Monday, February 25, 2019

End of Summer in the Alps, Part 3

Continuing from Part 2.

The three days off the bike at Lake Como were braw, but I was ready to get going again. We had been looking at the maps and discussing possible runs and routes to take us homewards. We still had around a week to get back to the ferry, plenty time to visit places. Aidan was keen to do the Alps.

“Eh? We’ve done loads of the Alps”

“You ken what I mean.”

When Aidan says “the Alps” there’s only one place he’s really thinking about. The French Alps. Aidan was keen to show Jess some of the mountains of her home country that she’d not had the chance to visit yet. I was up for it too. I love the French Alps. They have a different feel to the Tyrol Alps where we’d been. They feel more remote, have more variation of landscapes and are all a bit higher and rougher. I figured that a five hour mix of motorway and twisty roads would see us in Valloire, an alpine town tucked between two great passes.

Even with some busy traffic around Milan, the Italian motorway was seen off in good time before we jumped onto the SS24. Fast hairpins, more stunning scenery and an impressive tunnel were enjoyed as we climbed back up into the hills and up to the border. The French border guards were great, having a laugh with us and asking if we had any whisky. We stopped for a bite to eat in Montgenevre, a ski resort that sits on a sort plateau. It was like a ghost town, there was no one around except another couple who were eating outside a restaurant which we were told was closed. the folk there offered us a couple of huge sandwiches and a coffee each, which we enjoyed to the view of the female member of the other couple falling off her chair.
It's OK, she was fine.

sandwich stop

We'd expected to see Aidan and Jess ride past at some point, but they must have stopped off a bit earlier. We jumped back on the bike and carried on towards Briancon where we followed the now quite familiar Col du Lautaret up to the stunning Col du Galibier. After riding up through a constant changing grass/moss/whateveritis, the landscape takes on a sort of lunar style at the top. We carried on up to the top, missing the tunnel out. Photos taken, we snaked down to Valloire, riding over all the graffiti on the road from the cycling competitions, which makes the run down even better. We headed straight to the campsite and got pitched up. We were the only people there! Not long after we arrived Aidan and Jess rolled up and a cyclist came in. There were hardly any shops or anything else open. I was amazed as I rode up to the supermarket. I had thought that Valloire would have still been quite busy with mountain biking, but it would seem that at the end of September everything closed. Luckily there was one place remaining open where we could get food. The cyclist from the campsite joined us and the five of us had a good night out.



I was really looking forwards to the ride up the next day. Aidan, Carina and I had ridden the same route previously, for me it’s still one of the best in the Alps, following the Route Des Grande Alps from Valloire up to Bourg Saint Maurice. Leaving Valloire up and over the Col du Telegraphe I made sure and not take a wrong turn at the bottom, following the proper route to the Col de l’Iseran.

Col de l’Iseran is the highest pass in the Alps and one of my favourites due to the various different road surfaces, braw corners, cliff edge drops and stunning scenery. It was riding up the south side of said pass that we had a pretty scary experience. We were riding along one of the narrower sections when suddenly a Jeep Cherokee began to overtake, blasting his horn. The cunt driving was clearly in quite the rush because up ahead the road narrowed a bit. I had two options.

  1. Slam on the brakes and get out the way.
  2. Stand my ground and possibly get knocked off a cliff and fall 500 to 600 meters.

I don’t think HB would have appreciated option 2, and it might have damaged the bike, so option 1 it was. The guy squeezed past and I set off after him thinking “I better have a strong word with that gentleman.” I caught up with the jeep after a couple of corners and then a big truck appeared only for the lunatic Jeep pilot to overtake it on blind corner. Up the road a bit and another truck was passed in a similar way. I genuinely thought the guy was going to kill someone. By the time we got past the truck the Jeep arsehole was nowhere to be seen. We got a photo at the top and I tried to calm down a bit. HB was also pretty shaken up. This was her first experience of a fuckwit actually nearly killing us on the bike, as opposed to just another proximity arsehole incident.

The ride down to Val d’Isere was much more enjoyable and quite a bit slower. A couple of times I thought I saw Jeep arsehole, but there were quite a few black Jeeps in the area so it could have been anyone. We met up with Aidan and Jess who had bumped into a friend of Jess’ family who she’d not seen for years. We told them about what happened and I tried to show them on the helmet camera, ranting and raving while we also tried to decide where to stay. Val d’Isere’s campsite was closed nipping our accommodation plans in the bud. A wee look online and we’d picked another campsite up the road at Les Saises. On arrival however the site didn’t seem to be great for tents, rocky, rooty ground being the only place available to pitch our tents and there was no one around to advise us otherwise. I was tired, pissed off with Jeep arsehole and far too hot. Everyone else took over and found another site further up the road in Bourg Saint Maurice. A short ride later and they were checking it out. It was huge, pretty empty, had nice grassy pitches and great facilities. It was great to get pitched up and out the bike gear. I nipped to the big supermarket for some beers and snacks and we relaxed on the campsite. We were joined by Steve Keefe, his daughter Alex and their group of English bikers who were also on a tour. Steve recognised me from my infamous C90 which HB found hilarious. We got the craic with them for a bit, sharing biking stories and brexshit despair over a beer before saying our goodbyes and heading for some food.     

I woke up just in time to say goodbye to Steve and his crew as they hit the road. We fumbled around with croissants and cups of tea or coffee while packing the bikes back up. It really was beginning to look like autumn in the Alps, with the ground being a carpet of brown and orange leaves. We carried on northwards. If Col de l’Iseran was my favourite pass, today we’d be riding over Aidan’s favourite, Cornet de Roseland.



Cornet de Roseland takes you from Bourg Saint Maurice over to Beaufort. Heading from south to north, the initially tight, twisty road opens up to wide sweeping hairpins once out of the trees. We narrowly avoided clipping a few gophers (or marmots) which scurried out in front of the bike, reigning in my enthusiastic throttle hand. For the first time ever we avoided stopping in Beaufort, riding on to Flumet before stopping at the top of Col des Aravis for some lunch with a view of Mont Blanc. On the way down we had more animal encounters, this time in the form of a big cow which a passing cyclist encouraged off the road. Clearly the cow didn’t understand my poor French.




Another pass, Col de la Colombiere, took us over more typical twisty alpine roads, still heading north towards Les Gets. It was still roasting and I expected the whole place to be hoaching with mountain bikers. Les Gets however appeared to be closed. And I couldn’t find the campsite we had picked. After a solid inspection on the map, a tantrum (me) and a fluent French phone call (Jess), we got back on the bikes and headed to the campsite, just up the road in Saint Jean d’Aulps. In no time we were pitched up and speaking to a couple of cats and their owners who lived on the site. Aidan and I had a spin to the shop for bits and bobs and we relaxed on the site. We inevitably got hungry and wandered along to the town for some food, finding a wee burger place which suited everyone. There was a pub next door playing live music which Jess went into to ask how long it was going on for, being French she was the best candidate for crossing the language barrier. Jess came back out.
“The woman asked me to speak English! The place is closing soon anyway.”
It appeared that everyone had went up the road to another pub. It also appeared that everyone in the town spoke more English than French. Scottish, Irish and English accents filled the pub which was holding a quiz which we entered, and graciously lost, despite being accused of grassing another team up for cheating. After quickly explaining that we didn’t give two fucks if anyone cheated on the quiz, we got some more beers in and I spoke to a few of the folk in the pub. Everyone said they had moved over to this wee French town, doing a variety of different jobs and living this amazing alpine lifestyle. No one I asked had an interest in any of the typical alpine pastimes such as mountain biking or skiing, but just said how amazing it was to live there. It should have been great, but instead I got a whiff of an atmosphere that reminded me of the ending from the film “The Beach” with the people not speaking like they were as happy as they were trying to appear.

We'd decided to revisit Switzerland on our homewards leg of the journey. Switzerland is a stunning country, not far behind Norway in the "Fucking behave yourself, scenery!" stakes. However, it trumps Norway by quite a bit in the "get caught speeding, get fucked beyond recognition" stakes. Speaking to any biker will reveal horror stories. Either personal ones of those accounted for on behalf of a friend or relative. You really need to keep your shit in check there. 
We rode over Col du Corbier, saying goodbye to France and riding down into Switzerland. Before long my persecution fears had vanished. Going slow is easy when everything around you looks as good as Switzerland. 



We had chosen Interlaken as our destination. HB and I were a bit further ahead than Aidan and Jess after various photo stops and lunch stops. We were nearly at Interlaken when I spied a sign for a place that I recognised. Lauterbrunnen. I'm sure I'd seen someone's photo on Faceboook somewhere of Lauterbunnen, and I remembered thinking it looked good. Plusit was only a wee bit up the road.
"I'm just nipping up here for a wee look!" I roared at HB as we turned off, once again heading in the completely wrong direction. 
Fifteen minutes later were riding into Lauterbrunnen. Yes, it's fucking awesome. 
"Fuck this, we're staying here!"
We quickly found the campsite, checked out prices for camping and sent Aidan and Jess a message telling them where we were. I think this short notice change of plans was acceptable, Lauterbrunnen is absolutely beautiful. I wandered into town, mistakenly thinking it was a short ten minute walk away. Forty minutes later I was back at the campsite with beers and a few snacky things. Switzerland has a reputation for being really, really expensive, and some bit are. The wee Coop in Lauterbrunnen wasn't too bad but bizarrely only for some things. Beer wasn't too bad price wise, but a large bag of crisps worked out at around four quid. We were only staying the one night, so it was going to be a no expenses spared  meal in the restaurant, or it would have been if it wasn't booked up. Instead we got wired into the four quid crisps before wandering along to the pub. The wee pub was great, the reasonably priced food filled a hole and the punters in were great crack. Like us, many of them were visitors to Lauterbrunnen, nearly half of whom seemed to be BASE jumpers! We had a great night with them, watching their crazy videos, feeding the jukebox and shooting the shit with other travellers. 

 Me, Henry from South Korea and HB in the pub in Lauterbrunnen listening to Queen.

I was getting coffee the next morning when HB phoned me.
"Quickly quickly!! Come along the road, there's folk BASE jumping!!"
I never made it along in time to see the folk jumping, but I bumped into one of the guys from the pub. He was nearly back at the village. He explained that because he used a wingsuit (search on YouTube) he could nearly fly back to the pub!


We packed up and headed north. The route HB and I took went right past Rick and Andrea's place. It felt like weeks since we'd been there. We stopped in for a visit but they must have been out on their pushbikes. We left a mysterious present of two Swiss beers on their doorstep and carried on up the familiar Schwarzwald roads to our friend Wolfgang's place. As always it was great to see Wolfgang, getting the crack over a meal and a beer. With Wolfgang's help we booked into a hotel in Cochem for our last night of the trip, a good idea as it was getting cold at night. I noticed the chill while out taking some photos and in the morning water bottles left on the bikes were frozen.


Uta, Wolfgang's partner, put a great breakfast on for us a short ride away in Freiburg. Well filled, we got on the autobahn and headed north towards the German Moselle Valley. Once off the motorway the roads were really nice, twisting up and down the vally sides in narrow singletracks. even this late on in September the area was busy. Eventually we got into the busy town of Cochem and found our hotel. It's quite distinct as it had a streetfightered blade beside our balcony. We enjoyed our final night out in Cochem. It's a very busy tourist town, but still a nice place to be. Definitely worth a look if you're wanting somewhere within riding distance to the Ijmuiden ferry.



The run from Cochem to Ijmuiden was easy enough, we just managed to stay dry, avoiding the torrential downpours by luck or hiding in petrol stations. I couldn't complain though. We'd had it good for the whole trip, only getting pissed on way back in Austria, which felt like months before. I was well cold by the time we got to Ijmuiden. We had plenty time till we had to board the ferry so we warmed up with some chips in one of the wee cafes just beside the port.
After that it was plain sailing home.