Monday, 30 September 2013


Here's another random rambler factoid for you.

Bike shops don't open in Lyon on Mondays.

You may think that's a useless fact now, but believe me it can be the difference between a lovely leisurely day exploring the streets and parks of Lyon.

... and spending the day playing let's visit every single bike shop on the map, because there must be one bike shop open somewhere in Lyon ...

Seriously, I got up this morning, had a lazy breakfast, put most of my stuff in storage and set off for a lazy day cycling around Lyon.

However, just before I left the hotel, just to be safe, I decided I'd first try and take my pedals off my bike because I have had problems in the past with this little task and you don't want to discover this two hours before your flight.

The left pedal came off easily enough, but 10 minutes of straining, bashing and leveraging later and my right pedal wasn't budging.

"Not a problem", I think to myself, "this only proves my genius in preparation, I'll just tootle past a bike shop and get them to remove it, no worries".

So I set off towards the closest bike shop on my map to get the, to loosen it. Unfortunately, when i got there I found it no longer existed. Unperturbed I headed to the next one, this time to find it was an electric bike shop, but it closed.

Strange, I thought, but no problems, there's another one three blocks down ... Yep, it was closed.

By the fourth or fifth shop, I was strongly suspecting something was up, but I couldn't figure out what, and at the back of my mind I was sure I'd find at least one bike shop open somewhere in Lyon ...

By my tenth bike shop I might have been panicking slightly, as evidenced by my frantic efforts in a small park somewhere in Lyon as I madly tried to undo my right pedal again.

But it wouldn't budge.

Now, the common belief is that one of the surest sign of insanity is doing something, finding it doesn't work, and then doing it again but expecting a different result.

Well call me insane, or call me a believer in chaos theory, but after making some enquiries and finding out that bike shops are indeed all closed on Mondays, I figured I didn't have many other options so I proceeded to continue to visit bike shops.

Well, maybe I changed tack slightly. I decided to try the big shopping centre near where I stayed to see if the Decathalon store might at least be able to sell me the tool I needed to remove my pedal.

So in I walked and what should I see but a bike mechanic.

Let the angels sing.

I explained my situation and he said he'd fix it for me, no problem, I just had to bring my bike to him ... up on the fourth floor, and no I couldn't bring it through the building, I had to come via the roof top car park and wheel it in from there.

Did you know you can't take bicycles into that car park?

Thirty minutes later after circling the building several times and been shooed out by a guard when I entered the car park the first time through the main gate, I finally took my courage in my hand, jumped the gate at the back of the car park and cycled like crazy up this circular loop to the fourth floor and freedom .... well the Decathalon shop anyway.

Less than a minute after I walked in, the mechanic had both my pedals off (ah, the joys of leverage and the right tools) and for the umpteenth time this trip, the cost was ... no charge.

So now I'm at the airport. It's still four hours until my flight leaves, and I'm already sweaty, stinking and in desperate need of a shower after my efforts racing around trying to find a bike shop and charging up and down car parks (I had to jump two gates and avoid the guard on my way out as well, then found myself in a busy six lane highway and had to madly escape from that).

The only thing I don't understand is why more people don't travel with bikes ... it's so much fun!

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Last day on the bike ...

I remember writing back in Innsbruck that I hadn't done much of what I planned for this trip, but having thought on it more as the days have gone by, I've realised that in fact I've done most of the things I wanted to do ...

  • I visited Rome

  • I did something memorable for my 40th (said hi to the Pope)

  • I went to Venice

  • I rode through the Dolomites to Austria

  • I visited Krimml Falls

  • I rode the Tauern Radweg

  • I visited Salzburg

  • I rode through Germany

  • I visited Mont Blanc (and the Aosta Valley)

  • I cycled up Alp D'Huez

... and most importantly, I've taken a first big step to gaining a bit of fitness back.

The only things that I didn't get to do were kayak in Venice, ride the Amalfi coast, and go mountain biking.

I blame planning for two of those three things.

Recruit Officer: Have you given any thought to your future, son?
Forrest Gump: "Thought"?

You see, I had booked and planned the kayaking in Venice. It just got cancelled at the last minute. So much for planning.

I had also bought a book titled Mountain Biking Europe which had assured me that I wanted to be in the Alps in September because before then most of the trails are closed to mountain biking.

That was the biggest load of twaddle ever.

What I discovered when I got here is that all the mountain biking chairlifts and hire shops actually close in the beginning of September, so my dreams of being whisked up slopes and plummeting back down them on a hired mountain bike went unmet.

Until today ....

Yep, it occurred to me yesterday afternoon, as I was scrubbing and cleaning my bike ready for its return to Australia, that I didn't have to catch the bus back to Grenoble ... I could ride there.

It could be my last hurrah on the bike.

It would also be 50kms of mostly downhill riding ... Which I decided I could pretend was sort of like riding down a mountain from a chair lift ...


Actually, it doesn't matter if I've convinced you, the important thing is I convinced myself and so I set off this morning for one last, super easy, ride on my now shiny clean new bike to Grenoble.
(Please note dirty rag and replaced broken spoke from my cleaning and fixing activities)

and everything was going perfectly to plan for the first 11kms, at which point a group of road cyclists passed me and I decided to speed up and follow them.

One kilometre later I had my first puncture of the trip.

Damn, damn, damn.

Off go all the panniers, out comes the tube, search for puncture, can't find it, check tyre, replace tube, put all panniers back on ...and off we go again.

Ten kilometres later I got my second puncture for the trip.

Triple damn and then some.

Still, at least this time I managed to find the culprit ...

A nasty metal spike.

Fortunately this time, after a tube repair, I made it back to Grenoble with no more problems, and it was every bit the easy ride I'd hoped for taking under three hours even with the two repairs which probably cost me 45 minutes or so.

And that was it, to again use the words of Forrest Gump,

"I'm pretty tired ... I think I'll go home now.".

Friday, 27 September 2013

Alp D'Huez

I spent last night tossing and turning in my tent trying to remember how this ever seemed like a good idea.

I mean I know it seemed like a brilliant idea back in Tasmania when I thought I'd just tootle around the alps for a few weeks, build up some fitness, then I'd go ride up Alp D'Huez.

Yea, that seemed like a really cool idea from the other side of the world.

But in the last week, as I've got closer and closer to this famous climb, the idea has seemed less and less brilliant.

With just twelve hours to go it has seemed idiotic, if not impossible.

Confessedly my doubts reached a crescendo when I arrived at Bourg l'Oisans to find myself surrounded by riders all wearing team colours and all riding the latest and greatest road bikes with their support vehicles in tow, whilst I dragged my battered bike out from underneath the public bus and squeaked my way down the road looking for a campground, with my gears randomly jumping up and down whenever they felt like it.

But, despite all the doubts, I was here, it was only 14kms, and I figured that even if it took all day, I could at least make the effort to ride up there.

So just after 9am this morning, having had a small tub of yoghurt and half a mouthful of orange and banana juice for breakfast (a mistake purchase that was awful), I turned my wheels towards the start of the climb and set off.

Now I had set myself three progressively harder targets during the night.

The first was to get to the top, the second was to get to the top without stopping, and the third was to get to the top without stopping and without using my granny gear.

That third goal lasted all of about three minutes. This was a steep climb.

At about the same time that I changed into granny gear, in fact I think it was as I was looking down at my drive chain thinking "No, there must be more gears than this, there must." I got overtaken for the first time ...

I will confess that the thought of slinking back to my tent site did occur at this juncture, but then I also saw the first corner coming up and I could picture in my mind the many times I'd seen it on TV and I have to admit, I got a little bit excited about being here.

And no I didn't stop and take any of these photos, so I still had a chance at target two.

By bend two or three, I was starting to suspect that I wasn't just in a steep part of the climb, but that in fact the whole climb was going to be this steep, but on the flipside, my legs and lungs had warmed up and I was starting to feel good.

In true John fashion I had however gone from wondering if I'd make it to the finish line, to trying to decide on my victory salute as I crossed the finish line ...

As I was pondering my possible salutes my Garmin GPS beeped indicating that I'd clicked off another kilometre, so I glanced down ...

I had done 2 kilometres..

With 12 kilometres still to go, even I knew that I was getting a bit ahead of myself, so just tuned back into the here and now setting my sights on the next corner.

Now in some ways it's a nice climb in that at any one time you can only see so far ahead, and therefore someone like me can constantly ignore all evidence to the contrary and delude themselves that maybe the top is just around the next corner, or over that next rise.

For instance, about 3 or 4kms into the climb, I came around a corner and saw this wonderful set of switchbacks heading up the mountain and I thoroughly convinced myself that when I watched the riders going up here on the tour, that the finish line was just there at the top ... I was almost there!

I was of course widely wrong, but it did give me hope.

Well over an hour into the ride at this point, and having already pulled out the first of my secret weapons ... A chupa chup, I came around the final switchback on the second set only to find a small church (probably for people like me who gave up and died at this point) and there aways away in the distance still I could finally see the Alp D'Huez village.

It still seemed an awful long way away.

So I carried on climbing.

At about 8kms I started to be convinced that I would make this ride without stopping ... just so long as nothing went wrong.

I then started obsessing about getting a flat tyre or my gears jumping forcing me to stop.

At about kilometre 9, just as I was calming down again and enjoying the ride I heard what sounded like the unmistakable twang of a breaking spoke.

I couldn't believe it.

I kept pedalling but looked furiously down at my front and back wheels trying to see or hear a moving spoke ... But I couldn't see anything and both wheels looked to be true. Trying to imagine myself lighter, I continued upwards and a few minutes later convinced myself that what I had heard was just one of my many gear jumps and my over active mind.

I really wanted this ride to be continuous at this point.

Finally I passed through the lower village and based on the switchback count which was down to four (the switchbacks are numbered from 21 to 1 in reverse order so you know how close you are to the village) I could look up and see how far I had to go.

At the second last switchback, there was a guy taking photos, and after taking a half dozen photos of me, he still had time to put his card in my rear pocket and give me a push.

Which was kind of embarrassing.

Around about this point as well I encountered an unexpected problem ... I started coming to junctions and not knowing which way to go.

I can tell you I was very keen not to ride up any unnecessary detours, but fortunately most junctions either had a "itineraire de tour de france" sign on them, or failing that I just followed the road which had the writing plastered all over it.

Finally I rounded switchback one and set off up the final haul to the finish line ...

It was a long haul this one, but then I came into the buildings, the road started to flatten out, I started to see flags ahead, then a Trek sign, the cafes ... God darn it, I saw everything except something that looked like a finish line.

Which left me in a quandary ... Had I finished or hadn't I?

Dare I put my foot on the ground?

I decided that it was too much of a risk, and without any better options ... I just kept on riding up the hill.

The road headed around another switchback, then under an underpass thing (that seemed to ring a bell) and then continued onwards through what now seemed to be some obscure little backroad. But there was a bit of graffiti on the road still and I couldn't risk stopping early so I went around yet another switchback and finally saw a sign ahead of me announcing that I was still on the Tour de France course.


... and that there was 1km to go.


300 metres up the road though, I hit a roundabout, and the route markings seemed to indicate I go straight through it into a car park ... This didn't seem right, but I decided to try it (heavily swayed by the fact that the car park was flat and the other options were to either head straight uphill or straight downhill) and sure enough at the other end there was another sign indicating just 300 metres to the finish line.

I have to confess, I did change up a gear and make one last effort to the line, so that the crowds could appreciate my efforts ...

... Except there were no crowds.

In fact there were only two mountain bikers going past, one of whom had the decency to say "Bravo" as he went past me down the hill.

And so not knowing what to do, I just kept on cycling up the hill.

I mean was it OK to stop now? Surely there had to be more to this moment than a small sign next to a bin and an empty car park?

But there wasn't.

I continued up the hill and out the top of the resort with the only people nearby being renovators working on lodges.

For six weeks I'd worked towards this moment ... and this was feeling like a bit of a let down.

I finally stopped and took a photo, then rode back down to the finish and took a few more there, and again I just sort of stood there wondering what I should do next.

It had taken me two hours to do the ride (they do it in about 40 minutes in the tour) and I'd only seen four other riders ... two who had overtaken me, and two who had constantly stayed about 500 metres in front of me.

Not really having any reason to stay there, I left and started riding back down the hill.

Like on the way up, I didn't really see anyone until I passed through the village and then as I was heading towards the first bend I saw a couple of cyclists heading towards me so, excited, I stopped and took another photo.

I continued down towards bend two and saw some more cyclists, and then when I stopped and looked down at the bends below me, I suddenly saw this near constant stream of cyclists wending their way towards me.

I was not alone ... I was just early!

I also wasn't going to ride back up to the top again to be part of the masses.

Instead, I slowly continued my way back down the mountain, stopping and taking photos and enjoying watching all those other riders fight, battle or cruise their way towards the top.

I also noticed that they were riding everything from mountain bikes to touring bikes.

Somewhere on the way down, the thought finally came to me that I'd done it.

I know that riding to the top of the Alp D'Huez in just under two hours is slow, but six weeks ago when I'd left Australia I couldn't walk up a flight of stairs without breaking out in a sweat and having to take a break.

Now I'd just ridden up Alp D'Huez without stopping. Not once.

And I still felt really good.

Now, that's something to celebrate.

The fact that when I got back down I found that I had indeed broken another spoke, well that was just a bonus.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

How to get a bicycle from Grenoble to Bourge l'Oisans (Alp D'Huez)

It's about 50km from the Grenoble Train station to the base if Alp D'Huez, and it's mostly uphill, so if you just want to get there without riding up (which by the way many do), you can jump on the Transisère bus 3000 or 3020 which runs to either Bourge l'Oisans or Alp D'Huez and they were quite happy for me to just throw my bike and gear under the bus.

A one way ticket cost me €6.60 (September 2013) and the trip up took just under two hours.

I rode back down to Grenoble, and would recommend this option (despite getting two punctures myself). It's a fast, easy ride on either flat or descending roads and there's lots of cyclists who ride the route.

It took me about two and a half hours to get back to the train station, but that was at a very cruised pace.  There aren't many places you can go wrong (especially if you note the route out on the bus).

Aosta Valley Detour

Following the death of my kindle, the loss of the cleat off my right shoe (since repaired with a spare bolt I found which is slightly too long and sticks into my foot) and the ripping of my T shirt, some people in my situation might think these are ominous signs.

But I was in a happy place, so just surfed right through these little setbacks.

I didn't even really shed much of a tear the next morning when my netbook also decided to die a partial death (the escape, backspace and shift keys stopped working).

Bye, bye my old friend.

However, when I also realised that my legs weren't working and that I felt like I had just run a marathon (which I'm putting down to sympathy pains from Kim's great run in the Sydney Marathon on Sunday not my own four hours of pounding down a steep, rocky hillside after having done no walking for months) well then I became a little bit unhappy because this threw a bit of a spanner in my plans for my last week over here.

You see, after reading a brilliant blog post from Jill Homer about the Aosta Valley on Monday, I looked up from my (still working) iPad at Mont Blanc and thought to myself ... That valley is just over the other side of that little mountain ... hmmmm.

A few hours later I found a bus service that would take me and my bike through the Mont Blanc tunnel for €21 and drop me at Cormayeur where I planned to spend the day hiking (and trying the pizza) before heading further down the valley the next day.

But, of course, with my legs barely able to get me up and down steps, never mind mountains, I just had to spend the day doing some easy rides, reading and lazing around enjoying the magnificent scenery around me.

Isn't it terrible when things go wrong.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Mont Blanc

I was excited even before I got to Geneva about Mont Blanc.

I saw it from the train as we were heading along the lake and I was just mesmerised.

Albeit that I'm now thinking that I should of probably come here straight from Salzburg.

Actually that's not true, the weather forecast all around the Alps was pretty grim last week (and annoyingly is again from Thursday onwards) so maybe if I were in Bavaria now I'd be waxing lyrical about those Alps.

Ah, the delicious taste of uncertainty.

So I got to Chamonix a few days ago and I just liked the place and so have felt no great reason to move on, heck why would I when this is the view from the table where I'm sitting typing this blog ... Excuse me why I take a photo ...

I caught the cable car up to the top of the Aiguille de midi yesterday and spent about five hours just wandering around the lookouts, watching climbers, hikers and paragliders (one of whom almost got swept off the top) doing their thing and just absorbing what we as humans can do when we are at our finest.

It made for a wonderful day ...

I finally headed down to the mid way point about 4pm, and from there planned to follow a walk suggested to me by Andrew Blakesley who was here last year.

Now I had emailed Andrew about this a week or so ago, and he sent me some very useful directions which I recalled as "it's about an hours walk to a restaurant then you just take the cable car and train back down to town from there".

Now in Andrew's defence here is the actual full text of the email which he had sent me....

I include this email because when I got back to the mid station, I stopped and had a look at the map which assured me it wasn't an hours walk, as I recalled from Andrews email (I had no ability to check it up there) but a two hour and fifteen minute walk to the glacé de mer, and my quick maths meant that that would mean I wouldn't get there until after 6pm.

I had to sit and think on that for a moment.

Had Andrew just forgotten how long it took? Had I misread his advice (highly likely), or was it really a much shorter walk than advertised?

In the end I figured there was only one way to find out ... so off I went.

... and I'll give Andrew a 6/10 for his memory.

Walking at a pretty decent pace (he says ignoring the fact that he managed to take nearly 50 photos along the way) I got to the 'end' of the walk in about an hour and forty five minutes.

Except it wasn't the end, because despite all the signs along the way saying that the cafe was open, it was well and truly closed by the time I got there, and there was no tram in sight.

I shall gloss over my own responsibility in getting there at 5.45pm on a Sunday.

So this meant I had to walk back to Chamonix, which was a signed 2 hour walk.

Oh yay.

I finally stumbled back into the cable car centre some time after 7pm to (thankfully) find my bike still leaning up against the wall where I had left it some nine hours earlier.

I then had my final quandary for the day ... I was starving after my little walk and wanted dinner, but I was also pretty grubby and smelly having walked the whole way in cycling shoes (including losing one of my cleats along the way) and I had also managed to rip my T shirt on a fence while taking one of the photos above.

I therefore hang my head in shame and say that I compromised and went to McDonald's.

Still, what a day. What a perfect day.