My girlfriend can, at times, be of of what you might describe as a nervous disposition. Therefore, when we decided to go skiing in the French Alps, she was a little worried about the drive. When we visited the gas station the night before our trip, she was astounded that I only put 20 Euros in the tank. I assured her that our Toyota Yaris provided excellent mileage and that we would easily be able to get back on the amount I had put in. Her response shocked me a little bit.
"But what happens if we get stuck in the mountains on the trip back. We will need lots of petrol so that we can use the heater in the car".
I almost burst out laughing at her. We were heading to Valberg, which is one of the closest ski-resorts to our home in Nice. Every week-end hundreds of Alpine enthusiasts from Nice make their way up into the mountains to enjoy the pistes. Therefore, I was not expecting us to be in too much danger. It was not quite like we were driving in the great unknown. However, as it transpired, I was left with egg on my face as we found ourselves faced with the possibility of being in such a situation.
We had finished skiing at just before 17h00 and had left at around 17h15. The early part of the journey had been normal and completely lacking in drama. We had navigated a few hairpin bends and enjoyed some of the scenery on the Route des Grande Alpes. However, after about 20km whilst we were still on one of the perilously thin mountain roads we hit a traffic-jam. It appeared that the problem had sprung from lots of traffic on the road combined with two tour buses making their way back to the highway. The buses were clearly two large for the road and were having trouble passing when the road narrowed.
At first, things didn't seem too serious. The buses were about 20 cars in front of us, so we could see a little of what was going on. It appeared that for them to move on they simply needed to slow to a crawl and the traffic coming in the opposite direction had to stop. This worked on a couple of small bends, but then suddenly everything came to a grinding halt. Coming the other way was a large 4X4 and it seemed that there was simply no way the two sides could go through. So, we stopped. At first we thought it would be a few minutes and then we would be free. But, after about five minutes the other cars began to turn off their engines. Reluctantly, I cranked on my hand-brake and followed suit. Almost instantly, my girlfriends words came back to haunt me as within a minute of the engine and with it the car's heater going off the temperature in the car dropped noticeably – I was glad I still had on my ski-pants.
"I told you so." My girlfriend said.
We sat in the cold and began to worry. There was absolutely no sign of movement from the cars below. I got out to see what all the fuss was about and if there was a solution to be had. The scene was bleak. There were several other drivers out of their cars and some small groups had even begun to play soccer on the road. I was worried.