Trails and Tribulations in Tende

Chamonix was great for a couple of days but my personal goal was to ride the LGKS again and that lay a very long day to the south, so we decided to split the difference and plot up in Savines le Lac, seeking out a small family-run campsite in the hills. As luck would have it this was the last day in the season that their restaurant is open, so we gorged ourselves on the local salad; a creation featuring everything from walnuts, celery, egg, grapefruit, and some giant baked ravioli stuffed with mashed potato. We got the impression that there were many friends of the perpetually cheerful owner who had turned up to mark the occasion, and it felt a little like being at a private party.

Anyway, this is starting to read like some kind of dreary foodie logbook, so I’ll skip the next day (slow riding, getting lost, warm sandwiches, etc) and get straight to the good bit, the LGKS. I’ve ridden this amazing border “road” once before, but a sudden snowstorm near the end prevented me from enjoying the view properly due to being wrapped in abject terror. This time around I also went for the south-to-north option, so that at the end I’d only have to do a couple of miles to the campsite. There must have been some amazing downpours sometime over the past two years, because the squiggly little road I needed for the start of the trail was blocked with concrete bollards, something about an avalanche. Wasn’t blocked well enough though and I pushed on, picking my way between mounds of washed up clay, boulders, and brambles that were trying to hold hands across the tarmac. Come to think of it, there was one bit where most the road had gone south for the winter, leaving behind a precarious ribbon to climb, but I was too focused on the task ahead to stop and take pictures now.

The start of the south section was every bit as steep and bumpy as I remembered, but I didn’t want to drop the pressure in my tyres in case of rim damage. In fact I didn’t want to think of tyres at all, because Tourances aren’t Scouts and if the snow set in this time I’d be in a bit of a pickle. As luck would have it Mr. Sun had his hat on and I found my trail mojo, somewhere between the aquamarine sky and the gasping chasms dotted with sheep and pine forests.

Within a few km of the start there were still some random cars to be seen, the small ones driven by knowledgable locals with business in the woods, the large shiny ones possibly belonging to tourists who should know better. (opines the GS rider from London with his road tyres) Before long there was no traffic at all, which could have something to do with the “road closed” sign I’d just ridden past, glimpsing something about another landslide from the corner of my eye. Soon afterwards I passed three big bikes coming the other way, with three very wide-eyed riders and full luggage on board. They looked properly scared, and while I was wondering what they were doing out here with plastic panniers and throw-overs I nearly rode off the mountain. Lesson: don’t spend time staring at a small hazard, because here’s why:

Riding out of the end of the southern section (past more no-entry signs, oops) I chatted to an Italian rider on a CRF450 about the north section. He explained in perfect English that there was also a landslide closing the next bit, but he’d seen some bikes coming that way so it must be all right for two-wheelers and I “would be allowed”. That in mind I pressed on, bouncing through the scenery for another happy hour, returning the waves of road workers for whom I assumed the piste was closed. A couple of blockades further on proved interesting again, and once more I was coasting through pine forests and pastures, pocketing smiles from shepherds and the occasional rambler. Somebody has obviously spent a fair bit of money on the track up here, parts of it almost looked graded rather than the glistening boulder alleys that greeted me last time.

3 miles from the end, just past the Rifugi Don Barbera it all went a bit wrong. I could see the remaining trail across the valley almost up to the prize – the Col de Boaire – but I could also see a massive landslide and before it two caterpillar diggers attempting to widen the piste. Something told me that these guys wouldn’t be keen on moving aside so that I could pass only to come back again when the landslide proved too much, so with my tail between my legs I turned back towards the tiny ski resort which sits between the north and south sections. Fatigue got the better of me and recent familiarity with the track egged me on, and just as I was thinking “wasn’t there a shepherd around this corner 30 minutes ago” I ran over his dog. Arse. I stopped the bike and as the adrenaline subsided (why isn’t he beating me with that stick?) the pup got up, stretched, and bounced over to us. Amazing what you can communicate with just a look.

Once off the piste I plugged Tende into the Garmin, paved roads only thank you, and was dismayed to find the less scenic route is 84 miles. Too tired to shorten it by taking the south section backwards I limped home through Italy via Imperia and Ventimiglia, coasting into camp 2 hours later to find Boss-girl’s provisioned cold beer. Wonder what tomorrow’ll bring?