Hi all. Well sir, I found an abandoned car that hadn’t been taken away by the scavengers. It’s where I found it that is the interesting part of the story, though, so maybe I’d better get back to the beginning.
As some of you know, I am on a personal multi-year quest to visit every French Departement by bicycle. Specifically, I am trying to complete the Brevet des Provinces Françaises of the Federation Française de Cyclotourism our national cycle touring group. The departments of metropolitan France with a couple of exceptions (region around Paris, Corsica) each have six designated sites that must be visited to complete the challenge. That makes for a total of 534 sites, and visiting them is not easy as they are often in high places like the col de Tourmalet, or in remote parts of the country like Belle Isle. It has taken me fifteen years to get through 66 departments and I’m still far from finished.When I can, I try to collect a few of these sites, and it happens that in the departement of the Isere there were two sites reachable from Grenoble that I had yet to see and I had a couple of free days to do it. Not only that, but the time to get a new bicycle is at hand (and when is it not, you might ask) and I am going to finally splurge on a made to measure bike built up to my specifications. The small frame-building shop of Cycles Cattin is in the Grenoble area, so while I was there I thought I would get myself measured for the new bike. But more on that at another time.
The two sites I wanted to visit were Laffrey, a village to the south of Grenoble situated some 900 meters higher than the city, and St. Pierre de Chartreuse which is on the far side of the Col de Porte to the north. Last Monday , I took the train to Grenoble and booked myself into the Best Western for three nights. I arrived early which gave me the time to ride around this very bicycle-friendly city, but finally the heat defeated me and I sought shelter in the airconditioned hotel while waiting for supper. It wasn’t time completely wasted though, as its July and the Tour de France is on, so I could watch other, much younger guys suffering in the heat on TV. Dinner, as it turned out, was of fairly mediocre quality, much to my dissapointment. I had done a search on one of the ratings web sites and picked what it said was the best restaurant in Grenoble. It was supposedly Greek, but in the event turned out to be sort of Balkan, with a heavy Bulgarian presence. The entrées listed on the menu were a variety of “Greek” salads which proved to be one type of salad with four different toppings. The main courses were either roasted lamb kabobs or a goulash, which was given to be the special of the day. I took the goulash even though I know that Hungary is not technically a Balkan country. It proved to be made of tough pieces of beef in a rather mild sauce which “complemented” the rough Cretan wine the house served with it. My faith in web site reviews was severely tested by this, but then the owner/waiter/bartender came around with a “special” digestive drink. This I soon determined was nothing more than lemon flavored vodka. Looking around, I saw that the owner was serving liberal amounts of vodka to everyone in the restaurant. After every course, another shot, and should you express interest in the libations, the shots just kept coming. Now I understood those glowing reviews I’d read. Nothing improves bad cooking so much as alcohol, and unlimited consumption of 80 proof doubtless can make even the worst goulash palatable. I declined the shots, though, as the last thing one needs while riding up narrow mountain roads is a hangover.
The following morning I got up early to take advantage of the chill air and set off towards Laffrey. The early part of the ride was on separated bike lanes through Grenoble and into the suburbs. Getting briefly turned around in Vizille, I rode alongside the very busy N85, but fortunately there is a wide shoulder to the road and I was soon on the path to Séchilienne alongside another busy road but in a clearly marked bike lane. From there to Laffrey it was all climbing with grades ranging from six to ten percent on a narrow, shaded forest road generally free from traffic and unbothered about safety features such as guard rails along side the steep drop to the valley below. It was there that I cam upon the wreck pictured above. The engine and a few other pieces had been removed but the body was left to the elements and the graffiti “artists”. Because heavy trucks are barred from using this road, it will no doubt be there for a while longer. The cool mountain air was nice on the way up and the views, when the trees would allow, spectacular. That’s Vizille in the middle distance lying in the valley below. The ride down was quick, but very cold and I was grateful to be in the sunshine for the remainder of the trip.
My afternoon was spent getting measured up for the new bike and discussing with the builder what options I want, what geometry I prefer, and what type of riding I will use it for. When the new machine is finished I’ll post a complete story about it, but for now I’ll be mysterious and not tell more. Supper was at a restaurant featuring local cuisine, which, this being the Alps, consists of melted cheese on potatoes and assorted cold meats.
The following day I took the high road to St. Pierre de Chartreuse. The route passes three cols, but it is one continuous climb from Grenoble to the Col de Porte before descending at a steep angle to St. Pierre. The views were again spectacular. As other cyclists intent on conquering the climb whisked past, I told myself that I was only admiring the view, not catching my breath, or I needed to drink, or eat and one can’t do that riding one handed on a well travelled road, can one? After La Sappey-en-Chartreuse, the gradient moderated and the climb was much easier. I was chased up the col by a group of young fellows on roller skis. I only wondered how they would handle the descent on their skis with the braking being somewhat chancy on those.
St. Pierre is a stunning Alpine village. The descent into town left me chattering my teeth with cold and I went into a sporting goods store conveniently placed on the village square. The storekeeper quickly diagnosed my problem and offered to help, for a price of course and offered me a choice of cycling jackets. I bought one made from some space-age carbon-fiber-type fabric which weighed practically nothing and that later proved to be very good at keeping me warm while descending from St. Pierre to Voiron. The ride down was through a narrow canyon punctuated with tunnels, one lane bridges, and caves leading off to the side. I stopped just outside of Voiron for lunch in a bistro of pork roast and spinach, and was once again on my way. I descended further to the Isere river and followed the bike path along the dike bak to Grenoble, a shower and a nap. Dinner was fresh fish (cod) and veggies, nice but not special. I was out of the hotel at eight the next morning and walked my bike across the street to the station where the train was waiting to take me to Lyon and onward to home. I got home in time to watch the Tour stage of the day. A nice three days brought to a successful conclusion.