Game of Trains

I’d made it and I was a very happy bunny, yes I was behind schedule and yes I was only just over the border to Italy, but I didn’t say I was going to do anything other than cycle to Italy. Time was running out and having made it to Oulx I headed straight to the train station where a very helpful member of staff sorted out my three trains to get me to Bologne the next day. I then looked for a hotel nearby and set off. The hotel was really nice and my bike was stored inside the lobby. I walked up through the little town and found a small bar serving food. It was my first Italian meal and I made sure it was very Italian. Tagliatelle, Tiramisu and some Italian beer. It was late by the time I got back to the hotel and sleep came easy.

I was up early, packed and filled on breakfast goodies. I had promised myself no cycling today. I was truly going to let the train take care of getting me back on track, so to speak.  Then with the bike loaded it was a short walk to the station. I arrived in plenty of time to get some photos and do some video. As I reached to get my phone I pulled out the hotel key! So 20 minutes into the day I was on the bike and pedalling back to the hotel. Looping back to the station I had a short wait before the train to Turin.

Train station at Oulx. (take 2)

On board the bike sat happily against the un-openning doors of the carriage and I sat close by, just in case they should open. We chugged off and I got on with the blog, trying not to be distracted by the countryside whistling past. Within an hour we arrived at Turin and I had an hour wait before my next train to Milan. The station was modern and clean with fine clothing stores and amazing gelato shops. It was here I first noticed the immaculate presentation of Italians. Beautiful people who seem to represent a wonderful lifestyle, it made me wonder how much was real and how much a front. But it didn’t matter they looked great.


Turin to Milan was uneventful and instantly forgettable, as was the quick change at Milan.
Milan to Verona
Onto the third train to Verona. This time I got on and placed the bike across the opposite doorway, which was a mistake. Every station had a platform on that side and as the train was packed there was nothing I could do but stand with it and move a little at every station for those getting on or off. It was a baking hot day on a packed train with all the available windows open it was still very unpleasant and I was pleased after two hours to be at Verona. It was due to be a quick change but this train was late and I’d missed my connection to Bologna. It was just a 30 minute wait and that train was new and air conditioned. I got in the rear carriage and stowed the bike as best I could. With two minutes to departure the guard told me all cycles should be at the front. I rushed to the front with the special cycle store. What followed was a saga of trying to lift the bike vertical into the special rack and attach a clamp to the frame. It wasn’t happening and in the end, because they insisted it stay in the rack, it balanced on the rear wheel completely unsupported and more likely to fall. At later stations 3 other cyclist simply leant their bikes against the racking as I had wanted to. Anyway we got to Bologna without issue and an route I booked the Hotel Europa. It’s cheap cost was not reflected in the quality.

Bonjour…. act2

Before we continue with the trials and tribulations of my journey lets just take a minute to consider the state I was in by this time. 14 days of cycling had taken its toll, I ached and I was sore. The aching resulted in the consumption of pain killers like they were Smarties. My legs were increasingly less helpful in getting up hills and even walking was becoming more difficult. My bum was still sore but less so as the pain receptors decided it was pointless complaining more. I was by now 2 to 3 days behind schedule and there was no way I was going to be able to cycle the whole distance to Tuscany. So I hatched a plan and after consulting with the tourist info it was time to make a decission.

It’s only 16km to the border or there about, but according to the tourist info’ it was a steep road. By now it was 2.30pm and I was going to try for the border. The final section of the ride to Briancon town was a long downhill so I was forced to walk mostly to the start of the road to Italy. Then I got aboard and headed off up the hill which turned to a steep hill and then an impossible hill, we’ll call it a mountain or Mount Genevre to give it its correct name. I had other names for it! It was a torturous climb which was surrounded by sublime views and the always present view of the climb to come. Very quickly I realised this was going to be more of a challenge than I had expected. 16km could take as little as an hour in normal conditions, but these were not normal conditions

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What was clear was the rain clouds were following me and I was sure they were getting closer. It didn’t matter that it was muggy and hot, nor that the rain was coming in, my body was simply at the end of its ability to push harder. I was off the bike more than on it and it mattered not that I had enjoyed the long run down from Col de Lauretet my body soon forgot that and it was screaming out for a rest. It didn’t get one, what it got was endless views of the twisting road and steep inclines.

At one point I walked through some extensive road works and it was a slog. I had to stop and sit on the roadside wall amongst the workers. After a short break I stood to continue the big push up the endless mountain, as I stood the dizziness started and I wobbled before taking a deep breath and concentrating on not falling over I set off. I was exhausted and the thumping in my head was not all down to the high pressure of the stormy weather behind me. I continued to walk on. It was three hours of torture with very little cycling to be had. Eventually more sky filled my view, indicating the top was close by. I stopped by a signpost that had a floral border and wall to sit on. I took more pain killers and filmed my despair. Having turned off the camera I quickly turned round and threw up into the flora. I was ready to turn back, I could simply coast down that immense mountain, get back to Briancon and get a train in the morning. The only things stopping me were the rain clouds and the knowledge gained from tourist info that there were no trains from there to Italy.

I pushed the bike about 200m and then saw a tunnel that offered at least some rest. However, the closer I got the better I could see the ‘no cycles’ sign and it wasn’t a short tunnel, I could just zoom through. The tunnel dipped away between two hills and my path was up those hills. In fairness it was a short climb and shallow enough to ride. A sign told me I was at the top of Mt Genevre. It was downhill all the way to Italy!

The last big climb before the long run down to Italy

I started off coasting along happily. I had some idea that the road sign indicating the border was ahead at the end of a tunnel. I had Google Earthed it. Along the way I had imagined the pictures I would take, bike held aloft and a beaming grin. It was going to happen in the next few minutes. I passed a road check point and set the GoPro to record the whole thing. I wasn’t feeling as well as I wanted the pictures to depict but I could blag that for the record of my achievement. The road was smooth and I whisked along awaiting the tunnel to start. It didn’t, in fact the first sign I had that I was in Italy was a road side cafe with an Italian flag. I stopped and checked the map. Sure enough I was already in Italy. No big fanfare, no pics and no one to celebrate with, but I did have a big grin on my face as I slumped over the handlebars telling the camera that I’d made it. Me, my old bike and little else had got me there. It was a strange sensation of sickness and pride. I cycled on and found a roundabout that had a sign saying Italy. I took a few pics and later edited out the graffiti. Back on the bike I zipped off downhill and coasted down the Italian side of the mountain. It was a beautiful road to ride amongst exquisite scenery. The road levelled out after about ten minutes of effortless coasting. I came to a roundabout that said Oulx was 10km in one direction and in the other direction, about 50m away was a lovely looking hotel. I was really torn, I couldn’t face any more uphills but Oulx had what I needed. I decided to try for Oulx but vowed to come back at the first sign of a difficult hill. The cycle God’s were with me and I hardly pedelled at all, before I knew it I was in the town of Oulx and it did have trains to various parts of Italy. Tomorrow I would take back those lost days.

Bonjour, is this Italy?

It was going to be an early start. There were only about 50km to go to the border, but I also knew that it was such hard work the day before and potentially it was going to get worse. Anyway the tech was packed away, the GoPro mounted on the bike and my phone plugged into both the extra battery pack and headphones. Then off to breakfast and more of that astounding view.

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I was out and on the road by 8am with a quick stop to pick up Orangina and water. I cycled out of La Grave and headed for Briancon the last town before Italy. I must have ridden 2km before my legs gave out on the first part of the hill. The road known as Col de Lautaret was what the cyclists the day before had called the last big mountain, accompanied by the ever increasingly annoying hand gesture. The sun was out and already the mountain was making me sweat. It was during one of the many off the bike pushing moments that I heard the distinctive sound of an aircraft nearby. I was stood at the roadside looking when a C133 Fairchild flew past really close. In moments like this the phone is ripped from my pocket, the two leads disconnected and press the home key twice to get the camera function. the plane was so close and so low framed by the amazing mountains and snow, I quickly centred it and pressed the shutter button. what followed was an infuriating 10 second wait as the timer was left on. panning with the plane it slowly slipped out of sight as the counter ticked away. My moment had gone as had the plane. I plugged the items back in and continued to trudge up the road. But then the noise returned and this time I was ready and got some lovely shots as the pilot flew close, low and slow.

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I had a surprising feeling of guilt as I left the wonderful scenery behind but I hoped for more of the same during the day. But first there was that mountain to climb. Col de Lauteret is 2058m (6750ft) high, although some of it had been completed the day before. The sun was really warm and the mountain was really steep. I managed just a few hundred metres of cycling for every 30 minutes of pushing. I had convinced myself I was climbing the 21bends, but later I saw that it wasn’t, however this route has been used several times in the Tour de france. Surprisingly it does not qualify to be part of the ‘King of the Mountain’ section of the race, probably to shallow a slope!!!! Those riders are legends.

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It really was a twisty little road and it sapped my energy massively. It was about 11.30 that I reached the café at the summit. I had two small bottles of Coke with ice, sat outside in the shade but still very warm. Having had a suitable rest I decided to make a move. I picked up my rucksack and saw that there was water running out the bottom of it. I assumed the hydration bladder must have split and quickly pulled it out for inspection, it was fine. I knew I had no other water in the bag. Lifting it once more the water ran from under it pooling on the floor, nothing for it I let it splash on my finger and tasted it. There’s no easy way to say this, it was sweat, my sweat. I had already used huge amounts of energy and I was nowhere near completing my journey to Briancon. What I did know was that the guy on the racing bike yesterday had said just one more mountain until the run down to Briancon. I was confident I had now climbed that mountain and was looking forward to the downhill.

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Leaving the café I was easily able to ride the very last bit of uphill. Quite literally turning a corner I was met with an obvious gentle downhill that seemed to go on forever. I set off and was quickly out of gears and coasting. It wasn’t long before the wind was rushing at me and drying my clothing which was equally as wet as the rucksack. I was happy to sail past a cyclist who was somehow going slower that me. Next thing I was gaining on a car and a British plated BMW GS1200 motorcycle. The road was twisty and the bike was held up by the car. I couldn’t pedal as I was already going faster than my maximum pedalling speed. I got so close to the bike but in a flash both he and the car pulled away from me. I didn’t care, it would have been fun to overtake but the reality was I pleased just to coast along admiring the views and not even thinking about the next uphill. Why would I think about the next uphill it was nowhere to be seen and I kid you not I coasted for nearly 15minutes.

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(I almost overtook the Biker and I did overtake the cyclist on the road down to Briancon)

Before I knew it I had pretty much coasted to Briancon. I had hatched a plan to get some lunch in the town then visit the tourist advice and see what my options were. I was beaming as I turned down the steep road to Briancon town. Happy to have made it to the town I had read about and considered my potential last staging post before the assault on the border. Lunch was quick and then I went to the Tourist Info, they were closed until 2pm. I went to the train station to see if they could help with options for the rest of the journey. I got nothing from that. I went back to tourist info and sat at a café drinking Orangina whilst I waited for it to open. I had read that there was a train station in a town called Oulx in Italy. I had no clue as to how close Oulx was to the border but it didn’t look far.

To be continued…….

The test

It started early with a breakfast at the hotel before bouncing the bike down the stairs and loading it up in the courtyard. The first 500m would be downhill but I was under no illusion the ride from here would be harder. It was harder but initially just a gentle gradient as the road weaved it’s way between the mountains. Within the hour I was starting to climb steeper slopes and before long the first walk of the day. It was a glorious morning with bright sun still hidden behind the mountains. Looking into the distance I was sure I could see snow. Surely not, we have just had the hottest summer on record and its now the hottest September on record. 20180911_112758 The walking became more frequent as the ascent continued. I was passed by two tractors that pulled into a large layby ahead. I walked past and glanced over at the two drivers who were stood eating breakfast, simultaneously they did the wavy hand thing but without the wavy bit, just a steep incline of the hand and a look up the road. I guessed it meant there was worse to come. However the satnav was going to give me a break or so I thought. Turn right to save 6km. the right turn was so steep I had trouble keeping the front wheel on the ground just pushing it. It was ridiculously steep but a 6km saving was to be had. I pushed and gasped for breath as I walked up the massive incline which showed no sign of giving me a rest anytime soon. A car came whizzing down the hill and the driver indicated that the road may not be the best option. By now I was 20 minutes into the struggle and gasping for breath I stopped to check the map and guzzle some water. On studying the map it appeared the road gave way to a path which eventually became ski slopes. Now I like a challenge but the road was showing no sign of relenting anytime soon, the driver had clearly signalled not to go that way and my arse was not going to accept that kind of terrain for any length of time. Plus I had the option to zoom back down the hill I had just come up. Decision made, about turn and climbing on board the wind rushed through my sweat soaked top as I went back to the road and the extra 6km. No sooner did I get back on that road than the speed fell away and I was back down the gears and pedalling with burning legs and rasping lungs. Rasping maybe but alpine air is wonderfully refreshing. 20180911_120348

(At most, this bit of road is flat, I can only imagine the camera makes it look downhill as there were none that I recall)

The long walk and minimal cycling continued but Briancon was calling me. I stopped for my first Orangina of the day, at a little roadside bar. It had a cycling theme and a poster showed a zig zag mountain road that I had knowledge of. Lautaret, or the 21 bends as it is known to the riders of the Tour de France. Having huffed and puffed my way to lunchtime I was in awe of those riders who do any kind of racing, let alone power up what looked like a massive mountain road with its relentless bends and climbs. Lunch was yet another salad with trail mix of nuts and fizzy drink, all available at Aldi in the small village of Le Bourg d Oisans and eaten on the picnic table at the front of the store.

Returning to the road I once again tried to use the cycle route option, but having been led along a gravel trail for about a mile only to find it got smaller and smaller, eventually becoming a split driveway to two houses, I had to turn round and return to the village, picking up the D1091 again. What was becoming apparent was that the day was going faster than I was. I always knew the journey to Briancon was going to be a push. The initial distance was about 90km but the mountains and steep inclines were eating into the hours of the day. I went through my first alpine tunnel and came out the other side to see a hydro electric dam at Le Freney-dOisans. I stopped to take pictures and get my breath when a cyclist came past with a chirpy Bonjour. I pedalled off slowly and shortly caught up the guy who was waiting for the other cyclist he was with. He pointed out that he knew a route that was much better for cyclists as it was away from the D1091 and I was welcome to join them. 20180911_16003520180911_160308

I agreed and set off behind the guy who’s friend had gone past us as we chatted. He was on a proper race bike but I had glimpsed that the female was on a hybrid bike so I hoped I could keep up. The road had been hastily built after a huge landslide had closed the main road a few years ago. It was now abandoned as the main road was open again. It was decaying and the guy warned me that there were sharp stones to avoid. When we regrouped I saw that the female was middle aged and clearly very fit and active. I cycled along trying to keep up with the guy assuming it was father daughter as he was clearly older than me and she younger. The road was lovely and flowing mostly downhill and offering great views of the lake and waterfalls. There was a slight hill and then it levelled out. We stopped to wait for the lady to catch up. We started chatting as the guy stated “We should wait here for my wife”! It turns out they cycle most days and go quite some distance. I didn’t want to keep them so I was happy to part company and do the last bit at a slower pace.

I was glad we parted company as there was a huge climb to return to the main road and then more uphill. I cycled on but was becoming more aware that time was running out, my legs were burning hot from exertion. It was mid to late afternoon and the heat was, as usual, oppressive. There was only about 20km to go to Briancon but I was feeling tired, hot and I ached. It was time to check for a hotel and then pace the rest of the afternoon to reach that and relax. What happened next was probably the best thing so far. I found a hotel that was only 1km from me at the little village of ‘La Grave’ and the price was good. My body was telling me it was time to have an early night at what looked like a nice place. I knew the scenery was stunning in this area, after all I had been living it all day. At the time of booking the hotel I was in a shaded area between two near vertical rock faces in a little village that offered cheap lodging, but I had chosen my hotel and paid for it. I got back on the bike for the last bit. As I set of I saw the married couple cycling back the other way, still looking fresh faced as I was stood up pedalling in the lowest gear to climb the little rise towards the hotel. They waved cheerily and I managed a smile back. As the steep rocks cleared the view of the hotel was a welcome sight. As was the view from the hotel.20180911_202837120180911_1854221

I was truly in awe of the beauty. This was not going to be an early night as I just couldn’t steal myself away from the views. After locking the bike away in the garage, putting all the tech on charge, showering and changing it was time to hit the restaurant. The food was amazing and washed down with red wine the evening was pure bliss. Other guests at the hotel were adventure cyclists who used the hotel as a base for some serious mountain bike riding. There were a lot of expensive downhill bikes ridden by rugged outdoorsy types. I was very much the only touring cyclist on an inadequate bike. Having said that, yes, the bike was old and had less gears than when we set off. Yes, it was too small for me from the day I purchased it. Yes, it was badly loaded with cheap luggage and a cheap rack. Yes, I was ill prepared and struggling in the mountains but my weary legs and sore bum had pedalled this heavy inadequate bike to the French Alps and I was going to have another day of it tomorrow. Sleep came easy that night.

 

Pushing onto Grenoble

Leaving the chateau I was well aware that the next big town would be Grenoble. To me it signified the end of travelling south through France and the start of heading East towards Italy, the only obstacle being the French Alps! Within minutes of leaving it was obvious the sat nav was struggling as I headed through a small village and up a huge hill along a twisty lane that deteriorated to a gravel track. I held out hope as I could see tarmac at the top of the very steep hill. It was a gruelling push for so early in the day that was not rewarded in any way. The tarmac was in fact another shade of gravel, that in turn headed higher up the hill to the next crest where it turned into an empty field with a muddy track across it. I had wasted yet more time and over the last 10 days all those little diversions, mistakes and hold ups had added up to leave me quite a way behind where I had expected to be. In hindsight expecting to do 100km a day was very optimistic and was probably more due to the time restrictions and deadlines than any real understanding of what was possible for a new touring cyclist.20180919_1822271019273033932507763.jpg

I wasn’t a happy bunny, trudging across the field to the nearest road and resetting the satnav for road only. Off I went headed for Grenoble just 80km away. It was an all day cycle mainly on roads and the words of the landlord of the chateau running through my mind “It’s going to be between 25 and 30 degrees today”. It certainly was and I was glad to find a little village with an bakery to top up on water, salad and cake.20180910_132856

Back on the bike and I picked up the river Selene towards Grenoble. It was a great path full of very fit cyclists who zoomed past me at every given opportunity, yeah but how far had they come? The river was picturesque and led almost all the way to the town itself.20180910_140520

Finally I came to Grenoble, very aware that I was now running behind time and I really wanted to push on. Other than walking through the city centre and stopping at almost every cold drink shop and a chemist for pain killers. (Honestly Declan Donnelly has nothing on me for taking pain killers) I tried not to be taken in by the town so I could get out the other side and get started towards my next goal, Briancon.20180910_161338

It was clear that the journey to Briancon would be more mountainous and I wanted to get as far into that leg as I could in the hope of crossing into Italy within two days. However, what actually happened was that I got about 5km out of Grenoble and the hotels became less frequent so I had to stop and be satisfied that I had done enough to give me a good start in the morning. As per usual the hotel was at the top of a steep hill and I didn’t even get any photographs of it. It was a nice big character house but really it was just a place to sleep. The restaurant was closed, but luckily the superstore at the bottom of the hill was open. I had another salad and tub of fruit. I was shattered and fell asleep by 9pm. Tomorrow would be the test!

The perfect days

(Day 7) I had a great breakfast at the B&B begore hitting the road at 9am. The mapping led me back to the canal Champagne de Bougogne and south a little way until I picked up the route Voiu Bleu which is a track running alongside the river Isele. The river was wide and the sun shinning. It was a great day to be cycling. The bike felt lighter and easier to pedal. Before I knew it there were people

boating and jet skiing on the river. I stopped at a small town and used my improving French to buy a french stick sandwhich and some cake. Next I got myself a can of coke and then sat on the river bank with several hungry ducks enjoying every second.

I wasted quite a bit of time just enjoying the moment before getting back to the task of heading south. The mapping gave me a few headaches but nothing too much to worry about and I was growing in confidence that I may actuallly make it to Italy. Going back to day 2, I had concluded the bravado I had shown in my “I’m cycling to Italy” was perhaps a little optimistic. I had subsequently changed the terms of the trip to “I’m attempting to cycle to Italy”. Despite it being a wonderful journey and havjng been exceptionaly lucky with the weather, I am only to well aware that this plan was hastilly thrown together and badly executed. My maps are whoefully out of scale and having purchased two Itallian maps I packed the wrong one. My fitness has not been tested like this in a long time and my legs had certainly had never cycled this much everyday. The day continued on cycle paths of varying grades but none so bad as to require me to walk, although I did as I felt that different movement in my legs would help. As day moved to evening I booked a cheap motel in Beaurepaire-en-Bressen called the Europe Hotel. It was cheap and I guess being located on an industrial site with shutters on every window, was an indication of the type of area. The first thing the member of staff told me was how to lock and secure the door.

To me it looked like a truckers overnight stop and Im sure the rooms had tales to tell. But the fact was it was a clean room with a shower and bed. I needed nothing more. Having secured my door I started to unload the bike and check it over. I had wondered if perhaps the tent on the handle bars was in fact pressing too hard on the cables causing the front chain ring not to accept the third gear. Once unloaded and upside down the gears clicked happily from one to another. Problem solved, I reloaded the bike with everything packed on the rear. I also noticed the panniers had been chaffing, they werent alone, but I’ll spare you those pics.

(day 8) The next morning I was up early and into the ‘all in breakfast’ which was a little disappointing but hey it was cheap right. I set off and within seconds found that the gears had not improved at all. I had managed without the outer ring for a few days so one more wasnt going to hurt. What did hurt were my legs, as I set off it felt very much like the bike was being held back. Sometimes its just my legs not up to speed other times it can be that the road is uphill and doesnt look it, but this was bad. I got off and checked the bike over, there was nothing obvious and the brakes were not binding, so carry on I did. Along wonderful country lanes in the chill of the morning sun. Despite the conditions being perfect I was struggling hard to make progress, the bike even felt sluggish to push. I was concerned that perhaps the lower bracket bearings were seizing, despite having only been replaced 8 years ago!! Then as I turned a sharp left hand corner coming out of the trees into a clearing it was obvious that I had indeed been climbing a hill for most of the morning, but being unsited I had no idea. I was on top of the hill with a stunning view.

I chuckled as for the last few days, whenever I told people of my journey they would do a wavey hand signal to demonstrate that the roads would get steeper, mostly ending in a steep upwards movement of the hand and accompanied with something like “ohh la la”. Maybe this was the start of the increasing wavey bit. The good news is that I then had the downhill bit to regain some of the time lost getting up the there. Its incredible how your mood can change from a sluggish painfully slow incline the the excitement of a fast flowing downhill. This is allied to the thrill of not knowing how much the tyres can take. There is a lot of weight over the back wheel and almost none on the front, exactly what you dont want when hammering downhill. The front was skittish and took every chance it could to slip and slide, when it did grip it sent a shock wave through the frame to the overloaded rear that wagged like a dogs tail. On long downhills I got cramp in my hands from fighting the bike. “Never ease off until its upside down and on fire!” Luckily it was neither upside down or on fire and eventually I rejoined the main road south. By lunchtime I was searching for somewhere to eat and that came in the form of Aldi.

They do some cracking good salads. So salad and yoghurt was the order of the day along with more water and for some unknown reason my body was now demanding Orangina. I will never complain about the weather on this trip I have been exceptionally lucky with sunshine every day and only ever the hint of rain, but the heat in the mid afternoon every day was most unpleasant for cycling and it was then that I did most walking. I will never know why but with a huge bottle of Orangina in the bag I would still stop at bars for another.

However this did mean the drink was laden with ice and I could take one cube out and just smooth it over my boiling head, letting it melt into my hair before putting my buff back on under the helmet. That afternoon was a fly fest.

I think it was hatching season for flying ants and cycling through them was a mouth clamped closed experience. Occasionally a few would hit me unexpectedly causing a coughing fit in order not to swallow the tiny winged beasts.

Soon it was time to select the desired residence of the night and for me it would be a motel with large double bed and shower room. The Premier Classe at Bou-en-Bresse was very pleasant and I could keep the bike in my room. Excellent for maintenance. I had purchased a can of WD40 and that alone would cure the bikes ills, but to be on the safe side I also adjusted the chain mechanism to make it give me that third chain ring. Then it was off the resteraunt across the road with a 10% off voucher from the hotel. What happened next is one of those one in a million chance meetings. I sat eating my pizza royal, which is a normal pizza with a raw egg yolk on it, not as bad as it sounds actually and a van pulls up outside.

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The markings on the van say Solent Cycles, close to where I live and ironically where I brought my bike ten years ago. Several guys came in to dine so I went to say hello. I was surprised to get such a warm reception and some major credit for what I was doing. They had been in the alps riding for a few days, clearly hardened mountain bike riders. I explained my intended route and the main character suggested that getting across the alps was certainly more of a challenge than I had encountered so far, indicated by the increasingly wavey hand until near verticle, but they hoped I would visit them in the shop on my return. They were literally driving back and looking for somewhere to eat when they stopped in the exact same place as me. What I should have done was asked them to sort out my gears but as far as I was concerned they were now fixed and tomorrow would be the test. Back to my room having eaten pizza, drank two glasses of red wine and an Orangina (what is going on in my body?) I was asleep in no time.

(Day 10) Despite each day being long and containing nothing but cycling, walking and eating I was enjoying my journey through France. I wanted to slow down as on other trips I have berated myself for not seeing France as anything other than a necessity to get to more exciting destinations. Well I cant say I’d rushed this one and I’d seen every roadside obstacle, every sharp stone and broken bottle along the way. I also saw breath taking scenery and now on the horizon I could see larger hills, hand wavey hills. My destination was Grenoble and I hoped it would be as scenic as the previous day, but it wasn’t, it was far better, it was far better as the river widened and became faster flowing and those little hills became giants, or so I thought. It was a fabulous mix of rolling hills and rough mountenous terrain.

I was still on the flat but it was getting more exciting. The path along the river Isele was smooth and paved before giving way just before lunch to a gravel path. Nothing too challenging but it still drains your legs. I had picked up some grapes and a bottle of frozen water which, along with some trail mix of nuts and dried fruit, would be lunch on the banks of the river Iselle.

I was following the path headed for the D1071 to Grenoble. It was less than 100km away but I knew by early afternoon it was not going to be my destination that night. Google maps had been very good despite a few hiccups, this afternoon it would excell itself. The river path went from gravel to stones, to grass, to mud, to mud lined with glass and eventually to a single track path through some woods that involved some trials riding and a small river crossing. I got most of it on the GoPro. But then it ended at a barbed wire fence in dense wood. A little reshuffle and I was through the fence and on my way, no way was I turning back. The woods gave way to shrubland and a huge field occupied by me, 2 cows and a bull. Let me correct that, me wearing a bright red top, 2 cows and a bull. I couldnt see a way out and i wasnt going back. I skirted the field and eventually, before being noticed by the bull, found a six foot verticle wall off rock to an upper level of the field. I could see close by there was a road. My bike and luggage are not light and in the mid afternoon sun it was no laughing matter to be climbing and lifting the bike. It added a good hour to my day just to get out of the fields. Once back on the road I followed Sally satnav straight back down the next path before deciding I would rather take the longer road route all the way. As the afternoon wore on i got more and more tired, opting for a snooze in a bus stop type shelter.

It was time to find some lodgings. Tonight I would be staying at a chateau in Vizille. Vizille as it happens has a McDonalds and I was hanging out hungry and had to be at the chateau for 8pm as they didnt accept guests after that. McD’s it was then as I was getting close to cut off time. A salad and box of 6 chicken nuggets with an ice cream and a fizzy drink. Thats dinner done, now just a quick cycle the last 1.5km to the chateau. I kid you not the hill to the chateau was like a trials course. I stopped walking no less than 15 times to get my breath. It was so steep at one point I was 5 meters from a cat sat in the road and we were eye to eye.

I tried to zig zag up it, I tried push and brake push and brake, but nothing made it easier. Cursing loudly helped. I want to say it was worth it and I will because the chateau was exceptional. I had a bedroom, lounge and bathroom big enough for 6. There was a huge terrace to look out from and the guy running the place was an absolute star.

I didnt get his name but he was thrilled to have another Brit staying. The other guy I didnt meet until the following morning but he to was a cyclist, do you like the way I call myself a cyclist? He was on his two week holiday with his girlfriend although she had stayed behind at the last stop to be with friends. He would continue on to the south of France before shipping the bike back. We spoke about the bikes and he was on an old touring bike. My mountain bike looked new compared to it but I suspect his was a far better tourer than mine. The lady of the house made both of us a packed lunch to take with us and we set off in different directions.

The second catch up

Sorry to you all that this is so far behind but I cannot believe the levels of tiredness and fatigue I am suffering.

So day six started at the rather lovely B&B mentioned at the end of the last post.

I went to the bike which was stored in the massive shed or barn or workshop adjojning the premesis. I was loading the bike when I was joined by the host and a guest who both wanted a better look at this special machine. The parts that made them ‘koo’ the most would be the GoPro and the very useless Garmin GPS. Its unfair to say its useless, I have no doubt it is brilliant in the right circumstances. Anyway they insisted in seeing me off as I clunked through gears heading away from them shouting “au revoir” with a hearty wave. Im sure they looked at each other and said “He’s gone the wrong way!”. Obviously they were right, but I was being led by Sally satnav in my pocket, she led me up no less than 3 absolute killer hills that ended in dead ends. Eventually I was forced to go back past the B&B head bowed and pedalling for all I was worth. What followed was a fairly simple return to the canal and more torturous long canal vistas.

I’m not sure Ive mentioned the non too inconsiderable pain my arse has been suffering, but for a gel saddle I would expect more and I was now sporting some pretty sore chafe markings. I cycled on without too much trouble but aware of the low water levels in my backpack and bike bottle. At each intersection with a road I checked for signs of a shop but nothing. I was munching my way through the last of the Moaom mix. Hunger and thirst does weird things to you and I started getting angry that the villages had nothing and at the endless canal. I did find a little shop that sold nothing more than water and an Orangina, obviously they sold more but I didnt need half a pig or a garden tool for pulling up weeds. On I cycled, walked, cursed and moaned. Greeting but not actually meeting anyone. It was very hot and I was pretty grumpy,

(Google considers this a cycle path)

when I came to a canal intersection with a road, the little sign post suggesting a supermarket. I was sceptical but took a look and hey presto out of the searing hot sun into an air conditioned supermarket with huge cafe and chemist. Into the shop I went picking up Orangina, water, Moaom mix and some dried fruits. Then into the cafe for a slice of pizza and a huge slice of custard tart. Then into the chemist for suntan lotion. As I walked back to load up the bike I noticed, in the supermarlket, they sold bicycle tyres. I had previously noticed that the bike was already wearing out the rear one so I decided to take a look. Forget the tyres they had Gel saddle covers.

For about £12 I could be carried in comfort. It was a no brainer, Im paying reasonable amounts for a decent bed to sleep on, why not buy a saddle cover. It was a done deal. The bike was loaded up and again I set off in a little more comfort. The second part of the day was another round of canal tow path and sunshine but I was feeling much better about it. At about 5.30 I started the search for somewhere to stay and located a challet on a camp site about 6 miles away. Having booked, I headed off knowing that within the hour I would be in my little hut at Lake Leiz getting cleaned up for a meal. What actually happened was that the canal path turned into a track and then into a grassy overgrown embankment. Annoyingly I was directed to this by the satnav which insisted the only way to reach the bridge I needed to cross was to plough through this overgrown wasteland on the opposite side of the canal to the perfectly paved tow path. Eventually the bridge arrived and I could clearly see that there was access to it on the paved side. Having crossed the bridge it was a gravel path that just got steeper and steeper, eventually giving out to a tarmac road which was equally steep for the last 500m. (85km for the day) By the time I reached the reception it looked as if i had riden from the UK in a day. Sweat poured off me, I expect I was unpleasantly odourous and I was grumpy. The young girl who booked me in was very kind and even offered to let me get settled before attending to the paperwork. Subsequently I was given challet number 5 with enough room for six people it really was very nice, even if the melamine laden challet was straight from the 1970’s. The shower was fine the room was fine the kitchen was excellent and the views out over the lake amazing.

Plus I had all that hill to ride down first thing in the morning. Washed and refreshed I headed to the resteraunt for dinner. A huge tuna salad for starters followed by chicken supreme and fries, concluded with praline ice cream floating on a cold coffee.

I went to bed that night very contented. Little did i know how much I would need all the food I ate that day.

I may have gone to bed contented but for some reason sleep didnt come easy and I remember seeing 3am. Eventually I slept and woke about 8.30, this wasnt going to be an early start. I went to the shop and purchased 3 croissants, a pain au chocolade and some cheese. I only ate one croisant the pain au chocolade and two slices of cheese. I was having a clear out of stuff I no longer needed. I ditched the sachets of coffee I had brought along, some dead batteries that I couldnt dispose of before. I threw out some clothing that really didnt need to laden my panniers. Then I packed up ready to get going. The bike felt no lighter but that helped as I hurtled down the tarmac road heading for the nearby canal. I was still pretty tired, my legs felt drained before I started. Google was telling me that today would be a mix of trails and roads which I have to say I was quite looking forward to. I was slow out of the starting blocks and it was after 11am that I set off. Whisking down the hill from the campsite I was directed into a gravel path that required me to cross a live railway line. I could have done it but it would only have taken a small slip to ruin the day quite badly, so I opted to cycle a little further by road. I set off with the first real hard pedals of the day and instantly felt drained. I was off and walking within 20 minutes. I was annoyed as it had been a late start. I struggled for quite some time and the route seemed to take me through many twists and turns before dumping me back on the canal only 2km further up the road despite it having taken an hour to get there. I think that set the mood for the day. What followed was a long day of trails and canal paths in searing heat, with a saddle sore arse and lack of energy.

(Trying to keep the heat off and head cool)

The weather was set to become stormy so there was that oppressive heat in the air. I had managed to get water from the camp site and chill it in the fridge overnight but that soon lost its chill. I seemed to continuously end up on huge long straights of canal that took forever to complete. I was not a happy bunny especially when the bike decided I could no longer have the third and largest chain ring at the front. That limited the top speed on any downhill, of which there seemed few. The rear set of gears were fine so I disregarded that and carried on. At lunchtime i started to look for somewhere to eat. Endless excursions proved fruitless in the search for anywhere to buy even the simplest of foods. I was furious at leaving uneaten croissants and cheese back at the campsite. I couldnt even brew myself a coffee as I had thrown it out. I took one last look as the signpost looked genuine and pointed me to a cafe on a campsite less than a kilometer away. I headed off to the gravel path that led through a gap in the trees to a campsite at the side of a small stream. Instantly as i rode through the gap I could tell the site was closed and probably had been for some time. I stopped and sat at one of the collapsing picnic tables. In my bag I had some dried fruit from the day before and some water which was warm. It would have to do. Back to the canal for the last few hours before finding a home for the night. As the clouds rolled in I found a quiet hideaway as the first drops of rain fell. I used the time to book a little B&B at a place called Athee about 10km away. I didnt really look at it ,as it was the only thing in my price range. I was back on the roads and headed through some small villages, not finding one open shop or petrol station. I had less than a kilometer to go and I was seriously hoping the landlady would have something for me to eat. But then, a vision on the horizon, a small white van parked on the verge, could it be? Oh yes a mobile pizza van! I was very restrained, apart from the whooping noises, and only ordered one pizza, I mean it was a large one, I’m not a crazy person.

From there it was a 500m wobble, pizza ballanced on the bars, to the B&B where I was greeted by Sandrine the hostess. She was pleased I had managed to get food as she had nothing other than the next days breakfast to offer.

I went to bed having clocked up another 85km