The trip so far
Day 9 numbers and route map
Distance - 56.3km Ascent - 1521m Descent - 3214m Highest Point - 2012m, Mont Chalancha
Finally the day has come that we will ride down from the mountains, into the city and be able to jump into the sea for a celebratory swim! 9 days of galavanting around the French alps on two wheels dragging tents, sleeping bags food and clothes culminated in a bit of an epic day, the longest so far in fact.
Since we had seen the elevation profile of the last 50km of the route in a hikers GR5 guide book a few days ago we were totally under the impression (read delusion) that our last day would be basically all downhill, from up high in the mountains, right down to sea level. Oh how wrong we were.
We woke up perched on a hillside at almost 2000m, reiterating the - sleeping higher is better on this trip - since we had brought super warm sleeping bags and the weather was also very warm, especially now we were almost at the Med, we didn’t realise it at the time but we still had 56km to go and another 20km to my friend’s place at the end of the day, something I only realise now having plotted it onto the map.
We had to make it to Nice and then along to my friend’s mum’s house in Villeneuve-Loubet along the coast and we had been told we should be there no later than 7-8pm so for once on the trip we had a deadline, therefore for the first time on the trip we made ourselves get up a bit earlier.
We set off… uphill. At this point we genuinely thought we would just have this first 1km or so to get up onto the ridgeline then there it would be, Nice, away in the distance and we would just fly all the way down the ridgeline to the sea.
But as we found out, and you will find out further down the page, there were many uphills and even some hike-a-bike on our descent down to Nice, I guess the scale of the map in our friend’s guidebook was somewhat large and hid all of the little up-ticks on the elevation profile.
The morning was fuelled by cherries we had found by the trail the day before, unfortunately all the rattling about riding down the trail made a rather sticky mess inside the little bag however (I still haven’t washed that bag to this day). We rode some some nice singletrack down past Month Chalancha and Mont Tournairet which got our hopes up for the day, thinking we would be treated to this kind of this all day long. It was a great section of trail, not so steep of rocky a rare chance to get some speed up on this trip.
Quick stop to have a nosey around an abandoned church at Les Granges de la Brasque and on to some pretty cool singletrack that followed the road down the mountain cutting out the long switchbacks the road made and sending us on a cool technical rock descent.
That soon came to an end though and we were headed back up, but it was ok, just a little bit, traversing around the side of Le Crête de Casal towards Le Brec D’Utelle.
Once we got near Le Brec D’Utelle we could see that it rose quite high up above us, up into the clouds even. As we got closer we could see that there was not going to be any path around it on the side we were on so we assumed it would hook up, over and round the other side at some point. The closer we got to the cliff face the more we worried the trail was going to take us up and over the top of it.
Sure enough we ended up on an almost 200m hike-a-bike to take us over to the other side.
The above photo is quite possibly my favourite from the whole trip, I was really not expecting this to turn out as good as it did.
The first part of the descent was a mega steep tech fest but it soon opened out into fast single track through the woods!
Further down as we approached Utelle the fast flowy singletrack gave way to some very exposed sections! Definitely a bit of ‘don’t look down’ in some sections.
We dropped down into Utelle, the first proper village of the day, to stop for lunch. We had food from the day before but we felt like we had done a lot already so we wanted to find a shop for some extras, only one problem - there’s no shop in Utelle, so that was that out of the window.
We sat in the square and had the food we had then this is when the nerves started to kick in, I was getting a bit stressed out that we still had a bit to do and we needed to get to Villeneuve-Loubet in time! I think the map we had was for the Mercantour region meaning that we had reached the edge of it and we weren’t really sure exactly how far we had to go.
So unlike other days we didn’t laze around so long at lunch and go a wriggle on down the trail.
The trail snaked along the hillside following the contours on the land, quite easy going but we didn’t last long.
When i’m in a hurry I get this sort of mentality into my head that if I push the pace just a little bit and start to ride ahead slightly then whoever else is with me (that also needs to hurry) will realise we’re in a hurry and follow my pace…. In reality however, this probably does just the opposite. After about 3-4km I turned round as Jan rode up to me, he got off his bike, took his bag off and just sat down, he looked awfully sad, he explained it was tiredness and he just had to have a rest here. Thinking about it, I was just as tired but the stress of getting to our destination seemed to be fuelling me with adrenaline and keeping me going.
We sat for 20-30mins and just chilled out in the shade, lying in the grass util the batteries recharged, and when I say recharged I mean like when you’re about to go out the door but you’re phone battery is on 8% so you plug it in quickly and by the time you leave it up to a mere 15%, enough to ‘probably’ last until you get back.
There’s a bit gap in photos between our trailside nap and just before Nice came into view, mainly because we were tired, stressing out and in a hurry to get to the end but also too tired to do so.
I’ve never ridden a nice dry, technical descent in the Alps just thinking ‘oh god, please let me just get to the bottom of this trail, please be the end, please be the end’, but here I was riding down a great trail and hating it. The trail down to the valley bottom from Utelle is really good, full of rocks and nice technical sections but this just wasn’t the right time for it, we were yearning for that final ride down into nice but we could see we were dropping down into a valley with another nice climb up ahead. I’ll have to go back to enjoy this trail some time…
Up the next climb Jan managed to loose his water bottle, so while he went back to look for it I decided to race up to the next village, find a shop and buy some energy. If anyone remembers a few posts back, there is a photo of Jan after I gave him some coca cola and he might as well been high on cocaine in the photo, so Coke was Jan’s drug and I rushed off to buy some… and some Mars ice creams for some reason. I went back to meet jan at the top of the climb with the liquid sugar.
It really felt like the weather was closing in and it was going to chuck it down soon so we pedalled on, trying and failing to take a couple of short cuts via the road instead of trail, funnily enough this was the only time on the trip we got lost and had to turn back, eventually making our shortcuts into long cuts before reaching Aspremont, the final town before Nice itself!
I think the sight of Nice in the distance gave us motivation to get the camera out again. One more up and we would be looking down to the sea!!!
After more uphills and extra pieces we had not expected FINALLY - Nice! This is the money shot, the view we had been dreaming off for days.
This actually turned out to be one of the most lethal sections of trail on the whole trip by the way, full of razor sharp rocks, total puncture alley. Luckily there were no tears…
As we dropped out of the last little section of trail before hitting the tarmac down through the city we looked back to what we had been running from all day, a very dark and thundery sky threatening us with a soaking any moment. Please don’t come today, we haven’t gotten wet for the whole trip.
We buzzed through the slightly surreal feeling busy streets of Nice, with so much going on, down to the beach front pulling a few wheelies for the fans and sending it down the last tiny piece of descent of the steps to the sandy beach.
WE MADE IT!!!
Landing on the beach and taking off our bags, putting the bikes down, getting undressed and running down into the sea for a swim was a great feeling! For those that know me well, they will know that I hate swimming even in waters considered tropical templates by most, but on this occasion I didn’t care, it was the celebration at the end of our trip and if not anything else, I had not had a proper wash for more than a week.
When we got out we realised how unused we here to being around a lot of people given we had seen hardly anyone in the last week, a tell tale sign being the sizeof Jan’s towel which would pass as a flannel in most situations, not quite enough to cover up his modesty whilst getting changed.
I must admit, standing there after our swim with all our gear and looking around at all the tourists lying on the beach - I felt a little smug. Thinking about what these people come on holiday to do, lie there on there beach with their beer bellies like proud mini mountains rising out of the sand gradually turning themselves shades of pink more akin to a lobster, not having any clue where we had just been or what we had just accomplished, yeah it felt kind of nice.
I’m sure people do far harder and more adventurous things every day than we just did but for us the GR5 by bike was an incredible experience.
The ride wasn’t quite over there, we knew after our swim we still had a good 15-20km to cycle along the road my friend’s mum’s place, I think by this time we didn’t care too much about being late and just enjoyed the ride along the coast as the sunset and enjoyed the flat tarmac roads.
This was the first time me and Jan has tried bike-packing so we were not really sure what to expect. It was harder than we expected for sure, the heavy weight of the packs making it much slower going uphill and the top heavy load on the bike meant that any small bump on the trail at slow speeds threw you off balance and we used much more energy staying in control, on the way down however I can’t say we noticed the weight affect us so much and we enjoyed the trails down just as much as we would have without big bags! The feeling of travelling point to point every day is great and something we’ve never really done before on a bike either, the sort of satisfaction that builds up as you slowly move across a country, along with the ability to just pitch up your camp for the night in some dreamy locations makes bike-packing a winner for us.
As for the GR5 route we chose, if you have followed all of the articles until now then I think the photos will speak for themselves, the views, passes, trails and villages we passed through make for some fantastic sightseeing and scenery. Not only did we ride some of the best trails we’ve ever ridden but we were travelling through some epic landscapes which in my opinion is the perfect combination.
I think I’ll end like I begun this series of articles with saying… this is definitely the best biking trip I have ever done, if you haven’t already tried bike-packing then I would recommend it in an instant.