As an addendum to Ben’s post yesterday, I just wanted to mention that the alps have been on Ben’s Europe list from the get-go, and as we planned this trip, we put lots of stars on the map regarding places we thought we’d like to make it to. Of course, the Alp d’Huez was one of the very first to be placed. I suppose at the time, I hadn’t really thought it through on a day by day level, because while I knew that climbing the famed mountain would be tough sledding, it frankly never occurred to me that I would need to pilot a loaded bike to the bottom of it, through some very impressive mountains.
Truth be told, yesterday’s climb out of Gap, and the subsequent climbs into nothing in particular, made for one of the most physically grueling days of my life. It was a long, hot day on the bikes using almost nothing but our very easiest gears and still feeling like we were grinding, not spinning up the hills (and for the record, we have some REALLY low gears). There were places that I was picking spots in the road only 10 meters ahead of my bike and just willing myself to pedal that much further and then when I got there, I picked a new spot another 10 meters out, moving meter by meter for what seemed like forever. By the time we rolled into the campground last night, I was thoroughly exhausted with no idea how I was going to survive another climbing day in a row.
Still, even despite pretty extreme physical discomfort, it was hard to deny that watching Ben be enamored with every mountain and valley that we rolled by was awesome. Although I would have much rather been almost anywhere in the 95% of France that is actually flat yesterday, there is no way I would ever have denied him this opportunity to be here right now, and honestly, it would have been a shame for me to miss it as well.
I woke up to a pretty serious pit in my stomach knowing that we had another mountain pass to climb today, this one even higher than yesterday and that my legs were anything but fresh. We have been an entire week without a day off the bikes, and my legs were protesting even the effort required to take down camp.
Our campground allowed us to pre-order fresh bread last night that we picked up this morning. Turns out, we had more than twice as much food as we could eat for breakfast and we had a hard time fitting all the leftovers in our bags. We headed out around 9 into an already warm day, all while I attempted to rally myself for the last ride before we rest.
Surprisingly, we descended quite a bit in our first hour of pedaling, but all I could think was how I was going to have to regain every single meter we descended. Even still, kilometers are kilometers and I knew I only had to survive 45 of them today, whether they be downhill or up.
The road wound gently up and down for a while, through tiny villages that actually seemed pretty busy for a Saturday morning with all of the pedestrians out and about, almost all carrying a baguette. The alps rose up on either side and the beautiful meadows made it hard to worry too much about the pass that was to come.
Before long though, the road turned to a gentle ascent that carried us through the bulk of our miles today. Around every curve we found beautiful towns with picturesque churches and meadows full of wildflowers. The vistas were seriously straight out of a fairy tale and I kept telling Ben that I expected to find Rapunzel’s tower any minute. We laughed that no one ever rides bicycles in fairy tales, and now we know why- there are just too dang many hills!
Finally though, with the ride nearly half over, the climbing really began, and we shifted into our lowest gears to grind our way to 1,375 meters. The valley below slowly got smaller and smaller as we once again began a steep ascent. Gratefully, unlike yesterday, there were almost no cars on the road and instead, the only traffic were other cyclists! We had seen pretty much no one on bikes yesterday as we pioneered through the ridiculous steep grades, but today there were many people rolling both directions over the pass, making me feel like the climb was at least physically possible. Many waved and encouraged us as they went by, lifting my spirits and propelling my weary legs up the hill.
Gratefully, the roads never got so steep that I couldn’t keep my head up and enjoy the incredible vistas, keeping my morale high. Ben was giving me an official count from the GPS every 100 meters of elevation gained and before we knew it, we’d crested the peak.
By this point it was noon and Ben was getting hungry so we pulled out a bit of our morning bread and had a snack on the grass before I put my long sleeves back on for the chilly descent into Bourg d’Oisans. The roads down the other side were even steeper than the ones we had climbed and I felt grateful the whole way that I was coasting downhill. The views were incredible! At one point, we were funneled down to one lane because the other side had basically fallen off the side of the mountain- a bit frightening!
Our 16 km descent was over in mere minutes and soon we were coasting through the cycling mecca which is Bourg d’Oisans. The day I have been dreading for weeks turned out to be one of the most manageable cycling days we’ve had all week and I was feeling pretty proud of myself.
We checked into our campground, and after the lady made us move our tent around quite a few times (they are pretty particular about things around here!) we were settled in enough to head to the biggest grocery store we’ve seen in weeks. Since we plan to be here a few days, we didn’t have to worry about what we can fit in our panniers, so we pretty much went nuts buying all kinds of tasty food.
We found some Ratatouille in a jar that we tossed in our cart last minute that we poured over our ravioli and made a full salad to go along side. Along with our carton of ice cream and the yogurt I’ve been craving for days, it has been a good day for eating around here!
Finally, we completed a week’s worth of laundry which we had let pile up for way too long. I hadn’t done much (if any) laundry by hand until this trip and man, it can be a time consuming process. I was sure glad when we got done and everything was on the line to dry. Hopefully it dries quick, because I have almost nothing else to wear!
I couldn’t be more relieved that tomorrow we rest before attempting the Alp d’Huez on Monday. My legs are stiff and weary and I’m hoping to catch up on some well needed sleep.