Follow Adrienne's adventure in the Badlands

At a time when many of us are going back to school, Adrienne extended her adventure in the Spanish desert with a now-legendary gravel bikepacking challenge: Badlands. Upon her return, she told us about this formidable race.

Story illustrated with photos by Sophie Gateau.

What is Badlands? And why does it have such a terrifying name?

It's a gravel race that takes place in Andalusia, with a route of over 700 kilometres and with 15,000 m of vertical climb. Starting in Grenada, it weaves through mountains, crosses deserts, reaches the sea, and returns to the mountains, mainly on paths or trails.

The name "Badlands" comes from a type of spectacular, recognisable landscape that occurs on the route, with clay earth wrinkled by erosion. You feel like you're in the American West, when you're actually in Southern Europe. It's a highlight of the race, but the word "Badlands" is also a pretty good description of the entire adventure: dust, sand, mountains, deserts… Basically, a gravel paradise! 


How did you prepare for this kind of challenge?

Prematurely abandoning the North Cape 4000 really made me question how I approached things, but it was an interesting experience. I thought that I'd arrive with 4,000 km under my belt and that the most urgent need would be for rest. Unfortunately, I needed to stop earlier than planned, and my body really suffered. So I decided to recover and maintain my endurance by doing lots of things other than cycling: I swam a lot, ran a bit, did some strength training... and played petanque. I hardly rode at all in the weeks prior to Badlands. I was curious - curiosity mixed with apprehension - to see what would happen. In fact, I think it was a good choice: I arrived at the race in pretty good shape, and with a crazy desire to get back on my bike. That was essential. 


How did you adapt your bike for such difficult terrain?

I ride on a GRVL900ti, and I primarily adapted the drive train. It's an essential point: you can quickly find yourself walking a lot and feeling useless, when sometimes it's just a problem of the wrong ratio. So I took some time to understand something about all these numbers, but it was worth working on the issue, and I was lucky enough to be able to talk to the Triban team and get some advice.

For Badlands, it's bikepacking, and the route is particularly demanding: of course, there's the gradient, but beyond that, it's on gravel, so the percentages can be really intense, and then in sand it's best to be able to pedal fast. So I set out with a 38-tooth oval single chainring, and an enormous rear cassette, an 11-48. Honestly, it was perfect. A true delight.

For you, what was the greatest challenge?

The heat, without any hesitation. The temperatures varied between 35 and 40 degrees during the day. I had anticipated this a bit by planning for a 5 L water capacity, and I took advantage of every bit of shade to lower my body temperature a bit. But concretely, between noon and 6 PM, I was often pretty out of it, even though it thankfully got much cooler at night. Other participants got even more exposure, quite a few left the race because of it. But for me, it was clear: I preferred to adapt the route and the pace rather than put myself in the red. It was out of the question to repeat the experience of a heat stroke. 


And the greatest pleasure?

There, I'm much more unsure! Overall, the entire adventure was an immense, continuous joy. It was pretty sublime to ride on trails for several days in a row, far from any cars, and to cross an immense diversity of landscapes, each more spectacular than the one before, to climb a mountain, discover a desert plateau, ride through canyons, set up a tent, contemplate the stars, climb again, see the sea on the other side, etc. But if I had to pick one thing from that whole dreamlike experience, it would be the sunrise in the Tabernas Desert, with the feeling of being alone in the world in that bluish light with mounds of rock as far as I could see. Or maybe swimming in the sea at Cabo de Gata, or the long descents on perfect trails… And the squeezed oranges at every café I found.


Have you made any other plans yet?

I'll be going back out on gravel soon for the Torino-Nice Rally. It wasn't planned, but I couldn't resist. The idea is to meet up with about fifty women to tackle this route in the Alps together. I know there will be women I find committed, powerful, and inspiring: Lael Wilcox, Rue Kaladyte, Emily Chappell, Gaelle Bojko, Louise Roussel, Sophie Gateau, and many others. I can't wait to meet them (or see them again, for those I already know), even though I'm a bit awestruck.

Photo Sophie Gateau


Next, I'll take some time to close out the year that just passed, which has been intense. Very rich, often beautiful, even though certain things went less well, and I'd like to take the time to analyse them before thinking about the year to come. But I already have a few ideas about challenges I'd like to aim for. And, in my own little way, I'd also like to contribute to there being ever more women on bikes, and going long-distance.