Sunday, 24 June 2007

Days 11 to 13 - Gray to Besancon to Sainte-Croix to Vevey

I left the youth hostel at Gray (which is part of a student/young workers' hall type place, thus single study bedrooms with the best intentions, as usual, but just couldn't get comfortable - as the sun came and went at 2 minute intervals I was either too hot or too cold all the time, and in the end I fiddled around and wasted a lot of time (a problem to which I am prone). I had intended to take a rather circuitous route west and south of Besancon into the Loue valley, but in the end decided that it would just be too far and decided to go straight through the town. The 1000th kilometre of the trip came up on the last draggy climb before dropping into the town, but that was really the only high point of the day. With storm clouds looming I decided to call it a day in the city - indeed, I'd probably already done so an hour or so earlier. I found a hotel just in time to get both myself and the receptionist soaked taking my bike to the garage. A very unsatisfying day.

Besancon was really the beginning of the real climbing and the end of the wearisome montagnes russes, the dead straight roller coaster roads of the flatter (but not really flat) bits of France that are both physically and psychologically hard going. Frankly, I didn't have a clue how well I was going to deal with the change in terrain, and one of the steps I took was to pack up all my now-redundant maps and a few other bits and pieces and post them off back to England, to save the odd kilogram or so. Of course, as I was raring to go, I didn't waste too much time checking the contents of the carrier bag with the maps in (almost everything was in carrier bags to preserve them from the pervasive dampness), with the hilarious consequences described below by De Vertalerin, namely that I posted my passport home. On the day that I was going to leave the open borders of the Schengen zone for what was intended to be a brief sojourn in Switzerland. But anyway, I didn't know that yet.

The skies were decidedly heavy and black, and were to stay that way all day, and although I never felt more than the odd drop of rain I was often riding on damp roads. The main road starts to climb straight away from the town as you pass the citadel, up the knife-edge ridge to the southeast and I settled into a decent rhythm on the little chainring and was fairly gratified to make it up what is probably a 200 metre climb without stopping, although losing most of the height again straight away was a little tiresome. Even on a Saturday the main road was carrying a fair volume of traffic, so I was happy to turn south on the D road towards Ornans.
This drags up for a way before plunging into the steep-sided valley of the River Loue to the town, which even a fairly ignorant passer through will note was the birthplace of Gustave Courbet. Onwards up the attractive gorge, passing through a series of small villages; stopped for a picnic beside the noticeably swollen river, where I fell into conversation with a former cyclist who commented that it did go up a fair bit from here towards Pontarlier; this was not a great surprise since I had bought an IGN map with real contour lines and everything. He wasn't wrong, though, and from not much over 200 metres I climbed to 750 metres at the head of the gorge, again maintaining a satisfyingly comfortable rhythm. There's something about being able to look back and see that you really have gained a significant amount of height that makes it almost easier than smaller drags and false flat. It was also dead pretty, of course, which helps too.

I rejoined the main road and climbed another hundred metres or so; not having read my map carefully enough I had expected a bit of a drop down to Pontarlier, but in fact it is somewhere around 800 metres above sea level, making my planned final climb of the day up to the Swiss frontier rather less challenging than I had anticipated. However, to make up for it, the last couple of km into the town were uncomfortably windswept and the road engineers have done a damn fine job of making sure you have to go half way around the ring road into the wind rather than just going straight into the town centre on the old road. Crossed back across the winding river Doubs and left town on the main Lausanne road, but after a few kilometres turned off up the road that leads up to the cross-country skiing resort of Les Fourgs - another 300 metres of climbing, and across the 1000 metre contour line for the first time, and then onwards to the Swiss border post. After I had related my journey to the border guards (and been asked, not for the first time, whether I had swum the Channel...) and fumbled around a bit in my panniers looking for my passport, he waved me through, but I was already starting to have my suspicions about what I had managed to do. I carried on, crossing my first official mountain pass (the heavily fortified Col de l'Etroite, 1153 metres) into the little town Ste.-Croix, where I found a cheap room above the local pizzeria
and holed up for the night.

As I had an invitation to visit 40%'s pz in Vevey on the shores of Lake Geneva, that was my next day's destination. Not very early on a sunny morning I started off by dropping rapidly to Yverdon-les-Bains at the head of Lake Lucerne, and then took the pretty, but really rather lumpy, road over to Moudon (back up to 800 metres asl again, and a fair few deep valleys traversed) and then southwards via Onons-la-ville, along a road with a bit too much false flat for my liking, before plummeting off the edge of the world, with Lake Geneva spread out before me and the Dents de Midi, which had been visible all day, behind it. I got a bit baulked by Sunday afternoon motorcyclists on the run down, and although I managed to exceed the speed limit fractionally, my fastest speed of the trip is still 62 kph on the drop down to Dover.

Now I'm here, the weather (picked up a bit of sunburn, carelessly) has broken, and is likely to worsen, with snow forecast on the upper reaches of the Grand St Bernard. I have covered 1175 kilometres from Old Market Square, but tomorrow it will be a matter of heading into Geneva to pay a call on the British Consulate. Wish me luck. And please sort the weather out.


Anonymous said...

Who the **** is Gustav Courbet? Is he one of those old-timers like Louison Bobet?


De Vertalerin said...

Kind of like Bobet, but with a paintbrush.

Phil said...

Courbet has a very famous painting in the Musee D'Orsay called the Origin of the World. Look it up.

Paul de Man said...

Thank you for this. I hope that you thought of Henry James in Vevey. Take care.

De Vertalerin said...

Daisy Miller?

Paul de Man said...

And perhaps The Ambassadors, I think.

Anonymous said...

You have brought back happy memories for me of losing my own passport whilst touring in France, um, a few years ago, and needing to go to the British consulate in Bordeaux. I hope the ones in Geneva are more helpful! :)
- Nick

De Vertalerin said...

Happened to us once in Limoges. The consulate were kindly but said it would take 3 weeks to provide us with new passports. My ex said, in an equally kindly way, 'That's fine, we'll just sit here every day until they're ready'. Paul de Man was three at the time and after he had bounced off the walls for about an hour they called the ex over. 'Go away and have a nice lunch. Your passports will be ready when you get back'.