Today I had planned to attempt 5 Cols “mountain passes” in one day, Col d’Izoard (2360m), Col de Vars (2108m), Col d’Allos (2247m), Col des Champs (2087m), and Col de la Cayolle (2328m). The plan being taking Cols Izoard and Vars to Barcelonnette, unloading the motorbike at the hotel I had booked and taking the rest of the Cols which would take me out of Barcelonnette via Col d’Allos to Col des Champs and back again via the Cayolle pass.
The day started well with the 1st two Cols on the D902 being ridiculously stunning. However when I got to the hotel in Barcelonnette it was closed. It is common up here for the hotels not to open until 6pm so early in the season so I decided to carry on with the bike still loaded with all my gear, do the other 3 Cols and return in the evening. Taking the 1st Col, Col d’Allos which starts just outside of town I quickly realized I had made a bad mistake as this road, which had only just been reopened was in bad need of repair, but worse still was the fact that my bike, a BMW R1150RT was far too big and heavy for this road. About half way up at about 1000 meters the road, which was extremely narrow to begin with, had in many places broken away into the valley far below. Literally, the edge of this road was a one way vertical trip !!!! Then it got worse, pot holes, climbing hair-pin turns, on coming traffic that would force you right to the cliff edge, fallen rocks, and as the road came towards its summit heavy snow across the road. At one point I had to get off the bike and clear a path through the snow to get the bike through as there was absolutely no hope of turning the bike around and going back. Fighting a strange mixture of fatigue, panic, exhilaration and sheer bloody terror I got to the top only to face a marginally better road down into the next valley. At least 4 times on this road I really thought I would die and I never prayed so hard in my life. This would have been a fantastic road if I had been on a small bike like a F650GS, but definitely a fully loaded RT is a stupid choice for this part of the Alps…
After the Allos pass I was really looking forward to the next Col which I had done a few years before. Col des Champs is off the Route des Grand Alps, but well worth the detour as the Alpine landscape through this pass is truly amazing. Unfortunately as I came to the start of the pass I was greeted by a big red sign “Ferme”, "pass closed", which left me only 2 choices, a 340km detour back to the hotel via a good road or the 40km route back over the terrifying Allos Pass. With the desperate need for a beer weighing heavily in mind I chose the short trip through bikers hell.
Next: 2010 Euro Bike Tour. Day 7 – Barcelonnette to the coast