Monday, 10 September 2007

Day 34 – Gignod – Nus 25km

Rain all night and another short day again, but mainly because of our late (but very comfortable) start, a large amount of time spent sight-seeing and blogging in Aosta and then the storm that finally caught up with us after starting out in Switzerland. Nevertheless progress is good, though primarily on roads, the result of some careful route selection based on our desire to tread the narrow line between authenticity, safety and feasibility. Aosta charms us again and in spite of the rain we do our best to see as much as we can – a worthwhile effort. Then it is more or less solid climbing until we reach Nus where we are staying tonight in order to include a small diversion to Fenis (just across the SS26 from here) tomorrow.
Fenis is where we finally had to leave one of our horses, Gwendolyn (because of her injury), last year with the wonderful Isabelle and Edoardo. They run an equestrian centre and not only took in Gwendolyn, but also gave us the idea and the contacts we needed to buy the mountain bike we used as a substitute so that we could continue our journey to Rome. In retrospect, I am sure that this is what finally prompted us to decide to do the whole thing again on bikes – one of which is the one Isabelle helped us to buy.
So, for all these reasons, we are going to see them again and hopefully give them a pleasant surprise. At this point it is probably appropriate to note that we are about half way through our journey, which is also as good a time as any to mention our equipment. As always we are running on a very tight budget, meaning that everything we buy has to be best value at bargain basement prices – a policy that works sometimes and sometimes not. Our second bike, one rung up from the cheapest available (just over 300 euros), has served us extremely well and is showing no signs of strain other than needing replacement brake blocks (no surprise there). The panniers from Lidl (30 euros a pair) have done an excellent job in terms of protecting our gear and keeping it dry, but their one fundamental weakness, the detachable hooks, has caused problems simply because they were not sold with spares. This means that when they break or are lost we have no alternative (my regular running into the back of Paul may have been a contributory factor in this). Still, a modicum of ingenuity on Paul’s part and a lot of bungees (for which our thanks go to Alex and Elwira) seems to have produced a solution and we are doing fine. Sleeping bags – Lidl again – are the best and cheapest I have ever bought. Our clothes are similarly cheap and cheerful, but predominantly biker Lycra which makes for easy washing and drying (though their figure-hugging properties don’t do a lot for the cellulite). The most luxurious (but in hindsight possibly the most useful) item we allowed ourselves were a pair of specialist mountain bike shoes each. These are reinforced for a good pedal grip, but also adapted for walking and climbing, something we seem to be doing a great deal of. Then finally, and of course most importantly, there is Vasco’s basket, a wicker affair with a protective cage on top and bespoke metal framework fixed to the front forks underneath. With some additional padding provided by one of my discarded fleeces, Vasco has travelled something like 500 kms without a murmur of complaint or sign of a sore bum, so I think we can also say that this has been a good buy. Since starting out we have also added to our kit two pairs of handle bar extensions (which give us some relief from the permanently crouched position we seemed to have been forced into before), plus two wing mirrors. The latter were designed to enable us to see what the other one was up to behind without turning round and inevitably swerving wildly. They worked well, until I snapped both off on separate occasions by resting the bike against them – perhaps some robust and idiot-proof versions are the answer. In summary, I think we can say that we are (currently) living proof that it is possible to travel over 1000 kms with basic equipment and minimum fitness. Whether I will be able to say the same at the end of journey remains to be seen.
Just a quick note that there is an excellent, cheap and very helpful internet service centre a couple of blocks behind the Hotel de Ville in Aosta. Trying to find wifi connections and even basic internet facilities has been much harder than I had expected and as a result our blog and contacts with friends has been pretty jerky.
To complete the kit inventory that BB began, we consume a fair amount of our weight allowance with electronics – the Garmin 60 CSx GPS on which we record our every move, the HP PDA on which we dictate clarifying instructions and record accommodation and point of interest details, the inevitable digital camera and the hub, and therefore potentially weakest link, the lightweight but second-hand Compaq Evo laptop. Our last 2 trips killed a laptop each, but this time we had hopes that the laptop would survive. However, we are just beginning to see the first signs of the hardware getting crushed, with strange keyboard behaviour, so somewhere along this road I need to find another internet service centre with CD or DVD back-up facilities.
Tonight we are in the 2 star Hotel Dujarny. The sign on the back of our door says that the room rate is between 40 and 68 Euros. Would anyone like to guess which end of the scale it will turn out to be? The village also has a pleasant looking 1 star, but unfortunately the Italian chapter of DOODAH got there first. Well I was pleasantly surprised to find the price was in fact 55 euros with a substantial breakfast thrown in, but no dogs allowed in the dining room.

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