Lac de Serre-Ponçon, Stranded in the Alps

We were heading from Turin, back over the Alps towards Provence. This meant lots of climbing for The Van as we went back up above the snow line. It was unexpectedly cold as the snow turned to sleet, which is fun with hairpin bends.

As we were descending down the French side, I started to get issues with the clutch. The pedal wasn’t popping up after each gear change. I found that pumping the pedal returned it to normal, but only for a few gear changes before it went again. We were descending down steep and fairly difficult roads and we were worried the clutch was getting worse and didn’t want to get stranded on the roadside. We found a campsite on-route and made an unplanned stop. By this point, it was Friday evening and still raining hard. We called our breakdown service to see what they could do. As we’d found a safe spot to stop they wouldn’t tow us until they knew where to take us. And all garages in the area were closed until Monday. We were stranded.

When we woke on Saturday morning, the rain had abated and we found that where we were was actually rather beautiful. We were right on the shores of Lac de Serre-Ponçon. The water was strikingly blue, even with dull skies.

The lake is artificial, formed by a hydroelectric damn. The water had been draining down through the hydro-plant all winter. The majority of the water in the lake comes from the summer snow melts, which don’t generally happen until June. This meant the lake level was very low, so all the water sports such as water skiing, kayaking and fishing weren’t yet happening. Joolz and I decided to do a spot of Geocaching. We spotted a lovely orchid at the first cache and Joolz got stuck in a tree at the second cache.

Our food supplies were getting low (and we were a bit bored), so we cycled around the lake and across the bridge to the town Savines-le-Lac. It mostly caters for tourists in the summer season, so it was a bit empty. Joolz did manage to buy cake from 2 different places though.

The topiary in Savines-le-Lac

Finally, (too) early on Monday morning, we got picked up by a recovery truck. We were taken 25km down the road to Gap, by far the largest town in the region. The drive was an interesting experience. At one point, the driver was answering two mobile phones at once whilst still managing to smoke, steering with an elbow and speeding.

The Van being recovered after a 3 day rest

When we got to the garage, The Van was thoroughly inspected. Fluid levels were fine and no leaks could be found in anything that was easily accessible. Frustratingly, on a test-drive, the clutch was also behaving itself. The mechanic suggested that the hard driving over the passes and long use of the brake on the decent (because it was snowing and I didn’t want to brake hard) may have overheated the hydraulic fluid. He gave us his card and suggested we continued on our way… gently. Joolz has a theory that The Van was just upset because we were leaving Turin, the home of Fiat and so its technical birthplace.

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