La Meije from La Grave
La Meije and la Barre des Écrins

From the gleaming glaciers to the grunge of Marseille. You know you’re in Marseille when a pair of sportsbikes - a Yamaha R1 and an Aprilia - invite you to race on the urban autoroute, the riders’ flapping fluorescent t-shirts matched only by the fluorescent stripes of their trainers. Gone the fresh air of the mountains, the slight chill apparent from the glaciers more than 2km vertically above the little village of La Grave. The village where I stayed owes its prosperity to the cable car which lifts skiers up to the glaciers surrounding the Meije peaks (3984 m.). The name Meije is derived from the Occitan word for “midday” so this is an “Aiguille du Midi”, meaning that when the sun passes the peak it is midday.

Breakfast at the hotel with a couple of hikers doing the GR54, the tour of the Écrins. They'd been camping on a rock shelf plateau facing the glaciers, it sounds wonderful but they had brought too many kilos of stuff, especially as the weather had turned out hot. I think he was trying to save the hike - and a possible future marriage - with a night in the hotel. Last seen setting off without their big packs for a tourist day trip up the téléphérique.

A straightforward bike run down the valley of the river Durance, picnic passing the Lac de Serre-Ponçon; I filled with fuel at Chorges, nostalgic for the GLME 2012 summer camp there. Hot all the way and I yielded to the temptation to loosen some zips while waiting at lights in Briançon. A few kilometres further down the road, passing luscious orchards, I suddenly became aware of a sting on my shoulder. Emergency pull over to some shade but I couldn’t see either a sting on my skin or the perpetrator. An antihistamine tablet as a precaution and the discomfort subsided. It could have been a hot piece of road gravel, superheated by the midday sun on the black road but the mystery was solved the body of a honey bee fell out from my leathers back in Marseille. So confirmation that I don’t have a major allergy to bee stings. Sorry for the little bee though.

Le lac de Serre-Ponçon

The end of a memorable bike adventure, 1200 km, showing that it’s still great fun to use a sportsbike for touring even though the vast majority of riders touring are now using much larger bikes in “adventure” configuration. An adventure bike will get you there but a sportsbike is much more fun as you need to actively ride it: shift gears a lot and hang off on corners. The weather held fine, partly because I waited in Menton for the storms to pass over the mountains, knowing that the clearest days would be immediately following the rain.