The rain eventually stopped. We set off from Feurs for Vienne and encountered our first proper hills!
We were amazed at the vast scale of the Rhone and the amount of hydroelectric power being produced. Finding there was no campsite at Vienne, we faced another 14km cycle ride to Condrieu. We passed many vineyards before arriving and thankfully there was no rain! However discovering that my Spork had broken I was forced to use a tent peg to eat my pasta.
The next day as we travelled on to Chabeuil we spotted some Coypu.
These massive creatures, fortunately herbivores, are also known as water rats, look somewhat like beavers and have very large front teeth.
On arriving in Chabeuil we got our first view of the Vercours plateau. It was here where we could either choose to take the high road over the mountains or the low road down the valley.
We went to bed fairly certain that we would take the high road. However after a not very good night in the tent our decision was beginning to change. We also looked again at the map and realised that taking the high road would be considerably further than going down the valley and would involve crossing over at least 3 cols. Then a text message arrived from the other team of cyclists cycling to Die…
“We took advice from a local cyclist who almost choked when we said we were considering the north route. There is some serious hill climbing to be done if you choose that route. We are going in from the West.”
At this point we were almost certain that it would be more sensible to travel down the valley. However as the mountains glinted in the early morning sun we asked some local people on the campsite whether they thought we’d be able to make it up the mountains. The moment that we mentioned going over the mountains both looked very shocked and began shaking their heads, one said “C’est tres difficile”, (it’s very difficult) the other added “C’est trop difficile” (it’s too difficult!).
We looked again at the map and after much deliberating we decided it would be silly to take the low road and miss out the mountains that had be deemed to difficult to cross by bike!
We did however decide that we may not make it down from the mountain in one day and that we should stock up with supplies. We went back to the people who had told us the route was too difficult to ask whether there was a boulangerie between Chabeuil and Die over the mountains.
The answer was very clear “Non, il n’y a rien. Il y à seulement faune. C’est très sauvage.” (No, there is nothing. There is only wildlife. It’s very wild there.)
They looked very worried and returned with two loaves of yesterday’s bread that they said we had to take.
Thanking them we started packing up our tents thinking of disasters on the North face of the Eiger and “Touching the Void”. We were just about to leave when the man who had said that it was “Trop difficile” came up to us with a jar of jam, some apricots and some Pain d’epices (French gingerbread) carefully wrapped in cardboard. At least if we became stuck on the mountain we would not starve. By the time we left the whole campsite had heard of what we planned to do and we left to a chorus of “Bon Courage” and “Bonne Route”.
We hit the hill as soon as we turned out of the campsite and I began to wonder whether we had made the right choice in going over the mountains.
The road wound all the way up the hill until we finally made it to the summit of the first col!
After reaching 1086 metres there was a very long descent to an altitude of 641 metres. This was followed by more uphill climbing.
We were somewhat disappointed that it wasn’t “très sauvage” on the plateau as we had been told. In fact we passed many villages which contained bars, schools and even libraries!
We soon reached the top of the Col de la Bataille passing under a tunnel that revealed spectacular views.
Looking at the map we realised we were still a long way from Die and we began to wonder about wild camping in the mountains. We ate the jar of jam and peddled on. We were just about to stop when we saw the first sign for Die.
We carried on up and down stopping only to unjam Wilfs chain.
We travelled down into Vassieux en Vercours, a village that played host to many members of the Maquis (french resistance fighters) during World War II and as a result the village was awarded the “Ordre de la Libération” for its assistance to the French resistance.
We thought that from there it’d be all down hill but we were faced with yet another uphill to the Col de Rousset!
To Be Continued….