Day 10 - May 23rd - Champagnole to St. Claude - 52 miles
A lie-in this morning, with a breakfast a bit later than usual. It was turned 9am when I left in bright and sunny conditions which were forecast to stay. The forecast turned out to be correct as the temperature reached 20°c and the sun shone all day.
Heading for the "High Jura", I was looking forward to some "real" mountains and started with a long steady climb of about 19 miles. The High Jura is one of my favourite regions of France. I had traversed it on an earlier C.T.C. tour from Strasbourg to Nice and on that occasion we rode into some warm sunny weather, a welcome break from the dull, damp and cool conditions we had encountered further North in Alsace.
Dined with the locals again, in a tiny village. A four course lunch with wine and coffee for about £7.00.
During the afternoon I came across lots of local cyclists, many of them women, not a common sight in France.
A short day today, as I was up on schedule for my arrival in Grenoble. I did not hurry, stopping to take plenty of photographs. The area was now quite touristy so I could find accommodation in smaller villages rather than head for somewhere larger and I spent the night in an excellent hotel in a tiny hamlet just South of St.Claude, called Villard St. Sauveur.
St Claude lies in the centre of the "Parc Naturel Regional du Haut Jura" which is situated to the North-West of Geneva.
Total miles to date 655
Day 11 - May 24th - St. Claude to Hery sur Alby - 64 miles
An early start on a nice sunny day which promised to be fairly hot. Heading for my first mini-col of about 3300ft I had only covered 2 or 3km when I hit a bad pot-hole and punctured. On changing the tube I discovered a typical impact puncture and wondered if my choice of a fairly light 25mm tyre was a good idea, especially on the rear where I had the weight of the panniers.
Once over the col I had a nice long descent off the Southern end of the Jura down to Bellegarde (full name Bellegarde sur Valserine must be on the river Valserine?). A lovely day for a picnic, which was taken in the cool of a concrete bus shelter to escape the heat! As I left, I got a superb view of Mont Blanc over in the direction of Geneva.
South of Bellegarde I headed for the small town of Seyssel, where I crossed the Rhone for the first of several times. On perusing the map in Seyssel I spotted a little back road which went along a gorge called the Val de Fier and which looked worth exploring. Shortly after turning up this lane I came across a barrier and a sign "Route Barree". This was a challenge, was it not?
Ignoring the "Route Barree" sign I headed for the first of several short tunnels to be confronted by another barrier and another "Route Barree" sign. Since the barrier had a gap in the middle, just wide enough for a bike to pass, I proceeded, only to be met, round the next bend, by a large earth moving machine across the road and occupied by a gesticulating workman. Pretending not to understand French gesticulations I nipped round him and made a dash past several workmen who just appeared to be dumbstruck.
From here on, for the next 6 or 8 kilometres the only hazard was from some rather ominous rock falls, but I remained unscathed to enjoy a really picturesque and undisturbed ride down the gorge. Persistence paid off !
The small town of Rumilly appeared, where I slaked my thirst with a nice pot of tea. The French are gradually "getting the message" with regard to tea-pots! Very hot, today, so I decided not to push on too far. I spotted on the map a small town/large village, about 6km to the South-East, by the name of Alby sur Cheran and it looked a likely place for an overnight stop.
In my enthusiasm to get out of the heat I ploughed on, missing a turn off and ended up in a town called Albens, which lay on the main road from Annecy to Aix les Bains. Having travelled an unnecessary 10km I turned up this road, in the direction of Annecy, thinking that it would not be too busy, as a motorway ran parallel to it. I was not thinking it through, however, as not only had the motorway taken the traffic, it had also taken the custom from several hotels along the old road, with the result that they were all closed down.
By now, feeling very hot and weary, I made for my original intended destination of Alby, only to find that the one and only "Auberge" bore a sign to the effect that it was only an "eating auberge" and not a "sleeping auberge"!
Having descended a steep hill to be met with this disappointment, I had to climb out again and climb even higher as I headed South into an area which had nothing but very small villages for many miles. With a feeling that, for the first time on my trip, I may struggle to find a bed, I headed for a tiny place called Hery sur Alby, to find that my route was, once more, cut off by a "Route Baree" sign, with evidence of some quite major road works.
With the entire road surface removed for the renewal of all services, progress on the bike was difficult and very dusty, until, right in the village square, I spotted a rather rustic looking small hotel which was marooned by diggings and covered in dust. Not expecting the place to be open, I pushed on the door, which, to my amazement, opened and I was met by the charming middle aged lady hotel keeper who turned out to be Australian!
Thereafter followed one of the most enjoyable overnights of my trip. Accompanied by a fluent English speaking Dutch couple, who had also stumbled across the place, and aided by many a glass of good red wine, we talked and ate and talked again until the early hours.
Total miles to date 719
Day 12 - May 25th - Hery sur Alby to St. Jean de Maurienne - 66 miles
Up on schedule for Grenoble (where Joan was due to fly out to meet me), I planned to go "a long way round" and take in one of the big alpine cols.
I fancied "the big un"- the Galibier, as it is a legend and I had not been over it in the past. However, I was thwarted. The lady of the hotel telephoned the tourist information in St. Jean de Maurienne, to be told that the Galibier was not yet open after the winter snows. I knew that it was usually early June before some of the high cols were re-opened, but was being my usual optimistic self!
Option two, however, was open the Col de la Croix de Fer (2067m), so I headed for St. Jean de Maureienne, which is the "hub" for so many of the famous cols used by the Tour de France. A warm and sunny day saw me heading South of Annecy towards the Isere valley, which runs South-east from Annecy to Grenoble.
With what appeared to be a leisurely day in prospect, I stopped for lunch at a restaurant in St Pierre d`Albigny. Here I met up with three local veteran bikies. They were out for a days ride from Ugine (North of Albertville), where they had worked together in a steel mill, but had been made redundant ( the same story as in Britain).
With the aid of some beers and some interesting company a touch of bravado set in with yours truly. I pulled out my map, which showed an alternative route to St. Jean. Instead of following the valley, it went "over the top" via, what I thought were, a couple of minor cols. A shake of heads from my French companions, accompanied by expressions like "tres dur" and " dix pour cent" only served to spur me on. Having expressed my determination to proceed, they offered to guide me across a couple of major roads to the village at the foot of the first col.
Here, glancing at my loaded panniers and still bemused that I should choose that route, they bade me farewell and wished me "bon chance". Some of the hardest few hours of my lifetime of cycling followed as I tackled two 3500 ft cols, loosing all the height between each one and with the effects of the lunch- time beers taking their toll.
Being the first major challenges I had faced on the trip so far, I made the mistake of trying to "race" up these obstacles. On my descent from the second one (they were called the Col de Champ-Laurent and the Col du Grand Sucheron), down into the Maurienne valley I discovered that I had a further 19 miles to cover to St Jean. It was a weary Bob who eventually found a bed for the night at 7.30pm!
Total miles to date 785
Day 13 - May 26th - St Jean de Maurienne to Grenoble - 72 miles
A bit lethargic, after my exertions the previous day, but a bright and sunny morning cheered me up and I was looking forward to tackling the Col de la Croix de Fer ( the Col of the Iron Cross).
Taking a couple of pictures in the town, I came across a remarkable elderly Swiss couple who were touring on hybrid roadster/town bikes, with lots of luggage. They were also planning to cross the Croix de Fer, but in two days, hoping to find a hotel open about midway up the climb.
A long ascent ( 19 miles), but a rewarding one in beautiful weather, warm enough for a picnic lunch which I partook of by a small mountain stream, with a couple of inquisitive cows for company. After lunch, as I climbed higher, it inevitably cooled off with more cloud and quite a strong wind and by the time I reached the summit, with its eponymous iron cross, the weather was very inhospitable.
A quick photo and then, with extra clothing on, I started the drop down to Le Bourg-d`Oisans. The descent turned out to be disappointing, as it was one of those mountain drops which, after a few miles, decides to start climbing again. I felt a bit cheated by this and, even more so, by the fact that shortly after breasting the "second summit" I hit a stone with my back wheel and suffered the second puncture of my trip. This confirmed my suspicion that I had been unwise to fit a fairly lean 25cm tyre on the rear, especially with the extra weight of the panniers.
However, changing the tube went smoothly and I was soon heading down again, back to warm sunshine.
The enjoyment became even more so when, heading down the valley of the Romanche towards Vizille, I spotted a figure approaching on a bike. He appeared to be a typical "Brit", with mudguards and panniers, and, much to my amazement it turned out to be Jimmy, my companion on the boat and on my first day through Belgium. What a remarkable event that, amongst the vast area of South-Eastern France, our paths should cross again!
We sat by the roadside, swapping stories of our respective adventures and sharing tit-bits of food. Jimmy was on a fairly ordinary Dawes tourer and, as is common with these bikes, he had had lots of problems with broken spokes in his rear wheel. At one time it had been serious enough to require a re-build in a village bike shop.
It had been a welcome encounter with Jimmy, especially on what was the last day of the first leg of my trip and we bade each other a hearty farewell. All down hill from here (more or less) to arrive in Montbonnot St. Martin, on the outskirts of Grenoble to spend a few days with my exiled daughter and son-in-law and their three daughters.
The journey of 13 days took a bit longer than our usual method by air, but oh so much more enjoyable!
Total miles to date 857
Chapter 3 - Chapter 5