[You can find the first instalment of this blog here]
The next morning everyone else at the refuge got their march on at around 8am and we suddenly found ourselves all alone. Feeling like the faffers holding everyone up, we got ourselves outside and eventually left around 9am. The sign post said it was a mere 3.2km to the Col de Péas, our high point for the day. We set off what turned out to be one incredibly beautiful valley. There were a lot of stops: there was a lot of valley to admire. It wasn’t long until we were enjoying lunch at the top, where we met the two young chaps some of us had crashed in front of the day before. It turned out they were heading in a similar direction.
The trail down the other side stretched out before us, and the finger-post said it was a whole 7km to Souliers, our intermediary destination. Oooh.. that’s quite far! After our lake-fail on Day 1, we were dead keen to find a lower lake to cool off in, and as luck would have it, there was one at 1800m. This could be it! It was only a smidgeon off route, so with high hopes we set off. Less rocky than yesterday’s trail, there was some serious speed and flow to be had from this one – it was mint! We passed the old ladies again, and I got another round of applause. After what seemed like quite a while, we came to a junction. Aha… some uphill – well, it was more of a traverse actually. But it did go up hill. What’s the best thing about traverses halfway down massive descents?! It’s the fact that you get a moment to look around you, and really appreciate where you are. We took the opportunity to drink in our surroundings, flopping into the grass for a rest and a dose of the outside world – coming into a pocket of phone signal, Rob and Pease were suddenly bombarded with messages from home after our foray into the back of beyond the day before.
A few minutes later and we were off again, the trail descending swiftly towards a larch wood. I love riding in larch woods! Yippee! This one was great. The trail snaked its way down the hillside, interrupted every-so-often by a switchback. It was so much fun that once we really got started, there was definitely no stopping for any photographs or to see where anyone else was. Rob and I pinned it from top to bottom!
We were now within striking distance of the lake, and with just a little excitement about a swim on this very hot day, we pedalled the 5 minutes round to the appropriately named Lac de la Roue (roue = wheel in French). How disappointing it was to find that it was full of reeds – there’d be no swimming in this one. Foiled again. All the same, it was a lovely spot for second lunch so out came the sweaty cheese, questionable ham, some “team sausage” and a bottle of Heinz Andalouise sauce that I’d been carrying for a couple of days. Yum yum 😀 . Afterwards we returned to Souliers for a coffee. And who should we see when we got there? Yep, the old ladies again! With a wave of greeting we had a quick chat and learnt that they would be staying there for the night. I have to say I was a little sad that we wouldn’t be seeing them again as I’d enjoyed seeing them on our journey so far, sharing mutual “félicitations” for our achievements on the mountain.
Up until now, my background research told me that all of the trails we were to do were rideable, but next it was a jaunt into the unknown. Someone had pointed out a good trail to us, but the access route was simply a possibility… it crossed a scree slope on the map, so how rideable would it be? We smashed down the road for a little while, and quickly discovered that there was no need to worry – someone had made the trail into a great big fireroad! Reaching our final trail, we were rewared with long fast straights interspersed with some very rideable hairpins. Once again there was no stopping – just tooooo much fun! And when we popped out on the road below, we had a great view of the chateau itself. Spot on! Day 2 done and dusted… well apart from the 300m ascent back to Arvieux in the hot hot afternoon sun. Ooosh, that was a horribly sweaty schlep back up the road!
Our gite d’étape this time was Le Teppio. This crazy little house (with some crazy kittens including one who fell off the balcony and amazingly didn’t die) had a trail going right form the garden! How cool was that!
After dinner we hung around looking at local tourist paraphernalia for a bit, and then we noticed that David had disappeared. He wasn’t downstairs and he wasn’t upstairs. Hmm. By now it was dark, so the rest of us got on with going to bed and were just about to turn the lights off when he returned with news of a possible trail to ride the next day – and thus avoid losing some height on the road. I handed him the map and we had a look. He’d found a trail I’d decided against because it had a bit of hike-a-bike in the middle of it and I thought it’d be better to just pedal up the fire-road alternative. Thinking about it though, avoiding a slog up a fire road in the hot sun sounded much better and so guiding duties were momentarily passed to David.
The next morning we got away about 9.30 again, and set off on David’s discovery. There was a little climb to begin with and then we came up to a junction just in front a group of walkers. We’d been about to have a faff, but upon spotting them it was action stations! Go go go! We found ourselves riding along an awesome little balcony trail alongside an old water race. It was an absolutely great start to the morning, warming the legs up nicely just pottering along through the woods until we reached the uphill section.
For an ascent, this little piece of trail was sublime. Not because it was rideable, but because of all the dreams it evoked within us. It was a beautiful wood with the trees spaced just enough for grass to grow bright and strong, and shafts of sunlight to sneak through the branches high above. “Hey, this wood would be awesome to ski down in winter!”, “whoa, check out the flowers!”, “ah man… this’d be awesome to ride down”. It was rideable in places, eminently pushable too, and refreshingly cool in the shade from the sun. It didn’t really take long to reach the high point and we agreed we’d traverse round to meet the fireroad “carefully” so as not to faff putting knee pads on. And so it was, until we got to a set of switchbacks with an incredible view over a big scree field. There’ll be some photos here then! Pease got into position with the camera and we donned our knee pads. Each corner held its own challenge, and I think only Rob successfully negotiated the first one.
Crossing the scree field, we quickly came to the fire road that would lead us up to the Col de Furfande. David and I have done this ascent before. Last time we ended up pushing up the final part because it’s just that bit steeper than even a 30-42T gearing seems best for. I’ve got one of those XT 11-46 cassettes this year, and thought I’d definitely be able to pedal up this time. Wrong! Perhaps it was the extra weight in my bag, or the previous two days catching up with me, but it was definitely more efficient to put one foot in front of the other rather than weakly grinding my way up to the col. On the upside, I found some trail treasure in the form of a neatly folded 50 Swiss Franc note… so neat and fresh that I actually couldn’t believe it was real! David and Rob managed to pedal the whole way – well apart from the bit where they had to push around a couple who had managed to get their small 4×4 stuck in snow (and now partially hanging off the edge of the track) just below the col. Oh dear. Hopefully they got the car back onto the track ok! Pease was a while back but bearing in mind he had a whole bag of camera gear plus his normal stuff, that was quite understandable.
There was a cold wind up on the col so we didn’t dilly dally for long before dropping into the fast and flowing trail round to the Refuge de Furfande, where we’d be stopping to eat.
We really took our time about lunch, this was a holiday after all. Panachés, omelettes, coffees – why rush? In fact, if it wasn’t for the descent awaiting us, maybe we’d never have left. I’d quite happily have stayed admiring that view for a long long time, and I think the guys would have done too.
It was both reluctantly and excitedly that we eventually left – the trail was clearly visible, a serpentine ribbon flowing down the hillside just calling out to be ridden. Once again we were not stopping here for photos – there was much too much fun to be had! Suddenly the trail dropped away more steeply and we were presented with a whole bunch of switchbacks swiping their way backwards and forwards across the hill. Pease slung his backpack off and grabbed the camera – this needed some photos! After a few goes trying to get rad around one corner in particular, we continued. The trail became rocky and exposed, with good line choice absolutely critical – going over the edge here would not be a good idea. It was brilliant! Picking a good line on a moment’s notice is just the best! Perfectly timed, the trail became less steep just as we started feeling like we could do with a rest, and continued more gently now around the hillside. We met another group of walkers and one lady stopped to have a chat with us, telling us proudly that two of the group were 88 years old. Wow! I told her I hoped I’d still be out walking at that age. Privately I thought how nice it was that the walkers in this area seem a lot more open to mountain bikers – friendly and almost welcoming. They’re not bad in the Les Arcs area, but I wouldn’t call them friendly. Just tolerant. The attitude in the Queyras was most refreshing.
Carrying on we finally reached the road for a gentle pedal to Ville-Vieille and our accommodation for the night, Gite Les Astragales. More local beer, and there were games at this one! Tonight’s fun (after an excellent dinner) was a brilliant few rounds of “redneck” Jenga, whatever that is! Some strange new version invented by the boys… just look at that very precarious tower!
Come back tomorrow for the final instalment 🙂