Getting to the beginning

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We cycled the 44km from Bormes to Toulon station in 3 1/2 hrs and even though we rode through the hottest part of the day, it seemed much easier than when we had arrived from the opposite direction a month earlier. Having to cycle up and down the hill from Le Lavandou to Bormes les Mimosas (+/- 150m) since we had arrived and the Darebee HIIT training sessions must have improved the overall fitness. We arrived with plenty of time to spare and ate Subway on the seats outside the station.

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We had been anxious about how the train travel would go with two bikes, a trailer and two little children. Getting on the overnight train from Paris to Toulon had been a little stressful and in Toulon we would only be a stop along the way, rather than the train’s origin. We would have only a few minutes (about 3) to get everything aboard. To add to the stress, SNCF (the French railway company) only announces the platform 20 minutes before the train arrives and we would need to ferry all our gear up and down the elevators, which barely accommodate a bike (and definitely not the trailer). No matter which way you cut it, a bike needs to be left unattended whilst doing the shuffling across platforms.

The platform was announced on time, 20 mins before departure. With a little assistance from an unusually helpful SNCF employee, who although at first stated that he couldn’t help load or carry any item across the platform then proceeded to do so, we forded the platforms. At the platform we asked where our carriage would stop so that we could unpack, dismantle the trailer and take all the panniers off, there was some confusion as the carriages were not in the “correct order”. The confusion was cleared up with some radioing back and forth from the staff on the platform but it ate into the time we had to unpack everything. The train arrived and it was a rush. I climbed aboard and was helped out by the SNCF guys to get everything on while Emilie kept an eye on the girls standing on the platform. The sleeper carriages on the overnight trains have an especially poor design. The bikes need to be handed up the 3 large steps and then maneuvered past a door in a corridor at 90 deg to the first door, which is not wide enough to pass the handlebars through. Then the bike needs to be rotated again into the storage compartment.

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As soon as we and our belongings were all aboard, the train departed. I then continued to shuffle the packs and bikes into the storage area and sleeper. A quirk of booking bikes onto the overnight train is that the people who book bikes onto the train sleep in the compartment next to the bikes. However, since we had only two bikes our children had been positioned in other compartments. Whilst, this may have provided some relief to us, it would probably not be appreciated by the occupants of the other compartments to be bunking with an unaccompanied 2 and 4 year old. We kept them with us and luckily there were no other people booked into our 6-berth cabin.

We arrived in Mulhouse at 7:50 AM and were ready to catch our next train to Basel at about 8:30 (you can take any TER in your fare “colour” on the day of your ticket, you are not restricted to the exact time of your booking). The transition between the platforms was not as difficult, with a much larger lift and a staff member watched one of the bikes with all the gear on it while we moved. On the platform, we had the choice between two trains which were leaving within 20 mins of each other and we chose the one which appeared easier to load the bike onto (no large steps or weird angles to maneuver through). Regional trains are the best! There were already bikes in the compartment when we arrived but helpful Swiss souls helped to load our enterprise aboard. The train took about 20 min and we disembarked again. However, we did not have to take panniers off bikes, which made the process much easier.

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In Basel we had about 2 1/2 hours to kill before our next train to Chur. On the train from Mulhouse to Basel a woman had explained to us that there is a nice park not too far from the station which the children might enjoy. So after making our way out of the station, which was very easy without having to pass under platforms, we rode out to Rosenfeld park. Then back to the station to find our train to Chur. This time we did have to drag the bike, girls and gear up a ramp and use a lift to get down to the right platform. When the train arrived we did the frantic piling of bikes and gear onto the train but it was much easier without having to navigate doors and corridors at 90 deg angles and helpful Swiss folk were on hand. Here we were able to hang the bikes from hooks and strap the trailer to a railing for the 2.5 hour journey.

By this time, the girls were tired and behaviour (and patience) was beginning to be a problem. The scenery was beautiful though and we were happy to know that the final unloading of gear would be the last train we would have to deal with for a while. At Chur, we had little problem unloading rapidly and I waited with the gear on the platform while Emilie dealt with the always poorly timed but absolutely urgent need our eldest child has for the toilet. Finally, we got gear and children aboard and headed out of the station into Chur, now spitting with rain, it was only a 15 min downhill ride to the campsite.

We arrived at Camp au Chur, paid our dues and set up our tent. Clearly many cyclists working their way down or up the Rhine pass though Camp au Chur, which is itself right next to the river. We walked into the city, got some food, showered, let the girls play on the playground and made a meal of pasta; all things which would become somewhat of a routine over the coming 5 weeks.

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