Day 4: Tignes to St. Jean Maurienne (85km, 1500m)

We woke up early to an 8:00am breakfast (nothing earlier was possible), which was quite a spread. Of course, given what we were going to end up paying I should have expected nothing different.

We managed to get on the road by 8:30am, and completed the final series of galleries and tunnels to get to Val D'Isere (1840m), which was a ridiculously over-developed ski resort. "I'm glad we didn't stay here last night!" exclaimed Mike, "We could have had a beautiful view of the ski lifts instead of the lake." I laughed, after switching to cycling caps (after the last 2 days, Mike had learned to trust French drivers as much as I did) and we proceeded to climb as quickly past the town as possible into open pasture land and the familiar looking streams and winding roads that we had come to Europe for.

Col D'Iseran (2770m), it turned out, was so frequented by bicyclists that there were wooden signs every kilometer telling you how far you were from the top, how much climbing you had left, and what the average grade for the next kilometer was . As every statistician knows, however, averages can be deceiving, as right after I got that picture taken, we hit a retrograde which turned the average 3% grade to a 7% grade when the road turned up hill again.

We climbed a bit more and as the grade steepened to 8% Mike dropped me and I was left to climb on my own, taking the occasional pictures of the switchbacks below us. As I approached the ice-lined summit, I saw a couple of cyclists stopping to take pictures of each other climbing past snow. When I got to them they were still doing so, thus I stopped and asked for what I thought was to be a static picture of me and the ice, but no, they insisted that I go back and ride past the ice while they took a picture of me riding. This would be the only moving picture of me throughout the trip, and it was this chance encounter that let us to meet Allain and Jean, who were French cycle-tourists on approximately our route whom we would meet again and again.

I rode on to pursue Mike, who was described by Allain as someone who passed them with umph and great speed. I got to the top with very little umph left and then proceeded to get pictures of the summit with Mike to record our accomplishments. Allain & Jean then showed up and I took a picture of Allain and gave him my card so he could send me e-mail for a copy of it. Allain rode a traditional French touring bike with panniers and a front rack for a beautiful Giles Berthoud handlebar bag. Jean rode a strange looking back with a swiveling saddle that had no nose, but rode very strongly.

We then put on leg warmers, arm warmers, and jackets for the beautiful, fast twisty descent where I reached speeds as high as 69.8kph. I stopped a few times for pictures but the descent was by and large too enjoyable to stop often until we got to the historical town of Bonneval-sur-Arc (1835m), a beautiful town in which all the houses were made out of stone where we stopped to take off our warm clothing, for the day had warmed up. We proceeded to make the remaining descent (which had a few short climbs) to Lanslebourg, where we bought bread and spread from a bakery and had lunch and refilled our water bottles from the fountain across the street from the bakery.

We then descended into Temignon, where a lot of construction was going on and there I stopped to ask for directions to the little road leading to Modane that was recommended by the OCD. I've learnt in the past that even a road that was mildly recommended by the OCD tended to be quite pretty, but Mike was skeptical of anything that led to excessive or unnecessary climbing (which is what you would expect from the OCD). I stopped to adjust my rear brake, which was touching the rim, giving me excess drag.

We found the turn off at Sollieres-Sardieres, and turned off onto the side road towards Sardieres. The initial climb took us out of the valley and gave us gorgeous views of the area and soon cured Mike of his OCD skepticism. The painful headwind at the bottom of the valley had turned into a cooling breeze that actually assisted us on our climb. Past the little towns of Sardieres and Aussois, the road became a very fast thrilling descent dropping us through a river gorge that was as beautiful as anything you would get on an actual pass.

In Modane, we visited the town center in search of a cell phone station and a train station (we had earlier agreed that the hideous headwind wasn't fun and that we would take a train to St. Jean Maurienne). A pharmacy told us the train station was further down the main road (and it turned out that the happening part of town was down there too). The tourist information was right next to the train station and there we got bearings for a place that sold maps and a place that sold cell phones. The cost for the train was cheap, so we bought train tickets for an hour later for about 10 Euros each. "Hey, this train goes all the way to Lyons," I remarked to Mike. Mike & I agreed to split up --- I would go find a map while he would look for his cell phone.

I found my map quickly and then went to the electronics store, where the employee told me that no one approaching Mike's description had showed up. I went back to the train station and Mike wasn't there, either, so after waiting for a bit I went out and found him, took him to the electronics store (he had either misheard or misunderstood the directions), where he proceeded to buy a cell phone with a prepaid 5 Euro credit, which would turn out to be more than adequate for the rest of the trip.

Once on the train, we stared outside at the incredible headwind and were happy with our decision. However, our bicycles were stored in a storage compartment that was difficult to access so by the time we opened the door for the train it was already moving. Mike jumped off the train and having no choice but to follow suit, landing hard on my rear wheel. We then proceeded to ride into town and found the tourist information center with no trouble. However, there we learnt that the town (and several towns nearby, it seemed, since music stands were also being setup outside the train station at Modane as well) had a music festival, and so we ended up having to try 4 hotels before finding one with a room for about 50 Euros including breakfast.

As we put the bike in the garage, however, the hotel owner looked at my rear wheel and said "Kaput?" I looked again and sure enough, there was a broken spoke. There was a bike shop across the street, but I thought I would try to fix it myself. When I got to the room, removed the tire, and checked the spokes I had brought, however, I discovered they were the wrong length! I didn't build the wheel myself, and had neglected to check spoke lengths before I left. (Repeat after me: "I will not tour on wheels I didn't build.") So I dashed down stairs and crossed the road, where a man who saw my obvious distress told me that the bike shop was closed. I said in English, "I just have to try." To my surprise he led me to the bike shop, walked me into the workshop, and then proceeded to put on a work apron.

He measured the distance from the hub to the rim, got out a bunch of spokes, and then proceeded to replace the spoke and true up the rim, occasionally adding tension here and there on a VAR truing stand, working much faster than I could have. Before 20 minutes was up he was done, I had a true rim. I thanked him profusely, paid him 7 Euros for the labor and 2 spare spokes (with nipples) of the right length, and left. When I got to the room and put on new rim tape, however, I realized that the quick release was still in his workshop, so once again I dashed down to the store to find him still there. The rim tape I had bought from Supergo was a wierd plastic one piece hoop that I had to roll onto the rim, but I had gotten the valve hole in the wrong place, and the mechanic helped shift it to the right location, basically rotating the rim tape with the help of a flathead screwdriver blade.

I thanked him once again, realizing how lucky it was that we had chosen this day to end the riding early, and gotten a hotel across the street from the bike shop as well as the serendipity of me running into the mechanic while in obvious distress with my wheel with a broken spoke.

As I went back to the room for a second time, we ran into none other but Allain & Jean, who were also staying at the same hotel (none other had rooms, I guessed) and had heard about my adventures with the broken spoke. We chatted a bit, and then I took a shower and we went out to dinner at a hotel restaurant that served early eaters at 7:30pm. I asked Mike what he was thinking as he jumped off the moving train. "First thought: I'm not going to Lyons! Second thought: If I jump off now, Piaw will have enough time to jump off before the train gets going too quickly. "Mike had bought shampoo and ear plugs in anticipation of a noisy evening while I was running around in a frenzy, so we were all set.

After dinner, we walked around a little bit more hoping to sample some music, but I realized that I was too worn out by all the excitement of the day, and Mike didn't like much of the music he heard either. "Bad diva music, and then covers of American songs." So we went back to our room, where I put on ear plugs and then rapidly fell asleep.

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