It can be scary going uphill on a bicycle. What’s the gradient? How long is this thing? Will I make it? Will somebody see me not making it? These are the questions that any self-respecting coward would ask themselves. And so it was when we approached the Alps on our loaded tandem. We set off tentatively, which is another word for slowly but somehow sounds better.
And all those switchbacks. How many switchbacks has this mountain got? What’s that creaking noise? Should we take a break after the next bend? It was hot, 40 degrees celsious and we dripped sweat all over the beautiful landscape. There were Springs every few miles and I’d pull off my t-shirt and throw it in, pull it back on without wringing it out and 10 minutes later it was bone dry.
And this was us on our overweight tandem, dressed to sweat on the Cols and in the valleys, every metre pulling on the muscles or the brakes, breakneck descents or back-breaking climbs. We were pedalling the Alps in Southern France, a rollercoaster of rocks and tarmac, blisters of boulders bulging under a clear blue sky.
But every routine has it’s beauty and we settled in. All the ingredients for the spice of life were there on a plate. Appetites whetted everyday by the fresh mountain air and the views. And before long we were tasting the rush of the endless downhills, feasting our eyes on the beauty of Nature, and gorging ourselves on those beautiful Gorges. We ate well in the Alps.
We had the highest of highs and the lows were only gradients. We pedalled on roads where a mountain hung a metre above our heads, where sheer cliffs climbed skywards to our left and our right, where the only sound was silence and where the rivers rushed by without a moment to spare. We camped under clear skies unbleached by lamplight and climbed out of the tent onto a carpet of green looking up at a blanket of blue.
Each leg of the journey held new life; trees with outstretched limbs, an ancient rock face, the eye of a storm that breathed cool air, rivers running to the sea, and everywhere the mountains shouldered the weight of life within the Alps.
The village shops were tiny and the shelves were understocked. The traffic on the roads was sparse and more nervous than us. Whether you’re climbing or falling, you can’t rush the Alps, and it makes no difference whether your vehicle is powered by diesel or croissants.
All good things come to an end is what they say and the Alps ended for us at the Grand Canyon du Verdon. Perched high on a mountain we looked down at the rolling hills of Provence waiting in the distance in hazy sunlight. Sometimes you have to be breathless before your breath can be taken away. I wiped the moisture from my forehead and some more from my eyes and we began the descent.
Then gradually, very gradually, we came down from the high that was the Alps.