We’ll Storm the Castle

When Caleb was eight years old, I felt that the time had come for him to pass through the initial stage of manhood. We watched Monty Python’s “Search for the Holy Grail”. We laughed, and his sponge-like brain had immediately began to recite the more infamous lines. Who knew that 10 years later it would be so a propos!

As we biked out of Montreux, it was a gorgeous day. The sun crept up over the peaks of the Alps casting a green hue to the Rhone River that flowed like a tumble down bunch of puppies. And we were heading to the source of this storied river. Along the way, we would pass through the fruit basket and wine country of Switzerland. Nestled into the valley and crooks of the mountainside were castles and manors handed down through the generations with fields brimming with produce. The peaks stared down as the river fed the fruit plump full of flavor.

The Rhone River follows a curious path as it makes it way into the Mediterranean. High in the Swiss Alps it is born from the Rhone Glacier. Forming an icy bed between the Grimsel and Furka passes, the Rhone Glacier snuggles its blanket of ice up the sleepy slopes of the Dammastock range, and cascades cool water out the base through the remnant of rock from a time when the glacier poured all the way down to the first alpine valley to knock on the door of the chapel in the little town of Glesch. Over the last 150 years, it has retreated up the mountainside leaving a meadow full of wild flowers that dapple the green slopes.dsc_7670rhoneglacier-series_zpsccodx9jy

The Rhone River is never really tame in its first leg of its journey to Lac Leman. Even through the vast valley below Sierre, it flows at such a rate that no one uses it for recreation let alone commerce. As it races through the valley, it makes an abrupt right turn in Martigny. Les Dents du Midi force the hard turn as if the sharp teeth of the abominable snow monster put a fright into the river before it settles down in the calm waters of the lake.

From Montreux, we were cycling right into the jaws of Les Dents. Even though there was no one on our team with the name “Normie” who aspired to be a dentist, I filled the roll of Yukon Cornelius rather well… “Mush, Mush!” and with my off key singing, the Furka Pass Fireballs were driven to cycle their way for relief in Martigny to stop for lunch, and possibly some peace and quiet!

Lunchtime was an omen of whackiness to come.

We jumbled our bikes into an elevator to grab a bite in a mall. We couldn’t find a nice sidewalk diner or café, and we were hungry. The grocery store had a café connected to it; picture a Wegman’s or Giant Eagle kind of setting. The food wasn’t bad. The atmosphere was. Oh well.

Once out on the sidewalk trying to figure out which way would be best to go, an overly helpful local weaved in amongst our bikes with his scooter and offered to lead us out of town. For some reason, he envisioned a full on escort through town and into the mountains. Luckily, another local stepped in and suggested the more reasonable route that put us along side the Rhone heading upstream.

All was well for the initial kilometers after lunch. We found the bike path, and rode through terraced farmland carved into the mountains whose sharp peaks were dramatically highlighted by bright blue skies. This was in direct inverse relation to how some were feeling on the ride at this point. Let me explain: It is a known fact that Day Two of any multiday bike ride is always the hardest. The first day moves along splendidly because of excitement and adrenaline. When Day Two arrives, your body says something like: “Are you kidding me? We just did this yesterday.” If one is not used to riding in a multiday format, this experience is multiplied in magnitude. So, the sharp peaks of the mountains directly reflected the sharp pain in the rear of sitting on a saddle for more than 3 hours at a time. The terraced farmland only echoes the chiseled pain in one’s muscles. When I cruised up next to Caleb to get an assessment of his current state, his reply was not surprising, “Dad, my butt is killing me, and my legs are screaming.” Yep. “Trust me.” I said, “Tomorrow, you will feel great. Right now, you’re getting your body in gear. You gotta love conditioning!”

Fortunately, our ride on Day Two was filled with enough whacky distractions it made for an easier day. Besides, I knew what I had waiting for the guys at the end of the day. Knowing Day Two can be so draining, I thought it would be nice to plan for a night in a castle. I was stoked for this event. Plans made; contact made; email in hand for proof… what possibly could go wrong?

The omen of Day Two would’ve been enough to warn me of future whackiness.

Riding through the fruit basket of Switzerland was an aromatic heaven. The crazy part was the inconsistency of the bike trails. At one point, we ended up in the middle of an Apricot grove. No worries. We rode through the ranks of Apricot trees; found our way along a drainage ditch; muscled our way through some stinging nettles and got back on another bike trail. It’s the spirit of flexibility and adventure that makes the trip so memorable and joy filled. I will heartily affirm that Randy, Kevin and Caleb embrace those qualities in such quantity it was a piece of heaven riding with them.

The day was coming to a close. Exhaustion was creeping into all of us. We had been making a steady climb all day in elevation with a total of 62 miles (or a metric century) to clock in the books. Arriving at the castle base, we were thrust onto the set of Monty Python or quite possibly The Pink Panther Strikes Again.

We could see the castle, but could not find the access point up to the castle. It sat on a knoll surrounded by grape vineyards. It was more of a manor than a castle, but still posed a striking portrait atop its hill. I told the riders, “There she be! We are spending the night there.” “Wow!” We tried several different roads and paths to access the castle, but to no avail. Then, we noted a paved road around the backside of the hill.img_3101

The castle was owned by a Swiss-French couple who spoke no English. A lovely couple. His family has owned the land and manor for generations. We pedaled up the last steep section of the gravel driveway and entered a luxurious entrance. The interior had been totally refurbished in a modern style. A large glass table sat in the dining area and a beautiful minimalist wooden spiral staircase led to the upper level. Caleb and I were ushered to the “Honeymoon suite”. French doors opened to a level garden patio that overlooked the Rhone valley with the mountains rising in the distance. It was a fairy tale. After a long day of riding Caleb said, “I’m jumping in the shower.” Everything seemed just perfect. Caleb finished his shower with a declaration, “Dad, you can’t believe the shower! It’s amazing!” He headed to the dining area to sample the wines, and I jumped in the shower. What a treat! I’m not sure there is a shower anywhere else in the world as nice as this one was. Absolute refreshment. Once I joined the rest of the team, the hostess approached me, “Pardon. Comment s’appelle?” “Ted” “Ah, non. Votre surname.” “Martin”. A look of horror came upon her face. I didn’t know my reputation spread that far!

The whackiness grew. “Oh no!” She declared. I showed her the email she sent me, and she hustled to the kitchen. I followed. It turned out she double booked the night. Another group of cyclist were coming in at 8:00 pm and her helper thought we were that group. I walked with her down to her office through the grapevines, and I tried to alleviate her anxiety about the mix up. I asked about the castle and the surrounding grapevines. She told me the story of her husband’s family and farm. They had just recently entered the B&B business a couple years earlier. This was the first time she had made this mistake. In the course of my broken French and her lack of any English, I told her there was no problem. I would be happy to have my boys clear out to make room for the other cyclist if she could secure a hotel room for us in town.

When we arrived back at the castle the boys were finishing another round of wine. I informed of the mix up and the ensuing plans. We agreed this was a suitable plan because we had already had the best showers ever, and it was getting close to dinnertime with no dinner places in sight.

Her husband loaded us up and drove us into town. He regaled us with more stories of his childhood and developing the vineyards. We settled in at the hotel café, and Caleb started the Monty Python riff, “Hello…” We quoted the entire castle scene with particular emphasis upon “Now, go away or I shall taunt you a second time; you English pig-dogs.” We laughed and tipped a frosty mug in recognition of another great day of riding filled with memories that won’t be easily forgotten and lines worth repeating.

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