With my Swiss Christmas in the rear vision mirror, it was time to get my new winter tyres on the bike and hit the road. Winter riding is best done with burly friends, and my new friends were Bud and Nate – 4.8 and 3.8 inches of fat bike grip to float me across the snow that was to come. As I was to learn in the coming weeks, even fat tyres have their limits when you have cookies and cream covered mountains in front of you.
Following Lake Geneva from Geneva itself, I headed around the northern side of the lake threading through the small back roads that are shy of traffic and offer a much more pleasant riding experience. On the bike, civilisation is felt just as much by fences that seemingly say you’re not welcome as it is by the sight of houses and other manmade structures. Lake Geneva is plenty civilised and thus the stealth camping spots begin to shrink exponentially once you pass Lausanne. Long past the sun going down and having no luck with anything that could be called stealth, I settled for a building site right on the lake itself.
As the sun had set on my camping spot, the view was limited but I had no doubt the morning would be magical with the rising sun over the mountains. Alas, it was not to be. At about 10:30pm I found a torch light shun on my tent and a man in heavy hitting looking navy jacket and pants speaking firmly to me in French. He had a bulky frame to match and couldn’t have been more than a few years older then I. My French is sparse at best so I had absolutely no idea what he was saying but it was pretty clear he was not a big fan of my current camping spot. Time to improvise. I did my best to crack a smile and pointed to my bike and within a minute the atmosphere had totally changed. My performance of biking the world, charades style, seemed to have gone down well and the tension that was dispersed into the misty surroundings.
Moving my gear off the construction site, he gave me a big thumbs up to the alleyway next to the site which I took as a blessing to set up camp there. Rocking a tunnel tent, they are hands down amazing in a storm but next to useless when on solid ground that can’t be staked.
So it was a rather haphazard result when I had attached one end of the tent to a rusted pole bolted to the wall and the other to my bike. On the bright side, if a would-be thief tried to grab the bike and run he would have to take the tent with me inside along for the ride.
The morning came soon enough and it was magnificent. The day followed the previous one, making my way around the lake to start the #1 Alpine bike route not far from Aigle. It had been a care free flat ride along the lake up till that point and things were about to change. Drastically. The climbing begun within a few meters of begining the route and continued past vinyards, chalets and warn tracks through the woods. It was steep enough in sections that getting off my steed to push-a-bike was the only option. Other sections were precarious with a ledge barely a foot wide lending to some very edgy hike-a-bike. I caught myself imagining a pannier slipping in my grip and tumbling off the ledge to the valley below. Whatever was inside would have long past been thumped and smashed into oblivion. The sun had well and truly set and I was still edging myself along this ledge by torch light with no end in sight and no space to pitch my tent. Sleeping on that ledge with no fixing point meant a potential roll over the ledge in the night to a free fall into the next life. I’m rather fond of the current one so with the headlight on, I inched my way along and after a number of hours found the trail widening and snow falling. I was a little disappointed I hadn’t pulled out my camera to capture the saga but was at the same time just glad to be on solid ground.
Jumping inside my tent for the night, the snow began to fall and fall. Falling asleep to a frosty frigid night and waking up to a winter wonderland is about the best start I could imagine to my time in the mountains. The test of my new friends Bud and Nate is about to begin, but first a short stop just up the road in the quaint town of Leysin.