Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Shelf Road, Alpe d'Huez and the Col de Sarenne

Mark had told me about the shelf road. I wasn't keen, mainly based on his description of it and the climb that was required to get to it. He tried to get me to go up to it when we were here two years ago, but I would have none of it. Yesterday, however, the stars had aligned, and it was my time to go.

And it turned out to be not that bad.

Getting ready to head out

We filled our water bottles from a tap of fresh spring water next to our hotel. It was delicious.

The sky was fairly clear when we headed out. It was cool, but not cold. We ascended immediately out of the little village where our hotel is located, and it wasn't long before the Hotel Le Cassini was far below us and vistas were opening to us.

Le Freney. Our hotel, Le Cassini, is pictured bottom center.

Looking back toward the east. 

I suppose I should go back and explain just where we are in France. Le Freney d'Oisans is a teeny tiny village up a canyon from Bourg d'Oisans, a mid-sized town southeast of Grenoble. In this immediate area, there are a number of iconic Tour de France routes, such as Alpe d'Huez. The thing we really like about our hotel is that we can ride directly from the front door of the hotel to several of these routes.

Grenoble is seen in the top left corner of this map. Bourg d'Oisans is in the bottom right, and Le Freney is located very close to Mont-de-Lans in the bottom left corner.

As we climbed, I reflected on how different it is for me this year than two years ago. I have ridden many miles since then and have had a number of experiences that have shown me that I can do what I  once was not capable of or thought I wasn't capable of. Not only am I ten pounds lighter than I was then and more fit than I was then, I am not nearly as fearful as I was then. I am much more willing to venture into unknown situations; I suppose it could be said that I have become more courageous, and that realization gave me a good feeling.

As we approached the deep mountain valley in which Bourg d'Oisans is located, more stunning vistas opened to us. It. Was. Breathtaking.

The shelf road upon which we rode, with Bourg d'Oisans visible down below. 

Eventually, we came to the road leading up to Alpe d'Huez. There are 21 switchbacks on this road, and we linked up at number 15 (counting backwards as one ascends). The climb wasn't that bad, though it was still challenging. It was certainly easier than it had been two years ago when we did it.

Looking down on the switchbacks with Bourg d'Oisans visible far below.

Once we reached the top, we stopped for lunch, then headed on up through barren landscape toward the Col de Sarenne. Once there, it was downhill all the way to our hotel.

Sign seen at lunch

A view of the road leading down from the Col de Sarenne

It had clouded over by the time we finished lunch, making it considerably cooler as we descended. But the views remained breathtaking; different from those in the morning, but nevertheless beautiful in their own way. 

As we looked out upon the majestic mountains around us, Mark said, "I'm glad I'm here." I knew what he meant, and I was glad he was there, too - and me along with him. There was a time when a trip like this would have been unrealistic, given Mark's cancer. But we have been fortunate. He is riding stronger than ever, and I continue to try to keep up with him.

For those interested in statistics for yesterday's ride:

Our total elevation gain was 5768 feet. One can see where we started the Alpe d'Huez climb at about 8.25 miles. I calculated the grade at an eight percent average from bottom to top.

It was about 72 degrees when we started our ride, and it pretty much went down hill from there. It was downright chilly once we left Huez.

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