After getting out of the road works mess that was Dijon (twice – long story), I decided to give the scenic route a miss in favour of getting to the mountains early in the day. So it was a couple of hours on the motorway instead. I’d never been this far east in France before and it was starting to feel more and more like Germany with every passing mile. German, Belgian and Austrian cars, trucks and motor homes outnumbered French registered cars by a not insignificant percentage. To cut what could be a long, boring story quite short, the motorway was long and boring. The most eventful part of which was me deciding to take my gloves off an hour or so out of Thann to enjoy the heat and sunshine. More on that later.
So the ‘little town of Thann’ which I can only assume is an ironic name came and went. Then it came and went again a few more times before all the wrong turns and GPS burps were worked out. We got on the right road, out of the town. How did I know it was the right road you ask? Well, because it was at a 45 degree angle of course. We climbed and climbed, then we climbed some more. The dense tree cover on the roads had the GPS in a poor mental state. I think the order was something like, climb climb climb, switchback, climb, motor home, switchback, climb, motor home, car, motor home. After only about 5 minutes it was picnic time. We stopped in a shaded spot and much to the disgust of a few somewhat dodgy looking French people in a motor home, proceeded to eat the food we’d bought just down the road. They looked miffed and threw the odd dirty glance over at us as they prepared their picnic table outside the door of their motor home. The wine came out, then the cheese, then the bread. A traditional French affair. Then some other mad stuff. I was half expecting a guy in a stripy jumper to appear out of the depths of the picnic basket and sing me a song of ennuyeux.
Onward and most definitely upward. Several more switchbacks and we passed Grand Ballon at an altitude of 1423 meters. The road which up to now had been thickly tree lined opened out into a landscape so vast and impressive, I almost automatically pulled over to the side of the road just to take it in.
This was the first of the European mountain passes I’ve been on and while not as high or as long as some of the Alps, it was amazing. I only realised after the fact that I really didn’t take many photos. I was far too busy either staring open mouthed at the peaks and valleys or enjoying throwing the bike around the numerous randomly placed switchbacks. It instantly gave me a taste for more. I knew right away that the Alps will be the next European adventure. It was perhaps fortuitous that we came here when we did. The traffic was quite light (or at least lighter than I had expected) and the weather was absolutely perfect. The sometimes blustery wind wasn’t even putting off some of the hardened cyclists that were fighting their way up the impossibly steep hills as we thundered by them.
I did find myself wishing I wasn’t on such a fully laden bike on the way down. It was possibly as much the fault of my relative lack of experience being back in the saddle as it was the weight on the bike, but I just couldn’t bring myself to fully throw the bike into the corners. The fear of one of the large aluminum cases grounding was ever present. If that happened, we would almost certainly be next seen sliding sideways into an unforgiving tree.
So we stopped at one stage near the top of one of the peaks and it had gotten rather cold. Gloves had to go back on. Only now I noticed that riding without sunblock on my hands for the last couple of hours had graced me with large red rectangles of sunburn. Lovely. Pretty much like something I did the last time I was in France. Over the next few days that’d linger just long enough to remind me to keep my bloody gloves on at all times in future. We pulled in every now and then and reminders of the changing weather were all around us. Most often in the form of ski lift cables overhead. It wasn’t hard to spot some of the spots that would be ski slopes in a few short months when the barriers go down over the roads and the whole mountain range turns into a resort. After what seemed like only a few minutes we arrived at the end of the route at Saint Marie Aux Mines. I’d have happily turned back around and headed in the direction of Thann. Only to turn back around on reaching Thann and return here. Repeat as necessary. Next time.