Mike Simpson

With Sams Help

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This situation is ridiculous; an hour ago I was on my last legs long out of food and feeling very depleted. Yet I am still pedalling ferociously looking for somewhere to stop. Nowhere has been open. I've past countless villages and there has been no opportunity to buy food. After 7 hours riding I’ve long used up the provisions I’d had in my back pockets. I'd missed lunch and breakfast was now 10 hours ago. Bad planning I guess, but I just thought there would have been somewhere en route to feed.

Today is ten years to the day since a good friend died. I know Sam's friends will all be doing something today; on the road, the running tracks or in the pubs to remember him. A long ride in the mountains was my way of spending the day thinking of him.

As I approach the village at the base of the Col de Grand Colombier I also only have a quarter of a bidon of water left. Around the next corner and I see a water fountain, fantastic. I then made an awful error. I take my quarter full bottle and start to refill it, and then I see the sign NON POTABLE - it’s not drinking water. Disaster, I’ve now wasted the only water I had. I resort to knocking on doors to ask for water. A kind lady fills my bottles, ok water sorted, now into the village to get some food, I am so hungry and weak.

I get to a shop, I see a large sign on the pavement OUVERT. At last. As I get closer the large sign on the door says OUVERT. As I reach for the door handle I simultaneously see another smaller sign OUVERT 1800HRS and discover the door is locked, I look at the time 1655hrs. It’s not open for another hour. I’m in trouble, feeling giddy. I ask a passer-by, if there is another shop selling food......NON. I may need to call in my support van from the RV point 30 miles the other side of the mountain. That would mean admitting defeat, so instead I ride off to start the Grand Colombier. It is preposterous that I am starting this climb in this state, this Duracell is done in.

The climb is long and steep, 14kms with some nasty 15-19% sections and I am feeling dizzy and my sight is blurred at the start. I try and tap out a rhythm but how am I going to carry on for the next hour? The gradient soon ramped up, and it’s in the first third of the climb where the steepest sections are. This climb is not as famous as others in the Alps but riders who have been here rate it very highly, it is notoriously tough (not to be confused with the Col de Colombiere, which is 100kms east of here).

As I reach the steepest part I’m barely moving, trying to hold things together. A mini rock fall threatened to disrupt my snail like advance. I have to either stop or accelerate to miss them. Stopping is never an opton I take but even more so now, it’s so steep I’ll have trouble starting again and may just have to opt for a nap in the ditch. I summon a slight increase in output and manoeuvre around the moving debris. Come on Sim, work, work. I think again about what today is all about. Sam would be laughing at my current predicament, ‘do it for him’ I scream at myself, (an emotion and call to arms I’ve used many, many times in the last 10 years), it works my pace is better. I then move on to think about everyone who has lost somebody special, Christ no that’s too much, come on Simpson, you’re not Ian Botham, calm down, relax.

The gradient settles, no climb lasts forever and the push for the top increases my momentum. With just over a kilometre to go the road starts to level. Blimey I’m in luck, it looks like the Grand Colombier ends with a flat last km. But I am mistaken, my physical wreaked state has left me blinkered, and I have neglected to see that the road forks sharply right and rears up violently. A savage final section, a true brute.

The top is deserted, it’s wet and foggy. Just how I like it, if it were sunny and clear there’d be far too many people around. A fast descent, 10 miles on the flat and I’m finished and dive into the van to grab some long, long overdue food. It’s amazing how good last nights leftover cold pizza can taste. I eat relentlessly for the next few hours. The Southern Jura Mountains are lovely but lesson learnt the hard way, next time I’m taking more food, much more. It's only a slight blip on what's been an excellent week riding in not just the Juras, but also the Vallee Verte south of Geneva and a few climbs in the Swiss Alps.

Our accommodation has been first class, www.chalet-chatelet.com at the base of the Col de Corbier. Our hosts Susie and Pascal have looked after us so well, and the knowledge that we come back to their amazing meals after a long rides certainly makes up for missing lunch. Home cooked delights and cheese made just 1km up the mountain, (we visited the cheese factory the next day, saw the goats which produced the super fresh cheese and bought lots more).

It’s not until 9pm at the evening meal that I can finally raise a glass or two to Sam, much time today was spent recalling happy memories of him; from playing tennis in the road by my house, too getting lost on training runs. We were very close friends but I'm not naive to think that, had he lived, we would still be close. People change, a lot of the friends I knew back then I don't see anymore. Time passes, we change but memories are locked inside.

I find myself thinking about others friends through life who I lost touch with; the buddy I always hung around with on school skiing trips, the pal I used to be thick as thieves with in the first few years at grammar school, a loyal wing man from my drinking days (sorry running days). We would be in each other's pockets for a period of time until something or someone would break things up, friends lost, some regrettable, some unavoidable. I'm sure they don't all remember me, but that's life's journey I guess.

At least in a way I can say Sam's friendship never ended, it's still with me. Like today just giving me that extra little, well needed, push up the mountain, cheers Sam.

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