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

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Riding the French Alps

I had been told by some other motorcycle riders that something  I must do is to ride from Grenoble, France, down toward the city of Nice on the Mediterranean Sea. It is the route they often ride in the Tour de France, and it goes up and over some impressive mountain passes. 

The first thing I had to do is get from southern Switzerland to Grenoble.  The road took me smack up against Mt. Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps.

The mountain is called "Blanc" because it is white with glaciers. The only way to get by it these days is through a very, very long tunnel. I wish there had been some way to take pictures in that tunnel, but I couldn't do that and ride as well. I can report that it is truly an engineering marvel.

Here is the mountain seen from the Swiss/Italian side.

The mountain is every bit as impressive from the French side.

And just on the western side, down in a valley in France, is the famous resort town of Chamonix. I went into it and drove around a little, but I didn't even get off the bike. It reminded me a lot of some of the ski resort towns in Colorado: pretty in their own way, but they have nothing to hold my attention.

These French Alps though --- I am loving them.

I knew I needed to get to Grenoble, but I tell you I would not want to ride through that city again. It is very large, and very torn up with road construction and detours. My GPS had a nervous breakdown trying to figure out why I would not take the streets it tried to send me down. I felt very glad when I got out of that place and safely up into the mountains again.

As I wandered around on my bike I came to a high mountain valley. It was beautiful.

But, it was starting to rain again. I passed a sign for a Bed and Breakfast for 43 Euros. Sounds good to me.

I liked riding around up there in that high valley, but I liked even more the twisty road that took me back down out of it the next morning. It was a fun ride.

And then I looked down, and there was Grenoble again. I did not want to go there. No way!

Fortunately, I just caught the south edge of it. That wasn't too bad. And then I was on the Route Napoleon, the road that Napoleon followed as he returned from exile to begin the 100 days that finally led to his defeat at Waterloo. This is quite a road, with gentle, well banked curves and nice little towns. It is very famous among motorcycle riders.

One can get mesmerized riding a road like that. If I am not careful the road becomes the Raison d'etre, and the scenery fades to the background of my  mind, overcome by the unceasing swoop and sweep of the curves. and the dips and bounds of the hills. It is easy to get caught up in the lean of the bike; the shifts of my body; the baritone beat of the exhaust as I slow down for a particularly sharp curve. Gotta be careful! No day-dreaming allowed.

There are a lot of picnic tables to stop at along the Route Napoleon.

But I have to get across the mountains before the evening rains come again. They are beginning to make a habit and a nuisance of themselves at about 3 p.m. each evening.

Look at this route across the mountains. Fortunately, it was not too high up.  It wasn't too bad, but it was not nearly as good as the Route Napoleon.

Just before the rains I found my campsite for the night. I waited the rains out. No wet tent in my plans for tomorrow. But it sure wasn't much of a campground. It was by far the worst I had been in throughout my entire European trip.

Have you seen these French toilets before. I will let you figure out how they work. But I can tell you that they used to be all over a big part of the world. They are left over from the time when France had colonies everywhere. Now, they are mostly a thing of the past, and, like the Dodo Bird, are not really missed by too many people.

Here is something else you see a lot of, at least in Southern Europe.Toilets seldom have seats, at least not in campgrounds. It kind of solves the age old male/female argument of the proper position for the toilet seat, up or down:  "Ya know, Bubba Jo, I married that sister of your'n cause I luv her. But if she don't stop her gripen' ever time I leave that dad-gum toilet lid up, I'm gonna take the gol-durn thing off. That'll shut her up!"

And a little later:  "Rubie Mae, I luv that brother of your'n I married, but he plumb made me mad when he took that toilet seat off. I got even with him though when I cleaned the thing."

"How'd ye do that, Ruby?"

"I cleaned it with his toothbrush."

Another thing that is very common in Europe is a big squeegee to scrape the water off the shower floor.  That is kind of a good idea, I think.

When I got up this morning, I got back on the Route  Napoleon. I rode it down to a town called Castellane. Castellane is a very nice town. And the circus is coming ----

I had been seeing these signs along the route, so I was not surprised when I went around a curve and found five circus trucks ahead of me. And what trucks they were. Each of them was a truck train made up of a panel truck with three trailers behind it. There was no way around them that I could see -- not on that twisty road. I, and all the cars, just had to settle down and prepare for a slow drive. The particular "truck-train" I was behind had a four-wheeled farm type wagon as its third vehicle. That wagon would get to swaying from time to time, especially on curves, and would flap the trailer behind it back and forth like grandma's nightie on the clothesline. I thought for sure it was going to come flying off and go over a cliff. No passing that thing for me.

I heard a roar and a whine, and six motorcycles went around us. Lane splitting is legal, and I do it some, but it scares me on these mountain roads. What if there are rocks in the road? What if another truck is coming around the bend. No thanks. I am not in that big of a hurry.

But when I got to Castellane, the motorcycles were there -- they, and dozens more.  I guess they made it safely. Whew!

I liked Castellane. I had to stop and scout it out because they had a big yard sale going on.

 I would have bought this tea set for my wife if I had anyway to carry it. Less than 20  Euros. What a bargain.

I have a little niece who might like one of these dolls. Can't carry dolls on a motorcycle either.

"Lady -- you look beautiful in that hat. Here -- let me show you in my mirror."

After all that shopping, I need to eat my Sunday lunch. A sandwich sounds good. But look at this thing! It is full of chicken and french fries and salad -- How do the French stay slim eating like this? I couldn't choke this thing down in a month of Sundays.

Something I've noticed here, especially in France, is how popular smoking is. You seldom see it at home these days, but here boys and girls seem to start about the age of 12, and most everybody seems to do it.

From Castellane, the thing that I, and about 10 thousand other riders did, was to head to the Grand Canyon of France named Gorges du Verdon.  What a ride!!

Lots of good swimming holes down in that canyon

Picnic in the shade anyone?

I was having a great time until I almost ran out of gas. There are no gas stations in that canyon. I had a lot of gas going in, but I was running on fumes by the time I got out.

As I was filling up my tank, two guys on sport bikes stopped to warn me that the police had a speed trap set up ahead, and they were after bikers especially. This didn't concern me because the speed limit is plenty fast enough for me. I don't like to ride 100 miles an hour on mountain roads anyway.  I sure got a lot of warnings as I headed back toward Castellane  and got closer to the trap. Cars were flashing their lights at me; motorcycle riders were waving in a slow-down motion.  And sure enough,  there it was around a bend in the road. The police had about a dozen bikers stopped.

A mile or so later I went past a sign for a campground. It was getting late and camping sounded like a good idea.  I turned around, went back, and checked in at reception. A nice girl there told me to look at site four and decide if I wanted it. It would only be 45 Euros. What!!! That's like $50.00. I have never paid that much in my life to sleep in my own tent. I told her I could get a hotel room for that.

And sure enough -- I am back in Castellane; I have a nice, although small, hotel room for 39 Euros; I've had a good 7 Euro meal (love these cheap prices after terribly expensive Switzerland). I even went to a free concert (It was good, although I did not understand a single word).

Tomorrow, I head for the famous Cols that they ride in the Tour de France. I'll be going north again through Switzerland toward the Black Forest of Germany.