Monday, October 20, 2008


Towards the end of the morning, I started to drive down towards Pont-en-Royans with the intention of posting a letter. No sooner did I reach the main road, a few hundred meters down from my house, than I saw a young guy by the roadside, with a backpack, trying to hitch a lift towards the village. I couldn't understand where he might have come from, because the road up towards the Vercors plateau has been blocked for ages, because of seemingly never-ending roadworks in the Gorges of the Bourne. As I pulled over, I noticed that he was using a portable phone to take images of my familiar mountain, the Cournouze. His destination, he told me, was La-Chapelle-en-Vercors. After a train trip from his home in Montpellier, he was dismayed to discover that there were no bus services from the Isère valley up onto the Vercors plateau. Moreover, the road was blocked, so he didn't know what to do. He explained rapidly that he was a so-called acrobatic worker: the experienced mountain climbers who haul themselves up on ropes to repair edifices such as church steeples, or to install metal nets on slopes where rocks might fall onto roads. He told me that he had to be in La-Chapelle for a practical exam concerning the evacuation of injured rock climbers. As we drove down through Pont-en-Royans, I was amused to see that he was in fact communicating constantly on the phone with his wife back in Montpellier, telling her how he was having trouble reaching his destination, but also describing with the enthusiasm of a mountain-lover the landscape through which I was driving him. He was such a nice friendly guy, and his excursion was so important to him, that I couldn't simply drop him off at Sainte-Eulalie, at the start of the road that leads up to the Vercors plateau. Besides, I'd been intending for weeks to drive up there to see the recently-opened three-kilometer tunnel. When I informed him I could drive him all the way to La-Chapelle (less than half-an-hour up the road), he was absolutely thrilled, and got back into excited explanations to his wife, informing her how he had been picked up by such a kind gentleman...

As for me, this was an excellent pretext to see the new tunnel, which has replaced a spectacular and dangerous cliff-hanging road, which my children and I have driven along on many occasions:

My passenger told me that his mother was Italian, and his father Tunisian. He had an enthusiastic Mediterranean personality. As we approached the village of La-Chapelle, he was taking photos of everything he saw, even signposts and roadside cows, and explaining excitedly to his wife that it was the most beautiful spot on earth. When I dropped him in the middle of the sunny village of La-Chapelle-en-Vercors, he couldn't find words enough to thank me, and suggested that surely some kind of divine intervention had led to such a fortunate solution to his problems. With or without God's presence, it's a fact that there were so few vehicles moving up onto the Vercors plateau today that he could have been left standing by the roadside for hours.

On my way back down to the valley (where I posted my letter an hour or so later than planned), I felt elated at having been able to assist this fellow and take personal pleasure, at the same time, in a bit of tourism. Above all, I was amazed and thrilled to discover that, thanks to the new tunnel, I'm truly less than 30 minutes away from some of the most magnificent mountain scenery you could ever imagine. If only I had a wife, I'm sure I would have felt like phoning her enthusiastically and telling her this great news.

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