Friday 7 September 2012

La Conquète de la Corse: Day 1

L'aventure commence!

Piedmont Wine Country
After a slow drive through the Piedmont wine region of Northern Italy, we eventually found ourselves at the rather unattractive port city of Savona where we had some time to kill before our night ferry crossing to Corsica.  After having a pizza in a crummy restaurant, we went to the terminal, where Tom dropped us off with bikes and baggage.

View of the Med near Savona
The plan was for him to take the car to a garage about 6  kms away as there was no place to leave the car at the terminal and we had no place to leave it in Corsica.  He had prepaid a week’s storage and would ride his bike back to us at the terminal.  We had a moment of panic when Tom got to the garage to find it locked and nobody around but it turned out our contact was having dinner himself and soon everything was sorted out and Tom rejoined us.

A huge number of vehicles had assembled dockside, hours before the ferry was due to arrive.  We were supposed to leave at 23:30 and since the ferry was only scheduled to arrive at 11 pm I could not understand how all the cars on the ferry would get driven off and the newcomers shifted inside but it turned out that everyone knew what they were doing as the ferry, a huge ship, did in fact arrive and depart on time.  We walked into the multi-storey garage with our bicycles where crewmen, who actually knew how to tie things up with rope unlike us, had our bikes fastened.  We went upstairs and were quickly checked into our very comfortable cabin, which was air-conditioned and had a shower.  With only a few hours before our arrival, it was in bed and lights out immediately.

The Tarmac get correctly tied down
Our fabulous cabin!
Disembarking in Bastia.  Our ferry is to the left

June 24, 2012

At 6:00 announcements were made so it was time to get up.  Everyone was set to disembark by the time we landed an hour later and we walked our bikes and baggage off the ferry and through the very modest terminal in Bastia and found ourselves on the main square of the city where weekend flea market was taking place.  We found the tourism information office where we were to meet everyone but since it was early we looked for a café.  Tom and Rudiger were delighted that I found one that featured bacon and eggs for breakfast and I had some pastry and an excellent coffee.

Walking back to the tourism office, we spied a likely-looking suspect for our group.  This was David, an Australian living in London, who had joined the trip on his own.  All the other participants had been on other Lost Boys trips over the years and David was to blend in well with the group.

Soon after the Lost Boys began to arrive and everyone was there by 9:00, including our guide Basile, a 22-year old French national level mountain biker and regional level road racer.  It turned out that there were some issues with the rental bikes but these got sorted out in a while (and hurry up and wait is a Lost Boys byword).  Greg discovered a flat tire on his bike while we were waiting and used it as an opportunity to give Bill, fairly new to the world of road bikes, a lesson in fixing a puncture.

Greg Explains Bicycle Repair to Bill and Stevie Z
Dr. Chef and David looked over the huge map showing our route for the week, which would cover a good part of the island and, apparently, the most challenging parts.  We found it amusing that our offered route for the day was the standard one or “more hard.”  Regular hard was hard enough!

Leaving Bastia we immediately began the first climb of the day with no warmup at all.  The climb was about 10 kms and took us the to the top of the Col de Teghime, where we had a superb view of both sides of the island.  Corsica had been an important Allied base in World War 2 and was the first part of France to be liberated by the Free French.  At the top of the pass were memorials to the fighting on the island.  The inscriptions were in French and in Corsican, which looked nothing like Italian, which it is supposed to be related to.  Also we discovered for the first time that the col sign was damaged as local separatists had painted over the French part of the bilingual sign and shot bullets into it as well.  We did not see many undamaged col signs or town limit signs during our week.

It was already very hot and we continued now with a screaming downhill to the shore far below, passing some picturesque villages and Corsica’s main area of vineyards and then coming to the seaside resort of St-Florent, situated on a magnificent bay.  At this point, 26 kms into the day, everyone was doing their own ride and when I came to the roundabout just past St-Florent I looked at the direction and turned towards what I thought was Ile-Rousse.  After riding for a while (mainly uphill) it did not seem right and I turned back, riding 6 kms back to the roundabout and figuring out the correct way.  I was not the only one do do this but nobody else added 12 kms to what was turning into a long, hot ride.

Immediately another climb started and soon any sign of greenery or shade was left behind.  We were now in the Desert of Agriates, brown and dry.  300 m of climbing over the next 15 kms and I was trying to make up lost time.  After what seemed like endless chasing I found the van by the side of the road with everyone already enjoying our daily picnic lunch.   I was able to recover as the tough climb in the heat was followed by a nice descent bringing us back to the coast and some scenic views.  I passed some of the other Lost Boys as they had pulled off the road; Greg had had his second flat tire of the day. 

Our daily pique-nique

Greg doing yet More Bicycle Repair with supervision

A long flat stretch of 15 kms was followed by another 300 m climb and one final bump as we approached our goal for the day, the city of Calvi.  At this point I was riding with Terry and after 120 kms and over  2000 m of climbing in relentless heat I was starting to fade as we switched pulls.  We made our way into the city and rode through it a good speed, returning to the coast as passed the Citadel and came to our hotel.

the Citadel in Calvi

Lost Boys preparing for serious eating in at the end of Day 1
After getting cleaned up we all met in the lobby and walked into the Old Town where we celebrated a successful first day with a fine meal.  Although four of us had gone the wrong way, on Day 1 I held the record for the most lost Lost Boy with my extra 12 kms.  Total distance for the day for me was 128.48 kms, with 2188 m of climbing.

My dinner in Calvi: pasta with Brocciu cheese, a Corsican specialty aged less than a month, and a salad
Basile promised us a great ride along the coast for the second day and I went to bed happy albeit exhausted.

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