By Car to the Vercors
Overnight ferry but plans for an early start scuppered when we spent forever getting off the ferry. Lorries having to reverse all over the place. Then non-motorway drive south. Workers lunch in a small village en route and over-night stop in historic Moulins, a town on the edge of the Auvergne.
It rained all day for our second travelling day to reach the Vercors. We paused for a coffee stop in small cafe bar and then pressed on over our first col – 7% and 1,180m altitude at the top of the Col de la Republique, while crossing the Massif Central. Remarkably easy when driving a car. Did not even use first gear. Lunch was a picnic in the car while it was still raining in the Rhone Valley. First Pain au Raisins of the trip, but we did not really deserve this as zero effort had been expended in walking from the car to the boulangerie to buy them.
Arrived in the Vercors – looked very scenic (i.e. very hilly). From where we are staying lots of scenery and not much sky in sight.
We assembled the trike and stowed her in the barn bike store beside 2 Colnagos, 2 Treks and a Cannondale. No panniers, tyres wider than 23mm or mudguards in sight. Our host, who is an former professional racing cyclist promised to discuss routes with us in the evening to ensure we stepped up our fitness levels at the right rate. This could have taken several months if we had done it properly. He also offered us some bubble wrap to stuff down our jerseys and shorts to avoid becoming hyperthermic while descending at high speed from the summits. We had a feeling he might re-assess us when he had actually seen our tricycle. Finally, we went out to recce the eating opportunities in St Jean en Royans, taking a large umbrella with us.
Day 1: Proper Mountains - Col de la Bataille
Not a good night's sleep. We were woken in the middle of the night by the sound of mice scrabbling in the wall or under the floor and gnawing away at something. Amazing how much noise this is in the dead of night. We tried banging on the wall or floor, which created silence for about 10 minutes, then it/they started up again. We crawled around the floor in an attempt to locate the centre of action. Finally stuck our heads under pillows in a desperate attempt to sleep.
Got up early feeling decidedly unrefreshed and headed into the shower only to find that flushing the WC did not result in the usual convenient removal of its contents. In this case they appeared in the shower via the shower waste outlet. Time to put some clothes on and find our hostess and let her know we are not her most happy guests. Upshot was that we used one of their unoccupied gites to take a shower and they promised to make it up so that we could transfer there when we came back in the afternoon.
But the excellent news was the day had dawned with brilliant blue skies and sunshine and we had breakfast outdoors on the terrace.
A fairly leisurely start involving a couple of photographs of us and the trike (nothing new there), then a pedal around the one way system into town to a boulangerie to purchase a picnic lunch.
Then on our way. No opportunity to gently warm up. The road out of town on our route to the Col de la Croix was straight uphill, and continuing up at 6% and 7% for the next 12km. Important not to be over-keen and strain something at this stage of the day or trip, so we settled into a steady pace and watched the scenery unfold as we climbed away from the town.
The Col at 720m was a bit of a misnomer because with barely a hint of downhill we continued to climb at the same or steeper rate for another 4km in order to reach the Col du Pionniers our next stepping stone. We encountered more dramatic rocky cliffs as we got higher and our first (short) tunnels. It was remarkably quiet and we enjoyed cycling on virtually traffic free roads
Again, from the col there was not much down-hilling before the road kicked up and we were climbing once more. We stopped in a forest at a convenient tree lying on the ground and just asking to be a lunch stop bench and ate our fougasse. Feeling replete we resumed climbing and paused at some viewpoints to admire the stunning valley and cliffs below us before continuing to climb to about 1,200m, before a fast plummet down and down, only to begin climbing again in search of the objective of the day – the Col de la Bataille at 1,313m. On the way we spotted our first gentians.
Arrived at the Col and stopped for the obligatory photo. The Col was at one end of a narrow arête spanning across a deep valley. On one side there was warm air from Drome to the south and on the other cooler air from within the Vercors. We had been told the geology and scenery were different on each side too, but it looked much the same to us.
No downhill yet. The road continued to climb across the arête and into a tunnel with the actual summit being two-thirds of the way through the tunnel. From here we set off down and it was payback time with a 26km freewheel in front of us. Just needed to keep it under control and get around the hairpin bends, while also looking at lush wild flower meadows. In fact a bar restaurant at Grand Echaillon on the way down looked just too inviting so we pulled up for cold drinks. And then a bit further on we paused again to admire a seriously deep gorge and partake of second lunch (LTC readers note that we did not manage a coffee stop on the way up. Just lots of water – note from Sheila: this was because there were no cafés, not because of our eagerness to keep climbing).
More downhill to home, where we move our belongings to new accommodation, had showers, and then generally lolled around
In the evening we had dinner with our Australian fellow guests, prepared by our hostess. Just to keep us from thinking we might be quite good at this cycling thing it turned out that two of them have previously taken part in RAAM (Race Across America).
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