After the previous two long days of riding our motorcycles 880 km (547 miles) on paved roads, we were itching to slow down and do a bit of exploring via the less traveled dirt roads. Fortunately, we were in the French Alps so there were plenty of dirt road options available.
The day started with some wonderful riding through small French towns and narrow mountain passes.
We were in the gateway to the Alps and the surrounding view of steep granite cliffs and evergreen trees was stunning.
One of the highlights of the morning was riding over Col d’Allos Pass. The views from the top were stunning. Absolutely amazing!
It wasn’t too long after lunch that we reached the mountain town of Meyronnes, and the gateway to what we thought would be a narrow paved road to the top of a pass called Colle di Sampeyre. I had previously watched a YouTube video of a motorcyclist riding this trail, and ensured Chantil that it would be paved the entire way.
Unfortunately, I was looking at a video of a completely different route that was 30 km to the northeast of where we were. This was not Colle di Sampeyre. We were on the trail to reach Fort de Viraysse, and it was paved in a different way – with rocks, steep switchbacks, and challenges that would test our riding ability and patience.
The trail started out pretty tame, but quickly started climbing steep sections of rocky terrain. The heat of 90°F (32°C) was not extreme, but the combination of wearing our motorcycle gear, and working hard to get our mules up the steep terrain, was exhausting at times.
Chantil did a great job of riding over the challenges, but by the end of the day, and after dropping her mule multiple times, she was losing confidence.
There were a couple of especially steep switchbacks that were too difficult for Chantil. I would ride my mule up them, park at a flat spot, hike back down the switchback, and then ride Chantil’s mule ahead to the next flat spot. Chantil would hike up the trail and then continue riding. Walking in motorcycle gear was even more physically challenging than riding, so it ended up being a long and hot afternoon with frustrations from both of us.
About a 1.6 km (1 mile) from reaching the end of the trail, Chantil was done! She was ready to stop for the day and set up camp. However, I had a feeling that if we made it to the top, we could find a flatter place to camp. I had no idea of what to expect, I just hoped that there would be something better than the steep hillside.
The last portion of the trail was littered with large rocks and random sheep. They would get startled and cross in front of me as I slowly motored towards the next bend in the trail.
Finally! I had reached Fort de Viraysse! It was so energizing to reach such a awesome camp-spot surrounded by the jagged-peaked mountains of the French Alps. I just had to convince Chantil that it would be worth the final bit of effort to get her mule up here as well…
… I hiked back down and met Chantil along the way. She had left her mule at a switchback and started hiking up the trail. Although I wasn’t able to convince her to ride to the top, I did convince her to let me ride her mule to the camp. She would hike the rest of the way.
After a long and challenging afternoon, we had finally made it to the top! We parked the mules next to each other in the large parade field and relished in our accomplishment. We had made it!
A little while later, we noticed a white Land Rover Defender 110 coming up the rocky path towards the fort. This is one of my favorite overland vehicles, so I was excited to talk with the driver and share some stories of travel.
It was fun to share stories with Koen and Dana from Belgium. Koen had recently purchased his well outfitted Defender and was enjoying exploring Europe’s backcountry. We all felt extremely fortunate to have arrived in this remote fort on such a wonderful day.
After setting up our tent, I walked around to explore the surrounding fort buildings and walls. Although I didn’t know much about the history of this area, it was fun to poke my head around corners and take pictures.
The fortress was built between 1885 and 1888 to defend France against an invasion from Italy. The area we were camped in was the barracks building and housed areas for sleeping, eating, and a small armory.
Just before sunset, we went for a walk up the trail to view the barracks building from above. Just outside the entrance, we enjoyed watching marmots chatting with each other.
Clear blue skies and perfect temperatures for camping. Gotta love summers in the Alps.
That evening, we enjoyed having dinner with Koen and Dana and shared stories over the campfire. It felt really nice to hang out with other travelers – especially after many months of relative isolation due to the Coronavirus.
The next morning, I woke up early and tried to experiment with taking night photos for the first time with my Canon G7X camera. It was enjoyable to be outside and marvel at the billions of other stars shining down on me.
Next Blog Post
Join us next blog post as we share one of the most memorable acts of human kindness we’ve seen in a long time.
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19 Aug 2020