Catha's Seat

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Days 11 to 14: The headwind struggle ending the first chapter

Video: Oktoberfest in Zürich

Another busy day off started day 11 - emails, blogging, reorganising. Luckily I had some meetings booked in: I met Alex for lunch, a friend from Imperial College Big Band. He had many a good story of my final destination having been there twice - I can't wait!

After a brief spell of shopping for a fondue kit for Dad to give Tom and Karen as a wedding present, Karen joined me for a short boat trip. It was perfect on the lake; serene, sunny and still., except for the dogfight of gulls behind the boat, which was created by kids throwing McDonald's fries off the back in an attempt to achieve a mid air refuelling opportunity for the birds!

Gull dogfight on lake Zürich
In the evening we met up with Chris, a friend of Yean's (Yean was one of the day 1 gold team). Chris and Yean cycled with a few others the other way to me, from Zürich to London. The ETH student bar was the place to be, with the cheapest beer in town and a sublime hillside view over Zürich. I was ecstatic to hear my efforts and blog has inspired their team to try and plan another trip.

Back on the bike for day 12 and I wasn't particularly keen to pedal again such was the comfort offered by Tom and Karen - many thanks to you both. Anyway, onwards was the order of the day. I hadn't expected what the centre of Switzerland was going to be like.

Zürich with Tom and Karen
For a place proud of their railways there are a lot of roads, and lorries. Heavy industry and a nuclear power station greeted me west of Zürich. The towns weren't sleek or charming and I was generally in the way of normal daily business, rather than being the order of business in Switzerland's more tourist friendly areas. Closer to Biel the cycle paths returned to the side of the roads and I had my afternoon coffee (and a generous sized Linsetorte) outside the magnificent Cathedral of the pretty, cobbled, pedestrian centre of Solothurn.

Found outside Zürich: they weren't even slightly interested in my tales!
I aimed for a campsite just before Biel that turned out to be quite rural and up a bloody great hill! There was also a swimming pool adjacent and the only signs of life sat on the patio; two older gentlemen and a middle aged woman dressed much younger than she was. Communication was slow at the start as they seemed surprised. The oldest gent who turned out to be the owner,  appeared to want my bike off the patio and then continued with some strange questions; are you alone, do you have your own tent? He encouraged me to set up camp and come back to register. I felt uneasy with the questioning and cursed myself for not checking the price. When I returned to the clubhouse type building the three had gone. I knocked on the only door with light behind it - the lady of the campsite answered rather than her husband, and she had her granddaughter in tow. The lady must have been in her 80s so the tour of the facilities was at a very slow pace, and I was filling the small talk. I registered and she asked if I needed a drink from their empty bar. I requested a bottle of beer to accompany my al fresco dinner plans however, she got out a glass and sat me down. We had a great conversation for an hour or so; she and her husband had built the campsite over 40 years ago and she lamented it was becoming difficult to manage in their old age. Their children had married partners from all corners of the world but she still echoed the reluctance to immigration held by the Swiss generally. They are particularly objected to the "Frantierés"; people that live cheaply over the border in France but come in to earn a Swiss wage. She didn't seem overtly right wing in our other conversations around other social and energy concerns so I assumed it must be the hereditary Swiss fear of being invaded - they build nuclear bunkers with new buildings, every man completes military service and has his own gun. 

Campsite up a bloody great hill!

It was out of season now but the campsite had permanent residents. I encountered Dan while I was cleaning my teeth. He had an unkempt look of someone from a financially comfortable upbringing now "slumming it". He had a bun bag slung diagonally across his chest and a towel on his shoulder. It turned out he was an orphan and his foster parents had brought him up in Switzerland but now lived in Missouri. The conversation started in German but when he found out I was English it was obvious he wanted to switch. His vocabulary had many Americanisms slung in along with a forced Jamaican lilt owed to his love of reggae and dancehall. He explained he had given up his flat and possessions to live a simple life on the campsite. Someone with no time for it, gave him a mobile home after he had borrowed a friend's campervan for a year. He had asked himself "what do I really need?". A very difficult question I started pondering myself! Among environmentalists it's a challenge, as everyone has their opinion on what's necessary; do you travel or stay put, should you eat meat, is your living space too big. Unfortunately the only way to really eliminate your environmental footprint is not to be here in the first place, which is a somewhat inconvenient conclusion. You have to have something to live for! I started writing down general categories for what fulfills people, for example work, achievement, good food, love, sport, community etc. I left it there for the moment!

I saw Dan in the morning at another teeth cleaning session. He looked at me with his disheveled out of bed look, long hair all over and said rhetorically "do you think I will scare anyone" and followed it with "oh, you too, I guess!". I thought how Dan's goals were very similar to mine - simplifying life in order to find some time to think. Back at tent someone had left a box of super berry juice by the door. I assumed the old lady. From a nervous start at this stop I ended on a true heart warmer.

But that was the best it would get on that final push to Lausanne, a supposedly easy 60 mile day. No sooner had I got to the bottom of the bloody great hill and the heavens opened! The headwind picked up a near gale and I couldn't pedal above 8mph even on the flat. Unsympathetic lorries roared past, sucking me in to the vacuum they left behind.

The final 15miles were the hardest yet. I was worried if I stayed on the road, tired as I was, I would be squashed by a Lorry. I took myself off on to the more scenic but much less direct cycle route. After five minutes a sign showed 6% upwards incline for 6km. Wind, rain and gravity against me I shouted and swore at nobody, and eventually I was defeated - I got off and pushed. Many hillcrests gave hope but the barrier between me and Lausanne kept on for ever. 

Every up though........ And what a downhill it was, at 30mph for 3 miles or so. The city is pretty hilly, they say that locals have the best bums around due to this!

Lucio introduces Lausanne: home of the best posteriors in Christendom 

My host, Lucio, and I went into town to meet my friend Ant who had popped over from Geneva. Coincidentally, Ant  revealled he had just handed in his notice and was planning to go off travelling!

The chapter ended with a communal breakfast with Lucio and his flatmates and a sunny stroll along the lake. What a great way to start the day - sat around a set breakfast table with lively conversation and food - something I seldom do on a weekday, but one of the things I live for; enjoying food with people!

After all that effort it was back to London for the weekend on the train, to see Radiohead though!

Apparently Radiohead played here once upon a time! Avenches, Switzerland
I should point out, briefly, that I am somewhat behind with blog posts. At the time of writing I am on a week off with Eliza in Italy. Please do however, look out for the next exciting installment, coming very shortly, which will cover my trip over the Alps into Italy- This will bring us back up to date before the cycling resumes next week! 

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