We find a comfortable looking hump of grass and let out an involuntary sigh as we take heavy riding packs off and slump down. Immediately opposite us a marmot shrieks in alarm, but doesn’t run away. Instead, it chooses to watch us as I reach into my pack and pull out a baguette, saucisson and cheese. A sorry looking tomato hasn’t coped with getting bounced around the top of my bag so well. We are too hungry to care and take a bite out of it… seeds and juice running down our chins. Hunger briefly abated, I take stock of our location, high in the mountains, not far below the snowline and staring across the kind of panorama that is uniquely alpine. Wildflowers are blooming on our south face aspect, and the hillside is speckled with bright violets and yellows.
We are a few days into a mountain bike tour from Montreux (on Lake Geneva) to Nice, crossing the Alps and following the GR5 hiking route where possible. Busy schedules mean that we only have 12 days to complete a ride that most people would spend an extra week on. In the end we would ride 650km and climb (and descend) 22000m as we ticked cols and ripped singletrack all the way to the sea.
The first day was a shock to the system. We had deliberately chosen not to use on-bike luggage, partly to keep the bikes nimble and unweighted while riding, but also because we knew they would be spending a lot of time on our shoulders as we hike-a-biked (HAB) up slopes that would be a tough climb without anything on our backs. Setting off though, the packs felt impossibly heavy, despite packing as light as possible. Hitting the first HAB section, my bike’s bottom bracket dug into my shoulders and my legs burned within minutes of starting. We had hours to go to reach the top of our first col. Then we had another to cross. I concentrated on placing one foot in front of another.
After a few days though, our bodies adapted to the demands we were placing on them. We got used to the weight of the packs and we felt like we had an easy day if we had less than 2000m of climbing. We settled into a steady, but efficient plod, knowing that our efforts would always be rewarded with mind-blowingly good descents on the other side. They usually followed a specific pattern – snow plodding; tight, rocky and loose switchbacks; opening out into faster singletrack slicing its way across meadows; finally we would drop below the tree line, our tyres rumbling over dry pine needles, jinking around trees, giggles and whoops bouncing around the forest.
The other adaptation our bodies made was the hunger… we needed fuel for our exertions. Breakfast was followed by second breakfast an hour later. Pastries were consumed at every opportunity. Haribo became one of the major food groups. If we failed to eat regularly the effects were immediate. Speeds would decrease to glacial and there were a couple of ‘hemotional’ moments. Insert food and the lights would switch back on almost instantaneously. Often snacks were eaten on the move or standing, but lunch was always a sit-down affair. Something to be looked forward to and enjoyed.
We tear in half and split the baguette. I use the trusty Restrap Opinel to slice cheese and meat and we sit in silence as our jaws get a harder workout than our legs. Our route still stretches out in front of us, both today and for the rest of the trip, but we both revel in the simplicity of riding, hiking, eating, repeating.