Well that was some good fun!
I had only got about 15 minutes out of Leysin before I got bored with walking. I got the thin nylon hammock I had bought in anticipation of making some sort of parachute with, attached it to the ski poles I had scrounged off a local ski shop, and put together a makeshift parachute. It worked like a charm. A gentle head-on breeze helped matters, and the extra frontal area kept me at a nice fast running pace much of the way down the hill from Leysin to Aigle.
I was so estatic that I forgot to put my helmet on. I almost regretted that oversight too. At one point the wind blew me off balance. I managed to jump off the board ok, but the board rolled off the road and down a steep embankment. I trespassed into the orchard below and retrieved the board with no other hiccups.
Cars and cyclists gazed at the fellow on a board. I was told that I wouldn’t be able to skate down that hill. I told myself I wouldn’t be able to skate down that hill.
I skated the heck out of that hill. I can’t wait for my next big downhill…
From Aigle to Montreux it was straight forward enough. I had a head breeze that was sapping my energy for a while, but that soon turned into a nice tailwind just as I was pulling into the beautiful town of Montreux on the shores of Lake Geneva. There I slept for a while under a tree and read more of It’s Not About The Bike by Lance Armstrong. For the first time on my travels so far I have packed a book with me. It is proving to be essential – getting used to skating again is taking time.
I cooked dinner (pasta with cheese and tomato salsa) on the Red Bull can stove, and watched a storm come up from the end of the valley. By the time I had found a construction site with a dry piece of covered concrete to sleep on, it was belting down with rain.
Today’s distance / 今日の走行距離: N/A
Average speed / 平均速度: N/A
Time on skateboard / 走行時間: N/A
Total skateboarding distance to date / 今までスケボで走った距離: N/A
Total cycling distance to date / 今まで自転車で走った距離: 11,800km
Ascent / 上り: N/A
Descent / 下り: N/A
So today is the big day. Leaving Leysin with a pack on my back and a skateboard under my arm. The first few hours of today will be walking. I am currently at 1,400m in altitude, and the valley floor where the flat cycle paths await is at about 500m. Between here and there is a steep descent. Once I have everything dialed and my ‘air brakes’ fine tuned (stay tuned for details of what they are), I should be able to skateboard down most steep descents. But not today.
I must thank the readers of the 14degrees blog for their honest opinions about the big change in mode of transport.
I will also take the liberty to state how I feel about the ‘validity’ of the change.
For me, this journey from Japan to England is not about the bike. It is not about the skateboard. It is about intentionally putting myself outside of my comfort zone mentally and physically. It is about the freedom of packing up a bag full of stuff, and leaving. It is about exploring. It is about proving right about humanity that which I always hoped to be true – that despite the failings of human nature, humans are intrinsically good. It is about adventure.
I have found all these things and more during my journey. I believe that I will continue to find these things as I continue my journey on a skateboard.
As for the reason behind making the switch, it all began in Uzbekistan about 5 months ago. I was without my bicycle because I had caught a train from where I was staying to the capital in order to visit the Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan embassies (see blog post). I was walking down the street, and it came to me that it would be so much more efficient if I had a skateboard, rather than having to walk. And since a skateboard is small and light, I wouldn’t have to worry about having to leave it outside buildings when I went in.
From those humble beginnings, I started fantasizing about travelling by skateboard. I did some preliminary research, and discovered that a team of three guys had once held the world record for long distance skateboarding, by skateboarding in relay across the US. I then discovered www.boardfree.co.uk. This is the story of Dave Cornthwaite and how he skated the length of the UK and then across Australia from Perth to Brisbane, setting a new world record in the process. These are magnificent achievements of human endurance.
What I wanted to do, however, was combine my love for self-supported travel with the physical challenge and joy of physical exercise. On a bike, you have all you need strapped to the bike. What hasn’t been done before, is ultra-long distance on a skateboard with all one’s gear on one’s back. This is what I have set out to achieve.
I believe that it is possible to skateboard long distances comfortably with a pack on one’s back. I have been inspired by fellow travellers I have met who have been walking for months on end across continents. I look forward to the challenge of travelling by skateboard.
Anyway, I will no doubt expand on my travel philosophies at a later date. For now, I leave you with my luggage.
Click on the photo to see notes on what each item is, and see the gear overview page for all the nitty gritty, including a nice solid display of gram-counting weight obsessiveness.
I apologise for the lack of posts these past few weeks. Work is on the go, and the last thing I have wanted to do is to type at a computer. My mind has also been occupied with other things…namely the following development in the 14degrees journey:
My bicycle has been sent home.
That thing on top of my boxed up bike is a skateboard. On it I will skateboard the rest of the way to England. Along the Rhine river it is!
Once in England I will figure out the logistics of skateboarding across North America. If successful, I will be the first person to skateboard across North America solo and unassisted.
I will be carrying all I need to survive on my back in a backpack. It currently weighs about 8kgs without food or water.
For the past week I have been in Leysin, Switzerland. It has been a wonderful end to a great season with Village Camps. I really enjoyed working with the staff, and this week’s students were a definite highlight.
On Monday the 25th of June I will walk down the hill with my skateboard in my hand and my backpack on my back. It will all begin again.
Stay tuned for more info…
To be revealed in further posts:
Camp life can be hectic. Let me describe a typical day.
0700 – Wake and shower, walk to chalet
0730 – Arrive chalet and help setting up breakfast
0800 – Breakfast with 60 or more very vocal children
0900 – Daily program begins, spend all day with children straight out of an Energizer battery commercial
1800 – Dinner with wired children
2130 – Children go to bed, staff debreifing of the day
2230 – Go to bed
Repeat the above cycle for five days until completely shattered. Great fun, but quite tiring. That was my week this week.
I had the week before off though.
During my week off I played almost obsessively with beer cans. The rest of my ongoing journey’s meals will be cooked on this:
This is a beer can stove, adapted from Scott’s Pepsi can stove idea. It weighs 13 grams. It boils one litre of water in 10 minutes from lighting to boil. It is good.
The stoves run on alcohol. The one on the right in the above photo is made from a Red Bull can.
The stoves are a blast to make. A great way to spend a week off.
I did manage to get outside during my week off also. Once again the recumbent was put through its paces on the trails around Anzere. The mountains here stare you in the face, the valley floor extending more than a kilometer vertically downwards.
The day out cycling was only slightly affected by a broken chain. After more than 15,000km, my chain is on the way out.
It was tough, but my first week as an outdoor education camp counsellor went well. We had about 62 students from Zurich International School (ZIS), and I had 12 members in my counsellor group (ages from 9 to 10 years old). It was a dynamic group to say the least. Some other counsellors reported that their groups were always attentive, and very well behaved.
My camp name is Weka, and by the end of the week, Team Weka was defnintely my favourite group. The kids were outgoing and keen to give all the challenges a go. There were some strong personalities in the group, but with these tamed and directed, the group tackled the team work exercises with gusto.
The photo above, kindly taken by one of the ZIS teachers, shows a particular episode where Team Weka harvested about 40 small tadpoles from a pond. Even the girls were keen to get in there and grab a few tadpoles for the bag.
At first, the general consensus was that everyone would take a few tadpoles home each. However, after discussing the impact of humans on the natural world, we all took a vote on what would be the most caring thing to do. It was an almost unanimous vote to let the tadpoles go.
My specific role this week was to be the overall ‘overseeer’ of my group. Specific skills such as living with nature, map skills, rock climbing etc were instructed by a specialist. I may have a chance to operate in a specialist role next week.
Apart from work, I had the opportunity to do a couple of day rides around the area. There are some great mountian bike tracks on which my recumbent performs remarkably well.
A fasctinating feature of the Valais region in Switzerland is the abundance of irrigation channels dug into the mountain side. These are called ‘bisse’ and in the immediate vicinity of Anzere, there are three important bisse. The Bisse de Sion, Bisse de Ayant, and Bisse de Clavant.
These irrigation channels take water from high up in the mountains down to the many vineyards in the region. All along the bisse are walking and mountain biking tracks. On Saturday I went out for a ride with Dee, an Irish lass who was only here for the first two weeks of camp before returning to Ireland.
To the right of the track in the photo above, there is a channel of water. This is one of the bisse that runs from below Anzere all the way down to Sion. An altitude drop of about 700m.
A novelty was seeing a steep vineyard cart in action.
Not for the squeamish for hights.
Today I went on another ride, this time up the valley to Lake Tzeuzier, with Simon and Eric, two others involved in Village Camps. We followed the Bisse de Sion up the valley, and the Bisse de Ayant back down to Anzere.
The track is quite rocky in places, and exposed tree roots posed a problem at times. All in all however, 8 months on the recumbent meant that I handled the terrain with much more ease compared to my companions on their mountain bikes. The recumbent still ceases to amaze me.
Here we have Simon navigating the new tunnel to take the Bisse de Ayant past a cliff face. Below is how they used to do it. This wooden bisse counstruction was made at the turn of the 20th century, using fairly basic tools. Apparently prisoners were the construction workers of the time.
So that’s the first week of serious work here at Village Camps. In retrospect, it doesn’t seem all that bad…
My brain is fried.
I need sleep.
I am in over my head.
This week has been staff orientation week for the staff working at the Village Camps spring outdoor education programmes in Anzere, Switzerland. I am one of those staff, and without a doubt the most inexperienced when it comes to leading in the outdoors. It has been a massive learning curve for me.
There are about 14 camp counsellors this year, with about 9 attending the pre-camp orientation week. After 8 months on the road alone, it is great being with other people. It is also a challenge, as I now have to think not only about what I need, but the needs of others around me also.
The other camp counsellors are from diverse backgrounds. Countries include Poland, France, Canada, England, Ireland. There are professional teachers, snowboard instructors, mountaineers. All with a lot of experience.
Village Camps has a strong emphasis on environmental awareness. Their programmes actively encourage the participants to connect with their physical environment, and become active in understanding their part in being a responsible citizen of earth.
And here I was breaking off a dead branch of a pine tree to make a pole for my makeshift shelter. It is as much a course in awareness for me as it is for the participants.
Day one of orientation – Navigation skills
‘If a member of your group had a serious accident on the trail, and you had to tell the emergency services to come and pick them up, how would they know where to come to, if you don’t know where you are?’
That was the point behind reviewing our map reading and navigation skills. We learned about scale, guestimating distance, giving grid references, and estimating times to and from set locations.
All along the trail, our instructor and program coodinator, Anthony, was giving us eco-nuggets. Small pockets of information about the surrounding area.
At one stage we walked through an area of bush that had recently been destroyed by forest fire. The air was still pugnet with the smell of scorched earth and wood.
Day Two – Rock climbing
A crash course on group management at a rock climbing site. There is a specialist who does the actual instructing, but as a group counsellor, I am responsible for ensuring that the group is controlled and safe around the climbing site.
Day Three – Living with nature
Outdoor living skills and map making were the name of the game today. Another hard day of learning.
The photo above shows a simple activity whereby a group member makes a ‘landscape’, hides some treasure somewhere in it (a drawing pin), and then makes a map representing the landscape, showing the location of the treasure.
Day Four and Five - Overnight trek
Us 9 counsellors were split into three groups, and given instructions to make our way to Lake Tzeuzier. We were to be sure to keep practising our map reading skills. Each group would be called at least twice during the day to report on our exact location.
Once at the lake, the next challenge was to construct a shelter. My group chose a tall rock to make a lean-to shelter against.
Nothing I wasn’t used to, but at 1,850m in altitude, it was a cold night.
The first group of students arrive tomorrow. Sixty 9 to 10 year old students from Zurich International School for their five day program.
It has been an intense and full orientation and training week, but I feel prepared.
Today I head 1,000m up the hill to a small village called Anzere, where I will be spending the next two months working as a camp counsellor at a spring outdoor education residential camp run by Village Camps. Internet access is limited, as is time off during the camp.
Updates to this site for the duration of camp will be weekly updates.
Therefore, there has never been a better time to subscribe by to my blog by email, using the form on the front page of this website.
My contact details for the duration of the camp have been updated on the contact page. The Gillioz family that I have been staying with this past week kindly lent me a mobile telephone for the duration of my stay in Switzerland. A 20 CHF sim card later, and I have my own telephone number here in Switzerland.
My French is coming along nicely. I can now say ‘lots of snow’ and ‘I am not Mexican’. If you want to learn French, watch the lessons I have been watching online on Youtube here.
Last but not least, a massive thank you to Dominique and Jena-Richard Gillioz for welcoming me into their home for this week. I have met more people than I can remember the names of, eaten way too much fantastic food, and thanks to you got a great headstart on finding my way around the area. Thank you again for your kindness and generosity.
J’ne pas Mexicain.
They don’t do things by halves when it comes to holiday homes in the mountains here in Switzerland. Many of these mountain ‘cribs’ as they are called in southern New Zealand, are renovated places.
Today I had the pleasure of visiting my host Dominique’s sister’s crib up past a little village called Daillon.
The crib is located at an altitude of 1,700m, and it is one of the highest locations in the surrounding area. On a good day you can see Matterhorn. Yesterday I had to be content with only having panoramic views of the valley far below and towering mountains behind.
The crib is a renovated cow shed dating back to 1850. Heating and cooking is done on the massive wood-powered Stanley stove, electricity for lighting is by solar, and water heating is by gas.
We went for a short walk up the hill with Attila. He was more interested in the small things than getting anywhere in particular. He reminded me of the importance of the journey, rather than the destination.
Today’s distance / 今日の走行距離: 72.95km
Average speed / 平均速度: 12.9km/h
Time on bike / 走行時間: 5h 37m
Total distance to date / 今日までの積算距離: 2177.7km (plus 9700km)
Ascent / 上り: +1935m
Descent / 下り: -1880m
You’d think that with all the cycling I do, I’d be sick of it now. But who can resist a good steep climb in the Swiss alps on an unloaded bike. I borrowed some good maps from Jean-Richard and headed up to Col du Sanetsch (2252m).
The weather was brilliant, with magnificent views of mountains on both sides of the valley. Curve mirrors placed just right so that you can see the other side of the valley without even turning your head.
The road passes though incomprehensibly steep vineyards. I was expecting more green fields of grass, but in the Valais region, it’s all about the wine.
Towards the end of the steep valley that leads up to Sanetsch Pass, the road zig zigs up the steep valley head walls.
It is peaceful here. Just the sound of the wind and gushing rivers. A great place for a mountain crib.
From about altitude 1900m, there was still snow and uncleared rocks that the snow had left behind when it melted. The 800m long tunnel at about 2000m had a lot of fallen rock inside.
I ditched the bike just past the tunnel and walked through the snow up to the pass Col du Sanetsch. I had no socks on so snow that fell into my boots numbed my feet.
Massive mountains were dwarfed by massive clouds.
In summer, you can take the bus up here.
I think I could get used to these mountains…
Right, so yesterday I was innocently eating lunch in a small park in a small village called Saint Leonard. This kid wanders over, watching me and my strange looking bike from a distance. He looked cautious, as if at any moment the tramp might pounce and devour him along with the pasta the tramp was cooking.
“Bonjour.” They speak French here.
“Bonjour. ” I replied.
The kid scarpered, running over to where his grandmother was sitting in her garden.
Later I learned that Attila, the kid, had told his grandmother, Dominique, that I was French. I guess I should take that as a compiment on my French pronounciation.
Dominique walked over the small park I had set my kitchen up in and introduced herself in good English. When she learned that I was going to be working in Anzere, she said I should stay at her place until I start.
So that was yesterday. I met Dominique’s husband, Jean-Richard. I met their daughter (mother of Attila), Vanina. Jean-Richard is a keen cyclist.
Today I spent the morning while Dominique was at work updating the blog, and in the afternoon we went with little Attila to Europe’s biggest underground lake, just 20m from where they live.
As Dominique promised last night, tonight’s dinner was a Swiss delight. Grilled cheese fondu.
It was a regular family and friends affair, with four generations of the Gilloiz family present, plus some friends who had travelled in New Zealand.
Dominique’s father, Remy (age 82, though you wouldn’t know it), did the melted cheese scraping.
This stuff is such good cheesy goodness. Served with taters.