I had real mixed feelings as I guided Baby from Como this morning.
With Mrs Dookes flying out to be with me, I had to pause, draw breath, stop being self-centred and only thinking of motorbikes for a few days. I’ve got to admit that despite it being quite a difference from my normal road-trip ‘modus operandi,’ it worked superbly and the break from riding did help recharge the old Dookes batteries! On the other hand, I was just about ready to get rolling again by this morning, there’s only so many pastel shaded salmon coloured houses with tile roofs that I can cope with looking at!
There is just one funny thing though, after three days of not riding it came as a bit of a shock just how heavy Baby really is! I supposed I’d got so used to her massive bulk that I’d forgotten how bloody awkward she can be at slow speeds and on indifferent road surfaces, like stone cobbles! Thank you Como for reminding me of that!
Once we got on the open road I was able to relax a tad, if one can ever relax when riding on an Italian Autostrada! Now don’t get me wrong, the Italian motorways are not in my opinion inherently more dangerous than any other high-speed trunk road found throughout Western Europe, you just have to approach them a bit differently. For example, apart from lane one the other lanes have strict minimum speeds and frankly you be crazy to ignore that. What the Autostrada really does is make people use their mirrors properly, not lane hog and anticipate well in advance. True you will see bonkers things occasionally, but tell me a motorway anywhere where you don’t! The only unfortunate thing about the Autostradas is that the majority of them are toll roads and not cheap ones either, so whilst they undoubtably save time you pay for it!
Leaving Como we headed South, skirted Milan and struck out East to Turin where we took the A32 towards the French border.
By Susa and 130 miles of hot, hot, hot slog, I was ready for a change and turned off the Autostrada to find some altitude and cooler air. At 2083metres/6834feet Col du Mont Cenis seemed to fit the bill nicely, it’s just that I’d forgotten how much hard work it takes to get up there! The road isn’t technically very difficult, but I’ve always found that I can’t really get a rhythm going on it and today was no exception!
At the top of the climb is a lake, Lac du Mont Cenis, an artificial lake that supplies water to two hydroelectric stations. During last winter extensive maintenance was carried out on the dam and as yet the lake has still not reached anywhere near its normal level, which made for an interesting contrasts to previous visits.
The road from the Col drops down to Lanslebourg via a delightful ladder of five sweeping hairpin bends, which being nice and wide, were a joy to cruise round on Baby.
We plugged away down the L’Arc valley, whilst surrounded by impressive towering peaks it gets quite tedious the nearer you get to Modane and St Michel de Maurienne. There’s just too much squeezed into a very narrow valley, a major railway line, several freight yards, two main roads, a Péage, various quarries and factories not to mention the River L’Arc!
By La Chambre I was ready for a change.
There was one more big Col on the Dookes list, another classic from Le Tour de France that had been calling me for years; Col de la Madeleine. Despite Baby being such a handful on the narrow mountain roads I decided to go for it, remembering how I’d ridden last year on Col de Lombarde I knew the bike could do it!
From La Chambre to Madeleine the D213 road is 20km long and gains 1522meteres at an average gradient of 8%, that’s quite a climb, over a mile upwards. Oh yes, there’s twenty hairpins as well! At the top you are 2000metres above sea level, that’s 6562 feet.
I’ve got to say that I enjoyed every single metre of that climb. I just let Baby find her own pace and gear, she’s not a sports or adventure bike, so no point in trying to ride her as such. She is big, long and heavy and as such you’ve got to approach the tight twisties with respect, do that and she’ll do the job! Just like today.
Arriving at the summit was incredible, I remembered that someone once described Madeleine as “beautiful, but heartbreaking.” I’m not sure about the heartbreak, definitely beautiful, but for me to was the culmination of a quest that began by a young boy who over forty years ago dreamed of visiting the great Tour de France Cols.
As I stood admiring the lovely stone summit marker, a golden eagle called from high in the clear sky above me, it’s call echoing off the surrounding mountains.
I looked upwards to that majestic soaring bird.
If we dream to soar from what we are familiar, that is normal.
A few are lucky enough to fly with their dream.
. . . and now that last Col has been climbed, where else can the dream lead to?
Catch you soon.