In March 2020, when the first lock-down was looming, my family and I decanted from Spain (where we live) back to my wife’s family home in Yorkshire. I spent the next few months, pining for my mountain-bikes and the hills of Catalonia watching my already-skinny legs slowly atrophy from lack of use. About a month into lockdown, I bought a turbo-trainer onto which I attached an old Specialized commuting bike that was in the garage. I signed up to Zwift and huffed and puffed my way up a virtual Alp de Huez and around the fictional land of Watopia a few times a week for the next month or so. My legs began to halt their slow decline into pipe-cleaners, but sitting in a room, pedalling while staring at a screen is no substitute for the mountains, both from a physical and mental perspective. I quickly decided that as soon as Europe reopened their borders this was the year I would attempt to bike-pack the Tour du Mont Blanc (the TMB).
In August 2020 we finally arrived back to Spain. Over the previous months I had absorbed everything I possibly could about bike-packing the Tour du Mont blanc from blogs and videos, which is not a lot. It became clear that most people who cycle the Tour du Mont Blanc do not carry their own equipment or camp, opting instead to join a guided tour, where their luggage is carried from refuge to refuge and their food and board is pre-arranged. The benefit of this approach is that with no luggage, you are far lighter, thus you can climb quicker and descend faster. The downside from a research perspective is that tour operators keep their cards close to their chest, thus apart from marvelling at glorious Go-Pro vistas solidifying my resolve to attempt the route, I learnt little about what bike-packing this particular tour would be like. I could see that I should start in Chamonix or Les Houches and go clockwise or anticlockwise and that it would be about 175km with about 8000 metres (25,000+ feet) of climbing, almost entirely off-road.
I had read somewhere that bikes were banned from the TMB until September, so on August 31st, I chucked the bike in the back of my beaten-up Nissan Qashqai, waved goodbye to my wife and two sons, and began the eleven-hour drive to Chamonix. I was going to do the TMB clockwise (the walkers do it anticlockwise). The primary rationale for this was that most walkers do the TMB anti-clockwise, so by going clockwise, they would see me coming and have time to leap out of my way. I arrived in Chamonix at about 6pm, checked into the Hotel L’Arve and went to L’Atmosphere where I enjoyed half a dozen snails and a cheese fondue for two, washed down with a few pints. On September 1st I got up, ate a pan au chocolat, unloaded my bike from the car, tried desperately to pack all of my stuff into the various bike bags and backpack, decided it was too heavy and left some of it behind. I pressed GO on my Wahoo Elemnt Bolt and spent the next few hours cycling around the outskirts of town trying to pick up the start of the route on my GPS of my first ever bike-packing trip.