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Day 17 - Martigny to Bourg-St-Pierre

A rest day was welcome for sure but it's always nice to be back on the road and ticking off the kilometres. Today was slightly different from most in that every kilometre, bar the last seven, would be uphill. I had been informed yesterday at the tourist formation centre that the the Grand St. Bernard pass over the top is currently closed due to seasonal weather. Though the Swiss lady took great pride in saying " Well it's open on the Swiss side it's just the Italians who haven't got out of bed". Meow!!! So it was a default to plan b. Cycle to the highest village - Bourg St. Pierre - and then catch a Swiss Post bus tomorrow through the tunnel (no bicycles allowed) and get off at the first stop in Italy which is Etroubles. Before all that though it was 35 km straight up to 6,300 feet.

I know where I'd rather be going!

The hill started outside the hotel in Martigny and from there it was a 4.5 hour grind. The first 12 km were along a dual carriage way with trucks thundering past but at Semblanche which marks the turn off to Verbier the traffic became lighter and the hill much steeper. Outside the town of Osseries the road was so steep I encountered numerous switchbacks.

Gotta live a switch back climb .... I'd love to do this in a sports car ....

One of the highlights was watching a silver Aston Martin DB7 (circa 1960's) with spoke wheels roar past. Think James Bond. About 20 minutes later a dark blue 2015 Ferrari ripped past as well. 'All show no class' was my first thought. In spite of the continuous climb the scenery was stunning . Surrounded as I was on all sides by towering snow-capped peaks. Oh - did I mention it was blowing 45 knots and hailing some of the way ? After yesterday's picture perfect weather a new storm front has roared in and whilst the lower altitudes were protected the higher I climbed the more exposed it became and the more efffing and blinding I did as I battled gradient and wind and precipitation. Brutal doesn't begin to describe it. I stopped for a well deserved pizza and regulatory glass of red wine at "Liddes" some 10 km short of my destination of Bourg St Pierre and the next 5 km were spent burping my way to the next 5 km.

At the base of the climb and I know the col is closed but on we go ....

Once I had go to where I wanted to be I was curious to see how much further I could ride before it became a no-go. There was a sign stating 7km to the entrance of the tunnel to Italy so I figured that at the very least I could cycle that far, even if it meant another 45 -60 minutes on the bike. Even if it mean cycling 7km past my intended stay for the night . Yup, I agree with you. Nutter.

So on I pushed. At this point I was so high up in the alpine area that I was riding through "avalanche tunnels " . These are not a lot of fun on a bike. Enclosed parts of the road measuring anywhere from 100- 400 metres you can hear the trucks loooong before they see you. There is no hard shoulder and it's one lane each way.

The dreaded avalanche tunnels .. tried to get through those as quickly as possible ....

Although I was lit up like a xmas tree with all manner of rear facing lights on my bike I had to hold my focus and try to make out like a very small thing as the trucks thundered past. On several occasions, I actually stopped and pressed myself into the side wall of the tunnel to let them pass.

Something tells me this is about as far as I can go ....

Eventually you can go no further as the entrance to the main traffic tunnel looms large. Well you can go further on a bike which is up over the Col of the St Bernard Pass but which is not open now until June. I took the Col exit and rode out in to the elements to see exactly how high you could ride.

The options are now only the Col ....

About 1km was the answer. There I came across a barrier on the road and, just beyond it, a snow covered road that led to the Great St Bernard Pass. Bitterly cold and blowing a gale it was about 3 km shy of the pass. I took the regulatory photos and then did a u-turn and headed back down the 7km from whence I had just come and to my accommodation for the night. Bourg St Pierre.

The end of the climb, some 3 km from the actual pass itself. The Swiss will tell you it's open on their side but the Italians that are still asleep. As far as I could tell, beyond the barrier the Swiss hadn't done a whole lot of snow clearing either!

After 42 km and 5 hours of climbing it deserves a kiss!

What had taken me 48 mins to climb to from Bourg St Pierre only took me 6 mins to ride back down! Tomorrow morning it's the 9.15 am Swiss post bus to the first village on the Italian side - Etrouble.

No matter how far off the beaten track, I can't seem to escape it !

Only in Switzerland .. a cheese vending machine!

Meet Keith M. He is a "pilgrim" doing the Lausanne to Rome sector of the via Francigena. Keith is an accountant from New Jersey, USA. Keith CAN drink beer as I later discovered ....

Table service from the chef explaining the intricacies of growing and cooking asparagus ....

Numbers of the day Number of feet climbed - 6,760

Number of gears I would shift in an hour long period of "normal riding" - 147 Number of gears I shifted for 37 km today - 0 ( same gear alllllll the way ) Number of times I went to reach for an easier gear and it wasn't there - 17 Number of times I muttered to myself "f**k that was close" in the numerous avalanche

tunnels as a another truck roared past - 22 Number of switch backs on the road - 11 Number of oversized and overweight hares I almost ran over - 1 Number of times I thought to myself "are you effing serious ? " as the headwind threatened to blow me backwards or sideways - 45 Slowest speed recorded whilst still upright - 3.6 kph Slices of pizza eaten at lunch -6

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