Not quite to

Corsica 2013


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I first cycled to and from Corsica in 1998 when work was temporarily a bit quiet. Now that I have retired work is even quieter, especially during the breaks between Soccer seasons, and I thought that repeating the trip might be a good idea. The bike, which I had used on the 1998 trip, had been stolen some time ago but my newer bike was lighter, faster, and better. I wasn't, but a long bike journey might be just what was needed to cure this. Eventually, the bike was packed, the weather forecast had suddenly changed from "disaster area" to "not too bad", the soccer season was pretty much over, so no more excuses ...


Tuesday 21 May

On the road, in Nantyffyllon, at 10:30 for the flattest route, via Aberkenfig, Bryncethin, Pencoed, Talbot Green, and St Fagan's, to Cardiff and lunch at the Black and White cafe in Penarth Road, where I had regularly refuelled when working in Cardiff. Three hours is not my fastest time, but I was carrying more luggage than normal, and there's no hurry - I'm on holiday! Lamby Way and the coast road brought me into Newport, from where the A48 got me to Chepstow. This was as far as I got on my first day 15 years earlier but the field, near the old Severn Bridge where I then put up my tent, has disappeared. Over the bridge and another two hours got me to Yate and, as 10 hours on the road was more than enough, and as I was passing a small wood with a convenient clearing for my tent, why not?

My tent generally lives in a canvas bag, which has a zip to open and close it. I can't remember the last time I used the tent but it must have been some time ago. The zip slider was corroded, and it wouldn't open. This was cured with a quick spray of chain lubricating oil and a bit of gentle violence. Once the tent was out of its bag and erected, it became clear that some of the other zips had developed the same problem, so actually getting inside the tent might be a bit tricky. Had it rained, my pair of scissors might have been useful in getting past the "mosquito net" door but, so far, it wasn't raining and desperate measures could wait for more desperate times. My bivi-bag also has a corroded zip and, after spraying oil on all of the problem zip sliders, I slept under the stars in just my sleeping bag.


Wednesday 22 May

Back in February, I had decided that my old cycling shorts were a bit past their best, so I ordered a new pair at my local bike shop. Whenever my "new" pair arrived, they were either the wrong size or the wrong type. A week before this trip started, I bought the best available new pair which, although not exactly what I wanted, were at least the correct size. I'm not normally up too early in the morning so I have no idea of what time it gets light, and the only clock I had was on the bike. When I thought the sky was light enough I got up and dressed and, today, I decided to try out my new shorts. Starting off at 05:30, I thought "I must sleep with my clock a bit more accessible". Route-finding was no problem, as I had done this route 15 years ago, so I continued through Chipping Sodbury, Bath, and Bradford on Avon. I had breakfast (two hamburgers) at the same burger van, near Westbury, that I'd used 15 years ago. Gradually the ride, or at least my saddle area, became less and less comfortable. Every park bench, or bus-stop with a seat, became a compulsory ten minute stop. You can imagine that every cycle tour involves a bit of pain (if it doesn't hurt at all, you're not cycling far enough) but, about 5 miles past Salisbury, I'd had enough so I stopped in a field at about 17:30. My cycle computer tells me that almost half of my 12 hours "on the road" were spent resting, or eating, or some other non-cycling activity. At least Portsmouth is now easily possible in one more day. I spent some time checking out the tent zips: they were a bit more enthusiastic after last night's oil and, after a bit more oil, I finally got them all to work. The zip slider on my bivi-bag had not improved, and a bit more violence only caused it to break off totally. As, with no zip, it's no longer totally waterproof, the bag is not as useful as it once was. It could still be useful for unobtrusive low-profile camping if the rain stays away.


Thursday 23 May

It had been a fairly cold night but the sun started to warm the tent fairly early. Not so many clouds today. I decided to switch back to my original, and older, cycle shorts as my nether regions had become more painful overnight. Saddle sores are nothing new but these were difinitely blisters, and probably the worst I've ever had. Unfortunately, they are not in an area where self-examination is an option. Today was a quiet day: about 45 miles to the car ferry at Portsmouth, and loads of time to do it. In Southampton I saw a "Hospital A+E" sign and decided that a professional opinion, on how serious my blisters were, might be useful. Finding the A+E entrance was a nightmare, with loads of contradictary road signs, but once inside the staff were very helpful. The doctor who examined me was also a cyclist (certainly a more serious cyclist than I was) and gave me a list of stuff to get: cream and blister dressings from the chemist, and new (pro-gel) shorts and cream (for the new shorts, not for me!) at a bike shop. I explained that I had ordered such shorts back in February, but they hadn't arrived, so she gave me a map showing where the biggest bike shop (Hargroves) was in Southampton. I found the bike shop and they had the shorts I needed, but not in my size. Their computer claimed that the right shorts, in the right size, were in stock at their branch in Totton. As Totton was two miles away, in the wrong direction, they telephoned for confirmation but, when I got to their shop in Totton, there were no such shorts and they denied ever getting a phone call. I continued to Portsmouth: I thought there must be some useful cycle shops there, or in France. After slow progress, and many rests, and a fruitless stop at a cycle shop I passed on the road, I reached the ferry port at 18:45 and waited for the 22:00 Ferry to Caen


Friday 24 May

Although the ferry port is named "Caen" it's actually in a place called Ouistreham, about 10 miles from Caen itself. While not raining, it was a miserable day: as close as you can get to raining without it actually doing so. It was a slow 10 miles. Caen centre is, like most city centres, short on useful roadsigns: knowing which direction to go, and finding it by looking at the sun is normally a useful technique, but not today - the sun could be anywhere. I stopped for a coffee in the centre, and asked for directions to Falaise. Once I was pointing in the right direction I was off, but not too fast. There are lots of cycle-tracks but they are not too cycle-friendly: too many kerbs, and gravel, and pot-holes, and not enough road-signs. I eventually reached the southern ring-road and spotted a hotel in an industrial estate, probably very basic but hopefully cheap and all that I needed. I checked in for a day, partly for the rest and partly for the chance to put on some of the cream that I'd bought in Southampton. It can be difficult to stop and apply the cream to the necessary area in public! When my room became available at 11:00, I stripped off, took a shower, applied the cream and, apart from a short walk to Lidl to buy some sandwiches, I stayed in bed watching French television all day.


Saturday 25 May

Another shower, and some more cream on the blisters. I had decided that if I could do just 30 miles per day, I should be able to tell fairly soon whether my blisters were getting better or worse. If they got worse, I could just turn around, or get on a train, and go home. If they got better, I should be able to slowly increase my daily distance to something more normal. After breakfast, or what passes for it in France, I headed South. After less than a mile, I came up to a "Motor vehicles only" sign, with no suggestion as to how to get to Falaise (or indeed to anywhere legally), if you are not a motor vehicle. I ignored it, but took the first exit off the N158. There were fewer clouds today so navigating by the sun, and heading vaguely East or South-East, was fairly easy. I ended up on the D613, which was on my map and looked reasonable. By 13:00 I had covered 25 fairly leisurely miles, with not too much discomfort, when I suffered a front wheel puncture. The tyres on my bike like to be inflated to over 100 psi and, although not all garage airlines can manage this, they can do a much better job than most hand-pumps. So I carry a spare tube, but no pump. I pushed the bike about a mile, up a small hill, to a village called Bossiere where there was a garage, with lots of cars for sale, and a workshop. They would almost certainly have an air-line. It was locked up but the sign said that, on Saturdays, it was open 09:00 - 12:00 and 14:00 - 18:00. I waited until 15:00 and gave up. I continued pushing the bike East, while pausing occasionally to wave my thumb at passing van drivers. One motorcyclist stopped: he probably realised from my limp that I too was a motorcyclist, but he couldn't do much except apologise for not carrying a pump himself. Two hours and two miles later, with my right ankle virtually unusable, I came to a petrol station. 60 psi was the most the air-line could manage, and the tyre didn't hold it for long. I changed the tube and inflated it. Once I was sure it was OK, I cycled straight to the railway station at Lisieux. I can't remember exactly at what point I'd decided I'd had enough.

I bought a ticket to Le Havre, and waited for the train. Eventually it arrived and took me to Rouen, where I had to change trains. The platform, at which I'd arrived, was a bit like the London Underground, mainly in that it was underground. I had a choice between a staircase and an escalator. With a fully laden bike, I headed for the escalator but, once moving on the escalator, the bike had no choice but to give me a physics lesson. With a load of luggage above and behind the back wheel, and looking up a 45 degree slope, the bike wants nothing more than to fall backwards over the back wheel. While trying to control this unexpected physics lesson, I quickly became aware that, apart from not being to control the bike, I couldn't keep my own balance either. I was suddenly on all fours, pointing down the stairs, with the bike and luggage on top of me. I managed to extricate myself, and stand up, just in time to watch the bike being ejected from the top of the escalator. Lots of bits, like the front light, had been ripped loose from the handlebars, and the front wheel had been buckled. I had picked up a few bruises, on my right elbow and my right shin, and a few holes in my hi-vis jacket. I made my way to my next train. In Le Havre I managed to cycle to the booking office, which was closed until tomorrow morning. I put up my tent in the area where lorry drivers park, and wait until they can check in for their ferries.


Sunday 26 May

I had a bit of a lie-in and was surprised that nobody had arrived to move me on. The bike, even with a buckled front wheel, was slow but just about usable - and certainly faster than walking! I packed my gear, cycled to the booking hall, bought a ticket, cycled back and through the check-in, and waited in the sun for the boat which, when it arrived, was fairly fast. I have travelled through Portsmouth before, so it came as no surprise that the railway station at Portsmouth Harbour was two miles away from the actual harbour, with no signposts indicating how to get to it. I managed to find it, after asking only three pedestrians, and found that the ticket office was still open. The guy advised against a single to Maesteg, as there is no train service to Maesteg on a Sunday, and he warned me that, as it was after 15:00, he could not reserve a place for the bike. I bought a full ticket anyway as it was always possible to use the Maesteg part of the ticket on Monday after sleeping in my old office, and how much can possibly go wrong on one holiday? I got on the 18:00 to Cardiff, where I changed trains. I continued as far as Bridgend as I would imagine that my ticket to Maesteg was valid for this bit. At Bridgend Bus Station, the bus driver thought twice about taking the bike: there is probably some health and safety regulation about allowing heavily laden bikes on buses but I showed him my bus pass, and offered to pay for the bike. I said that I would normally cycle up but my wonky front wheel made that impossible, there were only half a dozen other people on the bus and, if it got too crowded, I promised that I'd get off and take the bike with me. He finally decided it was OK, and didn't charge for me or the bike. I got back home at about 22:00. It's nice to know that there are still enough grey cells out there to win the occasional victory against red tape.


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