The snowy Alps
02:00 am, beginning of April, somewhere close to a little village called Gap, France. I wake up because something cold is touching my face, I can’t see a thing. Half asleep I look around for my flashlight, found it. I try to find the little make it go button but it doesn’t work. Damn, dead battery? No, I’ve put in new ones before I left, two days ago. Blown bulb? Can’t be, it’s LED. The cold air wakes me up a bit more and I realize I am trying to light my water bottle. “That’s my problem right there”, I think to myself. Proud of myself for unraveling this mystery, I continue my search for the lost light source. And sure enough, hidden underneath some dirty socks, I find my trusty flashlight. I switch it on and my whole tent is visible again, including the frost in my sleeping bag. Wait, what? It’s freezing? Slowly memories from the previous night seep into my foggy brain.
It was late. I had a long journey of bike riding behind me. That morning I packed up my tent in Besançon, just east of Dijon and decided to drive as south as possible, not using toll routes, but instead choosing the beautiful back roads. They led me straight into the beginning of the Alps. As it was my second day on the road, I was euphoric to see these wonderful mountain roads again, you can’t compare it with anything here in Belgium. Besaçon, Lons-le-Saunier, Oyonnax, Chambéry, Grenoble… They all flew by and I completely forgot about the time. Until I saw the sun going down that was. Not to worry, I thought, I’ll just point my GPS to the nearest campsite and I’ll be eating water boiled food beside my tent in no time. “Go!” the GPS button told me, so that was exactly what I did, only 5 km’s before I arrive. Wonderful.
5 km’s later and I stood before the closed gates of a campsite that was still enjoying his winter sleep. “Shit, it’s only April, a lot of these campsites will still be closed”, I told my bike. Apparently she didn’t really care, she just hummed along the way only a boxer engine can. It took me an hour to find a campsite that was still open and by that time it was already dark. Without being aware of all the climbing I did, I set up my tent, enjoyed some readymade pasta and went to sleep.
It was only now, in the middle of the night, I realized I was at 1000m + altitude. A quick look on my gadget thermometer and I knew why there was frost on my sleeping bag. -6°C. Minus. Six. Degrees. Some investigation had to be done, I grabbed my sleeping bag and looked for the little etiquette that told me the operating temperatures of this sleeping device. Comfort: +3°C. Damn, I was officially out of my comfort zone. It must be true, my sleeping bag just told me so. Limit: -2°C. Ohw Cock. Not even was I out of my comfort zone, I just crossed “The Limit Border”. Extreme: -18°C. Hmm. So I’m not dead yet. I decided to tell myself I was living life pretty extreme. Right, I had to come up with an action plan. Some guy once told me: “Hey man, you know a sleeping bag is designed to keep you the warmest when you are naked right?” … Yes! Brilliant plan! And off my clothes went. There I was, lying naked in my sleeping device, being all extreme and stuff. After a couple of minutes I started to doubt the guys theory about nakedness and sleeping bags. I was proper cold.
He was always cold after jumping in ice rivers, I searched my freezing brain and remembered his wise words. Go roll in the snow! No snow. Damn. Build a fire! I’ll destroy my tent… Push-ups! Yes, push-ups. Great idea. And so it happened that I was doing push-ups, in the middle of the night, in my tent, on a lonely campsite in the Alps, naked. It worked though. After being all warmed up again I put on as many clothes as I could, wrapped myself in sleeping bag material and, cursing the naked theory guy, I fell asleep.
The next morning I woke up to a beautiful frozen landscape and ditto bike. I have the video to prove it: https://youtu.be/vZYVUCjddW8 I remember being scared that I would not be able to start my bike because of a dead battery, but decided to worry about such an inconvenience until after breakfast. Muesli with a chunk of frozen water.
This little incident describes my second night of a trip that would last for 7 months, even though it should’ve lasted only one. I took my bike from Belgium to France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Greece and Corfu. Along the way I used Helpx to cut the costs and meet many wonderful people at the same time. For those of you who do not know Helpx: it is a website where people who need help with different kinds of tasks can invite you their home. You will help them with those tasks and in return they give you accommodation and food. So basically, you live for free and you do interesting things during the day. It’s a win-win. In Croatia I helped a German couple with their dog and cat shelter, in Bulgaria I helped an UK/Russian couple with their organic garden and in Corfu I was responsible for a youth hostel. I will get to them more in-depth and with more pictures in my next posts.