June 22nd, 2010
Switzerland is a cyclist's dream!! We have been taking it slowly for the last few days because our next host in Austria cannot host us until the 25th. As a result the last few days have been filled with relaxed, scenic riding and surprisingly, not a single night being spent in a tent!
Day 30 started late at 11am, as we only needed to cycle 60km that day to Lausanne where we would meet Colin's friend Alix and stay at her place for 2 nights of rest. While leaving Geneva, we kept expecting the bike path to end but ended up being very pleasantly surprised when it led us the entire way to Laussane! We later found out that Switzerland has an extremely extensive network of bike routes that take you away from the busy roads and through quiet, small and scenic farmland and hamlets.
The area along Lac Leman is certainly filled with money. Many people are dressed in suits, Rolex buildings and Swiss banks dot the cities, fast cars and lambourghini dealerships line the roads.... basically everyone looks like they were James Bond. We knew Switzerland was going to be expensive when the lowest denomination you can take out of a bank machine is 50CHF (equivalent to about 50 CAD). Lausanne is home to the International Olympic Comittee and we couldn't help ourselves but do an olympic pose in front of the building.
We felt very out of place as we cycled into Lausanne, with our dirty and smelly clothes, Colin's disgustingly patchy beard and our tendency to sit on the sidewalk outside of grocery stores and eat directly out of a can.
After watching a world cup match (Algeria vs. England) and sitting in the very loud and enthusiastic Algerian section of the bleachers (there was a big screen set up at the waterfront in Lausanne) we got a call from Alix and headed to her place for our rest days.
That night, and the following day, we visited Chamonix, admired the Swiss' ability to make their farms' fields look completely perfect and drove (very) fast from Chamonix back to Lausanne. The next day was followed by more relaxation, an amazing dinner at Alix' grandma's house and a quick tour of Geneva (and all of the NGO's that are headquartered there).
We left early the next day and battled against a 60km/hr headwind until late afternoon. Many people asked about our trip in Fribourg (including an aspiring round-the-world tourist who we had a nice chat with).
Near the end of the day, we stopped in a small town about 7km south of Bern where we were meeting some warmshower.org hosts for the night. A wonderfully cheerful lady came up to us and asked us about our tour. She was in a choir and invited us to watch their practice. They were practicing Christmas songs (in July!) and we ended up listening in on their practice for a few minutes before heading to our hosts for the night.
Our hosts were a great couple who had cycled from Bern to Istanbul two years ago. From there, they took the trans-siberian railway to Mongolia, stayed three months in a yurt and then cycled to Beijing where the boarded a cargo ship to take them back to Italy. There stories from the road were incredible and very inspiring!
We left our hosts' house a little later than planned today but it was worth it for the great chat we had in the morning. We covered 110km today along more incredible bike paths, ate some peas from a farmer's field and had a pretty relaxing day (luckily without so much headwind!)
Now to the best part of our day:
We were originally planning on cycling to a bit before Zurich and camping tonight and having a short day tomorrow, but in Aarnau, about 50km from Zurich, our plans changed. As Colin was asking for directions, a guy on a bicycle (obviously built for touring) came up to us and asked if we needed help with anything. We told him where we were heading and he offered to show us the way as he was heading home and it was on the way. Introducing himself as Andy, he was great to talk to as we cycled together along (more!) bike paths. He had toured the balkans and was heading to Mozambique to work on a community development project with the Swiss ambassador tomorrow afternoon. Despite needing to pack, he offered us a place to stay at his house for the night. Since we were in no rush and could make up the miles tomorrow, we happily accepted his offer.
Andy's and his mother's hospitality tonight have probably been one of the single, kindest acts from a complete stranger both of us have ever experienced. When his mother walked in the door and found us there, she didn't hesitate to welcome us with open arms! They are both incredibly kind, caring and hospitable people. They made us a massive (and amazingly tasty dinner), asked us again and again if we needed anything, and basically treated us like we had known them for years. What incredible kindness people are capable of!
Tomorrow we will say goodbye to Andy and his mother and hopefully cycle about 130km (we hope to add Leichtenstein to our list of countries). However, the last few days since entering Switzerland can easily be described as a dream... espeecially with the degree of hospitality we have received since entering the country.
Some more thoughts and events in Switzerland:
- The Swiss seem to be walking google translators. Everyone seems to know at least 3 languages.
- The cycle paths are such a nice break from the highways and roads of the previous few weeks (despite the fact that they do add some considerable mileage to our days)
- Still very expensive
- Colin's pastry intake reached a record on day 29 with 21 consumed
- Caroline realized how much she loves mountains when we visited Chamonix
- Lac Leman and the area around it look strikingly similar to Vancouver
- Most pleasant riding so far
- How we knew Geneva was going to be expensive: Lambourghini dealership 1km after the French Boarder and the first person we asked for directions pulled out an iPhone.
Second Update from June 17th!
Well, we have been saved from another night of horrible, wet and smelly camping! We had sent out a multitude of last minute requests to people on warmshowers.org an hour before we were about to leave Geneva. Just as we were about to get back on our bikes and cycle outside the city before it got dark, Colin's dying phone rang with an amazing woman saying that we could spend the night at her place. Their place was close to the city center and within five minutes, we were inside their lovely apartment in the city center. She is our saviour!!!!
We were also amazed by the number of calls that returned from our other last minute requests, offering us places to stay for the night. Three other people who we had messaged called us saying that they would gladly host us for the night. The hospitality of the people on warmshowers.org is absolutely incredible, especially on such short notice!
We will cycle to Laussane tomorrow where we will hopefully be able to find another place to stay, but in the meantime, we are drying out our tent and sleeping bag in this incredible apartment. So far, this trip has given us an amazing insight into the degree of hospitality kindness that humans are capable of... to complete strangers!!
June 17th, 2010
This entry is a bit rushed because the internet in Geneva is EXTREMELY expensive. (as is everything else in this country)
To say the last few days have been tiring may be the understatement of the year. We left Montpellier on the 26th at 1pm after we got our bikes serviced at an excellent shop owned by our host's boyfriend. He did an amazing job and they ran smoothly for the first time since leaving Lisbon! Small bike shops really are the best places to get your bikes tuned but it is hard for them to compete against the big-box stores. They really do have the best mechanics available though and Michelle Perez took a few hours on both our bikes! Despite the late start, a headwind and an incoming storm, we were able to make 120km on this day.
The next day (day 27) however, was arguably one of the most challenging days of both our lives. It started off with very close gunshots waking Colin up in the middle of the night. Luckily we were not in range of the shooting but it made us very nervous throughout the night. We woke up to rain, our tent and (down) sleeping bags soaking wet. Getting an early start, we cycled up the Rhone river (which is gradually uphill all day), against a massive headwind and lashing rain. We only found out the next day that we had cycled through the storm that had flooded the south of France and missed the worst of the floods by a day. Despite all that was against us, we managed to muscle through our first 100 mile (160km) day, although we were so exhausted, wet and miserable by the end of it that we barely spoke to each other while we were setting up the tent. Adding insult to injury, the end of the day provided us with a steep, 1km long hill, a campsite filled with stinging nettles (which stung Colin's leg so much that it ended up going numb for the night) and slept next to an abandoned factory that had the same look as the building in the movie 'Hostel'. O, and did we mention that the rain was a torrential downpour the entire night?
Day 28 started the same as the previous day. We woke up to more rain, more wet tent and more wet sleeping bag and prepared ourselves for the worst. However, the weather seemed to let up a bit as the day went on, even giving us a bit of sun in the late afternoon as we started climbing through the mountains making our way to Geneva. We ended up camping behind another retaining wall on the side of the highway but with beautiful, jagged mountain scenery sorrounding us. Despite the previous day's efforts, we were still able to cover 130km and were within spitting distance of the Swiss border.
We woke up today to MORE rain, although not as bad as the previous days'. We had a few visitors on our tent in the form of slugs and some had managed to crawl in our bags and shoes. You would think that the French would prefer to eat slugs instead of snails because slugs are definitely more abundant! Colin also decided to mix 2 tablespoons of instant coffee into his water to give him morning energy after eating all of his food the night before. He has the caffeine tolerance of a squirrel and ended up getting the shakes as we biked through France into Switzerland and Geneva. We are now in Geneva, looking madly at warmshowers.org trying to find a place to stay for the night and if we can't find anything, we will once again camp in the rain in a smelly, wet tent :(
A few more highlights (and maybe lowlights) from the past few days:
- Lots of fighter jets flying over Nimes
- Realized that what we thought was a 5km flat section was actually a very long gradual hill (we had been very frustrated at the speed we were going at before we realized this)
- Gas station attendant shooed us out of the undercover area when it was raining. Colin used a few french curses at him.
- Pastry intake for day 28: Colin, 18; Caroline, 8
- Both our left hands are getting permanently numb from gripping the handlebars for so long.
- Spent 12 hours on the bike during the 100 mile day
- Lots of nuclear power plants in France.
- Beautiful scenery heading into Switzerland
- Lots of encouragement from truck drivers
- The main thing we took from these past few days is: The human mind is the most resilient thing imaginable. Even in the worst and most painful conditions, if your mind is in the right place and you can tolerate the pain, you WILL be able to fight through whatever gets thrown at you. While it was raining, we just pictured ourselves in a swimming pool and it was bearable.
A bit more news from June 13th!!
We got a shoutout on Mark Beaumont's twitter after Colin had emailed him about our journey and asked for tips on how to get the word out. Mark broke the world record for cycling around the world, solo and unsupported, and has since taken on many other inspiring journeys, such as cycling from Alaska to Argentina while summitting the highest mountains in both North and South America. His website is: http://www.markbeaumontonline.com/mbo/
Caroline's battle with saddle sores is certainly an ongoing one. Though she has a great Brooks saddle, it does not provide much cushioning. However, after buying some special cream and a gel cover seat she is beginning to fight back against this painful side effect of cycling 8 hours a day.
June 13th, 2010
We have flown through the last two days since Girona, covering 270km since our last update. This brings our 6 day average since Valencia to 130km!! We are currently in Montpellier for a rest day, hosted by a lovely French lady from warmshowers.org and we plan to leave tomorrow morning after we get a quick tune up on our bikes by our host's boyfriend who conveniently owns a bike shop a block away from where we are staying.
Our last night in Spain was spent in a field between the highway and a gas station 36km from the French border. We woke up early and realized that we needed to get a LOL photo with someone before we left Spain. Luckily, a gas station attendant was more than happy to oblige.
Arriving at the French border was much easier than expected in terms of the amount of hills and we were greeted with an amazing downhill and flat stretch into Perpignan. Caroline got her first flat tire in France which was fixed quickly but made her decide to invest in some reinforced tires. A cranky shop owner in a deserted town decided to shoo us away when we tried to take refuge from the rain under his grocery store's covered area (We even bought food from him!!). After that experience Colin sent out requests to some french friends to send him a few basic insults just in case we need to use them!
Colin met a very nice old lady in a grocery store and since he couldn't speak french well, she thought he was completely incapable of shopping for himself so forced him to put some apricots in a bag. She then "taught" him how to weigh them for a good 10 minutes until Colin decided to just use broken French and say, "I'm just looking around". It was a great gesture on her part but was very slow and we wanted to get going to try and beat the rain. Our campsite that night was a great, out of sight pine plantation just off the main road.
Yesterday was an excellent day in terms of mileage after we completed the 140km distance into Montpellier (however this included an accidental detour of 10km). The scenery was stunning as well as we cycled alongside countless vineyards and canals on beautiful, tree covered country roads. We passed quite a few touring cyclists and were not surprised that many people decide to cycle here. A long stretch of beach riding was our reward as the day neared its end.
Here are a few things we have noticed about France so far:
- The snails which lined the road in Spain (we probably ran over 63,452 of them) have declined in population but have increased dramatically in size.
- There is definitely more of a police presence, especially at the border to Spain
- The main roads have almost no shoulder, and if they do it is very broken.
- The service stations which lined the roads in Spain are now much further apart.
- Groceries are at least twice as expensive as Spain, but the canned ratatouille is absolute gold!!
- There is a much larger variety of roadkill in France, and we have made up a game with it called "guess the species". Hedgehogs are a common one as well. I guess Sonic the hedgehog wasn't fast enough
- The keyboards are a headache: this blog update has taken me twice as long to write because many of the letters are in different places
We will probably have 4 more days in France and our next update will hopefully be from Switzerland!!
June 10th, 2010
It´s a little unclear as to whether the last 3 days have been a disaster or amazing. If you look at the distance we have covered in 3.5 days, it could be described as amazing. Just under 500km completed since we left Valencia with a 150km and two 125km days (plus the amount we have just completed today cycling into Girona).
Now to the bad part.
After leaving Valencia, we felt incredibly refreshed and strong. Day 19 started with completing 85km before noon on gorgeously flat roads but with not much scenery. However, Colin jinxed this when Caroline ran over a very large caterpillar by saying "that´s probably going to be the most exciting thing that happens until Barcelona."
At the end of the day, 65km later (and 10km away from a 100 mile day!) Colin´s rear tire got a flat. We decided to find a place to camp quickly and fix it in the remaining daylight and be ready for the next morning. When we woke up we continued along the N-340, which we realized from Valencia to Tarragona is a MAJOR trucking route (at least twice as many trucks as cars). Colin got a second flat tire somewhere along the day, but replaced the inner tube quickly and was back on the road.
While coming into Tarragona, Colin´s tire decided to pop for the third time in two days! Out of inner tubes, we looked around Tarragona for a bike shop and were amazed with people going out of their way to help us find one. Unfortunately despite their efforts, they were unable to help us find one, so we patched the tube and found a campsite just outside of Tarragona.
The next day was worse:
We woke up to rain and a puddle of water in our (now collapsed) tent. Nearly out of food, we went to find the nearest gas station in the torrential downpour with trucks wizzing by. After a strangely long 20km we finally found a gas station only to find out that they didn´t sell food like 99% of the others we have come across! 5km after the gas station, Colin got a 4th flat back tire. This was fixed with another patched inner tube that was beginning to look like a 5 year old´s knees who is learning how to skateboard. We then decided to look for a bike shop in the nearest town but had to cycle there on a slowly deflating tire which is not easy in the best of circumstances let alone the rain. Luckily we were able to find one and they had one new tire and two inner tubes (Colin´s tire had been slashed by glass).
We were able to get to Barcelona without incident except for an absolutely terrifying 300m stretch of motorway with no shoulder (again with torrential rain and lots of trucks). However, about 1km from an internet cafe, Colin´s front tire decided to deflate so we rushed to a bike shop who were extremely helpful and gave us brand new, reinforced tires and new innertubes, as well as a free service. If you ever need a bike repair in Barcelona, go to BikeLand. They are great, and the owner´s son is a world champion in freeriding. As we cycled out of Barcelona, exhausted but relieved, the weather cleared and we found a nice place to camp for the night before making our way to Girona today.
We will try and get to France tomorrow!