After a super first day on my first official microadventure, I awoke to the sound of birds singing and the sky growing lighter with the dawn. I’d had a broken night’s sleep, but had survived without being attacked by wild boar. The orange survival bag, however, has zero breathability so, added to being cold, I was extremely damp, as was my sleeping bag.
It was still too cold and damp to try and dry it out so, after having a ‘field shower’ and some of Jo’s cake for breakfast, I packed up and headed across the fields and onwards for Day Two of my microadventure. I must have looked a strange sight to the driver of a passing car as I appeared from seemingly nowhere wandering across a field at 7am.
I had to be careful with my route-picking straight away as the map I was using was printed prior to the motorway being built; it was difficult to know which tracks still existed and which ones might still afford a motorway crossing (tip: get up-to-date map!). Thankfully I managed to find a ravine through which I could pass under the motorway and, in doing so, came across a small river. It wasn’t deep enough to swim in, although some form of full immersion would have been possible, however, after weighing up the pros and cons of going in I opted out, citing factors such as it still being very cold and in the shade and I had only just had my field shower.
Walking in the early morning through paths deep in the forest was fantastic. The sun streaming through the trees gave the scene an aura of the rainforest. It was incredible to think a huge motorway lingered nearby. Soon enough, though, I was on a track beside the motorway. It wasn’t so bad and it felt quite exciting being somewhere nobody would expect you to be.
I headed along tracks and backroads through tiny hamlets towards St-Matrtin-Bellevue. It was such a peaceful area with stunning views across to the Plateau Des Glieres which towers imposingly above Annecy. By now it really was scorching and passing a meadow on the outskirts of les Ribiolets I stopped to dry off my sleeping bag.
Sat by the side of the road I had my sleeping bag strung up in a tree and my orange survival bag pinned down with water bottles. It was a fine time to have an early lunch, so stripping to the waist to make to most of the sun I ate a sumptuous feast. I managed to raise more than a few eyebrows from the locals who drove by only a few metres away – ‘who on earth is that half-naked man spreading his belongings out all over the place?’ they must’ve thought. All the while, I was feeling proud as punch with my resourcefulness.
Once I felt I couldn’t stay there much longer for fear of a local reprisal with pitch forks, I wound my way through Argonay as countryside started giving way to suburbia. At this point my map ran out and I still hadn’t managed to buy the next map covering Annecy. Thankfully the French are pretty good at cyclepaths, so while I felt extremely uncomfortable walking through some pretty grim areas underneath motorways and dual carriageways, I was able to use the road signs as a means of direction.
Crossing the River Fier at le Pont de Brogny I discovered upon looking over the side of the road bridge, the crumbling remains of an old Roman bridge. It was super and felt like a real find as most people probably drive over the bridge without any knowledge of its existence. This was a nice antidote to the parts I’d just come through.
As I headed for the centre of Annecy I saw what looked like a shopping centre; a good place to find a map. What I discovered was that it was a Carrefour hypermarket – this was not what I was hoping for. There I was wandering rather aimlessly around the cavernous interior looking and feeling bedraggled, while everyone else was there in their Saturday shopping clothes! Talk about felling self-concious. It only got worse at the till when I emptied the contents of my basket onto the conveyor belt; a map, a baguette and a 2litre bottle of water!
By now I was heading straight into Annecy, my road sign-following having paid off, but I was alarmed at the extent to which the sky had grown angrier as the morning had progressed. It wasn’t long after coming out of the hypermarket before the first spots of rain fell. ‘A light shower is fine’ I said to myself, carrying on. What concerned me most of all, though, was the level the cloud base had sunk to; virtually all of the hills surrounding Annecy were immeresed in dense, black cloud which looked ready to pour out its anger at any moment.
Sure enough, minutes later that moment arrived! I quickly put on my Paclite and spent 10 minutes using the roadside trees for shelter trying to avoid getting soaked. It didn’t work. My feet were drenched for the third time that day and by the time I stopped in a bus shelter to put on my waterproof trousers, what I considered to be a heavy downpour turned into something Biblical!
I sat in the bus shelter for at least 15 minutes pondering my next move. While I wanted to spend a second night bivvying like I’d planned, I was acutely aware of how damp I’d been after my first night, and that was without any precipitation whatsoever. Having a Gore-tex bivibag might have made it more appealing, however this was not time to be day-dreaming about kit I didn’t have. I needed to think clearly and rationally about what I was going to do. If I was to sleep out I needed to get some distance between me and Annecy. If I was to try and find a bed I needed to find something before everything was booked up.
The rain continued to pour down without restraint as I wrenched myself away from the bus shelter. The closer I got towards Annecy city centre the colder and wetter I got and the lower the cloud base descended. This was not endearing me to spending a second night in my orange survival bag. By the time I got to the tourist information office I made a pact with myself; if there was a room in a cheap hotel I’d take it, if not I’d stay out.
Looking like a drowned rat I asked the woman at the desk of the tourist office about cheap rooms. She proudly gave me a brochure, explaining that it listed everything from 1 to 4 stars! This made me laugh. I wouldn’t even get in the door of a 4 star hotel looking like this! Thankfully I found a cheap room. It must have been fate as it was the only room available, and that was due to a cancellation. I felt relieved as the rain, quite unbelievably, continued to pour down.
After having a long soak in the bath I then had one of the most surreal experiences of my life. While waiting in the queue in a bakers to buy a cake, something caught my eye. I looked down on the shelf where the pastries were and lo and behold there was a MOUSE running around on the shelf! I was gobsmacked. I stared in stunned silence, aware it was nearly my turn to be served, and looked to see if anyone else had spotted it. Alarmingly it was only I who had seen the brazen wee rodent.
What was I to do? Shout in French (but what would I shout)? Shout in English? Maybe this was normal and I’d be given disapproving looks for being a silly foreigner. I was so completely shocked I was stuck for words and stuck for actions. Just before the girl asked what I wanted I turned and walked out unceremoniously. The only thing I regret not doing was waiting outside to see if anyone came running out screaming.
So that was the end of my first official microadventure. I was glad I’d got a room, rather than try and stay out in my orange survival bag, as the rain continued for the rest of the day and most of the night. This was, after all, supposed to be fun and not a test of will.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my microadventure from le Chable to Annecy. The landscapes I walked through and the scenery I saw was simply stunning. The wildlife I witnessed first-hand was amazing and the feeling of being free and making up my route as I went was great. I was disappointed not have stayed out for the two nights I’d planned and also not to have found somewhere to wild swim -this was quite frustrating as I’m very keen on wild swimming – but I had a fantastic time and look forward to having more microadventures and blogging about them here.
The main thing I took from the experience was that such adventures are entirely possible, all it requires is just deciding to do it. So often it is easy to sit inside and think of all the things that could go wrong, but the important thing to remember is that once you’re out in the countryside and beyond you don’t leave your common sense at home. It comes with you whether it’s on your packing list or not. So if you’re feeling like you can’t do something like this, I bet you can.
Best bit: Eating my lunch with a glorious view while drying out my kit.
Worst bit: Facing up to the reality of the weather in the bus shelter.
Biggest challenge: Making the decision to stay in the hotel after saying I’d spend 2 nights in my orange survival bag.
Distance: 20km (12.4miles)
Height gain: 240m (approx.)
Height loss: 350m (approx.)