Friday, May 29, 2015

Salins-les-Bains, France: Going Against the Grain in the Jura Mountians

It was not far after we left the campground outside Lausanne, on the flat but narrow shore of Lake Geneva, that we encountered the foothills of the Jura Mountains.  The hills started out as short and steep with a matching short and steep downhill on the other side.  But soon the uphills became longer and the downhills non-existent.  Looking back we could see down to Lake Geneva in the misty distance, and in the other direction was the deep green mass of the Jura Mountains ahead of us.  We tried to ignore the clouds building and dropping to meet the skyline.
Taking a break on our approach to the Jura Mountains.
The spine of the Jura Mountains form the boundary between Switzerland and France.  They are certainly not as formidable as the Alps, but if you look at a relief map you would see they are a series of pronounced ridges and valleys trending in the same northeast to southwest direction as their neighboring range.  The Jurassic geologic period is named for this reason, but outcrops were rare under the mantle of vegetation to confirm that.  Our goal was to squeeze through at the pass that goes through Metabief, France.  We followed a series of minor roads that paralleled a railway, always a good idea because the grades are generally consistent and manageable.
Following the railway grade.  Never mind those clouds.
It took us most of the day.  The road wound through the forest with little traffic since there was a major highway alternative route.  It was just us and our beating hearts.  A cold wind blew, and despite the exertion that would ordinarily leave us in a lather, we wore our leggings and jackets most of the day.  The canyon eventually narrowed and we could see the highway above us.  We merged with the main highway at the border, where trucks and cars were bumper to bumper as they went out of one country and into another.  There were a few border agents as we rolled back into France, but they hardly glanced as we went by.  I haven’t felt as ignored since my last high school dance.
Church and cemetery in the mist.
We opted for a tiny country road that passed through sleepy villages, and when the clouds and mist began to envelop us, it was almost serene.  We crested the pass and within a kilometer there was a big and shiny grocery store waiting for us.  Yes, we were back in France!  The land of plenty of inexpensive and wonderful food!  This big store surely was there to serve the neighboring Swiss, too. We were cold, damp, hungry, so we went in for supplies.  The refrigerated section of the store felt warm.  We rolled the last few kilometers to the campground just as the mist turned to rain, and we committed to a night of relative luxury in an equipped little mobile home, which seem to be available in most every campground in France.
Getting warm and dry in our little mobile home...gear everywhere, like a pannier exploded or something.
The next morning was fresh and clear and sunny, as so often is the case after a weather front passes through.  We had a short and glorious day riding to Pontarlier where we settled into a beautiful municipal campground for a couple of days to rest and deal with some failing equipment -- we needed a new stove and to try and patch an annoying leak in an air mattress.  The campground was nestled against the forest and next to the local “poney” club, and the cutest little French girls would go by with little horses in tow.  The campground was the first we have encountered that had a room with tables, a microwave and fridge, and sofas for sitting.  The manager said she set that space aside for hikers and cyclists like us to have a place to get out of the cold and wet.  And we appreciated and made good use of it!
Blue skies after the rain.

Nice view of Lac Saint-Point.

Ideal cycling in many ways.

A Google search indicates these are the Montbeliarde breed of cows -- we do love your Comté cheese!

The local architecture is a house/barn that accommodates both man and beast.

Love the downhills!

Green on green.
And just like our approach the Jura Mountains, our exit was against the grain of the landscape, and we were going up and down a series of hills.  As far as the eye could see there was forest and pasture and cows converting sun into milk.  But this time the amplitude was decreasing.  And after one last turn we were finally following the axis of one of the long valleys and we dropped into Salins-les-Bains.  We were on the edge of the Burgundy region, in the land of Comte cheese and bold red wines.  And it was flat.  A lot easier cycling, for sure, but we love mountains and a challenge.  And the Jura are on the expanding list of places in France to come back to and explore more someday.
The flat plains  of grain fields west of the Jura Mountains, as we approached Dijon.

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Ann said...

OMG, you are such an amazing writer!!! I loved the part about not feeling so ignored since your last HS dance. I can so relate. And "cows turning sun into milk"!! Brillian, no pun intended. The strain of the uphill climbs make me wonder if I could ever do what you are doing, but the rest makes me want to!!

Ann said...

That word was "brilliant" with a T. I got so excited I mistyped.

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