Archive for April 14th, 2010

Aix-en-Provence to Hyéres (79.94 miles, 8 hours 34 minutes moving)

Today was a long and difficult day. Almost immediately I found myself climbing through mountains that I wasn’t expecting (look at the map, Nate!). It was a constant grind punctuated by adrenaline-inducing downhills. I had to stop a few times mid-way up a few of the passes just to take a short break for a candy-bar, a yogurt, a banana, or a water break, and on a few of the downhills I decided to take video footage. By 3:00 p.m., three hours after I had started riding, I had only covered 25 miles. If I had gotten off easy when crossing the Pyrenees, today was my penance. By 5:00 p.m., I had increased that distance to 40 miles and I passed a campsite that I had previously researched as a potential stopping point. I briefly entertained the idea of calling it a day, but I felt hopeful that another two and a half or three hours of riding would get me all the way to Hyéres before sunset.

It took me longer to navigate through the Six-Fours-Les-Plages region than I expected, with a few wrong turns, and by this time the sun was low in the sky. I still had about 20 miles to go to Hyéres and decided that I should play it safe and get a campsite where I was. My GPS gave me three options. I saw road signs pointing towards “Camping Saint Jean” and “Orly de Azur” and followed the arrow pointing towards “St. Jean”. The GPS guided me to a spot where there clearly was no campsite, although at that location there was a camping sign and arrow, which I started to follow up a very steep hill. I cranked away at 4mph through block after block of residential zone, not seeing anything that resembled the campsite, or any more signs for it. Thinking that I might have mis-read the arrow on the sign, I retraced my path, double-checked, and again rode up the hill. By now, the sun had set, and I decided to give up on St. Jean and search for “Orly”, which wasn’t in my GPS. I actually managed to find it pretty easily, but reception was closed, and the bathrooms were locked, and although there were people staying there, they all seemed to be in little bungalows, with no clearly marked areas for tents. Now, I really had a problem. I had wasted the last hour of sunlight on these campsites that either didn’t exist or were closed.

All I could do was continue on towards Hyéres. As I passed through Toulon, a medium-sized city, I saw a McDonald’s and decided to use their wifi to see if there were any hostels in the town. There was one at a price I could afford, but the online listing said check-in closed at 9 p.m., and by now it was almost 10 p.m. I set off again. It was difficult to navigate out of Toulon, but I finally found myself on the D559, which for the last 10 miles to Hyéres, had a parallel two-lane bike path! I was very thankful for this development, because it meant I would be even more protected from the few cars that were still driving out and about.

At just after midnight, after almost 80 miles of riding and eight and a half hours in the saddle, I pulled up to the gate at *** a cold, tired, exhausted mess. The two security gentlemen at the gate, who only spoke a little English, told me the campsite was closed for the night and that they couldn’t reopen it until 7:00 a.m. the next day. I asked if I could just set up my tent on the grass inside the gate and pay them now or in the morning, but they said it was against the rules. They suggested I head back down the road about a kilometer to another large campsite to see if they were open. I reluctantly turned around and biked back down the bike lane to the place they had suggested, but its gates were locked as well and there was no one in sight.

With nowhere else to go and nothing else I could do, I headed back to the first campsite and leaned my bicycle up against the wall to wait for morning when I could check in. I ate some more food and got out extra jackets and gloves, because the temperature was a chilly 45°F. After about 15 minutes, one of the security guards came out and suggested that I set up my tent behind a shed in this adjacent lot, and he would come wake me up at 6:00 a.m. I was reluctant to spend all of the time unloading and setting up my tent only to have to pack it all back up and move it again in the morning, especially if I was in a place where I might be “discovered” and asked to quickly vacate. I took my bike behind the shed and locked it to a tree though, and sat dozing in a plastic lawn chair that I found from 1:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. at which time my feet were really starting to be cold. I decided to inflate my sleeping pad on a nearby bench and get out my sleeping bag.

The sky was clear with no sign of rain, and I dozed lightly under the vast starlit sky until my alarm went off at 6:00 a.m. The security guard never came to wake me, but the gates to the campground were open at 7:00 a.m. as the sign had said. When I wheeled my bike up to reception though, I found out that reception didn’t open until 9:00 a.m., giving me two hours to find the bathrooms and a power-outlet so I could at least catch up on writing and the endless chore of recharging batteries.