Proposed Route: Villars les Dombes--Chambery-St Pierre d'Albigny
Estimated Mileage: 88 miles/140 km
Actual Route: Villars les Dombes--Chambery-St Pierre d'Albigny
Mileage Covered: 93 miles/ 153.5 km
Average cycling speed: 14.9 mph
Maximum speed: 35.1 mph
Cycling time: 6 hours 23 minutes.
Terrain: Mountainous and undulating.
Weather: Overcast, cool, with sunny spells. Wind Force 2, coming up the valleys and passes, mainly on the nose.
Degree of Difficulty:
We are camping by a lakeside in the Isere Valley and we are absolutely ringed
by mountains: behind us, the jagged outline of the Dent d'Arclusaz, to the south,
the snow-covered Chaine de Belledonne, to the east the impressive, massive heights
of the Grand Arc and Cheval Noir peaks. We have come a very long way today,
and we've climbed our own by no means inconsiderable mountain.
The ride from Villars began over undulating but not overly testing terrain, as we made our way across a spectacular mountain gorge carved out by the mighty Rhone River as it tumbles down from its glacier orgins high in the Swiss Alps. The mountains were all around us, the peaks of the high Alps themselves not yet visible, but a confused and impressive network of hills, gorges and minor mountains all the same. Our midday destination was the Lac du Bourget. To reach it, took us up our first serious alpine climb, up the jagged, nearly vertical Mont du Chat that lies above the western flank of the lake opposite Aix les Bains. This was a savage climb, unrelenting for about 5 kilometres, winding up in steep switchbacks to the Col du Chat at 620 metres, a height that is by no means high by alpine proportions, but which involved a great deal of effort, pain and teamwork to achieve. It is one of the climbs on the Tour de l'Epine, an alpine cycling event, and is by no means a Sunday morning poodle. We had to work hard together, cycling side by side to achieve a good, steady rhythm that allowed us to proceed at a brisk and respectable pace. We were on our lightweight racing Orbits and though the climb hurt, it felt good to be out of the saddle and pumping hard. Indeed, when we reached the summit of the climb, lungs heaving, drenched in sweat despite the cool weather, there was a sense of real achievement and accomplishment, not only just for this climb but for all the distance that it took to get there: and we were rewarded for our efforts on the fast white-knuckle descent with the most glorious views over the lake to Aix les Bains and the steep mountains rising beyond.
Today was a very hard ride. After the Col du Chat, we still had a tough 40 miles ahead of us. The worst part was negotiating our way through Chambery, which proved to be horrendously busy (I will not go into details of how we unwittingly found ourselves on a 6 lane motorway for fear of causing undue worry, but suffice to say that it was very unpleasant). After Chambery, it was exciting to pick up our first road signs to Turin! The main route passes through the Frejus tunnel, but we'll be heading beyond, way up the valley past Modane to Lanslevillard and the base of Mont Cenis. So, the prospect of the great barrier of the Alps which has loomed before us for so long is upon us. We've had two tough days of climbing and we've come through, though not without a few bruises: Nello's knees are aching from the hills; the backs of my thighs and my backside feel as if they have been beaten with a cricket bat. The terrain and the distance are taking their toll both on us and our equipment. However, we remain undaunted and definitely looking forward to the next encounter: tomorrow the long, unrelenting ascent to our base camp at some 1400 metres in anticipation of the final assault on the Alps and the Col du Mont Cenis at over 2000 metres.
I am sorry that this diary has not been arriving as steadily as we would like. The difficulties of downloading are immense. Last night, for example, we tried to download first from the campsite office, then from a bar: picture the scene, wires connected from the ceiling, excited games of table football and pinball taking place all around us, an indifferent and rather suspicious patron looking over our shoulder, the village halfwit adding his two centimes, and -- after copious glasses of wine on Hugh's part, well, we had to patronise the establishment after all -- we still couldn't get the caboodle to work. So please be patient, folks. We are trying.
I hope I can stay awake for tonight's dinner: melanzane e sardine impannate e fritte (sardines and aubergines breaded and fried), then penne piccante con poitrine fume (penne with hot chillies and smoked belly pork).
Oh yes, and thanks, incidentally, for all your concern but to answer your question, no, we still have not had to resort to Dr. Milne's Original Treatment.
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