Day 5 Monday 24-Sep    Destination Chatillon-sous-les-Cotes      Climbing 7694 ft  Distance107 miles

The weather was much brighter but cool, a slight frost on the ground but no rain, still some distance to go in northern France. The roads are fantastic in comparison with our pot holed efforts. I took a mixture of small county back roads and some major roads, we were passing through some of the natural park forested regions so generally undulating terrain, and forest roads. All was going great until the Garmin said to take a rather dilapidated looking track up a steep hill. The surface of the track soon deteriorated to being a series of pot holes and loose rocks, fine if you’re on your mountain bike! At the top Garmin says turn around, well I am sure I can see a road across yonder field, so walk half a mile through a muddy field only to find another gravel track. I followed the gravel track as the Garmin recalculates the route, turn right, and then turn right again, and down a steep hill, 4 miles later I am back to where I started!  Other gravel tracks followed later in the day and I picked up a nasty puncture, tubeless liquid squirted out for a minute or so and then the puncture fortunately held. By the end the day I rolled into the Farm Campsite feeling a bit knackered. After the past days weather and latex squirted over the rear of the bike it was time for a bit of a bike clean and lube. The camp site was by a small fishing lake, the facilities were interesting in particular the outside wash basin and urinal, great Wi-Fi though. It was time for a closer look at some of the routes that I had planned, after all my BMC was more of a road machine than gravel bike.

Day 6 Tuesday 25-Sep                    Destination Bouzey         Climbing 4649 ft                Distance 95 miles

Having taken a look at the route, I re-planned shortening the distance a bit making the route more direct via some larger roads to miss out any potential gravel excursions. The puncture in the rear seemed to hold, though if I pumped in more than 70psi the tyre vented, so 60 it was and this seemed to work for the rest of the trip.

We had now moved down into central France and the countryside was now hillier, still passing through some forested regions. There are some great undulating stretches where you can just focus on spinning out the miles; traffic was pretty light apart from the occasional lorry.  Generally French motorists seem pretty courteous and on long hill stretches there were often cycle lanes on the right hand side so that you do not slow the general traffic. The weather was fine and countryside, pleasant so just a case of ticking off the miles towards the Alps, though the time started playing mind games with me. 6 days 600 miles had I been over ambitious, can I do this, I’ve not hit any serious hills yet and it’s getting a bit tiring already! I arrived at the camp site in good time; it was alongside a fishing lake, well reservoir, fortunately we had not come to fish as there was barely any water left. There were a few other people on the site, but not many. On a phone call in the evening and my daughter and we talked about Eddy Izzard and his 27 marathons and his mental challenges and how he kept going. I also reflected on the time I did the South Downs Way on my mountain bike with a group, when I got to 60 miles and I thought about bailing, a chap we had with us who did double Iron Man challenges said it was my “best chance of doing the event”, and that I should “man the fuck up!” Brutal but good advice, so I decided to take a day a time and see how it went, and not worry, if the worst came to the worst I could ask David to rescue me.

Day 7 Wednesday 26-Sep             Destination Saint-Ursanne Climbing 7346 ft          Distance 106 miles

Heading for Switzerland, so some hills on the horizon I set off in cool sunshine on mainly back roads, winding through small French villages.  A number of road signs with “derivation” appeared, well I wasn’t too sure what to do should I follow them or not! I eventually ended up in the middle of a small town with a river running dividing the two halves, and a bridge that I was to cross. Unfortunately the bridge was stripped back to just the metal beams as they were renovating the road surface, so it was basically shut. I didn’t fancy some long diversion so contemplated walking across the river, then I spotted the scaffold had a nice platform that I could climb, fortunately no workers were present so I lifted my bike onto the scaffold and wheeled it across, dropping it down on the other side, a short way up some steps on the opposite bank, then over the safety barriers and I was back on the road again, result no derivation, health and safety bah! I pushed on given we were heading for Switzerland I had taken my passport, I found myself on a long downhill section with a kick up to a little village at the end with police cars on the road; this must be it, passport control. Half a dozen gendarmes were stopping motorist as they crossed into France, I pulled up on my bike next to a gendarme on the pavement and diligently presented my passport, he laughed and said non monsieur waving me pass and then said “good day sir” in his best British accent hah a French police man with a sense of humour, could have been checking road tax for all I knew!

St Urasanne is over the top of a big hill so a long hard 9 mile climb to the highest point so far at 2593ft precluded the most fabulous descent on the smoothest roads I have ever ridden; it was swooping bendy and steep but brilliant, well worth the hard climb to get there. At the bottom I turned the wrong way and went into St Ursanne, a quaint chocolate box Swiss town with cobbled streets. A quick call to David confirmed I needed to turn around and go down the valley further to Camping Tariche. I pulled up early evening into a well organised site in a beautiful valley setting just as it turned to dusk. Another great days cycling and I hadn’t found myself lacking yet.

Day 8 Thursday 27-Sep  Destination - Chatel Saint Denis                Climbing 10390 ft              Distance 110 miles

I Left the campsite heading south following the GPS, 200m on the road turned into a gravel path, oh dear I hadn’t revisited this route and I definitely didn’t want to ride on gravel mountain tracks. I turned around and headed back up the valley. The only real option was back up the silky smooth fast descent, so 40 odd minutes of climbing saw me at the top. Unfortunately the Garmin isn’t very good at giving a view of an overall route, pressing re-plan largely sent me back to the beginning of the route and the gravel track; my phone didn’t help either as mobile data didn’t work so I phoned David to get a view, taking the ridge at the top seemed to eventually take me back to my original plan, 15 miles on I re-joined the planned route. Eventually turning off the ridge there was a long decent to the valley floor. Heading across the valley the next climb quickly followed, a long straight road went up at 5% to 10% gradient through the wooded valley for what seemed like 2 to 3 miles eventually pulling up over a top. Great a quick stop for jam sandwiches at a picnic bench a short descent and then the Garmin say turn left up to Col De Chasseral. Another climb started winding back and forth through some trees and another top, are that’s it a quick photo then I realize actually another climb zig zagging across up to the grassy top that I had just taken a picture of, another three quarters of an hour and I am actually at the top looking over a stunning vista of the Alps and lake Geneva, brilliant well that made it worth it. Next the decent, on the brakes for what seemed like an age keeping up with cars winding downwards. I then made my way across a large flattish valley and began winding my way up the valley roads towards Montreux. A long day, the GPS decided it had had enough, I had a backup battery now so plugged that in. I also stopped in a petrol station bought a coke a cold Latte drink and snickers bar to replenish my food now running low. The roads are smooth but there is also quite a lot of traffic in Switzerland so the ride to the campsite at Chatel St Dennis took a long time, I made a call to David to let him know that I was running late and that although it had been a good day, I was feeling a bit knackered and didn’t fancy doing the Grand St Bernard the following day, so I proposed a rest day.