After leaving Nantua I follow the general majestic scenery of the region of France I believed was somewhere close to the French Alps north west side. The road through Nantua is not long and is deposited with vistas and winding mountainous climbs. A pepper rain dews around me as I pull off the road once out the town of Nantua. I use a large shoulder turn off intended for trucks to set up my bike stationary. While changing my luggage around I eat a granola bar and a piece of cheese. The first picture I take on this cycle is here. Cars pass by and I wonder what they wonder. I get ready for the next seven or potentially eight hours of cycling through my final slice of France, and, through my first border crossing on a bicycle.
After only two hours of slow and heavy pushing I reach a self-set milestone. I had anticipated this moment with eager passion. And now I was there. I could see them. The alps (I think). From this distance they look like the teeth of some magic beast stuck to the bottom of the earth. They stand dominant over everything else but the sky. They seem to push away any cloud contending with their space. I glow inside from seeing them with my own eyes. These mountains I heard of as legend. I take the required photos and award myself a victory of accomplishment. My body seems less cold and wet for a while. The air between hillside had become damp and cold. I was still wearing summer gear and shivering but this was an energizing moment.
Miles on after this triumphant moment, after a total riding time of about four hours, the day begins to set in. The air changes in pressure to become denser as grey clouds begin to dominate the sky and threaten my precious sunlight. In late October the sun set through my passage of France at around six thirty p.m… I intended to have about eight or nine hours of potential riding time. This timeline included morning preparation and all stops. I think on average I did six or seven hours a day when I rode. My GPS was set to bike trails and I would soon learn this may not have been the best option. With sunlight shrinking and overcast skies I followed my Google Maps guide off-road and into the woods.
At first, I found this tolerable. And then it was beautiful. After an hour or so more, as time brought darkness, it became a test of resolve.
The paths where designed to cut through the winding mountain descent of the region I was now leaving and had been climbing so many days before.
What I think are the alps stand on the horizon like masterpiece paintings. The scene was observable from every angle and absolutely impossible to imagine. I had been training myself to take pictures at moments like these. But these moments where constant. I stubbornly attempt a few photographs. The moon is hanging just right. I can not get an angle without trees or power lines in the composition. The moon is too far. My body is battered from the descending trail. Hungry and unsure of how much further I have left to go I get back on the bike for further descent.
The trails are bolted with large rocks. They jut out everywhere. This trail is meant for mountain bikes. My bike is a hybrid and probably could handle this trail reluctantly if it did not have an additional eighty pounds strapped to its rear wheel. I alternate between riding the bike through portions of the trail, which hammers the bike and its heavy load, and hopping off to walk the bike down, which hammers my wrists and shoulders as I keep the bike steady. This trail is a complete descent. No part of it is flat. Holding on to the handle bars of this bike I walk it down while trying not to let it fall or crash. Which it does manage to do two or three times. I check my map and laugh at just how far this seems to go. How high up was I?
By this time my GPS and elevation tracking gear had malfunctioned. My expensive Garmin watch failed me, so I was no longer tracking any of that stuff. But I will use this now to make a note to go back and check on all my stats.
Every time I passed over a portion of the winding road I wondered if I should chance the road on the bike. On one had it would be faster. On the other hand, it was a narrow winding mountain descent road. It was raining, and darkness was beginning to win the fight of day and night. Cars and trucks where on that road. My legs where fucking tired. So was my awareness. I wasn’t sure which route would be faster anyway. So, I pressed on through a few more trails to take in the sights of the forest. Tall white trees dotted with frail red leaves. Falling in the autumn breeze? Anyhow let me squeeze out a few more words here and bring you to the stories end.
(unfortunately I do not have any photos of the trail. they are lost somewhere on my google drive. I could not be bothered to fetch my dSLR during this descent)
When I reach a few giant steps from the bottom I decide to get back on the road. Ah, pavement! Jean Jean-David Geroges had worshipped the stuff (pavement) and I had wondered why. I trusted him though. He was a true cyclist and no fucking around kind of guy. I will tell you about him sometime. The pavement felt good under my tires. A few cars passed by on this casual downhill ride. I watched their tail lights disappear into the mist and darkness.
After a short downhill ride the asphalt turned flat. This was a challenge in it self again. I did enjoy looking for strength to just keep going. I found it was always there and wondered what it would be like to truly push until it was all gone.
My welcoming to Switzerland turned out to be a lot less dramatic than I had imaged. By the time I could see any signs of civilization it only appeared to be a few lights and a neighborhood. I had no real idea where I was. I expected a big border control plaza but instead found only back roads, sewer stations, and the walls of a small rural sub division. According to my maps I only had about an hour left to get to my destination. The sun was gone and the road was a bit wet, but I was very pleased. An hour ride on flat asphalt would be just fine. I just had to trust in my heart that the hostel would be there and that I would be able to find food.
To my surprise there are no check points. I almost feel like I am doing something illegal because it is so late and there is nobody at all around. The roads are empty. I enter a town that looks like any other well populated town. There are apartment buildings, stores, roads, it looks very well developed, except no one is out and about. It is around nine p.m. I believe, on a Sunday.
I pray there is food. It can sometimes be hard to find food in Europe during the late hours of Sunday (unless you are not shy and can ask people for help). I reach my hostel destination. It looks like the Ritz to me. Very clean. I walk inside to what looks like a science lab building entrance. The attendant is young and beautiful. He stares at me with a welcoming smile, albeit a bit confused by my appearance. At this point I am in full cycle regalia. Complete with suspenders, light jacket, gloves, pushing a bike, with massive saddle bags on it, lights hanging everywhere, and of course, myself, looking wild an alive from a few hours downhill ride.
By this point I must get directly to the point. I am used to being greeted strange and usually the people are used to strange guests coming and going. I ask him the usual pertinent questions.
“Is this Switzerland?”
“Oh, crazy, no border control!” I say this but wonder if I just confessed a great crime.
The guy explains some things about European borders. My mind darts around from subject to subject and then comes back to the matter at hand.
“Where can I get food?”
Stay tuned to find out where I get food!