Three Cols and Three Bajillion Switchbacks

Three Cols and Three Bajillion Switchbacks

As I left, I was very glad I hadn’t tried to keep going in the dark. After I left the lodge, it wasn’t long before I was on little mountain roads with no one on them, which wouldn’t have been fun at night, and I would have missed the scenery. Stopping was definitely the right choice, but now I was behind my route and would have to catch up. But this day would be challenging even if I’d started where I’d planned – three Cols (or passes) and many, many switchbacks.

I had a nice breakfast at the lodge, filling up as much as possible to minimize stopping later (and the staff even let me take some with me instead of throwing it out – score!). Had a bit of a chat with some Spanish bikers – had seen their bikes out front. They were doing a quick blast through the Alps.

The part that would have been yesterday’s route started green and scenic.

Little settlements nestled here and there.

Through Les Saises – ski areas in the off season seem so lonely

Some tiny little roads – imagine this in the dark!

Starting to get some great vistas as we head into where I would have spent the night (Bourg-Saint-Maurice).

As I left Bourg-Saint-Maurice, it was getting to noon and I still had probably the most challenging day of the trip ahead of me. But the scenery was lovely. This next photo is actually from Google Streetview – I stopped on the little building on the left, but this view of the dam is better. It’s apparently the tallest dam in Europe, and has a Hercules painted on it.

Looking back down the valley (Isère) from that building.

And, if I’d thought I was getting scenic before, it just kept getting better.

I mean….

And the road kept getting smaller.

Col D’Iseran. People were lining up to take pictures by the sign, so must be a big deal? Actually, for the cyclists, it sort of is. There were a fair number of them slowly peddling their way up (and it looked from the pavement markings like the Tour de France had passed this way). Cyclists deserve all the respect for these climbs and to feel proud of making it. We motorized types, well, it’s cool and all, but just not the same – we just get to enjoy the views and twisty roads!

On the other side of the pass, the landscape changed colour.

And the weather was a bit less friendly.

And there were suddenly cows on the road.

Down to the valley in Lanslebourg-Mont-Cenis, which just seemed like a scenic type of place and looks like it might be good for us to ski (if we ever did that).

I stopped by the roadside to eat, drink and pee and was treated to a view of this – the Fort Victor-Emmanuel, part of the Forts of Esseillon.

I would just like to say a word of praise here for my She-wee. I originally bought it for the world trip since my knees don’t squat very easily any more. But, as a female motorcyclist, especially in thinly-populated areas, it makes life much easier – no hunting for a toilet or even a good bush to hide behind, and then fighting with all the zippers and layers. Nope, just do like the men.

We have random things alongside the road in Europe too.

Heading up for the second Col of the day and the mountain scenery starts to get amazing again.

Where I’d just come through.

As a BC girl and former tree planter, I kept thinking, it’s like they’ve paved logging roads, and people live up them.

The views just keep being stunning. This is Galibier.

No one comes on these mountains to get anywhere. It’s all about the roads, heights and the views. Bicycles, motorcycles, fancy cars and campers are almost the only vehicles you see. The first three groups are proud of their effort and/or vehicle, and like pictures in these surroundings, but it can be difficult to get a good shot without a lot of effort and a partner. So, there are photographers who stake out a good view and snap photos of all the bikes, motorbikes and fancy cars that go by, and then put them on their website (which is displayed a bit further on on a banner) and hope that people will find and buy them. I was curious, so I did. After all, I don’t have anyone travelling with me to take these pictures!

Then back down again.

At Briançon, it was started raining a bit, and continued on the way up the last Col of the day, D’Izoard. It got better on the other side.

And then, after I got down, it became my favourite sort of road. Canyons and river valleys. Fast and curvy but no hairpins. I’d had enough of hairpins. They’re hard because you’re constantly changing speed and leaning the bike from side to side, which does get physically tiring. Canyons, now. A pure joy.

I mean, just look at this.

Despite the toughness of the route, I made up some time from the day before, but not quite enough to make my campsite. I looked again for a cheap bed on Booking as it got dark. The only cheap one I could find led me way up into the hills, up more switchbacks, of course. It got dark as I went up, and there seemed to be nothing around, but eventually I found the gite and walked in, much to the surprise of the owner.

I hadn’t reserved online because I wanted to see it, but I was the only guest. The owner was having dinner with what turned out to be his brother and his wife (and their dog), who’d come up to help with the place. But it was a bit of a weird moment, and one of those times when it would be easy to question the situation and my safety. And for half a millisecond, I did.

But they were lovely. I had to drag my high school French out kicking and screaming (I’ve gotten used to relying on Ivo for languages) and had a bit of a conversation with them (though I had no idea how to describe what we do and did message Ivo for an explanation in French!). The guy was just opening up – he’d been a chef previously. As I could tell by the meal he whipped up for the non-meat-eating surprise guest. It was delicious.

And when the wife asked me if I was ever scared, doing this alone, I honestly had to answer no.

I do know that I’m a bit unusual, but it brought home maybe how unusual. Throughout the day, I’d seen very few women on motorbikes – I saw one other woman travelling alone and maybe a couple more as part of a group – the rest, if they’re there, are on the back. It may be the demographic – almost everyone out at this time of year, whether on bikes, motorbikes or campers, has grey hair – but women are a minority even in younger groups. I do miss having a group of women to ride with.

My route for the day.

And the elevation changes. The first three peaks were the part I made up from yesterday, then the highest peak is Iseran, then Galibier, then D’Izoard. The last little peak is the way up the gite.

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