We've reached the end of our Route des Grandes Alpes cycle tour. In reality, it was just 10 days of my life and well within my capabilities, but it feels like a bigger deal than that because it's an example of the type of thing that I didn't use to do.
I can argue that in my old pre-early retirement life, I was too busy with work, with family, with saving for the future. But they would be excuses. The reality is that early retirement has given me a different mindset and approach to life which is enabling me to do things that I wouldn't have previously done. This change of mindset is probably the absolute best thing about my early retirement (if you ask Sally, my new mindset is driving her nuts!).
So back to the second part of our cycle tour. At the time of last week's post we'd completed 436km and since then we've added another 361km to finish the trip. Here are the stats for whole trip:
Distance covered: 797km Climbing: 17,038 metres Mountain cols: 18 Hours in the saddle: 49 hours 18 minutes Punctures: 1 Crashes: 3.5😢 (one each for me and Sally, plus one and a half for Alex)
Day 6: Briançon-Risoul
Distance: 53km Climbing: 1,310 metres Mountain cols: 1 Hours in the saddle: 3 hours 20 minutes
We had day 6 pencilled in as a rest day, but decided to change this into a shorter day of cycling to stop the legs stiffening up through inactivity. We just had to go up a hill and roll down the other side which sounds easy enough if one glosses over that the hill is a mountain, the Col D'Izoard. But we're getting quite blasé with the climbs so 20km of climbing and a short day really did feel like a rest.
Day 7: Risoul-Entraunes
Distance: 90km Climbing: 2,303 metres Mountain cols: 2 Hours in the saddle: 6 hours 11 minutes
A day of two halves, or more like a day of a first 90% and a second 10%. We'd checked the weather forecast and saw that rain and thunderstorms were forecast from 5pm, so we planned our day around this. The first 90% went well including most of the 29km climb of the Col de la Coyelle - it's quite a long climb, but at just a 4% gradient it felt good as we settled in for the two hours plus of climbing. About half way in, the skies started to get a bit darker and the wind a bit stronger, but with two hours before the storms were expected we crossed our fingers and hoped we'd beat the rain. We didn't.
The first drops started about 4km from the top, but the weather was waiting for us at the summit and on the descent. The torrential rain and dropping temperature was one thing, but the hail stones seemed an unnecessary addition to our misery. If we must have bad weather, I'd much rather it be on the uphills, as the reduction in braking performance going downhill in the wet is massive. Our faces must have been a picture of relief when we saw the sign for our accommodation, followed by despair when the owner told us that there was a mistake and we couldn't stay. In the end, he buckled seeing our sad faces and shivering bodies and found a room for us. I didn't even mind that the bed was the most uncomfortable of our trip.
Day 8: Entraunes-Valdeblore Distance: 82km Climbing: 1,638 metres Mountain cols: 3 Hours in the saddle: 4 hours 41 minutes
During parts of the previous day (before the rain), I'd noticed changes in the landscape. Some of the rock formations seemed different from the earlier days in the Northern Alps, as did some of the flora and fauna. That continued with today's ride, pine trees in particular and the warm wind made me think that we were getting closer to the coast.
It's funny how relaxed we've come to treat some of the climbs now that they're not reaching the same high altitudes as the earlier ones. They're not short, still generally between 10km and 16km climbs, but having done others two or almost three times these distances already we're starting to treat some of these quite lightly. Practice might not always make perfect, but it's definitely plenty helpful.
Day 9: Valdeblore-Menton
Distance: 85km Climbing: 1,851 metres Mountain cols: 3 Hours in the saddle: 5 hours 28 minutes
Menton is often referred to as the finish of the Route des Grandes Alpes, I guess because it's the place that you come out of the mountains and down to the Mediterranean Sea. The roads through the mountains seem smaller - there haven't been many cars on the whole trip, but these roads have even fewer. I hadn't realised that there were ski resorts so far south, there are, and there are also some decent climbs, such as the Col de Turini at 15.2km long and 7.2% average gradient. I can imagine the good weather and the terrain make it a popular place for pro cyclists to base themselves.
We made sure to crest the Col de Castillon together with an aim to jointly have our first sight of the Mediterranean Sea, but instead we only spotted a tunnel. The sea view was a few corners further on, and it was a good feeling. Many people will have done much grander and more difficult adventures, but it certainly felt like an achievement to cycle from Lake Geneva, right the way through the Alps to the Mediterranean.
Day 10: Menton-Nice Distance: 51km Climbing: 703 metres Mountain cols: 1 Hours in the saddle: 3 hours
Our gentle last day cycling into Nice. It wasn't far and there was no rush, just sunshine and the knowledge that our job was done. I can only think that Alex decided to fall off while stationery just to add a bit of adventure to the day which, as she wasn't hurt, it did. We cycled along the coast road to Monaco before heading inland for the final col shown on our map. It was then a simple case of rolling downhill into Nice. Having dipped our wheel in Lake Geneva at the start of our journey, we dipped our wheel in the Mediterranean to mark the end of our Route des Grandes Alpes adventure.
I'm super pleased we did it. I think Sally's pleased as well, although she also said that now it's done she doesn't need to go on a cycle tour again. At least she said she doesn't regret buying her bike - perhaps shorter day rides are perhaps more her thing.
Apart from the falling off (which were either due to inexperience or stupidity - mine was stupidity), our trip worked out well. No mechanical issues and only one puncture is pretty good. The accommodation worked out well, even though the cost for our bed and food was much more than I imagined - the low cost of travelling in Asia last year makes everything else a shock.
And that's it. An idea casually mentioned to a friend transformed into a something that we actually did. I'm going say kudos to us all, but particularly to Alex and Sally who are new to cycling. Cycling most days for between 4 to 6 hours over some of the highest mountain passes in Europe is something that we can be proud of and remember for a long time.
Now time to think of what's next? Actually, I already know, we head off to California, Costa Rica and Colombia next week, but this time it's backpacks instead of bikes. I keep telling Sally how lucky we are, I'm not sure she believes me🤷♂️
If you want to read about the first week of our Route des Grandes Alpes tour, click here.