Alps 2013, 6/10, Leaving France

Today we would be leaving France for Switzerland, with an overnight in Italy planned along the way. We had planned to ride the St. Bernard Pass, but of course it was closed. As were all the good routes we had planned from Val D'isir area over to Italy. This would also mean there was no good way to avoid something I really didn't want to do - a huge tunnel.

Ever since watching one of those "Engineering Disaster" shows about the Mont Blanc tunnel fire I put them in my "no thanks" list. I had no desire to spend 20 minutes riding through a deep dark hole under the mountain with questionable escape routes. While we wouldn't have to do that particular tunnel (thank goodness) we would have to endure a different, though even longer, one - the 13km long Fréjus Road Tunnel. Joy.

After breakfast and a quick stop at the walled town at the top of the town (didn't even get off the bikes, save for another day) we head north to Italian border. There was a nice picturesque road (D994G/D1T) where I was able to blow out the carbs quite nicely, then over Col De I'Echelle, and switchbacks descend into Bardonecchia, site of the 2006 Winter Olympics.

We gassed up and headed to main road (E70/T4) to find another toll plaza. 27 Euro toll! Oh, right, the big tunnel. Spent what seemed like an eternity droning through the mountain as the temperature rose and rose to almost stifling levels at the center. The 64 degree day at the entrance was an 88 degree sauna in the bowels of the Alps. You could feel the cool fresh air about 1km from the end, and it was glorious.

From the tunnel exit near Modane we continued north west to Abertville, then north east to Chamonix on really dull straight roads. Some highway, some 2-lane, but nothing interesting. And it was raining. Made a quick snack break at a supermarket and huddled under their slim outdoor awning to keep out of the rain while eating chocolate. Turning into a pretty grim day.

Stopped for a proper lunch in Chamonix which was a very busy but pretty town. Parked the bikes and walked the pedestrian-only center to find a decent restaurant. Nice view of a glacier hanging off the mountain.

Best croissants in the world

My bowl of hot tea

Heading over Col De I'Echelle


Pano of Col De I'Echelle - full-res available here

Dave heads into the tunnel. You can see the switchbac he'll be riding just to the left

A better view

View from after the tunnel.

iPhone pano

Stopped for snacks. Sums up the middle of our ride that day.

Decent beer selection in Chamonoix lunch stop

Glacier hanging over Chamonix

After lunch we continued to our destination for the night, Martigne under sunny skies. The last bit of road descending to the town was fun with some switchbacks and tight turns, but it was over too quickly. We checked into the hotel (where I fell instantly in lust with the girl at the front desk, much to the amusement of Dave and Peter), rid the bikes of luggage and headed out again to see how far we could get up the closed St. Bernard pass.

This would be my first time really in the lead, as I had been responsible for the trip from Italy back. I didn't lay out any route for the rest of the day, just followed the sign to the pass and watched for interesting looking squiggly lines on the GPS.

Turned out we could actually get pretty far up the pass, and the road had some great twists and turns. Shortly after along open tunnel (gallery) the fun came to a stop where a gate barred further progress. It would have been quite easy to ride around the gate, but maybe it was too late in the day for hijinx. Detoured on the way down to follow a road up the side of the mountain that turned into quite the one-lane goatpath. I loved it, Dave not so much (just wait to see what trouble I get him in tomorrow). After the goat path we briefly returned to the St. Bernard road before another detour prompted by the GPS map's promise of twisties. This one didn't disappoint at all, a near constant set of switchbacks rising steeply up the mountain with only a little traffic. A good deal of the cars we came across also seemed to be doing this road just for the fun of it.

Walked to Italian restaurant (or should it just be 'restaurant' since we're in Italy?) after dropping the bikes off in the underground garage at the hotel. Tomorrow will take us to the awesome roads around Andermatt, or at least the portions we can ride that are open.

Viewpoint over Martigny

The road coming down to Martigny was fun, but too short

The end of the road on St. Bernard Pass.

Coming back down St. Bernard. Fun road.

St. Bernard

St. Bernard

Goat path off of St. Bernard Pass

Dave on the goat path - not loving it

Goat path switchback

Nice Lotus Esprit outside the hotel

The view outside my room in Martigny