So this week I will be mainly having myself sectioned before curling up into a little ball in the corner of a room with suspiciously soft walls and sucking my thumb. Or possibly I should just check myself into one of our local psychiatric sanatoria, which we like to call ‘campsites’ so as not to stigmatise the residents, whom we let out now and then to roam about the roads and hopefully gain from associating with normal well-balanced people. Though since most of them seem to use the opportunity either to bike up hills or watch other people biking up hills I might suggest that a change of regimen is in order.
Following last weekend’s triumph on the Col de l’Echelle and a slightly poxy rainy Saturday, I decided that the best way to spend Sunday would be to cycle up the Col du Glandon. No, I have no idea either. Probably what psychiatrists call a fugue state.
According to mappy.com, the trip from Bourg d’Oisans to the col is 36km. I wouldn’t use this site to do anything important like work out your holiday itinerary if I were you, because it was blatantly nearly 45km, which looks to me like something in the order of a 30% margin for error. (I could easily be wrong about this though – feel free to mock me in the comments section if so.) Mappy also estimated that it should take a cyclist 2h20 to complete the route, suggesting that the site is run by Team Sky on their down days.
Still, I have no doubt that the whole thing was character-building and most certainly a valuable learning experience. And here’s what I learned:
1. http://www.mappy.com is rubbish. Because obviously I would have changed my mind about the project had I realised it was 45km and not a mere 36km.
2. Just because roads look straight on the map does not mean they will be in any way flat. It just means those bits which look like the wormcasts you used to find on the beach have the same sort of gradient as Beachy Head. Next time I do this sort of thing I will look at the route on a walkers’ map which has sensible information like contours and altitude written on it. (Did I say ‘next time’ just then? Someone please lock me up.)
3. It is a bit chilly at 2000m, even in July. Let’s face it, I really ought to know this. There’s no way I’d go hiking at that altitude without a rucksack containing fleece, GoreTex jacket, trousers, woolly hat, first aid kit, head torch and spare ferret. There is no real reason why, just because I am riding a bike, I should consider it acceptable to be up there in not much more than my vest and pants.
4. It’s positively arctic when you’re whizzing back down at 50kph. I ought to know that as well, given how much time I spend explaining windchill during the winter season. It began to dawn on me that this might be the case when all the pro-looking types at the top started emptying the pockets of their proper cycling T-shirts (no-one else up there in a Marks & Spencer vest, I couldn’t help noticing) and pulling out arm and leg warmers and fancy lightweight windproofs. Half way down, the sun went in and I arrived back in the valley literally shaking with cold, something which makes steering interesting, to say the least.
5. Cycling is not the cheap pastime it at first appears. All you need to do is buy the bike in the first place and you’re off, right? Wrong. Clearly I should have leg warmers and a (no doubt extortionately expensive) windproof jacket. And one of those cycling T-shirts with pockets along the back to put them in.
6. It’s not even cheaper than driving. If we believe mappy (which possibly we shouldn’t), driving up there would have taken me half an hour and cost all of 3,47€. Replacing the calorie deficit took a pint of fruit smoothie (banana, raspberry, fromage blanc, honey and milk – try it, delicious) plus a pizza, all of which tots up to a good 12€. More if I have the seafood pizza. I can get half way to the parental chateau in Burgundy on 12€ worth of petrol, for God’s sake.
7. Cyclists are lovely. Nobody passed me who didn’t shout ‘Allez!’ or ask how I was doing, or say something unintelligible but vaguely encouraging in Dutch. Two people offered me their expensive energy gel thingies, and I suspect I might actually have died of cold and exhaustion if it wasn’t for the fisherman who stopped his car, fed me madeleines and told me he too had cycled the route and it was indeed ‘tres dur’.
Next weekend’s activities may involve camping, wine and books. And just to make sure, I’m lending the bike to someone else (I suspect this is a bit like handing out free heroin samples). Maybe I could do a bit of gentle cycling the weekend after though – the Col d’Ornon perhaps. Or Lautaret. Or Alpe d’Huez.