Thursday, 27 September 2012

Day Eight – Trans Alp Challenge - Colmars to Guillame to St Dalmas

Day Eight – Trans Alp Mountain Bike Challenge - Colmars to Guillame to St Dalmas

  • Distance Travelled – 456km
  • Vertical metres climbed today – only 809m (felt like so many more)
  • Total vertical metres climbed to date – 8,650 metres – It’s official we have now climbed Mount Everest by bike from sea level - wow!
  • Beers -9, Wine – Red, and not enough
  • Condition – ‘Thighs’ the size of Scotland,
  • Men with Berets – Now two!
  • State of mind – Totally shagged!!
  • Money raised for St Peters Lifeline - £1,619.00 - Thank you so much everyone -

The Trans Alp Challenge has been a wonderful experience to date. Waking up in a new village each morning, a totally new area to be biked each day, new faces and differing challenging terrain. The local customs and cultures changing as we ventured further south. We also saw our first signpost for Nice on the South Coast, we cannot be too far away surely? – But when will we see the sea, only 3 days more to go, excitement filled the camp after the previous days wonderful adventures.

Just the cutest 3 day old donkey

View from our Gite back down to Colmars

However, today I was reminded this morning that this is the ‘ultimate’ Trans Alp Challenge. It is expected to be hard, challenging, a variety of terrain with differing degrees of difficulty both up and down. I had a number of friends who said I was mad to do this, there were times today when I had to agree This however was not in a bad way but one that if you put the really hard work in the reward was very worthwhile and so it has proved.

We awoke in an idyllic and friendly Gite, just above the fortress village of Colmars, overlooking the walls of the castle that we had biked down the night before. In the field outside, the September ‘Spring’ lambs played in the early morning sun and there was the cutest baby donkey with his Mum. He was only three days old and just needed to be taken home with us. Will he mind being tucked up in my scary smelly suitcase, will they miss him? Sadly he had  to stay behind.

Off we trailed out of Colmars and said goodbye to our very friendly hosts and up the Col de Very High. It was warm when we left but way up in the misty alpine wilderness there was a distinct chill factor and three new layers were put on, sunglasses were now rendered useless as could not see the end of my arm yet alone the mountain edge we were about to throw ourselves off!

‘Carbon’ Fabrice is not only an amazing mountain biker (also sponsored by Specialized – top mountain bike brand) but in thick mist and fog he found our trail like Sherlock Holmes' bloodhound . Before the ‘Beast of Dartmoor’ could hunt us down, we appeared out of the swirling mist we fell onto the sunny green high meadows and swooped down and was swallowed up into the verdant stony and root filled forest. ‘The rocky steps are a ‘little technical and it is possible steep too’ says ‘Carbon’ Fabrice in his indomitable English whom then drops his saddle low and tightens his knee pads. I do the same to my now worn new knee pads, checked the arm protection and got set for one tricky section.

Mum do not read this following section - We dropped low to the handle bars as the ground fell away, steep drops, sharp rocks stood proud and a lot of loose stony shale and tree roots. This could be messy and I’m delighted I invested in the big set of '661 knee pads' – not sure they will do much to save me but they give you confidence that they might! Each step and slide down the vertical slippery singletrack was a step closer to surviving, pulling out now was not an option as gravity took over despite both sets of  brakes full on, the heat generated from the screaming brakes warming my already adrenaline fuelled body, the arms took a battering, pumping over each rock and vibrating like an Irish road navvy with an out of control jackhammer!

Somehow we all arrived down that section intact and high fives all round as relief was tangible. More tricky sections saw us arrive down at the road and then back up quickly to the ‘Terre Gris’ a brilliant downhill track on which another mountain bike downhill race was being held today. This course is set on an odd area of grey slate shale, very grippy, undulating with no big rocks or tree roots (quite a relief), just let your bike go! Steep and smooth in places we were suddenly downhill racers and like excited children let loose in Thorpe Park we all got the ultimate adrenaline buzz. Two crashes within 30 seconds saw me cross the finish line not on my bike anymore as it followed behind me and then over the top of me. Inglorious ending, uninjured but very funny and all on film too!

We chilled out for lunch at Guillame and watched the racers appear soon after before we disappeared up again for out last descent of the day down to near St Dalmas – Col de La Couillole at 1,652 m. A very tough climb up a further 650 metres carrying our bikes for some way before we reached the very top. One very and steep rocky drop down 1,800 metres, the already battered arms took a serious beating as we absorbed some big hits dropping low into our saddles and rode down boulder after boulder, changing direction and sliding into crevasses and shutes. This was like I have never quite experienced – Popeye would have complained and there was certainly little revitalising green spinach about to help. Exhilarated, exhausted and arms and legs sore beyond medical terminology we dropped down to the swing bridge back across the Gorge to see ‘Wheels’ Josh awaiting us. Barely speaking as just too shagged we piled into the minibus and slumped in our seats.

The rugged terrain from way up high looking down towards St Dalmas

Tim crossing the swinging bridge

Off to our hotel where yet another thunderstorm hit – we all know that this is going to make tomorrow even tougher than ‘Carbon’ Fabrice has delicately tried to tell us to conserve our strength for. I am ever so slightly concerned!         

'Wilderness' Adrian taking time out

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