“C’est une folie! Mais c’est une belle folie” said the girl as she stared down at us in wonder from her vantage point on the trail above. She was right. What we were doing (pushing, shoving, carrying and, occasionally, riding our bikes over some of the French Alps’ most rugged off road cols) was “beautiful madness” right enough.
What I hadn’t anticipated was how many people we would affect along the way. We were chapeaued more times than I can remember and often force fed, watered or made to pause for photos. Some girls riding their bikes on the GR5 and one of them on…what is that? C’est une moto? Eh, no a Specialized Fatboy actually. It’s new. It’s good on gravel, snow and sand. No it’s not too heavy. Yes it does look pretty amazing. It weighs about 25kgs with Revelate baggage fully loaded. Sometimes I have to carry it, yes. Yes, that bit is hard. No. No men with us, they would only slow us down 😉 I started in Geneva. It’s going to take about 2 weeks to reach Nice. Only a bit bonkers. Thank you. Thanks a lot. Bon courage to you too. Au revoir.
We followed the Grand Traverse of the Alps (the GR5) religiously from north to south. The route is 420 miles long with 40,000 metres of height gain. Sometimes we got lucky and found there were gravel roads part way up high passes. Other times we had to push or carry from the valley which only seemed to make the descents all the sweeter.
And there have been some descents! For what often seemed to be unrideable ascents, the way off the other side of the hill was, on all but 2 occasions, trail centre smooth. This flowing, beautifully contouring singletrack invariably gave way to something more technical on reaching the tree line but we would always arrive in the valley floor either grinning because of the sublime riding or because we had survived it.
Our daily rhythm was to wake somewhere high and beautiful, have breakfast number 1 while packing the bikes. Descend to the next valley, have breakfast number 2, buy food for later and upload pictures to make you lot jealous. Begin the climb / carry over the next col. Stop for lunch number 1 and dry all our kit. Remain stopped for a considerable time because it’s so hot. Have lunch number 2. Get going again when it cools and ride into the evening. Cook, eat dinner and camp high. Repeat the next day.
You might notice washing doesn’t feature highly on this itinerary. It didn’t.
We fell upon good luck and bad often in the same day. We got kicked out the Mercantor National Park (forbidden to ride or even push bikes in there apparently) and had to take a detour over the highest road pass in Europe at 2800m. The same policeman who sent us packing tipped us off to a music festival at 2000m en route though which took the edge of the disappointment a little and gave us a surreal evening interlude.
We got rained out of the Mountains at Tignes which is fortunately not far from where some relatives live. While the rain lashed down, we drank wine on the balcony and did our washing.
We were sometimes 3, often 2 and latterly there was just me continually choosing the hardest way to cross the Alps.
On one occasion when I was riding alone, the weather came in dramatically. I dropped off a high col to avoid the lightening and happened upon a small dairy farm and cheese fabrication unit. I was cold, wet and miserable but the 3 stunned farmers ordered me gruffly into their shack where they fed me, dried my clothes by their fire and demanded I sleep in their cow shed. They turned out to be 3 of the most gentle, funny men I’ve had the pleasure of passing an evening with.
I can honestly say that despite the lightening, rain, electric cow fences, officious national park police, hours spent carrying and shoving, running low on food and hitting cross drains at speed, this has been the most surprisingly rewarding trip I’ve ever carried my bike on!
Full story soon @seekandenjoy @yonderjournal