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October 7, 2011 12:11 PM

Day Five of Biking the Alps: Saving the Worst for Last

Posted by Chris Johnson

Alpsday5 These are the words of a broken man. The physical demands of the past four days have well and truly taken their toll, leaving me battered and bruised. I woke up several times during the night with a searing cramp in my right calf that felt as if my muscle was tearing. My illness hadn't abated either—my cough now sounded like that of a longtime pack-a-day smoker and my chest was tight. Suffice to say, this morning I wasn't exactly relishing the prospect of a continuous 1,300 meter (4,300 foot) ascent.

Before we got properly underway, we had to ride down the hill into town to get disinfectant for Mario's arm wound, sustained during a crash on Day Three. Having successfully found a chemist and ridden all the way back up to our hotel, we then set out on a dreary 20 kilometer (12 mile) ride down a busy highway on the way to the wealthy playground of St. Moritz. We faced a vicious headwind most of the way, making it a struggle to maintain our speed—even downhill—before we turned off at the village of Susch.

After a brief break to refill our water and take on some sustenance, we started the long climb up the steep Fluelapass. The first half took us up a winding road, allowing us to find a steady rhythm as we snaked our way up the mountain under the beating sun.

Around 60 minutes later, we turned off onto a footpath that would lead us past Alp d'Immez to the summit. Any trepidation caused by my now deadweight legs was softened by the knowledge that this was to be the last proper climb of the tour. Little did I know that it would also be the hardest.

The path almost immediately descended into a barely visible route through a rocky marshland. It was absolutely hellish.

The unforgiving terrain required lengthy periods of carrying the bikes on our shoulders as we crossed streams and vast boulder fields. At one point, having stepped on what looked like solid ground, my foot disappeared to the ankle in a fetid brown sludge that I can only hope was just mud. I didn't see the funny side. In fact, it was the first time of the entire tour that I wasn't enjoying myself even slightly. Throughout all the hard miles and tough climbs, there was always some degree of satisfaction to be gleaned. This tortuous slog, on the other hand, was nothing more than a cruel and depressing joke.

We made frustratingly slow progress, taking several wrong turns that required soul-destroying about-turns to retrace our steps, before finally reaching the top after two grueling hours.

We stopped at the Grialeschhutte—a spartan yet cozy wooden hut sitting among the snow at 2,537 meters (8,300 feet) above sea level (see photo). While tucking into some potato rosti with fried eggs and bratwurst, we were informed by the owner that it was due to snow that evening—as far down as 600 meters (2,000 feet). Davos, where we would be spending the night, sits at an altitude of over 1,500 meters (5,000 feet).

With the light fading and the temperature plummeting, we started the descent back to Durbodden, where we stayed at the end of Day Two. It was easily the most technical trail of the five days—I'd even go so far as to say it was probably the most difficult trail I've ever ridden.

It took every ounce of strength, determination, and absolute focus—not to mention large quantities of luck—to make it down in one piece. We had to choose our lines carefully to successfully navigate the sharp rocks that littered the steep path and made it impossible to find any flow. I had to stop a few times—due variously to a lack of momentum or courage—and had a few near-misses, but it was terrific, nerve-wracking fun. I think I learned more about "proper" mountain biking during those 40 minutes than I had during the entire rest of the trip.

All that was left was a smooth and satisfyingly fast run down the road to Davos. We couldn't have timed it better. Mere minutes after we sat down for dinner, and after a week of perfect weather, the heavens opened.

Unfortunately, I had failed to remember that my clothes and shoes were "drying" on the balcony. I woke up to find them still there, soaked to the point of saturation. Forty minutes working on them with a puny hotel hairdryer had only a moderate impact—other than filling the air with a humid and ungodly funk, for which I would like to apologize in writing to my roommate.

So, that's it—the trip is over. It has undoubtedly been the hardest challenge I have ever attempted. We climbed approximately 8,000 meters (26,000 feet) in altitude over the five days—20 times the height of the Empire State Building and just shy of Mount Everest. I feel proud, relieved, and more than a little surprised to have finished. But I'm also a bit sad at the thought of leaving this beautiful country behind. I will be back next year.

With regards to my fund-raising, I am still embarrassingly short of my £5,000 target. I implore readers to give as generously as they can—whether as individuals or donations on behalf of their firms. It's a really great cause, and your money truly will make a difference.

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I've undertaken this journey to raise money for Self Help Africa, which works to help rural Africa achieve economic independence through sustainable solutions to the causes of famine and poverty.

Those readers that would like to sponsor me on this gruelling test—whether as law firms or individual partners and attorneys—can do so via my page at JustGiving. For those of you that haven't used JustGiving before, it's really simple, fast, and secure. The money is passed directly to the charity, and the site will automatically claim Gift Aid for donations made by eligible U.K. taxpayers.

U.K. residents can even donate by phone: just text KWEI77 (that's an 'i', not a '1'), followed by the amount you would like to donate, to 70070. 'KWEI77 £20', for example. This SMS service is free to both you and the charity.

I've set an ambitious target of £5,000 (just under $8,000), so please dig deep and donate now. It's a great cause and your money really will make a difference.

 

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