Could you get the feeling of being truly alive, if everything was certain?
I wasn’t going to climb it. I took a day off to explore Lyon, and was planning on going straight south to the coastal town of Nice, avoiding the Alps. But something inside said, I’m here, I have to try it. It’s like the Corbett’s Couloir of biking. Better have dared greatly and failed, I told myself, than never tried at all.
The climb is where Lance Armstrong would allegedly toy with other riders—and I would blood dope too, anyone who says “oh, but he cheated” should try sprinting up the climb. The route climbs about 1,100m (3,500′) vertically in 13km (8mi) & 21 switchbacks at an average grade of 7.9%, with the finish line at 1,860m (6,102′).
Climbing the Alpe d’Huez was about the most insufferable 1:40 of my life. I chucked my panniers into the woods after the first turn. Beforehand I honestly didn’t know if I’d make it to the top; after all, it’s legendary for a reason.
Surprisingly, finish was almost anticlimactic. Yes, there was a huge rush of endorphins & adrenaline—my drug of choice. And I’d say that was my hardest-earned beer of my life.
But, I felt most alive when I was out on the climb, suffering & struggling to turn the pedals, just a battle of willpower between me & myself. Out on the razor-edge where the adventurers live. When going through hell, keep going as the quote goes. One thing I’ve realised, throughout life, is the person who can put himself through the most torture/suffering/hell, mentally and physically, usually wins. A quest to become the toughest person you know.
The night before, I stayed with a French family outside of Grenoble at their Organic Goat Cheese farm. The four-course dinner was heavenly: salad & fried cheese, hot-dish, cheese, and cake & homemade digestif. Selfishly, I wondered if they wished they could just get off this farm. In the morning, the wife & grandfather let me come with them to bring the goats out to the pasture. What an experience!
On the walk back, she told me how the farm had only been making cheese for a month, but three years ago she & her husband decided to give up jobs as engineers at Renault, and become farmers. After cycling 17,000km in 18 months in South America, she warned me, Be careful, you have a lot of time to think out on the bike, to think about what kind of life you want to have, and it can lead you to making some crazy decisions. So far mostly old songs–The Beatles & Eminem–and bad jokes are what come to mind out on the road, with a few profound thoughts sprinkled in. Then again, everything seems profound for my oxygen-starved brain at 6,000′. Today I crossed the Col du Lautaret pass, sweat-drenched, I hauled my thunder thighs over the 2,057m (~6,700′) top. 30mi uphill, 10mi downhill.
One more mountain pass (I think) and then Italy tomorrow. Time to learn how to smile in a new language