Monday, 26 December 2011

Alpine Experiences - Stage 4

What better time to get an under par night's sleep than the night before your most athletic undertaking of a hectic holiday!

Again, this video is a far better representation of this climb than my words will ever be, so for an insight into our journey that day, watch from 3.20 ish, summit from 5.30 onwards, then descent.
I was angry on leaving the car. I believed that my bad state and annoyance was going to affect my enjoyment of the experience we had come for. Then we had to go back to the car, because my bro, had not tightened his pedal fully. I don't blame him, there was a lot to remember and sort out prior to departure: clothing, for any conditions, tools, nutrition, ah and suncream, but you don't think like that at the time - It pissed me off! Luckily I had noticed only a couple of hundred metres from the car, so things could have been worse, as a pedal spanner is not one of the things you tend to take with you.

Once underway I forgot about all my frustrations though. The Alps seem to be able to distract like this. I felt pretty good actually, better than I had ever imagined. We made good progress through the lower slopes and the vineyards and dwellings. Vineyards stretched as far as the eye could see - A terrific site in itself.  The vineyard rush hour of the morning had dissolved into an incredibly quiet mountainside, which was a pleasure to cycle up. The contrast from the anxiety inducing rush of the earlier morning, probably made the peace all the better!

This peace, was nothing compared to the lonelyness of the higher reaches of the route though. The Col du Sanetsch, is not a pass, so there was no through traffic. Only some tiny dwellings on the mountain side and a power station just the other side of the summit account for the presence of about 13 miles of this stretch of tarmac. The experience is all the better for it!

I remember the various stages of the climb. The lower slopes, covered with vineyards and villages. The classic alpine tree line, before hitting the higher slopes, with spruce and fir giving way to a few hundred vertical metres of alpine grasses/meadow. Then finally hitting the baron, tundra like expanses above the meadows. The distinct sections, give an insight into your upward and downward progress.

I remember one of the most juxtaposed visual experiences of my life, seeing a superb alpine cabin adorned with hundreds of Swiss flags, in all shapes and sizes, standing next to a sign that told us that we had 15 kilometres to go to the summit, all after over an hour of climbing. Around 10 miles uphill still to go.

I remember realising after a depressive mood gave way to a few minutes of elation and then swiftly into angre, that I had by about 11 o clock that day experienced pretty much the entire spectrum of human emotion.

I remember the tunnels, one 800 metres long hewn into the rock, that allowed for the otherwise impossible traverse of the road.

I remember that after an entire mountain of going at my speed, my brother finally felt he needed to push on for his own good. Slowly his advantage of power to weight showing through as he extended a gap between us on the final couple of miles of baron lunar like landscape, leading up to the Col. And him waiting for me, so we could summit together, good chap!

The elation of reaching the top and then the thoughts of the absurdity of the way we create goals like these for ourselves. Boy, it was awesome though and the kind of thing everyone should experience.

Then it was my turn to be able to gain ground on the bro. I was always better at descending than ascending! Great fun. Another athletic experience in itself, descending an alp. You learn quickly that even if you want to, there is no way you can slow yourself down for the entirity of a descent, you need to just let go and give your forearms and brake blocks a rest, before slamming on the anchors just before each switch back.

We completed the majority of the descent. I left Andrew on one section, where one of 3 cars we had seen in four hours, found the gap between us and I really put caution to the wind. Part of it is caught in the video around 8.30 I think, though you cannot grasp this from footage. Great fun! A bit further on I waited for Andrew, but then he decided to spend time looking at a particularly spectacular view.

My descent of the last section, back into and through the villages and vineyards was truly awesome! Alone, I pushed very hard and loved really investigating how hard I could push myself and the bike. Transfering weight hard when taking a racing line through an S bend on the limit at over 40 miles an hour is a great experience. The close proximity to the road of some of the houses, really highlighted the speed and my bike showed its true colours on that descent. Something to be remembered.

It was not long before Andrew rolled  towards the car at the bottom. Huge smiles!


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