Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Day Six –Briancon via Chateau Queyras to Guillestre

Day Six –Briancon via Chateau Queyras to Guillestre

‘The Sublime to the Ridiculous’

  • Distance Travelled – 278km
  • Vertical metres climbed today – 1,284m (the equivalent of climbing higher than Ben Nevis on our bikes)
  • Total Vertical metres climbed - 7,800 metres - Just less than climbing Mount Everest by bike from sea level
  • Beers -8, Wine - Plenty
  • Condition – Calves like sandwich boards,
  • Men with Berets - One!
  • State of mind – seriously gone off pushing bikes uphill!!

None of us has slept too well with the storm raging outside, high winds as heavy rain lashed the windows and the shutters crashed onto the window frames of the Refuge Napoleon. All the lovely and decorative pot plants were cast across the car park and down the mountain side. We could barely stand up in the winds despite the hearty breakfast, this was not going to be an easy day. Thor, the 'God of Thunder' was going to have a word or two before this day was out!

Off we went up and up from a dramatic start in the isolated wilderness of the Col D’Izoard. Scary looking mountains stared own at us with a sense of forboding. As we climbed rumbles of thunder could be heard as the storm Gods cleared their throats menacingly. We were in a Melezes forest surely protected from anything that could be thrown at us. We climbed out of the forest onto the open mountainside, the winds blew strong and grim determination took us up 300 and more vertical metres.

Refuge Napoleon with its shutters still on

Hiding from the thunderstorm

The Imposing Chateau Queyras

Lightning could now be seen all around us, thunder cracked above, we need to get down the 1,400 metres quickly and down we went like rocket fuelled lemmings on speed. The atmosphere was electric and the biking just the best. Fast, furious and with lightning speed the trees flew by and before we knew it we were above the wonderful village of Chateau Queyras and its impressive castle. The storm was now all around us, lightning crashing down in the forest below, thunder seemed to be right above us. Then suddenly as we tackled the last descent down a sheer rock wall the storm hit hard. Rain came down in stair rods, bouncing hard off the road 100 meters below. It had got dark too now, soaked and the only living things out in the open we needed to sprint quickly into the sanctuary of the only open Café/paper shop/charcuterie/boulangerie/cheese emporium – we were in the right place to take refuge for a few hours until the storm abated. We were lucky to get away with only 5 minutes of rain and a great morning arriving at an impressive village in such a dramatic way. A sublime morning on the bike, Thor has not quite managed to catch us out today, we live to survive another day.

The afternoon saw Adrian having to drop out due to altitude sickness. Not surprising as we had stayed overnight at well over 2,200 meters the night before, dropped to 1,000 and straight back up to 2,500 to start our next section down into Guillestre in the heartland of the Southern Alps. The storm had all but gone but left muddy trails (my current favourite enemy), a serious chill and a long section ahead of us. More tough climbing, on our bikes and pushing up some steep mud trails, sapping at you calves and thighs. Some seriously exposed and steep and dramatic drops areas made my stomach invert and Pasta Quatre Fromage lunch was no longer a happy memory.

Scary drop

The Gorge

I was quite relieved to pull into the village some 2 hours later, still alive but struggling after two big climbs and some tough downhill sections. The valley trail was much more to my liking but don’t count your chickens ………………………. suddenly we were pointing uphill again.

The ‘Carbon’ Brothers were recharged somehow and off up again. Steady at first, maybe not too bad but then steeper and steeper it got. Eventually the bike wheels spun in the rocks and mud with disgust and we stopped. 9 foot tall Christian and I looked at each other and called for a taxi. None were about. We trudged and trudged uphill, then it was just I, as 9 foot tall Christian trudged faster with his infinitely longer legs and I was left cursing to myself. Some days and many swear words later I arrived at the summit where I promised ‘Carbon’ Fabrice that if we went any further up I would personally shoot him. He only lives today because one I had no gun and secondly was in no fit state to be able to point it if I had! We did not speak for some while.

The trail down from there was memorable only once we hit the big open road as it was like a Top Gear Maserati test trial, fast switchback open roads, steep gulleys, dramatic backdrops and a raging river below, sunshine and a small smile just reappearing on ‘Captain Slow and Miserable’s’ face.

Maybe just maybe I will like biking again!  


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