Day 5. Route

We woke to find it had rained overnight, and that red wine (lots) and beer (some) do not a jolly morning make. There were no breakfast facilities at the campsite, so we stopped in the next town where lots of coffee and orange juice was consumed, at least by me. I decided that I liked riding by myself, so set off ahead while the others completed their breakfasts. It was a day of Colls and out-of season ski resorts. We had mentioned meeting up for lunch and dry-slope luge at L'Alp D'Huez, so after the 20+ hairpin climb to there I settled down in a cafe to wait.
At the top of the Alp d'Huez.
I ate, then wandered round a bit then popped into a shop to look at a map (as mine was rubbish). Some time later the others turned up (having stopped several more times) and decided that they were going to eat in a village at the other side of the hill (there is a big pass going up and a little pass back down again, or vice versa as the mood takes you). As I had already eaten I set off with the group but without the intention of stopping. The road down the other side was indeed much smaller, rather badly surfaced and had occasional rough-stone paved gullies where the snow melt crossed the road. I loved it, and went haring past into the lead. I passed the small village where I expected the others to eat and carried on to the bottom. The road signs were a little confusing, as both directions were the same road, except one was D25 and one D25a (or something). I opted to go left, and followed a scenic road through a village where the road  got quite small, then a little smaller, then rather gravely. About a mile past the village it became a bridleway in both directions, I seemed to have contrived to go to the dead-end village that I had noticed on the map earlier. Besse by name. I turned round, not too upset (it was an interesting village) and tried the other version of the D25, which seemed to work much better. At various points during the day we had to negotiate the Col du Lautaret, the Col du Galabier and the 2800m Col D'Iseran into Val d'Isere.
The view from the top of the Col d'Iseran into Val d'Isere
At one point I noticed a large fortress on a huge rock pillar in the middle of the valley, sporting a Swiss flag. When I got closer I noticed an interesting little fortress which appeared to be connected with it (defensively, not physically). A few hundred yards down the road I decided to stop and look round, the sort of freedom of action that was the main attraction of going off alone. The small fort had free guided tours, and had some workmen working on it (using a tiny teeny tower crane, it seems that in Europe a building site just isn't a building site without a crane, this one looked about the right size for building a sectional concrete garage). I noticed lots of people heading off into the woods to look at the other fortress and followed suit. There was a very impressive gorge between the two forts, rather narrow and rather deep, which would have provided pretty much impregnable defence. Across the gorge was a suspension bridge. That wasn't the only way to get around the area though, the cliffs on both sides had a network of 'via ferrata', large iron staples hammered into the rock as a means of passage for troops. There were two ropeways across the gorge and there seemed to be various ways into each fortress too, going by the pictures on the large signs. In the UK the signs would have said 'danger, do not touch the via ferrate or you will die horribly and we will prosecute your corpse for trespass", but this was France, it had maps of where the routes went and a list of the equipment you needed to do the trip safely. I was momentarily tempted, but felt ill equipped. And it was baking hot, clinging to bright white limestone wasn't tempting, but more tempting than plummeting to certain doom.
A view down the Gorge du Diable. If you look carefully at the high-res image you will see little people clinging to the rock faceAnother view of the gorge, with more dangling people
I set off again and soon arrived in Bourg St Maurice, the stop for the night. I waited in a lay-by for the others, and within a few minutes Jeremy turned up, closely followed by Ian. We decided to find the campsite, which wasn't hard as it was no more than 500yards from where we were. We started to book in, and whilst waiting for the woman who knew how the computer worked to turn up the remainder of out group arrived. We were told to stick ourselves in a particular field, and Mike started pitching his tent, not noticing that his chosen tent lay in the middle of a large circle of other tents, a group of youths. After having his error pointed out to him, and the youthherd having moved the youths off of the clear patch where they were playing a ball game of some sort to make room for us we pitched camp. Scouts reported that the campsite had a pizza caravan and a chip caravan with beer. Which was all we needed. Crispin attempted to clean his air filter with petrol to cure his mid-range flatspot. When he returned from a test ride we informed him that it appeared to be cured, as we had clearly heard him hit redline in the first 4 gears as he headed up the valley. It isn't a quiet exhaust. Jeff gave Mike 3/4 of a crew cut, after which the batteries in the trimmer ran out. Mike wore a hat the rest of the evening. I repaired my phone charger by heating a tent peg over a petrol stove to improvise a soldering iron with which to solder a choke back in. I then glued all the components in place with araldite to ruggedise things. It worked.

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