The Risoux, Dominique explained, is where they take you to get lost. Or at least to practise your compass skills and compete in orientation competitions.
All the fir trees look pretty much the same, as do the little rolling hills, and also the twisting gravel roads. Even the three deer we saw leaping across the road looked alike to me. This morning when I went off by myself to find a corner nook of the border, I really wanted to see the great overlook I knew held a 50-metre cliff. But eventually I turned around, as I had no idea if I'd already gone too far.
Yesterday Dominique and his 13-year-old daughter Marie gave us a guided tour of one section of the Risoux, after we climbed out of Vallorbe together despite the wind and the cold (and a little rain and snow). First we cycled to the cave where the Orbe River bursts out of the earth after travelling kilometres underground from Lac de Joux. It's an impressive sight, especially surrounded by golden autumn leaves and rich green moss. From there the road climbed up and up into the Risoux. After a while we told Dominique we'd seen enough trees, so we glided downhill to the shore of Lac de Joux. The wind down there was strong, but at our backs.
As the day turned to night, Dominique's wife Vivian came to pick up her family. Fortunately by then we'd found a “gîte” shelter for the night. Dominique says he often heads out with bicyclists who stay at their B&B, showing them the way for a couple of hours and then heading back. This area, he says, is a paradise for mountain biking in the summer, though it's most famous for its Nordic skiing. With the pace he set uphill, it's obvious he does his share of both. But it was his family climbing adventures with the three children that pleased him most as he showed photos of their traverse of the Bernese Oberland. We're hoping to hook up on the border somewhere next summer.
As we stood in the gathering dark waiting for Vivian, I asked Dominique if, as he lives on the border, he saw any differences between French people and Swiss. No, he said. The differences are between individuals and regions, but not across this border.