2017 Italy and France Alps and Pyrénées cycling trip

Shut Up Legs

Shut Up Legs

Down Under Member
Heading home, and Conclusion

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Heading Home

Another lodger, Andrew from Canada, arrived at the lodge's breakfast table this morning. He'd arrived at the lodge at 0200, due to a delayed flight. While I waited for my taxi to Lourdes, I watched him start to reassemble his bicycle, which he'd brought in a box, so he could leave for his first ride. I wished I could stay, and ride also, but unfortunately the fun bit was over. :sad:

The trip home was much like the trip to Europe in reverse, but with a pre-booked train trip included. I first took a taxi from Saint-Savin to Lourdes, between 15 and 20km and costing me about 38 Euros. The taxi fares are roughly the same as in Australia, but with one difference: the taxis arrive to pick you up on time. In Australia, waiting for taxis is a frustrating experience. :banghead: Booking the taxi was easy enough, because Olive at the B&B called one for me that morning.

From Lourdes, I took the SNCF TER train to Toulouse, which took a bit over 2 hours, and left and arrived on time (again a contrast to Australian trains). I then took a 1.5 hour Air France flight to Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport near Paris, and couldn't get out of that place fast enough! That airport's too big, and getting from my arrival gate to the departure gate at a different terminal in the airport wasn't much fun (and involved a bit of fast walking and jogging, and the use of an inter-terminal shuttle bus). I arrived at the departure terminal with only 25 minutes to spare before boarding time.

I then had a 6 hour flight with Etihad Airways to Abu Dhabi, endured the chaos that is Abu Dhabi airport (a badly-run place, in my opinion), then took Etihad Airways again for the 12.75 hour flight to Melbourne, arriving there around 0430, very jetlagged. :tired:


Yes, I did a bit of this, although it was mainly the occasional food and drink purchase, and cycling jerseys and t-shirts to commemorate the major climbs I did. These included:
  • 2 jerseys with a Stelvio + Gavia + Mortirolo theme, and 1 t-shirt with the same theme.
  • 1 jersey + 1 t-shirt for the Col du Telegraphe + Col du Galibier climbs.
  • 1 jersey + 1 t-shirt for Alpe d'Huez.
  • 1 jersey+ 1 t-shirt for Mont Ventoux.
  • 1 jersey+ 1 t-shirt for Col du Tourmalet.

Learning from the past

As I mentioned, I wanted to improve on the previous trip, and learn from any of its mistakes (although there weren't many, because that trip went fairly well). Improvements this time around included:
  • longer cycling distances and more climbing;
  • more days spent overseas, to help offset the huge distance needed to travel there and back;
  • using my own bicycle saddle from day 1. Last time, I did 3 days of riding on the saddle provided with the hire bike. Even though it superficially looked similar to my own bicycle saddle that I brought with me, it wasn't similar enough, and by day 3 my bottom was hurting a great deal! :B) Once I put my own saddle on the hire bike, the pain just vanished, and I was fine for the rest of the trip. This time I used my own saddle for all the days of riding.
  • last time, I had a problem with a powerboard I brought with me: somehow a bad wall power outlet at one of the hotels fried the board, and I had to buy some French USB wall chargers at one of the road houses (termed 'Aires de service' over there). This time, I brought several different chargers, a powerboard, and a few miscellaneous wall socket adaptors, including several portable chargers for use on the road. No frying occurred this time, and I didn't even use all that hardware, but it's better being overprepared than underprepared.
  • I brought my own front and rear bicycle lights this time. Last time, the tour company said they'd provide lights, but they didn't, which was a bit disappointing. I used these lights a few times, in some of the longer and/or darker road tunnels in the Alps.
  • Last time, I didn't bring baggage with wheels, and my shoulders didn't thank me for that, so this time I brought 2 cases with wheels and telescopic handle, one larger to check-in, and a smaller one for on-board (the latter carefully measured to meet the carry-on size and weight requirements of the airlines I travelled with).
  • I tried to make more of an effort to learn French (and Italian) than last time. I didn't learn that much more, but at least I tried, and of course while over there, I picked up bit and pieces from road signs, menus, newspapers, etc.
  • better use of the smart phone. Last time, I didn't turn on global data roaming, only using the global voice/text roaming. This meant I couldn't use internet (e.g. to check weather reports, send text messages to family, post gratuitous wish-you-were-here-in-the-sunny-Alps photos to CycleChat and family) during the trip unless I was in range of one of the hotels' wifi transmitters. This time, I turned on global data roaming, and it wasn't too expensive, compared to my overall trip costs. For about 16 days overseas, my phone company charged me $125 in total. Their charge per day for global voice/text roaming was a fixed $5 per day, and another $5 per day for the data roaming, so I expected about $170 but it turned out to be even less than that, so I was happy enough with it.
  • more pre-trip cycling training: I didn't really improve much in this department, although I tried. It's hard to get motivated in the middle of winter, even if you're training for a trip where it's summer.
  • doing the rides I skipped last time. Last time, for various reasons, I skipped the Col du Telegraphe, Col du Galibier and Alpe d'Huez climbs, and this time I'm happy to say I did them all.
  • not being sunburnt: in the September trip last year, I didn't use sunscreen lotion when I should have, and ended up sunburnt on my arms, my legs just above the knees, and my nose. This time, I remembered to apply the lotion just about every day except for 2 I think, and avoided any sunburn. I just ended up with a nice summer tan, which I still have, although it's fading slowly.

Trip Report

Writing it was hard work.:heat:

First, I had to decide which of the 1700 photos I took (and the 1000 taken by Richard in the tour group, since he and I shared our photos with each other) to show in the report, and ensuring I kept the number of photos per post to 22 (which seems to be the limit imposed by the forum software). I then resized them all to 1280 x 960, with the thumbnails for each being 320 x 240. Once this was done, I uploaded them all to Google Sites: this is a free online storage site which allows you to create multiple sites, each site with a 100MB limit (for this trip report, I reached about 70MB).

Then, I had to split the report into 18 sections: one per day of cycling plus some extra ones. After that, I hit writer's block, as the scale of the writing task ahead was a bit daunting. During the trip, I made daily diary entries on my phone using a memo app, which helped, as there were so many events on each day, I knew I'd never recall them all unless I noted them all. So eventually I copied these to the trip report, and voila as the French say. :laugh:

The CycleChat forum software makes writing trip reports quite easy: it's nice using a forum with modern fully-functional software behind it. Thanks, @Shaun !:bravo:


Some final observations on the trip: the mountains are very quiet and have minimal traffic noise, so it was very peaceful, which made the frenetic traffic noise in Melbourne all the more jarring on my return. Although the weather can be unpredictable with mountains this high, it was generally good during my trip, with very little rain or strong winds, but then I did go there in mid-summer.

Upon weighing myself at home, I found I'd lost 2kg, and given how much stronger my legs felt after all that cycling, I knew I'd lost some fat and gained some muscle, which was part of my mission. :okay: On last year's trip in September, I broke even, i.e. my weight remained the same (but I also lost fat and gained muscle on that one).

The strained right leg muscle near the knee that I suspect I strained durings days 2 and 3 of the tour (probably the most physically demanding 2 days) recovered after about 3 weeks, the first week back at home I did no riding (I was still on 1 more week of holiday, so no commute rides), then 2 weeks of commute rides. It feels fine, now.

I also missed Italy and France, and never really wanted to leave. It was nice being in countries where cyclists are just accepted as normal road users (provided they do the right thing, and follow the road rules and don't do anything stupid on the roads). While using the roads in Italy and France as a pedestrian or as a cyclist, I never felt threatened, like I sometimes do in Australia, where far too many motorists seem to always be in a hurry, and make no secret of their resentment for anyone who 'gets in their way'.

In Australia, there's just too much negative media coverage about cyclists, something we seem to have 'inherited' from our mother country the UK. I wish I could go back to Europe and stay there, quite frankly, because I'm not happy in Australia. For now, I'll just have to be content with visiting Europe for cycling once a year or whenever I can afford it.

There are 2 more posts following this one, relating to the trip, but they're not cycling-specific. They describe, respectively, the animals and plants I encountered during the trip, mainly in the Alpine / Pyrenean areas. They are, after all, part of the spectacular scenery, and should be celebrated.

[ Prev: Day 14 - Col de Tentes ]
[ Next: Extra - Of Marmots and Other Fauna ]
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Shut Up Legs

Shut Up Legs

Down Under Member
Extra - Of Marmots and Other Fauna

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In this post and the next, I focus on the Alpine and Pyrenean areas. As I mentioned, part of the spectacular scenery is the animals and plants, but I didn't have enough space to describe them in the main trip report, so here they are.

Cows near the road up to Passo di Mortirolo in the Italian part of the Alps :

Col du Tourmalet is noted for its vultures, and they're hard to pin down with photographs, so I only managed to get the back of this seated one, and using the zoom lens. The vultures have a poor reputation amongst the local farmers, though, because apparently they sometimes eat the livestock.

Col du Tourmalet vulture on the ground :

Richard (or his wife Shirley, who didn't cycle but came along for the trip) took a better photo of the vultures in flight.

Col du Tourmalet vultures in flight :

As we rode through various rural areas, livestock was very common, including herds of cows who just made themselves at home on the roads, such as this one which decided to cross the road right near the col, undeterred by all the people, bicycles and cars. Moove it, people!

Col du Tourmalet cow :

When I accompanied Alex in his tour van up to Col d'Aubisque on day 11, one thing that met us up on the col was a pair of very inquisitive horses, who were being very nosey, and who were clearly at home with human company.

Col d'Aubisque horses :

While riding up to the Hautacam and Col de Tramassel on day 12, I saw this group of horses occupying a particular spot on the road (and almost blocking it). I don't know if they're part of the livestock or not, but they had clearly marked that spot as their very own, because according to another of the Pyrenees Cycling Lodge boarders at dinner the next day, the horses were in the exact same spot when they cycled up there that day.

Hautacam horses:

As with many of the other rides, I saw cows up near the Hautacam also.

Hautacam cows :

Again up near the Hautacam, and in the heat of the day (mid 30s temperatures), these sheep found a novel way to escape the heat, standing right next to a soil bank next to the road, using what little shade offered itself.

Hautacam sheep :

On day 13, on my way up to Luz Ardiden, I saw more sheep, this time a pretty large flock of them, on a hillside.

Luz Ardiden sheep :

At the top of Luz Ardiden, these cows gathered around the col sign. I was half tempted to take a 'selfie' with them, but prudence got the better of silliness (this time, anyway :crazy:).

Luz Ardiden cows near the col sign :

While riding up to the Col de Tentes on the last day of cycling, day 14, I saw these cows near the road, complete with pretty loud cowbells around their necks.

Col de Tentes cows :

Sheep were also in abundance on the roads up to Col de Tentes, and this lot were owning the place. :laugh: They were reasonable, though, and moved out of my way as soon as I (carefully and slowly) rode towards them.

Col de Tentes sheep on road :

And now for something completely different! :biggrin: On day 14, on my way down from Col de Tentes (and so at about 2100m altitude), I saw these marmots, like cute, cuddly beavers. :wub:
They're hard to photograph, because although they're happy to watch cyclists and motorists pass by, as soon as you stop, they somehow feel threatened, and move on pretty quickly.

Marmots near Col de Tentes :

One animal I have already previously mentioned is the one that sticks mainly to the roads, and has a propensity for travelling slowly up the mountains, then rapidly down them. They're oddly-shaped, almost like half-lycra, half-metal, and I swear they're the strangest of them all. :wacko:

[ Prev: Heading home, and Conclusion ]
[ Next: Extra - Of Irises and Other Flora ]
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Shut Up Legs

Shut Up Legs

Down Under Member
Extra - Of Irises and Other Flora

[ click any image to see the larger one ]

I know little about plants (despite a brief attempt at studying botany during one of my less-productive university years, and it was 30 years ago!), so I'm just going to present my Alpine plant photos, and you can try to work out what they are. :okay: If you need more background info, these 2 Wikipedia pages might help:

Passo dello Stelvio (up to 2760m) :

Passo dello Stelvio (up to 2760m) :

Passo dello Stelvio (up to 2760m) :

Passo dello Stelvio (up to 2760m) :

Passo di Mortirolo (up to 1850m) :

Col du Telegraphe (up to 1566m) :

Col du Galibier (up to 2645m) :

Col du Galibier (up to 2645m) :

Col du Galibier (up to 2645m) :

Col du Galibier (up to 2645m) :

Col du Galibier (up to 2645m) :

This plant I saw in a field right next to the hotel we stayed at for the night, the Hotel Les Grandes Rousses.

Alpe d'Huez (plant seen at 1820m) :

I saw a lot of these pine trees while riding up Mont Ventoux, at least a bit lower down, before the limestone totally dominates the landscape and makes it resemble a desert.

Mont Ventoux pine trees (up to 1910m) :

Mont Ventoux (up to 1910m) :

Mont Ventoux (up to 1910m) :

Col du Tourmalet (up to 2115m) :

I'm told this is an iris. Initially, I thought perhaps it was an orchid, which shows how little I know about plants. Anyway, it's pretty, and probably quite ephemeral, as all the plants must be at these altitudes, where snow completely covers the ground for a big chunk of the year.

Col du Tourmalet iris (up to 2115m), several of these seen near the col :

Hautacam / Col de Tramassel (up to 1615m) :

Luz Ardiden (up to 1715m) :

Col de Tentes (up to 2205m) :

Col de Tentes (up to 2205m) :

[ Prev: Extra - Of Marmots and Other Fauna ]
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Shut Up Legs

Shut Up Legs

Down Under Member
I'm beginning to think it wasn't a great write up. :sad: Only 3 replies from 2 people, and it's been 5 months since I wrote it. Is it too long, or repetitive, or just boring? What did I do wrong?


Legendary Member
I'm beginning to think it wasn't a great write up. :sad: Only 3 replies from 2 people, and it's been 5 months since I wrote it. Is it too long, or repetitive, or just boring? What did I do wrong?
I think the only thing you did wrong was going and not inviting me.


Über Member
It’s great to dip into your reporting. It’s probably a bit long for a single sitting but I am very interested to read your account.

Good idea to post it on crazy guy if you haven’t already? I’ve dipped into a few on there too.

Certainly your observations make me grateful to be so near to France and its variety.

We generally drive over and take our own bikes, but I am looking into doing a supported tour next summer. If I can lose enough weight to really do successive col climbing!

Allez allez allez. And chapeau.
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