Archive for April 12th, 2010

Aimargues to St. Martin de Crau (62.79 miles, 6 hours 2 minutes moving)

Today I became a “real” cycle-tourer. It was absolutely pouring this morning when I started to get moving at about 8 a.m. I lay in my sleeping back for a while pondering what to do with the day.  Do I pack everything on the bike and set off, knowing that taking the tent down is going to completely soak it? I had spent good money on waterproof panniers and cycling gear, but the idea of spending the day in the pouring rain was still not appetizing at all. But when you have limited time to cover the distance to Rome, even a partial day of riding would put me closer. And it has been hard for me not to be in the mindset that if I’m going to pay for a night of lodging/camping, I better have accomplished at least some mileage towards my goal. I showered and sat in my tent trying to decide. Go or stay? What if I stayed and the weather was even worse tomorrow? Would I then be compelled to brave the storm because I would be too restless waiting another day? At least if I chose to bicycle today, I’d feel justified in taking a rest day tomorrow if the weather was worse.

I decided I might as well put my rain gear to good use. I managed to take down my tent while leaving the rain fly standing to minimize tent wetness, but then in a moment of stupidity, I put the dry tent and the wet rainfly in the same sack when I got everything disassembled. Oops! At least I’ve figured out the process.  I strapped my tent-footprint tarp over the top of everything on my panniers to provide another rain shield, since my messenger bag wrapped in a garbage sack isn’t actually waterproof. When I went to the front office to pay, I think the guy in charge took pity on me at the fact that I was going to be biking today (and tomorrow he said, if the forecast held true) and he only charged me 7 euros for the previous night.

Within 200 meters of starting the ride, it became very clear that my Pearl Izumi “Barrier Lite” rubber shoe covers are NOT waterproof despite a design that would suggest so.  My socks were already completely soaked in freezing cold water, and I could tell that it was going to be a trying day. After about a mile or two, I passed two other cyclists with panniers and rain gear and flipped them the thumbs-up sign, as a show of support and solidarity for the “real” bicycle tourers who wouldn’t let the rain keep them from reaching their next destination.  But with the weather, I don’t think either of us were keen on stopping to chat about the usual “Where are you coming from and where are you going? Where are you from? How are the roads ahead?” questions, so we soldiered on in our separate directions.

There’s an interesting phenomenon on the French roads during the rain.  Back in Iowa when it rains, you find yourself dodging (or crushing) hundreds to thousands of earthworms. But in France, I saw a total of one earthworm.  That’s not to say there was nothing on the road for me to dodge.  There were thousands of snails! Some as small as a pencil eraser, but the large ones were about the size of a cherry tomato, and they made about the same kind of squirt if, in a moment of inattention, you accidentally ran one over.  I had never really examined a live snail before, so on one of my water breaks I first watched how smoothly it oozed across the road surface and then picked one (of the cherry tomato sized ones!) up by the shell. The body instantly began to deflate like a slow leak in a tire and the little pedunculated stalks on the head-portion retracted right into the body. Crazy!

It rained on and off for about two hours, though I was dry except for my feet, which were freezing.  I’m a fan of Smart-wool socks, which are supposed to keep their warmth-retaining properties even when wet, but they didn’t seem to be working today. At around 6 p.m. I made a turn south and started humming along, excited in the knowledge that I only had about an hour more to ride before reaching the campsite. I had only been turning on my GPS periodically throughout the day to save battery life, since it was too dark and cloudy for the solar panel to work, and somehow (I really don’t know) the GPS had begun routing me not to my chosen campsite but I didn’t realize until I had bicycled 6 miles in the wrong direction.

A quick re-route showed me to still have 15 miles to go to the original campsite or I could backtrack to the nearest campsite which was about 9 miles away. Remembering the ordeal that ensued last time I had eschewed back-tracking, I decided I would try and be smart this time. But after I rode the extra 9 miles, I arrived at a campsite that was closed. By now my GPS was getting dangerously low on battery but I found another campsite in St. Martin de Grau, a town that I had ridden through two hours earlier, but which was going to be another 8 mile ride.  For some reason, my GPS then routed me to a river and not the campsite and then died.  The sun had set by this time and I was feeling pretty beaten down. Cold, wet feet. Unsure of exactly where the campsite was.  I started glancing at the open fields along the back roads I was riding along, wondering if I should just “stealth camp” for the night, but I pushed that idea to the back of my mind, only to be used if I was unsuccessful at finding the site in the next hour.

I rode a few miles with the GPS plugged into my external battery, hoping that I could get it charged up enough to at least give me a direction and distance to my last chance  campsite, and thankfully enough, it did.  When I rolled up to the campsite’s restaurant/bar, there was a guy from Portos, Portugal having a smoke outside, and he was able to point me inside to the employee who spoke English.  They looked at me like I was crazy when I asked for a spot to set up my tent, because the ground was so wet outside from the rain earlier.  I replied back “So’s my tent!” They charged me 11 euros, and while in there, I met a group of guys (from Holland, Portugal, England) who were in town building greenhouses.  They offered to buy me a drink, but I declined (and felt badly about doing so) because I just needed to get my tent set up and my socks changed.  After getting things situated, I headed back to the bar where Geoffrey from Holland bought me a beer and we had a good chat before calling it a night. When I got out my laptop to charge it in the bathroom (one of the places where I can almost always find a power outlet) I noticed that there was a free wifi network and was able to get a few things done online since I hadn’t had time to stop at a McDonald’s earlier in the day.

When I returned to my tent, it was absolutely freezing. My little thermometer had broken so I couldn’t get an actual temperature reading, but the says it was about 44 degrees. Brrr! Thank goodness I have my Marmot Hydrogen 30F sleeping bag!  I snuggled into my cozy cocoon and zonked out!