Summer 2018 – the final tally

I realise I might have left you in suspense. After the wonderful long ‘last ride’ to Combe Laval, the following day was departure day, so morning washing to get stuff dry by the afternoon, a morning ride (more of that in a moment), lunch at home, house tidying, cleaning and hibernation, and the departure for Valence ready for the early morning train to Paris for the flight home. And now I’m back in Devon, work has started in earnest.

Anyway, that last morning ride. I decided to do quick climb up to Col de Menéé under perfect skies and little breeze, to get a last 50 miles in. As I rode there, I was passing the time with some mental arithmetic, and wondering how close to my target of 400 miles a week I’d get. Well, to cut a long story short, if I did just 50 miles, I’d be 3 miles short on the average. So an added loop to Recoubeau after descending back down from Col de Menée, and I hit my target on the nose: 2343 miles over 41 days – an average of 400 miles a week.

The photo? Mont Aiguille, of course. Always a nice reward after a 25-mile 1000m climb, and not a bad way to end my wonderful summer stay.

I’ll be back at the end of October, to revel in the colours of the Diois autumn.

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Combe Laval – again!

I occasionally reflect on why people enjoy watching the same film, reading the same book, or listening to the same piece of music umpteen times. Most of us do. There’s a satisfaction in knowing what’s coming, and the pleasures it has brought in the past. But also, I think we’re a slightly different person when we come to it each time – a different mood, we’ve had more experiences in the meantime, or someone’s pointed out something you’d never noticed.

I certainly enjoy doing new rides here, though I’ll admit that I know nearly every road within a 40-50-mile radius. Despite that, every ride brings delights, not least because of changing weather, who I’m with or meet, or how my legs are feeling.

Well, today’s route is nothing new: Combe Laval via Col de Rousset and Forêt de Lente, and the return via Léoncel and Blacons. But you couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. It was helped by chatting to a German cyclist at the top of Combe Laval, who’d not been there before, and was going on to ride up Gorges de la Bourne to get to Grenoble. I intimated he had some thrills in store. When I saw him further down the road, he was grinning, as was I.

I’m just sorry the photos don’t really do it justice, especially the sheer scale of it. If you possibly can, sometime, come and see it for yorself. I hope you’ll grin too, if you do get here.

 

 

Counting down the days

Tuesday is my day of departure, so l’ve been considering what rides to do on my last two full days. One of them is Combe Laval (as I’ve not done that this summer, and the thrill of it doesn’t diminish), but today’s forecast suggested that the main part of Vercors would be decidedly chilly this morning.

Not yet having hopped over the western ridge of Vercors down to the Rhône plains, that became today’s route: up the Quint Valley, over Col de la Croix to Beaufort, up to Gigors and over Col de Jérôme Cavalli, then down to Combovin and Barcelonne (a very enjoyable descent, with great views), and then back via Upie & Crest. A splendidly mixed 78 miles.

A note about the ‘bird & moon’ photo. It’s actually a short-toed eagle. I caught a glance of it in the Quint Valley, with moon nearby, and thought “That would have been a great shot!” On the off-chance that the eagle would circle round, I got out the phone, and lo and behold – there it was. It’s a pity I didn’t have my posher Sony camera to hand, and all you get is a digital 4x zoom, but it’s there, all the same: eagle and moon in the same shot. That’ll do, albeit slightly fuzzily.

Feet, to le Bichon

All was planned for a walk with friends this morning, so I took a quick spin up the Quint Valley before heading to market, and a return home to make sandwiches and pack a day bag. Alas, a tummy bug intervened with one of my friends. Sandwiches having been made, obviously I had to have a picnic, so I headed out on foot anyway, to le Bichon.

Le Bichon, at 1117m is a point on the Balcon du Glandasse (a footpath through the wooded slopes below the imposing cliff of the Glandasse) where the footpath up from Romeyer meets the balcon. The footpath is delightful: working its way up (mostly) gently up a very broad ridge, it is safe, sheltered, and entices you upwards. With so many trees, you start to wonder if you’ll ever get a clear view – there are one or two points that tease. And then, all of a sudden – boom! – the Drôme Valley and all its mountains behind you, and the mighty Glandasse in front of you.

That’s where I had my picnic today and took the spectacular views. And the Roquefort and tomato sandwiches were delicious!

 

Trièves churches

I had originally thought of going over Vercors to Combe Laval today, but forecast and very visible cloud blanketing the plateau this morning led to a change of plan. So, Col de Menée, then heading south via the villages and hamlets east of the N75 (the Route Nationale south from Grenoble), then Col de la Croix Haute and Col de Grimone to get home.

I decided to do a series of church photos, having seen that virtually all the Trièves villages en route had at least one. So photos from Longefont, le Percy, Monestier le Percy, St-Maurice-en-Trièves, and Lalley. Apologies, but somehow I missed two churches in les Bailes and Serre des Bailes – I’ll try harder next time!

And, I’m glad to say, both forecasts got it right today. I almost turned back at Col de Menée when I saw the amount of grey cloud. But I’m very glad I trusted in the general movement of the day’s forecast: from cloud to sun. There was plenty of both.

Fallible forecasts

As I’ve mentioned before, I tend to use La Chaine Météo and Meteociel as my two main forecasters, backed up by satellite rainfall from Meteox. La Chaine has explanations written by humans, including their confidence in their prediction; Meteociel is computer-generated without words or ‘confidence index’ (but can show changing weather well); Meteox often shows if predicted rain is on target or not.

Well, today, Meteociel predicted cloud all day. Wrong. La Chaine predicted less cloud in the afternoon. Wrong. At least they both predicted no rain, and La Chaine warned of strong gusty wind. Both correct!

To cut a long story short, it looked like a beautiful day today, so I went for a 90-mile ride to la Charce and then north-westward to Saoû, with a little detour into la Charce. It’s had a bit of smartening-up since I last went there in 2012 looking for a non-existent café. Well worth a stop and a wander now.

Diversions: Ravel and les Ferriers

Another little there-and-back diversion today, and one to take the breath away three times over.

Firstly, the climb up to the two small settlements of Ravel and les Ferriers is shortish, steepish, and takes you nearly 400m up from the road to Boulc.

Secondly, the views as you ascend just get better and better. Not only do you see dozens of the higher mountain tops, but you also get a bird’s-eye view of the extraordinary Gorges des Gâts.

Thirdly, the little temple at Ravel is an absolute gem. With the date 1667 above the doorway, its interior retains some remarkable and, I’d guess, original, wall painting. I’m so glad I tried the door to see if it was open.

Contrary to my observation about Barsac, in this case the substantial habitation is at the end of the road from the valley – I assume that happened as there was more extensive pasture there, and despite the challenges of getting up there. But I wouldn’t have blamed them if they did it for the views too.

I hope you’ll forgive my ‘selfie’. Musicians will know why I had to do this one: Ravel was a great (French) composer of the first half of the 20th century, and was quite heavily influenced by jazz, so today’s jersey seemed appropriate.

Diversions: Barsac and Viopis

My ‘diversions’ to Diois and Drômois villages are revealing some general characteristics of these cul-de-sac habitations: the road usually rises (not surprising, in a valley) to a main (if small) settlement not very far up; then one or two more roads carry on to smaller and higher settlements. In this way, I suppose, all the available land was exploited more eadily by a local workforce.

And so it is with Barsac: a small and pretty village (with an old Protestant temple) is just 1km away from the valley road, with roads beyond leading to Viopis and l’Hôpital. (I’ve yet to discover the history of the latter.)

And, as you’ll see from the photos, it’s all grapes. Several ‘caves’ (winemakers) make good use of the land within this enclosed microclimate, and hardly a space goes unused.

Les Gorges du Nan

I’m going to keep the words to a minimum for this post, partly because it’s still hard to digest one of my most extraordinary days on a bike. 110 miles, 11,000ft of climbing, and some of the most amazing roads you’ll ever see.

The focus for me was the Gorges du Nan, a balcony road in north Vercors, of which I became aware about a year ago. I worked out a route I reckoned I could just about manage, and today was the day. Throw in Col de Rousset, the Goulets road down to Pont-en-Royans, and the climb to Presles, and one’s respect for the genius and madness of 19th-century road builders can only be undiminished, in their bid to open up Vercors to transport. Including bikes.

Suffice to say, I was happy to be on the safe side of the road away from the exposed side at Gorges du Nan, and rode very carefully even so! Absolutely stunning. The pictures give just part of the effect.

 

St-Sauveur-en-Diois

Yesterday was distinctly grey – so grey, in fact that I took just one, dull, grey photograph. Today made amends, as you’ll see.

Just a there-and-back ride to St Sauveur-en-Diois, and the road beyond to the tiny group of houses of Mouyons, near les Trois Becs.

Certainly a very pretty little village, and amazing views from Mouyons. And evidently a big contribution to the Clairette grape crop!