Mountain Bike Magazine SANI - Autumn 2018 - Page 109

I’D SEEN THE OCCASIONAL fat bike in parks around the UK but always thought they were a novelty and didn’t really understand or see their practical value. I even had a go on one once, after a couple of beers at a picnic, and managed about a 10 metre wheelie, but that massive front tyre did feel very strange indeed! So without thinking much about it, I packed up my trusty old Specialized XC 29er shod with Continental race king knobblies, and jumped on a plane for the Alps. The steep learning curve of playing in the mountains began the moment we glided over Lake Geneva and landed in Switzerland. I threw the Speshy and bags into the back of the little Toyota rental and excitedly turned the key, a little nervous of undertaking the two hour drive up into the mountains with a massive snowfall expected that evening, and night was falling fast. The rental car is dead, turning the key does nothing. Turns out this Toyota Auris is a hybrid and just pressing on the accelerator gets it going! The petrol engine only kicks in at a certain speed, so with a mixture of relief and trepidation I merged into the evening rush- hour Geneva traffic, hoping I wouldn’t have to learn to fit snow-chains in the dark in a snowstorm on a treacherously icy, twisty mountain pass. All was good for the first hour on the low lying land driving around Lake Geneva and up the foothills, but the light rain soon turned to sleet then to snow and after another 20 minutes the road was solid white and started to feel slippery in parts. It started falling so heavily it was difficult to see, and progress slowed to around 20km/h. After what felt like an eternity of intense concentration, some dots of lights appeared and we had arrived in one piece. Now to find the accommodation – the race organisers had relayed the confirmation, “He can have the bunker” which I had taken to mean I had some tiny room in a ski hostel or similar, and as it was free I was grateful and trusted it would be dry and reasonably warm. After walking around for 20 minutes in what had become a blizzard by this point, approaching midnight, convinced I had the correct location on the reliable iPhone map, I had to knock on a wooden chalet door and apologise for disturbing the local moustachioed Swiss gentleman, trying to pronounce “Zivilschutzanlage Kirchgemeindehaus” somewhat intelligibly. “Ahh ze Schutzanlage!” he replied, and pointed vigorously at the ground beneath the empty parking lot in front of the chalet. It wasn’t a joke after all! I really was staying in a proper bunker. Turns out that the Swiss have built these modern-day subterranean safety structures in all their towns and villages in case one of our egomaniac world “leaders” like Putin, Trump or Kim Jong Un wake up in a bad mood, press the big red button and start a global nuclear war. I didn’t think the cosy village of Gstaad, where stars like Roger Moore and Brigitte Bardot have had homes, would be their prime target but I was just happy to have found some snow day | MTB | 109