3 Days on the Route des Grandes Alpes in France
- 26 July 2021
- Routes & Travel
We take you on a road trip on the famous Route des Grandes Alpes (RDGA). This legendary route, nearly 720km long,…Read More
As I am quietly checking the map, sitting on my motorbike on a gravel spot, I hear a huge screech of tires on the asphalt. I look up and see this white van heading towards me at full speed. My brain tries to analyze the different scenari but bug because it seems impossible. But I soon no longer have time to wait, the vehicle is a few tens of meters from me and continues to skid in my direction. I have to do something. But what…
But let me go back a bit. I would say first of all as a preamble that this story is 100% true, that nothing was invented. There are 4 identified witnesses (in addition to me) as well as the driver in question (whom we have found and whose identity we have. We’ll call him by his initials, K. R.). And if you only have two things to take away from this article:
[Septembre 4th 2020].
After a first day that allowed me to get my sensations on the bike back a little, on the road to Val d’Isère, via the Col de la Colombière and the Cormet de Roselend, I wake up to a very restful night around 7am. The station is still asleep and surprisingly quiet, due to the sanitary situation.
After having a coffee and a quick breakfast in the bakery adjacent to the hotel, I strap the luggage onto the bike. I have a long road ahead of me. On the menu :
Being keen on the great outdoors and traveling, I started Cruizador to address this need to be able to rent motorcycles while traveling. But, and it’s probably ironic, since I started Cruizador, and with the amount of daily chores to accomplish, I don’t really have time to travel anymore, let alone ride motorcycles. I still try to do a road trip a few days a year to reconnect with the origins of the project.
And as I am going to the Alpes Aventure Moto Festival (more info here), in the Barcelonnette ski resort, as an ambassador for Cruizador, I tell myself why not combine the useful with the pleasant going via the Route des Grandes Alpes? But I digress …
Anyway, it’s 9am when I set off, and the sun is starting to heat the air. The conditions are almost perfect. There is hardly anyone on the road as the summer vacation is over. I meet some bikers. A V to greet. I can almost make out their smiles behind their tinted visors. What a joy to ride a bike in these conditions!
I start to open the throttle a little, but not too much either, as the asphalt is still cold. Iseran is a done deal within half an hour. Then follow the Telegraph, the Galibier and the Lautaret. We arrive at mid-day, and hordes of cyclists surge on the road. Some film themselves pedaling in the middle of the road. We will have to slow down, otherwise we risk hitting one. Too bad, but I will slow down… No need to risk people’s lifes!
I stop to eat a bite in Briançon, always on the go. I still want to make the Col de Izoard and Vars before Barcelonnette. After eating a sandwich, I hit the road again. I find myself at the bottom of the Izoard, ready to do battle. What sensations when you can roll up like that. It’s frustrating, but we do not fully open the throttle, because the climb is still packed. After drinking my third coffee of the day at the top of the pass, I ride back down to Arvieux.
However, I keep in the back of my mind that I still haven’t booked a hotel for the night. I don’t worry too much because it’s not quite the high season anymore. I keep driving, but tell myself that it would still be nice to check on a booking site if everything is overpriced in the resort because of the festival and if I shouldn’t find something a little outside.
But I don’t stop to look at the map right away (yes I’m a bit old-school, I like the charm of paper maps). I am on the D902 which is quite fast. And I no longer count the villages, gas stations, etc. where I could stop. However, I don’t want to interrupt my momentum. But reason will soon win the day. I pass the village of Guillestre and, about 2km, I find a gravel berth in the shade, a little below the D902A. I make a loop and come to stand in the direction of the climb, at the far-right side of the spot. I turn off the engine, put the kickstand, take off my helmet and pull out my map. Since the stop is only scheduled for a few minutes, I remain seated on the bike …
The place where sh** is about to hit the fan
It’s a little past 3pm, and as my nose is plunged into the map, I hear a rumble and then some screaming tires skidding on the asphalt. I look up and see, a hundred meters away, a white van coming at full speed in my direction. Due to the high speed (probably over 100km/h), the van misses the right turn and drifts into the meadow. Having no grip, it continues to move in my direction. Sheaves of grass and dirt are thrown around the sides and the van nearly hits a tree, which is about 30 meters from me.
Time seems to have stood still! If it continues to drift like that, in 1 second it’s going to hit me at full speed. I have to do something, but what? And there, probably thanks to the instinct of survival, I jump off the bike, and what’s more, on the right side, into the grassy embankment. The motorbike falls a few inches from me and I see the van passing 1 meter (!!) from the motorbike. It does not brake, continues its mad race in the gravel square, almost hits an electricity pole, then disappears with a screech of tires when the tires hit the asphalt.
I get up, like knocked out. I’m trying to get the bike up but my legs are shaking. So I walk towards a small lot below, to find some help. I come across a man who saw the driver go by at full speed. We walk back together towards the gravel parking to get the bike up. And from far, I see four guys circling the bike …
These are in fact 4 witnesses, who were overtook on the main road. The roadhog cut them in and took the right turn directly afterwards.
In blue where I was standing, in yellow the witness car, in red, the mad van’s trajectory
However, the driver of the car saw something which draw his attention on the gravel spot. So he made a u-turn to come and check. Seeing the motorbike lying down, with no one on it, the 4 witnesses were in a panic. Seeing me arrive, they utter a sigh of relief. We analyze the situation on the spot to understand. And, taking a closer look at the traces on the gravel, we realize that I was very, very close to being dead.
We exchange a few more words, they give me their contact details just in case and we leave with a touch of humor. They strongly encourage me to play the lottery that night, because “a luck like that doesn’t happen every 14th of the month.”
They get back into their car and leave. For my part, I still take some pictures of the place, just in case for the insurance/police. But now the witness car comes back and stops near me. There the driver said to me: “you won’t believe it, but we have just bumped into the mad-driver. He’s 500m away. He’s loading a sofa into his van. Follow us, we’ll show you.”
I put my helmet back on, jump on the bike and drive behind them. They take me to the parking lot of a restaurant. I see the driver getting back into his van, ready to go. I block him with the bike, take off the helmet but keep the gloves on, just in case he would need a physical explanation (someone said COVID-compliant?!)
Fortunately, the 4 witnesses are there to calm me down. K.R. gets out of his car, somewhat surprised, and walks towards me. He’s a few feet away from me, and already I can smell alcohol on his breath.
I will cut short on the discussion that followed, and especially my flowery vocabulary. But in brief, he was a youngster (probably under 30), and who clearly had had one too many drink. And he hadn’t even realized that I was standing on the parking. But little by little he starts to realize his unconsciousness, that he could have killed me and also killed himself in the process. And he starts whining. He’s sorry… it’s the first time he’s been drunk driving… He takes full responsibility for his act, but just don’t want any trouble with the justice. Because he is self-employed contractor, and without his license he’s as good as dead. But then comes the fateful question. Should we call the police?
I’m still stunned and not really able to make a reasoned decision. The witnesses are also torn. Should we give a young person a chance or firmly condemn a clearly murderous behavior? But one thing leading to another, and since there is potentially only minor material damage (the motorcycle having fallen into a grass embankment), they tell me that they will have my back for the insurance, as visual witnesses in case of a problem. So we make a deal and won’t call the police. And as they see that I am exchanging contacts with the roadhog, the 4 witnesses leave for the second time.
As I am about to set off again, after making sure that the contact given by the driver was correct, I see the witness car coming back a third time. They step out and come back to us. They have just come across a woman with a stroller a little further. And, being all fathers, they have a case of conscience. If the driver gets behind the wheel, and runs over someone for good, that will be their responsibility.
According to them, it would be safer to call the police anyway… But K.R. offers another solution. His father living a few minutes away, he offers to call him to pick up the van. Ok, go for this solution.
Without going into too much detail, the father arrives 5 minutes later. He doesn’t even come to inquire about my condition. Indeed, it’s not like his son had nearly killed someone! He just thanks us for not calling the police. He tells us “you are witnesses, I leave my car here and I take over the van in lieu of my son”. And they leave.
So we all leave the parking lot, and I set off again. But my legs are still shaking, probably due to the shock. I slowly realize that I almost got hit like game along a county road, and that none of my family would have had the chance to really know what had happened.
I stop 300 m further, get off the bike to drink some water and calm down a bit. But you will never guess who I see passing in the opposite direction? Yes, the father and his offspring in the van. And there, a thought crosses me. Are they not going to have the nerve to come back and get their father’s car, so that they won’t have to walk a few kilometers between their home and the parking lot to pick it up the following day? Well yes !! The father, although he perfectly knew his son was intoxicated and a danger to the public, figured out it was the right thing to do. So even more unconscious behavior. But hey, this explains it. Don’t we say that the fruit never falls far from the tree?
K.R. passes in the other direction a few minutes later, he turns his head and our eyes meet. He realizes he has f**** up a second time…
For my part, seized with a feeling of rage, I hesitate between going directly to his house (I have his address), to explain my way of thinking or to go and file a complaint at the police station. We must know reason to keep I’ve heard. So, I google where the nearest police station is and set off.
But, and luck finally getting things right, I came across a police control at the next intersection, actually a little lower on the departmental road.
Come to think of it with a clear head, I think the driver had been warned by someone and that’s why he took the turn at full speed higher, to get out of control.
Anyway, I stop and go see the warrant officer to tell him the story. But, I quickly get disillusioned. Although having seen the video and the photos of the tire tracks, and after having warned him of the presence of 4 witnesses, and communicated the contact details of the driver (address, license plate number, etc.) he tells me that I should have called them right away. As the bike obviously has minimal damage, it’ll be my word against his. And that it’s going to be very difficult to prove his blood alcohol level if he’s no longer in the driving seat. But “they will go and see”.
When I ask them if they need my contact details to file a complaint, and they tell me no, I have no illusions about what will happen next. It’s Friday and it’s already 5:00 p.m. They obviously don’t want to work overtime …
As you will have noticed, it is not possible to escape fate. I could have stopped at 50 other places. Some people claim that motorcycles are dangerous. But the irony is that I could have been stopped in the same place on my bicycle or on foot and the result would have been pretty much the same. But when the time has not come, then we can count ourselves lucky! With hindsight, 1m further to the right, and I would not be writing this article. However, if I have two things to remember that I will pay attention to in the future:
Because in the end, I can’t help but think that this driver was not on his first try. And above all, there will necessarily come a time when there will not be that meter of margin! That we decide to put ourselves in danger, finally it is our own decision. But put others in such risky situation … And what about the father, who did not have the excuse of being intoxicated to explain his irresponsibility?! Or maybe he was and that is even worse! But Karma will take care of settling the tab.
… I jumped back on the horse the next day on the Mont-Ventoux. But the heart was not there for a few days afterwards. But being back on the horse immediately afterwards helped not to end a close relationship with the bike that has lasted for several years …
And for the record, the motorcycle had nothing 🙂
I hope this (long) article has been informative and useful to you as well. Safety First !
Ride on !