A Canadian friend once cheerily informed me "if you're being chased by a bear, it's easy to figure out whether it's a brown or a grizzly. Just (quickly) climb a tree. A brown will follow you up the tree while a grizzly will stand at the bottom and push it over, or at least shake it hard enough so you fall out."
The gang of four assembled in Les Houches, near Chamonix - my husband Steve, our flatmate Karina, her friend Kirsty and myself. We were in town to circumnavigate Mont Blanc on the "Sentier Pedestre" hiking trail.
Tempted by undercurrents of burgeoning popularity, it was inevitable that sooner or later we'd feel the need to give Ground Effect a nudge in the USA.
The first thing you notice about Tibet is its assault on all previous conceptions of scale. The plateau is endless, the mountains massive, and it's capped by a piercing, limitless sky that by 9am has bleached every colour out of the landscape.
For those who don't actually live there, Taranaki is an almost forgotten corner of New Zealand. It's not really on the way to anywhere, and for many the only reason to venture there is when the Desert Road and National Park highways are closed by snow. However, tucked away in Taranaki are some of New Zealand's true mountain biking gems.
Perched on the slopes of the Carrick Range behind Bannockburn in Central Otago is the old gold mining settlement of Carricktown. Its ghosts haunt the remains of their industry from a century ago... old stone huts, water races, abandoned mine shafts, mullick heaps and a labyrinth of tracks. I have a longstanding love affair with this part of the country.
We allow ourselves to be consumed by truly important things at Ground Effect - like the art of pouring the perfect espresso, pursuit of the definitive muffin and scheming the next cycling adventure. Great mountain biking can be found in most corners of this flat earth and New Zealand boasts its fair share of classics. We reasoned "wouldn't it be cool to compress some of our favourite rides into a single mega road trip?".
Me, my bike and an empty mountain road. I was seduced by the idea of cycling across the Indian Himalaya back in 1992 when I took a two-day bus trip from Leh to Manali. Eight years later my dream came true. As the locals say, "shanti, shanti" - slowly, slowly.
At the suggestion of winter last year, Fraser and I hastily arranged a trip across the Tasman in search of less severe overnight lows and new terrain to explore by bike. South Australia appealed.
We found ourselves stranded in a slot canyon, staring over the valley to the silhouette of some massive bluffs while perched atop equally precipitous cliffs... yet we were oblivious to the (presumably) outstanding scenery. It was dark and we were trying to evade the evil clutches of Pureora Forest.
Here's a simple question... where's the best mountain biking in Europe? During a stint in Germany I taxed a few friends with this question and consistently got the same reply. "Lake Garda". I rifled through some bike magazines and found shots of Lake Garda leaping from the pages. It looked pretty wild.