Gimme Shelter on the portable speaker mixes with the cheering of a soggy crowd through the open window as a new wave of runners cross the finishing line, and for a moment it sounds as though The Stones are playing at the inaugural North Face Ultra Trail of Mont Blanc. Must be Chamonix.
Our first few days started with biblical rain, all the way down to Portsmouth, where the ferry was delayed for an hour due to fuel issues. 5 more hours of reclining-chair-lounge joy ended with a decent meal in the restaurant while we thought about putting our waterproofs back on for the short ride to the hotel, arrival 22:30. Bottle of wine in the room, nonsense on the stereo, lights out.
Our actual first day was much better; a motorway morning ends at Amboise with pork medallions in cider for him and a steak for her, served outside a street restaurant next to great big chateau. Do the Loire Valley. Drop down onto the back roads for some twisty fun through the vineyards into the Auvergne, ending a 350 mile day with enigmatic Henri and rare peppercorn roast beef and walnut salad at Les Voisins. There’s something about the Dutch when it comes to running campsites – they’re just so damn good! Our host was beginning to wind down after a hit-and-miss season and didn’t expect two late arrivals wanting to be fed as well, yet he rustled up a veritable banquet as we drank Hoegaarden on the terrace and watched goats playing with a pot-bellied pig. Dessert was of the liquid grape variety served next to the bikes, watching a German couple who’d arrived in a Mini struggle with a tent big enough to admit their them and their car.
Thursday saw us leaving early on the local roads, and I’m going to blame the wine for this, but Boss-girl developed a bit of an issue with bends. Left-handers in particular seemed to faze her and must have made it hard to take in the increasingly appealing scenery, but she gamely battled on, all the way up the Col des Aravis. Apart from this one tourist spot traffic was very light – would hate to see this in high season! Service station sandwiches munched while the tents dried made up lunch, then high-tail it to the unseasonably busy Chamonix Mont Blanc. For some reason it’s jam-packed to the rafters and we’re forced to abandon the bikes at the start of some woods by the edge of town. Good job Midnight Express are still in business, churning out calorie-bomb burgers of epic proportions, which we get all over our faces while watching the last contestants finish a 56km race that also climbs 3300m over it’s course around Mont Blanc. Sometimes it’s good to just watch.
Friday was always planned as a rest day and I for one feel we did it proud; retail therapy for Boss-girl in the morning followed by a stroll up the Brevent, whistling at the Marmots and cooing at the parapenters suspended in the scenery. We made it back to base just in time before the heavens opened, the town alive again with another race ending noisily in the church square. Get what you need? Sing it, Mick.