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Day 49: Stopping is for Wimps

I felt a lot better today after yesterday’s debacle and got down to some work. I feel that my lack of sleep has largely been down to anxiety recently and making more progress should help me really. I managed a good page of material.

As work was going well and I didn’t want to take too much of a break from it I decided to get out on the bike again today and beat the demons of the day before. My body was pretty reluctant, but I wrapped up nice and warm and set off down the valley. Again my plan was to do “The Usual” loop round the lower valley – a nice 32km ride that doesn’t have any big hills but is good for keeping you going.

I smashed it unexpectedly, and enjoyed being out on the bike. No pretty pictures today, because I decided to do the whole thing without stopping. I achieved a good time – 1 hour 25 minutes. Not an entirely unproductive day!

Day 48: Sickness and Sand

Well, I couldn’t sleep last night after a late night playing games, watching TV and enjoying the birthday cheer while it lasted, and I woke up this morning feeling pretty tired and cranky. Part of the problem I think is that I haven’t been able to do much work while the birthday was happening and am getting pretty anxious about it.

During the afternoon I had thought to go cycling. I was feeling (perhaps irrationally) that I’d let down the side the last few days, so I felt I couldn’t do nothing. The plan originally was to do a 100km cycle on my birthday, but it is being slowly pushed back due to weather and building arrangements. However I thought it would be a good idea to ge some practice in in the meawhile.

Val des Pres

So I headed out on Bikesalot for “The Usual” loop round the lower valley, but as soon as I set off I started to feel really fuzzy and sleepy. By the time I got to Val des Pres I was feeling pretty cold and ill so I radioed for help and Bike Fairy picked me up.

Church tower!

Not a great bit of exercise really. I went to bed after that and was soon feeling heartily sick in the stomach. I did however help out with the unloading of about half-a-ton of sand from the trailer later in the afternoon, so I didn’t do nothing today.

Felt horrible though. Headed straight to bed after dinner. Bleaugh.

Day 38: Le Bonhomme de Neige

There are reports all over Facebook that it’s been snowing in York, where I lived for 9 years previous to this, has made me miss it terribly. York looks best in the snow – a true dickensian city.

Mountains? What mountains?

When I woke up this morning the mountains had completely disappeared behind a thick fog, however what with the pouring rain yesterday I was sure there would be some snow higher up in the mountains and I was a bit determined to join in the fun.

By the afternoon the fog had lifted and it was quite sunny out, although not particularly warm. Luckily I had just got some new cycle gear, including a pair of, cough, cycling trousers (tights) that didn’t look too ridiculous and a nice warm long-sleeved cycling shirt. The fact that I’m finding these things so easily is testament to the fact that I’ve gone down a size. Soon I’ll be the size of a real cyclist, which, is tiny.

I donned these items and head off. The plan was to do the complete circuit of the valley – all the way up the haut valley to the Refuge Laval and then all the way back down to Les Alberts, loop round via La Vachette and then all the way back up. If you’ve been following this blog regularly you might know that I’ve done both upper and lower valley separately but not yet the two together.

Further motivation was to get some of the snowy action by going up to the snow line in the upper valley.

Looking back down the valley from the top

The going was good – I didn’t stop too many times, only to take photos, but otherwise I powered on regardless of angle or distance. I powered up the long windy ascent into the upper valley, stopping only at the very top (after the nasty little steep climb to the second chapel). On the ascent I tried out the latest tips from my cycling composer friend, which worked really well – the main tip was to push against the handlebar as I was ascending a steep pitch to get more leverage.

Pine carpet

The upper valley was nice and sunny, with only a little chilly wind. I had in my bike bags some warmer gloves, a buff and a windproof but I didn’t see the need to put them on there. I was on the look out for ice on the road, which thankfully never materialised. There was a nice carpet of yellow/orange pine needles though which did a fine job of gripping the tires over the wetter areas.

Not so pretty up here as last time. Still, it is INSIDE A CLOUD

At the top I do believe I cycled into a cloud. The weather at the car park was misty, snowy, cold and wet. I stuck around just long enough to put my windproof and longer gloves on before I started my descent back down into the upper valley.

I hadn’t bargained for the idea that the weather would then turn. The snow and eventually rain followed me all the way down the valley. It was invigorating but slightly hazardous, and I took extra care on my turns not to do anything that would precipitate a skid. I was very greatful of my man-tights at that time and only slightly regretted not putting another layer on top.

Is that… sunlight I see?

Towards the bottom of the upper valley I was beginning to think it would be better to go home than to endure this for another hour and a half (at least) of cycling. However when I reached the top of the steep descent into the lower valley, the valley itself was wreathed in sunlight, so I carried on.

Yes! It is!

The lower valley was nice and dry, although on the way down there was a fairly strong wind against me. It wasn’t a problem though as I was moving full-pelt downhill, and I was glad of it being that direction instead of the way up. I battered my usual way down and paused in Les Alberts.

What was quite weird about today, especially given the weather (and especially how bad it was yesterday) was that there were a lot of walking parties and picnickers around. In Les Alberts there were families playing the in park and everything. I think partly it’s the weekend and probably it’s the school holidays around now as well.

Dramatic clouds over Les Alberts

At this point I stopped my cyclemeter and didn’t start it again until I looped round and had just left La Vachette, so the readings are about 3km and 15 minutes out.

The way back was steady and generally fine. I stopped in the traditional plampinet for a wee (as there was no rugby team handy to laugh and point at me weeing in public I had to use an enclosed loo) and battered my way up back to the chalet.

PUMPinet – get it? like, there’s a pump there.

By this time it was getting pretty damn cold and the sun was dipping behind clouds and mountains. My legs were starting to give up a bit. I didn’t give up though and even coaxed my legs into taking the really steep hill at the end up to the house itself.

When I got off I felt pretty sick and weird from the random changes in temperature. I quickly had a shower and changed into some warm clothes, eating my emergency bar (I rarely do this, but it was a pretty long ride for me).

All in all though – this was a ~53km ride, my longest to date, and I completed it in 3 hours 15 minutes with an average speed of 20km/h. The ascend – 790m, was the highest I’ve done on a bike so far. In general I think that was pretty damn good. It was a glorious ride for the most part, and really enjoyable from a challenge perspective.

Looking pretty good!

Hurrah!

Day 34: Powering Through

Today I started to get on with some composition at last. It’s nice to have a change of pace and to be away from the computer (I sketch everything out on paper first). It’s going to take me a little while to ease into the composition part, but I have some pitch generation systems to work on before that happens, so I’m slowly getting more enthusiastic about it. It’s a piece I started last academic term for an orchestral workshop.

Beautiful day for a cycle!

But of course I had to go out and exercise, so my plan was to do “The Usual” today, but to make things more exciting, to do it as fast as possible with as few stops as possible. Considering I didn’t make it back the first time I did it I’ve definitely got better I think. I had to stop a couple of times to take photos for the blog of course.

Bike Fairy accompanied me for the ride, although I’ve been told to say that I fairly burned her off for the majority of the course and she had trouble catching up. Her words!

We took a circular route this time, turning left at Le Rosier and passing through Les Alberts, then looping around to La Vachette via the main road. We had a brief stop in Les Alberts and then powered through. I stopped again at Plampinet, partly to let BF catch up and partly because it seems traditional now.

My gears were a bit odd today though. We had them tweaked at the bike shop on the way back from the last trip, and they obviously went a bit wrong. They had lots of problems settling, especially on the lowest, so bikesalot is heading back to the shop – probably tomorrow.

Not many beautiful pics today – too busy cycling ;)

Despite that (which did occasionally set me back on the steeper hills) we made excellent time. The time was an hour and a half for the whole loop, which is about the same time it used to take me to complete just the way back.

Average speed was 22km/h – way above my usual, and fastest speed was 54km/h – faster than Lance Armstrongs! Oh no wait that’s his average. I’m such a dope.

Et Voila! A nice cycle ride for the afternoon, very fitness orientated, and some progress on my cycling. It’s a good route to test my progress on I think and may do some more. I also thought it would be cool to cycle to the top of the haut valley and then down to the bottom on this route, then back the chalet. It would be a good 50km route to try and up my distance.

Day 31: Monthiversary!

It’s weird to think I’ve been doing this for a whole month – more so that I’ve even been here that long. BF believes it takes 12 weeks to make a habit, so just another couple of months to go :)

Today the plan was to “get up early, cycle down at Embrun, and then be back after lunch” which, in my mind, translated to “you’re not getting any work done today”. Which was true, but it was also a very nice ride.

Various things got in the way of the early start and we headed off around 11am for the St Clement fort. I’d been here before and had a tour round the fort – a very interesting and beautiful bit of engineering (I didn’t understand the tour though, at the time I did not know much French).

On the way we pimped out Sir Bikesalot with some new gear, including a beautiful new red side-loading bottle holder, a new bigger tool bag, a cross-bar bag and a storage can. It’s useful having some more space and moving things out of my back pockets. I also have a handlebar bag to add later on when I start doing more light-touring type things, which is cool. Later we also got a couple of new water bottles – red and blue to go with my stuff :) (hoh yes, I’m starting to coordinate).

Oooh Yeah Sir B’saL -show us that bling.

Unexpectedly last night I received a Facebook message from a fellow composer and really experienced cyclist with some fantastic tips on cycling technique. It’s was all really useful and I spent the day working on various aspects. The most useful was the use of a constant cadence based on a metronome mark of 90bpm. I took a metronome with me on my phone and kept to it as much as I could. The result felt really efficient and I ended up burning off Bike Fairy a surprising amount.

Coos!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The route was from the fort of St. Clement down to Embrun and back. This is another section of the Tour De France as well as some other national event which I’ve forgotten the name of. It was really cheery reading the messages from fans (mostly of Clement – “Allez Clement!”) – I enjoyed being told “go, go, go!” on the way up the bigger climbs.

Yes, Gillet, Allez !!!

Just as we got there the sun disappeared behind a cloud. Despite this when we got there it was humid and warm, so I stripped off my over-trousers (luckily, a passing big band struck up David Rose’s “The Stripper” and a passing cheer-leader troupe on tour formed a special pyramid on top of their bus, otherwise it would have been a bit awkward).

beautiful :)

The route was lovely – basically a big hill with nice smooth tarmac, beautiful views (quite scary drops) along an amazing valley with a big river passing through it.

Narnia, truly. Spent the rest of the day singing Joanna Newsom’s “Bridges and Balloons” to myself.

We stopped off in Saint Andre d’Embrun for a sandwich – a pretty little village. In fact all of the villages around here seemed friendly and family-oriented. Everyone was smiling and by this time the sun was shining. There was a bit of a stiff hill up there but it was fine.

CHURCH TOWER!

Sir Bikesalot and the newly christened Lady Guinevere :)

There was some joyous downhill after that and we came out over the Durance river. Earlier, looking across the valley, I had remarked that the countryside made me expect Cair Paravel to rear out. It was so lush and beautiful, and so Narnia. Embrun did a pretty good Paravel impression – perched on huge flat rock with city walls and old-world architecture, it looked amazing.

La Durance. I missed him, but apparently after this a kayak appeared. Also, my chain decided to hop off around here.

Cair Paravel, I mean Embrun

We stopped for coffee in a trendy-looking square in Embrun and enjoyed the view over the balcony of the city walls. The town reminds me of York (where I have lived the last 9 years) in its affluent, middle class feel mixed with old architecture and nice bars.

Pretty Houses

Un cafe double, s’l vous plait

We then head back up the enormous hill we had just cycled down. After we crossed the Durance however I heard a cry behind me and I looked round to see Bike Fairy in distress. It turned out that an idiot in a car had clipped her elbow with its wing-mirror, apparently breaking the mirror. I didn’t see it though and the, frankly, *dickhead* took off as fast as possible.

mmm nice view from Embrun

I was amazed that BF didn’t fall off. After things had calmed down a bit we carried on, but I could tell BF was still upset and a bit in shock, and I stayed in the rear so that I could provide a buffer between her and other cars coming up. It’s hard for anyone to carry on when something like that happens and I’m proud the BF did.

After a while things cheered up and the hill wasn’t bad at all. We had a nice ride back over the hill, stopping only to admire some beautiful kittens sunning themselves on a big wooden gangway.

Cats!

We finished up around 4pm – much later than anticipated, but it was a treat of a ride, with beautiful views and fun cycling.

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Day 30: Upper Valley part deux :)

So today is chiefly a work day. I’m on my last score for editing and it’s a big one. I’ve also got the place to myself today so I spent the morning drawing pretty diagrams in Adobe Illustrator.

After my not so nice ride yesterday I was anxious to get back on the bike in the afternoon for a short-ish ride, to prove to myself that I did enjoy it. I decided that what would be a good thing to do was to go up the upper valley again and compare it with my ride a couple of weeks ago and see how I had improved.

My goal, if I had one, was a) to get all of the way up the valley this time (I stopped about 1.5km from the end last time), b) to stop as little as possible on the way up and c) to do it in a significantly shorter time than last time.

It was pretty windy out so I prepared for the worst and wore leggings and a windproof. By the time I got into Nevache, though, I was so hot that I needed to strip off a bit, and luckily there was a local galoubets-tambourins band playing “You can keep your hat on” and an audience of screaming teenage girls to help me along, otherwise it would have been a bit awkward.

Got (pant) to the top (gasp, pant, swig water) of the big climb (pant, pant) without (pant) stopping!

I made it up the col with not too much bother, although I was pretty out of breath, and stopped at the top, but it was pretty awesome cycling past the places where I previously had to get off and walk. I had forgotten, when I got to the first chapel, that the little hill up to the second chapel was an absolute swine. In many ways I got more out of breath going up that than the rest of the long climb put together!

This little hill is a swine.

I then proceeded up the valley, deliberately not stopping and, better, not feeling that I had to stop. No pictures from this bit I’m afraid – I decided to keep going as much as I could. I got to the point at which I turned back previously and carried on up the second stiff climb at the top of the valley.

On y va!

At the top was the Refuge de Laval, and a beautiful lush little plateau with a few pretty chalets. The road carried on through this little ville and to a car-park, the end goal of my trek up the valley.

Little ville at the top of the valley. Very pretty. The Refuge Laval is a bit off to the right and, like everything, closed…

The view from the car park was pretty beautiful. I’d been up here previously in fact. Years ago, I remember starting a walk here, crossing a mountain, and having to say “bonjour!” on the way up and “bonjorno!” on the way down. There are lots of very nice walks up there that I’d like to try another day (and probably will!).

Sir Bikesalot enjoying some attention. Good boy Sir Bikesalot.

I then sped down the valley, checking my speed a bit this time as there was quite a lot of head-wind and the roads were narrow with sometimes precipitous drops down one side. Otherwise though my descent was fun and uneventful. I got back home in good time and felt great for the ride.

Not bad! Could be better.

So how did it compare? Oddly there wasn’t a huge difference – last time Cyclemeter only seemed to record the ascent last time and the time was 10 minutes more than my total time this time, ascent seemed to be less (477-502) but I think the previous version of Cyclemeter was less accurate on altitude. Crucially, the average speed today was 12.8km/h as compared with 9.9km/h the other day. A definite improvement.

I should do this route again some time and really try to bomb it up and down, see what happens…

Well, that was fun. A good ride. à demain tout-le-monde!

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Day 29: Rumbled!

It had to happen some time, an allusion here, a sighting there, one too many careless comments on Facebook. Yes, it seems that I have been rumbled. The game’s up, the bird’s out of the nest, the…. something’s somethinged to mean that I’ve been found out.

Yep, Bike Fairy found the blog. SSSSIIiiiiigggghhhhh. It had to happen some time, I’m pleased to have gone 29 days without being found out, despite being caught updating it a few times.

Actually, it’s fine – BF seems to love the blog and her new moniker. I don’t know if Grumble Meister now knows about it, but BF thinks the nickname suits him perfectly. In fact I was first alerted to the fact she’d found it when she alluded to him as “Grumble Meister” over breakfast (he’s out of town by the way). I had hoped it was a coincidence and played it cool.

It all came out in the car back home though. Oh well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Today me and BF took a long trip in the car – the plan was to go for a cycle further down (altitude wise), but BF was reticent on details. On the way, we drove over the magnificent Col d’Izoard. If you’re not aware of it, the Izoard is one of the “mythique” cols of the Tour De France. It ascends around 1000m of amazing windy road. The views from the top are absolutely staggering. All along the road are messages and symbols daubed in paint by enthusiasts to cheer on their cycling heros as they batter up the road. It was amazing driving through there thinking of all of them.

Nope, not taking photos ;)

I had the opportunity to get out of the car and take a few pictures, but I decided that I needed to earn them. The Col d’Izoard is one of the most difficult around and a good goal to aim for with my cycling. So – one day!

Fort! Pretty distant – need to get myself a good camera with an optical zoom

Fort!

Where we were heading was the Queyras – a valley starting at the beautiful Fort Queyras and heading up to Mont Viso, a popular climb. It had been a few days since I was last out on the bike and it took quite a while to get my cycling legs back – in fact, I don’t think I really felt it most of the day. The route was sneaky – most of the time it looked like you’re just travelling along a straight road, but in fact you’re on a 4-5˙ pitch, which caught me off guard a bit. Essentially it felt harder than it looked, and there were a few really long road stretches that can be demoralising if you feel you’re not making much progress.

It wasn’t without its charms though and there were some interesting sights along the way, the Fort notwithstanding. The road travelled alongside a really wide river bed with a tiny stream in the middle of it. You see this quite a lot in the alps – essentially the rivers are cut when the huge weight of snow on the mountains melt and then return to a stream when the weather calms down again. The result is that the towns all have massive bridges over seemingly dry river-beds.

In one town (Gite de Villard), the stream had been diverted and a huge digger was moving big rocks around the river bed, presumably engineering the river a bit in advance of the snows in December.

This place has nothing, but it has a church. Hmm.

The top of the route was pretty ‘joli’, and there were some interesting buildings. On the way back I noticed a haunted house but didn’t want to stop to take a picture of it. It looked awesome though. There were also lots of sheeps.

Mont Viso

On the way back it became more than evident that we had been climbing all the way, and I sped off back down in my top gears. If you hadn’t noticed before, I love going fast. The road wasn’t all good news however and I had to do some quick thinking to avoid some of the rutts and grates on the way down. We stopped off in the rather-pretty Aguilles to see if we could get a coffee, but as usual everything was shut. We’re a bit out of season here.

The Marie in Aguilles

In the end we found a road-side Inn outside Ville Vieille to have an espresso before heading back to the car.

Un petit cafe s’il vous plait

Stats were surprisingly good for the fact that I wasn’t really getting into it:

Not bad. Average speed > 12km/h is what I usually aim for, and it was that at the top before the big descent ;)

I might try and get out on my bike today (as, yes, this blog is a day late) and get back into it a bit. We’ll see. Today is mostly a work day. But we’ll see. à plus tard!

The fort on the way down

Day 24: Le Col d’Echelle et un fête

I’m going to quit apologising for being late with my post I think. In general they will come every day but I can’t always get away to write one. Last night this was the case.

Today (technically yesterday) we celebrated Bike Fairy’s 59th Birthday. If you were wondering what my secret project was, it was to find a present for her without her finding out, which is no mean feat! Especially in Briançon, which is a little short of good shops. I found one in the end though, a nice little bookshop that sold nice cards and also some inexpensive necklaces etc. I picked out a suitably cute necklace with a tiny sheep on it. I couldn’t remember the word for sheep so I just pointed at it and made ba’ing noises until the assistant relieved my foreign anxiety with the word “mouton”.

Before we go on, just thought I’d point out that BF spent her 59th and the preceding day cycling up 3 massive hills over 60 km. I don’t know many 59-year-olds that can cycle-tour across Germany, kayak across the ice-flows of Greenland, ski-tour across or walk up the alpine peeks of France and tackle some of the most difficult slopes on the piste. I don’t know many parents that can speak around 6 languages fluently and sight-read difficult baroque music at the piano. I’m very proud of herself, grumbly as she is, and hope I’m that spry when I reach that age. Happy Birthday Bike Fairy!

So in the morning we celebrated a bit with a late breakfast and a trip to Briançon. We visited their favourite patisserie, the Patisserie Turin, a lovely coffee shop that serves the most amazing little cakes. I was abstemious because I knew we were later to go to a gourmet restaurant but BF and GM had too lovely little bijoux deserts.

Bracing myself for the climb…

After a rest, the plan in the afternoon was to tackle the Col d’Echelle. I had been looking forward to this one for a while as I knew it to be reasonably short 8-9˚ pitch and then a nice lush plateau, followed by a really dramatic drop into the next valley to Bardonecchia. It was a good challenge and a pretty route.

hurrah!

The initial pitch was easier than I thought it was going to be. I spent the first 400 yards or so in middle gears and then changed down. I did get pretty sweaty and out of breath but I managed to push all the way up to the car park at the top without stopping. Cycling through the plateau I suddenly became aware of how cold it was as the mountain blocked off the light. I began to regret wearing cycling shorts and no over-trousers. Good thing I had my light wind-proof and finger-less gloves.

beautiful views

The drop down to the other side was amazing. It’s one of the most dramatic descents I’ve ever seen, going through tunnels and swooping down the sheer cliff along narrow winding roads. I wished I’d had a GoPro camera to record it. Maybe one day! One thing though – it was bloody freezing. By the time I got to the bottom you could have snapped my fingers like twiglets. We chased into the nearest bit of sun to warm up a bit.

getting ready for the descent

pretty spry for a 59yo. Having a short stop in the sun at the bottom of the pitch

It was getting late (hence the cold) so we decided to head back immediately (we soon warmed up with the effort). I hadn’t anticipated that we would be cycling all the way back up the col again from the other side, and it was a much longer ascent than the initial pitch to the Col.

Up we go again!

It was better graded though, with a short 10-12˚ pitch right at the start which then levelled out to a manageable 5˚ or so and continued to have short steep bits and long less-steep bits. Although the climb was very long, I found it manageable and the sharp change from 8-9˚ to 5˚ felt almost like I was suddenly going down hill. We stopped a few times (it was a *long* ascent) and there was just one absolute swine of a pitch – climbing through 8-12˚ over about 1000 yards where I had to get off and walk in the end – only 50 yards or so.

On the way back down to the valley

As we were ascending this mahoosive thing we were passed by a jogger running all the way up and down the pitch. What a nutter!

We made it in the end and cycled back home. It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve done so far, my “first genuine alpine col” as BF put it. It was hard work and hell on the legs.

600m – FTW :)

ridiculous elevation graph :)

Later we went to a pretty amazing gourmet restaurant where I undid my good work a bit by indulging in some wine and an amazing 3-course meal. Oh well, it was a celebration after all :)

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Day 23: L’Argentière-la-Bessée and some French culture

Sorry this one is late people – we got back pretty late last night from the newest adventure. There’ll be a second post later today if I have time.

waiting for Bike Fairy in La Vachette

Yesterday the weather was pretty cold and my legs were still feeling it. The plan was still to go cycling though, and the grumblies had dealings in L’Argentière, a village 20 km out from Briançon, further down the valley. Bike Fairy proposed that we cycle there from Nevache and meet GM. Hopefully the weather would brighten up.

Just before leaving Saint Pancrace

It did pretty much – by 4pm when we set off it was nice and sunny, although pretty chilly. It gave me a chance to tryout my really light wind-proof jacket that folds away into a bag the size of my fist. Was good!

tunnel we came through – scary!

So most of the journey was pretty much straight down. It was a whole lot of fun – 40km might sound impressive but a lot of that was for free. The push down to Briançon was of course easy as usual and as usual I tried to maintain a top speed as much as possible, meeting BF at La Vachette Briançon itself was a nightmare as we were travelling in rush hour.

nice valley just before we turned onto the main road

We then head up through Villar-Saint-Pancrace (which I had explored the other day) and out the other side. Despite being a little chilly it was a nice day for a ride, and it was a fun track. We passed through a tunnel at one point, which was a little scary only because I couldn’t see what was underneath the bike (on a road bike especially you feel every bump, and have to prepare a bit for or avoid them).

Looking down from the peak of the hill

There was one pretty steep hill on the way which I managed to traverse without stopping, and there were some wonderful views at the top.

OM NOM NOM EAT THE BEAUTIFUL LANDSCAPE UP IT’S GOOD FOR YOU

We then headed down into L’Argentière and met up with GM in good old Roo. A really nice ride over all – really fun whizzing down most of the way, and unusually we came across some really well tarmac’d roads which, if you’re a cyclist you’ll know, is absolute heaven on a bike.

Good old Roo

The evening’s plans were to stop in Briançon and have dinner at the Chaussiere restaurant. I’ve been here several times before – it’s a lovely family restaurant with a nice atmosphere, but with one flaw: I have never seen a place with so much tack on the walls and ceilings in my life. On every surface and wall were complete collections of teddy bears, terrible woodland-scene paintings, bears (which were a bit of a theme), cowbells, bottles, skis, snow-boots, even a giant moose head.

I really wanted to play these bells. There were at least two reasons why it would be fun to run around the place with a mallet

We ate a marmiete piscine – a fish stew dish which was really tasty, although mine was not heated properly I think. Still, a nice change, although probably a bit indulgent. The next day (today) is Bike Fairy’s birthday so we’re heading out for dinner again!

mmm tasty

It’s hard to be abstemious when celebrating. Christmas is going to be difficult.

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Day 19: Nevache to St Pancras on a bike

Ok, that should read “Villar-saint-pancrace”, a small village outside of Briançon. Yes, I did the “same old” today but took it much further today. I had to re-visit the swimming pool where I had left my cycling shorts yesterday to retrieve them. Just going to the head of Briançon and back would be just shy of 40km and a good work out but I had to get the shorts, and Bike Fairy suggested I visit Villar-Saint-Pancras while I was there.

The way down was as ever fun and fast. Again i tried to keep my pace up as much as possible and make it a bit more “exercise”-y. Some of the villages have pretty bad road surfaces so I was a little worried for my wheels going through them. Ah well.

As i got into Briançon I noticed a big plume of smoke flowing over the valley which was a bit odd. I followed it down to the swimming pool, got my shorts and then headed off in the directions of Saint-Pancras, where it seemed to be coming from. It was obviously coming from a pretty huge fire but all I could see was that it was from some point further up. It could have been a forrest fire or a home fire.

Worrying smoke over Briançon

I never found out because as I travelled through Saint Pancrace (a mainly suburban and not very exciting village, at least what I saw) I was diverted at one point by three serious looking men. I’m guessing it was a house fire but could have been something more serious like a forrest fire – it’s a very wooded area.

Right after taking this picture I got diverted. It looked pretty serious…

pretty street in Villar-Saint-Pancrace

I headed back to Briançon. I had a secret mission to carry out, but by then all the shops were closed. The French notoriously take 2 hours lunch break every day which makes timing really difficult. I had planned to walk up the steep road to the Garguille (the fort around which Briançon is based) but I got my directions slightly wrong and in the end pushed my bike up an enormously steep back-road which lead to the main road at the top.

Looking down the enormously steep hill I just walked up

The Garguille at Briançon is a very pretty area and I mean to take some more pictures to show you. For this trip I just poked my head round the door and took a picture from the top. It is beautiful though.

The entrance to the Garguille

The top of the really pretty street inside the fort.

I then headed back. I made a bit of an error of judgement in terms of how far I had cycled and my timing, as I had not packed my lunch. I just had a bar to keep me going and with the smells of lunch coming out of every restaurant I started to get a bit desperate. I plowed on anyway.

chilling in Val des Pres

However the route back up the Clarée ended up being really tough. I’ve been used to just taking this in my stride recently and had almost forgotten that it had beaten me on the first day. I attribute not eating, having tired legs and it being an unusually long ride to my mood from then on. I had to stop a few times in Val Des Pres, Plampinet and by the road a few times just to give my legs a rest and prevent myself getting despondent again; I could feel my mood plummeting.

Found another thing in Plampinet to prop my bike against

I made it back though. I didn’t bother trying to cycle up the really steep bit up to the house and walked up instead. I got some lunch, a shower and a much needed power nap.

Looking back on it I’m quite proud of the ride though – it was a long one:- 52km, the furthest yet, and my average speed did not dip below 14km/hour. It was slightly too ambitious I think, and I should have brought rations to keep me going.

phew! Long ride. Note the ascent and average speed :)

Also one of the tools that always makes me happy when I use it sprang to the aid of my mood. If you open the export from Cyclemeter in Google Earth (you can download the raw kml file here). You can then change the elevation of your view using the controls in the middle of the compass symbol on the top right. You get a fantastic bump map of the alps showing where you’ve been and where you go.

Whenever I look at this I just get really excited about all the routes I could take. I had a look at the route Bike Fairy took yesterday (Nevache – col d’Eschelle – Bardonnechia – Oulx – Cesana – Montgenevré – Briançon). It just looks really exciting. Have a look and let me know what you think!

That aside, A little update on how things are going. The point of this thing I guess is that I lose weight and become more fit. I don’t want to lose track of that, however I want to point out that I’m not counting calories, or weighing myself, or any of the things normally associated with weight loss. I don’t know – in the past these things have just made me feel miserable. What I am doing is making a lifestyle change – eating healthily and doing something to exercise everyday, even if it’s just an hour’s walk.

I do feel better for it: I have developed a tan, I’ve been told that I’m looking slimmer, although I still think I’m pretty fat really – it’ll be a while before I see any real change there. I feel fitter, and can do more things I think, and am slowly getting less out of breath. I’m still a big man – lugging this stuff around with you is difficult, and so is putting up with having to talk about it to people around you, especially parents. I hope people in the same position as me reading this get something from it, but I understand how difficult it is – I’ve gone from living in a hole, feeling miserable and not really having any reason to leave the house to being in one of the most beautiful places in the world and having really amazing opportunities.

To me it’s important that I grab those opportunities and try and effect a life change. I can understand how difficult it is if you’re in the position I was in only 3 weeks ago. But then I don’t claim to have yet really ingrained this into me – I’ve yet to see how habitual it gets and how it works out in the real world. That comes after the end of my PhD. At the moment I’m just grafting away at it as much as I can and trying not to get too worried about progress, or failure , or how difficult it undoubtedly is.

Keep it real peeps.

EminanceGraisse

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