Most people will remember cycling up the world famous Alpe d’Heuz rather differently than I do. This is because I lost my pants on the Alpe d’Heuz with embarrassing consequences.
Cycling around the world with my belongings packed into panniers I have little room for clothes. This means I must give careful consideration to my washing routine. If it’s not raining and I know I’m cycling up a mountain that day, I’ll wash my clothes in the morning. Instead of a washing machine I wash my clothes in rivers, lakes or the sinks of public toilets. The wet items are then hung over the back of my panniers to dry in the sun as I cycle, with a helping hand of a long fast descent. The morning of the Alpe d’Heuz climb, I wash all my pants and as I criss cross up the 21 switch backs of the famous Tour de France climb in the French Alps, my array of colourful pants hang from the back of my bicycle.
If I had known the road ends at the top of the Alpe d’Heuz, I would’ve hid my pannier bags at the bottom and collected them on the way back down. In fact; I probably wouldn’t even have climbed the Alpe d’Heuz had I known it was a dead end. But climb it I did. There are water taps on route and I stop to fill my bottles. As I set off again a women appears from the woods to the side of me and jogs on past me. I bow my head in shame, choosing to focus on the road underneath me until she disappears into the distance. Then I can look ahead of me again.
My kit weighs 35kg, my bicycle weighs 15kg and I weigh 65kg. Pedalling that weight up a 13.8km climb to 1,860 m with an average gradient of 8.1% and a maximum gradient of 13% is tough. And for me it is slow. Concentrating on each minute of cycling in front of me I loose all sense of time. Serious looking cyclists on racing bicycles cycle on by me. There are many moments I want to quit and I don’t know what keeps me pedalling. But I do and when I finally reach the top it’s almost spiritual.
I sit eating lunch on a bench overlooking the 21 hair pins I’ve just climbed, enjoying the magnificence that are the Alpes. I use this time to dry the condensation from my tent.
On the descent it’s pay back time for carbon cyclists after so many pedalling past me on the way up. Descending had once been my speciality when road racing. Probably because I was a sprinter and got left behind on most of the climbs, my ability to descend kept me in the race. My descending skills coupled with my weight (the heavier you are the faster you travel downhill) makes this descent one of the fastest I’ve ever achieved. I overtake many cyclists on the 21 switch backs and smile because they are men.
On stopping at the bottom I realise I’ve lost my pants on the descent, which had been drying from the back of my panniers. I cycle on regardless, laughing at what must be going through cyclists minds at the pairs of pants on the road.
A few days after the Alpe d’Heuz, I still haven’t replaced my pants. What can I say. I’m cycling around the world but I’m lazy when it comes to leaving my bike outside and walk into a shop. This laziness is why I eat bread so much for my dinners. Leaving Chambery I’m wearing no pants when I suffer an embarrassing incident involving me, my skirt, a gust of wind and a lorry driver waiting in the opposite direction at a red light. I quickly rid myself of embarrassment as I pedal on, enjoying cycling 60km of cycle paths with the Beetles tune on repeat. The words, ‘all you need is love’, are replaced with, ‘all you need is pants’. I spend the afternoon topping up my tan and swimming in Lake de Bourget, a place of outstanding beauty. To explain the next consequence of loosing my pants on the Alpe d’Heuz descent I should explain that during my first days of cycling around the world I had washed my skirt and was cycling with it draped over the front panniers to dry. I noticed too late that part of the skirt was rubbing on the tyre. A small hole had appeared on the back but was small enough to allow me to still wear the skirt. As the end of a day relaxing around Lake de Bourget I get into my tent and check the hole in the skirt. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! IT’S HUGE! The hole has grown into a sizeable chunk which is missing from my skirt. Cringe worthy enough in normal circumstances, but with no pants!!! The next day I go above my daily $5 budget and buy myself pants.
Ishbel, creator of World Bike Girl, has spent her life on bicycles, from road racing, to velodrome sprinting to cycling the world. She has pedalled across 20 countries solo and promotes commuting by bicycle. Much to the dismay of her friends, she is an avid wearer of socks and sandals.