Mon 8th July.
I took my time leaving, hoping partially to see Luke again before leaving (as he had gone to a design event in France for the weekend), although also wanting to be out of his hair before he got back.
I bought the flatmates a big bag of coffee to say thanks for having me and a roll of Swiss bin bags (a valuable and essential commodity) and the book I was reading for Brynjar (the Bookseller of Kabul).
It past midday and the weather was good, sunny and bright. I headed out and onto the road to Montreux, which was about 28km east of Lausanne.
I was sad to leave, but I had to go, crossing Switzerland aiming for the Black Forest in Germany was the plan, then heading to Munich to get the train to Italy.
The road to Montreux was incredible, it overlooked lake Geneva, (so vast and wide, I was now coming to the end of it).The only thing between the road and the lake was a barrier, so the view was completely undisturbed and you could see for miles around. As I approached Montreux, I discovered rows and rows of vineyards to the left of me, wrapping round the small mounds the overlooked this half of the lake.
The view was incredible. I understood why Switzerland was so famous for its lakes and water. As I studied it, it was a clarity I’d never seen before in natural water on this scale.
There were a few people out enjoying it, in dingy’s, boats and on surf boards with a paddle (a new trend).
I could see why my friend (also a keen cyclist) had decided to stay living in Switzerland beyond his studies.
I thought to myself about how well the bike was doing. The last blip I had been in Montpellier, when I got the new front rack and got the wheel straightened and since I’d had few if any problems or cause for concern. I was expecting something to happen, but if it did, I hoped it would wait until I was out of Switzerland as fixing the bike here could be expensive.
I still hadn’t had any punctures either. Fingers crossed that would hold up.
I took a break in Montreux where I found a stature of Freddie Mercury over looking the lake. Curious, I had a look and the plaque-card revealed that this was a popular spot with the band Queen, so much so that they had a studio built-in the hills nearby and Montreux was frequently visited by Freddie Mercury when they would record there.
Montreux is also an infamous venue in the world of music for its Jazz Festival among other things. When I was there, the Jazz Festival was just getting started. I’d thought about going, but didn’t have anywhere to stay and knew tickets would be expensive. Although Bobby Womack, the feature of a favourite podcast while I’d been on the road was playing, while I stayed in Lausanne.
A strange link occurred. I’d seen Blur in Barcelona, and got to know about a link between Blur and Bobby Womack, which lead to his new album that got covered by Gilles Peterson in the podcast I was listening to on the trip. Gilles Peterson had a festival in France (Séte) I wanted to go to but didn’t and now Bobby Womack was playing in Switzerland.
Shortly after leaving Montreux, I followed the lake around until I had to leave it, when I would begin heading up into the Alps. The infamous Alps I had known about for so long. I would now be seeing a very small part of them for myself on the bike.
The ascent into the hills was ridiculous. The hills were the steepest I had ever come across, so much so that I would say they were dangerous. Unridable going up and lethal going down. I got off and struggled with the bike up the hill, barely managing to hold the bike while pushing it up a few inches at a time.
I’d gone from coasting around one of the most beautiful places I’d been to on the trip, to being hit with the most savage hills I’d ever known.
I couldn’t stop either as there was nowhere to bike without it rolling back down the hill. I struggled on with the cumbersome bike, doing its own thing and eventually got up to small plateau, followed by more violent hills shortly after.
I heard the clouds clap, break and boom with thunder. Sun all day and now thunder I could be sure I was heading towards. I forgot how volatile the mountains could be and how they had their own rules and micro-climate.
I pushed up through the hills, leaving the lake behind and broke into lush green surroundings. Tall green trees for miles around, covering the mountains that bore them.
Within four hours I had gone from the lake I’d been beside for more than two weeks, to green mountains again. I was pushing up, higher and higher.
I had kept cycling while i was in Lausanne, but nothing really prepares you for constantly cycling uphill with a fully loaded bike, then cycling uphill with a fully loaded bike. I was out of shape, but soon I would work the beers and barbecues off and be back in shape.
As the day was drawing to a close, I started looking for a place to camp. I was beat from having cycled all day and climbing hills. Just like the first night of camping in Switzerland, I couldn’t find anywhere to go. I kept ascending going through small towns and finding nothing.
On the way up a guy on a bike overtook me and a Jeep overtook him. The Jeep stopped and a lady got out with a big camera and took a photo of the guy ascending the hill. “What a prick” I thought to myself. Maybe it was for some shoot or something, but the guy came across as an arrogant guy that made his wife follow him round and take sporty pictures of him looking tough.
That’s the story I fabricated in my head and the one I stuck too. The Swiss.
Finally, after another episode of finding nowhere to camp in the hills, I came across a small path of the road that lead to a lodge. The was space for camping in grass surrounding the lodge, so I parked up and knocked on the door to ask permission to spend the night.
No one answered and after repeatedly knocking, I assumed it was empty and that no-one would mind me pitching up for the night.
As I setup the tent, I started to think about how I hadn’t done this for two weeks. How I was used to beds, warmth, running water and coffee. And now I was back on the road for at least another two months. It wasn’t the most appealing thought.
I thought about all the friends I’d made in Lausanne. The physical comfort of being around other people. Talking, sharing thought and ideas, with tens of new exciting people. Now all gone, back on my own.
It was nice while it lasted, but this was the essence of the trip, being solo.
I thought about jacking it in and heading home. From this part of Switzerland it wouldn’t take long I thought. Get back early, enjoy a summer in London with familiar faces, friends, warmth and comfort.
Then I realised that if I did that I would’ve failed to do what I wanted to do, to spend months cycling around Europe, I realised was a gift and if I cut it short now, for the sake of comfort, I’d probably have deeply regretted it for the rest of my life.
Instead I would find comfort in loneliness and my daily achievements. I didn’t want to be here, doing this, but I couldn’t leave.
When I was set up and ready for bed. I looked up to my right and saw that the pink evening sun fell on the tip of one of the mountains in a light band of colour. As I looked below it, I then realised that the lower part of the mountain and the ground where I was, where shadowed by this mountain the sun had crept behind.
I sat watching the pink tip of the mountain, as the sunset slowly peeled off and it became darker like everything else around.