Day 10: Col de la Bonette

I woke around ten and after packing up camp set about planning the day’s route. By now this process had developed its own pattern; pick a direction and then fill it with a selection of small roads, using a point so far away as destination that I’d never reach it that day. Later, when the steam runs out, I’d find somewhere to stay at whichever location took my fancy. On cranking up the laptop to do just that, sitting in my idyllic riverbed, I immediately picked up not one but two WiFi networks. So much for getting away from it all!

Breakfast and fuel were taken in Barcelonette, and while waiting for the former to be served I had a bit of a fiddle with my new GPS. If you’ve got a Zūmo 660 do me a favour, try searching for any POI near the French city of Gap. Does yours have superhero tendencies too?

Screen shot of Garmin Zūmo 660 pointing to Gap, Batman

Having ridden the LGKS now and camped with wild pigs my bag of ready adventures was looking a little depleted, so I decided to visit Europe’s highest paved pass, the Col de la Bonette, which was roughly on my route. There’s some confusion as to whether it’s the highest paved pass, or road, but I don’t care. It was going to be worth seeing. By now I was getting a little blasé about being surrounded by magnificent scenery all the time and found it harder and harder to stop for photos, but every so often something just grabs you, like this river near Saint Martin D’Entraunes, just north of last night’s camp.

Blue skies above a rocky riverbed with lone house in background

The road up to the Col de la Bonette is your usual, twisty alpine affair (see? told you) and before long you get the first glimpses of snow. The temperature drops as you climb, and soon the snow is all around. And then on the road. Maybe that’s why there was a sign back down in the last village that said the pass was closed – but I’ve ignored most signs up to this point and wasn’t going to break a habit now. Soon I was riding in the tracks made by previous vehicles, as a brief go on the white stuff (in the name of tyre research) was less than inspiring. Again the bike’s sheer bulk did it no favours, think Bambi on ice and you’re about there. For your entertainment, here’s a short clip of me having to cross a section where some cars had decided to turn back, chewing up the runway nicely and making me ride on hard-packed snow.

While taking a the obligatory photos of the bike at the top I was caught up by some cyclists I had passed earlier, and one disabled guy riding a three wheeled contraption powered only by his arms. Very humbling to think he too had battled the cold and the snow to make it up here, without an engine or even his legs.

Bike parked in snow on the Col de la Bonette, sign in background points to Nice

On the way down I had the pleasure of riding through a flock of sheep and goats, some of whom wished me well.

As predicted earlier I got bored of riding mid-afternoon, and sought out a campsite by a pretty lake using my secret weapon; Archie’s Campings. Archie has been compiling a list of campgrounds and motorhome parks for years, and the fruits of this labour are a set of POI files covering all makes of GPS. The Garmin version ways in at a couple of megabytes and contains just over 30,000 locations throughout Europe, so that you’re never more than a few km away from somewhere to pitch your tent and grab a shower. Using the database requires a bit of a knack if you’re particular about the type of site that you want, since the only information it contains in addition to the site’s name and geo location is a phone number and star rating, but I find that this adds a certain element of surprise as well. I generally pick sites with no rating that are away from main roads, ideally down dead-end country lanes, as this ensures against ending up in a mobile home park complete with swimming pool, disco, playground and restaurant. When camping is all about getting away from it all you don’t need to end up in Butlins, and this time again I’d struck lucky, with the serenity of a big lake separating me from the stunning backdrop of the Alps.

Biker cooks dinner next to tent in front of mountains by lake

Another fine meal was prepared on the Trangia, this time adding some kind of pork and lentil based tinned wonder to the obligatory fish, bread and fruit. There was even some pasta left – a treat indeed.

An assortment of tinned delights including pasta, lentils, pork and of course wine
Wide panorama takes in snowy road to Col de la Bonette under blue skies and fluffy clouds
Total distance: 131.46 mi
Max elevation: 2717 m
Min elevation: 114 m
Total time: 05:55:11