Not too sure when the idea first came to me, but I wanted to go the Alpes again this year, and have wanted to try touring by
myself for a while, so with some friends going on holiday to their place in Northern Italy, it seemed a good opportunity: I decided
to ride my bike out to visit them.
I have ridden across France once before; four years ago with a mate from Manchester University. To keep the start of my trip
simple I took the same Newhaven to Dieppe crossing, and rode a similar route the first few days. I figured riding there by myself
would be enough, so booked a flight home from Nice, and sent my Bike Friday suitcase ahead with the Kingsburys to Italy. That
left me and the bike, loaded with two small panniers, a bar bag, and a rack-top trunk (for food!). First day was a nice gentle start
with 60 miles down to Brighton, to stay with some friends before getting the Seacat early the next morning. Slightly worrying to find
myself in my lowest gear within a mile of home, but heh, the Alpes aren't very steep..... Nice send off with temperatures up to 36
The channel crossing and the hour gain made for a late start on day two, but I still managed 97 miles before stopping for the night.
The campsite was marked on the map, but upon arrival it looked a bit upmarket, with lots of permanent caravans and high prices!
But I wasn't riding any further, so went and rang the bell at the office. No one there; and nobody about anywhere else that I could
see. I was a bit worried that they wouldn't have a place for a small tent anyway, but didn't have a lot of choice. So I rode in and
found an empty pitch, nicely tucked away behind a large hedge, and put the tent up. Kept expecting somebody to find me and kick
me out, so not the most relaxing night, but got away early in the morning with no problems. Lots of rain in the night, so had to pack
away a soaking tent, and it drizzled on and off all morning - the weather was better at home! Going through Chantilly there is a long
stretch of pave by the Chateaux - I didn't realise until I was passed it that one of my bottles had bounced out of the cage, bit
annoying as it was my morning ration and I wasn't going to pass a shop for some miles. Ah well. Otherwise fairly uneventful day,
pretty flat. Thankfully the weather cleared up in the afternoon and I was able to dry everything out when I stopped that evening
after 110 miles.
Day four would take me down to the Loire valley, and, I hoped,
some way along it. Heavy going though, with rolling roads and a
headwind. Chilly first thing - I started with knee warmers and
windproof on. After warming up I stopped to take them off, and
risked getting my shades out - mistake, it immediately started raining!
After 95 miles, I was climbing up the hill in La Machine, when I was
passed by a roadie and a derny (moped, complete with proper
stayers bar on the back!), so of course I chased after them,
fortunately the lights were red ahead so I could catch up. Then the
cyclist turned off, leaving me behind the bike - at 35mph….. When
the driver noticed I was there he paced me (with the luggage on the
bike the slightest rise makes it very hard work, so he had to ease
back a bit) all the way up to a big group of cyclists ahead. I'd had
enough at that point, so waved my thanks, and rode the rest of the
way to Decize with the group - great fun after riding by myself for so
long. That took me to 105 miles, so I stopped for food before
pushing on down the valley - very, very tedious 27 miles to
Dompiere, but satisfying to get there with a 132 mile day. Most of
my food breaks end up being outside supermarkets, and almost
always someone will wish me 'Bon appetite!' to which I can only
reply with a nod as I usually have a mouthful. Nice though, the
French can be friendly sometimes!
Not good legs on day five - toasted from playing silly games the day
before. And a combination of heavy roads, riding upstream, sore legs
and a headwind equaled depressingly slow going - like about 12mph.
But gradually picked my way down to and through Roanne, then it
went a bit wrong; punctured, then got lost on back roads which weren't on the map. Eventually got back on track and slogged
down the main road to get to the campsite. Still straight into the wind, but my legs picked up a bit at least. 103 miles.
When I looked at the map after three days, my destination seemed ridiculously far away. But after five days, having worked out
the distances, it suddenly looked doable in three more; but that meant I had to get to Die on day six. So many great puns on the
name Die and no-one to share them with! Still, I chuckled happily to myself, such is the way of the lone cyclotourist. Lots of
cyclists around today - oh yeah it's a Saturday, the days are all the same to me. I will always acknowledge a cyclist riding in the
other direction, and there are various extremes. At a minimum there's the slight raise of the head, like an extension of raising the
eyebrows. Then you get the nod and smile, which can also be combined with the minimalist wave - just lifting a finger or two from
the bars. When riding hard this can also be done as a reply without actually appearing to look in the direction of the other rider.
The next step up in the wave stakes is lifting the entire palm up, but not away, from the bar. And finally for those who get very
enthusiastic, there is the full arm extension, heil hitler style, wave. I haven't quite worked out the etiquette of these greetings yet, but
it seems that generally the reply should only be one step away - ie if you get a mini-wave you should reply with the same or a nod,
but never a big wave. More research needed, I think there is also some related function of type of bike being ridden too, it all gets
a bit complicated……. But anyway, a good day today; better legs, plus good roads, down stream and no headwind! So doing
20mph a lot, which was nice. Up to 35 degrees again. Did the last 20 miles with my shortwave radio propped in my barbag,
listening to the Commonwealth games on the World Service - unsurprisingly the Ozzies cleaned up in the road race. 118 miles and
almost eight hours before I got to Die (sic).
Penultimate day! Day seven and I knew I just had 100 miles to go today. But that included over 2000m of climbing. Didn't start
well by over eating at breakfast, and having to stop for half an hour to let my digestion settle. Did my first Col of the trip, the Col
de Cabre. Only 1180m, nice steady six miles of climbing. After Gap I had the second one, which was pretty hard, not great legs
today, followed by a slog up to Barcelonnette. Cycling caps are great things. I didn't take a helmet on this trip - too hot to be
wearing one all day, and the French drivers give cyclists a lot of respect anyway. Plus there is so little traffic compared to home.
But the simple cotton cycling cap is so functional - when its hot it keeps the sun out of your eyes and off your head, and keeps the
sweat from running down your face. And when it rains you don't have to squint as the peak keeps it out of your eyes, and it keeps
your head warm. Blinkin' marvelous!
And so the end is in sight! Three cols and 115 miles to conquer today though.
Fortunately I had good legs. The first climb, the Col du Bonnett, turned out to
be the highest pass in Europe, going up to 2800m…. Handily I met two English
riders at the start, and so had company for the two hour ride up, which was a
good start to the day. Then after a very long descent it was on to the Col St.
Martin, another 90 minutes of climbing, with temperatures touching 40 degrees -
what was that about mad dogs and Englishmen? And finally the Col du Turini
(starting to sound Italian!), another hour and a half, which was really hard as it
just went on and on and on and on and, well you get the idea. Eventually got to
the top, and had 25 miles of mostly downhill to look forward to. Not the sort of
descents you can relax on though, very technical and bumpy, so had to pay
attention. One last little climb up to the Italian border, but after climbing 4000m
already I barely noticed it, plus I knew I was almost there, after eight days of
riding! Pulled up to Airole after nine and a quarter hours riding, no worries.
So then I had a very pleasant, relaxing week, with a bit of walking, bit of
swimming, bit of cycling, and lots of eating; Italian food is soooooo good! Many
thanks to the Kingsburys for letting me crash their holiday, 'twas good fun