Pyrenees, Alps, Dolomites Solo

Discussion in 'Epic Rides' started by DolphinJohn, Sep 29, 2012.

  1. DolphinJohn

    DolphinJohn Caveman

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    I decided this was the year to see Europe. I originally planned to see as much of the continent as possible and had delusions of riding from Barcelona through the Alps, up to see a friend in Poland, shoot across Germany to Amsterdam, down to Paris, etc.
    Thanks to the wisdom of some of the inmates here at ADV who never hesitate to tell you when you're doing it wrong (and I can't thank you enough) I realized that I would be missing too much by trying to see so much. One quote was something like "you might as well just stay home and ride up and down I-95"

    I decided to just take all secondary roads and enjoy where I was, concentrating on the Alps, instead of trying to see all of Europe in a month.

    I am so glad because this turned out to be such an epic adventure and I don't regret a thing.

    I arrived in Barcelona on the morning of September 2nd and spent a day exploring the city by way of the subway system.
    I picked up the bike the next day from IMTBikes. These guys were great and this is a great rental company with locations around Spain and one in Portugal. All of their BMWs are less than a year old and in perfect condition. http://www.imtbike.com I can't say enough good things about these guys. They also do guided tours.

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    Sergi from IMT helped me plan a nice route out of Barcelona through the Pyrenees to get me over to the Route de Grand Alps. He even gave me two maps as a parting gift.

    Early the next day I started my journey. The weather was perfect, clear skies and warm but not too hot. I made my way out of the city, stopping to top off the tank for the first of many many times. I'll never forget the feeling of being underway, filling the tank knowing I was leaving the busy city streets and heading out in to the unknown.

    Quick side note: Coming from a state where lane splitting and filtering are not only illegal but likely to get you killed by an irate cager, it took a little while to get the swing of it but I was soon riding like a local.

    So I was on my way and the riding started getting good right away. The first day was long, too long really. 500 kms and I vowed that I would not do any more long days like that. The route took me through the Pyrenees and Andorra then up to Carcassone. The mountains started small, much like the Appalachians, but got much larger on the other side of Andorra.
    The roads were really fun, lots of connecting turns and beautiful scenery. I was grinning in my helmet.
    I didn't take too many photos the first day, but here are a few.

    I loved seeing the old buildings and I loved how in the small villages the narrow streets would wind between the buildings sometimes barely a car width apart.
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    Roads in Europe are generally in really nice condition.
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    Day one route:
    <iframe style="height: 270px; width: 450px;" src="http://www.mapquest.com/embed?hk=NXW9zB" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0" scrolling="no"></iframe>

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    #1
  2. alcanrider

    alcanrider alcanrider

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    Back in Superior, Colorado!
    I am jealous, and can't wait for the rest:clap
    #2
  3. g®eg

    g®eg Canadian living in exile

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    nice!

    :lurk
    #3
  4. Arek Kontrol

    Arek Kontrol Been here awhile

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    Im in !!!:lurk
    #4
  5. DolphinJohn

    DolphinJohn Caveman

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    So, after my first French meal (canard, of course- they eat a lot of duck in France) and a good night's sleep I went to check out Carcassonne's medieval walled city.
    Here's a little Wiki blurb: "Carcassonne was founded by the Visigoths in the fifth century, though the Romans had fortified the settlement earlier. The fortress, which was thoroughly restored in 1853 by the theorist and architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997".

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    My route that day led me through a mixture of rolling pastures and vineyards and also some forest with nice twisty, hilly roads. Notice the sign in the photo below, just a triangle with an X. There is definitely something you should not do, haha. I think it means there is no shoulder.
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    This day I learned the French word "gravillons". There would occasionally be a little triangular sign at road level with a little picture of a car spitting gravel. This was really the only area where I encountered loose gravel and at least they were good about placing the sign before each bit of it.

    I was really in heaven now. I would twist my way through the countryside for a while and then come upon another little village. The scenery was beautiful, nothing too dramatic yet as would come in the days and weeks ahead but just as I had imagined what the French rural area might be like.
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    Around mid day I came upon the large town/small city of Castres so I stopped for lunch in one of the small cafes along the Agout river.
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    The town was quite congested and I remember looking at all the different European cars that we don't see much here. Renault, Peugeot, Citroen and some more familiar ones like Audi, BMW, Mercedes.
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    After lunch I left the bustle of Castres and was soon out in the country again. One of the little villages I rode through was Belmont-sur-Rance with it's striking 16th century church.
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    A rock outcropping I deemed worthy of a pullover.
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    There were times when I would see something and stop to photograph it with my state-of-the-art piece of photographic equipment, the iPhone, and lots of times where I couldn't stop or the sun was behind the subject, or I would just think "you just stopped, you can't photograph everything". I tried my best to capture where I was and what I was seeing but there is much that will remain only in my memory.

    I soon came upon the renowned, and honestly, awe-inspiring Millau Viaduct. Wiki says:
    "The Millau Viaduct (French: le Viaduc de Millau, IPA: [vjadyk d&#601; mijo]) is a cable-stayed road-bridge that spans the valley of the river Tarn near Millau in southern France.
    Designed by the French structural engineer Michel Virlogeux and British architect Norman Foster, it is the tallest bridge in the world with one mast's summit at 343.0 metres (1,125 ft) above the base of the structure.[3] [4] It is the 12th highest bridge deck in the world, being 270 metres (890 ft)[1] between the road deck and the ground below.[5] The viaduct is part of the A75-A71 autoroute axis from Paris to Montpellier. Construction cost was approximately &#8364;400 million. It was formally dedicated on 14 December 2004, inaugurated on the 15th, and opened to traffic on the 16th. The bridge received the 2006 IABSE Outstanding Structure Award."

    Seeing this massive structure in person is amazing and made me literally gasp in disbelief. The size of it and the span it crosses are like nothing I had seen.
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    After passing under the bridge I rode through the valley to the northwest and climbed a steep switchback road that gave me a good perspective of the bridge and the valley it spans. These photos are a right to left view of the entire valley.
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    Passing by another small village,
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    before entering the Gorges du Tarn with it's super fun canyon road and gorgeous scenery.
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    Houses built along the steep cliffs of the gorge.
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    After the gorge I was riding in open country on what I would soon discover was a plateau. This stretch of road was so fun I just had to stop and get a picture or two. I was the only one for miles and the visibility made it possible to really fly along.
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    I realized I had been on a plateau when I came around a bend to see this.
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    Down in the valley is the town of Florac where I would spent night two.
    I first had to make my way down.
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    I checked in to the hotel, Parc something?
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    Then walked a couple blocks to the center for dinner.
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    Four cheese pizza with roquefort, I had passed through the town it's named for earlier in the day. (Roquefort, not pizza)
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    That night I slept like a baby, probably smiling in my sleep.

    Day two: much easier 270 kms (167 miles)
    <iframe style="height: 270px; width: 450px;" src="http://www.mapquest.com/embed?hk=Sqg9ry" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0" scrolling="no"></iframe>

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    #5
  6. aharbi

    aharbi V-Rider

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    Please excuse the intrusion. I took the liberty to stitch together your panoramic shots. The gap between pictures was too wide and I was unable to include the bridge.
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    #6
  7. The Walrus

    The Walrus Gone and back again.

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    +1

    :lurk
    #7
  8. Wildman

    Wildman In my castle

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    Knew you were coming over and have been looking forward to this. Sorry we didn't meet up.
    #8
  9. Ruan

    Ruan Adventurer to be

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    Nice :clap, count me in...:lurk
    #9
  10. DolphinJohn

    DolphinJohn Caveman

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    Hey thanks, that's cool. I wasn't thinking about it being a panorama as I was taking the photos, it just sort of worked out that way.

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    #10
  11. DolphinJohn

    DolphinJohn Caveman

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    Thanks, Wildman, you were one of the ones with good advice for me. I appreciate it.

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    #11
  12. GvG

    GvG Been here awhile

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    Dangerous intersection ahead, with right of way from the right.
    #12
  13. DolphinJohn

    DolphinJohn Caveman

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    From Florac I headed east through the city of Ales and on towards the Rhone River and the Alps beyond.

    This is grape and olive country.
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    I had a nice lunch somewhere between Nyons and Remuzat :D
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    The bike was running perfectly, the roads were beautiful, I was having the time of my life.
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    There are many, many, seriously a lot of tunnels in Europe.
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    I didn't ride any dirt or gravel so this must have just been a turnout.
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    I was in the Alps for real now as I got close to Barcelonnette.
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    The little mountain town of Barcelonnette and it's magnificent backdrop.
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    Dinner. Appetizer included black pudding. I wanted to eat local food so I went for it. It was ok.
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    Hmm, I wonder how fun my 640 LC4 would be in these mountains with a 17" front......
    The guy riding this one said it's like riding a mountain bike.
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    Day three, around 280 miles (450 kms)

    <iframe style="height: 270px; width: 450px;" src="http://www.mapquest.com/embed?hk=V2gB5j" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0" scrolling="no"></iframe>
    #13
  14. DolphinJohn

    DolphinJohn Caveman

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    Now you tell me! :lol3

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    #14
  15. Wildman

    Wildman In my castle

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    No worries, mate. Enjoying your pics. Will have a read later.
    #15
  16. shaweetz

    shaweetz Been here awhile

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    Subscribed! I'll be curious to see if our routes intersected each other, since we just got back from Italy. Looks like a great time.
    #16
  17. DolphinJohn

    DolphinJohn Caveman

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    Well, I just clicked on your link to check out your report and it looks like we did indeed cross paths.

    Don't you remember, I waved at you? :D

    I'll try to remember the dates and post them on the report.

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    #17
  18. shaweetz

    shaweetz Been here awhile

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    Who knows, maybe I caught you on my gopro :). I will also stick in some dates on my next update.
    #18
  19. DolphinJohn

    DolphinJohn Caveman

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    Day 4, leaving Barcelonnette and heading north along La Route des Grandes Alpes. That means lots of high cols, or passes. This day would have me going over Col de Vars, Col d'Izoard, Col du Lautarat, Col du Galibier, Col de l'Iseran, and maybe some others I can't remember.
    This day would have been September 8th or 9th I think.

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    Perfectly maintained roads, beautiful scenery, cyclists, and European riders going really fast.
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    Trying to be creative here with a glacier in the mirror.
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    I always loved when there was a view of the road ahead (or behind), I wasn't always able to stop and get a photo but here's one:
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    I like the slate roofs and the colorful flowers in window boxes in this little town.
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    Looking down at the village of slate roofs after climbing up a few switchbacks.
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    Another slate roof up in the mountains.
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    This was a day where I didn't have a set destination when I took off in the morning. I was going to stop in Aime but I felt like going a little more. A little turned in to a bit more than I wanted but it was worth it as I ended up in the beautiful town of Saint Gervais. This is next to Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps at almost 16,000 ft.
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    The view from my room.
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    What a day. Probably the best single day of riding in my life up to that point. But I was just getting started......

    Day 4, 390 KMs (242 miles)

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    #19
  20. g®eg

    g®eg Canadian living in exile

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    that's Galibier isn't it?
    we were sat at that light waiting to get back thru the tunnel September 12th.... in the snow. We never made it down the side you are coming from. We came up from the other side via Col de Telegraphe and had to turn back. Your weather looks much nicer :thumb
    #20