Overnight we formed our plan. 30 miles seemed to the tipping point at which whatever the problem was (stone, discs, piston) made the rear offside wheel steaming hot and too dangerous to continue driving.
We couldn’t risk a blow out as the wheel is right next to the internal compartment housing Bertha’s refillable gas system, newly topped up with 22 litres of potentially fatal explosive.
We plotted a route, with overnight stops, through the Savoie and up to the mountain pass at Col de Mount Cenis. At 2084 meters it was not scheduled to open for another five days, but it was too dangerous to consider the alternative, the 8.5 miles Frejus tunnel through the mountainsides (not to mention the €58 one-way price tag).
With firm resolve we headed out of Faverges and immediately passed a roadside garage advertising services to Renault and Fiat vehicles. A polite and interested mechanic listened carefully to our tale of woe, relayed in pigeon and google French, and agreed to look at the problem but not until after lunch… time then to explore a hillside medieval ‘cite’, Conflans, nearby.
A picture-perfect walled and fortified town set high above the belching acres of modern industry below, Conflans amused as a lesson in expectation-management. Climbing iron steps to enter the town walls discreetly posted notices advised of ‘travaux’ and thanked visitors in advance for their patience.
Entering the towered southern gate, we were greeted by a single red and white cone with red plastic ducting in coils.
A screeching and reverberating noise loudened as we neared the historical square at the centre of the town, jumping across cobblestones that had given way in muddy ditches. Rounding a corner, we felt rather than saw the jack-hammering of the road way, machinated digging of trenches, laying of ducting and power-washing of muddied medieval buildings.
An army of workers in ‘high vis’ overalls and helmets charged about under the watchful eye of café owners and shop keepers doing an admirable job of trying to get on as normal.
Taking refuge in a quiet garden alongside the town’s south-facing wall we read that the work just started would take four months (four months?!) and was costing €2million.
Back at the garage the mechanic had his young son in tow and through our collaborative pigeon French and English and with the help of google translate, he reassured us that the issue was not a big problem but seemed to be the sticking of the hand brake.
It was likely a new part would be needed and this may take some time to source. He advised we continue to Italy taking it slowly and stopping to allow the wheel to cool whenever it heated. Cheerily he and his son waved us off and we left feeling happier. We had permission to continue onwards, and a plan as to how to do that.
Passing Conflans again we waved to the dusty cloud hanging above its turreted walls and wished the town well.