The day will come when I will die. So the only matter of consequence before me is what I will do with my allotted time. I can remain on shore, paralyzed with fear, or I can raise my sails and dip and soar in the breeze.--Richard Bode

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Haute Alps

I have been riding the famous Haute Alps Route for the last couple of days, and I can tell you that it is every bit as spectacular as it is promised to be.

I headed north on the Haute Alps Route from just north of Nice, France. Nice, as you probably know, is on the French Riviera. I didn't want to get into that mad house of traffic and tourists down there on the Mediterranean Sea, so I cut across and picked up the Haute Alps Route above Nice.

Parts of the route have been in the Tour de France in the past.  They don't ride the same route each year, and I think they did not ride it this year.  Lower down, before the high passes which the French call "Cols," begin there are some pretty nice waterfalls.

But pretty soon the road gets up above tree line and the mountains are covered with flowers and heather. Those mountains up there ahead of me don't look all that high, do they?  Just wait.

There are many, many bicycle riders on this road. They come in all ages and both genders, but they all have one thing in common: they are trim, thin, and very fit.

This sign says that the road is 7%. Try to figure that out with your hand:. Straight up and down is 100%; flat and level is 0%. Now, try to tilt your hand above flat and level so it is 7%. It is steep enough that it is quite a climb. The sign also says that the Cime (the top) of the Co la Bonette is 13 kilometers away. That is almost 8 miles of hard bicycle riding. I am quite impressed with those people!!

The bicycle riders don't have the road to themselves. There are also speeding motorcycle riders, sport car drivers, and, from time to time, a camping trailer taking up a good part of the road.

There are very few places to stop and take a picture.

There were herds of sheep up there, and once in a while a cow, but I have yet to see any wildlife. There are sure a lot of people and their animals in Europe, but where are all the deer-like critters and the birds and ground squirrels? I did see one lonely marmot running for all he was worth for his den, but except for the pair of foxes I saw in Sicily, and a lizard here and there, I have seen no other vertebrates at all.  They have them in Europe, I am told, but I sure don't know where.

The shepard  you can just barely see in this picture was using a dog to herd the sheep. That was fun to watch.

The road just keeps getting higher----

And higher ---

This particular pass, the Col de La Bonette, is supposed to be the highest paved road in the world. I am not sure that is true, but it does take you way up into the sky.

I thought the guy who offered to take my picture with my camera would never get done. He was certainly a dedicated photographer, and I thanked him from the bottom of my heart. Here is the sign at the top in case you are interested.

After you top out on a Col, what is left?  Why, to buzz along to the bottom on the other side, of course. This is where the bicycle riders build up a head of steam. I don't know how fast they go, but more than once on my way up I met a rider going helter-skelter down and it made my heart leap into my throat.

When the road flattened out at the bottom I looked north and saw the afternoon thunderstorms building up right on schedule. They have done this every day for a week.

This time I was wise enough to stop and put on my rain gear before the rains hit. No getting soaked like I did yesterday when I was caught unaware just after coming out of a tunnel. But those bicycle riders in this picture are going to get wet, I think.

Although I put on my rain gear, I stowed away my gloves. I can live with wet hands, but I hate wet gloves. But this thunderstorm had hail in it. You can imagine, I bet, how much hail hurts when it hits bare knuckles. I went around a bend, and there was a short tunnel or overpass with another motorcycle rider and a four wheel rider both pulled over tight against the side. I stopped too, long enough to put on my gloves and rain over-mittens. I didn't like it in there though. Trucks came by in the storm barely missing us.Scary.

I tried moving on, but the storm got much worse. Motorcycle riders were sheltered under any overhang they could find. I found one of my own and waited it out for about half an hour. Brrr.

I found a cheap, with emphasis on the cheap, hotel for the night. I hated it, but it was dry. This morning, following the usual pattern, the sky was clear and bight blue. Today I will continue the Haute Alps Route.

I love this area. There is so much to do. People were kayaking and rafting the whitewater rivers, climbing the mountains, rappelling down into the canyons, hiking the trails, and, of course, biking and motorcycle riding. And, in winter, there are a lot of ski resorts here. I happened to find a price sign for the skiing. It is cheaper than in the United States. I think this is because they are not lawsuit happy here, and so the ski places do not need to carry tons of insurance. I don't know that for a fact, though.

The last time I was in the Alps with my wife, she took a picture of the two of us in an Alpine meadow. It is one of my favorite pictures. We were both so young then. She still looks young to me, but I have grey hair now and a lot more wrinkles. If you don't believe me, take a gander at this picture.

Today's Col is even more impressive than the Col du La Bonette. It is not as high maybe, but I think it is steeper.

I love these mountain roads with all their hairpin turns. And, not a guard rail in sight.

Look at this guy going up. He makes it look effortless.

And there he goes------------

It was even easier for this guy coming down.

Here it is, the proof that I made it to the top

So did a lot of bicycle riders. Good for them. They should be proud. Two that I could not understand though was the man and woman on a tandem bike. I passed them on their way up, and they both looked like they were ready to die.

Now to head down. That is always a fun thing to do.

Time for one last picture. Thanks, unknown motorcycle friend from Italy.

Once at the bottom I came to a small town. I had to stop and take a picture of the winners of their recent "straw art" contest.

These boys from Grenoble, just over the mountains, were very friendly and wanted to know all about where I lived and how I got my motorcycle here. That is an owl they are in front of.

There were a lot of other Cols on the Haute Alps Route today, but they were smaller so I didn't take their pictures. And, in the afternoon, I found myself in this beautiful valley. I can tell I am getting close to Switzerland.

 I have a nice friendly campground for the night, and tomorrow I will start working my way around the west and north side of Geneva as I make my head back to the Black Forest in Germany.

Life is good.

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