I'm fascinated by motivation, I really do not know what has motivated me in three ultramarathons nor Jon in his intense X-Alps training, however if I think hard I can come up with answers, alas I could not come up with answers as to why the drummer in an impromptu pipe and drum gig in the small provencal town of Roquebilliere on Saturday night was wearing a white rabbit costume complete with pink tail and one floppy ear!
Yes another weekend on the road looking at and hopefully learning and understanding the X-Alps route. First though some necessary chores on Friday morning when we visited Sup-Air to collect Jon's competition harness, a superb and lightweight model well thought out by Pierre and his team and, I am told, a delight to fly. Next to Talloire to collect a new Flytec instrument and we were ready for the off. The forecast was not good for later in the day so rather than 'miss' the weather window we drove the short distance to the take off above Marlens to give a masterclass in take-off techniques to a group of Belgium flyers there with a local Parapente school, well it should have been a masterclass but sometimes even experts get it wrong, anyway second time lucky and into some thermal activity that was to take Jon high above Ugine and an easy valley crossing to Mt Cornillon before working south east along the valley of the Isere towards Moutiers. Losing height it looked as if the flight would end in the valley but some strong thermal activity enabled Jon to fly up the valley towards and across the ski resort of Valmorel before landing just over the Col de la Madeleine, a landing decided upon by the state of the cloud accumulations that had been following Jon up the valley and now looked set to not be friends with him.
The time of day and the look of the weather put paid to flying for the rest of the day so a drive down to the Maurienne Valley and then up the Col du Telegraphe to Valloire where the black clouds now all around us decided that camping may not be the best option. We found a room in one of the two hotels open off season and donned rain gear to walk further north up the valley towards the Col du Galibier now swarthed in cloud.
Next morning dawned bright and clear so after picking up some bread and ham for lunch we drove up to the Col du Galibier doing our best to avoid the Marmots playing chicken with the traffic, well just us really we had the mountains to ourselves. The very top section of the Col was still closed for although clear of snow there was still a lot of rock debris falling onto the road. Once we convinced the tunnel traffic lights to change and let us through (actually they never did so gentle reader, don't tell a soul, we drove through with hazard lights on hoping that we were the only traffic) we parked on the southern side and walked up the few hundred metres to the top of the Col. (You have it to do).
Most of the possible take-off points were still covered in snow, but hey the road was closed so here was a fine piece of unused tarmac at the top of the col with a low wall the only possible obstacle. It just had to be done. (see picture). Alas so early in the day little was working in the airmass so the glide down to just north west of Monetier les Bains acheived little apart from some startled chamois. Now help me here, Jon is convinced that the past tense of 'glide' is 'glid', to endorse this he quotes the fact that the past tense of hide is hid. I on the other hand am less sure, after all the past tense of 'ride' is 'rode' so that would make glide 'glode' which I must admit I like much more. Still undaunted by such grammatical niceties we drove up the Col de Granon and just below the summit once more laid out the glider for a take off southwards towards Briancon. I walked back to the car watching Jon seemingly drop into the valley and then lost sight of him whilst I ate my ham baguette. I drove down the road expecting at any minute to be informed of a landing somewhere around Briancon. The radio crackled into life (yes we had purchased a new one in Talloire) "It's bloody cold at 3100m without trousers on" surely one of the great alltime radio calls. Once again strong thermals had taken Jon above the Serre Chevalier ski area and south along the western flank of the La Durance valley across Argentiere la Besse and then south east towards Guillestre before climbing in strong thermals up towards the Col de Vars. By now though the weather was again threatening and just before reaching the Col Jon elected to leave a strong thermal and land as spots of rain were now beginning to fall. Think I get the retrieval prize as he had hardly got his helmet off before I arrived on the closed piste to help with packing. I would say that I had done nothing but drive from take-off to landing although admittedly the road down the Col de Granon had been necessarilly slow, shows the speed of the modern glider, especially with storms chasing them.
A cup of coffee at the top of the Col and a drive down towards Jausiers from there to take the road up to the Col de la Bonette. A conflict of signage with signs at Jausiers declaring the Col open, signs half way up the road to the col declaring it closed. In a way they were both right, in order to claim, as the multitude of signs did, that the col was "Le plus haute route d'Europe" at 2802m, let me let you into a little secret, this is a bit of a con. At the very top the road cuts through a short defile at (2715m) to the downward road rather than climb the last few hundred metres to 2802m height and it was this top part that was closed. Still at least it allows the French to claim a superlative.
The clouds to the south were to get excited about so a launch site was quickly found and a takeoff again into bouyant late afternoon air. I drove down the long road towards St Etienne de Tinee slightly worried by the almost complete tree cover making landing sites as rare as hen's teeth. I need not have worried the radio crackled into life again "What a great day, I'm at 3400m" (Still without trousers I would add but with the warmer afternoon sun or euphoria, perhaps a mixture of both this did not seem to matter) Jon crossed over the Isola 2000 ski area and we hastily made another possible meeting point at St Martin Vesubie. I was about to joke over the radio that seeing as the road signs indicated Nice only about 50k by road we set up a meeting there but Jon beat me to it. "Can you take a look at the Nice airspace map please"
Well we do have a Nice airspace map obviously and Jon was certain that it was in the car but so far, even up to today it has not shown itself so rather than trespass into airspace Jon glid (glode) down the Vesubie valley to a landing on the football pitch at Roquebilliere. I arrived on scene a few minutes after landing, two French pilots who had seen him land were already on site and fascinated by the wing and the harness and amused by the fact that the football pitch was fenced by a high wire fence with locked gate. Still they reassured Jon with the fact that there was a football match today (Monday) so he could be let out then.
As luck would have it the football pitch (the fence was climbable) was very near a small campsite that became home for the night, a shower and then a walk into town for a meal serenaded by the rabbit.
Next morning (Sunday) Jon began walking up the Col de Turini whilst I packed up camp. I picked him up after he had been walking an hour or so and we drove to the top of the col and then around the circular single track roads (which were happily one way) around the L'Authion ski area and in the Mercantour National park. Our weekend was beginning to run out of time and we wanted to explore more fully the area around Mont Gros so we drove down the valley through the Gorges de Piaon slighty bewildered by the lack of landing sites. Brought a sandwich in Sospel and then drove up to the Col de Castillon where Jon elected to walk via paths towards the village of Gobio where we arranged to meet. Jon's route finding may have been easy, mine less so as a bike event had closed the 'upper' tunnel through the col necessitating a drive back to Sospel and a drive to the lower tunnel through the col, the A8 motorway winds along the sea shore and as far as map reading goes obscures the small roads that I needed to use to get to Gorbio. Still thank heavens for the Sat nav which got me there in time to look around the lively flea market before Jon arrived in the main square. Mont Gros beckoned it was only about an hours walk, Jon set off and I followed in the car slightly alarmed that the friendly Sat Nav lady was taking me on a road that doubled as the same footpath that Jon was on. Still I need not have worried the narrow track soon joined back into the main road system and took me to La Turbie where the road to Mont Gros winds up through some very expensive real estate and past the Monte Carlo Golf course, (even the fairways look immaculate) to Mont Gros. Jon beat me by about a minute. Took a picture (in case we never go there again!) and back to the car for the long trip back via Italian motorways to the Mont Blanc tunnel and Geneve.