Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Great and First Torino-Nice Rally Day 5 - Sampeyre to Refugio Pont Mannore via Col Sant 'Anna & Preit 25 miles, 1849m ascent

I am woken by the sounds of a tiger going out to forage for food but quickly go back to sleep until I am woken by an empty belly and a wonder where the tiger has gone.  I soon remember he left an hour ago but am not sure where he's got to.  It doesn't look good for breakfast.  I go to the loo but then my tiger reappears dragging what looks like John behind him.

"Look what I found", he says with some pride.

John backs away nervously as I enquire to the whereabouts of breakfast.  They've been drinking coffee.  I eat the pain au chocolat provided and brew up more coffee as we catch up with John.  The other half of JJ arrives soon.  He spent the night in a refuge on the mountain, John at the campsite I first saw coming off the col.  There's a story to this.  The refugio expected the four men that were staying to cram onto a small table together to eat (so two strangers).  Two women were given their own table.  For sleeping accommodation, JJ were offered the top bunk of a double-bunk-bed with the other Italians on the bottom bunk.  John's words were, apparently, "Fuck that shit" so he descended away from what would be termed, "the gayest refugio in Italy" for the rest of the trip.  Still, everyone enjoyed their evening in the long run.

Drying out camp... and tigers.
As packing is complete, there's a small row about the route.  Lawrence wishes to do the whole thing.  TSK and I are pretty much decided that, if cutting the route short means we will enjoy it more and return home in one piece and in time for the 3 peaks, we'll cut it short.  JJ are thinking that they'd also like to cut the route short to make it in time for their plane and they're only holding Lawrence back.  Lawrence doesn't like this idea as he has been very kindly waiting for people all the way so far.  It's a muted group who leave the campsite.  Still, there's not much that sheltered forest climbs can't solve.  We progress steadily, thankful of the tree cover for some time but I'm feeling lethargic.  Nothing hurts, there's just a gradual feeling of drag and sluggishness.

We pop out of the tree cover and for the first time in days I actually need a pee in the open.  I have to hunt out a suitable place in a small thicket without a view from the road - or above - or below.  It's not easy to lay your bike down and discretely disappear into the bushes when there's so many switchbacks but somehow I manage it.  I'm feeling better and actually, I finally realise that my back tyre is low which goes someway to explaining the sluggishness.

Thankfully, it's just a condition of the altitude or something and they stay rock hard for the rest of the week.

The rest of my sluggishness is explained by fatigue.  I stop for another break.  My brain is telling me to do something with my batteries.  I'm running my dynamo though probably not generating much power so I'm switching to solar and then I'm realising I'm about to go downhill so I'm trying to find cables and undo cables and I can't.  Looking back, I don't have a clue what I was trying to achieve.  I can hear JJ up the hill shouting down to me.  I only hear my name and I'm swearing and shouting, "I'm coming!" back.  They're probably asking me to look up for a photo but I'm feeling a pressure that I've been left behind and I feel shit so I'm snapping back at them... and now I feel bad for snapping.

They continue up.  I continue up.  I watch a pea-green fiat panda struggling up the climb ahead.  It looks steep, emphasised by the angle and grunting engine of the little car ahead.

We climb up and up further and finally, ahead of me Andrew stops.  I take a photo of a spider in the road which is fascinating me and then join him.

Ladybird spider (incredibly rare and protected species)... and my size 8s for a sense of scale.
Andrew is with JJ but Lawrence is nowhere to be seen.  He has headed off on the long loop and JJ have decided to stay with us for the day.  Fair 'nuff.  We're glad because he deserves to do the whole ride if he is capable of it.

Our descent joy is intensified by a left hand turn which looks like this on Google Maps...

and led to a solid 32 minutes of descending whoops

Yep, that's the road on the left.
We set off down the road on our new path, eager to see this short-cut described as epic and promoted as an excellent out-and-back distraction for anyone daft enough to be doing the whole route and fancy a bit of a down-and-up detour to make things more interesting.

Some tunnels better than others.
Indeed the "real road" runs out again at some precariously constructed road blocks.  This time they're serious - no cars allowed.  You couldn't drive much more than a dirt bike (or push bike) around these.  We set off at a no-traffic whoop, flipping around corners, avoiding potholes and being astonished when we're suddenly plunged into a pitch dark tunnel.  I'm on the front shouting "DARK!!" "SHITTY SURFACE" hoping the boys on road bikes have enough time to shed some speed and not run into the back of me.  I fumble for my light - taking a risk in letting go of the handlebars but it pays off and the next tunnel isn't a problem.

Looking back up the hill
The valley is epic - steeply sided like you wouldn't believe.  There are boulders in the road.  Some have fallen from the roofs of tunnels where landslides have rolled over the top and plummeted into the valley below.  Barriers at the edge of the road are scattered, pushed around by the landslides and some balance precariously on the edge of the precipice, ready to topple in at the first impact.

Boys disappearing into the distance as the road surface improves.
Eventually we pour out into the bottom of the valley at Ponte Marmora and as we're waiting for our heads to settle, Cyrille rides past, on his way back from the extended route.  He's glad of some company and not being the last man on the road so we all head to the nearest restaurant for a coffee and to ponder our next move.  It's about 2:30 so too early to stop and anyway, there isn't anywhere.

Someone knows that there's a campsite up the hill at Marmora so that seems like a sensible place to aim for.

I stopped to photo this in the off-chance someone would think it a suitable place to stop for the night.  The sun is already starting to disappear.
There's no food at the Ponte so we get on with it.  I've perked up for the day so for a while I manage to ride with the group and have an in-depth discussion with Cyrille about brake pads and we all laugh as Justin runs all over the place taking photos because he's had a beer at the restaurant and is a little giddy.  Andrew and I ponder how long it will be before he has a beer-crash and it pretty much comes as we reach Marmora only to find that it is the venue for the largely popular Sky ultra-run and that the campsite is forming the start/finish area.  There's no point in even enquiring if it is open as the dance music is putting everyone off staying here for the night - even if all the runners are in bed by 10pm, it's likely we'll all want to be asleep by 9.

We attempt to get a pizza but the restaurant is expecting 70 people in the next half hour so can't feed us for another 2 hours.  On cue, a bus-load arrives and we depart in the opposite direction.  Cyrille is intent on stopping at Priet Refugio for dinner because this is where Sergio is staying and, "Sergio knows *all* the best places to stay" so we go for that instead, accepting that we'll stop sooner if we see another option.

There's a bit of faffing about and at one point I think a sneeze nearly puts me into a crash scenario as I breeze off the road but my cyclo-cross training means I hold it, even if I have to stop and push the beast back on to the road in an ungainly fashion.  My new friends are impressed.  John and I are talking about the arrival of his new baby and Justin's beer crash is starting to kick in.  We can see Cyrille and Andrew chatting to a lady ahead and get our hopes up but I have to break the news to Justin that we're not there yet (we're only at Pian Preit) and the larger Preit is further uphill.  There is swearing.

Thankfully not too much further.

We have a few minutes of debate with the owner over fees and food and room occupancy.  Every variation has to be checked with her boss and then we *have* to see the room first so we can make an informed decision.  They boys are pondering eating with us then continuing up but when they find out they have to wait 2 hours for dinner and we've negotiated a special shared room rate where they can do some laundry, we manage to sway them and I prepare to drink more than I ever would normally consider on a tour (turns out Genepey doesn't give me a hangover) and share a room with 2 complete almost-strangers.  They tell me they don't snore - I warn them that TSK does.  They do laundry.  I stick with what I know and rinse everything in the sink in the bathroom and hang my socks out the window.

Left to right: Sergio, Cyrille, John, Trep, TSK, Justin
Dinner turns out to be exquisite: parma ham, bread and olives; spinach omlette; gnochi or linguine with tomato or meat sauce, rabbit stew and potatoes then pear/chocolate tartufle, beer and Genepey. Photo from Sergio now found.  We speak English, French and Italian and laugh - a lot.  Cyrille heads out to bivi beneath the stars in the lee of the ultramarathon marshalling tent and we get a pretty damn good night's sleep for a room filled with strangers.  At least the boys had a bunk bed each.

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