The Col de l'Iseran meant more spectacular mountain scenery and winding roads hanging off the edge of a cliff, but at the price of a descent considerably colder than Galibier, which wasn't exactly summery. It is the highest paved pass in France, so a couple of coffees at the top were not cheap, but were a worthwhile investment. The descent was of course a good deal of fun, heading down nearly 2km in altitude in total, and fast, passing countless waterfalls showering the rock face.
It passed through Val d'Isere, which I have never before visited, and wouldn't hurry back to in all honesty, though I guess it comes into its own in the snow. The Chamonix circus, on the other hand, was really about the first time I've seen any quantity of holidaying Brits on this trip. I can understand people enjoying the spectacular views of Mt Blanc, but I can't help but feel that most people were more interested in the shopping.
It was funny that, only 15km away, in the next valley, I was to have one of the most authentic evenings imaginable. The eccentric guest house owner decided that it would be better for me to eat with a group of other outdoors enthusiasts who had spent all day up in the mountains. Despite my tiredness and wish not to intrude, he used his better judgment, picked up my plate and moved me over anyway. And by the end I felt like I had as good a local knowledge as someone who had been in the region rather longer than I would ever be there, as well as having a good giggle along the way. Make no mistake, travelling alone is not my preferred option, but sometimes it brings you into a community rather better than if you are perceived to be part of a separate group or pairing, and people often forget and/or underestimate this.
Switzerland was a total culture shock, one that I was not really expecting. Coming down into the (Swiss) Rhone Valley, Martigny below looked supremely organised, with streets all running parallel. A far cry from the mountain paths I had been accustomed to. And far from feeling like I was in the Alps, the road ahead seemed longer and straighter than anything I have cycled on across deserts in the past. The language soon changed to German, which had me flummoxed. (It is nice that people don't automatically speak English to you, though, I do appreciate that the expectation is upon the tourist and not vice versa). And, purely coincidentally, it was Swiss National Day, so shops were shut and everyone was out in the square in Brig for live music and beer in the evening, which was lovely.
On my day coming down the Rhone Valley, I mistakenly thought I was going to have a killer day and end up on the pass overnight, but in the event my sugar level went low and tiredness caught up with me in the afternoon, so I called it on the pass.
The following day, as is the way, the opposite happened and I basically did two days riding in one. It wasn't planned that way, though. Simplonpass was much tougher than it should have been, as it was a large road with lots of high speed traffic, and I was not used to this. It ought not to have been all that steep, with cars whizzing by, and I spent a couple of hours slogging away at a 1400m ascent wondering why I was so shattered. Eventually, when not far off the top, I got it sussed, put the bike into a lower gear and slowed down a bit - it was that simple!
It decided to start raining as I summited, and the descent made this pass easily my least favourite of the trip. I was shivering like crazy, and I couldn't see a thing as the speed and wind was resulting in a constant jet of water in my eyes - not great riding blindly on 12% inclines! By the time I reached the Italian border I was a wreck, if I'm honest with myself, and jumped into a cafe for some warmth and respite.
But I knew the rest of the day would be more straightforward, even if it poured it down, as it would be at low altitude and warm. I hadn't factored in that it was 'the last stretch', and that I would push on right the way into the very heart of Milan, which was not my original intention at all, but such is the fun of not planning too carefully and then not sticking to your plans even when you do!
215km later, on a lunch of a coffee and a mars bar (all diabetes specialists would approve, don't worry!) I was pretty much dead when I found a hotel room, but dead in a good way.
And that's it for this time round: 1830km, a lot of altitude gain/loss, and a lot of fun!
Suggestions for next summer welcome on a postcard please. First one in already, though not on a postcard: