Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Different directions

October 2nd, 2009

Colmar sign

920 km from Colmar to the Vale of the White Horse. But you probably knew that…

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Reflections on France

October 2nd, 2009

France had made me very welcome. The people and the weather had been kind to me, both of which had helped the process of adapting to a long period on the road. I was immensely grateful. Those early days, sat in the leafy shade back at Etables-sur-Mer, seemed like a long time ago now. I’d decided to return there on my homeward journey, retracing those first tentative steps.

The gentle hills of Brittany, its sheltered bays and estuaries, had eventually given way to open plains south of Paris. Just the occasional fertile river valley cutting deep into an otherwise uninteresting landscape. East of Troyes a return to more rolling countryside, then, beyond Epinal, into tree clad mountains.

It had not been without its challenges, but I’d always expected that. Inevitable teething troubles. Sadly, my French was little improved but I’d always stuck with it, sometimes to the frustration of others. I’d do the same with German, and that really was a foreign language to me. Now much fitter and stronger on the bike, I was ready for Germany and the Danube.

La France. Merci beaucoup.

Au revoir!

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At the summit

October 2nd, 2009

At the summit from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

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The Big Push

October 2nd, 2009

At the top

Col de la Schlucht was the highest point on the European stage of the expedition, some 3,200 feet above sea level. Not exactly Everest, but higher than the Scafell Pike, and I’m not sure I’d drag a bike up there. Bright but with a chill breeze, I found a sheltered spot on the terrace of a cafe. It was quiet, mostly German bikers, clad in brightly coloured leathers. I watched for a while as a few workmen prepared the nearby ski lift for the forthcoming season.

Then the descent to Colmar. About 35 kilometres. I joked with a young French couple that I’d be down in about twenty minutes. Actually it was about an hour, but I did stop to take a few photographs. Winding down through the forest, these weren’t exactly alpine switch-backs, but they’d do. Then, quite suddenly, you emerged from the woods, still high above the valley bottom. Proper alpine pastures.

Passing swiftly through the villages towards the town of Munster, there was only the familiar boulangeries to remind you that you were still in France. Even the places sounded German – Soultzeren, Stosswihr and Gunsbach. The houses were different – steep sided roofs ready for the winter snows. Grazing cattle, each with a huge bell around its neck, the slightest movement making it clang quite noisely.

I’d been under canvas every night since I’d arrived in France, and, as the country drew to a close, it was time to try a roof over my head. A small motel on the outskirts of Colmar. The owner showed me a room, tucked out of sight at the back. The decor was dated, the furniture an assorted of styles, and not even the Gideons had visited. But it had clean towels and fluffy pillows. And it was cheap. I would take it.

Later I wandered to the bar, past the abandoned car and the assortment of discarded shopping trolleys. I don’t think it was actually open, but the owner let me in anyway. An assortment of tools on the empty tables, neat piles of paperwork amongst them. He was a jovial character and, as I explained about my venture, he gave me a cold beer and some pretzels.

Being so different to the rest of France, I wondered if this part of the country had ever been part of Germany. No, the owner explained, the answer lay in the unique origins of the Alsace region’s culture. It could trace its heritage back several thousand years to a time when what he described as ’Old German’ was spoken along the length of the Rhine. A language, he was very adamant, was no relation of modern ’Deutsh’. The region still had its own dialect, Alascien, which, I was assured, was incomprehensible to a French speaker.

In the morning at breakfast it seemed I was the only guest. The owner explained that he would be closing the restaurant over the weekend for refurbishment. You had to admire his optimism.

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Mountains to climb

October 2nd, 2009

An early lunch was in order, and the ’Snack des sapins’ cabin looked just the place. A couple of pain au chocolat for breakfast would not be enough to comfortably reach Col de la Schlucht, at over 3,200 feet the highest point of the European section of the expedition.

Snack des sapins

It was Seige’s place. He wondered if I was on my way back to England. Sort of, I explained. I told him about my venture. I’d ordered hamburger and medium frites – what arrived was half a baguette filled with beef burgers, almost hidden by the frites piled on top. There was more than one mountain to be climbed that day….

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Sign of the road ahead

September 30th, 2009

Road sign

Route des Cretes – that sounded like hard work…

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Altitude sickness?

September 30th, 2009

Smurfs

First it was Goldilocks, now the Smurfs. I was sure I was drinking out of the right bottle…

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Ups and downs

September 30th, 2009

Beyond Froncles the rhythmic ebb and flow of the gentle valleys was replaced by steeper climbs and long, winding descents.  The pattern was broken only by the town of Bourmont, siting imposingly on a steep sided conical hill.  The precipitous, narrow streets were deserted, a gentle breeze easing the afternoon heat a little.  A sharply pointed church spire jutted out from amongst the houses on the very top of the hill, where otherwise a castle might have stood.

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Blue skies and blue screens

September 29th, 2009

It couldn’t have happened in a nicer place.  Three thousand feet up in the largely deserted ski resort of Belles-Huttes, about 50 km short of the German border at Freiburg.  Cloudless skies, warm in the afternoon, bitter at night.

It had worked the night before.  But not now.  The netbook wasn’t playing, just the dreaded blue screen before it turned itself off.  Maybe it was sulking.  In the grand scheme of things it shouldn’t matter.  At worst, maybe a few weeks without my own working computer on a venture that would take years to complete.  As you can see, it doesn’t stop me from keeping the website up to date, it just makes it that bit harder.

Reflecting over lunch, this was just another problem to be solved.  There would be many more.  And I had a plan……

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Goldilocks

September 28th, 2009

Cottage

The bears had gone out for the day… Actually, this is a permanent residence on a campsite in Epinal, Eastern France. No, really. And it’s illuminated at night.

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