Archive for April 13th, 2010

St. Martin de Crau to Aix-en-Provence (36.98 miles, 3 hours 26 minutes moving)

This morning, when I woke up, the sky was clear, without a cloud and the sun was working hard to dry off my tent! In addition to my usual morning routine, I spent some extra time using a rag to scrub off the extra mud and grime that had accumulated on my bike in the wet weather the day before. Upon close inspection, I noticed that my rear tire was starting to look pretty worn, with a portion of the tire sidewall starting to wear away from the bead.  I made a mental note to keep an eye on this and loaded my bike for the day’s ride.

The road south out of St. Martin de Crau was sparsely travelled, but narrow in portions, and the surface was not the smooth blacktop or nicely packed chip-seal that allows the bike to effortlessly glide between destinations, but instead was pebbled, like a rough sandpaper, causing the tires to make a hum as I cranked away at the pedals. I passed through more French farmland, vineyards, and most of the ride was a gradual uphill, from 90 feet above sea-level when I started, to 1000 feet above sea-level after 30 miles of riding, and this, coupled with the rough road seemed to sap all of my speed.  I had originally planned on making it to a campsite near Six-Fours-Les-Plages, which was about a 65 mile trip, but I wasn’t making nearly the headway needed to get there before dark.

I stopped at a grocery store to re-stock my supplies, and found out that I could purchase a box of four Magnum ice cream bars for the price of one bar at a gas station, and they had flavors that I had never even seen before!  I had no way to store and keep them, but I hadn’t had one since almost a week earlier in Spain, and I just had to try the new Honey-nougat flavor. In the parking lot outside the store, I ate three of them,  over 900 calories of delicious energy, and only felt a little bit guilty. I stuffed the remaining one into my insulated cooler for later in the day.

Back on the road and back on the gradual incline, I was passed by a peloton– no, more like a large “breakaway” group of about 10 bicyclists on road bikes, and I sprinted to catch up to them, hoping to be able to get a few miles of speedy drafting. My speed jumped from twelve to seventeen, eighteen, nineteen miles per hour and I started to make the catch, but the incline was too steep, my legs were too tired, and the group’s pace was too fast for me to hang on, and I dropped off the back before even getting enough of a free ride to make my sprint anything but a waste of energy. When I finally reached the gradual downhill a few miles later, my legs were definitely ready for a rest. I could see a large rainstorm to the Northeast and I picked up my pace, with the hope that I could reach a campsite and get my tent set up again before any more weather came my way.

While speeding down the hill, I heard a sudden “pop” and the instantaneous “whoosh” of all of the air in my rear tire escaping at a rate I’ve never experienced. I quickly slowed the bike to a stop and walked it across the road to the driveway of a vineyard to survey the damage. I had to unpack and remove all of the gear from my rear rack to be able to remove the rear wheel and repair the tire.  The problem areas I had noted on the tire earlier in the morning were still intact, so I removed the tire and began to inspect the tube.  The tube had a hole in it almost as large as a pencil eraser, but running my finger inside the tire and around the rim revealed no specific source. I decided the hole was probably too large to safely patch, so I retrieved a spare tube from my repair kit, and started the replacement process. It’s not too difficult a task if you know what you are doing, and as I have had to change/replace many tubes over the past few years, I made quick work of it. But then I inspected the rear tire again and decided that I should probably use this opportunity to put on the spare tire that I had been dutifully lugging around for the past three weeks. I would probably have to do it soon anyway, and when it became necessary, I’d also probably have another flat tire situation on hand. Better to do it now, than to possibly waste another tube and have to unload my bike on the side of the road again, especially (as my luck would have it) since this fast-approaching future flat would probably take place in the middle of a rainstorm or other inopportune moment.

The storm I chased...

The storm I chased...

It took me about thirty minutes to unload, repair and reload my bike, and as a reward for a job well done, I decided to have my final Magnum bar. It was melting and dripping all over the ground, and I’m not sure how much of the ice cream I got, but the chocolate outside covering was delicious.

At about 4:30 p.m., I rode into the town of Aix-en-Provence, and while this was not my planned stopping point for the day, I had decided I was done riding and wanted to be tucked in before dark.  Seeing a sign for the Arc du Ciel campsite, I found myself at a nice little facility with a small river running right through the middle. It was ten euros for the night and the place even had free wifi!  The girl at reception asked me if two hours would be enough, but with 7 hours before bed, I managed to talk her into giving me five. I enjoyed a relaxing evening, knowing that the next day’s planned 65 mile ride would require a good night’s sleep.