Corsica

2014

 

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I first cycled to and from Corsica in 1998, and I always fancied repeating the trip. I tried in the spring of 2013 and that attempt, for various reasons, was not too successful. I felt that I could still do it so: a little bit older, and hopefully a little bit wiser, I tried again.

Technical data is from my CatEye "Adventure" Cycle computer

Time on Road

Total Distance

Metres Climbed

Metres Descended

Time in Saddle


Tuesday 13 May

This was the third time that I've cycled from Maesteg to the Severn Bridge and I no longer need a map. I have learned a few things since last year so, this time, my bike has a suspension seat-post and my two pairs of cycling shorts both have pro-gel padding in the sitting down area. I had one of these pairs last year but, as they were new, I might have blamed them unfairly for my problems. I also learned not to attempt too much on the first day so I had a late start at 12:30 after breakfast in my local cafe. The ride was fairly uneventful apart from some idiot trying to kill me at the traffic lights in Fairwater. I crossed the Severn Bridge and, as it was getting a bit dark, put up my tent in a quiet field about a mile later.

8:30

111.45 km

+737

-927

6:35


Wednesday 14 May

An early start, for me, at 06:30. When I'm cycle-touring I'm normally in bed shortly after sunset, mainly because I'm in the middle of nowhere, and early mornings seem much more natural. I cycled through Alveston, Iron Acton, Yate, Chipping Sodbury, and Bath with no problem (apart from the roads being a little hillier than I remember) and I was about a mile from Bradford on Avon when I had a rear wheel puncture. I pushed the bike, all downhill, to the town centre where I stopped for lunch and enquired after the nearest garage. I pushed the bike a little further, stopped, fitted my spare tube, and re-inflated the tyre. As soon as I'd started off again, I had another puncture but fortunately I was outside a bike shop. I went in and, after inspecting the damage, they suggested that the rear tyre was a bit worn, and possibly well past its best. I'd done enough bike pushing for the day, so I bought a new heavier duty tyre and a new tube. Today's problems had cost me a fair amount of time and I decided that reaching Portsmouth by Thursday evening was no longer a realistic option and I stopped early, after a few more miles, when a reasonable camping site suggested itself

10:30

59.12 km

+672

-640

4:57


Thursday 15 May

As I'd persuaded myself to follow a slightly gentler schedule, I now had to force myself to slow down. A leisurely breakfast at the burger-van just north of Westbury. Forty miles per day is all I need to do, so I'm always ahead of schedule. "Ooh, a coffee shop!". I'm not thirsty but I'm ahead of schedule. "Ooh, look, a picnic table!". I'm not tired, but you get my drift. Warminster and Salisbury drifted by. I put up my tent in the same field, about five miles past Salisbury, that I used last year.

8:00

63.96 km

+453

-400

4:01


Friday 16 May

A mile or two up the road, at the Whiteparish junction, was a small cafe which I remembered from last year. It was shut, so I continued to the Golden Acres. The name, and the little old ladies who served me my breakfast, suggested that it might have been a retirement home but it was a Garden Centre. Another uneventful day, cycling gently past Southampton. I remembered to stop at a bike shop, Peter Hansford in Swanwick, to buy a new valve adaptor so I can use a car air-line to inflate my tyres. My old adaptor disappeared when I had my tube replaced in Bradford. Even after my deliberately cycling around slowly, and in no particular hurry, there was a long wait for the Car Ferry.

8:20

62.12 km

+439

-530

4:13


Satuday 17 May

Last year I took the ferry to Caen, so it's been sixteen years since I've cycled anywhere near Le Havre. Navigation was quite simple then but it seemed that all of the roads have since been moved around. I was carrying a motorists' road map, which concentrates mainly on motorways, and most of the roadsigns seemed to be guiding me towards the main roads. Finding the smaller, quieter, roads involved a lot of guess-work and quite a few unnecessary diversions. I eventually guessed my way to Bolbec, after which a signpost to Lillebonne and then to Caudebec-en-Caux simplified things a little.

The Pont de Brotonne is the first bridge, across the Seine, which is accessible to cyclists and, after crossing it, I could head South. The navigation was much less of a problem and I was looking forward to some more easy, relaxing, problem-free cycling. I was still trying to build up my daily distance gradually, but I'm not very good at just sitting down and enjoying the scenery for too long. Fortunately, I managed to find a book of Sudoku problems which kept me busy for half an hour at a time. I stopped for the night in a forest, slightly North of the town of Bourg-Achard.

9:00

71.63 km

+614

-570

5:05


Sunday 18 May

On the road to Bourg Achard, I left the Department of Seine-Maritime and entered the Eure. Car drivers might not like very smooth tarmac, as there is less grip when it rains, but we cyclists absolutely love it! France has more than its fair share of pâtisseries, most of which supply cakes which make an absolutely wonderful breakfast. After refuelling in such an establishment in Bourg-Achard, I managed to find the road South along which I passed a memorial to four British soldiers, who were killed during the liberation of France after WW2. For some reason, I remembered the memorial from sixteen years ago, but back then it was just a small, crumbling, hardly legible stone, leaning over in the corner of a field which had clearly been ploughed. The French, it seems, have since decided that the four are worthy of more respect.

I continued to Le Neuborg, where I stopped for Sunday lunch, and continued to Conches-en-Ouch, where I'd used the municipal campsite in 1998. I stopped at a cafe for a quick drink and, while parking the bike, I found that my luggage carrier was falling apart. There was a cycle shop in town but only two hotels. One was open but full, and the other was closed with no sign of when, or if, it would open. I managed to temporarily fix the luggage carrier with a bungee cord but it was not clear how long this fix would last. I found my old campsite, which had closed down five years earlier, and I decided to head for Evreux, which was the nearest large town, and where I might possibly find another cycle shop. There was no sign of a campsite so, as wild camping is a bit tricky so close to a large town, I stopped at the Hotel Kyriad for the night. There was a single mains socket in my room, so I could either charge my tablet computer, or watch television, or make myself a coffee. The tablet computer won. Wild camping is better but it's also nice to have a proper bed, a beer, and a hot shower now and again.

9:45

93.72 km

+662

-572

6:33


Monday 19 May

When I unplugged my adaptor (which has an EU plug and a UK socket) from the mains socket one of the pins, from the plug, decided to stay in the wall socket. The next guest couldn't even watch television. I managed to explain to the receptionist, after she had carefully translated the bill to me three times, that I was about to eat only one breakfast and so I should pay for it only once. I couldn't be bothered to ask where the nearest bike shop was, so I headed South towards Nonancourt. This should have been simple as it's a straight road but, unfortunately, part of it has been improved to the extent that only motor vehicles are now allowed on it. There was no indication of how to get to Nonancourt if one is not in a motor vehicle. Had I known more, I would have followed the "Evreux" sign but, as this was where I'd just come from, I chose the Damville road instead. From there I continued to Verneuil-sur-Avre from which I could follow my 1998 route through Brezolles to Chateauneuf-en-Thymerais. It had been a hot day so when, a couple of miles up the road, a reasonable wild camping site appeared, I stopped for the night. My broken luggage carrier had done well with its bungee cord holding it together but, hopefully, Chartres would have a bike shop.

10:20

76.02 km

+416

-319

5:20


Tuesday 20 May

It was a cloudy start to the day, and the ride into Chartres was fairly uneventful, except that while I stopped for a five minute rest in Maillebois a Frenchman, who like me was retired, decided to practice his English on me for half an hour. I managed to escape and found the centre of Chartres, where I asked a pedestrian where I could find a bike shop. "C'est difficile." he said then, after a brief pause, "Ah, oui! Roulez avec moi." so I did and, five minutes later, a bike shop appeared. I thanked him and went in. Yes they had a new porte-baggage and they could fit it too. I should come back in two hours. Fortunately, there was a mobile phone shop next door so I bought an EU mains to USB adaptor, which could be used to charge my tablet computer, and a SIM card for my mobile Wi-Fi thingie which, until now, had only worked in the UK.

After a leisurely lunch, I picked up the bike and continued South. It had started to rain gently and, due to a couple of diversions which I didn't fully understand, I had managed to end up on the main road from Chartres to Orleans, which had more than its fair share of heavy lorries. The weather had also deteriorated and there was a lot of spray from these lorries. I took the first reasonable-looking right turn and guessed my way to the Chartres - Voves road, which I had originally intended to use, and which had much less traffic on it. After hiding from the rain, and doing a few Sudoku puzzles, in a selection of bus-shelters, I stopped just short of Artenay in a village called Poupry. I put my tent up in an area which looked like a graveyard for dead farm machinery.

9:00

80.22 km

+304

-198

5:29


Wednesday 21 May

Another miserable day, with on and off light rain, but there wasn't much to do except keep pedalling. I crossed the main road at Artenay, and headed for Neuville-aux-Bois. Either there weren't any decent road signs or I'd mis-read them because I took a large diversion through Chevilly and Saint-Barthelemy. Normally I'm quite reasonable at navigating, using only the position of the sun in the sky and my wristwatch, but this system only works well when I can see where the sun is. I managed to find Neuville where I paused for a quick meal at a modern American-style fast-food restaurant which succeeded in making a MacDonalds Happy Meal look good. Navigation was simpler as I continued, South-East through Loury and Fay-aux-Loges, to Chateauneuf-sur-Loire. The theory was that, as rivers generally avoid hills, navigation and pedalling should be easier for a day or two if I were simply to follow the river. The weather, however, was getting more difficult and, a mile short of Sully-sur-Loire, I passed the "Jardin de Sully" camp site which had lots of swings and roundabouts, and picnic tables, and children's play areas, but no shop, restaurant, bar, or indeed anything to do on a wet evening. Nevertheless, I'd pedalled through enough rain for one day so I stopped. It was a very stormy night.

8:00

72.94 km

+232

-223

4:55


Thursday 22 May

Following the road along the South-West bank of the Loire, or to be more accurate the road alongside the "Canal Lateral a la Loire", was easy enough and the day was uneventful apart from the weather, which alternated between almost sunny and almost give-up-and-go-home. I alternated between cycling along quite happily and hiding in bus-shelters. Normally, in heavy rain, I take my specs off as I can see more of what's ahead but, at some point, I must have taken them off and put them down temporarily while I was hiding in a bus-shelter. Whatever happened, I never found them again. Between bus-shelters I continued, through Gien and Chatillon-sur-Loire, to a town called Saint Satur. There was a sign to a hotel, which said "cyclists welcome" but it was closed. There was a "ring this number" sign in the window but I had no phone, at least no phone which worked in France. I found the three-star Hotel de la Loire, just as it started to rain again. I hadn't noticed any big climb today so I was quite surprised to find that I'd still climbed over 300 meters over the course of the day.

9:00

74.32 km

+310

-274

5:13


Friday 23 May

It had stopped raining when I set off, and I followed the obvious road along the bank of the Loire. This took me on a tour of an industrial estate and then dumped me on the road which I'd used yesterday. With an accurate map I would have turned left, to re-cross the canal, and turned left again to follow it South but, as I couldn't get my Mobile WiFi thingie to work, my tablet computer and Google Maps were not available. I took the easy option, and followed the signs to La-Charite-sur-Loire. This road took me over the Loire, up and down some unnecessary hills, through Pouilly-sur-Loire, and on to a "Motor vehicles only" sign. With no real alternative, except maybe to reverse all of the day's journey or to pick a random un-signposted road, I pretended that I was a motor vehicle for a couple of miles. I reached La Charite and crossed back to the West bank, where the roads were smaller and quieter, until I reached the city of Nevers where I enquired my way to the Orange phone shop. The technician there demonstrated, by putting it in his own phone, that my SIM card was working. He suspected that my MiFi device (from "Three") had been locked in such a way that it would work either only in the UK or only with a SIM card supplied by "Three". He thought that the Orange shop in Chartres should have checked this before selling me the SIM card, and I told him that I'd put a brick through their window if I was ever passing again. I continued my trip, through worsening weather, to Imphy, where I was tempted by a small hotel which advertised free WiFi. When I enquired, the free WiFi (supplied by Orange) wasn't actually working so I continued pedalling. With a bit of luck she'd give Orange a hard time. The weather got worse, I got wetter, and the hills got bigger, so when I reached Decize I stopped at the Hotel "Port de Decize" without even asking the cost of a room. Over 600 metres of climbing today! So much for the theory that following a river would give me a fairly easy time.

11:00

98.15 km

+612

-570

6:43


Saturday 24 May

The sky was still cloudy, but it had stopped raining. The road to Diou was long, straight, and flat. Now and again, the Loire canal joined us but not for any distance as the canal was not quite as straight as the road.

In a village called Pierrefitte-sur-Loire, I was tempted by a big 'WiFi' logo on a sign advertising a campsite. The sign didn't say how far it was to the campsite but, even if it had, I have learned from experience not to believe such information in France. After a mile, I found the "Camping du Vernay" and I walked into the reception. The first thing that I checked was the WiFi. "Mais Oui" she said, "Les prix sont la" as she pointed to a piece of paper pinned to the wall. I read the first line out loud: "1 heure = 5 Euros". I looked at her to verify this and she was smiling, obviously quite happy that I understood. "Merci" I said, followed rapidly by "Au revoir" as I walked out. I could hear her asking "Et le camping?" as I started pedalling back to the main road. I followed the canal tow-path to Digoin, where I found a bar with free WiFi. After a couple of beers, I followed the roadsigns to Paray-le-Monial until I found the inevitable "Motor vehicles only" sign where I guessed, and took the road south. The next junction guided me towards Vitry-en-Charollais and Paray-le-Monial but, after half a mile, I found a nice quiet spot in the woods where I could put up my tent.

11:30

84.58 km

+274

-200

6:23


Sunday 25 May

The weather had continued to improve overnight, and I headed for Paray-le-Monial. When I came this way in 1998, I'm sure that getting from here to Macon was quite simple: I just followed the road signs. Now, the road from Charolles to Macon, has been considerably improved, and one of the improvements is the addition of an extra carriageway and some "Motor vehicles only" signs. I started guessing, but I didn't have to guess for long as I found some "Macon (Route Touristique)" signs, which took me along some very scenic roads, scenic because of all the climbs involved, and because of the lack of towns and supermarkets which would only have spoiled the view. It was a Sunday, so it was unlikely that they would have been open anyway.

The weather started to get hot in the afternoon which, with all of the climbing involved, was not all that welcome. Fortunately, as I had drunk all of the Coca-cola that I had bought in Charolles, I managed to find a bar in the village of Curtil-sous-Buffieres. After this, it was back on the road, where most of the road signs seemed to give me the choice of Macon on a nice smooth road (if I had been in a car) or Macon via more of the tourist route.

It was starting to get dark as I reached Macon, and I looked for the Municipal Campsite where I'd stayed for a night back in 1998. I had noticed that, although I can manage OK in daylight, I am not too good at reading street names, without my glasses, in the evening. I found the campsite, but the shop, the bar, and the restaurant were all closed. I couldn't persuade the free WiFi to work either.

11:00

83.32 km

+1026

-1120

6:36


Monday 26 May

I packed up my tent, and headed for the exit of the campsite. There was a barrier across the road, and a window behind which there was a man who asked me for a lot of money. I can't remenber exactly how much, but I remember my reply: "How much???". He mentioned that it was a four-star campsite. "Four stars?" I said, "but it has no restaurant, no bar, no WiFi, and not even a shop!". "No bar?" said an Irish accent, who was queueing to check in to the campsite. "It hasn't been open all of the time I've been here" I said, without specifying exactly how long that was. "Sod that!" he said, then he and his two mates left the queue. "But we have a bar and a restaurant!" said the guy behind the window. "No you haven't!" I said, "You have a large building with the word restaurant written on the side. A real restaurant is somewhere that I can sit down and buy a meal." I might have mentioned that I wanted to eat when I was hungry, and not when the camp commandant wanted me to eat. I'm not sure, now. "But you must still pay" said the man. "You can have two euros" I said, "for the piece of grass that I slept on". "You pay the full amount, or I call the police" he said. "So call the police. If they want to speak to me, I'll be on the road to Bourg-en-Bresse". I had correctly calculated that my bike and I could pass through the gap between his barrier and the wall, so I pedalled off. Down the road, over the bridge, and towards Lyon.

The weather was warm and not too cloudy, so navigation was simple. My original plan was to go via Bourg-en-Bresse to the Col du Galibier as it's normally quite difficult to arrange to do this pass from the North, especially as some sort of circular trip is normally required, but my brain had obviously decided on its own that I wasn't quite fit enough for this, and it had taken the easier option without my even noticing. I was tempted, as yesterday had been a hard day, and it had begun to cloud over, by a campsite close to Lyon. It boasted a WiFi system but, as it wasn't free, I decided to keep pedalling. Over the last couple of days, I had been a bit worried about the head bearing on the bike, as turning the handlebars wasn't as smooth as it normally was. As I got nearer to Lyon the handlebar movements became less and less smooth, and I got more and more worried. I passed a fairly large bike shop on the road into Lyon and, as there was no nearby campsite, I decided to stop in a fairly cheap hotel, the Saint Paul, and to call in at the bike shop in the morning.

9:00

81.84 km

+344

-340

5:40


Tuesday 27 May

It's amazing, once all of the luggage it taken off the bike, how easy it is to pedal it around, even with a dodgy head bearing. The guy in the Veran bike shop turned the handlebar and immediately said "Yes, it's dead!". He would have to take the bearing apart and have a good look at it. I should come back in two hours. After a fairly leisurely lunch, I was told that I needed two new parts: a new head bearing, immediately, and some other piece (my French isn't too good). I could wait until I got home for the other piece but, in the meantime, I might have wrecked another head bearing. He could order the necessary bits, but he would not know when they'd arrive until tomorrow morning. Not having much choice I asked him to go ahead, then I checked in to the hotel for another night.


Wednesday 28 May

When I called in at the bike shop, late in the morning, the new head bearing had arrived and my bike was fixed. The other part, which was causing all of the damage, would take another week so I decided not to wait. Head bearings are a lot cheaper than hanging around for a week. Onwards! The sun is shining and, now that I've reached the Rhône, it's downhill all the way to Marseille. After yesterday's enforced rest-day, my legs are ready for action and the towns just drift past. Givors, Vienne, Condrieu. At Saint-Pierre-de-Boeuf a nice quiet cycle track, along an long island in the Rhône, took me across a suspension bridge back to the main road at Serrieres. Just as it was getting a bit dark I found a campsite, just to the North of Andance, with free WiFi and a bar. I'm starting to enjoy this holiday!

5:30

72.69 km

+282

-240

4:02


Thursday 29 May

The good weather continued, and I even had a slight tailwind, as I continued South along the West bank of the Rhône. A very relaxing day until the early evening when, with the light fading, I failed to notice a branch, sticking out from the road-side hedge, at about head height. I must have managed to close my eyes in time but, when I stopped to examine the damage, there was blood dripping from my nose. It stopped bleeding after a mile or two and, as I wasn't carrying a mirror, I had no way of examining anything further. I stopped, at a picnic area just short of Viviers, where someone had left a car in the parking area. The light wasn't too good, but there was no sign of any real damage when I looked in his wing-mirror. It was time to stop for the night anyway, and it looked like a nice place to put up a tent.

9:30

98.24 km

+386

-328

5:16


Friday 30 May

More of the same as I continued to roll South. On one of my frequent stops, for a mouthful or two of Coca-cola, I noticed a hill in the distance. A quick glance at the map confirmed my suspicions: it was Le Mont Ventoux. A name to induce fear into the hardest of cyclists, so you can probably imagine what it does to me. I failed to get up it in 2008, and I must admit that my mitigating circumstances were not terribly convincing. Maybe, on the way home if I chicken out of the Alps, I'll give it another try.

I had no real problem until I got near Avignon, where the road turned into a dual carriageway then into a motorway. As there was no alternative way to cross the Rhône, or at least nothing obvious, I took another trip along the hard shoulder. Fortunately, the French don't seem to worry a lot about such things. Avignon is a nightmare, as far as navigation is concerned, but the sky was clear and the "cycle towards the sun" plan worked reasonably well. I reached St-Remy-de-Provence just as it was starting to get dark and, on the climb out of town, a picnic area appeared out of the gloom.

12:45

104.01 km

+658

-600

6:32


Saturday 31 May

I had intended getting to Martigues via Miramas and Istres but a few navigational errors, caused mainly by my mis-reading the map and imagining that St-Remy-de-Provence was further East than it actually was, took me to Saint-Martin-de-Crau and then the main Arles to Martigues road. On the plus side, this road was straight and flat but, when it turned into a motorway, I might have over-stayed my welcome slightly. Martigues was a nice place to stop for lunch, and to view the viaduct where I would have ended up if I'd over-stayed my welcome a little longer.

In 1998, I had taken the main road to Marseille and I remember another long stretch on a motorway. This time I took care to find the road South, towards Sausset-les-Pins, but this road was much hillier than I'd either imagined or planned and so progress was slow. Part of the road runs along a ridge, which is not flat, and the road rather resembles a big dipper. It was hard work, especially as the weather was warming up. I missed the correct exit from this road, through the town of Ensues-la-Redonne, as all of the roadsigns saying "Marseille this way!" are aimed at motorists. I was halfway down a long hill, on a dual carriageway and so fairly committed, before I noticed my error. Improvising my route as I went along, I finally reached Marseille and asked my way to the correct harbour, at Joliette. Bus stops, in Marseille, are quite useful because they point out not only where I am, but also how many stops there are to Joliette. When I got there I found that, although the last ferry to Bastia had left some time ago, there was still one to Ajaccio if I moved quickly enough. One's plans have to be flexible on these jaunts!

11:25

108.28 km

+876

-750

7:18


Sunday 1 June

It wasn't long after I got off the ferry that I noticed that the roads around Ajaccio have been changed since I was last there. I don't recall seeing any "Motor Vehicles only" signs in 1998. As I completed a hilly and pointless, but legal, detour I noticed that most of the local cyclists just ignore them. I found the start of my first climb with no problem, and started the long plod towards the top. As I got higher and higher, the temperature did the same and I had to keep reminding myself that Corsica is beautiful because of the hills, and not in spite of them. The top of the climb, which rejoices in the name of "La Bocca d'Aja di Bastiano" had a small cafe, where I could buy a Coca-cola but no food. Something do do with its being Sunday. I persuaded them to sell me a couple of bananas and a large bottle of Coca-cola before I started the descent, through Pila Canale, down to the valley. Then the climbing started again. I reached the town of Petreto-Bicchisano, where I stopped at a small restaurant. They didn't open until 20:00, at which time it would be getting dark, and it looked like it was the only restaurant in town. Putting up a tent in daylight is always to be preferred so I continued the climb out of town.

I didn't have far to cycle before I found a sort of lay-by. Having eaten only two bananas all day, although not through any choice of mine, I can understand how I lose weight so easily on these holidays. On the plus side, it's not often that I have such a stunning view from my bedroom.

11:30

60.01 km

+1310

-650

6:28


Monday 2 June

I continued the climb to the Col de Saint-Eustache, where I met two Germans on a hiking holiday. I didn't meet a single German when I was here in Corsica in 1998 but it seems, at last, that history is being consigned to the history books.

The road from this pass to Aullene is spectacular. There's no other word for it. The views make all of the hard work, and the rain, and the lack of food, worthwile.

After demolishing a large pizza in the restaurant at Aullene, surrounded by German motor-cyclists, I started the long descent to the valley. After this, the short climb to Sartene was quite tiring in the early afternoon sun. I finally reached it, used the cash-machine, and after establishing that there was no cafe with WiFi in town, continued along the coast road. A campsite at a place called Pero Longo claimed to have free WiFi so I put up my tent and ordered a beer. After the second beer, nobody had managed to get the free WiFi to work so I paid for the beers, packed up my tent, and left. Another evening putting up the tent in the corner of a field, at the side of the road, just as the daylight was disappearing.

13:15

83.57 km

+1130

-1680

6:38


Tuesday 3 June

For some reason, I was exhausted. It was a hot day and clearly hotter down near the sea than it had been in the hills. I spent most of the morning doing Sudoku problems while sitting on any park bench that offered any degree of shade.

I reached Porto Vecchio and, knowing that I had a fairly long and hard climb coming up, I decided to stop for the day. After a quick trip around the harbour, I found that there was no campsite in town so I chose the most reasonable looking hotel. Their WiFi was temporarily unavailable as there were a load of workmen digging up the road outside, but eventually they finished their work, the internet connection came back on, and I checked in. A quiet evening, spent mainly catching up on my eating and drinking.

4:00

35.13 km

+368

-450

2:45


Wednesday 4 June

I suspected that today would be hard so I was on the road early. I had a quick breakfast, and loaded the bike with Coca-cola, at a roadside shop before the climb really started. There was hardly a cloud in the sky, and there were few trees to offer any shade, and my crash helmet came off early in an attempt to prevent my overheating.

Sixteen years ago, I don't remember it ever being too hot: given enough Coca-cola, I could climb anything but this year the combination of hot weather, low altitute, and a steep climb makes me considerably less than enthusiastic. It took me ten hours to complete the climb, but only slightly more than three hours of this was spent actually in the saddle. Any excuse for a rest was good enough but, eventually, I reached the town of L'Ospedale and started to look for some food.

The town had obvously opened and closed while I was on the climb but I managed to find a restaurant which, although technically closed, managed to find two bottles of Heineken, a slice of apple pie in the fridge, and another big bottle of Coca-cola for the bike. Above the town the gradient was not so steep, and the sun not so high in the sky, and another mile brought me to a clearing in the forest, ideal for a very welcome rest and an overnight stop.

11:00

22.46 km

+932

-5

3:30


Thursday 5 June

Starting the day at an altitude of over 900 metres is a totally different experience. It's nice and warm, rather than unpleasantly hot, and the roads have their fair share of downhill, and flat, sections. Even on an otherwise calm day, there are breezes. They might be mainly anabatic, and so a bit on the warm side, but a breeze is a breeze is a breeze. Compared to the purgatory of the day before, cycling towards Zonza was a pleasure. Normally there were lots of trees around, so the scenery was hidden, but sometimes a gap in the trees would remind me that I was well and truly up in the hills.

The road continued through many small villages. Finding food and drink was not a problem and I eventually arrived at Aullene where I had another large pizza in the same retaurant. Was the previous one all of three days ago? When entering the town, I had noticed a brown scar on the distant scenery. A quick glance at the map was enough to confirm that ... yes, the scar was actually the road out.

I stopped at a shop on the road out of Aullene for my usual large bottle of Coca-cola, but they had none. They were so embarrassed that they gave me two litres of bottled water, and they wouldn't accept any payment. What wonderful people! The road out was a sustained, but not too steep, climb and I reached the 1200 metre, quietly scenic, Col de la Vaccia in the last of the day's sunshine. I went down the North side, almost as far as Zicavo, before I found a quiet lay-by where I shared my sleeping area with a big pile of logs.

10:00

61.85 km

+836

-1000

5:21


Friday 6 June

Only a slight descent to the village of Zicavo, where there was no pâtisserie so I missed my usual breakfast: I had to make do with a couple of bars of chocolate. The climb up to the Bocca de Verde was quite comfortable as it was slightly cooler in the morning, and there was lots of shade from the trees. Nevertheless, I was climbing without a helmet and, when I stopped for a short rest in the shade of a tree, I was hit on the head by a falling pine cone. Surprised more than anything, I jumped around and fell over. The bike fell on top of me. While I was crawling out from under the bike, a German motorcyclist arrived, stopped, took his helmet off, and asked if I was OK. I was explaining, mainly with hand signals and a pine cone, when he was also hit on the head with a pine cone. His wife, who had been riding pillion, couldn't control her laughter.

There was a restaurant on the pass. It was closed, in spite of the "Restaurant Ouvert" signs. The descent to Ghisoni took an hour, but the restaurant there was also closed. I always imagine that my question "Is it possible to eat at any restaurant near here?" will sound terribly sarcastic, but the French don't seem to notice. We finally established that, although he wasn't serving food, he could possibly manage a sandwich. I ordered, and ate, two ham sandwiches and continued up the road to my next big pass. There were nice views of Ghisoni, which is probably a nice place when it's open, on the way up. After a couple of hours a large lay-by appeared: just in time, as the sun had disappeared it was about to get a bit dark.

11:05

48.29 km

+916

-660

5:21


Saturday 7 June

It took a couple of hours to reach the top of the Bocca di Sorba and, although it was a bit steep, it was no problem in the cool of the early morning. Once over the top, the scenery was amazing: probably the more so because it was so different to the scenery on the ascent. The bike stayed in the same position for these three photographs, taken early on the descent.

The six mile descent, to Vivario, took almost an hour: there was just too much scenery to look at. I found a restaurant and asked the guy who was laying the tables if he was open. After his compulsory glance at his watch, I was expecting the usual, incredulous, "You want to eat??" but he said "Yes, in about twenty minutes." While waiting, I had a coca-cola and used the free WiFi, then I enjoyed a huge steak. After my meal, I continued North, down to cross a river at 400m altitude, over a pass above Venaco at 700m, and back down to the City of Corte at 400m.

This was the lowest altitude that I'd been for four days, and the heat was beginning to get to me. I'd spent a lot of the afternoon hiding from the sun, in the shade of any convenient tree that I passed, doing some Sudoku puzzles. During one of these rests, I simply decided that my holiday in Corsica had been long enough for me. It's difficult to explain why, as I was having a great time but, suddenly, out of the blue, I just wanted to go home. When the air cooled a bit, I climbed most of the way up to the Bocca d'Ominanda, at 700m again, and camped in the nearest thing I could find to a quiet lay-by. My decision to head for home still seemed reasonable in the morning.

12:35

39.15 km

+740

-1090

3:36


Sunday 8 June

I finished the climb to the Bocca d'Ominanda easily enough and, on the descent through Castirla, I looked for breakfast but it was a Sunday and the world was deserted. I reached the river, crossed over using the bridge, and turned left. Any trip to Corsica just has to include the Bocca di Verghio, the highest pass on the island, and my last big climb had started.

The road from Ponte Castirla to Calacuccia is about 15 kilometers long and, over this distance, it gains almost 500 metres in altitude. The road goes up a long valley, which dwarfs the valleys in South Wales, and there is no sign of a cafe, a bar, or a shop anywhere. There is also hardly a tree and, as we got closer to Summer, the weather was getting seriously hot. I remember that I did find a tree, and I sheltered under it while looking at the snow on a distant hill. Whoever designed Corsica knows how to twist the knife.

I reached Calacuccia which, fortunately, was open. I had a leisurely lunch, and re-stocked the bike with Coca-cola. After another two hour rest, mainly to avoid the mid-afternoon sun, I started the final part of the climb up to the Bocca di Verghio. On the higher ground there are more trees, some of which would have been very welcome earlier, and as the air cooled with the approach of sunset I reached a large clearing and a huge pile of parked logs.

12:15

35.41 km

+798

-450

3:55


Monday 9 June

I completed the climb slowly, while the air was still cool. Of the four hours on the road only two hours were spent in the saddle, but I wasn't going to be in Corsica for much longer and I really didn't want to rush things. I took my time, looked at the scenery, and took lots of photographs but one of the problems is that the scenery, which would normally be quite stunning, can be something of a let-down if it's not as good as yesterday's. The pass itself, and most of the descent, were beautiful but I suppose that they all needed a wide-angle lens to do them justice, and I didn't have one.

I would recommend the road, down through Evisa, to anybody who enjoys mountain scenery as much as I do and cycling down it, just as the day was starting to warm up, was much more fun than cycling up it would have been. I reached the town of Porto, and stopped for lunch, just as the day was getting seriously hot. Porto, obviously, is on the coast but every road out of town involves a climb of at least 300 metres. Scenic but strenuous! My exit road, to the North, was by far the easiest as it makes the climb gently and, as the day wore on and the sun got lower in the sky, I was more able to appreciate the scenery.

About a kilometer North of a pass called Bocca a Croce I came across a bend where, behind the crash barrier, was an area just begging to be used as an overnight campsite.

12:55

70.73 km

+762

-1510

5:24


Tuesday 10 June

Another early start as I've learned that daylight, when the sun is low in the sky, is far more useful than midday sunshine. This coast road is a pleasure to cycle along, although it has been widened and modernised since I last used it in 1998. After crossing the bridge near Galeria, I opted to continue on the coast road, rather use than the main road, to Calvi. This road has not been modernised since 1998, nor has the scenery changed.

The road is a bit hilly but, compared to where I've been recently, it seemed quite reasonable. I continued, via the Bocca Bassa, to a beach at l'Argentella. I remember having a swim near here in 1998 and, this time around, I was also having problems remembering when I'd last had a shower. I returned to a restaurant, which I'd recently passed and which was now open, for lunch and continued through the heat of the afternoon as, although the coast road was a little high, the hills were still relatively gentle.

I reached the port of Calvi, but both the port and the office were closed. I managed to establish that the next boat was leaving at midday but nobody knew where, exactly, it was going. I found the municipal campsite, put up my tent, and had a few beers. I would get more information in the morning.

11:40

62.28 km

+516

-760

5:06


Wednesday 11 June

I left my tent at the campsite, and cycled the short distance into town to see the travel agent, as I wasn't sure exactly how long I'd be staying. This all depended on where and when the next convenient ferry to Marseille was. Today's ferry was to Nice, but I had already decided to dodge the Alps. I was aiming for the Rhône, and I'd probably have another crack at Mont Ventoux after I'd taken all of the luggage off the bike. There was a ferry to Marseille but it was from L'Ile Rousse; only a couple of hours up the road on my bike but what put me off was that it didn't leave until Friday. Ferries from Bastia were also possible, but it would take me two days just to get there. Without thinking, I heard myself saying "OK, I'll take the ferry to Nice" and, as I was returning to the campsite to collect my tent, I thought "What have I just done?". Starting my trip home from Nice, it will be virtually impossible to avoid the Alps. I could cycle from Nice in the direction of Marseille but, while driving my car in this area, I'd noticed a few hills. These hills would obviously be bigger on a bike. I could also forget the Nice ferry altogether, and just cycle up to L'Ile Rousse, but each of these options went rather against the grain.

When the ferry reached Nice, I had a couple of hours of daylight left so I headed for the hills. A study of my map, during the crossing, had shown that the only reasonable option would be the Col de la Bonette-Restefond, which was the highest tarmac road in Europe. I had climbed this in 1998 so I knew, roughly, how to get there. They have built some nice new roads, on which bicycles are not allowed, up the Var valley and the old roads are disjointed and badly signposted. Nevertheless, I had managed to get a little bit North of Saint-Martin-du-Var when a not brilliant, but acceptable, piece of grass appeared out of the deepening gloom.

10:20

36.83 km

+182

-72

2:48


Thursday 12 June

The main road North from Nice goes along the bottom of a deep gorge, so there wasn't a lot of sunshine. Occasionally, a brightly lit area on the top of some hill could be seen but, down at the bottom of the gorge, it was generally a bit on the dark side. I knew that the pass, for which I was aiming, was about 2700 metres altitude so I was hoping to climb about 1000 meters a day, but on these early stages, the gradient was extremely gentle so I had to cycle some distance to gain any height at all.

After the junction where my road up the Tinee valley leaves the main road, which follows the River Var, the gorge opens up a bit. I had slightly more sunshine until I stopped for lunch at Saint-Saveur-sur-Tinee, after which the sky clouded over. On the plus side, with a few clouds I was spared my usual mid-afternoon long rest, hiding from the sun. I stopped quite often for food, as I suspected that shops might be rather rare for the next couple of days, and I reached my objective, 1000 metres altitude, just short of the town of Saint-Etienne-de-Tinee, as the daylight was about to fade.

13:40

60.01 km

+960

-70

5:53


Friday 13 June

Saint-Etienne would be the last town for some time so, after I'd cycled the mile or so to the town square, and found the pâtisserie, I had a larger than average breakfast. I also loaded the bike with four and a half litres of soft drinks, and enough fruit cake and biscuits to keep starvation away for two days. Then I headed for the hills.

The change from yesterday's valley road to today's mountain road might have happened gradually, but it was no less dramatic for that. Suddenly there was snow nearby, and hairpin bends, and lots of waterfalls. It seems that I spent all day in bottom gear and whenever I stopped for a drink, or for a photograph, or just for a rest, I was often looking down at the scenery.

Although the day started in bright sunshine, the sky clouded over for the afternoon. For some reason, climbing 1000 metres over 20 kilometers is far more tiring than climbing the same amount over 60 kilometers so, partly due to this and partly due to a couple of light showers, I was looking for somewhere flat to spend the night earlier than I normally would. Suddenly, the heavens opened and I was virtually forced to stop where I was. The ground wasn't very flat but, given my complete lack of options, I quickly decided that it was flat enough. While I was erecting the tent, careful to keep the inside dry, two motorists stopped to ask if I needed to be rescued. The rain stopped briefly, but long enough for me to take a photograph, then I spent some time in my sleeping bag listening to the rain, and the hail, and the thunder.

9:45

19.69 km

+1024

-110

3:20


Saturday 14 June

In the morning the sun was shining from an almost clear sky, the rain had stopped, and the roads were almost dry. The wet grass, and my wet shoes and socks, were the only evidence of the night's storm.

I set off and, after about 100 metres, I passed a perfectly flat piece of ground which would have made an ideal campsite. That's life! I carried on climbing, as the road went up a series of zig-zags, before a long traverse took me to the Col de La Bonette.

There was a car rally in progress and, quite often, it was best to stop while some of the more enthusuastic drivers zoomed past but, slowly and surely, I maintained my upwards progress and the scenery gradually ended up more and more below me. At the pass, altitude 2700 metres, there is sometimes the option of taking a two kilometer loop road which goes around the peak "Cime de la Bonette" but, as it was still blocked by snow in mid-June, I suspect that opportunities to cycle around it might be rare. A pair were just finishing the loop as I was there but, even on unladen mountain bikes, they were making it look like hard work so I decided to give it a miss. I just took lots of photographs before starting the 1500 metre descent to Jausier.

Jausier was the first town that I'd passed through for some time and, after refuelling in the first pâtisserie that I saw, I started down the valley towards the lake at Serre-Poncon. In the village of Meolans-Revel I found a campsite which had a sort of restaurant, free WiFi, a hot shower, and a bar. What more could a man ask?

9:00

50.65 km

638

-1640

3:40


Sunday 15 June

I left the campsite, and headed down the valley to the lake at Serre-Poncon. I had driven along this road a few times so the fact that the roads weren't flat, once I'd reached the lake, came as no surprise.

Even so, a car journey is never enough preparation, especially for the 250 metre climb from the lake up to Le Sauze-du-Lac, The sun was just starting to get enthusiastic and, on one of my many rests, there was another nice view of Le Mont Ventoux in the distance. Mont Ventoux and I still have unfinished business. There was, fortunately, a restaurant at the top of the climb so I stopped for my Sunday lunch. After a long, but reasonably gentle, descent back to the lake I headed North to Guillestre. The road has, again, been improved but we cyclists have to use the old roads, through all the towns, some of which I've never heard of, and up and down the hills. Luckily, as I'm just cycling up a valley, navigation is not too tricky. After passing through the towns of Embrun and Chateauroux-les-Alpes, I found a fairly scenic wild camping site, just South of Saint-Clement-sur-Durance, and just after I'd rejoined the main road.

10:30

56.26 km

714

-860

4:25


Monday 16 June

My task for the day was to get as far as possible up the valley, just following the River Durance. I followed it upstream through Saint-Clement-sur-Durance, La Roche-de-Rame where I stopped for lunch, and L'Argentiere. It was just past here that my theory, that simply following a river upstream would avoid any monster hills, fell apart when another 250 metre climb appeared. I managed to reach Briançon in the early evening and, as I remembered that the Col du Galibier involved another 1400 metres of ascent, I continued towards the Lauteret. My attempt to reduce the climbing involved on the next day didn't do as well as I'd hoped because, when I reached the town of La-Salle-les-Alpes, I noticed a sign pointing out that those who indulge in wild camping were not too welcome in town.

I put up my tent, in a quiet corner of a field, a couple of metres East of the sign.

11:30

49.29 km

772

-320

4:36


Tuesday 17 June

The sky in the morning was half-cloudy, which was good news for a day which would involve a lot of climbing. I started on the 600 metre ascent to the Col du Lautaret, with the occasional stop for breakfast, a cash machine, and lots of soft drinks and spare food. As I got higher the cloud cover increased until, near the top, it started to rain gently.

There must once have been a plan to convert the road to a dual carriageway because, near the pass, a few tunnels have been built, probably in anticipation of this. This plan seems to have been cancelled, because these tunnels are still unemployed, but they were useful for sheltering from the heaviest of the rain showers. When I reached the Col du Lautaret, the cloud had descended totally and the further climb to the Col du Galibier looked to be out of the question, probably for the rest of the day. I stopped for a long lunch, in the Hotel/Restaurant at the pass, and hoped that the weather would improve. While I was eating, it started to snow.

I retreated, almost two miles, to the nearest of the unemployed tunnels. It might have been an unusual place to erect a tent, but any port is a storm! I hoped that the weather would improve in the morning.

7:00

17.95 km

640

-100

2:34


Wednesday 18 June

I was in no rush to start as, even lying in my sleeping bag, I could hear from the traffic passing outside that the roads were still wet. Even so 17 hours in bed is too much, even for me, so I got up and climbed back up to the Lautaret. The snow had stopped but it was a cold, wet, miserable day. I would normally have had another meal at the restaurant, and hoped that the weather might improve, but in the early morning everything was still shut. My legs had felt fairly good on the climb, and the climb had kept me warm, but I didn't need much inactivity at the pass before realising that a rapid decision might be good.

I was out of food, and a descent towards Grenoble was the only sensible option, so I set off. Immediately my fingers felt the cold so, every kilometer or so, I stopped to warm up my hands. On one stop, I felt dizzy too. This, in itself, was nothing new as I often pass out when the discussion turns medical, or when a hypodermic is waved in my direction, but it had never happened while I was simply out riding a bike. Normally I would just lie down until I felt better but, where I was, my only options were tarmac and long wet grass. I lowered my head, over the handlebars, and waited for the feeling to pass. I woke up in the long grass and, when I had crawled out from under the bike, I noticed that three guys had arrived. One of them was talking on his mobile phone, and another asked if I was OK. I said I was fine, but just a bit cold. The next thing I knew I was waking up again, in the long grass. This was in theory a summer holiday, and I wasn't carrying too much in the way of warm clothes, but I soon found out that I could wear two waterproof jackets at the same time. I also finished off my bottle of Coca-cola and, after walking around for a few minutes, I felt OK to continue. Then the ambulance arrived. I told them I was OK but they had a very "We'll be the judge of that!" attitude. I managed to assure them that I hadn't been involved in an accident, and that I'd been stationary when I fell off, and I let them measure my pulse, blood pressure, and blood sugar. They agreed that I seemed OK, but they felt that I should see a doctor to be on the safe side, and they took me down to La Grave to see one. The doctor examined me more thoroughly. She agreed that I was OK, and charged me 30 Euros. The ambulance had been free. I refuelled at the pâtisserie, got my bike back from the police station, and cycled down to the town of Le Bourg d'Oisans. Here I decided it was time for a hotel, a hot shower, a couple of beers, and a proper meal, and the Hotel des Alpes provided all of these.

5:15

41.18 km

238

-1300

2:21


Thursday 19 June

Not a cloud in the sky when I looked out of my bedroom window. It just wasn't fair but, as I certainly didn't fancy the 1300 metre climb back up to the Lautaret, the "Alpine" part of my holiday was now over. It was time to go home, so I continued to follow the Romanche down the valley towards Grenoble.

After lunch in Vizille I followed the signs to Grenoble, not realising that "via Uriage-les-Bains" meant the scenic route, and a bit more climbing. Eventually I found Grenoble. Navigating through Grenoble is easy as every bus-stop has a map of the city, and finding my route out was no problem. Cycling my route out was more difficult as it was basically one long section of roadworks: lots of gravel, dust, and traffic cones to add to the usual rush-hour mayhem. I was glad to find, near the town of Voreppe, a suitable field where I could stop for the night.

12:15

75.85 km

326

-850

4:56


Friday 20 June

Now that I was heading for home I just wanted some easy flat roads, but I soon learned that yesterday's crossing of the River Isere didn't mean that I'd totally left the Alps. The road immediately took me to, and up, the nearest hill.

My AA Glovebox Atlas of France is obviously aimed at motorists, so it doesn't mention trivial things like hills. As I headed North, through Voiron, Les Abrets, and Morestal, every hill came as a rather unpleasant surprise, especially as the weather was getting rather warm again.

I had almost reached the Rhône, and was approaching the village of Montalieu, when I found a convenient field for the night.

13:15

67.31 km

858

-800

5:30


Saturday 21 June

I headed North and crossed the Rhône. The hills started again almost immediately, but they weren't as bad as yesterday's, and I continued to Amberieu-en-Bugey where I turned West. After the climb out of Châtillon-la-Palud the ground was not so hilly, so I made good time to Chalamont, where I stopped for lunch, and on through Châtillon-sur-Chalaronne, from where I could see the Saône valley.

I had decided to find a better way, than the "Route Touristique", of crossing from the Saône to the Loire. My plan involved crossing the Saône near Belleville, and then following the Beaujeu valley, so this was what I did. As the next day was a Sunday, I ate as much as I could in the pâtisserie at Belleville, and loaded the bike with Coca-cola, before starting on the climb. Just as the Sun was getting a bit low in the sky, I found an area which I could share overnight with some piles of logs.

11:40

89.47 km

632

-640

6:09


Sunday 22 June

I started climbing up the Beaujeu valley, where they make the Beaujolais wine, and I was making reasonable progress when I stopped for a drink of Coca-cola. I was just starting off again when there was a loud "Ping", from the back of the bike somewhere, and the rear brake was suddenly rubbing on the wheel. A quick examination revealed that one of the spokes in the rear wheel had thrown in the towel. This had never happened to me before but it seems that whenever a spoke disappears, in a fully tensioned wheel, the wheel buckles. It was just a fact of life. The bike was still just about rideable: more so after I'd totally disconnected the rear brake cable. I continued to the Col des Echarmeaux, where I stopped for lunch and enquired about the nearest bike shop. It seemed that Chauffailles was my best bet and, as it was on my planned route anyway, I continued.

I reached Chauffailles, and it took me some time to find the bike shop as it was hidden in the middle of a retail estate, which was locked up. Barriers, however, are no obstacle to a determined cyclist and I eventually found it. From the logos on the outside, it was obvious that it was more of a clothing shop: the place to go for a Real Madrid shirt, or a pair of trendy sunglasses, but probably not much use for anything serious. The bike was going reasonably well so I decided to continue, downhill, to the town of Charlieu where I found a quite reasonable municipal campsite. Rumour had it that there were two bike shops in town!

9:30

55.99 km

608

-590

4:47


Monday 23 June

During my tour of the town I discovered that, of the two bike shops, one had closed for ever and the other was just closed on Mondays. I had become used to the slightly sea-sick feeling caused by the wobbly rear wheel, and I decided not to wait. I followed the river down to Pouilly-sous-Charlieu where it joined the Loire, and then I followed the Loire as it went North to Digoin, where I could follow the canal again. The weather took a turn for the worse but, while I was following the canal, there were lots of bridges under which I could hide from the heavier downpours.

After I'd left the canal at Diou, the weather improved slightly but the roadsigns took a turn for the worse. Fortunately, I managed to remember a few of the important junctions from when I'd cycled South four weeks or so earlier and I managed to find Garnat-sur-Engièvre and the road to Gannay-sur-Loire. Shortly before reaching Gannay, a picnic area appeared. It wasn't perfect but it was getting a little dark.

9:30

95.85 km

316

-330

6:35


Tuesday 24 June

It was a fairly straight, and flat, road which took me through Gannay to Decize, and from there I headed for Nevers. There is a quiet road which follows the canal but, as the Glovebox Atlas doesn't mention this, I didn't know about it. I followed the much busier, and hillier, main road through Imphy where, on the plus side, I managed to find lunch. I reached Nevers and asked a passing cyclist about bike shops. He pointed me towards "Roule Libre" who specialised in Mountain Bikes, and so didn't keep any road-bike wheels in stock. He showed me how to tighten my head-bearing, which was starting to worry me slightly, before recommending that I try Orleans or Chartres, as I was heading in that direction anyway. After going slightly astray on the road out of Nevers, I managed to find the bridge over the Loire where I could cross over and head North. In Beffes, I found a pâtisserie which was still open so I refuelled and carried on. After a couple of miles I stopped briefly for a drink but, when I got back on the bike, I had a flat rear tyre. Beffes was my best chance of finding a garage so I started pushing the bike back to the village. After a mile, I stopped for the night.

11:55

96.82 km

496

-500

6:58


Wednesday 25 June

I finished the walk back in to Beffes where, even early in the morning, the pâtisserie was open. At least breakfast was easy to sort out. I asked the lady in the shop where the nearest garage was, as I needed an air-line. She said "One moment, I'll ask my husband" and disappeared. I had expected that she would ask him about the nearest garage but he appeared and said "If you come around the back, I have an air-line". I took the wheel off, and re-inflated the tyre. After ten minutes, it was still OK and, as it's difficult to fix a puncture when I can't even find it, I re-fitted the wheel, thanked them profusely, and continued. The roads, as I move further down the West bank of the Loire, are becoming less hilly but, on a hot day, they are still hard work. My legs were tired anyway, and my right ankle finds even the smallest amount of walking rather a pain, so I was glad to find a field, just past Chatillon-sur-Loire, where I could stop for the night. It even had a picnic table for me to rest my weary butt!

12:30

71.01 km

316

-330

5:23


Thursday 26 June

Another nice, sunny, day but not too warm. I continued down the Loire to Gien and Sully, where I looked for a bike shop. I didn't find one but I confused myself to the extent that I came out of town on the wrong road. No problem, as I could just continue along the Loire to the next bridge at Jargeau.

I stocked up at the supermarket in Jargeau, crossed the Loire, and headed for Fay-aux-Loges where I could rejoin my intended route. I stopped at a garage in Neuville-aux-Bois to re-inflate my rear tyre, as I could feel it was getting a little soft, then I continued towards Artenay. I remember this structure from 1998, and I didn't know what it was then, either. I have since found out.

It was, apparently, built for l'aerotrain: a jet-powered monorail hover-train system, developed in the 60s and 70s, but which never really took off. Eventually it ran out of money and was superseded by the TGV. I carried on to the graveyard for agricultural machines, in Poupry, where I'd slept on my way South.

12:00

105.53 km

270

-300

6:46


Friday 27 June

A cloudy day, but far better weather than I'd had on my way South. After breakfast in Voves I continued towards Chartres, where I knew there was a bike shop. I'd used it on the way South.

I found the bike shop easily, and pointed at my problem. The guy found a new wheel, and I asked whether he could transfer the bunch of sprockets from the old wheel, as I didn't carry the necessary tools. He immediately started waving his arms, and shouting in extremely rapid French. Then he ignored me. Whenever I tried to ask when his workshop would be open, he interrupted with more rapid French and continued to serve somebody else. I don't think I've ever met anybody so pig-ignorant, in France or anywhere else. Eventually, I gave up and continued cycling North. I was obviously fitter than when I started, as my legs weren't now getting tired until I'd done sixty miles in a day. I just couldn't wait until I was in a country where I could al least understand people who wanted to rant and rave at me for no reason. I reached Brezolles, carried on a little further, and stopped only because it was about to get dark.

12:30

105.53 km

554

-495

7:28


Saturday 28 June

I continued to retrace my steps, through Verneuil and Breteuil, and through Conches-sur-Ouch, where the bike shop was closed but I was getting used to this. About a mile out of town, I had a rear wheel puncture. I was starting to get used to this, too. I locked the bike to a roadsign, removed the wheel, and started hitch-hiking back into town. A driver stopped almost immediately, and I told him that I was looking for an air-line. "Probably one in the bike shop" he said. I explained that it was closed but, as we passed it, it was obviously open. Excellent! I thanked him and, while I was there, I might as well buy a new wheel. Yes, please, 32 spokes. I might have been a little optimistic originally, taking a twenty-spoke wheel touring. And a new tube, and I was persuaded to buy a new tyre when the guy pointed out how worn my old one was. It was only six weeks old, too. I walked back to the bike, fitted the new wheel, and started for home. It seemed really strange having a non-wobbly rear wheel, and a rear brake that worked. I missed a couple of roadsigns in Bourgtheroulde-Infreville, as I ended up on a dual-carriageway with too many lorries but, with little choice, I continued to La Maison Brûlée before I could turn West to reach Bourg-Achard as planned. There was a restaurant, Le Bar du Roumois, with free Wi-Fi, which I'd noticed on the way South. It was shut but, fortunately, their Wi-Fi was switched on and accessible from outside.

I discovered that there was a ferry at 23:00 on the following evening so, as I could make Le Havre easily in that time, I camped in the woods, in the same spot that I'd used on my way South.

12:00

102.37 km

502

-360

6:22


Sunday 29 June

Up in the morning and, even before I'd reached the main road from my forest, I had a flat tyre. This time, for a change, it was on the front wheel. I had absolutely no idea where I could find a garage with an air-line on a Sunday morning, so it was clearly time to use the emergency spare inner-tube and the gas cartridge to inflate it to a decent pressure. I was quickly back on the road and proceeded across the Seine, on the Pont de Brotonne, and Westward through Caudebec-en-Caux. I followed another cyclist onto a cycle track, which seemed like a good idea at the time as it followed the North bank of the Seine and should therefore be fairly flat. It started to rain, and the cycle track just went on for ever, with no sign as to where it was leading until, eventually, it swung inland and dumped me in an unknown village. With no sun to help me navigate, I asked quite a few pedestrians for guidance before I found the main road again.

I passed under the bridge at Tancarville, where I had another front wheel puncture. As I had already used my spare inner-tube I had no option but to hitch-hike, and a passing motorist gave me a lift back to Lillebonne, where he knew of an air-line. I tried to inflate the tyre but, as air was blowing bubbles through the middle of the tread, it was clearly past its best. I had a spare tyre, but it was back with the bike. My driver took me back to my bike but, as he had things to do and three kids in the back of the car, he couldn't help me any further. I thanked him anyway, and after making sure I had everything I might need, I started hitch-hiking again. The next driver carried in his boot, as I normally do, an electrical tyre inflator and he was quite happy to wait while I found the puncture, fixed it, fitted the new tyre, and inflated it. At last, I was able to continue to the harbour at Le Havre, where I walked up to the Brittany Ferries desk. "Hello, I'd like a ticket for the 23:00 ferry, please" I said. "There is no 23:00 ferry." she said. "There is" I said "according to your web-site". "I know" she said "We get a lot of complaints". There was no reason to shout at her, as it wasn't her fault. Their next ferry, from Le Havre, was on Tuesday but there was one the same night from Caen. I went to the railway station to find out if I could get to Caen, by train, in time to cycle the ten miles from the railway station to the port and still catch the boat. Yes, that was quite possible except that it was now too late to reserve a place on the train for the bike. There are times when one just has to admit defeat. There was a ferry the next day, from Le Havre but with a different company, so I had a Happy Meal at McDonalds, virtually the only place open, before I found a quiet spot in an industrial estate to spend the night.

11:00

80.30 km

214

-200

5:22


Monday 30 June

Another early morning, this time because some extremely noisy frenchmen had started work quite close to my tent. One of the perks of sleeping on an industrial estate.

I found a pâtisserie for my breakfast, and cycled back to the port. I bought a ticket for my ferry, which didn't leave until 15:00 so I had some time to kill. Fortunately, there was free Wi-Fi at the departure lounge so I could catch up on the news until another passenger asked if that was my bike outside, the one with the flat tyre. The girl at the DFDS ferries desk found me the nearest petrol station so, carrying my front wheel again, I set off but I didn't find the petrol station. I did find a bike shop but, of course, it didn't bother to open on Mondays. I pushed the bike to the check-in queue, and then onto the boat. It was dark when I arrived in Portsmouth, but I found my way to a petrol station where I fixed the two punctures: one on the bike, and one in my now spare inner tube. Then I started pedalling, but unfortunately I mis-read a roadsign and wasted an hour or so. I eventually found the correct road but, after a couple of miles, I had another puncture. I pushed the bike to a field, opposite a Ford car dealer, who would probably have an air-line in the morning, and put up my tent. My plan was to inflate my tyre enough to get me back to Portsmouth town centre, where I could buy a new inner tube, a new gas cartridge, and a new puncture repair kit. The repair kit I was carrying had new-fangled patches, which didn't need any glue but, given their track record so far, I wasn't too impressed with them.

17:45

26.73 km

196

-200

2:35


Tuesday 1 July

When I got up, I noticed a Tesco supermarket at the other end of my field. It also had a petrol station where I could inflate my tyres. I still didn't trust my inner tube, so I asked the lady at the till for the nearest bike shop. She said "I think they sell bike stuff in Tesco, over there." And they did, and it had been open all night, so I bought a new puncture repair kit and two new inner tubes, one of which I fitted. I chucked the old tubes in the bin and started off. Soon I found a cafe, behind a petrol station, where I could buy a Proper British Breakfast.

A bit further up the road I passed a bike shop, where I bought a new gas cartridge. After six weeks in France, it was nice to be in a country where shops and cafes are generally open. I continued to Southampton, where I had yet another front wheel puncture. It was no problem to fit my new spare tube, and inflate it, but I couldn't see anything wrong with the wheel or with the tyre which might be causing all of these problems. Another stop in Hargrove's bike shop on the road out of Southampton, to buy two spare tubes and two gas cartridges, and onwards! Although I'd found yesterday a bit stressful, my legs had thought it a rest day and were keen to make up for lost time. I had no further problem as I cycled through Salisbury, Warminster, and Westbury before I reached the lay-by from which the White Horse burger van operates.

12:45

112.18 km

841

-785

6:54


Wednesday 2 July

After breakfast at the Burger Van, I headed for home. Now that I was back in the UK, with my Mobile Wi-Fi working, I have Google Maps available. This suggested that after passing through Trowbridge, and reaching Bradford-on-Avon, I should use the cycle track alongside the Kennet and Avon canal. It was a bit rough and gravelly, especially for fairly narrow road tyres, but the bike survived the journey with no problem and it certainly avoids some steep hills.

The big hill, coming out of Bath, cannot be avoided and, unfortunately, the day was warming up just as I reached it. Nevertheless the more distance I could cover, the less work I would have to do on the next day. I persevered through Old Sodbury, Chipping Sodbury, Yate (where I stopped for lunch), and Thornbury to the Old Severn Bridge. Even though I was then only a day's ride from home, I forced my legs to continue to Cardiff where I had a key to the office where I worked for many years. Somebody had filled my old office with old boxes, so it was a night on the factory floor.

13:45

137.22 km

940

-900

9:17


Thursday 3 July

My legs were not impressed with the exertions of the day before, and it was difficult persuading them to do any work at all. The six hours that it took me, to make the 30 mile journey home, is my worst time ever, and by some margin. Quite a lot of time was spent resting: in the Black and White cafe in Cardiff, at a Burger Van near Llanharan, and in the bike shop in Brynmenyn but, even so, the time I spent in the saddle was also my longest time ever for the same trip. But I didn't care. I was home at last. It had been a brilliant trip but, maybe, a week or two too long. Next time, I'm going to drive the car to Marseille and start cycling from there.

6:00

50.44 km

541

-350

3:42


 

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