Cycling the French Alps “Oo La La”

Cycling France

The beginning!

The first week of cycling the French Alps complete… yay! Having never done anything like this before, I had no idea what to expect. So far it’s been challenging, but it’s been good, and we both have been enjoying it (99% of the time).

The first couple of days were relatively easy – mostly downhill. The weather varied between raining, windy and sunny, but it was still a good introduction to the trip, and we managed to cover a fair distance – despite spending several hours lost, trying to find our way into and then out of Grenoble. We set up camp next to old castles, in farmer’s fields and in random grassy clearings… somehow always managing to be in an undesirable distance to a railway line (I blame Michael for that).

first day of cycle trip cycling france

The first mountain pass!

On day 3 of cycling the French Alps we started our ascent up the first mountain pass, Col du Lautaret (2058m). A common route for the Tour de France and to my surprise a black cycle route (one of the hardest cycle gradings). There were many cyclists out training (I assume for the Tour de France) in their flash gear, flying up and down the hills, on their super-light, expensive road bikes, while we plodded along, carrying at least 15-20kg of baggage each, on our heavy hybrid bikes. We cycled the pass over 2 days, not wanting to over-do-it, especially as my knee is still recovering from the ski accident I had a couple of months ago.

[ctt template=”8″ link=”Bqe5Q” via=”no” ]”Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.” – Albert Einstein @CycleTrekkers [/ctt]

The final 8km up to the pass was grueling. The wind was at it’s strongest, and the rain was no better. Michael and I made a deal that we were treat ourselves to a large pizza and beer when we finally make it to Italy… the chant in the last few kilometers, “Pizza. Beer. Pizza. Beer.”, made the cycle a little easier. There was still a fair bit of snow at the pass, it was freezing cold and nothing was open, but the views were amazing. It was definitely the hardest cycle day so far, but definitely my favourite day of the trip so far.

Next was the descent!

Flying down the mountains with all our baggage definitely scared the crap out of me… at stages we were exceeding 50kph, which is way too fast for me on 2 wheels (maybe I’m becoming more of a wimp as I get older, or maybe I’ve just accepted that I’m a bit clumsy and accident-prone). The views were amazing, but unfortunately I was too scared to take my eyes off the road, so didn’t get to fully appreciate them. Within an hour we arrived in Briancon, a very cute, historic town, with lots of cool old buildings and chateaus. We decided to recover in a budget hotel (which conveniently had a sauna and steam room)… and I enjoyed one of the best showers of my life ☺

col du lautaret cycling France

Col du Montegenvre

The following day we had to conquer the final pass into Italy, which was the Col du Montgenvre (1860m), also a route common on the Tour de France, and a red route (second highest cycle grade). After the grueling Col du Lautaret, this col was a piece of cake, and we flew up it in about an hour. The town, Montegenvre is a ski resort town, and unfortunately didn’t have the best views from the top, and also no touristy sign post with the col and altitude displaced (I do like those cheesy tourist photos). We did take a few minutes at the top to enjoy a well earned Snickers, and top up the water. We then continued down the pass and into Italy. Overall, I really enjoyed cycling the French Alps and definitely recommend it!

The road down the Col into Italy was bloody steep, with amazing views I’m sure (if I could take my eyes off the road for 2 seconds)… and the number of motorbikes and long, freezing, tunnels just added to the terrifying experience. After flying down the Col for about an hour (the quickest 20km of the trip), we decided to set up camp.

The following day’s agenda: find a pizzeria and enjoy our grande pizza and beer reward! Yum!

Cycling the French Alps: Stats

Total distance: 300km

Number of days: 6 days

Passes: 2 mountain passes (1860m and 2058m)

Accommodation: 4 nights wild camping, 1 night budget hotel

Repairs: No punctures or anything major, but my chain did fall off once

Spendings: accommodation – 30Euro, food – 10Euro, other – 5 Euro (Total: 45Euro ($AUD67/ 37 pounds))

Not only did we ride from France to China by bicycle, we also went from France to China by toilet! This was to raise awareness about the global sanitation issue.

France to China by Bike Countdown: 25 days to go!

Discovering Persian hospitality

France to china by Bike Countdown

What better way to see the world than on a bike? Not only will our be carbon footprint be minimal, we will (hopefully) be fit and healthy, cycle machines. And what better way to get ourselves motivated than to make it a charity cycle trip? So here is our official France to China by bike countdown! Exciting times!

Maybe the altitude and snow capped mountains has sent us a bit crazy, but once Michael and I finish working as chalet hosts in the Alps, we’ve decided to embark on a cycle tour. Something different, something challenging, and something a little crazy. Even Hemingway approved of cycling, so it must be a good way to travel!

“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle” – Ernest Hemingway

So, even though I haven’t owned a bike for more than 10 years. We have decided to cycle from Sainte Foy ski station in France (where we have been working for the past few months), all the way to China. The exact destination and route to China has not been decided yet.

We are going to break the trip up into 2 stages.

We decided to do this as not only have we never attempted any cycle tour before, but I also tore two knee ligament a few weeks ago, while skiing. Though cycling is good rehabilitation for the knee, I don’t want to overdo it. That being said, I am also supposed to be running an ultra marathon (100km) in the UK in July, and I’m hoping I can make a quick trip back to the UK to complete it. This will largely depend on my knee rehabilitation and the cycle trip. With the France to China by Bike Countdown ticking down, lets hope my knee heals quickly.

Stage 1: The French Alps to Istanbul, Turkey (France, Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey) (Approx. 2500km+)

france to china by bike countdown

Stage 2: The Silk Route (Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and China) (Approx. 6500km+ from Istanbul, Turkey, to Karakol, Kyrgyzstan)

france to china by bike countdown

From Kyrgyzstan we plan to cycle across the border into China, then most likely we will train it to Beijing, where we will fly back home to Perth, Australia. We plan to depart Sainte Foy ski station on 22nd April 2014, and if all goes to plan (which is fairly unlikely), the 10,000km cycle trip should take us around 7-8 months and we should be back in Perth late Nov/ early Dec 2014 (in time for Michael’s brother’s wedding) – another France to China by Bike Countdown!

The Charities

WaterAid

I mentioned earlier in this post that we are going to be doing this to raise money and awareness for charities and causes that we feel strongly about.

I have picked WaterAid as my charity to sponsor. Due to the lack of access women and children in some developing countries have to sanitation, clean water, toilets and basic education about menstruating. Women and children are regularly putting themselves at high risk of disease, illness, assault and rape. On top of this, many girls end up leaving education at an earlier age due to feeling embarrassed over menstruating and having limited access to healthcare and sanitary products.

The Global Sanitation Crisis

Sanitation and healthcare is something that all people should have access to. Sadly, this is not the case. Many women are using dirty rags, leaves and even sawdust in replacement of sanitary pads. This obviously leads to short and long term infections and disease. Many women also have no safe or comfortable place to go to the toilet or properly clean themselves. This results in hiding or waiting until after dark to go to the toilet or clean, or going in public. This puts them at risk of assault and rape. Imagine putting yourself through this type of risk every time you go to the bathroom.

The issue stems not only from inaccessibility to proper sanitation, but also to the lack of education, and the need for women’s empowerment. Even in western countries, menstruating and ‘going to the toilet’ is not something often spoken about. We do, however have access to the health care, sanitation products and education necessary to avoid such risks.

Now imagine yourself without access to any of these things. As well as not being able to speak about it. Living in a male dominant society. Not understanding what is happening to your body. Feeling ashamed, scared and alone in your battle. That topped off with excruciating period pains and risking your health and wellbeing every time you go to the toilet . My heart goes out to these unfortunate girls and women.

WaterAid helps provide sustainable support to communities, by providing the knowledge, funding and guidance to support projects which will empower women, restore dignity and educate them on hygiene and healthcare.

St Rocco’s Cancer Hospice

We are also fundraising for St Rocco’s hospice in Manchester, England. This hospice took really good care of a family member of Michael’s, who had cancer and sadly passed away there last October. So we have decide to give ‘thanks’ and support the great work they’re doing. Providing support to St Rocco’s will ensure they are able to continue providing excellent care and support to others.

If you would like to show some love and support, then please donate to WaterAid, or to St Rocco’s hospice.

Spread the word and share this post with friends and family, and ask them to please do the same. Thank you for your support!

So let the France to China by Bike Countdown begin!

**UPDATE: The donation pages are now closed. Donations can still be made directly to the charities through the charity home pages.

Not only did we ride from France to China by bicycle, we also went from France to China by toilet! This was to raise awareness about the global sanitation issue.