We continue with L'Aventure Alpine, Kurt Refsnider and Kaitlyn Boyle's five-week bikepacking trip through the Alps. -Kid
“I think we're doing badly at touring,” I said in a frustrated voice as we climbed slowly out of the touristy villiage of Abriès.
Rain fell steadily, and my body struggled to warm up in the damp cold. Ironically, colorful umbrellas hung from all the lamposts across the main street in town. We were not sure why, but we contemplated borrowing a couple to stay a bit drier.
“What do you mean?” Kurt inquired.
“Well, if we're touring, why are we about to climb 4,000 feet into certain snow? And you're sick. This seems stupid.”
Both Kurt and I have spent too many days in the past putting up with foul weather while trying to keep on some sort of a schedule. We had agreed that we weren't going to spend our days on this tour doing just that. We wanted to enjoy the riding, and Kurt had been battling a cold for the entire trip; it was time for him to kick it.
“Okay. Let's go back and get another cappucino then.”
A few hours later we pedaled even more slowly away from Abriès. The cappucino was good, but it was expensive; a reflection of the rest of the small ski town. We continued on into the steady rain, agreeing we would look for camp soon.
“You know the tent is going to already be soaked inside and out from last night. And now we're going to be stuck in there for the rest of the afternoon,” I said.
Kurt agreed and pointed out that our only lodging option in the valley seemed to be expensive hotels.
We pedaled onward, climbing a series of paved switchbacks into the tiny village of Le Roux. We saw another sign for gite d'etape, what we had deduced was some sort of lodging.
I urged that we check it out. What we found was a very inexpensive yet warm and comfortable hostel in which to spend a recovery day. And it had a kitchen for us to use and a garage to house our bikes.
So far in our trip, the unfamiliarity of so many aspects of travel in the Alps has provided many great surprises. Finding what was likely the most perfect lodging and best deal in the valley in the very last, highest, tiny village is one example of this.
Sometimes we find ourselves strapping our bike bags to our packs, throwing our bikes across our backs, and hiking uphill for hours.
On another occasion, we preemptively adjusted our route to avoid yet another steep hike over a col, instead following a dashed line on our map over a different pass. This alternate route coincidentally led us to some of the most spectacular singletrack yet—a smooth, well-traveled trail traversing the crest of a knife-edge ridge of steeply tilted bedrock aimed directly toward Mont Blanc.
Every day, we are surprised by the fact that we consistently seem to only be covering 35 miles per day. And we're worn out by the end of those 35 miles.
This is nothing like the bikepacking to which we're accustomed in the western United States. These climbs are long, steep, and unrelenting. It feels like you're climbing to the moon. Then you crest a pass, tilt down, and seemigly without pedaling, you're Promptly at a lush valley floor 5,000 feet below. Doing this twice, or even three times a day, makes one exhausted bikepacker.
Fortunately, good, strong cappucinos have been reliably abundant. Rather than a gas station mini mart being the first likely service available upon rolling into a village, a cafe-bar-restaurant is often the sole establishment. Along more popular trails, refugios (mountain hostels with B&B services) will have cappucino for you, even atop high passes. But the cappucinos we've appreciated most have been made by a nine-year-old, one of our hosts here in Chamonix during our two, much needed, rest days.
We now begin the second stage of our journy, wrapping around the east side of Mont Blanc and into Switzerland, into a whole new unknown.
————————Click the links below for previous blog posts from Kurt and Kaitlyn's L'Aventure Alpine expedition…
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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.