In Geneva I ate and drank too much, like the last time I rode through, and generally enjoyed myself. It was good to be staying with friends again.
Leaving felt different than the first time, then I was taking another step from home and the things I knew. This time I was heading closer to England and back towards the familiar.
I was an expecting an easy ride between Geneva and Luxembourg, the next stage of my trip. I’d planned out five days, each at roughly one hundred kilometres which I thought shouldn’t be too hard.
I hadn’t realised that to get out of Geneva I’d have to climb as I’d done to arrive. In fact I was going to have to go up to 1000m to get over the Jura mountains, in winter. Luckily it was a sunny day, so I had to hope it stayed that way.
Before heading over the mountains I rode round the beautiful Lake Leman for a while. I stopped in Rolle to visit a friend I worked with in Luxembourg.
It was all very pleasant in Switzerland: crisp, clean and fresh with good signage.
Even if you happened to be driving a tank…
It wasn’t long before I was winding up into the hills towards the Jura.
It was very quiet up there and it got snowier and snowier as I went.
I passed between a couple of fortifications guarding the pass close to the Franco Swiss border.
As the evening approached the traffic increased. I later learned that these were French frontalieres returning home from working in Switzerland. At the La Cluse et Mijoux, a town a few kilometres from my destination of Pontarlier the traffic ground to a halt and began creeping forward.
At that point I had no idea what was happening and wondered if there were road works or an accident. The road was too narrow for me to keep riding on the inside as well, so I ended up waiting to see if it would free up.
After ten minutes of this, with the sun creeping down, I started to feel the cold. It was time to stop politely waiting…
So I started riding down on the outside of the cars, pulling in when any cars approached on the other side.
In this manner I finally got back to free flowing traffic.
Someone told me that the coldest village in France was in this area. I could believe it.
Snow was everywhere and I was very glad that I had arranged a Warmshowers.org host for the night in the town of Pontarlier. Otherwise it would have been a pretty interesting time camping.
I was hosted by Annie and Christian, a retired French couple who made sure I was well fed before I left. Annie had set off on a trip from Europe to Asia that had been cut short when her friend was hit by a truck in the Ukraine. Which made me think again how lucky I had been myself as far as accidents and problems went.
The morning I left Pontarlier was freezing, I was still up at about 800m and I was quite nervous about riding as there were slippery patches on the smaller roads and on the edges of the main ones. This meant that I had to take things a bit more slowly and made riding a little tense as I had to be careful of any slightly odd looking patches of road.
Luckily I didn’t take a spill and as the day wore on the temperature came up above zero.
Around midday I reached the town of Resoul. To get here I had to come through a tunnel that cut through some hills. On the other side of the tunnel it was like another season. I felt like I passed from winter to spring in a few kilometres. The snow was in full retreat on the other side, another climate practically.
I thought I was at the real start of a relaxed few days riding.
I managed to stop this being the case. I foolishly followed google cycle maps onto an unsealed path that would take me through a forest. I thought I had plenty of time and it would be nicer than just following the actual road. I still haven’t learnt to not trust the cycle option fully.
The path started off OK, it was fairly well packed and not too muddy and seemed to be doing what was expected.
Then it came out in a clearing and it appeared I would have to go down a slope on some less smooth track. I hate turning back. I really should have this time. Instead I went off down the slope.
At the bottom I looked back up and realised I now had to continue forward as there was no way I would be able to ride my bike back up the uneven muddy slope and my bike was too heavy to push it up.
So on I went and the road slowly got muddier and I quickly got slower. Until I eventually had to get off my bike and push as I couldn’t make headway riding on it because of the mud.
After pushing it for what seemed like miles but was in fact probably about a hundred metres I had to start dragging the bike as there was so much mud under the mudguards and around the brakes that the wheels wouldn’t turn at all. Trying to drag 50kg of touring bike and luggage through the mud wasn’t going to work for any distance.
I was starting to get worried. I was in danger. Danger of embarrassment. I didn’t know how far it was out of the woods I’d ridden in to but I knew it wasn’t so far I was in any real peril.
I was starting to wonder if I’d have to abandon bicycle and walk out of the forest if I couldn’t get it to move anymore or if I’d have to camp here and get out in the morning.
Then I realised that this would be silly and popped my bags off and carried them in search of harder ground. Thankfully this was only a couple of hundred metres away.
I then went back and picked my bike up to carry this out too, feeling somewhat sheepish.
It would have been a good idea to have photographed my mud caked bike but I was more interested in uncaking it at this point… Once the wheels were moving again I loaded it up and rode the 500m or so back to a real road.
On reaching the tarmac I decided I wasn’t going to be coming off sealed roads for a few days.
Luckily I wasn’t too far from the warmshowers.Org host I’d arranged for that evening and I soon cycled there. My bike making lots of funny noises from all the dirt that was in places it shouldn’t be.
That night I was staying with Gerald and Marie Jo, a French couple preparing to retire. They were really kind and I got to eat more delicious French food, including one of my favourites: tartiflette. This is basically potatoes and cheese.
Marie Jo even gave me a packed lunch the next morning, it was a bit like heading off for school.
The next day I finally got a relaxing days ride without any issues as I rode towards Epinal.
I passed through some pretty rolling countryside on France’s Route des Thermes, which went via towns that had thermal baths.
There was not much happening in winter time.
In Epinal my warmshowers.org hosts were a young French couple called Remy and Camille. They are certainly the youngest hosts I’ve met as they were only 21. They were kind enough to host me even though they had only moved into their flat the day before.
From Epinal I rode north again towards Metz. I had expected this to be a long tough day as I had 120km to make. I’d forgotten how easy life can be without a headwind and how it can be even better with a tailwind. I flew along, passing through pretty French villages along the Moselle.
The weather wasn’t the best with occasional showers and even one very, albeit brief hailstorm but it wasn’t enough to get me down.
That day I passed through Nancy, one of the main cities of Lorraine.
I rode into the old part of the city without planning it and was quite impressed by how attractive it was.
After Nancy I carried on north and made it to my warmshowers.org hosts’ place much earlier than expected. Luckily there were kind enough not to be put out by this and I got to spend an enjoyable evening with Pierre, Jordane and Pierre’s father.
The next day I headed out to ride into Luxembourg. For the most part I rode on a cycle route following the canals and rivers that run through north east France and Luxembourg. This was fairly easy to follow and reasonably peaceful; the main danger bumping into a runner who wasn’t looking where they were going.
It was then a short ride into the city (there are only short rides in a country the size of Luxembourg) and on to the place of my friends where I would be staying.
I could really feel how close to home I was now. Especially as Luxembourg was itself my home for a year, so there was much there that was familiar.
If all went to plan I would be back in the UK four days after I left Luxembourg.