De-stressing in Pont-en-Royans and stressing on Col de la Machine

I’ve been traveling for many years now, and my favorite way of exploring a place has always been by foot. When I’m in a city, I love to wander through the labyrinth of streets, discovering little corners and unique streets with architecture that moves and inspires me. And when nature is calling me, I’m happiest when I’ve strapped on my hiking boots and am lost in a landscape that is so beautiful and untouched that it could make me weep.

Even when on a roadtrip, I’ve always made sure to have my fair share of explorations on foot. And while I loved the few times we rented a bike on a trip, I never considered to give it a more prominent role during my travels. That is until this summer.

It all began when I was selected to participate in an Olympic Triatlon last year (which has been postponed sadly) and I had to start getting familiar with a racing bike. Then came the whole pandemic with the lockdown in Belgium, and suddenly I had nothing else to do but ride my bike. And ride I did. The more I rode, the more I found joy in it. The first time I crossed the border again after the lockdown, was by bike. Just a few kilometers. But suddenly I realized its potential.

After that little trip and a successful first half day trip by bike to the Somme Region, it was time to take my bike along a real trip. For our little roadtrip through part of France, we took my friend’s van which fits both us, our camping stuff and our precious racing bikes. What more does one need, huh?

But before we got to action by bike in the Vercors Massif, it was time for a little de-stressing after our hike to the top of the Grand Veymont. We drove to the other side of the mountain range and settled in Pont-en-Royans on the municipal campground. The water of the La Bourne river looked so inviting, but after only a couple of minutes of freezing to death we packed away the idea of a longer dip in the water.

Instead we headed to the center of town for some distraction. Pont-en-Royans seemed pretty dead when it came to touristic stuff – only a couple of restaurants and one souvenir shop seemed open – but it’s just such a charming, little place. Especially the view from the D518 on the village was like a perfect painting.

To celebrate the day we had had, and in anticipation of the next day’s activity, we decided to splurge on some food that evening. The Pont-en-Royans Water Museum also has a restaurant with a terrace from which you have another amazing view. That’s where we settled. We enjoyed some delicious local food and the bill was even surprisingly low. for the amount of food we had gotten. All the more reason to celebrate! So I can only warmly recommend that restaurant.

And then after a good night’s rest – still in the tent! -, it was time for the real deal. While I had already collected quite a bit of kilometers by bike, I had yet to conquer a real heavy climb. In the Jura, I had had a little taste, but that was nothing compared to what awaited me that morning. My first col; The Col de la Machine.

I must say that if it wasn’t for the prospect of the view at the top and the fact that I wouldn’t be able to see it if I didn’t get there by bike – my lousy driving skills and my friend’s new car didn’t really seem like a good combo – I probably would have chickened out. Twelve kilometers of climbing with an average percentage of 6% and a peak of 8,4% … Sounded like torture to me.

And it was. But it was all worth it. While I chanted “It doesn’t matter how slow you go, as long as you do not stop!” and “Keep on pedaling!” in my head, the kilometers and altimeters passed and eventually the top got closer. And as the top got closer, the views got more impressive. The most amazing part of this road is driving through the beautiful Combe Laval, through tunnels along the edge of the cliffs. It’s also a bit less steep there, so plenty of time to catch your breath while enjoying the scenery.

Of course reaching the top was also a pretty damn epic moment. My first ever col conquered! Yeah, to say I was proud of myself would be an understatement. Even while this isn’t a massive climb and doesn’t have a famous name, for me, it was still a pretty big deal.

But what goes up, must come down. Instead of taking the same road back – which wouldn’t have been a punishment either -, we continued along the D199, completed a little part of another col – Col de Carri – and then went down through Les Grand Goulets, a beautiful gorge carved by the Vernaison river.

Both my fear of falling down and the amazement of my surroundings made me hit my brakes more often than was probably good for my bike. But it. was. so. amazing! It’s so freeing to just ride down those roads by bike instead of by car. Before, I’d have driven this road by car and have finished it in less than an hour. Done and over with. Now I feel like I truly experienced this road. It’s an odd but so fulfilling feeling.

After about 60 kilometers of slaving away – especially on my part – we arrived back in Pont-en-Royans. Tired but oh so satisfied! While I’m certainly not sporty – and motivated – enough to commit to bigger cols in the future, I definitely want to try to discover more sort-like places by bike on my next travels. The view from the top is just that much better when you worked hard to get there! And the memories stick longer as well!

♡ Ellen

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