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A Tale of Two Halves

25 September 2018

By Jamie Nicoll & Elena Munstermann

Hi Ground Effect people

Here's a wee story from a recent weekend away in Switzerland, as always, trying to answer that nomadic calling of mine.

A rustic Swiss refuge hut in La Derbonne Valley of western Switzerland, Dorbon Refuge more resembles a pile of rocks with prayer flags attached, until you get close, and then as you open the door the cosy warmth and hospitality of Irene and Stephan just draws you in, in the most relaxing and old-school kind of way.

Me being me, I needed to feel I'd earnt it and created an adventure to get to this location: study the map; park and sleep in the car in Chamoson village with my lady Elena; pedal up on ever deteriorating mountain roads; then hike-a-bike 300m vert of steep exposed trail to Pas de Chamosentse, grovelling across ledges with cables to hold on to. For me it was all good - we were surrounded by massive stone cliffs and spires, sun shining, mountain air and alpine scenery... so why does Elena not look like she's having a ball... hmm does anyone make a pack that can carry two bikes...?

We crossed the pass, a dip in the glacier lake had me good to go, a quick warning to Elena that the trail down the valley from here to Dorbon refuge is a little, ah technical (I'd ridden that part once before)...it's a valley littered with exposed marble bedrock, fluted and sculpted like the stuff on Takaka hill in the Tasman Bay. Between the few easy sections on gravel flats which seemed to sail past way too fast, lay the tyre grabbing, chainring grinding trials riding trail, that takes hold and dominates forward progress, there was that look again, 'she' isn't having the best time I reckon. A stop for a snack, discussions about why one would ever bring a bike here at all, and promises from me of all the goodness we would shortly find in the refuge, we descended the last few hundred meters with smiles.

Warm tea and cake and the smiles got even bigger and started to outweigh the one sided 7 hour day of fun 'we'd' had.

All the wholesome ingredients for Irene's organic home cooking and baking are bought in on two donkeys from the lake at the end of the valley. Rad animals, I could see them grazing just behind the hut - these guys are too cool.

Stephan being no stranger to bikes - having cycle toured from Geneva to India a few years ago - loved having a play on our modern mountain bikes, trying to re-master his hardtail wheelie, while his visiting father and the local shepherd looked on.

Warm fire, candle lights and delicious food served around oak tables and bench seats to the 20 plus guests. We’d brought a tent as we had been told the refuge dorm was full, and so under this starry night we crawled into our sleeping bags, were instantly attacked by the two kittens leaping around between the fly and inner tent, before finally all we could hear was the rustle of prayer flags in the breeze.

A breakfast of fresh baked bread and homemade jams while the suns' orange line painted its way down the cliffs and alpine meadows above. Wow, another beautiful autumn day. When Elena woke she found she'd forgotten to pack her daily contacts and yesterdays lay on the sandy tent floor. We did what needed to be done, nothing... and carried on, riding the now easier trails down from the refuge, we worked together with me riding slow enough for Elena to follow my blurry shape and be able to see the bumps I encountered, we actually really enjoyed it and had a lot of fun, with Elena's great balance and trust, she rode amazingly well, and was buzzing off her altered visionary experience.

Passing the lower lake and more fun single track we traversed through exposed cliffs, high above the gorge below, this time on a wider trail, out of the mountains and down to the main valley, to the quiet and stillness of a European Sunday.

If you are keen, next year could be your last chance before these two lovely people head for new adventures and other pastures. Please pass on my warm greetings if anyone makes it there.

Jamie Nicoll (Adventures!)

P.S. After checking my words, Elena felt inspired to bring some type of balance to my story for you readers, here's just a little about the start of our day in her eyes and in her words…

"Now, here is my story. Me, the 'lady Elena' who has been taken on, what she thought would be a romantic, sweet little Swiss bike weekend. As weekends generally promise, and in particular those that are a bit of a get-away holiday style, I was expecting a relaxed start to the day, no need to rush I thought, as I was told the trip to the hut would take us 5 hours maximum. 8:30 in the morning, packing my riding pack, I got interrupted by my man, he was going on about mountain expeditions and how real mountaineers normally get up at 3am to start their day, stress hit me, and I rushed to finish packing the last bits and pieces into my riding pack. First mistake of the day, one I would only find out later on our second day. Anyhow, we started our climb, which was actually a really nice climb but it was only at this point, that Jamie, full of joy, presented the pass to me, which we were supposed to climb. Miles away, it appeared very rocky, exposed and as a very dramatic looking mountain side. No worries, step by step, or rather pedal by pedal I thought to myself. After some minor instagram arguments about life and why everything needs to go online, while I was sweating away in the sun, we ended up at a beautiful field in the middle of the mountains. Cows were grazing around us, we made a little snack stop. Life was good. This was when I found out that there were two ways to get to where we wanted to go. First option: A track known by Jamie, but with 100 additional vertical meters. Second option: An unknown track to Jamie, but with less vertical meters. I, full of adventure spirit, was advocating for option two, to skip some vertical meters and make it more fun for Jamie, so that he can explore a new track. Another mistake. My little pedal by pedal wisdom soon didn’t work anymore. Hike-a-bike it was from now on. Okay, no big deal, I've done this before. I got this. I was doing okay-ish until we hit a point were I was more hike-a-biking vertical than horizontal. My bike on my back was heavy and wouldn’t let me hike close enough to the cliff wall. On my left side was the cable to hold on to, on my right side a cliff face. Not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, but I definitely have mentioned it to Jamie. I am not so great with heights and the feeling of falling down into a field of rocks, where I could potentially die (at least in my mind), did not appeal to me much either. Jamie went first and saw that I was struggling with fear and exhaustion. Lucky me, this man reaches out to me asking if he should rather hold my hand or take my bike off me. And you know how the rest of the story goes, we made it!"

That's all, I sounded good at the end there though didn't I? You'll have to ask Elena for the rest next time she's over in Kiwiland, you might even find her eating scones at the Ground Effect office on a Tuesday morning... who knows.