Helen Findlay

My adventures in Middle Europe and The Colonies. This blog contains my own views and opinions and does not represent those of my employers, or any other organisation with which I am involved. Remember, just because it isn't Singletrackworld, doesn't mean it isn't shite !

Saturday, August 27, 2005

L'Alpe D'Huez and Le Grand Guide Chaud

In July, the local cycling club in Bourg D'Oisans held a TT up D'Huez. About 30 entries, but this night the record was broken. Some French dude called Patrice Somethingfrenchthatsoundslikeagirlsname got to the top in just over 43 minutes. In the same race a french lassie did it in just over an hour, to finish in the top 10. Chapeau !!

I was riding my full suspension mountain bike, with quite aggressively knobblie tires. And I'm a girl. Was quite pleased to manage it 1n 1.29. It has become a bit of a Tourist Attraction. On a slightly cloudy tuesday morning in late August I must have passed about 50 folk, and about the same passed me. I always felt a bit mean passing french blokes on fancy road bikes on my FS VTT, so tried to say "courage" in the most non-patronising manner I could. Good for them, because trust me it wasn't easy. Every corner is numbered, starting at 21 at the bottom, and bizarrely it gets flatter towards the top, so you can start speeding up a bit for your sprint for the line.

The VTT was a most excellent choice of vehicle, at the top of the climb was a huge sign detailing all the offroad paths back down again. Choice !!

Found the most awesome of path I have ever ridden in my life. It was narrow, had a 500 metre (I think, was trying not to look) drop over some of he corners and was very tight and turny, as well as being narrow, rocky and quite steep in places. And rooty in others. Superb !! There were a few road sections, and it took me an hour to get back down to the valley. Arms and hands sore from constantly working the bike.

At the top of the hill I passed some English DH'ers all padded up. Heard them saying something about French lassies being well hard, no body armour etc. I have decided that my approach to body armour is to rely on some limited skill and some unlimited common sense instead. And anyway, on this path body armour wouldn't have saved you, although a parachute might have helped !!

Then found a nice gentle old railway line path back to the Van. Best 4 hours cycling in a long time, and quite close to L'Etape 2004 for best day in a bike ever. Have discovered a useful function on maps called "the key". There is a bit at the side that tells you what all the different lines and pictures mean. Very handy. Will use that.

Yesterday I decided to treat myself to a days guided ride around the Port Des Soleils vtt trail, using all the ski lifts for the climbs. Turned up in the morning to meet all the French guys, Michel, Jean-Charles and Davide who were coming along, and of course the Guide, Thierry. I am sorry to say this, as obviously I generally disapprove of this kind of thing, but he was HOT. In a tall, tanned and handsome kind of way. Was a bit baldy and had a silly little French beardy thing going on, but that just took him away from being ridiculously perfect. He kind of knew it though. Gratuitously took off his shirt during our lunch break, and it wasn't even that sunny. Just some kind of Public Service to women I guess. Made the day more entertaining.

Was a good fun day out, Thierry quickly sussed I knew what I was doing and sent me down increasingly more technical trails, first. Wahhoooo !!! Lots of fun, although lots of waiting about. 9 hours out there, and 4.30 hours on my computer to cover 65 k. A lot of that was the lifts I guess. French chivalry seemed to dictate that I wasn't allowed to go on a chairlift alone, so I never got to see if I could gob on any cows, a bit of a disappointment. But I got to try out my French a bit.

One more week to go in Morzine. Am hoping to go and visit my friend Britta in Bonn in Germany next weekend, just waiting on her email. Have known Britta since we were 16 and used to cheat in French class (OK Britta could speak French and I used to cheat), looking forward to seeing her, haven't caught up for a year or so.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Il pleut et il pleut et il pleut et il pleut...

Pg 980 of the Rough Guide to France states that; 'one place you're unlikely to be cycling to is the ski resort of Alpe D'Huez'. OK, so it doesn't have Don't Panic written on the front in big friendly letters, but it is usually more reliable than that !

But I'm starting in the middle. (one of the many benefits of a classical education) Spent most of last week exporing the trails and road climbs around Morzine. Not easy if you stubbornly refuse to use the chairlifts. Bit of an Epic ride on friday, decided I liked the look of a walking path to get to the top of a col that would take me over to Swiss airspace and some lovely descents. As I was climbing up, remarked to myself that it would make a great descent, and I must try it from the other side sometime. I am not sure where I lost the path, although it was horribly clear over a beer later on. Ended up 4 hrs in, carrying my bike to the top of a mountain, hoping to see a massive carpark and telesiege on the other side. Nope, 200 metre drop. Bollocks.

Nae food left, cloud closing in and pretty knackered after 1200 metres of climbing, so set off back down the path, terrifying a few french walkers. Oops. Will not be defeated, Sir Ed Hilary and all that, so will tackle it from the Swiss side sometime. Will remember and take Tensing to carry my bike, mind.

Started raining somewhat on saturday, no worries, I needed the rest, got lots of shopping and chores done, finished The Algebraist by Iain Banks. Rained again on sunday, so did some desultory climbing intervals and back to my tent. Bored now. Contemplating a home made tattoo. Feel like I'm in an 80's Aussie Soap 'Rack off, or I'll dob you in to The Freak' Desparate enough to start reading the book Kieren leant me 'Sea Harrier Over The Falklands - Commander Sharkey Tells It Like It Really Was For Our Lads'.

Monday morning and it's raining even harder and my tent has really startet to let the water in. Hurriedly throw all the stuff I care about in the Van and head down to a hotel in Bourg D'oisans, the plan tro wait out the weather and get my kiwi arse up some famous Tour climbs. Realise after an hours driving that I don't care very much about my road shoes, they are still in the tent. Looking at the map though, this might not be such a bad thing, to go up D'Huez, Galibier and Telegraphe in a circuit will involve some offroad action, and the VTT is much less scary on the descents, and has lower gears. (but we all know how unreliable French maps are...)

Nice meal in the hotel last night, Magret de Canard, and the waitress spoke English and felt sorry for me on my own so invited me for coffee ! Nice day today so about to head up the hills...

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Leith Hill, Mrs Kieren, Swiss Dance Parties and France

Right - have found an English keyboard - will make more sense now.

Have been in Morzine a few days now, have settled into my campsite. I was a day late, but the charming Monsieur Maxim saved me a lovely spot, right on the edge of the terrace, with a great view out over the mountains. Haven't really communicated with my neighbours yet, but they have a wee white dog that appears to be called "w**ker" which makes me smile when I wake up each morning and hear them calling on it.

Had a days mountain biking in Surrey before I left, and I have to say I was somewhat underwhelmed by Leith Hill. The map I had wasn't brilliant, so I headed for what the Bike Shop Guy described as the "best trail in Surrey". Mucho disappointment. Flowed nicely but lacked any kind of technical challenge. No wonder they all flood up to Glentress.

Went to visit Kieren's mum Christine in Dorking for a cup of tea on my way back. A lovely woman, didn't look nearly old enough to be Kieren's mum. She worried me a bit, was concerned about me camping on my own, but I am too knackered from either driving or riding all day so far to feel nervous, and the campsite is totally full.

The most bizarre experience so far of my holiday has been the Street Dance Party in Zurich. The main street of Zurich runs along the river Lim, and was packed with I swear close to a million German speaking teenagers in the most terrible fashions I have ever seen ! It seems the 80's are back with a vengeance in the German speaking world - or more likely - they never went away. Bright colors as far as you could see, tragic tragic bogan mullet haircuts, on the women to. The big fashion (for boys AND girls) is to wear a short kilt style skirt, then some trousers that start at the knee and flare out over your shoes, leaving the knee to thigh area bare. I am hoping and praying that this is just some fringe Swiss teenager fad, and not something that will eventually catch on and we will all be wearing it. (the horror)

Anyways, lots of loud music, lots of drugs, lots of people snogging, usual street party form. Wandered about a bit with Liz and Kaium, then went for a drink in Spanish bar with some friends of theirs Blos(American) and Magdalena (Polish). Finished up at B & M's flat drinking some vodka that tasted like grass. They didn't seem to be offended that I wasn't drinking it. Staggered back to L & K's flat at about 3-4ish, so bit of a slow start the next day.

Sunday morning went for a wander around Zurich (s0me of the party-goers were still at it) through "Needle Park" then took a boat trip around Lake Zurich. Train back to Basle.

Just a few thoughts about France:
1. Who exactly is meant to "Cedez Le Passage" ? It appears only to apply to foreigners and people on bikes.
2. What is the word for: A big coffee, with some milk on the side.
3. France is very like Switzerland, but less cheesy.

And no doubt a few more but running out of time now...

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

You Are't in Guatemala Any More, Dr Ropata....

And thats for sure. Apologies if the typing in this blog gets q bit rqndom, I qm using q french keyboqrd, qnd rqlly cqn't be qrsed trying to do ,uch more thqn touch typing.

Anyways, London was cool, wqs greqt to cqtch up zith Jqnine qnd Jeremy qnd Pete. Stqyed in Epsom for q fez dqys, zith q x couple of trips into London. I feel q few words should be sqid qbout the nez qnd horrible form of rqndom violence being perpretqted in thqt city qt the moment. I too was q victim in q smqll way. Yes thqt's right, I visited q Gqstro Pub. Now, I know people qre used to pretty much being mugged by wqiters in London, but this was extreme. 30 quid eqch for essentiqlly peqsqnt food, served to us qs if we were peqsqnts. Of course, it was a brilliqnt evening qnd Chris McM wqs the chqrming qnd witty compqnion he qlways is, but I did limp out of the plqce.

Wednesdqy qnd I mqde it to the ferry qt Dover no probs. The crossing wqs good qnf wqs in Frqnce by 0100. Pulled into q services qnd slept in the bqck of the vqn for the night, which wqs surprisingly comfortqble. I love Frqnce !!!!

For some strqng reqson they seemed to b qble to understqnd my French. Perhqps living in Scotlqnd hqs fuinqlly led me to develop some more vowel sounds, extrq to the two qllotted to kiwis qt birth.

Qrrived in Bqsle to visit Chris D qkq Cqnnondqle Chris. Wqs pretty lost co,ing into the city, so decided to hqve q beer. Remembered something qbout outrqgeously low drink driving limits in Europe, so took drqnk hqlf of it, qnd took the glqs bqck in. Found q huge detqiled city mqp on the wall. Further eveidence thqt everything IS better qfter you hqve q beer. Found Chris' flqt no worries. Went out for mqny mqny beers on the first night, then spent the dqy wandering qbout the city in the sun. Thqt night went for q couple of hours roqd ride zith the Cqnnondqle guys, was good fun pinging bqck qnd forzqrds into Frqnce qnd bqck qgqin into Switzerlqnd. Qlso got q shot qt the huge pile of sqmple Cqnnondqle kit thqt lies qbout the bqck of the office - score !!

Switzerlqnd is qn qlmost psychoticqlly orgqnised plqce, for exqmple in Chris' building to do his lqundry, he hqs to put his nqm down on q rotq qt the stqrt of the month for his 3 hour window to use the mqchins in the bqsement. Qnd if you use the wrong type of string to tie up your recycled newspqper bundle they won't tqke it. I decided to lqunch my own form of rebellion qnd not pqy the 60 swiss frqncs they wqnt off you for roqd tqx. I figured pleqding ignorqnce of Swiss Germqn would be fqirly convincing.

Spent sqturdqy night through in Zurich visiting with Liz Gornqll (now Guerrero) qnd wqtching the mqssive street pqrty. But more on thqt lqter qs I qm running out of time.

Qrrived in Morzine lqst night qnd set up cqmp. Hqve picked up some mqps qnd will hit the trqils this avo..... yippee !!!!

Monday, August 08, 2005

Edinburgh - London safely negotiated

Finally away on my trip, after feeling like I have been hanging about Edinburgh for weeks.

Has been an eventful couple of weeks. Boring part was packing up everything I own to leave my flat tidy for my American tenant who arrived last friday. Fun part was that I got a couple of days work mountain bike guiding.

My two clients were called Scott and Chett, a couple of American guys. They were good cyclists, and really funny, interesting to talk to. They came from Florida and are more used to flat boggy riding, so took a while to get used to the hills. Although apparentely having to bunny-hop over an alligator wouldn't have phased them !! They wanted to see about Glentress and Innerleithen, as they had read about the Seven Staines. Was the best two days work I have ever had, well paid, fun, and they even gave me a tip at the end. The highlight for them was definitely the Spooky Woods section at GT, they had never seen a "beam" in their lives (now I know how a kiwi accent sounds to Americans - "choice bikes, bro") but by the end of the second day were launching off the exit of the berms and getting noticeable air on the jumps. I decided to finish with a highlight and took them down the Caddon Bank descent at Inners. They couldn't believe we do that in the dark in winter... I wish every day at work could be like that !!

Eventually left on thursday to drive to Sherwood Forest. Figured as I was in the area I might as well do the NPS XC race. Had a few trips up to the hospital in Edinburgh, in fact that was my last stop before hitting the road. Nothing serious, just took a chunk out of my ankle with the chain ring on my road bike t'other week, and it was festering. After threatening a while it isn't infected and the nurse (aside from telling me not to wash for a few days, will be disobeying that one) told me to stop worrying about it and enjoy my holiday. Just a bit paranoid about getting an infection and ruining my holiday I guess.

Anyways, back to Sherwood Forest. Less said about that the better, here is an excerpt from a ranty email to a friend of mine that kind of sums it up:

"Was cruising along in third yesterday, could see girl in second, warmed up and feeling strong. 3rd lap was trying to put some space between me and the south african lassie in fourth. In the Zone roadie time trial style, then realised I couldn't see anybody in front of me, or behind me, and there weren't any tire marks on the track, and the fireroad didn't look at all familiar. BUGGER.

Turned around and went back to the marshall, who said he tried to yell at me, and that "3 or 4" girls had come past since I took the wrong track. In my race thats half the godamn field. I am ashamed to admit that the whole tough wee kiwi act deserted me at that point and I burst into tears, was crying too much to even attempt to chase the race down.

I'm such a twat. Keep telling myself that it's not the Olympics, nobody actually died or anything, but it was important to me. Am gutted, feeling really fit at the moment, and in the last three races have either crashed, drowned in mud, or took the wrong path (I can't believe I did that what a egg). My friends in Epsom have been pouring wine down me which is helping a little.
Perhaps in a few days I will see the funny side. Everytime I leave the room somebody yells out directions. Very f**ing funny..."

So anyway that was that really. Gritted my teeth all the way down the M1, in fact found myself in a line of traffic nudging 100mph at one point, Go The Van !! Am in Epsom for a few days before I catch the Ferry to Calais on wednesday night. Chilling out, went for a cruise on some trails with Jeremy yesterday while poor Janine was ill in bed. Ended up spending 45 mins cycling and 90 mins in the pub - superb ! Had a BBQ last night, will head off on the road bike for a few hours this avo. Meeting Chris McMillan tonight at Waterloo station. Hopefully head over to Leith Hill for some offroad action tomorrow, then drinks tuesday night with J9 and Di.

A Bientot.