Out of some unfortunate circumstances my mate Mark and I decided we were going to go and bugger off on the bikes for a few days; the conversation was short, and went something like this:
“Shall we do a coast to coast trip?”
“Sod that, let’s go to Morzine!”
To put this into perspective, mountain biking to me is Holmbury Hill, and at that, I’m more of a ‘twig trail’ rider, than a Barry’s fan… But it was decided; in 4 months time we were going to throw our bikes and ourselves off what would in my mind be pretty much be a cliff of proportions I’d never considered before.
The lead up to the trip was filled with a combination of both excitement and nerves. What kit do I need, what do I need to sort out: is it worth putting new pads in now, should I change the brake fluid again, should I give the fork lowers a once over, or am I going to bugger something up before we’ve even cross the channel? Are shin pads, knee pads and elbow pads enough? Do I need more jerseys, what about new gloves, or are they going to rub?
During the last month I’ve spent close to £400 on stuff. Out of all that new stuff I only packed a new chain, full face lid (& goggles), and a couple of jersey’s to take with me. The rest is going to be heading back to the shops.
That said, As we are driving, I took everything that could possibly come in handy, from chain lube, an airshot, and even spare shoes.
We found Google docs was a great way to prepare a checklist that we could both access and see what each other had packed – no need for two track pumps.
It’d been a long drive, but splitting it into 2 hour shifts made it very easy to do, and the Autoroutes were easy driving. For reference, it’s cost us ~£70 in tolls to get here. The scenery became prettier with each hour that passed and the closer to the Alps we got.
We found the hotel, decamped from the car and then I saw the ski lifts – and boy did that hill look steep and I was meant to be riding down it tomorrow, the nervous feelings started coming back, and thunderstorms rolled in just to help the atmosphere
To take my mind off it, we decided we’d better head out and find something to eat – and just around the corner was the Morzine Hideout, so we dived in there before we got too wet and grabbed a beer each. As it turns out Ibex is a lovely beer and they served food that was made fresh, seemed pretty healthy, and was very tasty – couldn’t ask for more.
The place was full with folk that I’d describe as pretty gnarr. The kind you’d expect to see on the cover of a MBUK magazine. This just compounded the feeling of being in at the deep end, way over my head. A few beers later everything was cool and and the next thing I knew I was waking up for ride day one…
Choosing which shorts and jersey to wear, pulling on the knee armour, and filling the water bladder was the same as usual, but it still felt like there’s a component that’s a bit different; oh yes, it’s that fear of the unknown.
Walking the bike across the wooden slatted bridge in the centre of town my thoughts turned to things like where do we get the passes from? how do I get the bike on the chair lift? But before I knew it we were at the top and searching for Le Pleney Bleu, and I was cycling – all the nerves were gone.
The first ride was fun, steeper than home, but nothing silly. And the cows had bells on them… cow bells… hearing them made me smile almost as much as bagging my first ride of the trip.
With that we decided we’d head over the Les Gets as it looked like there were more runs over that would be suited to us. Le Tour Du Golf was another run that was suited to us and we were really feeling at home after only two runs and there were so many more blues ahead. Turns out Triple8 and The Shore weren’t the same as the previous blues, this is where steep came into play. Both front and back brake we’re being dragged constantly down through the berms for fear of being spat out the top…only one minor off, but my arms and legs were jelly at the bottom of each run. We found Tomahawk was a much better run, but the bottom half was like riding on corrugated iron around the berms.
A few hours in and we’d probably only managed 7 or 8 descents and we were shattered. Even popping over the water drainage gutters wasn’t happening anymore, we we decided to head back.
Following Le Tour du Golf back instead of following the red trail back to Plenny wasn’t so nice with 25% gradients at places and in the hot sun it was sapping our already tired legs – but once we were past the golf course it was downhill all the way.
At the top of Pleney we took the left blue and I got a little lost, taking us over some nasty roots and I stacked it. I landed on my right elbow / shoulder.
I think it was mainly from fatigue and no longer weighting the bike correctly and bad brake modulation. Or to put it simply / honestly my ambition outweighed ability.
The elbow pads did a great job and my shoulder was only bruised – I felt lucky that my scaphoid didn’t break
We tootled back to the bottom and Morzine and that was the first days riding done, the nerves were mainly gone, and we’d done some discovering, and yep, it’s steep.
Dinner was a burger and a few beers in town, and another fairly early night, as tomorrow we were off to Super-Morzine
Still a little apprehensive this morning, and the lift up on Super-Morzine wasn’t helping, things are looking even steeper. Thankfully looking about from the next lift up (Zore) things didn’t look as steep. In addition you can get a good look at some of the trails below the lift. There’s lots of berms and some big tables!
Choosing the closest green down into the Seraussaix valley. From popping of the first roller I knew this was made for me, all the way down it was flowing rollers, tables and mini berms, and it had gradients I was much more at home with. more used to. My confidence growing.
On the way back up we decided that we should take a run out over to Châtel as we both fancied trying out ‘Panoramic’ (as MTB-idle suggests), and so off we went down an orange line what was labelled ‘enduro’.
This was almost natural single track, rocky loose stones, short ups mixed with the downs, and a lot of fun, but agin very tiring.
This popped us out into Lindaretes, a little cluster of buildings (cafes and ski lifts) and a stream running through. Up up up we went and there’s Panoramic. Every review I’d read before now mentions this run and boy was it good. A bit trickier and steeper then the previous runs today.
The trail surface was smooth and had a real fresh feel to it. Again I found it hard work and was glad to get a break when the reason for the smooth surface became apparent, a digger was on the track doing some trail maintenance.
We stopped for a bite to eat and a coke – panini for the win. An observation was that although they serve the drinks ice cold, it never comes with ice.
Serpentine, and it’s named appropriately, with a very steep snaking berms mixed in with some other neat bits that didn’t seem to be so formulaic like sone of the others. This was the first time today that I was really hanging on my brakes for most of the run. My thighs and forearms really felt it. I’d come back to this one someday if ever I feel like I can handle that kind of gradient.
It was a nice break enjoying the two lifts right to the top at Avoriaz with its oddly shaped hotels.
Fourmiz is a wonderful green run down from Avoriaz that is worth searching out, a wonderful change of pace to everything else we’d seen so far.
We Finished the day playing mainly on the greens, and took the Super-Morzine gondola back to base. I was thankful for this as we were still at 800m above Morzine and my arms and legs were just about done. I didn’t want a repeat of yesterday’s over the bars.
Today I think learned that my anxiety has settled, I knew when to head home and best of all – cow bells make me smile
Getting to Grips with it…
It’s the final day and we’ve decided that although there’s loads of rails still to explore, we’d prefer to spend time on the trails we know we’re going to enjoy rather than seek out new trails. From what we’ve seen up on the Zore area, that’s where we both enjoyed most, so off we went to play.
Everything today just gelled nicely, I felt more at home on the steep sections, Tutti Frutti with the close packed successive berms flowed nicely, and Cap Canaveral with the tabletops mixed in with the berms were just right on our third day of riding.
Mixing this with plenty of runs on the green and even skipping in that rocky enduro route in, the day was a winner with confidence high and limbs only just starting to fatigue by the time we called it a day; with ‘one more run’ waiting for us next time.
Home now. I feel like I’d only just started getting to grips with the gradients and building confidence with the smaller jumps and big bermed steep switchbacks.
Would I want more time there, of course. But then maybe it’s a good thing to be going home knowing I’ve progressed a fair bit, the bike has been pretty much flawless, I’m not too damaged, and I’m wanting to come back and develop my riding further.
Would I recommend it? without question, it’s brilliant and you don’t need to be a gnarr rider to enjoy it. And there’s cow bells!
The only downside I can see to the trip is that I’m not sure if I can be bothered pedalling up onto Leith Hill next time I’m out.