Day 2 – And now for some words

It’s been hard to find time to write about our trip so far. And even harder to actually type it on my netbook.

Our flight from Boston to Canada was uneventful. Passing through Canadian customs, which used printers from the early 90s, Chris wasn’t allowed through because he lost his boarding pass for the second flight. With only 30 minutes to boarding, we nearly planned on doing the trip without him. As is his skill, however, he reappeared from some random part of the terminal having secured a new pass and gotten through customs in time to catch the flight.

From Canada to Geneva was similarly unexciting. I learned that Gangs of New York is a nearly 3 hour film, and that one serving of wine on an empty stomach is enough to get me pretty buzzed. We landed in Geneva, Switzerland and discovered the giant Nutella jars from my previous post, and weren’t sure whether to be amazed or disturbed that every single airport ad was for watches.

In the airport we met Milica’s dad, and began what turned out to be a very long day of train rides. The short version is that after missing our first train and spending 1+hour in limbo between Switzerland and France, and then waiting another 1.5 hours between trains, and then making it to the car rental place with 3 minutes to spare after another train delay, we piled us and our gear into the van for the drive to the house.

3 in the front, 4 closed up in the back (including me), we arrived at the house only to discover that the local grocery store was closed (at 7.30pm!). Starving, we got an overpriced and underprepared meal of pizza and french fries from town and went to bed early.

Our first full day started with a trip to the grocery store. Having ridden in the back of the van to the house, this was my first time seeing our surroundings and the road to the house. Thankfully. If I had known what we would be driving up, I doubt I’d ever have agreed to ride in the back of that giant van. Our house is 20% of the way up L’Alpe d’Huez, and only about 3 miles from the grocery store, but coming back up those 3 miles (specifically the 2 miles on the mountain) are some of the toughest miles I’ve ridden. And the narrow roads and lack of guardrails making driving it in a van a less-than-comforting experience. The bike ride up, combined with a slight difficulty in breathing from the elevation, made for a rude awakening.

After unloading groceries (French grocery stores do not supply or sell any bags, so this was a chose), we set out as a group to explore. The views here are incredible. My pictures don’t do them justice. Mountain roads, tunnels, incredible hairpin descents, blue rivers and snowcapped peaks – it’s amazing. Most of us rode about 32 miles with 5,000 feet of climbing. Doug and Chris are crazy and also summited Alpe d’Huez on day one. The sun sets close to 10pm here, so dinner was late and we didn’t get to bed ’til near midnight.

Today we had to return the van. 4 of us drove to Grenoble, while me and two others rode in the direction of Grenoble hoping to meet them on the way back. We managed 22.4 for the 23 miles out despite a stiff headwind thanks to a slight downhill. We never did find the other group, so we headed back (this time at closer to 16mph). I got to town last, where Eric and Chris were waiting. They planned to ride all the way up Alpe d’Huez, while I had no interest. Telling them I was 90% ‘definitely heading back to the house,’ I left on my own to return home and rest.

The turn off for our house is at the 6th switchback (6th from the bottom; technically the 16th of 21 counting down from the top) on the mountain road. That turn off also has a restaurant and water fountain. I stopped for water and decided I felt good enough that I’d explore further up the hill just to see what it was like. The road eased up noticeably (from 9to10% to 7to8%) so I just kept going. By the time I hit the the 12th switchback I figured I’d put in enough effort that I might as well go all the way to the top. So I did.

I watched my heart rate and tried to take it easy, but there is nothing easy about riding up the mountain, especially in 90F heat. I spent a few minutes at the top (which was 77F thanks to the elevation) and then came back down to the house. We cooked a big meal of rice, lentils, and mashed french fries (long story) and are now ready to pass out.

Doug and Chris are scheming over a ride for tomorrow that is 30-50% more climbing than Alpe d’Huez, but I have neither the energy nor the trust in my knee to attempt something like that so soon. I’m not sure what the rest of the group is doing, but you can be confident it will include plenty more climbing.

 

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The driveway to the house

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Doug the mountain goat

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Milica in town

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Chris motoring like a freight train on the way to Grenoble

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Me celebrating the view

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This is the face Chris makes when in a lot of pain. He actually enjoys this suffering.

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Eric and Chris. Eric didn’t get the team-kit memo.

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Typical French town

Climbing Alpe d'Huez

Climbing Alpe d’Huez

The view

The view

Me, most of the way to the top

Me, most of the way to the top

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