Monday, January 14, 2013

France - On to Chamonix

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My shirtless husband on the big ascent into Chamonix Valley.

52 miles – Tuesday, September 27

After pictures and goodbyes, Andy and I set off with clean clothes, a block of Vermont cheddar, and two Toblerone chocolate bars that Katty insisted we take. The weather had cleared after yesterday’s rain. We glided under partly cloudy skies around the southern tip of Lake Geneva, navigating through the city, then onto quieter roads.

Soon we crossed into France, following the Arve River towards Mont Blanc. It was good to be back on our own again, with the freedom of our journey, come what may. As we climbed higher, vertical cliffs kept us company, reminding me of Yosemite’s walls. My bike is working better too. I had installed new front brake pads at our friends' home.

It grew colder as we neared Sallanches, destination for the night. A mist settled in the valley. I pulled on mittens. I had to laugh at my frugal husband, however, who wore holey-palmed gloves. With Chamonix at 1000 meters, I knew he'd have to to get something warmer soon.

Our yellow home with to-die-for views of the Haute-Savoie.

15 miles – Wednesday, September 28

After a large hot breakfast of muesli and oatmeal (Andy missed his pancakes) we packed our damp tent and wet rainfly and set off, but not before perusing a boulangerie to fortify ourselves for the climb ahead.

Halfway up the 500 meter pull, the overcast sky cleared and Mount Blanc in all it glacial splendor lay before us. I love any mountainous view, but for Andy, a famous peak - especially one that he’d love to climb – must have sent his thoughts a twitter. I imagine he fantasized, someday, to be able to climb its snowy slopes, roped, with crampons, ice axe and a guide.

During the highway ascent, which wasn’t too bad, spinning as we always do in low gears, we pedaled through two tunnels: the first at 400 meters in length and the second, 1000 meters. Both provided a suitable wide lane, plus adequate lighting, allaying any fears regarding safe passage. It was a strange feeling to be under ground for so long.

The road leveled out for the last miles along the valley floor into Chamonix. We lift faces to the sun, basking in its welcome relief.

In town, streets were busy with tourists and locals. Sale racks spilled onto sidewalks with a proliferation of souvenir shops, restaurants, and boulangeries. We orient ourselves, inspecting city map signage, and while waiting for the tourist office to open, buy lunch and dinner food, then replace Andy's gloves. Eventually we get help on how to journey into Italy; there's a bus that'll transport our bikes through the Mont Blanc tunnel. We settle on a campground near town at 55 Francs per night. We pedal out there mid-afternoon. With standard time back in effect it’s dark by 7 p.m. and we should prepare dinner by 6.

We bought a trail map. If the weather holds we'll hike for a couple days then head to Italy. I had wanted to pedal over Saint Bernard Pass, visiting dogs raised at that famous border, then descend on Italian roads. However, it’s too late in the year. The route is closed, due to snow.

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