the evening we gather at the edge of the Hiwassee, around a fire, while the full moon rises in the V drawn by the valley. I go to take refuge in the dormitory, from where I chase air conditioning too cold and too noisy. I finish at the back of my minivan.

La traversée
Crossing
Camping
Camping
Camping
Camping
Camping
Camping
Pleine lune
Full moon

Saturday, May 18th

The day of the verdict has arrived, a clear day, which looks limpid and hot. Final preparations Trace loaded on our GPS. Bags stowed on our bikes. Kim tells us a few words, check that we all have her phone. To my surprise, half of the participants will ride in gravel, some having still adopted a suspension before. Yet former participants have repeated that they advise ATVs. But the fashion is gravel. The builders have claimed so much that these bikes go everywhere that people end up believing them, not me .

Avant le départ
Before leaving
Scotty au départ
Scotty at the start

The sun has risen. It's 6:49 am when Kim gives the start. The youngsters rush off while Scotty and I follow them without hurry, right to the first difficulty. We are attacking in the hard. A moist and stony single with a high percentage. As expected, the gravel is struggling, while nothing stops my 2.6 inches.

I ride the train flexibly, without fretting my heart. Very quickly I distance Scotty and catches some competitors left in front of us. I join a couple led by an energetic girl, which I will discover later that it is about Sara Dallman, in particular victorious of the Divide Tour 2013 , one of the best American specialists in endurance racing.

Première vue sur les Smokies
First view of the Smokies

Feeling at her basques, she asks me to overtake her, but I refuse. We are catching up with competitors, duplicates. We meet Mike, dressed in Harlequin outfit, who stopped on a promontory to take a picture. I imitate him, letting Sara and her companion go. I wait for Scotty, unsuccessfully, still bewildered by the blue roll of the Smokies. I'm leaving alone. Not far from the summit, I join Graham who is swaying on his single speed. He draws a staggering 32-26. We make a path together on the ridge while chatting.

He advises me soon to stop in a clearing with a table. "Enjoy this place, it's one of the few with a view. Most often, we will drive between the trees. Good idea, I'll wait for Scotty. I nibble, drink. After a good five minutes, an agile girl arrives. I'm still waiting five minutes and still no Scotty, no more than other competitors.

Première pause
First break

I continue alone. I meet a biker who takes my picture at the junction where are separated for a time the Vista and the Mountain. Here I am on forest tracks ideal for gravels. I stop as soon as my legs pull, I do not overwork, but no one joins me while I am already back on the common track at both races. I drink a lot, around 11 am I only have one liter of water left. I have to refuel, but I never see the source on the map. I cross rivers where I could filter water, but I do not stop. After an asphalt part, I change of massif and find forest tracks, without respite for the legs, without great distraction for the glance.

Sur le vif
On the spot

Alone, I find the time long, and I tend to accelerate. I now want to reach the first village, where I will find a restaurant. It is 1 pm when I arrive in front of a stream. I think I can cross it without getting my feet wet. It's more like an underwater version. No worse, it's hot and I'm happy to have my legs refreshed, as many other streams come through which I go.

In a climb, I discover a young competitor sitting on the edge of the track, legs bent, his head buried between the knees. I'm worried, he tells me he's just burnt and he's resting. Shortly before 3 pm, I enter Tellico Plain with a smile. A beautiful village with small houses that feel good holidays. In the center, I think I dream when I discover a terrace of coffee, so little American. And there, a bike, and inside the coffee, Graham who signs me, arrived shortly before me and to whom the waitress has just served a salad. I order the same thing, aware that opportunities will be rare to eat greenery during the following days.

When my salad arrives, the waitress brings at the same time two hamburgers for Graham. I burst out laughing. I thought he was green. I imitate it, but a single burger will suffice me. We eat in a good mood. We talk like old friends happy to meet. We met online. Graham, 44, lives in Atlanta and works in high fidelity sound systems. He has already cycled the United States from west to east. He is an ultra experienced bikepacker, a generous guy with a bright look.

Around 4 pm, when we leave the restaurant the sky is covered, it drops three drops. Graham offers me to accompany him to the night, but I do not want to waste time, especially since I have to refuel at a gas station (he has enough protein and carbohydrates for everything his trip, it must be said that it carries nothing else except a sleeping bag). As he leaves, two competitors arrive, including the guy who was dying on the side of the road and another with a neon orange helmet. He said to me, "Are you French, are you? He tells me that he spent three weeks in Lyon when he was younger. He still has some words of French. His name is Jacob. He lives in Iowa.

We look at the sky where big threatening clouds coagulate. I hesitate to return to the restaurant with Jacob and the other guy, but no, the next camping is still far and I must not hang out if I want to reach it before dark. I take the road, leave it for a Shell station, where I can not find a cereal bar worthy of the name. A detour for nothing, not really. When I go out, the sky pours on me. I run to shelter under an arbor with some tables. Squalls pick up the torrents of water, bring them back into the sky, throw them on me wherever I hide. There are huge hailstones. I'm cold, I snuggle in my raincoat.

I think of Graham, who is going through the turmoil, I have no doubt. A lull, I look at the sky always threatening. New clouds tumble and spit their lightnings. I stay more than a big hour before heading back, trembling with cold. It takes me several kilometers to warm up, before the sun bathes me again and I enter a field where the storm did not hit.

I drive along a river by an asphalt road, bikers keep on doubling me. Soon I fork again to the mountains, to new forest tracks. I find Charles and John gone the night before. Arrested at the edge of the road, they smoke a joint. It makes me laugh, here are two guys cooler than me. We leave together on rather nasty slopes, which does not prevent us from discussing. Night is falling. Soon I distance my new friends, then they rush on me in favor of a descent that I approach carefully as I have only a headlamp. We reach Jake Best campground around 9:30 pm, full of cars and motorhomes. Dogs bark, a guitar spits bad chords. I am slammed, I find myself a space where to plant my tent. Charles and John decide to look for a quieter corner.

I traveled 131 km and climbed more than 2,500 meters, all by mountain bike, which is by far my record. I could have pushed further into the night. The temptation was there, a temptation for competitors such as Graham. There is a certain pleasure in going beyond, in entering unusual areas of existence, but I am cautious, thinking of the difficult days ahead. I learned one thing: you can practice climbing while living in the plain.

Jour 1
Day 1

Sunday May 19th

I wake up after a good night's sleep, with a bird that mimics an alarm siren whose rhythm would speed up to break for lack of breath. The day is still shy, I snuggle into my sleeping bag, not in a hurry to get going again. In the night, I heard bike wheels on the gravel in front of my tent. Once I said "Scotty? I was told, "No, it's Ryan. Ryan is a very nice young history teacher, met on Friday. He lives nearby, in Cleveland, Tennessee.

I decide to move, so begin my morning ritual, the exact opposite of the evening. Always wrapped up in my sleeping bag, still lying down, I deflate my mattress with the simple pressure of my body, then I stand up, empty the bag of my tent in which I put my non blunt stuff to transform it into a rather comfortable pillow especially when I wrap around my microfiber towel.

I put my compression tights, my thermal t-shirt, I pomade the buttocks repair cream, then pass my shorts and my jersey still wet my sweat of the day before. This is not the most enjoyable time of the day (although my merino jersey does not smell bad). I put my things in their respective bags. Once packaged, I go out.

There, surprise, a tent stands next to mine. A little further, a hammock was stretched between two trees. I recognize the fluorescent orange helmet of Jacob hanging on the handlebars of his bike. Two participants arrived after me. Moreover, Jacob emerges in turn, then it is Ryan who tells us to have arrived at one o'clock in the morning.

Vélo de Jacob et le mien
Jacob's bike and mine

Soon I am ready to leave. Ryan tells us he will not hurry. I propose to Jacob to wait for him to accept. Soon we take the road, it is 7:30. The sky is blue, the sun pierces the canopy. Jacob stops at the edge of a stream to filter water. We leave at a low pace in the former estate of the Cherokee Indians. The track attacks a series of turns as we gain altitude.

Jacob au filtrage
Jacob filtering

Cherokee forest

At the turn of a pin with a beautiful view of the north of the Smokies, we discover the camp of Charles and John, who chose a perfect spot. Both make fun of the race, the endurance, they are there to enjoy. I envy them, but something pushes me forward, a sense of urgency, perhaps the evidence that my stay in the United States comes to an end, that in exactly three weeks we will be back in France, and that Here we have to tidy the house, pack our bags, say goodbye to our new friends.

Jacob was not very talkative, maybe because at the trouble in the higher percentages, I distance him, soon catching Scotty zigzagging from one side to the other of the track. He explains to me that he has camped further than us, because he did not find a place near us in the middle of the night.

Au sommet
At the top

I stay a moment at his height, then I distance him. It is really too slow for me, keeping me at his own pace costs me more energy than pedaling at my natural speed. I stop at the top, take some pictures, phone Isabelle. Jacob arrives first, then it's the turn of Scotty, who warns that he is not a daredevil downhill, me not more, but I let myself be sucked by a beautiful track where are linked beautiful curves that I attack with confidence. I find myself alone again. I'm waiting below, on a bridge over a joyful river. When Jacob arrives, we photograph ourselves, then Jacob tells me he does not want to wait for Scotty. "He will join us at Indian Boundary. "

Dans la vallée
In the valley

This is a campsite on the edge of a beautiful lake, with a shop where we refuel. It is 11 am Children bathe, shout, play. We eat a hiker's breakfast, a bag of dehydrated food in which the keeper pours a mug of boiling water. After ten minutes, we have a full meal and very delicious. Accompanied by Charles and John, Scotty does not land until much later when we have almost finished eating. He does not bother to land, refuel and takes the road, sure we will catch up quickly, because we are waiting for the biggest difficulty of the course, a neck of the first category.

Of course, Charles and John decide to relax. They are right, they travel as if they have eternity before them. I should go to their school. I still have a lot to learn. If I were younger, I would probably be with Graham, trying to beat any personal best. I learned to slow down, but not enough yet.

Once Scotty passed, once on the tarmac of the first category neck, my 2.6 inch tires stick to the road and I do not move forward. Jacob stops every mile to recover and each time I stop a good minute after him. This burning road, too shady, seems interminable, especially as motorcycles and sports cars overtake us, sometimes we honk our horns to ask us to let them pass. I wonder what I do with my mountain bike loaded with a dozen pounds. I'm struggling because I'm just pedaling without experiencing any of the pleasures of cycling, even my eyes find nothing to rejoice, always trees to hide the distance.

De la Cherokee à la Nantahala forest
From the Cherokee to the Nantahala forest

At the top, we make an incursion in North Carolina, before attacking a beautiful descent on a forest track. We do not expect Scotty to be far behind us. As the day before, I intend to send him a message to indicate our camp. Once back on the ground, my tires favor me and I have to wait for Jacob. Sometimes, so long that I wonder if he has not crashed into one of the many hairpin bends. Still, as soon as the road rises again, my feet hurt and Jacob is stronger than the morning. I'm struggling to tear my guts, I only catch it for the sake of downhill.

At 4 pm we reach the Green Cove convenience store, where on a register we have to sign we find that Graham has pointed at 6 am. We are impressed. He is ten hours ahead of us, more or less the time I spent at the camp. He hardly goes faster than me, but hardly ever stops.

The shop is set in the hollow of the valley, back to a tumultuous stream where a girl tells us that she was rafting on the tube when she was a child. "We had bruises everywhere, but we started again. This shop belonged to my grandparents. I search the shelves for something not too greasy and end up just crisps and a sandwich. My supply of cereal bars is melting.

When we leave, I have lead legs. "Jacob, I'm tired, go on without me. He shakes my hand and barks himself without a comment, really not causing the guy, any more than compassionate. I regret having waited all morning. As I climb dreadful slopes, often dismounting to push the bike, I curse it. It feels good to pick on someone.

But three hours later, after much suffering and no aesthetic or transcendental experience, I found him sitting on one of the benches at the Coker Creek Welcome Center. The keeper kept the shop open to allow us to refuel. Jacob announces that he gives up The Moutain and falls back on The Vista. "I'm not fit enough. He asks me if I'm leaving with him. "Yes, but I camp as soon as possible. "

It is 8 pm when we leave. Miraculously, I found good legs and in a very technical single I put a wind to Jacob, waiting for him constantly. It is stronger than me, I obey the logic "stay grouped" that I practice with my friends in France. Because that's how the bike unfolds in all its beauty, sporty, tactical and social.

Buck Bald
Buck Bald

Night is falling. I photograph the last light of day at the top of Buck Bald. After a quick descent, we reach the next camp. It is 10 pm Party-goers have left rubbish everywhere so I had a hard time finding a place to pitch my tent, but never mind, I can not push further. For a second day in a row, I climbed more than 2,500 meters. I am ahead of my most optimistic forecasts. No network to warn Scotty.

Jour 2
Day 2

Monday, May 20th

The waking bird morning seems to have followed us. At 7 am we are ready to leave. We do not hang out in this terrible campsite where I slept little. Throughout the night, a machine produced the heartbreaking din of a tortured animal or a sluggish engine that wanted to start, but did not succeed.

We start with a dozen bollards and Jacob gives me a hard time, its aerodynamic position and its 2-inch tires making it easier. I hate to force cold. I recover in a gravel part, then drop it in a long and severe descent, taking at least five minutes to spend it waiting in front of a closed convenience store.

When Jacob arrives, he hardly stops, crosses the road, plunges into a new macadam part. I decide to let him go. I have no desire to continue driving with him. His way of conceiving the bike is antithetical to mine.

I pedal at my ease until reaching the small town of Copper Hill at around 10 am, which I explore until I find a beautiful pastry shop, Katz's New York Deli, an extraordinary place, whose presence in this remote corner of Tennessee is simply improbable, so unlikely that Kim did not mention it on his card. I devour a beautiful omelette, accompanied by a cinnamon roll topped with cream and a pound with fluffy almonds to perfection. I pedal for such meetings, for such moments spent on a shady terrace, quiet, in front of a tiny garden dressed to the nines. Life seems so simple, a succession of tiny happiness that I enjoy with jubilation.

At the same time, my heart is heavy because I have not shared my joy with any friend. In these conditions, with Scotty far behind me, and other participants even further, I have no desire to stay on the Mountain, to spend two days alone at least, especially as the renowned haven of Mulberry Gap, essential place of supply, will be closed tomorrow at my arrival. I too switch to The Vista, not because of my legs, but because my brain does not just suffer.

I'm leaving, a little sad. I stop at a supermarket no less sad where again I find only chocolate bars that give me nausea. Here I am pedaling down the side of a four-lane towards the Ducktown aglomeratiyion, a collection of petrol stations and unattractive restaurants. I fall back on Jacob stopping at a beautiful shaded shop to buy a drink.

He missed Katz, he missed happiness, he stuffed himself in a hurry, and I'm not even unhappy for him. He asks me to accompany him, but I refuse. He leaves before, I let him spin to catch up at the entrance of a long single where he caught up with Brad, a former Navy Seal with whom I discussed a lot online. Brad smokes the essence of marie-jeanne, he offers me with hilarity, I refuse and passes in front of them in the single, where of course I am wrong way, type me a long climb for nothing. I catch them again when we reach the perennial Ocoee River.

Ocoee River
Ocoee River
Ocoee River
Ocoee River
Ocoee River
Ocoee River

I stop to taste the water, to take some pictures, again Jacob joined me as if nothing had happened, as if he did not perceive the impropriety of his attitude, an inconvenience that perhaps has not meaning that for a French cyclist, or for a writer who spends his days alone and biking as much for socializing as for sports and disorientation.

Ocoee River
Ocoee River

We cross the river by a long suspension bridge. I stop at one end, while Jacob escapes forever to another. In the long single that follows, I put the soft pedal to have no chance to catch up. Around 3:00 pm, I stop at the Thunder Rock campground where I had planned to sleep on the evening of the third day. I'm taking a nap. I weigh once again my decision to borrow the bypass of The Vista, reducing my journey by about 160 km. I am also thinking of Isabelle, our next return to France, all this concerns me. I'm left with my decision of the morning.

En forêt
In forest
En forêt
In forest

Around 17 pm, I leave through a beautiful coniferous forest, the brightest since the start. I stop at Big Creek Primitive Camping while the day is still bright. I pitch the tent in the center of a circle of fir trees with straight trunks, drawing above me a plant cathedral. In my tent with a translucent wall, I lie down waiting for nightfall, in a state not far from mystical ecstasy. I am the soil of the forest, I am its trees and their canopy, I am the clear sky between the foliage, I am the stream running below, I am the insects that crawl on the tent without having the means of me achieve.

On this third day, I traveled only 92 km, climbed only 1,800 meters, but I'm happy, in my place somehow. Sometimes loneliness is good, I am used to it, it is my most common state of existence, the one that is conducive to creation, a state that I love and cultivate, but paradoxically that I consider incompatible with my conception biking.

Jour 3
Day 3

Tuesday, May 21

I wake up at dawn, in good shape. I take the lead, resigned to my loneliness, decided to take advantage of it for some spiritual experiences. Already, I join the route common to both roads. Soon I engage in a single, the most technical since the start, a long descent brings me to a stream where I find Graham sitting, looking dreamy. He looks at me with his big smile that I'm already used to.

Mon camp
My camp
Graham
Graham

"Thierry! He explains to me that I am the last person with whom he spoke and that he is happy to meet me. He has stuck to The Moutain, so he has 160 km more than me in the legs and 5,000 meters of climbing. He offers me to accompany him until the night. We filter water, then take the road, with the pleasure of not being together. I liked Graham right away, we are good together. Once back on the forest tracks, he tells me that his father wrote a book, huge, on the scarcely cold in Hungary, which he was a specialist as a CIA analyst.

"Graham, why are you driving in single speed? "

"For simplicity, reliability, also because it's cheaper, I like it all. "

Campagne riante
Laughing campaign
Campagne riante
Laughing campaign

With lightness and joy, we join an agrarian campaign, with red houses placed in the center of green meadows. We enter a country bucolic, bright, that the spring makes shine and burst of a thousand amorous rumors. I want to stop everywhere to photograph, to fix these landscapes of painter that even cycling I travel too fast, not daring to imagine the frustration of driving there by car. After the climbs of previous days, blind climbs in the forest, rolling on bumpy roads in its open perspectives is good for legs and eyes.

Avec Graham
With Graham

At 10:30, we reach the Ocoee Dam Deli & Diner, which we expect to open in the shade of a lime tree. I forgot what we talked about, but we were fine. The words were not important, not even necessary. At 11 o'clock we are seated. I have not eaten anything since the day before at Katz's, Graham, for a longer time. We each order a huge burger, with a steak and over roasted pork. Normally, I would have been unable to swallow such a quantity of meat, but I enjoy it. We even order a strawberry slipper, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It's perfect.

Graham tells me that the bikepacker who completed The Vista last year in forty-four hours would have said he knew a guy who could do better than five hours. Me, I think a pro can do a lot better. The Vista is neither more nor less than two mountain stages of the Tour de France. "But no pro will ever make this race," Graham tells me. It's an amateur thing. "

I never feel amateur. I consider myself a pro of perception, a pro of the optimal experience, a pro of aesthetics, that's what I look for when I write like when I'm doing bikepacking. To consider oneself as amateur is to leave the loser. When you write, when you're an artist, even when you're pedaling, you're aiming for genius, otherwise what's the point? Gombrowicz said that 100% of geniuses wanted genius, but none who did not set this excessive goal had been able to excel. Everyone to find his area of ​​expertise.

So comes Mike, who finished The Vista that same morning, also giving up The Moutain. You have to have strength of character to push alone in a painful loop when a shortcut occurs. It's a metaphor for life. My renunciation may be the expression of my weakness. Maybe when I write I borrow the same shortcuts. I want to be awesome as in a dream victim of a dangerous illusion.

Campagne riante
Laughing campaign
Campagne riante
Laughing campaign

We do not leave until 1:30 pm, plunge into the laughing countryside, with horses in the fields, farms in the distance, small roads where do not cross a car, the soothing course of the Hiwassee river of a deep green bottle, flowered cemeteries. On this rolling part, Graham pedal empty which allows me to take a little advance to catch me at the top of the ribs. After crossing the small town of Benton, we enter the Delano area, a corner of paradise where an Amish community has settled. Impeccable gardens, wooden farms, black buggies pulled by elegant horses. Time has stopped, we are in another era, people are wearing western costumes.

Delano
Delano

We stop at Kim's, or rather on the terrace of a wooden pavilion that she owns in the heart of this huge garden. We let ourselves fall into two adirondack chairs. On the counter of my GPS, it is 37 ° C. Graham closes his eyes to try to recover while I am gurgling images. The view is perfect. In the foreground a path where passes a cart with children, beyond the farms, with a wind wheel, then on the horizon the foothills of the Smokies where we will have to climb.

I could have stayed there forever. We leave at around 4 pm, stop at the Amish Farmers' Market, with a lot of dazzling vegetables, but no fruit. So we buy a cake with banana and nuts.

We reach the 411, we stop in a convenience store, the same where I stopped to buy plaster last Friday, as I say a century ago and I recognize that once we took the road that goes to Reliance, a road which in thirty minutes would take us back to our point of departure, but we turn south, following the foot of the mountains, to reach the end of the chain by which we climb it.

Dogs run towards us, some menacing. I imitate them, I bark with conviction, go on them with my bike, I am as aggressive and con as they are to scare them. I always adopt this tactic, rather effective against dog stupidity.

Cake à la banane
Banana cake

We find the hard, a series of terrible laces, with percentages that make me pitch from one side to the other of the track despite my 32-50, until I dismount to not burn me legs (and say that Graham pulls a 32-26). We take a break, devour half of the banana cake, perfectly fluffy. When at the top we reach a single, I have a slack. We are entering a technical part, of which Graham is brilliantly fired, me struggling behind him.

Franchissement
crossing
McCamy Lake
McCamy Lake

Graham walks away, we meet again, I leave him at the door of my campsite, not far from a shimmering lake, as he makes his way to the finish, 60 km away. I lived a bright day, one of those rare days, but that the practice of cycling knows how to offer us generously. I did not drive much, 93 km for 1,500 m of altitude, but I am satisfied. Chance did things right. By taking the bypass, I made a friend.

Jour 4
Day 4

Wednesday 22 May

I've got plenty of time. I finish the banana cake, with an unfeigned pleasure, and then I leave the campsite Chilhowee around 7:30. I immediately falls on Sarah Dallman, who told me not to have slept all night. She pushes her ATV into a stony single. I double it until reaching a promontory, slightly off-road. I stop to take some pictures.

When I go down again, I'm sure that Sara has preceded me, so I try to catch her. The road goes up, long, I'm happy to finish, unfortunate that it ends. I photograph the light, I photograph to support my eyes, knowing that my obsolete phone will not make the beauty of the smoky landscapes of the Smokies. Sara's point.

Les Smokies
The Smokies
Les Smokies
The Smokies
Les Smokies
The Smokies
Les Smokies
The Smokies

I go up, I go down, I'm frightened in a technical single, I force myself to calm down, asking me how Sara is to be so fast. I enter a false dish of black gravel when I think I see an orange dog in the distance. I lose him, telling me he is hiding to better jump on me. I'm on my guard, ready to bark. I see then a huge cat or a kind of lynx, who walks in front of me, lost in his cogitations, because he seems surprised to see me and escapes from a good graceful.

I remember what Mike said on the first day. "When we think it's over, there's still a rib to hurt our legs. At each climb, I tell myself it's my last, then another comes.

Le pont
The bridge

When I join the Hiwassee river and cross it by a suspension bridge, seen and photographed since I'm interested in The Vista, I tell myself that I'm done this time, that I have only go down to the campsite where my car is waiting for me. But it is there, at the turn of the last curve that stands the difficulty mentioned by Mike, pretty nasty for his descent propel me to the finish with joy.

J'arrive

The end
The end

When I arrive after 67 km and 1400 m of altitude, Kim, Eric, Mike and others throw themselves on me to congratulate me. They wait from one minute to another Sara who follows me shortly. Graham takes me in his arms, kisses me. We make community. My time: 103 hours 1. I would have spent only 37% of that time riding. Sara is already here, the first woman to buck The Moutain. Beautiful performance. We are all happy.

I shower, we find ourselves on the terrace of the restaurant. We are doing our shopping again, we promise to see each other again, to ride together. I invite everyone to come to France to explore other landscapes. We love each other because we share strong moments, even when we live in parallel, each in his solitude. I understand better what my father was looking for in the hunter community. We bikepackers are pacifist hunters, hunters of emotions, sensations, landscapes ...

Jour 5
Day 5