Enjoying the heights
I was scared. Francois had told us that the final 6km of his ride up to Saint Bernard were tough, and looking down I could see how steep it was. Plus there were few barriers. I was feeling sick looking at the huge drop if I didn't make it around a corner.
So I kept on the brakes, much to Sam's amusement as he laughed with joy while flying down. Francois tried to be reassuring, saying there were only 40km of downhill and we had all day. 40km! If they were like this I would never make it.
But after 6km the gradient flattened out enough for me to take my aching hands off the brakes and enjoy the spectacular scenery around us. Snow capped mountains, cascading waterfalls, trickling streams, small villages with decorated with colourful flowers. Summer in Switzerland was breathtaking.
We stopped at a roadside stall to buy some locally grown, delicious apricots and a special type of cheese, that is not really cheese... Our introduction to Switzerland was all we had hoped.
At the bottom I pedalled hard to keep up with Francois and Sam. I had been under the impression that all we were doing that day was riding down the mountain, But I was wrong. The road inclined up again - I was breathing hard and felt stiffled in the warm clothing I'd layered on at the start of the day. Just as I was about to drop off the back Sam suggested we all stop and remove our warm clothes. Thank goodness!
But once we started riding again the pace was even quicker and my legs ached. I was going to give in, but then I imagined the other two were Schleck and Contador and I was Evans - I couldn't let them get ahead! I had to hold on no matter how much it hurt. This strategy worked and for kilometre after kilometre I clung onto the back of them.
Just when I was about to hit breaking point again we slowed down - Francois had spotted another cycle tourist and decided to chase after him and chat to him. Sam and I continued at a slower pace until Francois caught back up to us, with Lee from England in tow. Lee would come with us for a swim at the lake, picnic and a walk in the afternoon.
The frantic pace continued. But luckily the road was mostly flat. We were riding through the middle of a valley with mountains all around us. Finally the moment came - I couldn't keep up anymore. After 28km of riding as hard as I could I was done. "I can't do it anymore!" I yelled out to the backs of the three riders ahead as the distance between us grew. Sam had noticed before and started slowing down so I could catch back up to him and ride behind him, the other two eventually slowed as well.
And we were there. We'd arrived at the picnic location where we were meeting Sev. It was great to see her again and we chatted quickly - catching up on all that had happened since we last saw each other. The lake was cold, but refreshing after our morning sprint. And the picnic was delicious - different meats and cheeses to try, swiss chocolate... after eating we swam again.
After the swim we took the bikes to Francois's dad's work in the city of Sion and we all squished in the car to drive up a mountain and go for a walk. It was an easy walk, since we hadn't had a rest for days. The track was flat and followed alongside a stream for the first half, then around the mountain for the second part - using narrow metal bridges to cross sections that had collapsed in avalanches. We had amazing views of the valley below and mountains around us, although my legs were quite tired by the time we had finished.
We said goodbye to Lee and he rode off to continue his planned round-the-world, three year journey (which he started a month ago) and we drove up to Lens, where Severine's parents live. We would spend the next week living in the small guest challet on their property.
The challet was beautiful and comfortable, Janine and Ernest warm and welcoming, and for the first time in months we felt a sense of home.
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Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia