Michael W
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Crossing Mountains: The High Alps Challenge

Michael W
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11 Aug 2014

Two years ago we set out on an adventure. Geneva to Nice on two wheels. High mountains and the commitment to raise money and awareness of Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. Two years on and three HACs later we have seen 26 people make this epic journey boasting over £13000 for the LLR cause. We are proud. 2014 saw 10 riders at the start line on the shores of Lake Geneva. With a support team of Sue, Cliff, Michael and Trigger. The camp was set and slowly and surely the team arrived at our first campsite. Bikes unpacked and an eager anticipation of the week ahead. Luckily the clouds covered the mountain peaks so the true nature challenge could not be appreciated. The beauty of Lake Geneva certainly was.

Day 1 of the tour was a two peaker. A long drag out to the foot of the Col du Colombiere and followed by the “gentle” Col des Aravis. It is beautiful and an area that we know well. However, the rain that came meant that there was an added spice. It was the first time that Stefan’s dress sense became apparent. It was the start of a dubious routine, finish a peak, take your jersey off, roll your shorts up so that you look like the Hoff, and wear a transparent jacket. It was in order to stay dry but at least we were in the middle of nowhere, otherwise I would suspect he would be arrested. The rain kept pouring but it added to the challenge. We arrived at Chalet la Giettaz, where Chris and Miranda, with their usual hospitality, surprised us with a warm apartment rather than tents. It was welcomed as everybody dried off before moving on. Away from the rain.

Day 2 is in fact one of my favourites. It meanders up towards the Col des Saisies, one of the only times on the trip that you can appreciate alpine meadows, it is calmly stunning. But then after dropping down to Beaufort, you ascend up to the Cormet du Roseland. Up near the top is the stunning lac. The wildness of the place continues all the way down to Bourg Saint Maurice in a bendy, long descent. People now realised why it was called the High Alps Challenge.

Day 3 was a big climb. The Col de l’Iseran, 46km. Mark was suffering with sore knees but although this affected his pace, he continued to climb, with his characteristic smile upon his face. An inspiration to those who could easily give up and stop. He simply didn’t. It also became apparent at how good Nick actually was. He shot off and decided to make haste to the campsite. He completed the stage in a great time and annoyingly for me meant that he could watch most of the Tour de France in the campsite’s chill out room. 

Day 4, Paul was confused, that or obsessed. Everyday he said “is this the Galibier?” he had done it once before. Clearly he was spooked! He kinda had a right to be. It is a big one. But I think it is certainly doable. This is when we have to admit that the support team have a pretty good time of it. Driving half way up the Galibier, we stopped off and enjoyed an omelette in an old converted shepard’s hut. It’s a hard life. The weather was clearing and we knew that the back of this challenge was broken. Two more challenges lay before the finish in Nice. Col du Vars and the Bonnette – the highest road in France.

Day 6, Becca and Emma showed that the women could cut the mustard. They whizzed up the Col du Vars. I think it was because they knew that we were BBQing sausages at the top. I think that this is the border between the alpine North and the Mediterrean south. You can really start to sense the change in the fauna. It becomes sparse and the heat is much more apparent. Perfect for the BBQ! It is a short day and meant that everybody could enjoy a swim in the nearby lake of the campsite in Jausier. Joe got his hands on a compulsory cycling cap. If there can be, this was an easy day.

Day 7, not an easy day. The whole team was spread out across the Cime de Bonette. Ivan is a stealth operator and an all-round good guy. He unleashed on the Bonnette and showed that despite his calm demeanour, he has a tough side when it comes to climbing. We got to the top… that is unbelievably steep by the way. We all knew now that everybody would complete the challenge. Similar to the Tour de France, the last day into Nice is somewhat processional.

The final day. Nice. The achievement and satisfaction. The champagne to signify the end. Everybody had done it. A proudness overcame me, of the group. Strangers at the beginning, friends at the end. It is what it is all about. Last year my dad joined our team on the HAC. He loved it. He created it. Unfortunately last October, lymphoma got the better of him. It was a surprise that he died. He was set for a good few years helping with the HAC. Unfortunately this is life and he is not around to see this great group of people traverse some of the highest peaks in Europe. Money does not make up for the loss but our efforts in raising funds for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research would have made him proud and happy. Thank you everybody – those who rode, those who helped and those who donated.