Saturday, 13 March 2010

Days 23 - 27, The First Real Challenges

My plan is working so far - get the problems to arise in the comfortable, familiar 'West' and then when they happen again in the scary, dangerous 'East' I'll be well equipped to deal with them.

As if leaving Geneva wasn't hard enough (I won't gush about it again), I was battling a freezing cold headwind almost the whole way. I think the photos speak for themselves...

A miserable day ended in comfort staying at the very last minute with a lovely old couple in the Rhone valley, but on loading my bike the next morning surrounded by huge mountains and with a big day ahead of me one of my bigger fears came true - the bike frame had broken. In the true spirit of life on the road within 1 hour and 3 miles of that discovery I was riding a newly welded bike and eating a pain au chocolat feeling very pleased with myself. My thanks are due to Monsieur de Gol and Franck at the Toyota garage in Saint Maurice, as well as Nadine at the Office de Tourisme and my hosts for the night for their assistance.

With only a half day to ride I made it to within 15 miles of the bottom of the Simplon Pass. With a rare spare couple of hours I was looking forward to some relaxing - checking the bike out before storing it for the night (I get quite glad to get it out of my sight in the evening) I noticed the rear wheel was a bit wobbly, then discovered the broken spoke. So my next 2 hours were spent replacing that which involved removing the tyre and the cassette (the gears on the back, quite complicated without the proper tools) and truing the wheel without a truing stand. Both fixes seem to be holding up to the potholed Italian roads so far.

The following day was The Big One - crossing the mountains into Italy via one of the only open passes, Simplon at 2005 metres. With only my legs to get 130 kg (bike, luggage and me) up and over I knew it would be a hard day, and it was. There was a very peculiar moment of realisation, despair and then aceptance when I looked at the sign saying 22 km to go, followed by my speed of 4\5 mph and calculating a minimum of about 3 hours till the top. In the end it was 3.5 hours with a few fuel stops and then lunch in minus a lot surrounded by many feet of snow. The mountain was a nice compact metaphor for the trip though (clearly my mind had plenty of time to wander as I crawled up..) - apprehension, followed by pain and suffering and wondering why, followed by a sense of achievement I couldn't get anywhere else.
To make it even sweeter I passed my first 1000 miles just over the top...

(Photo idea stolen from Nicolai Bangsgaard of

I needed 6 layers for the 20 km descent into Italy and was still cold!
My first Italian town was Domodossola after 54 miles and 2005 metres of climbing. I was missing France and Switzerland and their already familiar patisseries and brands and signs already - it's funny how you become so attuned to the small things and just crossing an imaginary line (patrolled by bored, cold men in uniforms) can make you suddenly feel alien again.

Suddenly it was all worth it as I was down to 3 layers and cruising along the shore of Lake Maggiore in a positively sweltering 12 degrees C. Lunch was good and a ridiculous contrast to the previous day's spot!

And now I'm in Como, about to leave the youth 'ostello' where I stayed last night (cheap accomodation at last) to ride along the edge of the lake and on towards Garda. The sun is shining, should be a good day.

1 comment:

  1. I'm relieved you found a hostel with the Italian translation. And I'm even more relieved you climbed that huge mountain and made it into a warmer climate. I hope your bike will be more resistant now!
    Enjoy Italia

    By the way, it wasn't only YOUR charm that made you end up in our flat in Geneva, but let's keep this a secret