Day 11 – Bellegarde to Annecy
Not much mileage today, so a pretty relaxing day with the 6 km climb out of Bellegarde first thing this morning just a bad memory. Other than that, the D1508 that I rode on was quite busy and I stopped in a couple of nice places on the way for the usual second breaky material.
The sun was already hot at 8:00 a.m. and by the time I reached the outskirts of Annecy about 45 kms later I was ready for an ice cream. There was a McDonald’s right there so I pulled in. Guess what? Besides having beer on the menu, McDonald’s have free WiFi! So I managed to send off some more messages. I think that all the McD’s have this service by the sound of it; unfortunately McD’s are not as common here as in North America. But I’ll pay more attention as to their presence and location from now on. After checking at the tourist info – hey, it was open at lunch time! – I found the hostel – up the steepest bloody hill I’ve seen (and ridden) so far – talk about 1 km of hell! I booked in the for two nights – I need a day off to play tourist and rest up tomorrow. And what a great place to do it – there is an old historic part of town and a beautiful large lake surrounded by high mountains – very picturesque and touristy. I guess I can handle wandering around here for a day and exploring some sights and waterfront cafes/bars – of which there are dozens!
Other than that, not much else to report – scenery great, yada, yada, yada – only three gloves on the roadside today, but it was a short day after all. The hotel that I was in last night was next to the railway station and I nipped over there to check out the feasibility of including some train travel so that I can extend my travels across France. All the trains other than the high speed TGV will take bikes, BUT, getting the bike and gear (a 90 lb weight) up and down steep and numerous stairs to the station platforms is not realistic for me. And the local trains sometimes demand that one changes trains two or three times depending on destination. So, I’m rethinking my route a bit, reshaping my plans and trying not to overestimate my capabilities and underestimate the very hot weather here.
More in a couple of days,
Adam K. & (I need a dip in the lake to cool off) Basil.
Day 12 – Rest Day – Touristing in Annecy
Day 13 – Annecy to La Chambre
What a death march today. I rode the Col de la Madelaine (one of the famous Cols of the Tour de France – although I believe that it wasn’t on this year’s (2008) route?) and apart from a 2 km flat patch about a third of the way up, it was 26 kms of straight climbing up to 2000 metres – that’s higher than any road pass in Canada. The grade varies but it is pretty constant at 7% to 8% with short stretches up to probably 11%. I didn’t think that I was going to make it at about 10 kms from the summit, but somehow I found the legs to do it.
The climb was at the end of the day too, which didn’t help really – at the summit I was already into a 90 km day – another 20 kms downhill to just outside La Chambre made it a 110 km day. At least the first 35 km were pretty easy though as I had paved bike path all the way to Ugine instead of riding the busy N508. After Ugine, I was onto the busy N212 to Albertville – the scene of one the recent winter Olympic Games. From Albertville I took a smaller D road to Cevins – then the D66 to the D213 for the ride to hell!
But you know – the vistas, from what I could see beyond the sweat, were stupendous. I cannot explain what a total rush it is looking way down into villages that get smaller and smaller as I climb up & up and would risk a quick look over the embankments. I kept looking up too and seeing villages clinging to the mountainside and wondered how the hell the residents got up there – I found out the hard way! Thank God that the sun wasn’t out, and that I had most of the climb in cloudy weather – a few sprinkles of rain even. Nevertheless, I was still sweating buckets all the way. Before the summit it was neat to see all the faded graffiti on the road from TDF races in the past and then reaching the summit was something akin to a Lunar Landing for me – but there was a bar with an ice cold beer waiting – I think that’s the best beer I’ve ever had!
20 kms of downhill was quite a rush too – after spending hours riding my tank of a bike at about 6 – 7 kms/hr, to go downhill so fast with so little effort was a joke. I lost count of the hairpin bends on the way up and I certainly didn’t count on the way down – I was concentrating way too much for that and I even had to stop and check on how hot my rims were getting from all the braking before the tight hairpin bends. I saw a few recreational riders on the route too – made me sick with their featherweight road bikes and me with my tank and gear. But they were still finding it tough too, albeit going a little faster than me.
Waterfalls, valleys, snowy mountains in the distance – I saw it all and picture perfect too for the most part. The mountains in BC are splendid too, but I have to say (and hate to say!) that the the Alps have a lot to offer for visual splendour.
By the way, my day off in Annecy was great, much needed rest, that I spent visiting historic churches, a museum and a lot of cafe/bars! Annecy is a very touristy place, but well worth a visit. Needless to say, I was very tired at the end of the day and sleep came very easily.
Adam K. & (I helped on the climb as much as I could – honest!) Basil.
Day 14 – La Chambre to Valloire
After yesterday’s performance, today’s plan of riding two, maybe three Cols went out with last night’s dish water! I decided to just ride the Col du Telegraphe today and leave the Grande Galibier for tomorrow. Smart move, the old body said!
The D1006 to the turnoff of D902 was quite a long slow climb. So the 12 km climb of the Col was not the only hardship on the legs today. But at least I was at the summit by lunchtime – lunch which I devoured at the handy cafe at the summit of 1566 metres. Once again the grade varied from 7% to 10% with thankfully the majority being under 9%. It started rain on and off all the way up though, which was highly annoying as wearing a rain jacket and sweating buckets already was not very pleasant.
But that’s not the worst thing – yesterday I had some real annoying flies buzzing around my head and trying to land on me – I guess that they’re after the salt oozing out of my pores – but talk about annoying. Well today there were about fifty of the little suckers around me and they wouldn’t leave me alone – of course, I’m not moving fast enough to outrun the little bastards either. So after I nearly rode off the mountainside trying to swat them (Basil’s doing a piss-poor job of keeping them away) , I decided to spray some of my Deet anti-mosquito spray on me – that worked quite well – they were still there, but they were keeping their distance!
Which brings up the subject of the M word – usually I’m griping about the little biting buggers all the time, well I’ve seen very few here and have only had one bite in the two weeks that I’ve been here. It’s actually nice to sit outside when I’m camping without having to worry about covering up all the time. Anyway, back to the ride – brilliant scenery again and I elected to camp at Valloire which is a “Whistler” type ski village (with lots of construction going on) in between the two Cols. I only came down to about 1400 metres, so hopefully I’ve got a head start for tomorrow morning’s ride up to 2646 metres – wish me luck.
It was just as well that I stopped here too as it started pissing down rain just as I got here. It was a challenge getting the tent up in the rain, but I managed ok without getting anything too wet. Thunderstorms are also predicted with a probable clearing trend in the morning – I don’t mind cloudy, but I sure don’t want rain for my climb.
Worst thing about France – just about everyone here smokes! I can’t believe the amount of people that I see smoking – and it’s really annoying to sit down somewhere and then someone comes along and lights up right next me – happens all the time, picnic tables, benches, patios at cafes/bars etc. Haven’t they heard of lung disease and cancer here? That was gripe of the day.
So it was nice to only put 50 kms on the saddle today and a lot of my route was following the tracks of this year’s TDF. I stopped in at St Jean de Maurienne which still had it’s TDF banner out over the main street where the tour rode through. The road graffiti was much fresher near this summit here and I recognised many of the names of the riders in the scrawlings.
Adam K. & (bloody flies) Basil.
Day 15 – Valloire to Briançon
What a rude awakening to a body – almost 18 kms of steep climbing to the summit of the Col du Galibier – the site of many battles of the Tour de France climbing cyclist elite. The route I took today – of course, up the mountain on D902 is a no-brainer – was exactly as the 2008 race took for the end of the stage in Briançon. Briançon has hosted stages of the tour for many years and is a busy town in the foothills of the Alps.
I chose to cut the day short here at 60 kms as I knew that I would be tired after three days of dragging my arse up those very challenging mountains. Besides, I didn’t sleep that well due to some ferocious thunderstorms that were circling for hours in the mountains – together with torrential rain it made for an ugly night. The tent held up well albeit quite a bit of condensation on the inside due to the quite cool night mountain air and the rain etc.
The ride up to the summit of 2646 metres (8700 feet) was slow and very cool. There was a cold breeze blowing and I had to wear my windbreaker all the way up – talk about a sweatfest! It was slow going and surprisingly quite busy with traffic – of course the hordes of crazy motorcyclists that I’ve seen riding these mountain roads seem to all congregate on the same roads that I am on. The grades varied with a one and half km break of 2.5% at about the 5 km mark – otherwise it was about 7% to 9% all the way up. About 1 km from the top there is tunnel for the traffic that do not want to climb the steepest part of the mountain – that part is about 11% to 12% and is the scene of many attacks by the bike racers of the TdF. Of course, Mr. Masochist here had to drag his tank up there too, just to say that he did it – well I did too and there were a lot of surprised cyclists up there gawping at my heavy load and shaking their heads – but I got a few good comments – “Quelle courage,” “Vous et tres fort,” and “Silly old fool” (not really!) – so it was quite a thrill for me. There was a photographer snapping shots of cyclists climbing near the final km and he snapped this photo of me…
Anyway the scenery was fab and being above the treeline in the passing clouds was quite a kick. I think that I got lots of good photos myself, but I’ll have to wait and see. The ride down was, well, beyond belief. I have no idea how the racers go down so fast. I was white knuckled all the way down and the bike just wanted to go faster and faster.
Of course a loaded touring bike handles like a pig compared to a good road bike, and I definitely had to keep my wits about me. But I made it down safe to a warmer area – I wore two jackets going down and was still cold! But you know what the best part was today – no bloody flies – I guess that the rain washed them away last night or they can’t handle the thin air.
I think that I saw more cyclists today than I have any other day – climbing from both directions, and I even saw two brave cyclotouristes near Briançon loaded down just as I am. Nearly all the other riders that I see though are just day riders.
Otherwise, the weather’s picked up again to hot and windy – but here in the mountains you can pretty well expect anything.
So no big Cols tomorrow – I’m just going to be heading south along some of “Route of the Grand Alps” and some of “Napoleon’s Route.”
Adam K. & (Scary ride down!!!) Basil.
Day 16 – Briançon to St Vincent les Forts
Another day of unexpected hills and a Col yet to finish – more about that later…
The day started off with a bit of a problem – my bike fell over last evening during the heavy winds we were experiencing. I’d just about taken all the bags off, when a wind gust just blew the bike over. I didn’t think much about it until this morning when the rear derailleur shifting was all out of whack. I checked and saw that the bike must have landed right onto the derailleur hanger and bent it causing all the shifting to be out of sync. I got the tools out – see it is worth carrying all that heavy crap around – and gingerly managed to straighten the hanger with the small adjustable wrench that I carry, hoping like hell that the thin aluminium wouldn’t break. I got it quite good and made some final adjustments to the cable and all seems fine. I do carry a spare hanger too, so I could have resorted to that had I not been able to straighten the bent one. On the other hand, a broken hanger mount on the bike’s dropout would have been a real disaster!
After that, I noticed that the store at the campground had opened and everyone was lining up for the morning fresh baguette – it’s a tradition here in France, even in campgrounds, fresh baked goods in the morning if you want to hang around and wait until the delivery van shows up. Anyway, I poked my head in the store as I was running seriously low on TP. There were some single rolls! Everywhere I’ve looked before, you had to buy at least four rolls and I don’t have that kind of room, so finding a single roll at any price was a bonus. It was funny though – the big queue with everyone in front of me with a fresh baguette under their arm and me with the bog roll!
The ride… After leaving Briançon on the N94, it was smooth riding a little downhill for about 6 kms, then a long slow climb up to 1200 metres. That was the first climb, then after the town of Embrun – which was a zoo with a Saturday market going on – it was downhill to Savines le Lac where I turned off onto the D954 and then rode another climb to over 1000 metres. I found a nice campground at Sauze du Lac – which was unfortunately full. I must mention how beautiful the lake is – it is the Lac de Serre-Poncon, quite big and a spectacular azure blue colour. So the climb from lake level was rewarded by some very pretty vistas of the lake and surrounding mountains.
From the full campground I had at least 30 kms to the next possibility of a camping spot. Downhill again to lake level and start back up again. The lake is dammed and it was turning into a spectacular gorge as I climbed higher and higher.
A right turn took me onto the D900 with more climbing and road signs for Col St-Jean at 1350 metres – bummer! I got up to about 1100 metres and the campground was five kilometres “down” another road – bigger bummer! After 90 kms I was getting pretty tired, so I figured that I’d better go for the campground – not to mention that it was a very hot day again and I was getting to smell pretty ripe by then after all those climbs. So downhill I went and got a spot at this campground which is not actually in St Vincent, but about 8 kms away back at lake level on the south side – So yes, first thing in the morning, up the bloody hill to regain my altitude and climb up to the Col and St Vincent proper.
At least the campgrounds are fairly reasonably priced and most have a bar – read, cold beer – some have food and some even have TP! – not many though. Toilet seats are rarer – I mentioned that McDonald’s have WiFi – well they have toilet seats too – so you never know where your email reports are coming from!
Gorges, lakes, snow-capped peaks, deadly drop-offs on mountain roads – all in a day’s work – not to mention the odd castle, fort, chateau or whatever. It really is quite a day’s work taking it all in – and the Belgium beer’s not bad too.
I’m hoping for an easier day tomorrow – after the 8 km wake-up climb that is. By the way, the odometer clicked over 1000 kms at some point today.
Adam K. & (I’m glad that he’s got a full roll – things were looking grim for someone as fluffy as me!) Basil.