HIGH ROULEUR – The Journey

Ultra-distance cycling is something contagious that creeps in silently: you get your first Gran Fondo badge, you finish your first century ride, you complete the Rapha Festive500, and suddenly you get caught in a trap full of challenges.

One of these challenges is Everesting, which is riding the same hill up and down until you reach 8848 vertical metres, which is the height of the Mount Everest. The sister of this challenge is the High Rouleur’s Journey: climbing 10.000m in less than 36 hours, with a minimum of 400km. Sleep is allowed (while the clock is ticking), and in fact it should form part of your strategy! This approach is all about the joy of plotting something epic and unusual. With the ability to start the two days in different locations, you should be getting creative with what can be achieved.

This story is about a cycling journey full of friendship, lack of sleep, food and vertical meters

 Meet Jimmy, Alex and Felix. Members of the Brussels-based cycling collective Belgian The F*ck Up. 

 


Long before COVID-19 terrorized the world and our lives, we planned on doing a High Rouleur Journey challenge starting in Neufchâteau, a city in the province of Luxembourg. However, in the past weeks we were thinking of postponing or changing the route to a small hilly loop in the surroundings of Brussels (which we then had to ride a zillion times…). But because of the recent positive changes in the pandemic evolution and government policy, we decided not to postpone, but slightly change the original plan.

Our journey started at café Walvis at 9AM sharp. Why not earlier? Time management is an important factor in the High Rouleur Journey challenge: you have to ride it in 36 hours, so in a span of one day and a half. This means that the start time dictates when to sleep and how much time is spent in the dark. If you start your first day in the early morning, let’s say 5AM, that means you’ll have to start the next day really early as well because you’ll need to finish at 5PM. This would be discouraging.

 

The first part of our journey took us over the Bruine Put, Krabbos and Kroondallaan. Small but beautiful climbs close to Brussels. We took some serious unexpected cobble roads along the way and some gravel. At Villers-la-Ville we had a very short break of 30 seconds to go full turista. Our first real stop of the trip was in Namur after 130k. With only 1850m of elevation on the GPS, we still had some climbing left…

From that point on, the road started to go up and down, perpendicular to La Meuse. After every climb, there was a descent, and then a new climb. No flat roads. Legs got sore, but at least the vertical meters were ticking and after 190km we got 3000m. Eating is an important part of these long days in the saddle: candy, Suzy waffles, Snickers, Haribos,… literally everything we could get our hands on was fine. Our dinner stop (sounds romantic?) was planned in Dinant, where we also would refuel for the night and breakfast for the following morning. When we almost arrived in Dinant we quickly searched for a pizzeria on our phones. Chez Nino? Seems perfect! We ordered 3 pizzas and by the time we arrived, they were ready, no time to lose. The supermarket where we planned to refuel was closing their doors but still let us in, lucky men we were! From that moment on, we just had to keep riding to our first destination in Neufchâteau. We arrived at 1 o’clock in the morning after 320km of riding and 5400m of elevation. Took a quick shower, had some cookies and went straight to bed. 2 hours and 45 minutes later the alarm went off. 4600m left. Pacho blasted Zwangere Guy through the speakers to get us pumped… there are worse ways to wake up. We had a quick breakfast and left at 5AM. It was cold as f*. Felix did not even want to take off his gloves to take pictures, that’s how cold it was… We saw a stunning sunrise, a deer crossing the empty streets, several rabbits and hares crossing the roads, lots of Limousin cows standing in the cold, but no wild boars were seen during this trip.

 

Around 9AM the temperature rapidly increased. We took off the leg warmers and gloves. As we were arriving in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège territory, we had some infamous climbs left to finish our challenge. Col du Haussire, Achouffe, Saint-Roch, Côte de Wanne, Côte de Rosier, Vecquée, Maquisard, La Redoute, Roche aux Faucons and last but not least the Côte de Saint-Nicolas. It was the very first time we rode this climb. Frank VDB wasn’t there, but as we were looking for house number 256, we could feel his presence. High Rouleur, we salute you and thank you for putting it there! On the top of this small but spirited climb, we finally hit the magical 10.000. With half an hour to spare, we made it in time. 565km and 10.000m with 0 flats. If you ask us if we do it again? Definitely! 36 hours of pure riding and climbing on beautiful roads and landscapes, life doesn’t get much better than that.

 

“What is it with this masochistic obsession with endurance? End-to-end, Paris-Brest-Paris, the Race Across America – there is a mania for outlasting and overriding all these senses. My feeling is that when a malign fate ordains you to endure, then endure you must. But why do it out of choice? If the answer is ‘Because it’s there,’ then the sane response is no, it’s not there. You put it there.”

– Graeme Fife