Maybe you’ve never heard of Further. Maybe you’ve never heard of the Ariège. Honestly, you’d be excused if you’ve never heard of them, but it’s high time we got you up to speed.
Further is a special type of ultra-race, or bikepacking race if you please. Further takes place entirely in and around the Ariège Pyrenees Regional Nature Park (Parc naturel régional des Pyrénées Ariégeoises). The Ariège is a fairly desolate, even forgotten bit of mountains lodged between the high peaks of the Hautes-Pyrénées, Andorra, and the Catalans Pyrenees. If you need a second to check Google Maps, just pause this article for a second.
Okay, everyone back? Good, let’s begin.
Camille McMillan is the organiser of Further, and is as unique as the mountains around him. Eight years ago he and his family resettled in the Ariégeoise Pyrénées (don’t worry, I can’t pronounce it correctly either), and it was love at first sight. There are few people in this world with such an unfathomable depth of curiosity and admiration for such a specific region or mountain range, or geography like Camille has for the Ariège. It’s these types of people that can really peel back the years and show you the silent beauty of a desolate mountain top. One hike with Camille and you will know half of the peaks, ridges, and cols in the area; the guy is a walking atlas and a great tramping companion.
It’s this knowledge and admiration for the mountains surrounding his home that inspired Further and inspires many a’ racer to make the trek to the region for his yearly race. Mix his love of the mountain with Camille’s background in racing bikes on- and offroad, as well as photographing such races, and you’ll begin to understand why the Further race looks like it does. Some will run up the mountainside, bikes akimbo, chasing a time limit of four days for just over 400 kilometres, while others will keep pedalling and maybe finish within the “time limit” by sheer luck, chance, or skill.
Four days to ride just over 400kms. I’d imagine you’re starting to get a feel for the chaos that is this race.
Further is unique in its landscape, but also its organisation. This race is not one where you can just put the jets on MAX and follow the dotted line to those sweet, sweet finishers beers. No, quite the contrary. See, Camille has this idea of a racer’s relationship to the bike, and the bike to the racer. Your bike is an amazing tool to bring you to the foot of the mountain pass, but pretty quickly it’s on you to pick up your bike and get it over the mountain to then again help you to the next col on the other side of the pass. Even those of us with knobby tires in the veins will not be able to ride 100% of the mountain passes, up or down, it’s just not in the cards.
Combined with the sometimes absurd terrain, Further has a number of sections with a curfew. The curfew means that certain cols “close” at night because they are just a bit too hairy to be doing at night. This timing of course means that strategy plays a huge part in this race. Lovers of Further will remember James Hayden spending the evening eating pizza in a village at the base of a huge climb just because the climb was going to close, only to set out in the early morning and hit the curfew opening hours within a minute, thus starting the climb fueled up and rested. Wild. The Ariége is truly a remote place, granted for European standards, but remote nonetheless. On some of the more tricky mountain passes, you may be hiking with a bike on your back on shaky ground, and search and rescue is a lengthy process in these mountains. Baby head climbs, cliffed descents, and long stretches characterise this mountainous ultra-race, and it’ll be a ride you’ll never forget.
Come for the race, stay for the mountains, the hospitality, the quietness of it all. Sour is stoked to support Camille and Further, to get him on a proper mountain bike for the first time since living in the mountains, and to see where and how this race will grow.
If you’re interested in participating in Further Pyreness, or its sister race in the UK, Further East, head over to FRTHR.co