Two million people in the sky - by Chris Ranford
We've known Ranny for a while, he's a kindred spirit and we've shared many a surf session laughing and sharing tales between sets. When he told us he was cycling from Cornwall, down to the south of France with just a tent and a surfboard in tow we asked him to put pen to paper and let us know how it went.
I met a man in a favourite pub of mine out west from the usual spots. He caught my eye as soon as I walked in, he was dressed impeccably, suited and booted head to toe on an early sunny spring day, spoke like a gent with a cornish twist and drank lemon tea when all i could see was ale and whiskey. He must have been 80, but all we spoke of was the present, no old war stories, no good ole days, just here and now. I remember the conversation perfectly, so far removed from the usual pub chat. The highlight being around air travel and everyone taking it for granted. He hit me with a fact that at any given time there are on average 10,000 planes in the sky. With an average of 200 passengers per flight that makes 2 million people a mile off of the ground. I don't think there is a measure for the amount of fuel this burns and its impact on our climate.
That chat set something off in my head and reminded me of a childhood fantasy that I had yet to live out. My parents took me to the west coast of France for the first time when i was 8. I remember the ferry so well. The first time i’d left the motherland. I vividly remember the cyclists rolling off at Roscoff and gliding in and out of the que of cars silently with total freedom and massive smiles on their faces. I never forgot about how that looked and it got a thought going through my head. That trip to France left a print on my memory. It was the first time i'd caught waves in a different land and heard a new language, the first time i chased foreign girls. I remember begging my dad for a Kronenbourg which resulted in my first taste of alcohol. I loved it all.
After being one of the 2 million people in the sky way too many times in the 23 years after that first trip to France I finally came back down to earth and started paying attention to my own personal impacts on this planet. It was time to apply some fresh eyes on the immediate coastline that surrounded me and pay physically rather than financially for the autumnal pilgrimage south for warmth and waves. I had a window in late September. Free from the usual modern life constraints i booked a one way ticket on the ferry to Roscoff. I couldn’t ignore that long stretch of French Atlantic coastline that I’d flown over so many times before. A dear friend leant me a suitable stallion of a bicycle that would see me good for the journey. I wanted to be forced to take my time, take note of the surroundings, tread lightly and by cycling I would open up a new stretch of coast and potential waves as well as a chance to stop and say hello. The good people of Finisterre equipped me head to toe to take the edge off of the inevitable numbing pain of being in the saddle for 8 hours a day and some Burley american brothers who shared my fuel free vision hit me up with a trusty bike trailer to lug my board, suit and tent. I didn’t plan anything. No agenda apart from head south and keep the sea to my right hand side. Look out for waves, look out for people, look out for food, wine and anyone wearing a smile.
With nobody to tell me to speed up or slow down I rode as I liked, stunning canal paths to three lane motorways, just heading south. Abandoned campsites, blackest coffees, burning thighs and barely able to sit on the saddle at times. I avoided maps and iPhones like the plague. Super charged bridges, friendly farmers, cross winds and battered lips. I kept the pedals turning until I made it down to Lacanau. It was the first time the conditions pulled in the same direction to let me think about surfing, but with 400 miles pummelled into my lower body there was no way in hell I’d be hopping to my feet to sneak under any french lips. An ole pal rescued me out of the woods and gave me a hand plane and pair of old Churchill's, i was in there. So happy, higher than anything you can imagine. Five days of cycle sweat and road dirt washed away with the most simple wave riding device ever created. My usual pangs for finding the perfect bank, tide, peak, whatever you want to call it, were nowhere to be felt.
I hammered the wine and pumping beach breaks that lie west of Bordeaux day after day until I felt like delving deep in to the pine forests to head South again. It was back on the velo for some shade beyond the pines and along an old concrete slab path barely wide enough to take my trailer. This was one positive piece of infrastructure to be left behind from the second world war, as it was originally carved out by the German army to patrol the forests and beaches for invaders. Here I was 70 years later cycling in a pair of pants with the sun on my back for 12 hours straight with my only thought of making it to Seignosse for last orders...modern life problems...how fortunate and free we are these days.
After a day of near non stop crank turning I find some familiar and friendly faces deep in Les Landes, propping up the bar in an old work place of mine. Lunch time red wines being passed around in abundance due to a near flat forecast as far as the eye can see. Once again my mind does not have the usual emotional pattern of what a flat forecast can do to a man when on a relatively short surf trip, I am a totally content blank canvas just enjoying the conversation and being in the present. After one or 3 wines I eye up the 9’6 log in my friends van and spend the afternoon in shorts cruising up and down main drag between Hossegor and Seignosse. Usually a section of coast with barrels wide enough to fly a small plane into, it’s a refreshing change and I laugh my way up and down the perfect banks without the usual masses that this place attracts this time of year. I fill my remaining days cycling at snail pace and picking off the odd wave on what ever board I can get my hands on to make the most of the small swell. The French town names quickly change to Basque and the roads begin to turn nasty as I hit the Spanish cities, so it's here I feel is the finish line for this mission.
I started the trip with no clue of what to expect and no real cycle training, but two weeks of physical exertion and doing nothing but head south on a push bike and I was provided with a continuous and totally unique scene that my brain feasted on. It left me with the cleanest slate in my mind that I’ve experienced since that first trip in 1992. I can hand on heart say I have 4 memorable waves from the whole trip and when you count how much sweat I traded for these waves it could be considered very poor value, but its the sweat and effort that made the trip and few waves so rewarding.
If only we could measure the quality of a surf trip by the amount of physical and mental effort we exert by quality of waves we receive in reward for our efforts. How different this would be to the usual easy route of just hopping on one of the many budget planes to the latest trending surf destination thats been dressed up with a load of Instagram filters and hash tags to suck is all in. This journey opened my eyes to what is on the door step and that using an alternative mode of transport that can only be powered by a pair of legs certainly puts a whole new angle on a place you may have been to many times before.
All words and photos by Chris Ranford.