For the first ten days of our trip, I was gripped. I worried we weren’t riding far enough each day. It felt like we were crawling along. Our route was intimidating to start and became even more so once we were into it; experiencing the Alps on loaded mountain bikes. We had a place to stay in Chamonix that we didn’t want to miss, and we also had to reach the Swiss Alps, but they felt so far away. At first, 30 days felt like plenty of time to ride, but as we inched along on our route, it started to feel like hardly enough time just to make it back to Zurich. As a friend pointed out, we were making solid thru-hiker pace…but we were on bikes!
As we rode along on our El Mariachis, fighting the flu, negotiating different cultures, hiking up and sometimes even down over cols, and hiding from hail, I came up with 15 reasons why our 30-mile-per-day pace suits our journey well. These reasons all relate to two primary factors:
One, we are touring.
And two, riding in the Alps is hard. But really there is much more to it than that.
1. On our route, 30 miles per day generally means 5 to 6.5 hours of moving time. That’s less than a 5 mph moving average. And 4 or 5 of those hours usually involve riding in our granny gear or hiking, ascending ~9,000 feet per day.
2. Besides not having the legs to ride past dark, we don’t want to ride at night. We find nice campsites, cook dinner, and sleep in. We are generally in our camp for 12 to14 hours. It is awesome.
3. We’ve traveled through three different countries and languages. This means everything town-orientated takes twice as long as it would at home; a stop for groceries that takes us less than two hours is fast and we don’t rush.
4. The coffee in Italy and France is hard to pass by, and we never really try to pass by an opportunity for coffee. Fortunately, it’s also the cheapest thing you can buy on most menus, including soda and water. Plus, the extra energy boost seems to help us propel ourselves on toward the next col.
5. The Alps are gorgeous. We spend a lot of time taking pictures.
6. Despite being assured that the weather is generally good, we have had 23 days with rain, two strong hail events, and two snowstorms to negotiate. We have never hesitated to stop and sit out the heavy downpours, camp early, or even take a tent day to wait out particularly foul weather.
7. The engineering feats in the Alps are mind-blowing, from past to present. Each is worthy of awe and admiration.
8. The resident geologist had a whole new landscape to interpret. Lots of limestone, but gneiss, quartzite, granite and serpentenite all folded and faulted upon one another kept him on his toes.
9. There are cherries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries to forage! And if you decide to camp at a lake with a swimming beach at 2 pm, you probably will have time to make a gourmet picnic dinner spread and drink wine.
10. The animals here are vicious and often impede our progress.
11. Every climb is an unrelentingly uphill. From valley floor to cresting a col, the climb only climbs; mid-climb descents and flat stretches just don’t exist. These wear the legs down quickly.
12. Hike-a-bike is a daily activity. A hike-a-bike of 1,500 vertical feet has somehow started to feel like a short one. But these hikes also wear the body down.
13. There were a few cols we hiked down just as much as we hiked up.
14. The long stretches of hike-a-bike and long descents actually make for tired upper bodies. We have occasionally ended days at the top of a long descent in order to tackle it with vigor in the morning.
15. Sometimes you just have to stop, sit and smell the flowers. This may be an excuse for a serious bonk.
At this point, we can’t fathom riding any longer each day. Our legs and arms are tired. We’re enjoying our leisurely mornings, cappuccinos, lunch breaks, hanging out atop cols, taking photos, trying to identify the elusive “toot toot bird,” hiding from the incessant rain, and camping before sunset. It’s the way touring should be.
CLICK THE FOLLOWING LINKS FOR PREVIOUS BLOGS FROM KURT & KAITLYN'S L'AVENTURE ALPINE, 5-WEEK BIKEPACKING TRIP THROUGH THE ALPS…
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I have shaped my life around exploring remote and wild places by foot, rope, raft, ski and mountain bike. I would rather be sweating than sitting, surrounded by trees than walls, and lost in a canyon than navigating a freeway. As I spend more than half the year sleeping outside, I’ve come to believe that life's full potential can be realized through seeking, enduring and relishing adventure.