This is my take on what makes climbing the great mountain passes of Europe so captivating and for many, downright addictive.
When I was 17, I drove to the snowy mountains in Australia for the first time. Apart from the shiny white snow visible in the distance, the thing that struck me was the sheer size and scale of the environment I was seeing for the first time. I will remember the power and almost palpable energy forever. When you stand at 2700m and gaze up in wonder at enormous glaciers, more than 1000m above, one somehow feels both humble and heroic. Humility at your scalar insignificance and heroism for the fact that you were 100% responsible for being there.
As one sits on the plane, bound for the high mountains of Europe and pondering the journey ahead, most will admit to fear as a dominant emotion. After all it is a long way to travel, so what if I cannot do it? What if I am not up to it? And here lies the first insight into what makes it all so fantastically incredible. You find that you are good enough, you are up to it and the brain chemistry that flows from this realisation is a very big part of the "climbing high".
Not only are you good enough, you will become even better. This is because there is a cool mixture of physiology and magic that will produce a fitness / riding level you have never known before. You will return home a different rider, different person. Every time you climb, there will be an inner smile and calmness, no hill can beat you any more because you know inside that it is not trying to beat you, it simply wants to show just how good you are.
For those of us that have grown up watching grand tour contenders create video story-books through the battles and suffering, this is a chance to live those moments, albeit slightly slower and more anonymously. Most will never play tennis on Wimbledon's centre court but for us bike riders, the sky (almost literally) is the limit.
My favourite saying is, "there is no better way to appreciate the beauty in this world than from the saddle of a bicycle". And, there is no better place to prove this than the high mountain passes of Europe.
So take the plunge, commit to that cycling adventure that has tempted you for years. Standing at places like Passo Fauniera in Italy will add a whole new meaning to the term high definition.
See you there
Brian Bubba Cooke
Lifelong (almost) cyclist, exercise physiologist and above-all-else just love riding my bike. Been lucky enough to ride some of the world's most epic roads and now live on the beautiful Gold Coast, hidden gem of Australian cycling.