Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Day 10: Col du Parpaillon


One of the highlights of the 2005 Tour was Col du Parpaillon, a gorgeous off-road pass that was isolated and pretty --- perfect for a Saturday ride when the asphalt would be full of weekend warriors. Since we had a car, we could drive all the way to near Embrun, get dropped off, and then ride back to Barcelonette without a load. The last time we did this, I had 25mm tires, and I expected the ride to be a snap with 28mm tires.

Well, the drive to Embrun took much longer than expected, so despite an 8am start we only got started around 10:00am. We started riding, took a wrong turn, and then came back and met a mountain biker on the road going up to Col du Parpaillon as well. His name was Arjan, and he worked at CERN as a physicist, and was traveling to see a friend elsewhere in France, stopping here and there to ride his mountain bike. He seemed a little disappointed to see that the trail was expected to be so non-technical that roadies on touring bikes were going to climb it.
From Tour of the Alps 2011
From Tour of the Alps 2011

The road eventually turned into dirt as expected and we found ourselves climbing in the shade for a kilometer or so before getting up into the sun with the expected clear views. "I was cursing your name for a bit down there," said Phil, "but the road is now a lot easier to ride."
From Tour of the Alps 2011

In a little bit, we encountered another cyclist coming down the road on a cycle cross bike. Unlike American cross bikes his bike had long-reach caliper brakes, a superior design. He warned us that the tunnel had ice that was a foot tall, and while he could normally ride it on his cross bike, this time he had to walk. I was pretty happy about that, since that meant there would be no cars on this ride.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

As we got higher, the views got prettier and we stopped for lunch at an empty hut. We felt blessed by the weather and the scenery.
From Tour of the Alps 2011


Towards the top, almost all vegetation was gone as we approached the stream crossing. On 28mm tires we could just ride it without any concern whatsoever. The views took on characteristics of very high mountains, though unfortunately my happiness about traffic proved futile. Despite the tunnel being closed there were a lot of SUVs on the road, though many were forced to turn around at the tunnel.
From Tour of the Alps 2011
From Tour of the Alps 2011

At the tunnel were a pair of 70-year-old cyclists who had climbed it on their mountain bikes and were about to ride through. Arjan and I waited until Phil caught up, and then we proceeded into the tunnel.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

With powerful battery lights, this time I felt competent to tackle the tunnel. I rode the first 500 meters until I could barely see, and then I tried walking for a bit but at one point ran into water that just ran across the width of the tunnel, terminating in some ice. Since getting feet soaked was a guarantee with further walking, I got on the bike and rode to the ice, managing to hop onto the ice on foot without getting my feet more than just a bit splashed on by wheels. What was in front of me, however, was hilarious.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

A car driven two people had ignored the tunnel closed sign and driven in anyway. This car had gotten stuck inside the tunnel on the ice. This was no problem for a cyclist, since a cyclist could just walk past the car. However, the drivers had enlisted a bunch of motorcyclists who were wearing rubber riding boots to push their car along. With a lot of shouting, cursing, and screaming they finally pushed the car through. The two drivers were lucky, since as a cyclist wearing cleated shoes rather than rubber boots, I would not have been able to help even if I wanted to. To prove that stupidity belonged to all genders and nationalities, on the other side of the tunnel I noticed that the drivers looked French and were women.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

Poor Phil got his socks wet inside the tunnel, and so had to wring out his socks. I spied saw that the motorcycles were about to get going, and I did not want to be stuck behind the two idiot drivers, so I followed the motorcyclists down. A bunch of ATVs were coming up the road as well, but fortunately for me, they slowed the car down far more than they slowed me down. Near the bottom I waited at the hut which was closed today and had no food, but Phil didn't show up for 10 minutes. I let the car past and then rode down to the intersection with asphalt and waited there.
From Tour of the Alps 2011
From Tour of the Alps 2011

I waited for half an hour but Phil finally showed up looking no worse for wear, though he said that I had reset his calibration for what a lot of off-road riding was. The ride back was uneventful, but I was more tired than expected given the lack of a load. The problem with getting older is that my days of daily riding 2000m and 100km seem to be over.
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