I wasn’t sure what I was going to do on Thursday. It had seemed we had so much time to fit everything in, but with just two days left there was just so much I wanted to do, and nowhere near enough time to do it in. After weighing my options and then sleeping on it, I decided I’d join the group Mountain biking. They were driving up to the top of the Galibier and then taking the off road route back down, all the way back to the house. It was a little chilly at the top of the mountain but I knew it wouldn’t take long to warm up, and the further down we went the warmer it would feel anyway. The first bit of the route was on the road, only a few bends, but I haven’t done an awful lot on a bike. I also didn’t know this bike well, and it was a bit scary going round the road bends where the edge of the road turned in to a huge drop, with no barriers to stop you going off the edge. I soon found that, as with many sports (kayaking and horse riding most notably) I don’t much like being behind someone. My fear being that I’m going to crash in to them, and cause a huge mess.
I wasn’t particularly confident of the brakes on this bike at the start, and I needed them quite a lot on the steep mountain road. When we got to the monument, just before the route goes off road, we stopped for a couple more pictures and set off down the gravel track. I dropped in behind Rob, and headed off down the bone shattering route. I’d have liked to go faster but it was so bumpy my arms felt like they were going to get shaken off, and then the loose surface made slowing and turning for the hairpin bends a bit more tricky. We stopped after a little way to make sure we kept the group together as some were going at a more sedate pace. Everyone in the group was at different levels, and had different things they wanted to get out of the day. Matt was also hiring a bike so was in a similar boat to me with not knowing how it handles.
The track continued for quite a while being steep and rocky, but I gradually started to get used to the shake, and got a feel for the turning and so on. I’d also dropped in to lead, which meant I wasn’t worrying about crashing in to anyone, and I just hoped I wasn’t holding anyone up. Keith and Trevor who were shuttling the cars for us had driven round so they could get some pictures of us coming past (Keith would have joined us on the bikes but his wrist was too bad). Having checked I wasn’t holding anyone up I stayed in front after the road crossing, and the next part of the path got a little different. It was still bumpy but now more grassy with narrow ruts which I struggled with a little at first. I had a couple of wobbles where I couldn’t stay in one rut and ended up going back and forth between a few of them. Once I got the hang of looking ahead a bit further (This is something I’ve noted is necessary in kayaking and horse riding too) I settled in a bit easier and eventually the ruts evened out a bit. We went through a herd of cows (slowed down for them of course) and then the track started to get a little less steep.
It was still mostly downhill though, and now that I was more comfortable with the bike I started seeing if I could plan my line on the track better, and then rather than avoiding everything could I use a flat rock here or there to jump off and so on. Teeny tiny jumps but it made it really interesting for me. The scenery was stunning of course, as it has been everywhere we have gone during the holiday, and it was very nice to be rolling through the countryside. The route was taking us somewhat parallel to the Guisane River, and at times we crossed some little adjoining streams too. It was quite welcome to have a little cool splash, with the temperatures getting warmer now we were pretty much off the mountain. Rob and I seemed to be reasonably well matched for speed, with him having to overtake me where we came to any short uphill sections! I don’t like going uphill, it’s too much like hard work and I never know what gear I should be in to make life easier!
We had caught up with a group of French cyclists on the path and as both groups were stopping and starting to rest and let group members catch up and so on, we decided to take a break on the side of the path and let them continue so we weren’t constantly on top of each other. It was very nice to sit in the sunshine and let our arms have a little break!
After this the route took us through a wooded section and through a couple of little villages before we got on to a section of road. This had some uphill to it, so the group overtook me and I caught up with them where the route went back off road again. It was at this point I realised Matt was not here. I had thought he had gone past me with the others, but he must have been behind me. We had taken a few turns and wondered if he had gotten lost! After a few minutes sat by the river side and a bit of phoning round and looking we found him and carried on together again.
After this we came to the last couple of sections where the path went along the side of a leat (surface water drainage channels). On the other side of the narrow path was a steep drop and we were advised by those that had cycled it before, that if you’re going to fall off, go for the water! It was narrow and winding in there, with rocks and tree routes as obstacles. There were a number of times I had to stop and put my feet down to ‘walk’ the bike round or over them before carrying on. It was really important here to keep looking at the path ahead so something like this didn’t take you by surprise. Rob and I had gone to the front of the group again and got to the end of the first section of leat. We waited here for some time, knowing that not everyone would go through this so quickly. I was quite surprised to have handled it so well and felt really good. After about 15 minutes we wondered if perhaps the rest had taken one of the paths off to one side to head to the bottom so we decided we would carry on and meet them further down. A few minutes later I got a call from Keith, Sam had wondered where we were but didn’t have my phone number so had got in touch via Keith. They had taken a slightly different route to head to the ski lift station for lunch. We had stopped just above this when we were waiting so it was only a mix up in how we were getting down there. At this point it was going to be a long uphill slog for me and Rob to meet back up with the group and we were only about 10 minutes from the end of the forest track, so we agreed to just finish off the route now. We asked Keith to come and fetch us from there with the car and bike racks, as I didn’t really fancy a hard ride uphill back to the house; Rob didn’t take much convincing that this was a good idea either!
We were much too late by now to go out and do the Via Ferrata that we had discussed going to do in the afternoon, and actually I was quite drained. Although it was downhill, your core and arms get used a lot, and in the sun it still took a lot of energy out of me. I headed upstairs for a little lie down.... which turned out to be a long 3 hour nap! I was even more tired than I thought! We had discussed going climbing again if the Via didn’t work out but everyone was totally wiped out from the day (and probably from the last two weeks) so it was a restful evening in the garden again before dinner.
And so, our final day was upon us. It seems to have come around so fast, as the end to every holiday and adventure tends to do. With tidying and cleaning in the house needing to be done we only had the morning to get out to do some final activity. One group went out biking and the other went kayaking. I went to join the group on the water, returning once again to the Briancon to Prelles run. Sam hadn’t paddled since her swim on the upper Guisane last Saturday, so felt quite nervous, and I felt a little nervous too, but I couldn’t really figure out why. Keith wasn’t paddling with us as his wrist was still swollen and sore, but this would be the third time I had done this section of water and the levels seemed very similar to when I had done it last and felt so good here. In any case we got on the water, I made an eddy on river left and waited for the group to be ready to go. Keeping space was less of an issue down this river now, given its relative ease in comparison to others we had done, but I still gave myself ample room from the person in front to help settle my nerves. I soon relaxed and felt comfortable, but again made sure that I concentrated so as not to ‘fall over’ on something simple.
The section I had lead last time was exactly the same as before, although there may have been a small difference in the water levels it didn’t make any difference to the wave trains or technicality of the section. I kept well back at this point to give myself chance to pick my own line again. This time it was a much cleaner run, it felt smoother and I was quite confident as I went through. I also went to the eddy on the other side at the end to make it a little different. As the barrage was open (the Dam was releasing) we had to use a get out a little earlier and walk a few hundred yards down the road to the cars. I felt great but also a little sad that this marked the end of an amazing trip.
All that was left was to tidy and pack, ready for our journey home tomorrow. Keith and I walked in to the town to look for some presents to take home once our bags were packed, and then the group went out to a local restaurant for the last evening meal. I did take a few moments to look back at the holiday. Every holiday and adventure I go on changes me a little. I’m certainly not the same paddler I was when I arrived, I’ve strengthened a few friendships and met some new people, and I’m very happy that Keith and I had passed the ‘first holiday test’. I suppose as this was a big group holiday we did spend time apart when groups split up, but it was still a lot of time to spend around each other. Even the long trip home with us both exhausted (total 18.5 hours straight as we didn’t do a hotel stop over this time) didn’t have any problems.
I’m already looking forward to next year!