From my study I can see Mont Salève, a mountain that forms part of the pre-Alps before the Alps proper begin. It’s full of tracks for hiking and mountain biking and I’ve taken my scooter along the winding road that traces the mountain’s spine dozens of times, mostly to wonder at the view of Mont Blanc amongst the mountains there.
Mont Salève in all its glory
I hadn’t been cycling long when I began to harbour a desire to climb Salève on the bike. At this point I could hardly winch myself around the block. But my dreams rolled before I could catch them: one day, I would think, one day.
Today was the day. I climbed the mountain.
There are five major paths to follow to climb Le Salève and I took neither the most difficult nor the easiest. I left my house and climbed the longish gradual incline to Mont Sion, when I took the road to St Blaise. These initial stages were the most difficult in the entire climb, at some points exceeding a 10% incline.
The road from St Blaise to Lachenaz is steep - and gets steeper as you climb
Here, I stopped briefly twice to reduce my heart rate, take it all in and shoot some photos. I never pushed the bike. I climbed it all in the saddle. In future attempts, I am confident that I won’t stop at all. At some points I wouldn’t look up in case the hill overwhelmed me. I thought: just keep spinning, just keep spinning. And I did, even though at times the road seem to rise up towards me and my legs burned and the bike weaved and I wanted it all to stop.
The mountain road twists and turns. Once you see the cobbles on the wall, you know you are nearly there
The mountain path itself is relatively easy. Its main difficulty is that it’s long and that one is likely to be tired from getting to this point. I didn’t push hard here and kept my heart rate at a reasonable and consistent level. When I arrived at Virage du Salève, a stopping point for those who have made the climb, I was welcomed with the most amazing view of the Alps.
The prize for getting to Virage du Salève is to rest - and take in the view of the Alps
I decided to curtail my trip and descend at La Croisette to Le Coin rather than take the road through Le Sappey and return via Cruseilles. The weather was closing in and I felt coldish, although strong. The descent to Le Coin was almost as difficult as the climb earlier! It’s very steep and the many tricky hairpins are hard to navigate. The relatively flat road home was blissfully easy by comparison to what had come before.
The descent from La Croisette to Le Coin is nearly as difficult as the ascent. Nearly.
This is a significant achievement for me in that it is the culmination of months of regular cycling and lifestyle changes. I’ve become stronger, I can ride longer, I’ve lost weight and eat better; I feel better. I love cycling in itself and for what it has given me. I hope to go on to achieve new goals, including a metric and then imperial tonne. You might even find me on a higher longer mountain path sometime soon.
Climbing Salève isn’t of itself remarkable: many do it every day, some perhaps as you read this. I didn’t ride it quickly or with especial elegance or power (indeed, I suffered the obligatory humiliation of being passed by a gentleman at least 20 older than me and who was quite able to say a full and rounded ‘bonjour’ as he passed me on a particularly nasty climb, in contrast to my breathless reply). Nor is it a grand mountain, nor particularly long or arduous. But it was all those things for me. It was truly challenging. And besides, it was my first, so it’s worth remembering.
All of this is doesn’t make me a good cyclist or even a competent one. In fact, I would go further and say I’m a terrible rider. But perhaps before I was abominable, atrocious, lamentable even. At least I’m going in the right direction.