The trip so far
Day 7 numbers and route map
Distance - 28.8km Ascent - 1547m Descent - 1292m Highest Point - 2020m, Col Du Blainon
Today we were supposed to keep pushing on as we realised only yesterday that we still had a lot to do, and not a lot of time left to do it in. We quickly came to realise that today was not going to be a big day however, we felt our legs weary the moment we set out from camp that morning, we didn’t have any food for breakfast and there was no shop in the village next to where we had camped either. It wasn’t long before ‘let’s just get to St-Etienne-de-Tinée then we can chill out’ became common phrase in our conversation. Luckily we only had a small and fairly easy fire road hill to climb before a descent into St-Etienne which we span up slowly, the sun was out and it was set to be another scorcher of a day, you could really tell we were getting closers to the south coast, fortunately the morning’s hill was mostly under tree cover which kept the sun off our backs.
We emerged out the other side of the forrest with a great birds-eye view of St-Etienne-de-Tinée and quickly found the trail down which basically zig-zagged its way down the mountain side following and crossing the road several times. The trail turned out to be amazing, I quickly managed to forget the tiredness of the morning and started feeling like turning the speed up a notch down this trail! The way it was sunken down between old crumbling walls as a result of years and years of use and erosion gave it a lot of character, it felt really cool to be riding down this sort of tunnel between rock and trees, literally giving you tunnel vision, keeping your eyes focused on the obstacles hurtling your way. I’m not sure exactly what it was but something made this track feel like some of the race stages I had been doing at the beginning of the year during the southern French enduro series, I suddenly found myself flying down the trail, gapping sections and using anything I could find as mini berms and kickers! I should probably get a slap on the wrist for riding down a trail where there might have been walkers and i’m sorry Jan for leaving you behind a little, but everyone survived and there were no hikers in town today, must have been too hot. Not sure I should be admitting this on the internet but shh don’t tell anyone. When I arrived at the trail fork and found a cross awaiting meI decided to wait for Jan in the shade for a while before we rode the last section of the trail together.
Annnnd then.. we arrived in St-Etinne-de-Tinée, now where is that boulangerie….
I’m not sure what was up with us today but we just felt knackered and ended up spending a lot of time in the town, lazing around, watching people, drinking coffee, eating food and stocking up for the next couple of days followed by a lot more lazing around. We met up with some french friends we had met at yesterday’s coffee shop, this showed probably more how lazy we had been getting up and setting off this morning late than our pace as despite the fact they were hikers, they had managed to catch us up due to their early rise. We hung out with them for a while before heading down to the river to try find a spot for a paddle about and cool down, it really was hot now as we headed into the afternoon.
We had a little faff with the bikes and did a bit of maintenance before almost forcing ourselves to begin the long 500m road climb to the ski town of Auron.
After riding through so many remote, idyllic french villages full of character and charm we had become a little spoilt with romantic architecture so when we arrived at the monotonous apartment blocks built to house the thousands of skiers that visit Auron in the winter we were a little disappointed. We didn’t feel much like hanging out for long here as just felt a bit empty, emphasised by the tiny out of crowds, the only reason we did stay was as a break from riding in the strong sun.
The ride up from St-Etienne was on a huge wide road, wide enough that there was barely any shade, we had spent the last two hours spinning up in the heat and trying to ride through any tiny piece of shade we spotted. The site of springs and fountains in the village was a saviour and we made a b-line straight past any cafes or shops to find the first one we could to plunge our heads into, of course the fountain was at the very top of the village!
After speaking to various people to try and find ourselves a decent map of the resort we headed off up the hill out into the sun once more to try and negotiate a maze of empty ski pistes and downhill mountain bike trails, to find probably one of the only trails on the hillside that wasn’t designed specifically for bikes.
It was a bit of a slog up to the top of this pass, having to push up a wide open empty ski piste that cut through the trees, it was too steep and loose to ride up and there weren’t really any views either (I feel like i’ve been in a very complainy mood today!) so to be at the top with a nice singletrack trail awaiting us down the other side was a very welcome sight indeed.
Despite the fact we were not so high here we could see a long was down our route, in both directions, first looking forward to the mountain we were planning to climb this afternoon. The original plan today was to get to the top of Le Col de Crousette which stood at 2480m, now seeing what the meant in reality (that low point in the horizon line in the photo above) we realised that was probably a bit of an overestimation of our energy levels at this point. The new plan would be to ride this trail, chill at the bottom for a while and then hike up so that we were at least out of the trees, hopefully with a bit of wind, away from the bugs and flies for a decent night sleep.
Looking back you cold see all the way to the towering cliffs of Le pas de la Cavale from the day before, from here it really did look like a beast with its dark black slopes and jagged edges cutting into the skyline. We asked ourselves if we had really ridden down there?! Where was the trail? It all just looked like cliffs and too steep from here.
It is satisfying to get this kind of perspective on our trip, we rarely had a chance to see ‘far ahead’ with deep valleys or high mountains usually blocking our view and never a clear path through them. When you take on mountains this big you need to break it down into tiny chunks and set yourself small goals otherwise the task just feels overwhelming, ‘ok let’s get to that waterfall up there’ or ‘4 more switchbacks up then we’ll have a break’, but to stop and be able to get a sort of overview of a couple of days from one viewpoint makes you realise you are travelling somewhere and that you are making some good distance day by day, I think this was the most exciting thing about the whole bike packing experience, just travelling a long distance completely under your own steam.
A fast and flows start turned into a tight and technical challenge towards the bottom of the trail into Roya, passing between old ruined barns and houses falling to bits that we once again dreamed of renovating. We met our hiker friends from the days before sitting at the cafe again and decided to join them for a quick coffee. I can’t say the owner of this cafe with particularly inviting but we didn’t have much choice in the village of about 10 houses and a church, our friends were staying here for the night but we decided to climb on higher up the pass to cooler air so set off as the sun started to head towards the horizon.
A mere 200m from the cafe and we passed over another river, Jan just couldn’t resist another swim.
By this point our bikes had taken a bit of a battering and the the signs were starting to show, a brand new tyre before the trip had been shredded away, looking like it had been through months or even years of abuse.
We only climbed for another 45mins or so before we managed to escape the bug fest that would be under the cover of the trees. As we crossed the stream for the first time the valley opened up a little to give a flat area which was ideal for camping, there was even a huge flat rock that was ideal to sit on and cook but on closer inspection it turns out to have a giant ant nest in it, that was the end of that idea then. We made sure to set the tarp up far enough away so as not to be carried off by ants in the night, had dinner by the stream and sent ourselves off for an early night!