10th August, 2021 Words: Daniel Hughes Photography: Daniel Hughes

A photograph, capturing a single moment in time, a memory.

Looking through the lens, my finger hovering over the shutter button, I’m completely engaged and often entranced by what I am seeing. Behind the camera, at times it can seem like I am slightly removed from the world in front of me, I am merely just an observer rather than a participant. But on the same token I feel like I am taking in every detail and experiencing this moment fully.

While I have long been the guy with the camera, I also have a few other chinks in my armour.

Four years ago I was riding at a professional level on a factory team, an absolute dream come true. I was probably best described as a rouleur, a big diesel engine that could suffer for hours on end. And while I loved racing, I also relished in the training. When I threw a leg over my bike, I was all about the training goals and the numbers, dedicated to hitting my watts, my eyes would be glued to my bike computer.

Out on a training ride in San Francisco on the Panoramic Highway, my mind was solely focused on the session ahead. Counting down the efforts, hitting the watts, smashing my training. But when I rolled back home and got off my bike, I realised I had no recollection of the ride itself, the views, the beauty of the world around me. This had been one of my favourite places to ride, yet I hadn’t noticed a single thing.

This was truly at odds with who I was as a photographer, someone who noticed everything. It was almost a lightbulb moment for me. Could I actually combine two of my passions, cycling and photography?

As the season continued, the idea grew and so did my excitement about it. I was producing the occasional bit of content from around the world and the team’s partners seemed to really enjoy what I was creating.

But it wasn’t until I rode the Valle Nevado climb in Chile that the idea was well and truly cemented. Imagine the most epic climb you’ve ever been on and crank up the rad factor x 10. Over 3000m’s of climbing, 58 switch backs, 3 valleys and when you finally reach the summit of 3050 meters, the Andes are still 4000m above you. It was a biblical experience and one that I would consider life changing.

How could a climb like this exist, yet so few people know about it?

Epic Col’s was born from this moment. It’s a place to share climbs that have made me fall in love with cycling all over again, a place to share the exploration and discovery for everyone to enjoy.

The mission is to capture the world’s greatest cycling climbs. What makes a great climb can be varied, it might be endless switchbacks, epic elevation and gruelling gradients, but it can also be as simple as breathtaking views and climbs that just make you feel alive.

The mountains of Europe have now become my backyard, as I live that #VanLife lifestyle. Blissfully drifting around, a bed in the back, cameras, bikes and my MAAP apparel, it feels like all I need.

I’d always wondered what all the van life noise was about, but now I get it. The morning light rouses me awake, I slide the van door open and mother nature greets me in all her glory every morning. It makes me feel more alive than ever before.

And while the weather now dictates my schedule, the icy mornings and rainy days can put a halt to my plans. More often than not the beauty of the mountains overcomes the cold and I can barely think about breakfast before wanting to kit up and ride.

My focus is no longer glued to a bike computer, looking at the watts, or even contemplating a KOM. Instead I enjoy the simplicity of riding up the climb, looking for the beauty around me. I stop and take photographs, and my excitement for reaching the summit is matched by my joy in sharing and inspiring others.

Every climb is so unique in what makes it truly epic. Some days I am capturing the same mountain finishes that feature in World Tour races and others I am eeking out climbs I’ve never seen but have found on a map or been tipped off by a local.

Last year I completed 58 climbs, and while some may ask about the purity of riding a climb in one go without stopping. For me, the experience is completely amplified because I am capturing these moments in time. I am so aware of the smallest details, the colours, the weather. Looking back at the photographs I have captured, I can tell you the climb, the season, how the air smelled like wildflowers or rain, how a child with a yellow coat waved to me, how I was feeling in that exact moment.

The emotional connection with nature and the journey I am on feels so deep, yet I know I have barely scratched the surface of all that is out there to explore.

Ride along with Daniel on his Epic Cols journey by following his social channels for more regular updates.

@danielhughes- Instagram
@epiccols- Instagram

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