Yip Yip. Back in Chatel again. Mountains, good friends, Pizza, Mountain bikes, Cookie the dog - acting like I own the place.
On last year's trip to Chatel, when we were coming back after the last ride, I said to Lloyd, superguide extraordinaire, "I'm coming over for a whole week next year so that I can learn to handle steep switchbacks better." "Practice" said Lloyd. I did not. Unfortunately, I also could not stay for a whole week. Work just gets in the way of having fun. But, I do love Nutella.
So, I am here again, and I still suck at tight steep Alpine switchbacks. I am still really excited about a nice bit of singletrack high in the Alpine backcountry. I am still in love with Chatel. I still love being with my friends Lloyd, Louise, Ben, and Daisy here. So what if a high alpine switchbacks are kind of a wiff for me?
Lets get started.
In the morning, I had to drive from Friedrickshafen (where the Eurobike show tempted me with all manner of baubles and shiny objects) to Chatel. Driving in Europe is not the same as driving in the USA. Smaller roads, speeds are not consistent (which is why Europeans are not so bothered about cup holders in their cars), and no Pearl Jam on the radio (the last part is the only really difficult part of driving there). It is about a 4 hour drive, and it took all of that (of course I just played some PJ on my phone, I am short - but I am not left handed).
You get off the big roads in Monthey Suisse to get onto a smaller road over to the French side of the mountains. That is where the adventure begins. You will see a sign announcing the Porte du Soliel and when you drop over the pass into Chatel, you will imediately understand why you made the trip. As I tooled through the town, I remembered my wife Liz' words, "make sure you bring me some Chatel dotted pottery", so I whipped around and ran into the pottery store to get that done. Six espresso cups made mine. The salt shaker is another story altogether that Louise will need to come clean with.
When I arrived at Chez Grace, Lloyd already had our bikes ready to go. I did a quick change, and after a brief stop to press my maw against the glass at the salon to startle Ben (not sure that his boss appreciated the spot I must have left on the glass), we were out on the trail for Day One. Up a chair lift, and we were into the backcountry, just like that. We dropped down into the goat village and over to Morzine and life was good. It felt really great to be out on the trail with my friend Lloyd and back into the Alpes.
Somewhere along the way, Lloyd said something to some other guys to give them some advice "Go left and it is a nice little bit of single with a road out around the steeper bits. Go right, and it is death defying steep." Of course, we were going right. When we got to that bit, I wasn't sure if it would be safer to ride or walk. It was that steep. When we got to the bottom, Lloyd said "Oh, that is not that steep - no rope was required to get down it." (Yes, it is pretty much like that)
I cannot remember exactly the trails we rode on that day, but there were many. We hid behind buildings while dodging rainstorms and snaked our way from one valley to the next. The riding there is always an adventure. There were some absurdly steep sections that even without the slippery wet stuff we were on, I do not think I could ride. Did I mention that the Alpes are steeper than other mountains? Lloyd crashed hard into a bermed turn, smashing a helmet and his hand, and we feared the worst for our first day. In the end, he was fine.
We finished up our day with a couple of runs at the bike park in Chatel, where we saw all the super large jumps and gaps - but we rode like old guys and just looked for the flowwing trails with some steep and berms.
I'm up early, I cannot sleep. Could be jetlag, could just be I'm hungry, couldn't possibly have anything to do with I am in the Alpes and I am going on an epic all day adventure on my Slash! Nah. We breakfast-ed it up with some oats.
Lloyd knows that I need oats to start my day. After all, it is a grainy goodness that does a nice job scrubbing your innards and powering you up for the intergalactic space jumps. If you have not checked it out, do it now. Dig up the recipe for #joetmeal - it rules. Or, check the post out by following here or here. (check them both - its worth it.)
After breakfast we head out directly, as it is going to be a big day. We are meeting up with a couple of guys visiting in town who are also in Europe for Eurobike. We all converged on the main lift in town, and headed up from there. At that time, I did not know that we were going to be on quite the adventure that we were about to take on. Rest assured, it was big.
Up a lift to the top at Super Chatel, across a ridge trail (big fun) and down to another lift, up, a hike a bike on a trail that was bike over the shoulder stairstepping up a bunch of rocks over a peak that got us above the clouds and had huge exposure on both sides, down to the village of Vionaz in Suisse, transport to Champery, lunch there, up the tram to the top of that area, down a kick butt series of trails to a double track climb that was long and mostly pushing for an hour or so at that altitude, to the most killer ridge trail (known to Lloyd and I as "Hanna's Trail" as my yougest daughter, Hanna, rode it before me), back down to Champery, back up the tram, down some really fun singletrack to Morgin, up over the pass back to Chatel. Holy crap.
Wow, what a day. Nine hours out on the bike. We finished at a pub in Chatel where we had a beer to celebrate, and then we had dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in the world - Le Fiacre in Chatel. (In the future, I will probably put up a whole list of great restaurants. Keep tuned, I am sure that you just cannot wait for that.)
I cannot wait to do another ride like this one. I have become such a huge fan of the big day out in the Alpes (I know, I am soooo Enduro.) Regardless, it is amazing fun. A few years ago, I only wanted to ride buff singletrack (that was before I was an enduro hack - so enduro you know). Now, I cannot wait to be out in the Alpes with a pack on looking for great singletrack with a huge view. I am a convert.
For this trip, I shipped out to Lloyd's place a new carbon Slash with a custom color thrown on it. It is sexy. Equipped with XTR shifters, brakes and rear der, an XT crank, New Bontrager Line wide Enduro wheels, a 160mm Fox 36 (sweet - sweet - sweet) and a ReAktiv rear shock that is just the bomb. There is no bike that I have ever ridden like this thing.
If you have not yet checked out the Slash Carbon, you really need to. (Yes Lloyd, you need one of these not just a longer travel Remedy)
A sweet bike park.
(I know, I could pretty much just stop there)
Pila bike park outside of Aosta Italy, might just be the most glorious riding area in the world. Unlike most bike parks, it is not just jumpy jumpy trails. They have those, but it is actually filled with a ton of really cool singletrack through the woods. Kilometer after kilometer of singletrack that just keeps on going and going. If you stack the trails from the top all the way to the bottom, there is about a 20km long ribbon of trail laid out in front of you. (That is a big number, if you are having trouble with the math at home.)
In the middle of the ride, Ben's brakes went away. So, we took it to the shop at the lift. It was a cool quaint little set up. Two old Italian guys working under the lift building and repairing bikes for people to keep them on the trail. They struggled with trying to bleed Ben's brakes and spilled mineral oil all over his bike. It made it so that the brakes really didn't work for the next run. Ben flew off the trail into the weeds, I was right behind him. It might have been the most funny thing I have ever seen. Later on the lift, Ben made the famous quote "I don't want to make it an issue. It's not really an issue... It's just that I cannot stop! What a bunch of Monkeys." We never laughed so hard.
The brakes came around after he burned off all the mineral oil and washed it off so he could hold on to the bars, but it made for some good comedy along the way.
We rode as a group, and we got faster and faster by the end of the day. Maybe it was just me that got faster, as Ben and Lloyd are both much faster than me to start. But, by the end it was a freight train down the trail over and over. I hooted and and had a giggle of a time all afternoon.
I felt like I never wanted it to end. I wanted to keep riding and riding. I wish that we could have had another day there. I just do not want to stop riding my Slash in the Alpes.