Europe is a touch on the chilly side; I entered the airport in Buenos Aires in a sweat inducing thirty plus, two planes and two nights sleeping in airport corners and I emerge into a frosty minus five and things are only going to get worse. But its not so bad, the cold is manageable if you have the right gear, if. Much more so than oppressive heat from which there is no escape, just layer up or man up. It is unfortunate then that I’m a layer or two short so will have to opt for the latter option though it must be said that I certainly have no intention of camping out in the snow.
During my time in Europe I will be staying with local families along my route, organised through a cycling network of like minded people. At this time of year there are no other manly cycle tourers so it isnt hard to find a family willing to offer me a bed for the night. First and foremost it is a fantastic way of meeting local like minded people whilst getting a free bed for the night including board, that’s food not a headboard though normally it comes with one of those as well, laundry and a shower.
When you have a guest to stay especially when you have never me before you tend to put out the good china and a comprehensive spread to boot. As I make my way north through France I’m having four course dinners nightly, there is always a cheese board before dessert followed by coffee. The locals have opened their doors and larders up to me inviting me into their homes, the evenings normally end with a sample of the local cheese, wine, liquored and even home made saucisson. My waist line is quickly finding out that the French really are passionate about there food and wine, especially their cheese, which undeniably they are the best at in the world.
Its these small things that you do not get access to when on a normal holiday, yes you might drink the wine and eat the cheese but it will cost ya; but it is rare that you actually get to meet Mr and Mr France. I do have to earn your keep though in the form of polite conversation which inevitably follows the same course each evening, where did you come from? where do you go? Favourite country? Animal Encounters?….
Two days after landing in Geneva and on my final continent I find myself climbing up to the French ski resort of Tignes. It gets colder and snowier with every kilometre as I slowly make my way up hill. I must have looked peculiar to all the passengers of the cars with skies strapped to their roofs and chains on their wheels. My feet become water logged, I mentioned previously that the winter isn’t so bad if you have the right gear, well I don’t and I can’t feel my toes; as I ascend with sodden feet in sub zero temperatures, its approaching minus fifteen at the top, my feet are morphed into large useless ice cubes; it is all I can think about, the cold begins to creep up my Achilles and I can no longer articulate my ankles which is troublesome when one is cycling. I must have looked a right state when with wet foot prints I waddle into a fancy spa resort to defrost. I am promptly directed to the sofa by fire and they bring me a coffee….I may just never leave.
Post defrosting I reach Tignes where I am meeting friends for a week riding the ski slopes in a break from the bike. Being amongst friends is fantastic, a break to normality. Aside from the best snow ever it is a fantastic week, slightly surreal; needless to say nothing has changed, we eat and drink like the French and chat about absolute shit; topics include: our special talents (none of use have one apparently and the question of if you had to, what would you swap your arm for? Answers include a sponge, a go go gadget arm and a flesh light (if you do not know what one is, it is best left to the unknown, do not google it). We are a high brow bunch.
One evening we watch some British tele and it is not something to be proud of. The premise, a bunch of common pretty people, jobless (I’m one to talk), in an isolated location surrounded by crystal clear water. They have to “survive” on the island, fending for them selves which must be tough with all that make up, comfortable looking shelters complete with ablutions and as much vitals as one could need. This lot haven’t ever seen dirt under the nails or a long drop. Not only do they promote an unrealistic body image for any normal hard working folk but their constant dribble combined with their dialect pains one`s ears. Its all very Essex.
It is a stark contrast to the family who I stayed with a few nights before, the two adorable children had no tele or phones but entertained themselves with music (I was give a performance), games, art, some quite complicated puzzles for a ten year old and me, conversation and all that after a family day out cross country skiing. Not for the first time this year I wonder if me and my brothers were under achievers growing up!
If I found the climb up difficult the decent was extremely unpleasant and possibly the most dangers road that I have cycled. Though I’m not sure I can call slowly sliding down with my feet deployed as skies cycling. Behind me a rather long traffic jam routinely accumulated so I would pull in to let them pass. This stop and start snail pace saw be transform into the human icicle, at least on the accent I was working hard and warm, save the tootsies. With narrow roads, poor visibility in the heavy snow and the rumble of avalanches from within the white abyss it was an uncomfortable ride.
Over the next few days I will be leave the alps behind me as I head north towards Luxemburg, on through Holland and Belgium before getting on the ferry and approaching the White Cliffs of Dover. After seeing friends it is a touch depressing cycling on my own day in day out, but at east each evening I will have company, the days are short and my distance has plummeted as I have to plan each days ride to tie in with my accommodation, it is not as happy go lucky as other legs of my journey where I can cycle from sunrise to sunset and just pitch up happy as Larry. To that extent it is not as enjoyable but I’m in the vinegar strokes of the venture now and I need to enjoy every minute. I need to drink it all in, cherish the lack of responsibility, the space, the time, blah blah Blah! and unwind-I have no unwinding to do because I’ve been going a year at this stage and I’m a simpleton anyway.