Thursday, 4 March 2010

Rounding-Up 'Leg 1'

So here I am in Geneva, my long held vision of the end of the beginning and the beginning of the rest. Psychologically this 'beacon' has been invaluable as a blockade between home and the rest of the world. As some of you will have heard me say, I was only ever riding to Geneva and then seeing what happened from there.

So since Day 11 in Luxembourg... It's hard to know what to report that has been interesting in the worth reading about on the internet sense. Most of it is interesting to me in some way as I pass through it, though undoubtedly the grey, wet, industrial nature of the parts of northern Europe I've seen don't lend themselves well to documentation. Day 11 did see my first signs of emotion and a sense of being overwhelmed at the prospect - after a lonesome breakfast surrounded by couples and groups of friends I realised just how much I was missing home, my parents, my family, my friends, safety, security, purpose. But this pleased me in a way (not only because I'd made it 11 days since leaving without feeling upset!) as it cemented in my mind just how important these things are. I'd never have appreciated everything I have properly from back home.

The day continued in a similarly shaky fashion. Metz was wet, the campsite was closed, I couldn't find anywhere to wild camp so I stayed in a Formule 1 (like a stripped down version of a Travelodge, if that's possible). But in amongst that pretty dull set of events I was invited in by two complete strangers for a cup of tea in their caravan and given use of their maps and GPS - something so simple can have such a profound effect on my day doing this, so thank you John and Sue!
I have now honed my buffet breakfast skills so that when I do pay for a hotel I eat enough breakfast for a small family and somehow end up with a week's worth of jam and honey in my pockets.

After the expense of the hotel in Luxembourg, knowing that I can camp or find a cheap (€30) hotel meant I was far more relaxed about heading off with no set place to spend the night. The next day towards Nancy was really wet and really cold but I was following the Moselle river so the scenery was improved. However, tired + cold and wet + hungry + Lidl =

The night of Day 12 was spent above a bar in an old town called Toul, and I awoke to the first sun and beautiful blue sky of mainland Europe. Day 13 saw a change in terrain and things got greener, views more expansive and countryside and roads far nicer to ride. I'd spent the previous few days with tired legs toiling up hills at 5 mph wondering why I'm not doing this on a motorbike as originally planned, but the numerous brief interactions with people out on the road - in this case mostly elderly rural French folk commenting on how windy it was - made me glad to be accessible. That is the whole point after all. It was very windy though, something was brewing. With talk of a storm I passed through a forest with camping potential and opted for another hotel in Monthereux-sur-Saone as there was lots of flooding and the river was high and fast. My cooking skills are coming along and I rustled up a lovely cajun chicken and rice dish which was almost literally inhaled. The shutters were closed in readiness for the impending battering...

The next morning didn't appear too bad but there was talk of 80 mph winds on the news and a walk down the street was almost enough to make me stay another day - it was a deserted Sunday and there was debris blowing everywhere. With 'dangereux' and 'bon courage' from the locals I set off, only to be confronted by Gendarmes
and Pompieres guarding a fallen tree blocking the road. With the help of 5 curious locals my bike
was lifted up and down the church stairs to get around the obstacle, only to discover the
Gendarme had directed me the wrong way, so back we came, hernia apiece! Out of the valley the wind did start to get scarily strong and when all 130 kg or so of bike and rider were blown round in a complete circle and gusted from one side of the road to the other I wondered how sensible an idea it was. I later saw on the news 47 people had died across France at the centre of the same storm.
My target for that day had been Besancon but I didn't expect to make it so set a more realistic one about 35 miles away. On arriving there at 3pm under amazing bright blue skies with bright white cumulus clouds scudding along at 100s of miles per hour I decided to put some music on, get my head down and ride on into the wind. Unfortunately I couldn't hear the music for the wind - at times it made an awful sound like a screaming, roaring wild cat - and I was crawling along on the flat at 8 mph 'full gas'. After the hardest day's cycling I've ever had I made it to Besancon in the dark and checked into the first hotel I saw - 70 miles in just under 7 hours of riding with 1800m of climbing. After feeling on the verge of collapse all it took was a can of Orangina, some biscuits and a seat in front of the winter Olympics and all was forgotten.

I had a day to spare to time my arrival with Leandra in Geneva for Wednesday so I had a fantastically relaxing day milling along at snail's pace, following the Doubs river out of fortified Besancon in the glorious (and warm) sunshine. The hills caught up with me by lunch though and I was onto my first proper mountain, hairpin climbs (rather than the horrible short, steep, rolling hills of the north) and loving it, despite being overtaken by a guy on an Orbea (my racing bike back home) and for a moment cursing my ox of a bike.

Wild camping was again scarce as this is ski resort territory (in reality I need no other option if I'm to find somewhere as there is always somwehere) so I collapsed into the sanctuary of another hotel. Now the Olympics are over I at least have one less reason to be lured..

Day 16 was another relaxing day in the mountains with no pressure. I entered Switzerland at Vallorbes and sat in the sun watching people going about their business, then, the worst part for me, cycled within feet of people snowboarding. How is it when I was snowboarding every day in France I looked longingly at the cyclists whilst sat on the chairlift?! I followed the Vallee de Joux and passed chalets with a lake to the front and a ski lift to the rear, amazing.
Crossing back into France there is a clear difference between the 2 countries right at the border in terms of the condition of the buildings and roads - France is definitely more rustic. Les Rousses in the Jura mountains was my target town and host to a stop on the Tour de France this year - I hope they resurface first or there'll be some broken wheels - as well as some of France's winter Olympic athletes. Unfortunately it turned out to be a rather large ski resort at the peak of the holidays so there was no accommodation anywhere - a blessing in disguise. Not only did I save myself some cash but I finally got to use my tent and test my sleeping bag a bit - toasty and warm even with 3 feet of snow on the ground..

I was right by a cross country ski track so made a swift exit in the morning before being disturbed. As a sign 100 m further up the road told me I'd just spent the night at the top of the Col de la Givrine, 1232 metres up. The downside of this being that it was, much to my surprise, all down hill from here to Geneva - I'd read the climb on the map the wrong way and thought I had to go UP the Cote de Nyon! - so after breakfast of baguette, jam, honey, coffee and orange juice overlooking Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) and the big mountains in the distance I spent the next hour shivering as I negotiated the bends and rolled the 10 miles all downhill to the lake shore.

I sat and ate and read at various points around the lake before embarking on finding my home from home in the city. Without a map. My bearings and a memory from Google Earth got me to within 50 metres but I do have to thank my support crew back home (my wonderful Mum!) for directing me the last bit.

I'm now relaxing for 4 days in wonderful company, seeing some of the city, enjoying a warm bed and great food and not riding my bike! I'll catch up on laundry, emails and photos and take it easy before setting off on Monday.

So now it's time to set another beacon to aim for to keep it nice and compartmentalised in my head - Trieste in the northern corner of Italy and the beginning of the Adriatic Coast and the Balkans.

Bananas eaten - 5
Beers drunk - 8
Miles to date - 854
Time in the saddle - 77 hours (no, my bum doesn't hurt : ) )

P.S. Here's the earlier wild camping spot Belgium as promised - it rained all night, cosy!


  1. Really good going mate, sod all that wind though!!

  2. Brilliant blog Kris! Keep writing! Koo