Sleeping in the back of a camper van doing 120 kph through the pouring, pouring rain – it’s an odd experience. I woke in the half-light of evening, to the noise of giant trucks being overtaken, sending waves of spray over the windscreen. Looking forward into the cab, I see the route finding being done by a combination of satnav and small fox terrier.
A full and frank exchange of views toward the end of the journey: “I’m not going over the Col d’Allos. It made Dawn cry.” But not going over the Col adds an hour and a half to an already endless journey. And you’ve never even seen it. “I don’t care. And it won’t be open anyway.” Finally, inevitably, we reroute the satnav via Digne. Long discussion of what each of us has to do as a forfeit if the Col later turns out to be open/closed.
Weird, hard-to-pin-down sense of dislocation on arrival: probably tiredness, but we’ve been on the move for a while – maybe this is just what it feels like to stop. The chalet looks amazing: like all buildings in long use, it had accumulated ill-defined stuff in its nooks and crannies, and Hammy and Emma must have worked unbelievably hard to get it this clear. Thank you, guys.
Our first full day is bright and sunny. Packing up and making arrangements to be out of the country for a while is incredibly laborious (though I bet it gets easier the more often you do it). The view from what’s going to be my desk feels like the start of the payback.
More payback: that afternoon I ride up the Col on the old road bike that lives out here, hanging from the wall. It was open, just, with ice over the road for the last 100 metres or so. Last time I rode up here it was in summer, on a Saturday when the roads were closed. The road and the Col itself were busy with riders. Today I have both to myself, but 5 minutes taking photos at the top and my teeth are chattering.
It’s so cold on the way down that my fingers keep slipping off the brake levers, which makes for a nerve-shredding descent. I don’t finally warm up until I’m in the shower.