Yesterday was the first day Libre, my wonderful black beautiful carbon-fibre cello, didn’t come out of her case. She didn’t like Val d’Isere any more than I did.
But it was a good decision to stop there, and not move on. The weather is altogether better today – wall to wall sunshine.
Tomorrow is one of those special days when the Col de l’Iseran road is closed to motor vehicles for half a day. But I can’t wait that long.
It’s the same D902 as terrorised me yesterday. But today it’s very empty. No lorries on Saturday.
The Hartside strategy isn’t going to work. Instead I’ve mentally divided the 4000ft climb into five equal stages. Try and do 800ft between rests.
The main thing is that there’s no hurry. Stop as long as you like. That turns out to be good advice; there’s so much to see, and it’s breathtakingly beautiful.
Actually it’s the climb and the altitude that are doing most of the breath-taking. I did prepare for it being a good deal cooler at 9000ft, but I don’t think I reckoned on the shortage of oxygen. Really? Does it make a noticeable difference?
Well, whatever it is, I’m seriously short of breath by the time I reach the top, 9100ft above sea level. Turns out it was a shorter climb than I thought, though.
I was passed on the way by an uncountable number of motorbikes. Why do they always hunt in packs? And a couple of cyclists from Sheffield, who couldn’t believe what they were seeing.
At the top lots of the motorbikes are parked up, and cyclists are appearing regularly from the other direction, each arrival loudly cheered, before the jostling for a spot to have your photo by the Col de l’Iseran sign.
There’s also a “Vespa Society of France” convention, and they’re coming in droves up the other side.
Several of the bikers ask if there’s going to be a concert. Of course there is. I perch on one of the stones, and struggle with cold fingers. In the thin air Libre sounds weak and reedy. She’s also gone very sharp.
But the audience is large, and appreciative, and everyone wants to video this idiotic madness. A good number sing along loudly to My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean, without minding when I conduct them into my tempo not theirs.
Getting to the top of the Col de l’Iseran is an achievement for anyone who does it under their own steam. And the cello just adds to it all.
But you can’t stay long, because it’s too cold. Take some pictures, and set off again, brakes complaining.
Coming down from the Col to the village of Bonneval (“the highest inhabited Alpine village”) the scenery is unquestionably the most dramatic and beautiful I’ve ever seen. But I don’t imagine every day is like today.
Stop at Bonneval, and admire the rock-lapped roofs. Go a little further, because it still isn’t warm enough here, and settle by the shallow river for a bread and cheese lunch.
There are some bikers doing the same, not far off, and one of them comes over. She gives me 20 Euros. “I know you weren’t asking for anything, but you made a lot of people very happy today,” she says. I eat my cheese, and sleep the sleep of the blessed.