My husband and I enjoy spending our vacations traveling to mountain or road bike destinations. In 2013 we decided to give mountain biking in Europe a try. We signed up for a mountain bike trip known as the Tour de Mont Blanc, with a company called Alps Mountain bike, located in France.
Mont Blanc sprawls into 3 countries, Switzerland, France and Italy. At 15,861 Feet, Mt Blanc is the 6th highest mountain in the world. The translation of Blanc is white; which suits this majestic snow-covered mountain just fine.
Our 6 day mountain bike trip would traverse 180 kilometers around the massive mountain which consists of 20 plus summits and valleys. Our luggage would be transported each day to the next Alpine Village destination, enabling us to travel relatively light for the 25,000 feet of ascending and 27,000 feet of descending in the week ahead of us.
This was the first time we had traveled with a tour group, and we were uncertain of what to expect. As it turns out, the spectacular trip was made even more memorable with the addition of the small group we biked with.
Our group: Two Downhill Defying young Brits, a British Doctor, A British teacher, 1 Brazilian, and a Spaniard—Daniel– who smoked a couple cigarettes each morning and evening. No one could catch Daniel on the first climb each morning. As the day wore on, each of us would eventually pass by this quiet young Spaniard. My husband and I are 6th and 7th from left to right. Note the bike with no rider. That belongs to our super guide Antonie; who requested that his sparkling new mountain bike be in the photo. Mt Blanc is in the background.
View from our balcony the first night of the tour—Chamonix France. The snow covered summits belong to Mt Blanc.
The first night found us in a flower filled chalet overlooking a courtyard. Earlier in the day we had unpacked our bikes and leaned our precious steeds against the cedar beams directly beneath our balcony. We watched as members of our Tour group — 5 total — arrived and reassembled their bikes.
Silvio, the tall lean Brazilian, proudly displayed his light weight carbon fiber mountain bike. “In my country, women do not ride bikes.” Silvio stated as I ratcheted down the pedals on my bike. “Where is your husband?” he questioned, dismayed that a woman not only planned to ride, but also worked on her own bike. I smiled my best smile and said, “I prefer to work on my bicycle myself.” At that moment I resolved to do everything in my power to prove that women are more than capable of not only riding a bike, but just might be able to out ride some men.
On Day one we were surprised because we rode to a ski area and were asked to load ourselves and our bikes onto the lift. (Why aren’t we riding this mountain, we wondered.) We were then asked to ride down the 2000 foot descent, take the lift up, and do it again. When we questioned our guide, he said it was so he could observe our riding abilities before we began the journey through the mountains.
Finally, following the four hours of careful observation, all of us passed ‘the inspection’ and we cycled up and over the first of many summits and dropped into the tiny Alpine Community of Triant.
Our small group arrived at the refuggio late in the day only to discover that the tiny lodge was overbooked! Our French guide Antonie displayed all the qualities we love about the French; hands and arms gesticulating wildly, pointing to us; his 6 weary charges. After an hour of Antonie running in and out of the building and speaking a language we could barely comprehend, we were informed that a local member of the community had gotten wind of our plight. The gentleman opened his home to us, which was under renovations. We spent the night comfortably in a small room, partitioned off by hanging plastic, and lumber stacked in the rooms nearby. Throughout our journey we encountered the kindness of the Alps.
Each day featured several long climbs and descents on trails, dirt roads and pavement.
The Europeans on our tour laughingly said, it’s not called “mountain bike”, it’s called “push bike”! About 20% of this tour consisted of “push bike”. Once we got over the initial shock, we settled in and enjoyed the scenery.
We cycled through tiny hillside villages. Each with a cistern in the town center. This water source replenished our water bottles and camelbacks throughout our journey. Streets of stone were so narrow, we would brush against the geraniums found in almost every window and balcony.
Some trails we rode, while other areas we held onto the rope and walked our bikes; and tried to remember to breathe.
A long hut in the alps. This hut was a welcome site after 4 hours of straight up climbing. Our newly acquired Brazilian friend taught us to drink tiny cups of espresso and have a dainty dessert before riding on. We adjusted quickly to this training strategy.
My chance to make Silvio eat his words about “women not riding bikes in his country.” After passing him on this climb, this outgoing Brazilian was subdued for the rest of the day. That evening he congratulated me on my riding skills. It was all I could do to keep from shaking my fist in the air and exclaiming “Yes! One for the sisterhood!”
Day four we cycled into Cormeyer. Joe and I ate our way through this lovely Italian village. First gelato, then foccachia at this bakery on a side street. Further down the street we then had a cocktail which was served with olives, triangle sandwiches and more foccachia. Then we walked back to our chalet to eat dinner!
Our guide; Antonie- kept shaking his head in despair as we looked out at this receding glacier. “So sad,” he said in his quiet French brogue. “Gone, the glaciers, they are leaving us. Each time I come, they are less and less.”
All the sheep in this high mountain meadow are wearing bells. Each day as we climbed for hours, we would listen for the bells, as that would alert us that a somewhat level area was ahead. The cows wore larger bells which gave a rich harmonious tone to pedal to as we made our way up the hillsides. Each herd has a distinct sound to enable the farmer in locating his animals.
Crossing a precarious ice bridge. After we all crossed the narrow melting ice bridge safely, our guide smashed what was left, so future travelers wouldn’t crash through.
Our spectacular adventure ended all too soon. However, when booking the tour, we hadn’t realized that the Tour de France would be finishing up in Paris that same weekend. So, we boarded a train to Paris to watch the finish of the world famous race. But that’s another day and another story.
By Jeannette Segale – Customer Service Representative, Terry Bicycles