Summer slipped through my fingers. There were a lot of things to manage - different events, camps and just a crazy amount of work. I didn't have much time to ride my bike. I was looking forward to riding somewhere I had never been when all the important stuff simmered down. My good friend Jára Sijka had been thinking of this location for some time: Archail, France, or as we call it "The Black Hills." It didn't take much to convince him it was time to go on the trip, and quickly after a decision was made we were stuffing my van with bikes and camping gear. I kissed my wife and my newborn daughter goodbye and off we went!
The first stop on our trip was Eurobike, where I had to attend some meetings. Everything went smoothly and shortly we were en route to France. Our destination was the beautiful hills of Provence, more specifically the tiny village of Archail.
This tiny village is situated in a valley along a really narrow stretch of a road. You can hardly fit two cars beside each other. The population is about 20 people so no wonder the road is so undeveloped. The village lies in the shadow of a 2000m peak, but mostly we came for the hills formed from a black marlstone which looks really cool. This place was part of The Trans Provence Enduro Race so we knew it would be good. I bet you saw photos or videos of this place before, as we did, and that's why we went here to experience it for ourselves.
We planned on sleeping in my van so there was no need to look for accommodation. Jara slept outside most nights so I had the whole van for myself. We brought lots of food from home and it was enough to spend 3 days without shopping for groceries.
As usual neither of us did our homework so all we knew was where to find The Black Hills. I think that it is my thing: to just show up and let the place surprise you. The first ride we went in a completely different direction than we were supposed to, but we were in no rush and at least we had a nice view of the area.
After the nice warm-up pedal, we found ourselves amongst The Black Hills and our smiles widened. This place is just amazing and unbelievably photogenic which was one of the reasons we drove all the way here, to get some photos.
I pushed my bike uphill or carried it on my back through all the loose marlstone while Jára took photos, and then we switched roles.
Because Jára loves only the challenging stuff, he chose the farthest hill possible. He went towards the hill, scrambling through the bushes and I lost sight of him for almost 20 minutes. Once he was at the spot, we exchanged waves and he dropped in. I looked through the camera, click, click, click and that was it. Jára is a tough guy and he commits for a photo, but when he came back, he looked frightened.
I asked him what was up and if he was okay and he said “Terrible, OMFG, just terrible!!!” When I asked him what happened, Jára responded “I dropped in, surfed down the hill, and then the off camber pulled me down into this ditch. That was okay until out of nowhere I heard SSSSSSSSSS!!! Oh my god I nearly s#!t my pants, there was a snake and I hate snakes!!!”
For the rest of the day, we tiptoed around, imagining every branch lying on the ground was a snake. We were both curious about what kind of snake it was. It's funny how you don't think about things like this until they actually happen. Then your head is just spinning and you can't help but imagine different catastrophic scenarios.
It's hard to say if it's better to sit in front of a computer for several hours, doing your homework and research to find out what a place is like, or if it's better to just show up and see what's going to happen. During my travels, I have experienced both, being prepared and not prepared, and I can say that less preparation is kind of thrilling in a positive way. But on the other hand, it can punish you as well. Basically, the best is to find a certain balance between these two things. One thing that is good for sure is to know where the trails are!
The Black Hills area is not that big and is more hike-a-bike location so we didn't ride that much, but we were more than satisfied and left some spots for the future. The Black Hills rock!
The last day in the south of France, we decided to give the EVO Bike Park a try. It was a short drive from where we were based. The whole bike park was built by stoked locals and had a really good vibe going on. There are six trails and each is different. Downhill, jumps, big jumps and huge jumps… whatever your heart desires. Logistics are managed by cool military trucks. At to bottom of the bike park there is a pump track and additional jumps. You can even ride here in winter.
During the whole trip we rode lines that we saw in videos and while those videos make the terrain look easy, in reality, it isn't. I am so glad that we were able to ride new stuff and explore a new location. It was only a couple days, but we squeezed the most out of it. The Black Hills opened my eyes and I realized how much I like technical riding. It also left me motivated to start exploring new places with my bike.
Big thanks to Jára and his great work behind the lens.