Leg Power Only for 2021

The prospect of avoiding all motorised transport for the whole of 2021 seems unachievable on the face of it. We live in the mountains, 20cm of snow often falls overnight, people have jobs, commutes, friends to see, shopping to do. There are hills, many hills to overcome.


“This year I have taken the leap to completely cut out all motorised transport and only travel where my legs can take me,” explains Camille Robson. “This means only going places on foot, by bike and occasionally on skis – though ski touring only, as the ski lifts are motorised and therefore out of bounds!”


Living in Morzine and working a 9-5 in Les Gets, Camille had already accepted her commute would be by bike during six months of the year. “The busses don’t run between Morzine and Les Gets during the interseason,” Camille explains. “And then I realised that it wasn’t actually that bad!” But ultimately, it was feelings of guilt that that inspired Camille to fully commit and ditch all mortised transport this year. “I didn’t feel like I was playing my part in bringing around the change that is needed in our society to help curb global warming. I wasn’t able to be involved in protests easily or often, I didn’t have the time to commit to volunteering in an association. I didn’t feel like my small lifestyle changes carried enough weight by themselves.”


But how does this work in practical terms? For me, the prospect of snow clearing to get the car out is bad enough – imagine cycling between Morzine and Les Gets early each morning in the snow and sub-zero temperatures! “Somehow my legs seem to be recovering without me having to do that much so far. That might change once I’ve taken on some slightly bigger adventures this summer!” Camille explains. “But for everyday life, it means changing my perspective as to what I can and can’t do based on distance. I try to be more organised in my shopping to avoid having to go too often. I set off for work earlier than I would if I had a car and I take a change of clothes with me. There’s also some extra organising to be done each evening, but that’s all mostly become a normal part of my day to day routine now.”


It’s mid-March when Camille and I meet to talk about her ‘experiment’. The days are getting warmer and longer, it hasn’t snowed for a little while. I wonder what was the worst day? “On the whole, I’ve been surprised by how relatively easy and painless it’s been so far,” she tells me. “Except for the days with strong winds or heavy snowfall, it doesn’t feel much different to any other time of the year,” she believes. “Some mornings it got close to -12 degrees on my journey to work, I’d be all wrapped up then melting half way up the road to Les Gets!” “The hardest day was actually just before I started the challenge. I tried ski touring over Pleney and down into Les Gets as my commute to work. Between 40 and 50cm of fresh snow had fallen overnight, so this ended up being a four hour struggle on ungroomed pistes and the descent was just as bad! Needless to say I was late for work and have now taken up snowshoeing to work on those really snowy days!”

Camille isn’t doing this for the good of her health. She’s raising awareness and funds for three causes “as they represent the three levels I believe we need to act on to effectively bring about the change we need in our lives and society to actively tackle climate change and curb global warming; individual change, national change and global change.” Our valley’s very own Montagne Verte is a charitable association with bold objectives to provider greener solutions to the residents of our local towns and villages. “They are working with local government, businesses and the community to make Morzine and the area a more environmentally responsible destination.” Secondly, les Amis de la Terre France works at a national level, fighting some of the systemic issues relating to global warming. “As well as raising awareness and educating, they also partake in peaceful protests, encouraging politicians and industries to implement impactful change.” The third and final organisation to benefit from Camille’s challenge is Envol Vert. “They focus on preserving rainforests and biodiversity, both by working with the local population and by highlighting some of the multinational and French businesses who capitalise on deforestation.”


Inspired by Camille’s drive to make a difference, and conscious that my short car journeys are part of the problem, how can I, in a practical way, be a better mountain dweller? “I think we can mostly improve by shifting the way we see travel and what we consider as essential journeys,” Camille believes. “It starts with changing our perspective, I think. Using public transport much more, and if public transport is lacking, we need to voice this frustration to our elected officials and make demands for it to be improved.”

With each turn of her pedals, Camille is shining a light on the challenges we face as a planet. But who’s looking after her? “I have an amazing support crew,” she explains. Phew! “Firstly, my boyfriend Warren, who is doing almost as much of this challenge as I am! He’s following me to work at 5am on snowy days, taking pictures to help me promote the whole experiment and he’s been literally behind me from the get go, as have all my friends and family.”

Camille and I agree that to call her undertaking this year a ‘challenge’, just doesn’t cut it. She prefers ‘experiment’, and while she’s creating awareness and raising important funds, I wonder if she’s made any personal discoveries so far? “The big one was when I hit a bit of a wall, had a bit of a cry and then a chat to myself. I’ve been trying to prove that you can change a massive aspect of your life without any kind of compromise. But the reality is, I can’t cram in all the things that I used to while cycling everywhere, plus documenting it and at the same time working full time. I’ve had to become a lot more balanced about what I take on at weekends and I’m hoping to discover that I’m not sacrificing too much this year!” And surely the hardest days are behind her now? “I no longer see my mode of transport as a hindrance or a nuisance. In a similar way to someone who’s used to flying everywhere in a private helicopter might adjust to a more comparatively limiting car. We simply shift our idea of ‘normal’.” Should we all give it a go? “I’m not saying that everyone should give up motorised transport, but I do think everyone should push their comfort zones. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you find!”


Not content with replacing motorised transport with the power of her own legs to get the day to day stuff done, Camille is also planning a big summer of cycling. “I’m planning to cycle over to my parents on the west coast of France, which will be over 850km each way,” she tells me. “I’m also hoping to cycle over the mountains and spend a bit of time in Italy, plus a few weekend trips in the local area too.” Now you might imagine that Camille is a seasoned cyclist, as she certainly sounds like one. “18 months ago I cycled from Morzine to Lake Montriond for the first time. I had to have three proper breaks to make it up there. I never imagined I’d be doing something like this!” Any regrets? “That I didn’t start cycling around earlier! It’s easy to swap out so many of my normal weekly journeys, and it’s keeping me fit! Double win!”

FollowCamille’sExperiment: @camillecrobson

Leg Power Only for 2021
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