Our RDGA odyssey continues…
Following on from my last post; as we swept downhill into Bourg St Maurice my mind was racing with excitement, l’Iseran was open!
I confess. There are times that I let superlatives run away with me just a bit, but promise me this…if you ever go to the French Alps go to Col de l’Iseran.
At 2770 metres, not only is it the highest Col on La Route des Grandes Alpes, it’s also the highest paved mountain pass in the whole of Europe.
Yes, the pass had been opened after the snow had damaged a bridge at Pont St Charles, but tomorrow it was going to be closed from 08:00hrs for, you guessed it, a blasted cycling event!
I had a choice. Get up mega early, miss breakfast and beat the 08:00 closure or ride the pass tonight and take the alternative and actually the original RDGA over Col de la Madeleine tomorrow.
By way of a small explanation, when the Route des Grandes Alpes was first created in 1907, the road over Col de l’Iseran didn’t exist; all that crossed the high pass was a rough track used by alpine farmers. The original route crossed over Col de la Madeleine, which is about 46km to the West of l’Iseran as the crow flies. If we went that way, we were still staying true to RDGA and as a bonus crossing yet another high col, cool!
Grabbing fuel in Bourg, I told Thierry and Alain that I would ride l’Iseran that evening.
Thierry grinned and shrugged his shoulders,
“Toujours le Gallois fou!” – “Always the crazy Welshman!”
“Qu’est-ce qui ne va pas se saouler avec nous, eh?” – “What’s wrong with getting drunk with us, eh?’ He roared.
Alain rolled his eyes skyward, he’d been there before!
Another biker overheard us and tentatively asked if it was correct that l’Iseran was open. He introduced himself as Jake from Austria, he also rode a big Harley and that was how I left my two French pals behind and set off for the big Col with another rider of Milwaukee’s finest!
From Bourg St Maurice the D902, that fine road again, sets out on a steady climb south whilst all the time the massive bulk of l’Iseran looms above. The ribbon of tarmac punctures the mountain through various tunnels and skirts the hydroelectric dam of Lac du Chevril. At the famous alpine village of Val d’Isère, birthplace of alpine legend Jean-Claude Killy, things take on a turn for the serious and the climb really asserts itself.
Pont St Charles, which was supposed to have been decimated by snow, looked benign and not very damaged at all. We now had to climb nearly 1000 metres in just about seven kilometres, that’s steep.
When the pass road here was opened in 1937 it made the modern Route des Grandes Alpes possible. I’m very glad that it did too. The road isn’t a difficult climb, certainly Jake and I had no trouble with our big American machines, but it is impressive and just never stops climbing until you reach the rocky wind ravaged summit.
The reward for the climb is just wonderful.
Majesty is too light a word for it; I could stay up on these high places forever and maybe one day some dust from me may well do that; that’s for others to sort. These places are my spiritual home; this is where I get to make sense of the world and my insignificant place in it. This is where I feel at one with the universe and touch inner peace. This also why I come here alone, so I can immerse myself in the sheer beauty of the place without any distractions; yes it’s very selfish, but hey at least I’m honest about it!
This wasn’t the first time that Harls and I had been here; we’d visited twice before and you can read about some of those adventures by clicking here.
This was the first time though that we’d ridden up the North side.
I took the decision to stay the night in Val d’Isère and not to push on over into the Arc valley. Descending to Bonneval sur Arc is pleasant enough, but after Lanslebourg the traffic always gets ghastly around Modane and the Fréjus tunnel; plus I now wanted to have some fun on the North side of Col de la Madeleine next day.
With a happy heart I turned Harls back towards Val d’Isère and our hotel.
What a day!
We’d covered 236 hard miles and topped six of the RDGA Cols for an altitude gain of around 5189 metres; pretty good for an old Harley and an even older geezer!
I could feel the reward of a small cold beer coming on…
“You will always keep me flying high in the sky”
Catch you soon.