What a day. What an unbelievable day we have had. This is the kind of stuff that memories are made of.
Day 4. Mourins to La Foux d’Allos. 219 Kms, 136 miles.
We had a nice breakfast in the hotel, packed up in quite a leisurely fashion, and set off in cloudy but dry conditions. Ever since I have been biking in England and able to tour the continent, I have wanted to ride the Route Napoleon, and today was the day I had been waiting for.
When Napoleon escaped from his exile in Elba and returned in triumph to France, he made the journey from Cannes to Grenoble. This route is now identified with his name, and follows the alpine routes from the coast. The road is also acknowledged as one of the finest motorbiking roads in Europe, and here we were, ready to start the route.
It didn’t take long to get to Grenoble, which was much bigger than I expected. As we exited the city, we met the whole Tour-de-France coming in the opposite direction. there were miles of traffic, and lots of cycles, but we were headed in the opposite direction, and on the bike, so it was not much of a delay for us.
Everyone knows about the alps, and I have flown over them, seen them from afar, read about them, and seen them in every James Bond movie you can name. However, I was unprepared for the sheer beauty of them. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the Drakensberg mountains in South Africa, and so I love the mountain views. The alps does this in glorious 3d technicolour. I kept running out of superlatives. After a couple of hours, my brain needed a rest, and my tummy needed refueling, so we stopped at a small cafe for some lunch.
The lunch was great, and featured salad from the garden of the owners, with various dried meats, pate, bread and potato tart things. I was most of the way through my gastronomic pleasantries when a French chap came in to the cafe, and asked if I was the owner of a motorcycle, and if so, please would I come outside with him. At least I think that was what he said, but he spoke no English, and French is 75th on the list of the 3 and 1/2 languages I speak.
Anyway, I accompanied him to the car park, and there was my poor bike, lying on it’s side. He had not noticed it- and it isn’t a small bike- and had reversed about 5 meters across the car park and knocked it over. The top box was on the floor near the bike, and a few bits of plastic and metal were scattered nearby. A small crew of locals helped me to lift the bike upright, and there was some damage to the right hand side of the bike – broken indicator, bent crash bung on the handlebar, scrapes on the pannier. The lock had snapped on the top box, so it doesn’t snap onto the bike, and I thought the front wheel looked a bit skew.
So, we started the process. He filled out a form which all French have to fill in in case of accident, and I rang my insurers. His wife and daughter tried to help, but none of them spoke English, and no one else in the cafe did either. My insurers were very helpful, at least to start with, and took all my details, before passing me on the insuring company. They then said something along the lines of “our recovery will be back on Monday morning, please call us then”. As it was early afternoon on Saturday, I was not very impressed, so insisted that that get me their recovery company on the phone, and after much wait and listening to crap music, I was connected to the recovery people.
Apparently they don’t do this very often, so after taking my details again ( the third time on this one call that I had given every detail about me, my bike, my mothers parentage unto the third generation and so on, they said they would ring me back. And they did, about ten minutes later, to say “sorry, we thought your bike was in London, we only cover London recovery, you will have to ring your insurer”. Great.
The top box had been knocked off the bike, and contained my iPad, Lena’s laptop, and my iPhone, plus a whole bunch of other stuff. When it got knocked, the various bits inside got all shook up, and while my iPad and the laptop were fine, the iPhone, which was already unproductive as I had reset it and needed to hook it up to my laptop back home, got drenched in water from a bottle that cracked and leaked on it.
In the meanwhile, I rang my daughter, who has excellent French, and she translated between me and Hubert, the transgressor. We filled I the form together, did some great miming and sign language, and generally had a lot of fun. The couple who ran the cafe were lovely, tried to help, and the chef half of the couple spoke a bit of English. Anyway, the chap who damaged my bike gave me all his details, we shook hands and he left. I straightened my front forks, so the wheel looked alright, and took the bike for a ride on my own, to see how it handled. It seemed ok, and I tied the top box down tint with two bungie cords that I had with me, and the box seemed safe, so we decided we could continue.
I rang the insurer again to find out about help for those of us not in London, only to be told by the chap who answered ” it is after 1pm on Saturday, your insurer is closed til Monday, we can only take new claims, and can’t give you any information on you current claim. Have a nice day and thank you for calling Fukyu insurers”. So I was not going to get any help there then.
Anyway, we had a coffee, and set off. The bike handled fine, though the brake lever was snapped so at the first stop I put some tape on the remaining lever so it wouldn’t cut my glove. The top box, and Lena, seemed to be managing to stay in the back of the bike, so we kept going. The Route Napoleon just got better and better, and we ride along all the way to Gap through some stunning scenery, with roads that curved and cantered and made riding the bike an absolute pleasure.
At Gap we took a turn off the Route Nappy, and climbed a valley-side or two. The scenery was supplemented by some lakes with water that was so blue that it made your eyes hurt. We kept stopping to catch our breaths and exclaim at the beauty of the mountains and lakes and us.
The weather kept improving, and I took the linings out of my jacket and trousers, and was very warm and happy. We left the main roads with about 30kms left of our day, and started to climb up the Col du Allos. This is a climb up the Allos pass, which rises to a height of over 2000 meters. The road was narrow and cut out of the mountainside, and had sheer drops over the side of hundred of meters. It was impossible to see what was around the next bend, so. We had to ride very slowly. The pass was 25 Kms in length and it took ages to ride up to the very top of the alps, but it was just so worthwhile.
The views were indescribable. The drop at some stages was over a kilometer string down to the valley floor below. After an almost an hour of riding up the vertical wall, we reached the summit and started a drop down a series of hairpin switchbacks. By now it was very cool, and we were ready for a stop. A couple of Kms from the top we reached our destination, and though it took a bit of time to find our hotel, we loved the little holiday village that it is set in. Obviously a skiing resort in winter, there were a bunch of chalets, apartments and hotels, plus a few restaurants and ski shops, and nothing else. Our hotel was basic but nice, and our room has small balcony with views over a ski lift. Not that anyone is skiing today, but it is very pleasant. I was too tired to go scouting for eateries, so we had a carafe of vin rouge, some french cooked stuff, and ice cream for our supper right here in the hotel.
In all, a memorable eventful day. I definitely want to come back and spend time in these alps-what a beautiful part of the world. My only regret is that I did not discover this area years ago.