As I lay out my riding kit for tomorrow’s commute, my mind wanders to happier times. Snow, mountains, beers, belly laughs, friends old and new….all the things which Winter Camp 2018 delivered in abundance. And a wry smile falls across my face.
Here’s what we got up to…
Thursday 25th January 2018 – The Travel Day
A 03:45 alarm saw me spring out of bed like a kid on Christmas Day, having had the best nights sleep I’d had in the last couple of days; I’d been very excited recently, as you can no doubt imagine.
Joe arrived and we were shuttled to the airport by his wife, Fliss, before she went to work (she is a good egg, that one). There we met up with Stephen from Wigan and Dan from….well, just down the road from me. After the inevitable “weigh in worry” we waved goodbye to the bikes and prayed they’d be taken care of by the baggage handlers, both home and abroad. To ease the worry, we headed for the bar. Are you really on holiday if you don’t have a beer at 06:30?
After a short and uneventful flight (other than the amusement of speaking to a man who didn’t know which end of the plane the pilot was at) we touched down in Geneva. Bikes intact, we wandered through the airport, bumped into and introduced ourselves to Lee, and ventured out to look for an illegally parked Gairy. We quickly found him stood with Steven, whose flight from Antwerp had landed earlier, and it was smiles and handshakes all round. It was great to see Gairy and Steven again and fall back into well established friendships. A bit of bike bag Tetris and we were en route to Chamonix.
As we skidded up the narrow drive to the Lodge, we were greeted with the sight of Allan, Robin, Ashley and Matt hurriedly assembling their bikes after their journey by car from Southampton. The arrival of Dean meant our team was complete. Within an hour or so we’d dumped our bags, had a quick look round the lodge and assembled our bikes and were ready for a wander.
The plan was to head up the valley, have a little play in the snow, come home and unpack and then have a wander into town for our evening meal. Pretty much all of that happened except La Yaute Cafe got in the way. Eager to make new friends, catch up with old ones and make full use of an unplanned happy hour, we stayed until the sun went down.
Three pints, less than perfect snow conditions and pitch black trails made for a hilarious ride home.
A quick freshen up and we were back out to our adopted Ride HQ; a cool little microbrewery called MBC for burgers and ribs. Whilst we were there we had a visit from Robert Wine, a member of the UK Fatbike Facebook group, who had seen the spectacle of us riding through town en masse earlier and had posted up on Facebook to see if anyone knew who we were. By the power of social media we were able to meet him for a pint and get him to take us a group photo. Small world eh!
It was during this evening that Steven Geelen begun what was to become an obsession with visiting the two local nightclubs, especially the one called Le Tof, having been informed by the waitress that it was “the place to be, for those who want to do some dancing” but that it was pointless going any earlier that 02:00! To appease his appetite for clubbing, we promised him we’d go tomorrow.
Friday 26th January 2018 – The Hill Day
In the saddle by 10:00, we headed out; destined for Vallorcine. Gairy had mentioned that the day would be a little lumpy but we all convinced ourselves it couldn’t be that bad. And then the climbing started! The quickest way to gain any altitude was to head straight up Col des Montets.
It was so gruelling, it completely destroyed Ashley’s hub bearings. Or something like that. And Lee was so tired, he had to have a little lay down.
All this physical exertion meant it was surely time for a bite to eat and a little drink. So we rolled down the hill to La Ferme Des 3 Ours; a wonderful restaurant with amazing views and amazing food. Apparently the wine wasn’t instantly amazing, so Gairy, Joe and Steven had to try a second bottle.
Full of food, we headed out to enjoy our reward for all the climbing. We weren’t disappointed.
The conditions, views and company were just perfect and we were sad to see the day end. So we eeeked it out a little longer by nipping for a quick pint on the way home. I’m not sure if “Apres Bike” was a thing already but we’ve claimed it as our own and it’s now trademarked to Fatbiking Europe Magazine!
Taking our eye off the ball, we realised we hadn’t organised an evening meal so we decided upon a beer and pizza night back at the lodge. It was only after we’d purchased a trolley full of food and beer that we remembered we also had the bikes. If only I had a photo of Joe and Lee, each riding home with a 24 bottle crate of beer on their bars!
We returned home and “Definitely not Italian” Dan fired up the pizza oven*. The first batch were tepid and ten minutes later the second lot were burnt to a crisp. Unphased, the Jagermeister and tequila was opened and it all went downhill from there.
*dodgy lodge cooker.
Saturday 27th January – The Italian Jobbie Day
With the inevitable grogginess a 02:30 finish brings, we had a somewhat slower start to the day. We thanked our lucky stars that the post 02:00 finish didn’t result in a trip to Le Tof, despite it seeming like a really good idea last night!
The mid morning weather in Chamonix was as foggy as our heads, so we packed up the trailer and headed through the tunnel and over the border into Italy. As we neared the end of the tunnel, the light was akin to how people who cheat the reaper describe their last moments, before they meet their maker. Quite apt really, given that some of the group looked close to death.
The sun was blinding, and certainly not the minus 6 degrees forecast. We were overdressed, to say the least. But in some respects, under dressed when compared to the locals, who exhibited a snow style seldom seen elsewhere.
The scenery was simply breathtaking and it was hard to take it all in. Well, it was beautiful……….. depending on which way you were looking!
The riding conditions were less than perfect but that really didn’t matter. We’d have pushed our bikes for miles just to be surrounded by such scenery.
Sadly, the fun wasn’t to last as the snow got softer and deeper the further up the valley we travelled until, eventually, the trail disappeared completely. We were told that the 3.5m of snowfall was a contributory factor and who were we to argue. Purely by coincidence (and if you believe nothing in this post, believe this) the trail disappeared right next to a wonderful little cafe bar, complete with deck chairs to soak up the glorious summer sun. It would have been rude not to capitalise on such an opportunity, so we stopped for tea / coffee / beer and cake and took approximately one million photographs of our stunning surroundings.
As the sun faded, we headed back to the trail head.
By the time we reached the car park, the sun had faded, signalling the end to one of the most amazing days in the saddle any of us had experienced. It was short, but Lord was it sweet.
All that was left to do was for Gairy to safely transport the majority of the bikes back to France. Which he almost didn’t do, did you mate? I don’t care how much fun you can have doing doughnuts in a snow-covered car park, this was not the best way to discover that the ratchet straps weren’t tight!
The evening was spent trying on a single hat, drinking Le Chouffe and pretending to go in Le Tof.
Sunday 28th January 2018 – The Cold Day
The forecast had indicated perfect conditions first thing, so we made a concerted effort to be in the saddle by 09:00. In stark contrast to the previous day’s sunshine, the -6.2degs temps certainly dispelled any early morning tiredness. We headed up the valley to Argentiere, where the combination of the previous nights drizzle and sub-zero temps had created a lovely rideable crust, allowing for some brilliant off piste action in the forest. There wasn’t anywhere we couldn’t ride…until we’d inevitably hit a hidden soft spot causing an unexpected and unceremonious catapult over the bars. But that’s half the fun; if you don’t fall off, you’re not trying hard enough.
After a little light lunch (except for Joe, who appeared to have purchased the worlds roundest burger) and some questionable maths skills…….
we headed back out for one last dick-about in the snow.
As we headed for the lodge with heavy hearts, we were treated one last blast along a flowing, groomed downhill trail. Fast. Flowing. Fun.
And that was it. The last bit of snowy fun. As much as I personally miss my wife and daughters, it was pretty hard to drag myself away from such amazing riding.
With bikes and bags packed, we headed out to eat for one last time. A giraffe of beer, you say? Well, why not break the habit of a bike trip.
And so, Winter Camp was over for another year. It just leaves me to sincerely thank everyone who made it the success that it was. Without the good people who parted with their hard-earned cash to come and have a dick about in the snow and share a few light ales, there would be no Winter Camp. And that’s a fact. So thanks again for a smashing time.
And what of those who came along for the ride? They leave with their memories a little richer, their smiles a little wider, and their friends a little more in number. And that, dear reader, is what life is all about.
If you fancy getting amongst it, we’ll be back next year for Winter Camp 2019; a little bit bigger but probably not any better. We are just idiots who ride bikes, after all.