Kilometers (cumulative): 1492
Border crossings: Italy-France; France Italy; Italy-France; France-Monaco; Monaco-France
We awoke in the morning to a fairly miserable day, weather-wise, but spirits were running high as the final set-off approached. A fine group of odd-balls ran around Turin scratching down answers on a piece of paper and ripping open envelopes for the final task.
Once on the road, we headed south on the A6 and got some real speed up on our baby. The roads were good quality and wide with some fantastic bends and great scenery, made all the more dramatic by looming clouds.
We were headed for Colle di Tenda. Sitting at 1870m high, this is a mountain pass in the Alps bordering France and Italy and was alleged to have been first developed by the Phoenecians, whose rule spread from 1550BC to 300BC. Aside from that, it is narrow, old, gravelly and, above all, treacherous.
As we neared the road we saw countless signs announcing it to be closed and a few fellow Crumballers stationary on the side of the road, furious and stamping on their hats. Deflated, we went through the tunnel reported to be one of the oldest in the area. It was narrow, old, visibly developing arteriosclerosis and had a total of zero hairpin bends.
The road on the other side was ok, I guess. Back to being wide and bendy and we drove down a couple of hundred meters until we saw a group of Crumballers stationary on the roadside looking happy. Instinctively, I whipped in to park next to them to find out why they were so goddam cheery.
“Yeah, we just did the Colle di Tenda.” They chortled. “I’m scared of heights so I had to get out and walk down for a bit against the road” one of them said, leaning across the seat to talk to us “but the others seemed to enjoy it” he said of his companions, who silently chain-smoked. Simon looked at me, I looked at Simon and before you could say ‘break-neck-speed’ we dived back in the car and wheel spun back up the hill.
Let me just say this: the roads on Colle Di Tenda were like driving down the taught, lithe muscles of a contortionist. We passed some other Crumballers on the way, in particular the group of Stags, still one car short of a picnic. We all grinned at each other and we got some great roads and some dramatic footage.
After our slight thrill-seeking detour, we headed back on the roads to Monaco. The road travelled through increasingly more populated areas, but we were still surrounded by beautiful scenery and the tires scraped against bright little wild flowers as we careered round corners.
We decided to stop off in Monaco to get some lunch and meet up with the other Crumballers. We were aiming for Nice later on that evening and as we sat on the pier at a bar eating a Croque-Monsieur Simon looked up a weather report for that evening. “80% chance of rain”, he said. We looked up at the sky. Neither of us are meteorologists, but the Mammatus clouds being squeezed decoratively onto the sky around a Cumulonimbus would have put the chance of rain at slightly higher, in my view. The funnel reaching down and nearly touching the water was the icing on the cake.
We escaped a tornado, but not pelting rain and we ran back to the car, whose hood stayed on the frame, firm and most importantly, dry.
We drove onto Nice after having our lunch in Monaco cut short and after an argument with a French driver, finally found our hotel, dumped our stuff and made our way to the final destination: the prize giving.
The Montreal Grand Prix was on in the bar, a fitting back-drop to the finale, where Patrick and Paul gave prizes for the challenges, best-dressed car, best dressed team and other notables such as the lady on her third car by check in – The Beetle she had done up didn’t make it to the motorway in the UK and nor did her replacement car. (Luckily the hire car made it all the way.)
The rest of the night was spent eating, drinking and recounting stories of near misses. Of course, I can’t reveal too much detail, with 2 Stag Parties in play – what goes on Crumball stays on Crumball – but if you want to experience the rally and the atmosphere for yourself, I suggest you sign up for 2014 here: http://www.crumballrally.com/