Monday, December 27, 2010

Day 49 and 50: Bike Trip from Vevey to Geneva

Switzerland had been kind to me so far. Geneva was interesting to walk around and my time in Vevey was enjoyable. It is certainly a town that I wouldn't mind living in, but paying 30 francs a night for a hostel was too expensive. It was time to move on.

What follows is the biggest blarticle of the century. I would have liked to split this into two parts but I'm behind in my posts. I'll be impressed if you make it through alive – kind of an allegory of my bicycle trip.

Ever since I decided to go to Geneva I wanted to bike around Lac Léman. Over the past two days I biked from Vevey to Geneva. I had to get back to Geneva in time for my flight to Nice so failure was not an option. Despite the comfort of not being able to get lost, this two day bicycle trip was the most physically exhausting challenge I have faced while traveling.

Total Distance: 100km (62 miles)
Total time: 2 days (12 hours)
Average speed: 8km/hr
Average temperature: 4ºC
Pack weight: 18kg
Towns visited: 34
Photos taken: 177
Nights camping in the snow: 1
Total expenses: €25,70

DAY 1:
Powered by pasta, I followed the lake. New gloves kept my hands warm as the frigid wind whipped over my body. Legs pumping, ground zooming past. Progress was difficult. Biking with the weight took more effort than I imagined. My pack pressed against my vertebrae like a pile of bricks. Hunched over awkwardly, I grasped the handlebars. Speeding past store windows I caught glimpses of this strange animal. A young man with an enormous burden, peddling... somewhere.

I visited Chateau de Chillon the day before.
Having some fun with the self timer.
A rather enjoyable visit, especially because it was free!

It wasn't long before I reached the limits of my previous explorations. My reunion with Chateau de Chillon was brief. Resting and reflecting as I coasted past.

8 km conquered. I needed a rest. Panorama time!
I explored every dock around the lake.
Lake meets sky.

Separated from Lac Léman, surrounded by snow, I passed through a park. Snow blanketed the ground as if to create a canvas for my camera. Romantic. Beautiful. Cold. I passed through open fields with breathtaking views of the Alps. I felt dominated by the mountains and amazed how their size escaped photographic reproduction.

The beautiful town of Villeneuve
The majestic alps!
The open road.

Out of sight from the lake I followed my internal compass down trails constantly decreasing in size. The trails tapered and tapered, I biked down a tightrope, until the trail ended. Wrong direction. A harbor on my right. Boats trapped in the ice. I reminisced about my former life. A house boat. I dreamt of adventures to come.

Soon the roads would get smaller and smaller.
Some day I will buy a house boat and explore the world.

Wheeling around, it wasn't long before I was on the ground. Back on track but not moving. I found a sign that pointed me along a bike path through the park but my umbrella caught on a low limb. It happened so quickly I just went along for the ride. The earth was cold, moist, and soft. No pavement, no pain. A quick laugh and brushing off and I pushed on.

It was nice to know I was on some sort of established trail.
I forded the river with my bike.
I wonder if they get internet here.
Cows don't care about internet.
Through fields aplenty.

Roads greeted me from their birthplaces, far away on the horizon. They brought with them fields and forests. Endless expanses waiting to be crossed. The open road brought a freshness. Constant struggle along with continuous rebirth. I marked my accomplishments with a single tread line in the snow.

Too bad I didn't have a motorcycle.

I explored one small town after another – a trail of chocolates – each with a unique flavor.

I have a new found love for boats and harbors.
An excellent color match! Street sign and shutters.

I'll never forget people's faces as they glimpsed me through their car windows. More than the glass separated our lives. Everyone's expression was different but many were similar – a look of amazement. Mouths open, eyes bulging. "What's he doing? It's too cold to be doing that." Interestingly, I was only cold when I stopped peddling for too long. If I stayed in one place I was sure to freeze and remain there forever.

The small town of Meillerie.
I found many beautiful textures here.
The sun didn't come out the whole trip.

Recently I watched a Do Lecture given by Alister Humphreys, a world adventurer. Hearing him speak about his accomplishments, I was awestruck. He has pushed himself to limits far beyond the comprehension of most people and survived to tell about it. Some people live so far out of the realm of general acceptability. I'm working on a theory about doing now and thinking about it later.

Vevey from the other side of the lake.

On the final stretch to Evian I was exhausted. I had been biking with a full pack all day. Knowing that I was close to Evian was my sole motivation. Thank goodness the last few kilometers were down hill. 4 o'clock felt like 11. I was exhausted. Time for sleep.

Almost there!
Anyone for some artisan pain?

The only hostel in Evian was €35 a night. Already over budget for the week, and inspired by Alister Humphreys, I wanted to see if I could camp in the snow. The classic camp site search began.

I quickly realized that if I planned to pitch a tent, it was unwise trying to find a spot in a large town. Regardless, a map showed me a forest on the top of the hill which Evian is built into. Another hill to climb. Fantastic.

Getting to the top was really grueling. I'm still breaking my boots in and they were rubbing rubbing rubbing. Blisters pulsing with every step. Pushing my bike up frozen hill. As the sun set the temperature halved. I felt like I would be climbing forever.

Frustrated from not finding a place to camp, I began to bike out of Evian. Something was wrong. I looked at my front tire and sure enough. Flat as a crêpe. Getting off the bike, I was so tired I couldn't worry about the flat tire. It didn't even matter. I would deal with it tomorrow.

Thankfully I soon found a road that looked promising. A quick investigation proved that it was good enough. There was a flat clearing large enough for my tent. Although it was in someone's backyard, the darkness and some bushes made me difficult to see. I scraped the snow and thorn bushes aside with my boots. "Some reward," I thought.

My driveway.

Eventually I got my tent set up and tried to make myself cozy. My hair brain idea of having a small fire ended quickly so it was time for some sleep. It was only 6PM. Inside my sleeping bag it wasn't too cold. The worst part was sleeping directly on the ground. The earth was like an ice cube, constantly sapping my warmth.

All things considered, I felt exhausted but accomplished. Biking 45 kilometers with a 18kg (40 lb) pack then trekking up a hill for an hour made me indifferent to sleeping in the snow. I fell asleep quickly.

The rest of my night was spent in an interesting state between sleep and awake. Some theta brain waves, perhaps. Due to sheer exhaustion I initially slept until about 10:30 PM. When I woke up I was still alive! I rolled around and went through the photos on my camera, deleting the duplicates. Every time I breathed the LCD would fog up so I had to wipe it constantly. I wanted to write a blog entry but I was too tired and I was worried the light from my laptop would give away my location.

I more or less slept through the rest of the night, rolling over every now and then to let the side of me that was against the ground warm up.

Home sweet home (it was dark).

DAY 2:
Some mornings I am not ready to get out of bed, this was not one of them. I was up promptly at 6 AM. It was still dark, almost like I hadn't slept at all. Packing up the tent went smoothly and soon I was headed back down the hill. Retracing my steps was fascinating, I remembered certain spots where my body swore it couldn't go on. Rather hungry, I stumbled into a boulangerie. I must have been quite the sight, having received full spa treatment the night before. Thankfully one of the employees spoke some English and told me there was a bike shop in Amphion, the next town over.

I ate my whole baguette and the snow came. Flurries matured into a white out. I walked and walked. After about 3 km I found the bike shop in Amphion-les-Bains.

Thankfully Decathlon was able to fix my flat for a measly €8; about the price of a train ticket to Geneva from Vevey.

Flat tires are bad tires.
Decathlon saved the day.

Biking on the second day seemed twice as hard as on the first day. My energy stores had been drained but I had to peddle on if I wanted to make it to Geneva in time for my flight.

The towns that I passed through were even more beautiful than on the first day.

I believe this is Thonon-les-Bains.
One of the larger towns I passed through.
Anthy-sur Léman, I think.
The splashing water formed a row of beautiful icicles.
Anyone up for a swim? You first.

By mid-day I was almost falling asleep while peddling. I needed to eat. Problem was, nearly all the restaurants were closed since these small towns shut down during winter. Luckily I found gastronomic salvation in Yvoire.

A welcoming restaurant in Yvoire.
The chorizo and olive pizza was stellar.

My favorite out of the 34 towns I passed through on my bike trek around Lac Léman was Yvoire. An incredibly charming town built of stone that looked like it was straight out of a Disney movie. I can't imagine what it looks like come summer. Amazingly, the restaurant that I found had the whole village in it – I soon found out why. I ordered a chorizo pizza and a beer. The owner suggested I get a Grimbergen – as soon as I tasted it I was glad he did! A hot lunch was the pick me up I needed. I sat at the table for nearly two hours decompressing. After an amazing meal I needed to hurry or it was going to get dark before I got to Geneva.

That's one graphic section of asphalt!
Almost there. Sweet Jesus.

The last 15 kilometers were the most difficult. My legs were burning and my whole body ached. Even after lunch I had to stop at a bus stop and take a nap. By some miracle, the last 5 km were all down hill. Rocketing towards Geneva, when the city came into sight I felt relieved.

Geneva from afar.

I thought I was too tired to take any more pictures but I couldn't help myself. These were too good to pass up.

Ships moored outside of the city.
Barges and birds.
My favorite sign, ever.
Geneva off in the distance.
I made it, just in time.

I returned to Geneva triumphant. I felt like I accomplished something great and my body was certainly sore enough to prove it. Even though I didn't bike the whole way around the lake, I don't think I could have done any more. I was tested physically and mentally. That night, sleeping inside never felt better, even if it only was for 4 hours...

Au revoir!

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