Alps '04



French Alps Tour
May 2004

Original Plans
Updates from the Road
General Information on Nice for Touring Cyclists
Other Links

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Original Plans

bulletFlying into Nice, France
bulletFlying out of Geneva, Switzerland
bulletMore or less following the "Raid Alpine" route from Antibes to Thonon les Bains (on Lake Geneva)
bullet"Credit card" touring (from hotel to hotel) on my folding Bike Friday with Carradice bag
bulletWhat is light touring?  Here is a good webpage explaining how this ride differs from my previous camping tours.  I have a similar rear bag has he does. 
bulletWill be trying to post updates from the road from my Palm Tungsten and mobile phone

Updates from the Road

Update #1 - Arrival in Europe

If you get this email, I've arrived in England and got my new electronic "toys" to successfully send this message. The rest of this message only has equipment discussions and pre-tour ramblings, so feel free to stop reading now if that is not to your interest.

Just like last time, I'm using a Palm Pilot and keyboard. This time around I have upgraded versions of both, with a Palm Tungsten T2 and the Palm Ultra-thin keyboard (pictures to follow). The major difference is how the message goes across the phone lines. To transmit the messages, last time I had the Pocketmail add-on, which is an acoustic coupler that makes noises to send the message across a standard payphone. This time (thanks to Ebay) I have a GSM mobile phone with an English SIM card which connects to the Palm via the Bluetooth wireless standard (short range). Ironically I had to dial the US to send this message, since the free ISP account I set up in the UK was disconnected - they must have figured out that I wasn't a UK resident!

For those interested in how my "light touring" concept this time around differs from my previous "loaded tour", my Alps webpage now has a link to another cyclist's writeup on the subject. I'm carrying everything in the same small rear bag that he is using.

Packing was a challenge for a combined business/personal trip. Unlike flights to/from North America, where you can check in two bags up to 70 pounds each, other flights have a total allowance of 20 kg (44 lb). My checked luggage on the flight to England includes the Bike Friday suitcase (45 lb) and my garment bag (15 lb), leaving my Carradice bike bag as my carryon. For the flight to France I should be able to squish my Carradice flat and stick it in my garment bag. Then I can carryon the garment bag and check only the Bike Friday suitcase. While cycling I can leave my luggage at Nice Airport or at the first night's hotel (since I will likely be staying there the last night also).

On another note, a concern I have is that some of the high passes could still be closed in mid-May. Before leaving, I went to to check if the ski resorts were still open. Only two were still open, with one of them - Tignes, near the Col de L'Iseran - on my route. Tignes recently received some snow, but it is unclear whether it was just at the resort summit of 3450m or also in the town at 2093m. The Col de L'Iseran is at 2764m. When I get to Briançon I can decide whether to stay on the original route or take an alternate route northwest through the Col du Galibier, Col du Telégraphe, and the Col de la Madeleine.

That's all for now. After my work conference in England, my next email will be updates from the road - assuming I'll be able to connect to the free French ISP.

Update #2 - Arrival in UK

When I had arrived at the hotel in England a day ago there was a letter waiting for me. I had forgotten that I had ordered a cycling guide (in English, written by a group in the UK, to the French Alps, and since it would not have made it to the US in time for my departure I had it sent to my hotel in Brighton.

I read the guide while (whilst?) involuntarily staying up late the first night due to jet lag. Other than the Michelin maps, it is clearly the most valuable cycling resource for the area, and I was disappointed that I hadn't stumbled on to their website earlier. Better late than never, though.

The guide has made me more certain that my planned one way ride from Nice to Geneva will have passes closed due to snow. Even my planned alternate route to the Col de L'Iseran would not likely be open. So it's looking like this will be a loop tour through the warmer Southern and part of the Central French Alps, starting and finishing in Nice.

The paper presentation (for work) at the conference went well, and there was plenty of time to make it to Gatwick Airport for the short flight to Nice. My scheme to stay under the 23 kg checked baggage weight limit (I had previously thought it was 20 kg) worked well. Stuffing the Carradice in the Bike Friday suitcase allowed me to squeak under the limit at 22.7 kg, while the garment bag was my carryon and the freebie bag from the conference functioned as my briefcase.

Upon late arrival at the hotel in Nice 11 PM, I decided to stay in Nice for two nights, delaying my tour start by one day. That would leave a full day in Nice for assembling the bike, replanning the route, getting information from the tourist office, and other things.

Update #3 - A Day in Nice

The first order of business (after breakfast, of course) was to assemble the bike. Unfortunately, the shifting was a little off due to a bent hanger from not having removed the rear derailleur when packing. That would mean a trip to the bike shop for a repair - one more reason for starting tomorrow instead of today.

The bike was still rideable enough to first explore the sign with the pass information on the outside of town before heading into town for doing everything else. The road sign on N202 indicated that the Col de Cayolle was open and that the Cols de Lombarde, Champs, and Bonette were closed. That officially confirmed that the good through routes to Geneva were all closed. So the plan now would be to ride north to the Col de la Cayolle (~2300m), then head west staying the Alps foothills, followed by returning southeast to Nice.

Just past the N202 road sign I found a bike shop that was able to fix my problem on the spot. (I'm glad I had the problem fixed there, as I later found that the bike shop recommended by the Lonely Planet book seemed to be more of a motorcycle shop with a small bicycle section.)

I then went south towards the airport, where N202 connects with the coastal Promenade des Anglais. This is a popular local recreational cycling route, which just happens to pass by the airport - it was unusual to see recreational cyclists riding by an airport passenger dropoff/pickup point! I continued east for a while on the Promenade into town, but then turned around since it would be better to explore the beach and the town on foot after lunch.

(I'll send another email only to the touring@phred list with more detailed information on Nice airport cyclist access, bike shops, where to find the mountain pass closure signs on N202, etc.)

Walking into town after lunch provided better views of the beach (very pebbly, no sand) - and the temperature was warm enough for beachgoers to lie down and "get some sun", if you know what I mean.

In the afternoon I was feeling some minor stomach cramps from what may have been mild food poisoning. I found some bland food for dinner (I had to walk to the airport cafeteria for that!), but apparently it wasn't bland enough since I was feeling much worse in the evening hours. Since food poisoning usually goes through my system within 24 hours, I would wait until morning until deciding what to do.

Update #4 - Maybe Next Time

I first had some breakfast before deciding whether to start riding today, wait it out another day, or go home early.

With careful selection of breakfast food I felt better than yesterday, but not great. I knew that riding today would not be wise. The main concern was that I would not be able to consume enough calories for sustained cycling. 

I could have waited another night in the hotel, but even if I felt better I would have lost yet another cycling day. So I decided to cut my losses and throw in the towel and head home. The folks at British Airways were nice enough to give me a reasonable same-day fare to London (€130 - I'm glad this keyboard has the Euro symbol) by putting in a dummy return trip to France. The ticket from London to Los Angeles - being a business trip - was a changeable ticket.

As I write this the next day (since an overnight in London was necessary) on the flight to Los Angeles, I regret having to cancel but am confident it was the correct choice. Even today I don't feel that I can eat anything I want/need. (And even the following day, as I polish up this email before sending, it looks like I have a mild stomach flu - not food poisoning - as I am still feeling the symptoms now.)

All is not lost, as this aborted trip was good reconnaissance for a future trip in the area.

General Information on Nice for Touring Cyclists

Although I had to cancel my planned tour through the Alps from Nice to Geneva, I acquired some information about Nice that may be useful to the touring cyclist. This is meant to supplement the excellent information already available at the Travel with Bicycles website.  

The 1:200,000 orange (formerly yellow) Michelin maps are a vital navigation aid. Maps number 523 (Rhône-Alpes) and number 528 (Provence, Côte d'Azur) cover the area. The guides from OCD cycloclimbing are also a valuable resource, the best I've seen.

I would generally agree with other posters from <> regarding cycling access to/from Nice airport.

In Nice, I stayed at the Campanile Hotel, which (along with another hotel that I can't remember) can be clearly seen from Terminal 1. They have a free shuttle for airport arrivals. Cycling access would be from the access road right (east) out of Terminal 1, which merges onto the Promenade des Anglais, followed by a U-turn to get back to the hotel. There is also pedestrian access by taking the tunnel under the Promenade des Anglais; follow the signs from Terminal 1. The Ibis Hotel mentioned by another poster is further east on the Promenade des Anglais.

When you're at Nice Airport, be sure to ask for the hotel guide and the youth hostel guide for Cote d'Azur province.

Left luggage at Nice airport is open from 6 AM to 9 PM, not 10 PM as stated on the airport website. When I stopped by to inquire about the hours I saw a Trico Iron Case in storage.

The Lonely Planet France guide lists a bike shop in the center of Nice. I found another bike shop just off N202 north of the airport that was much bigger and was very helpful. Contact information is as follows

Bouti Cycle Neway
23 bis, avenue Auguste Verola
06200 NICE
+33 (0)4 92 29 10 03

This Michelin map gives the approximate location of the bike shop. If you zoom out a couple of levels, you'll see where the motorway crosses over N202 nearby. There is a road sign on northbound N202 just north of the roundabout that gives closure information for four major passes (Cayolle, Lombarde, Champs, and Bonette) in the area. Of the four passes, only the Col de la Cayolle was open in mid-May 2004.

Other Links

bulletRandonnées Alpines information from Randonneurs BC
bulletOfficial (?) website for Randonnée alpine, along with the rules page
bulletFrancis and Sheila's Virtual Alps
bulletSnow Country - France (good for weather near ski areas)
Page Last Edited (though probably not for content): 14 September 2010