Before we continue with the trials and tribulations of my journey lets just take a minute to consider the state I was in by this time. 14 days of cycling had taken its toll, I ached and I was sore. The aching resulted in the consumption of pain killers like they were Smarties. My legs were increasingly less helpful in getting up hills and even walking was becoming more difficult. My bum was still sore but less so as the pain receptors decided it was pointless complaining more. I was by now 2 to 3 days behind schedule and there was no way I was going to be able to cycle the whole distance to Tuscany. So I hatched a plan and after consulting with the tourist info it was time to make a decission.
It’s only 16km to the border or there about, but according to the tourist info’ it was a steep road. By now it was 2.30pm and I was going to try for the border. The final section of the ride to Briancon town was a long downhill so I was forced to walk mostly to the start of the road to Italy. Then I got aboard and headed off up the hill which turned to a steep hill and then an impossible hill, we’ll call it a mountain or Mount Genevre to give it its correct name. I had other names for it! It was a torturous climb which was surrounded by sublime views and the always present view of the climb to come. Very quickly I realised this was going to be more of a challenge than I had expected. 16km could take as little as an hour in normal conditions, but these were not normal conditions
What was clear was the rain clouds were following me and I was sure they were getting closer. It didn’t matter that it was muggy and hot, nor that the rain was coming in, my body was simply at the end of its ability to push harder. I was off the bike more than on it and it mattered not that I had enjoyed the long run down from Col de Lauretet my body soon forgot that and it was screaming out for a rest. It didn’t get one, what it got was endless views of the twisting road and steep inclines.
At one point I walked through some extensive road works and it was a slog. I had to stop and sit on the roadside wall amongst the workers. After a short break I stood to continue the big push up the endless mountain, as I stood the dizziness started and I wobbled before taking a deep breath and concentrating on not falling over I set off. I was exhausted and the thumping in my head was not all down to the high pressure of the stormy weather behind me. I continued to walk on. It was three hours of torture with very little cycling to be had. Eventually more sky filled my view, indicating the top was close by. I stopped by a signpost that had a floral border and wall to sit on. I took more pain killers and filmed my despair. Having turned off the camera I quickly turned round and threw up into the flora. I was ready to turn back, I could simply coast down that immense mountain, get back to Briancon and get a train in the morning. The only things stopping me were the rain clouds and the knowledge gained from tourist info that there were no trains from there to Italy.
I pushed the bike about 200m and then saw a tunnel that offered at least some rest. However, the closer I got the better I could see the ‘no cycles’ sign and it wasn’t a short tunnel, I could just zoom through. The tunnel dipped away between two hills and my path was up those hills. In fairness it was a short climb and shallow enough to ride. A sign told me I was at the top of Mt Genevre. It was downhill all the way to Italy!
I started off coasting along happily. I had some idea that the road sign indicating the border was ahead at the end of a tunnel. I had Google Earthed it. Along the way I had imagined the pictures I would take, bike held aloft and a beaming grin. It was going to happen in the next few minutes. I passed a road check point and set the GoPro to record the whole thing. I wasn’t feeling as well as I wanted the pictures to depict but I could blag that for the record of my achievement. The road was smooth and I whisked along awaiting the tunnel to start. It didn’t, in fact the first sign I had that I was in Italy was a road side cafe with an Italian flag. I stopped and checked the map. Sure enough I was already in Italy. No big fanfare, no pics and no one to celebrate with, but I did have a big grin on my face as I slumped over the handlebars telling the camera that I’d made it. Me, my old bike and little else had got me there. It was a strange sensation of sickness and pride. I cycled on and found a roundabout that had a sign saying Italy. I took a few pics and later edited out the graffiti. Back on the bike I zipped off downhill and coasted down the Italian side of the mountain. It was a beautiful road to ride amongst exquisite scenery. The road levelled out after about ten minutes of effortless coasting. I came to a roundabout that said Oulx was 10km in one direction and in the other direction, about 50m away was a lovely looking hotel. I was really torn, I couldn’t face any more uphills but Oulx had what I needed. I decided to try for Oulx but vowed to come back at the first sign of a difficult hill. The cycle God’s were with me and I hardly pedelled at all, before I knew it I was in the town of Oulx and it did have trains to various parts of Italy. Tomorrow I would take back those lost days.