Day 8 – 62km from Gwatt via Geneva to Seyssel (F): Vive la France! Hooray, we are in France and the sun is shining. But first things first. As the weather forecast was poor we decided to take the train to Geneva to avoid the worst in hope for sunshine further south. And we were lucky. After an about 2-hour train ride we arrived at Geneva and it was bloody hot. We loved it of course and after another expensive lunch (20EUR for a small tuna sandwich, two empanadas and two yoghurt) we continued for a while along the river Rhone. In the early afternoon we passed the border to France while cycling on a quiet road through a natural reserve. In the first village we raided a bakery, had delicious 1-EUR-coffee and continued through picturesque landscapes with stunning views of the Mont Blanc (partly covered in clouds of course) and the Rhone valley. I got angry when Johan – as usual 50-100 meters ahead of me – passed the village where a campsite was indicated on the map. I managed to catch up with him after about 1km and we both returned. Unfortunately our map’s campsite didn’t exist and people advised to continue another 20km to the next village. As it was getting late already I wasn’t in the mood at all, especially as we didn’t know if we would have to pedal uphill or could roll downhill. But this time the cycle god was helping us and let us roll down for most of the 20km through even more beautiful landscapes while the sun was slowly setting. We arrived happy again at a tiny and cheap campsite with filthy facilities but nice surroundings, cooked and enjoyed a glass of wine.
Day 9 – 67km to Les Marches: Rain in the morning until after 10am. By the time we left the sun was shining again and we cycled on small roads along the lake to Aix-les Bains where we had lunch. The afternoon continued easy and after Chambery we had to turn left in the direction of the mountains. Over the last few days I had developed a cough which got worse day by day. This added to saddle sores made cycling a little more challenging that it should have been as we still only looked at mountains. Days ago Johan mentioned we could also take the train to the South of France and continue cycling from there. But I desperately wanted to go for a challenge and cycle the French Alps and some of the famous Tour de France passes. So we continued in the direction of the mountains, stopped at the first campsite and ended the day with a delicious pizza and a bottle of wine.
Day 10 – 74km to St. Jean de Maurienne: Storm at night, rain in the morning. We waited for the worst to be over and left late again. My coughing got worse over night and a headache added to my misery. I still enjoyed that day’s cycling as we mostly rode on fantastic small roads through a quiet valley, along a torrential river, through small villages and passing a lot of old farmhouses and mansions. The wind in the back eased the constant uphill, but with my cold I still arrived shattered. We booked ourselves into a small hotel hoping for my speedy recovery.
Day 12 – St. Jean de Maurienne: Less coughing, but I still felt miserable and not able to climb 2,500m+ passes for days. So we thought we could take a train to Torino in Italy instead. Failed! The only train passing St. Jean de Maurienne was the TGV which doesn’t take bicycles. The only way to get out of the mountains was to return to Chambery or to climb Mont Cenis to Italy. As going back wasn’t an alternative for us we decided for the climb. RAIN ALL DAY!
Day 13 – 97km to Susa (I): What a fantastic ride! I felt slightly better and able to climb and we left at 8am to tackle the 66km uphill ride. Thankfully there weren’t really steep climbs, maximum gradients of 9% were doable. Fast E-bikers passed us packed in all their clothes (the way we cycle downhill) without greetings, I guess they felt too embarrassed; fast lightweight cyclists passed with encouraging words and we continued at slow-motion, but happy. Shortly after we had passed the top at 2,100m we were rewarded by the best views of this trip. We actually thought we had fallen through a hole and had just turned up in New Zealand again. Very unreal, very mystic and very beautiful. A few more ups along the lake and then we flew down, down, down and into Susa, where we ate and slept for little money at a beautiful former monastery built sometime in the 15th century. The lady running the place only talked Italian to us. As we asked her if she could speak English, she said NO, why should she speak English, this is Italy! Hilarious! We had a delicious dinner in the monastery with yummy homemade pasta!
Day 14 – 37km to Avigliana: I hate Italian breakfast, completely forgot about that. All we got were two mini-slices of Zwieback (in Germany we only eat this when we are sick), a plastic croissant each, and a piece of dry cake each. First thing we did after our departure was going to a café to have some more breakfast, this time yummy croissants with nice fillings. We enjoyed sitting in the sun on a typical Italian square with strolling and espresso-drinking Italians. With the mountain still in our legs we cycled to the next lake, pitched our tent early and rested for the rest of the day.
Day 15 – 88km to Santa Maria: We left at beautiful weather to cycle zigzags to Torino as we wanted to avoid busy roads. We mostly failed but still arrived unharmed. It took ages to cycle into town, Torino felt really huge. We bought Italian maps for the rest of our trip, had a nice lunch and continued cycling east along the river Po. Often we could avoid heavy traffic, but sometimes we had to move to the busy road as there were only sand or no paths along the river. We were now cycling in a non-touristic area and it became clear we would have to stealth camp as there weren’t campsites nor hotels. We didn’t really mind, cooked dinner at a square in a little town and continued cycling to find a good camp spot next to the river. But we were suddenly in the rice fields. Again we thought we got secretly transferred to Vietnam without us noticing. That also meant that there wasn’t a single grassy spot where we could pitch our tent. So we continued cycling and cycling until the sun had almost set and we had found a piece of about 1m high grass, next to the river, away from civilization. The mosquitos ate us alive, and we were thankful for our wet wipes to get rid of the worst dirt. Still sticky we were back in our sleeping bags just when night fell.