Monday, 18 August 2014

First Day in the Mountains,

Our campground at Bendorf was at the top of a hill, so we started the day with a long descent that we had climbed in the dark the night before.  The village was very pretty (but no boulangerie!), and the road out of town was quite flat.  We quickly came to our first serious uphill, though - marked by three chevrons on the map!  There aren't too many of those.  Mercifully, however, it was short, and we stopped for a break at the top, before descending into the next valley, where it was raining. We stayed for maybe half an hour under a tree and ate cookies and milk until it had mostly stopped.  From there, we had just a few kilometers before we crossed the Swiss border in Lucelle, and met our first Swiss cows, with Alpen bells around their necks.  Partway through the afternoon, we stopped at a small chapel, halfway up the hillside, and had lunch  on its front step, while it rained again.  We had a small prayer, and then left in a light drizzle which soon stopped.

 In the next village just past the chapel, we came to the beginning of our first "col" or mountain pass.  It was steep!  And musical - the tinkling of the cows' bells could be heard nearly constantly, from the different pastures on all sides of the narrow valley.   Along the way, we met Rodrigue, from Strasbourg.  He was on his first ever bike trip, and had left that morning from Basel, with a bike he'd bought at a flea market, vintage-styled leather panniers, a Quechua tent, no map, and nothing but raw fruits and vegetables to keep him going!  He had a lot of questions!  But mostly he wanted to know if he could make it to Geneva in two days (we were making nearly the same trip and had budgeted seven).  We showed him our map, and talked about the route, and then decided to go together aways.  We reached the top - 700-and-something metres, and then joyfully (yes, joyfully!) headed down the other side into the village of St. Ursanne. 

Very pretty little town, little shops and galleries, and terrasses.  I wish I could say we stopped there for the night.  Instead, we were feeling inspired, and so even though it was 18h, we got Swiss francs, and groceries, and headed up the other side of the valley, to the next campground, 14km away.  Apparently, at the bottom of the hill, there was a sign that said rise of elevation 590m over 9km - more than double the col which we had just done.  I didn't see it, I think if I had, we would have turned back.  

It was a long climb!  Every time we thought we were at the top, it kept going.  And we started to hear thunder, even though our valley was clear, you could see the storm in the next valley over, hemmed in by the mountains.  Finally, we saw a radio tower (they always put them on the highest point), and we went a little bit down into the village of St. Brais.  We biked to center of the village (just follow the steeple) and looked for the sign to the camping.  No sign.  Hmm... the town was very quiet.  We stopped across from the church and wondered if we should knock on someone's door to ask.  

Right at that moment, I noticed a man looking through his window at us.  Then, he came to the door, and down his front steps, and asked us if we needed help.  He told us there was no campground in town, the closest one was maybe 11km away, and you needed to climb a few more times to get there.  It was, at this point, past 20h, and the sky was looking rather threatening.  We really couldn't go any further.  So we asked if there was any flat place in town where we could put our tent.  He suggested maybe in the parking behind his house - his lawn in the back was very definitely sloped.  We thanked him, and he said he had just come back from three weeks of hiking and many people had helped him, so he knew what it was like to be in need, he just had to go ask his mother if it was ok with her if we stayed, since it was actually her house, and he lived a few villages away.  And that is how we ended up sleeping in the garage of a 94 year old woman, who offered us wool blankets and invited us up for cookies and coffee. 

After such a welcome, I was very distressed to find myself feeling suddenly very unwell.  Aimdst offers of homemade herbal tea and a cloth with water and vinegar, I went back to the tent to lie down, and later, when Michael and Rodrigue were making dinner, I threw up into a grocery bag.  Too many mountains!  

The next morning, our host visited the boulangerie as soon as it opened to buy us buns and bread for breakfast.  I was feeling a bit better, and I did have some of her tea, which she had made herself from five different plants that she had picked in the region.  It was delicious, and she gave us some to take along, and tried to give us a tea bong, or a least a small strainer so we could make it properly.  

Despite such a postive start, I was still feeling unequal to double chevron hill climbs, and so I took the very nice but very expensive Swiss public transportation through the tunnels and down to Neuchatel, and Michael took the bike up over the mountains and down to Neuchatel, a trip of about 85km.  We met at the billeterie at the train station at 18h30, and then headed to a campground a few kilometres down the lake.  

Michael was the most tired I've seen him yet on this trip.  But that night, he opened his glasses case to take out his contacts, and discovered that his eyewear was missing, so he set his alarm and made plans to return the next morning to St. Brais, by bicycle, 140km roundtrip.     

Over hill, over dale, over mountain top, through wind, through rain, Michael retraced his path back UP UP to le toit d'Europe to rescue his spectacles.  He arrived at the house, rang the bell, the Madame came to the window and said, "Oh good!  You've come back to give me the key!"  

"Uh, no.  I forgot my glasses."  

"What?  Wait, I'll come down."

It seems that the Madame had, after we left, tried the back door key that I had given her, and been unable open the door.  She was convinced we had given her the wrong key, and we had her key somewhere in our bags.  But this was really not possible, since I had locked the door with that key and then directly handed it to the Madame.  Nevertheless, Michael stayed with her more than two hours, eating cake and drinking coffee, and trying to get me on the phone so I could give my testimony regarding the key.  This involved calling the campground where we had agreed to meet that night and trying to leave a message.  This, however, was unsuccessful, as the woman running the campground was in the hair salon, and was less than cooperative.  Finally, around 4pm, Michael said he had to go, if he wanted to get back to Neuchatel in the light.  

Meanwhile, in the campground, I had met a very nice family of Swiss-Germans, who had lived for a few years in Kitchener, Ontario - the town where I was born - and the mom and dad had crossed Canada by bike before they had children.  The father was even wearing a ball cap that said Canada.  I told them where Micheal had gone, and they were very impressed.  It seems they told everyone - in any case, when Michael arrived in the campground just after 9pm, he was famous.  "Oh, you're the one from Kitchener! You're looking for the English girl, and you've got your glasses!" 

The next morning, we asked the nice Swiss-German family to use their phone to call the Madame to say we definitely did not have her key.  Heursement, tout va bien!  François, the son of Madame, had come by and tried the key, and it worked!   C'était la bonne!  All's well that ends well, I suppose

1 comment:

  1. Impressed he went back for his glasses! probably could have gotten new ones easily enough, for a price. What perseverance!