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TDAF2016 – Day2: Welcome to the French Alps

Part of TDAF2016 is about the ‘AF’ – the Alpes Françaises and TW560’s ‘task list‘ of highest roads in Europe which kicked-off last year with the visit to the highest road in Europe.

Today we crossed-off following passes from our list:
2188 m – Little St Bernard Pass – France>Italy
2770 m – Col de l’Iseran – France
2645 m – Col du Galibier – France
2058 m – Col du Lautaret – France

Spoiler alert: it was – yet again – an amazing day!

After some fitful shut-eye I wake to heavy rain, dark grey and low-hanging clouds. Yuk. This isn’t how I visualized TDAF’s second day.

Without any breakfast – since we’re going to be in Italy within 30 minutes – we get into our TWIKE and head towards the Mont Blanc tunnel which links Chamonix to the Aosta valley.

Are we going to have sun on the other side?

Are we going to have sun on the other side?


 
We have a lively discussion with the toll-booth lady and her boss about our road-worthyness and if we’re allowed into the tunnel at all. Thanks to my fluent French and some ‘trust me, I’m an engineer’ behavior, we were allowed into the tunnel and as a consequence had to part with €28.80.

The tunnel itself is completely straight – all 11 km of it! (insert bored sigh here)

Mont Blanc tunnel - 11km of this!

Mont Blanc tunnel – 11km of this!


 
As we leave the tunnel, things are definitely looking better: patches of blue sky and 8°C warmer than before.

Out of the tunnel & a first thing to do...

Out of the tunnel & a first thing to do…


 
What does a seasoned TWIKE pilot do as soon as there is no danger of rain or freezing to death?

First things first: take off the canopy

First things first: take off the canopy


 
Off it came and I must say – my overall trust in the concept of self-fulfilling prophecies rose again 🙂

We enter Italy and roll down the Aosta Valley, where further back, the patches of blue sky were growing by the minute.

Good coffee is waiting for me!

Good coffee is waiting for me!


 
At the first opportunity, we leave the large SuperStrada and continue down the valley on small single lane roads heading through alpine forest.

Just perfect!

Just perfect!


 
Soon enough, we got to a village where the bar was brimming with locals and it was time for me to start the day the way it should be. 🙂

Ah. Finally! I start my day in style!

Ah. Finally! I start my day in style!


 
I truly cannot fathom why coffee always tastes good at a bar in Italy. Never bitter, never burnt – just perfect. Even most upper price range Italian bars in Switzerland don’t get it right. (CHF 6 for an Espresso, anyone?)

After some chatting with the bar’s guests and generally feeling very at home, we got back into TW560 and started our ascent to the Little Bernard Pass.

Ah - fun ahead!

Ah – fun ahead!


 
The clouds and the sun played catch in the sky. One minute we’re in broad (hot) sunlight with bright and vivid greens, the next we’re in the shade.

Climbing back towards France

Climbing back towards France


 
When we got to the Bernard pass, although ‘only’ at 2188m, it was shrouded in fast moving clouds and minimum visibility. We could have waited for a break and some dramatic pictures but didn’t feel like it.

Back in France, I had previously prepared a very nice GPS-Track along narrow roads from village to village. Just what we like and here, they definitely had *many* small, narrow roads – check out the picture below.

The definition of small roads

The definition of small roads


 
Descent into the unknown ;)

Descent into the unknown 😉


 
Most villages were more or less deserted. And if there were people, they were involved in renovation or construction.

From one tiny village to the next

From one tiny village to the next


 
After this very relaxing section, we joined the main road that would take us to Val d’Isère. A village dominated by winter sports and best known for the alpine skiing competitions taking place there.

We, however, found a virtually deserted village with a dozen major construction sites.

The place was really empty – it bordered on creepy. See for yourself:

With our old battery, we would have had to charge in Val d’Isère – today, the new battery ensures that we can make a speedy escape 🙂

Not staying any longer than necessary has its advantages: We can move onwards to nicer places 🙂

Col d'iseran is beckoning

Col d’iseran is beckoning


 
Our highest pass today – good road surface, very little traffic.

Col d'Iseran - very nice mountain pass

Col d’Iseran – very nice mountain pass


 
Yay! We made it! At nearly 2800m, even in June, temperatures remain low and parts of the road still seem like carved though massive snow banks.

Still lots of snow!

Still lots of snow!


 
See us drive down Col d’Iseran:

With big amounts of energy flowing back into our battery on our way down the pass, we reflect on how anyone would want to just waste the kinetic energy by heating break pads and disks… This just feels soooo good: You get to drive a certain distance and you even have more energy left than before!

We then stop for a quick snack and drink. A quick calculation of our current charge state vs. where we still want to go (down to 400m and back up to 2600m) gives me an estimate if we’ll be able to cross our next major pass or not. The result is that we’re about 1.2kWh short and we immediately connect TW560 to a regular plug we conveniently re-purpose for this 🙂

After some tasty local specialities, I use my good friend Ixquick to find a suitable place to stay for the night. (a rustical place in Briançon for 30CHF/person)

With around 1.6kWh more in our batteries (to allow for some margin of error), we start our ascent of our third major pass for the day: Col du Galibier

Just us and the mountains

Just us and the mountains


 
We leave the tree line behind us very quickly and are treated to increasingly beautiful views.

Wouldn't it be nice to have this kind of view from our TWIKEs all the time?

Wouldn’t it be nice to have this kind of view from our TWIKEs all the time?


 
Col du Galibier is very steep – over 15km @ 8% munches heavily into our remaining energy. Even though my calculation models are pretty precise, even I was wondering if we would be able to make it. 🙂

On our last few km, the road was completely surrounded by snow – and some of the nicest views of mountains I’ve seen in my life – see for yourself! (you can see the road snaking up though the snow)

Col du Galibier - what a view!

Col du Galibier – what a view!


 
With only 4km left (using my virtual consumption model), I was at exactly 1,145kWh additional energy used to get to the top vs. my estimation of 1.2kWh – WOW!

We made it! What a beautiful place!

We made it! What a beautiful place!


 
Only thing left to do is roll back down to Briançon – tick off Col du Lautaret on our way down – and check-in to our place for the night.

Today, again, was brilliant. Sunny most of the day – not too hot, pristine alpine air and lots of time to marvel at the beautiful nature spectacle unfolding at a slow pace.

The relaxation factor is extremely high and I strongly recommend everyone to try this kind of travel some day (how about calling me? 🙂 )

Below is the route we covered today.

Chamonix - Briançon

Chamonix – Briançon