The bus turned a corner and started ascending up the side of the mountain. I watched as the lake came into view and slowly started getting farther away. The bus winded up the roads getting higher and higher as we began to tower over the sprawling lake. I started having a feeling that we weren't going to head back down via bus, but I kept my expectations high. We had been waiting for this trip since we spotted the lake from atop a mountain across the valley during our hike in Gresse-en-Vercors.
We were headed to a town bearing the same name as the lake: Monteynard. I had looked it up on Google the day before and the website was filled with smiling families, windsurfers, boats and pools. It looked like the perfect waterfront getaway, just to take a walk in the brisk fall air along the side of a lake. I couldn't wait to sit by a big window in a café with a cappuccino looking out at the water. I knew it would probably be pretty desolate: it wasn't tourist season and it was Sunday, and if anyone has ever spent time in France, it's pretty common knowledge that there is no movement at all on Sundays. So I wasn't expecting much more than a couple of lakeside photos and a nice warm drink at a café.
When we got off the bus, we were not where we had expected to be (to put it in the simplest of terms). However, we saw the lake below and saw a trail behind the church that we decided to follow. Spirits up with our goal in reach, we began to descend the hillside towards the lake. The path weaved through a large field, home to a horse and a donkey, whose eyes followed us as we walked by. The open path soon turned to forest and the trail diminished in size until we had to walk one by one through the tall trees. It quickly turned into a full-on hike, one that we weren't expecting, nor were we prepared for, and the vision of reaching an esplanade along the lake was quickly deteriorating. Eventually, the path disappeared altogether and we were left stranded in a forest on the side of the mountain with stone ruins of ancient french structures on one side and a straight drop down to the water on the other.
We decided at that point that it may be a good time to turn around and head back to the town, which, like all french villages, had a church, but unlike other french villages we were used to close the city, had zero restaurants... or businesses in general. After a climb back up to the town disposing us at the bus stop, we checked the schedule, tail between our legs because we didn't see what we came for. Next bus: 4 hours. 4 hours! It was just about three o' clock, the sun was sinking in the sky, and we had no shelter to occupy ourselves in the near-freezing weather. We considered hitch-hiking, but neither of us had the guts to leave our thumbs raised in the air for each passing car. We walked to the next bus stop, which took a total of ten minutes, so we still had 3 hours and 50 minutes ahead of us.
Our next bright idea was to follow the bus route to the next stop to see how far we could get, and maybe stumble upon some kind of restaurant in the next town over. Only ten minutes away by car, we figured it was plenty doable, so away we went. Let me just say right now that ten minutes by car is a lot longer by foot in 3˚C. We found ourselves caught on the side of the winding mountain roads with a beautiful view (which was incredible) but not so hopeful prospects as each turn in the road was followed by another twist without a destination in sight.
With frozen fingers, dead phones and empty stomachs, we continued along as the sun fell behind the mountains and we finally reached the next bus stop in a town with just as little life and vitality as the previous. A man and his dog appeared down the road, headed in our direction and a flicker of hope flashed across our minds... but then quickly fizzled when he answered, no, there isn't a restaurant in this town and the closest one was still a car ride away. There was a market (with a sign that read pizza à emporter), but it was Sunday, so no, it wasn't open. With heavy hearts, we decided to walk to the church to see, at least, if we could sit down in a shelter. It was closed.
As we turned the corner ready to face the next hour and then some on a bench waiting for a bus that we only hoped would come, a can pulled into the parking lot of the market. We froze in our steps, eyes wide, and looked at each other. It was too good to be true. A women stepped out, opened the door to the market and flicked on the lights. We practically pranced down the road despite our lack of energy towards the sign with the word pizza. We opened the door and the heat of the building instantly began to thaw our frozen limbs.
The woman was amazingly accommodating, and although the market was made for shopping and take-out, she cleared a table for the two lost Americans in the middle of a remote mountain village and we made it our hideaway until we felt we had overstayed our welcome, which luckily, coincided closely enough with the scheduled bus time back to Grenoble.
So the moral of the story is that 'winging it' isn't the best approach to exploring the mountains as the season changes from fall to winter, especially on a Sunday in France. For all the pain and wandering, I just hope the photos were worth the torture. And maybe, eventually, we'll make it to the lake.