So after 2 weeks off at Beteille with Phil, Laurence, Hugh, Leo, Carmen, Lingo, Winky, UBF, the sheep and the chickens: it was with a heavy heart that I packed up my things, loaded up Betty and set off. This time it was different. This time I was heading east towards countries unfamiliar and vast, heading east indefinitely for around 3 years until I return to Beteille (and then back home). The trip was now no longer going to be a breezy stroll through familiar settings meeting up with friends and having all my usual comforts. It’s a completely different type of monster now: and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
For the first couple of hours back on the road, Phil, with Hugh and Leo in tow, joined me to see me off and get me going in the right direction. After Gaillac we said our goodbyes, they turned around and I continued onwards. After Gaillac I passed through Albi and then into the vallee du Tarn.This would begin a 9 day stint trapped in valleys which I wouldn’t emerge from until my second day in Italy.
My journey through France continued in the same form as before: it got better and better each day. First the vallee du Tarn, followed by the vallee du Dourdou and then a truly epic descent from the village of Alzon down through le Vigan, Ganges and St-Hippolyte-du-Fort. Keen to increase progress I took to a main road: the D994/D94. It was straight, flat and had a huge layby for cycling in and made me change my original route to Briancon. I decided to stay on this road all the way to Gap. Whlst the road was fairly flat and quick, my surroundings were becoming much grander and lush: I was cycling into the Alps.
A highlight at this point was reaching Lac de Serre-Poncon after Gap. I was almost done for the day but saw it was only 19km to the lake. I pushed on and was richly rewarded. I managed to pitch my tent with a view over the lake. That night a few texts wth my dad brought about the decision to head to Ancona in Italy and take a ferry to Split rather than head through Slovenia. My parents are flying out to Dubrovnk at the end of may for a weeks holiday and to see me. My original route through the top of Italy and through Slovenia put a lot of pressure on me to get there in time. Now with this change I could relax and had a half day cycling the following day wth time off spent playing my guitar and some general housekeepng (tentkeeping?). That night I spent my last night in France pitched at the bottom of a valley and I was set up for the final push towards Briancon and what I knew would be some huge climbs getting through the mountains and into Italy.
The next day it was about 1pm when I began the ascent. Switchback after switchback, I idled up the pass at walking pace, my legs grinding my way towards Montegenevre and the border crossing.
2 hours later I reached the top of the climb at 1854m. After a couple of long tunnels I emerged and saw road signs that were blue. I had made it into Italy after over a month spent in France. After a long, cold descent to the town of Cesena I decided to try and get to Sestrieres before setting up camp. The implcations of this decision would not be fully realised until I lay in my tent that night several hours later buzzing with adrenaline and euphoria.
From Cesena I began climbing again. The mountains around me now seemed bigger and there was a mist and a cold that brought about a new atmosphere from France. My map shows altitudes along the road. At Sestrieres I couldn’t see any mention of altitude with each subsequent altitude on the road showing a decrease in altitude. I naively had it in my head that such a major town, as it appeared to be on the map, and the fact that it is next to a river, that it would be similar to Cesena. However the road kept ascending and with a steeper gradient than the climb to Montegenevre. By 6.30pm me and Betty crawled into Sestrieres to discover a sort of abandoned former winter olympic town, full of shut hotels and designer outlets. I had climbed to 2035 m and was above the snow line and fricking cold! I thought maybe I would have to just pitch the tent put on all my clothes and hope my sleeping bag would keep me warm. Then I decided that I should just try and get as far down the pass as possible. I put on a few more layers and sped off down from Sestrieres, the cold chill blasting in my face and numbing my hands. As the valley appeared out from the mist in front of me I could see that the road was all downhill and would continue like ths till Pinerolo. Such was the ease of the descent and the speed at which I was going, along with the thrill of it all, I thought I could reach Pinerolo, 62km away, in a couple of hours without turning the pedals. As it was getting late I turned off and pitched next to the river – exhausted and exhilirated, ciao Italy!
Now the blog will return to just media updates (videos, music etc). Next up will be video slideshows with music from this part of the trip, Italy and Croatia. I currently have 2 weeks off in Trpanj and Orebic, in which I’ll be putting the final touches to my first musical release of the trip.