Monday, 25 September 2017

Our Very Own Tour de France - Day 32 - 35

Vars les Claux to Barcelonnette

Friday 22nd and Saturday 23rd September 2017

On Friday morning John decided he was going to swap all our tyres around - the two at the front were still legal but only just and we'd got 2 brand new ones - one on the back, and one in the garage as a spare.  So with Jack (his 2.5 ton lifting mate) he got busy and hopefully now T4rdis2 will have a bit more traction for going up and down the steep hills we keep finding in this area!  And once that job was done it didn't take us long to get packed up and put his handiwork to the test as we started our 15 mile descent from our lofty perch at Vars les Claux!

Our first task on the way down was to look for the 'Demoiselles Coiffees'.  If you read my last blog you might remember that I told you how these tall columns had been formed due to erosion - we found them but I think you would need a lot of imagination to make them into tall ladies with updo hairdos!

Demoiselles Coiffees
The road that descended from the Col de Vars (D900)  dropped us down into another area of The Valley Ubaye - the valley had traversed around the mountain we'd just been over the top of!  So once we reached the valley floor we once again had the company of the River Ubaye, and although it was very pretty, at this time of year it was really only a trickling stream with occasional stretches of white water, but it was easy to see by the rock formations how it would become a raging torrent when the snows melt!

We'd only planned a short drive today (about 30 miles) to the town of Jausiers where we were going to spend the night in their Aire prior to climbing The Col de la Bonette on Saturday.  This Col reaches the 2nd highest altitude in Europe and is  another of the top 10 drives according to Ultimate Drives! However, our plan was foiled because the Aire was just a bit of rough slopping gravel at the side of the road, but never mind - on this occasion we'd actually got a plan B. Unfortunately,  by employing it we had to go another 5 miles up the road to Barcelonnette and it was impossible for us to tackle the Bonette from there - but we weren't too bothered because we'd also got a plan C🤣 but hopefully the tale about that will come later!

After a bit of a round-about drive through the town and a squeeze across a little bridge that was only nearly wide enough for T4rdis2's girth we landed in a charming Aire that is surrounded by Autumnal trees and has more mountain views.  It's supposed to cost 6 euros a night but so far nobody's collected our rent s🤞it might be free!  And the added bonus is it's right at the foot of Col d'Allos so that was Saturday's entertainment sorted!

So on Saturday morning with Mrs 🌞😎 for company we donned our cycling gear and set off on a 13 mile uphill trek.  The pass connects the valleys Ubaye and Verdon and climbs up the very beautiful Bachelard Gorge, and really it was another of those rides that was 'between a rock and a hard place' - the rock being the cliff wall to our right and the hard place was several hundred feet down on the valley floor with not much to separate the precipitous drop from the edge of the road!  Our climb started on the 7 and 8% lower slopes and continued for just over 2 hours as we progressed towards the summit, but once again we enjoyed some fantastic vistas as we went.

We eventually reached our goal and found a perfect place to gobble our lunch overlooking the opposite side of the col - but we wont be taking T4rdis2 up there! As I said the road is narrow and precipitous and is restricted to 3.5 ton vehicles that are less than 7 metres! However we saw at least 3 big motorhomes taking there chance - we couldn't decide if they were brave or just very stupid!

Looking down into the Bachelard Gorge - but it was impossible to do it justice
And as usual, what goes up must come down - but that part of the journey didn't take us 2 hours!  Then once we were back safe and sound in T4rdis2 we could see black clouds rolling in over the mountains and hear rumbles of thunder in the distance ⛈- I'm just very glad we didn't meet that at the top of the Col!

Sunday 24th September 2017

A Flower Pot Cyclist!
Today it was time to put Plan C into action and try to get up the Bonette - the highest road that The Tour de France has ever climbed!  But even before we set off we knew it was unlikely we'd get right to the top - especially as our legs were still recovering from yesterday's climb!  The Col de La Bonette is 2802 metres high and the road up is 15 miles long, and we know from previous experience that our e-bikes can only cope with about 10 miles when the going is steep!  However, we decided we'd have a go anyway, and just enjoy the torture  adventure that we knew this ride would bring!  So, what was Plan C?  It was to drive  back to Jausiers and park in a car park right at the bottom of the hill, and then once we'd finished we'd return to our present Aire for another night.

And all went according to plan, but to start with I did wonder if we were going to be disappointed in what the Col de la Bonette had to offer after the fantastic vistas we'd been treated to yesterday on the Col d'Allos.

On the lower slopes we found ourselves following a small river valley through which the River Arbries tumbled through, but once we got above the tree line (which we did quite quickly) we found ourselves in a remote deserted unspoiled barren landscape that was strewn with cascading streams and rocky scrubby grass lands that are home to sheep and dozens of marmots who were not in the least bit disturbed by us riding by!

In the end we had to call it a day at about 2400 metres up (about 10 miles), but at that stage a very convenient and beautiful picnic site presented itself, so it was absolutely no hardship to settle with our chicken and avocado baguettes and drink in all the majesticness around us!

Then, as we'd been sat in lovely warm sunshine while we ate our lunch, we debated the need to put our coats and gloves on for the ride back down - we did and it was a good job because the Alpine air becomes quite chilly at 30 mph and above!

Then it was back to the Aire at Barcelonnette, and soon after we got there we realised we'd got a BIG problem that may curtail this tour!  Usually we can recharge both bike batteries from the T4rdis's lithium ion leisure battery  on our inverter without dropping it's power level by very much, but today we were only half way through the first bike battery  when we noticed our leisure battery was depleted by half! Obviously we stopped the charging process and John checked all the wiring etc but couldn't find any cause, and as it was late afternoon on Sunday there was nothing more we could do about it at that time.

Monday 25th September 2017

Well, the problem seemed to get worse overnight - this morning the leisure battery was almost completely flat - therefore, we'd got no power for heating and no warm water for washing etc. and we knew that if the battery became completely flat our water pump and lights would also fail! However, after a couple of hours our solar panel had recharged it to more than 50% and by the time we'd completed a short drive it seemed to be up to about 80%.  But there was obviously a problem because once we started using it again the power level dropped like a stone.  It clearly wasn't going to sort itself out, so for now we've located a motorhome dealership in the town of Gap (about 50 miles away) but they're closed today.  Therefore we've moved back closer to Gap and we're keeping our fingers crossed that with their help our problem might be resolved either tomorrow or on Wednesday.

We'll let you know how we go on in the next post!

Click here to see our French camping spots