Beziers, France to Geneva, Switzerland

I left Beziers on a cold morning with my host from the night before: Jean Luc.  He rode with me for a bit to make sure I took the right route. This meant I rode from Beziers along the canal du midi before eventually coming out at the Mediterranean.

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It was, as you’d expect in winter, very peaceful and there were few other people taking advantage of the paths along the coast.
When I was not directly next to the sea there were wetlands between the road and the water.  Here I was able to see flamingoes.  This seemed very strange to me as I always picture them as tropical birds and it was certainly not tropical here.  In my opinion they needed to fly a bit further south for the winter.
Some of the flamingoes I saw were very pale and apparently this means they are malnourished, perhaps to do with the time of the year.

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Not all the birds were white and there were many that were the more traditional pink.  There were in fact a lot of flamingoes all along the coast in this area between Agde and Aigues Mortes.

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The ride on this section wasn’t as nice as perhaps it should have been as there was a depressing drizzle that set in for a while, dampening me slightly.

I didn’t ride along the coast all day and soon it as time to turn north and begin heading towards the centre of France and then Geneva.

As I came off the coast the wind came up and what a wind it was.  It was the famous Mistral that blows out of the north into the south of France and I was setting myself against it as I tried to ride home.  It did not make for a pleasant end to the day and I could barely made any headway on the quiet country roads I was navigating.
Darkness was falling too and I was concerned about being able to camp as setting up a tent with the wind blowing so strongly was a recipe for very briefly having a giant kite.
As night fell I reached the town of Marsillargues and I considered trying to find a hotel to stay the night in, out of the wind. Sadly this option had the kibosh put on it by the fact that there wasn’t a hotel in town.
At least within the streets of the commune I was protected from the wind. I didn’t know whether that was to remain the case as I had to ride and try and find somewhere to camp.
Luckily as I crossed a bridge out of town I noticed an area of parkland running along the river I was crossing. It looked like I could camp here and it seemed that in the very lee of the bridge itself I should be sheltered.
So I turned around and managed to find my way down by the bridge. I couldn’t camp underneath it as the wind was flowing straight through, next to it was OK if not perfect as the wind was so strong. As I set up I startled and was in turn startled by some dog walkers who went past. This was disconcerting but I assumed they wouldn’t tell the police and even if they did I assumed the police wouldn’t be interested in coming out in such weather.

And indeed I was fortunate and remained undisturbed till the next day. Undisturbed but for the wind which made sleeping tough.

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The next day the wind hadn’t stopped. It was still blowing and as the day continued it grew stronger. I was blown to a stop on many occasions and even right off the road once or twice. It was no fun, no fun at all. Every kilometre felt like three and for all the energy I was expending I barely crawled.
It was a shame in that I was coming to the beautiful Rhone Valley and I couldn’t appreciate it as I had my head down half the time trying to move forward and or stay on the road.

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I hoped that the wind would abate and allow me to continue unhindered but there was no such luck and their was no let up except when sheltered in a town. I was starting to wonder if I would ever get home if I had to fight this wind the whole way.

As night fell I kept riding for longer than I would normally in order to make up some time and I ended up on some quiet country paths as I followed the Via Rhona: a 700km cycle route from Geneva to the south of France. Sadly it is not yet finished and it turned out to be a bit of a liability in some areas due to incomplete signage…

The roads I now travelled were practically deserted and as I went I noticed a modern breeze block barn with no door. I took a look inside and noted a spot between two pieces of machinery that would fit my tent. So I pitched up here, protected very well from the wind and to a degree from the elements.
I would never have tried this in America as in all likelihood there would have been a big sign prohibiting it.

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I woke up with a nice dry tent and having packed it up headed off further up the Rhone Valley. Initially it seemed the wind had abated. This illusion didn’t last long and I was soon grinding along once again wishing I was anywhere else.

The wind just didn’t seem to want to to stop and it was always against me, causing me to have a sad face most of the time.

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I was starting to wonder how much more of this my body could take as it is a real strain trying to shift 50kg of bike and bags with a constant force against you.

Luckily in the late afternoon it let up and could ride along normally again. It was such a relief and I was able to appreciate the beauty of the Rhone finally.

That night I decided to stop in a hotel as I was feeling pretty brutalised by the wind and I wanted an opportunity to have some French cooking and not another tin of ravioli.

The following morning, wonder of wonders, the wind was not blowing with any force and I was able to ride along much more comfortably.

Rather than following the Rhone as I had been for the past day or two I now cut across the country slightly on a more direct route to Geneva heading for Aoste, near where I would rejoin the river. I didn’t have to gain much elevation to be suddenly riding across lands blanketed in snowfall. It was far more wintry away from the river but at least there was no wind.

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It was also lucky that the roads were clear and I had no trouble with actually riding. I was starting to wonder how much area the snow covered and whether I would reach a clear area as I didn’t want to have to camp on top of it.
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Fortunately as the day wore on and I rode down out of the hills the snow receded and became less of a worry.

That night I was able to find a great camping spot in some trees right next to a tributary of the river. It was well sheltered and very private so I felt quite comfortable there.

Clearly I was on an animal trail as when I woke in the night I heard something padding towards my tent. That is until it must have noticed me there because I heard it turn tail and run off, right into the river by the sounds of it. Whatever it was I hope it could swim!

It was pretty cold when I woke up the next morning and there was a layer of ice on the inside of my tent fly, which I didn’t need to tell me it was freezing.

I got packed up and began riding, what I hoped, would be the final few hours to Geneva. I had my fingers crossed that the wind would remain in abeyance and that I would have an easy ride.
Sadly just wishing it so didn’t work and the wind was back blowing me around.
The route was at least very beautiful and I was riding through a wide valley carved by the Rhone, with great rock walls rearing up in the distance.

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As I reached the village of La Balme the scenery grew more spectacular and I ended up riding through a fairly narrow gorge right alongside the living rock.
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I’ve been through some scary tunnels on this trip but this one was pretty worrying albeit thankfully brief:

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I didn’t want to find out how much damage a large icicle could do if it fell.

It turns out that in order to get to Geneva I was going to have to go over some hills and once more ride up where the snow had fallen. While the day was windy some of the hills and folds in the land offered me shelter and often the day felt wonderfully clean and crisp in these very rural areas.

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It would have been a more pleasurable experience if it wasn’t my eighth day of riding without a rest. My legs were starting to ache and I was dreading having to navigate the tiniest hill. I’d not ridden eight days straight before on the whole trip and I could definitely feel that I was at my limit and that my body wasn’t happy. Still not much to do but keep on going.

For part of the day I should have been riding on the ViaRhona again but unfortunately no one had cleared the snow off the cycle paths so it wasn’t a realistic option.

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There is a cycle path under there somewhere

The roads in this area were pretty good for cycling anyway so it wasn’t too much of a problem.

That afternoon it was time to take on a proper climb up to around 650m. This was tough due to my legs not being interested, a strong headwind and areas where snow and ice had maintained a presence on the road.
It was a hard hard grind up that hill with the wind in my face. The fact that I knew I would get a couple of days rest when I arrived in Geneva kept me going. That and the fact I couldn’t just stop in the middle of nowhere in the snow.
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At the top I started a very slow descent down towards the city. Slow in part because the wind was pushing me back but also because I was taking it very easy as I’d skidded over on a patch of ice just over the summit. Luckily there hadn’t been a car behind me.

The rest of the journey was much easier and I made it down into Geneva and to my friends place with a surprising lack of difficulty.

This was the first point I was meeting up with my route out round the world. So I guess in a way when I reached Geneva I’d completed the circle if not the journey.

It was good to be back at my friends again and this time they were expecting me as I’d been more careful to make sure they knew when I was arriving. Still, much like when they hadn’t been expecting me Lucie and Christophe still gave me a delicious big bowl of pasta to eat.

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