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Day 11 : A real cycling vacation rest day

Cycling in the alps

This was our view when we woke up.

Today was our day off, so we could sleep in. An hour later than usual we got up. The desk of the campsite was open by now. We paid and cycled towards the village. We got two chocolate buns and some drinks. It would be a 20 km descent towards the Alpe d'Huez. I was happy we hadn't done that yesterday in the dark as there were many tunnels. During daytime it was already annoying to cycle through the poorly lit tunnels with potholes and falling water droplets. The road passed a lake where we needed to climb a bit. After 40 minutes of cycling we reached Bourg d'Oisans. If we had done that last night we would have arrived at 22:00.

As expected there were multiple campsites. We picked one close to the mountain, which of course was filled with Dutch people. The ladies at the front desk were laughing because we were scraping all our cash together to reach the required 14 euros. We needed to wait until she finished helping another customer before she cycled with us to show us our spot.  We could have easily found that ourselves.

After we pitched our tent we walked towards the village center. It seemed like today would be a "calm" day off. We only needed to buy a luggage carrier, send postcards, eat, climb the Alpe d'Huez, charge our phones, wash our clothes, do maintenance on our bikes, shower, and much more. Because the village was right next to the Alpe d'Huez there were three bicycle stores. The first one didn't sell luggage carriers and the people at the second one didn't understand what I wanted. After waving my hands around the rear tire for a minute and shouting things like 'rack, baggage, ici, ici' they understood. Of course they didn't sell them either. I haven't seen a single person in France cycling with luggage carriers. At least now I knew what they are called in French, a 'porter-baggage'. That saved us a lot of time at the third store. I entered, said 'porter-baggage' and the man shook his head.

After getting some money from the ATM, we returned to the first store to buy some other things. Bram bought a hat with the 'Alpe d'Huez' on it, while I got a new outer tire, chain, and chain breaker tool. The chain that was currently on my bike was getting really thin. In the same street were also a few restaurants. We decided to go there at night to at least eat one real meal this vacation. On our way back, we bought two pieces of pie and drinks for the climb.

A group of five guys had arrived at the campsite next to us. They looked like people from Delft, that is, like spoiled frat boys with rich parents. Their racing bikes were in their rented van. They looked at our bivy bags and asked the same question everyone asked 'isn't that cold?'. No, it is not. They also talked about Bram's 'city bike', which was twice as expensive as their racing bikes. Later Bram would also climb the Alpe d'Huez 10 minutes faster than the fasted person in their group.

We ate our food and took the panniers off our bikes. I had to adjust my bike's headset because it was completely stuck. We would try to climb the Alpe d'Huez as fast as possible. Perhaps we could make it to the top within one hour. After lunch we rested a bit and then went on our way. It was only one kilometer to the start of the climb. The first few kilometers were the steepest. At the starting line we waited until a new minute started. I pushed off and nearly fell off my bike. At first, I thought my handlebars were loose or I had done something wrong when fixing my headset. My bike waved all over the road as soon as I stood on my pedals. After 100 meters it went better, the odd behavior was caused by not being used to cycling without luggage anymore. I cycled the first part as fast as possible. After 10 minutes I was out of breath but the steepest part was over.


Bram was slightly slower on his 'city bike'. I had kept my helmet on my head, which was way too warm, so I tried to attach it to my handlebars while cycling. That didn't work well because the straps were too long. I tried to adjust them while cycling, but that didn't work either. I just threw it by the side of the road and would pick it up later. By now the climb was less steep, but as we cycled faster, we still got tired just as quickly. There wasn't a single cyclist who passed me. I would pass most cyclists just after a turn. Those spots were flatter and they made the mistake of continuing to cycle in their lowest gear. After half an hour I was pretty tired. It was also very warm. 


There were two photographers. The first was about halfway up the mountain, and the second was near the top. The difference between the two is easy to see in the photos. The second photographer deliberately stood right in front of our bikes. He also handed out pamphlets describing how we could order the photos. Bram got annoyed by the man blocking him and threw the piece of paper aside. The man started swearing at him, which is why Bram looks so grumpy in the second set of photos.

 alpe d'huez
 alpe d'huez

Bart at the first photographer

 alpe d'huez
 alpe d'huez

Bram at the first photographer

 alpe d'huez
 alpe d'huez

Bart at the second photographer

fietsvakantie alpe d'huez
climbing the alpe d'huez

Bram at the second photographer

It would be three more minutes before an hour had passed. I knew I wouldn't be able to make it, it was about two kilometers more. After one hour, one minute, and about 20 seconds I reached the top. The Alpe d'Huez isn't a real col, you can cycle up even higher to reach a village. Bram arrived a few minutes later, in one hour and four minutes. I was just as tired as when we climbed the Mont Ventoux, but recovered much faster. A guy came up to us to ask how long it had taken us. It had taken him four minutes more than me. But he was already 62, so he thought that was really great of himself. Especially because he already climbed another mountain today. I let him brag and didn't tell him we climbed about 8000 altimeters in the past three days.

Fietsvakantie alpe d'huez

Bram on top of the Alpe d'Huez

Finish Alpe d'Huez


Climbing Alpe d'Huez was less challenging than we expected given its fame. In a store before the actual summit we wanted to buy a souvenir. They mostly sold clothes and a few bicycle accessories. I wanted a t-shirt and as we were on our day off we could take our time. A good day off also isn't complete without some good music. The store's owner happened to put on a CD by Pink Floyd really loudly. I got my shirt and we stayed hovering around the store for another 15 minutes just to listen to the music. We were the only customers and the owner clearly knew we just stayed to listen.

Descending without luggage took some getting used to. We couldn't brake hard because our rear wheel would slide away. Bram reached 70 km/h. Before the next corner we needed to break extra hard because that's where the annoying photographer was standing. My rear wheel started sliding, and I went down sideways for a bit. Fortunately, we both didn't fall. I stopped to pick up my helmet from the bushes a while later. Back on the campsite we took a shower.

During our first trip to the village we had noticed two garages. We went over to ask if they might be able to welt my carrier. Both were closed. My carrier really needed to be fixed soon, otherwise the other half would break as well. From the garage we walked toward the Casino, a supermarket chain. Next door was a store selling all sorts of things. The lady working there looked confused when I walked out carrying my broken luggage carrier.

The Casino was huge and I bought a roll of duct tape to fix my carrier. We also got some food and beer and carried it all back to the campsite. We had been walking or cycling the entire day during our 'rest day'. We decided to do nothing for half an hour before walking back to the village to eat.


For the third time that day we headed over to the town. There were two good restaurants, but first we needed to buy postcards to send home. They didn't have nice ones anywhere. I remembered to bring my pen, which meant we didn't had to buy one for the first time in four years of cycling vacations. The restaurant didn't have room for us until seven o'clock. As we were hungry we ate some berry pies from the local bakery. There was not much else to do, so we looked for souvenirs.

At 19:00, we could finally eat dinner. We ordered the menu of the day and half a liter of red wine. The food wasn't bad, but it was way too few. Next to us arrived a Dutch family. We heard them talk about us, they had seen us cycling. Between the appetizer and the main course we had time to write the postcards.

The people next to us started a conversation. They asked if we had come by bike and we explained the route we cycled. Of course, they asked if we would take the train back at the end. They had been on the Croix de Fer, which they said was pretty tough. We thought they had cycled up there, but they clarified that they had driven up by car. They were staying at the same campsite as us.

Before we left, I put a few bags of mayonnaise in my pockets. My front derailleur was completely stuck, as the outer cable had cracked and gotten rusty. Back at the campsite, I used that to lubricate my gear shift cables. I didn't have much trust in it, but we didn't carry any lubricant. After filling all the cracks and ends with mayonnaise I tried to shift gears, 'rr-rr-rr-rr-rr' my bike suddenly shifted better than before we had left home. That was really funny.


The frat boys next to us were drinking and telling tall tales. Earlier that day they had told us they would continue toward the Mont Ventoux. I thought they were serious because that seemed like a nice vacation. It turned out they were just joking. We quickly ate all the food we had left and drank the beer. Bram had Chimay and I some beer containing honey. I 'fixed' my carrier with half a roll of duct tape and two pieces of plastic from the chain breakers' packaging. It turned out another part of the carrier was also broken, and it was now hovering right above my tire.

Finally, it was time to go to bed. We were lying in our bivy bags when a group of girls came by. They were strolling around the campsite out of complete boredom. We were interviewed about why we didn't use a tent, if our bivy bags slept well, where we had come from, where we were going, and of course, if it wasn't cold to sleep in them.


It had been an exhausting rest day. The entire day we either walked or cycled. We did everything we needed to do except charge our phones.

Distance cycled : 60 km.

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