Archive for April 16th, 2010

Hyéres to Les Adrets de-‘Estérel (66.83 miles, 6 hours 49 minutes moving)

The ride today began with a dry rain that lasted six hours, or the first 42 miles of biking. I say dry, because although it felt like tiny rain-drops were pelting me all over, they were actually little black bugs that looked a little like elongated flies. But unlike flies, once you ran into them, they would basically stick right where they landed. They were so slow-moving that if you swatted or flicked at them, they didn’t take flight, but instead kind of rolled across your clothing, ready to stick if your efforts were inadequate. It became a constant exercise of bicycling for a few minutes and then trying not to crash my bike while I swept a new set of parasites off my clothing. Thank goodness I was wearing long sleeves and long pants, because having them crawling on my bare arms or up my pants-legs would have driven me crazy.

The worst part about this arrangement was that swatting or sweeping the bugs too voraciously would squash them, squirting little red blood-stains all across my freshly laundered stone-colored adventure pants. Actually, now that I think about it, the bloody battle-scars were the second-worst thing. The worst was the constant effort and concentration to breathe through my nose that these bugs made a requirement. Too many times, breathing hard after cresting a hill, I found myself with a bug right in my mouth, and if each bug contained one calorie of energy, I estimate I received about 1% of my daily (non-cycling) caloric needs. They were not particularly tasty though, and I could recommend a million better avenues to reach daily caloric goals.

Most of the route from Hyéres to Ste. Maxime could be traveled on a nice network of two-lane paved bicycle paths, but I quickly realized that the regular road had fewer little bugs, and often traveled closer to the coast, with its beautiful blue-green waters lapping on rocky, pebbled beaches. Rounding a corner at one point, I nearly crashed my bike at the sight of a topless sunbather right on the public beach. It’s not that I disapprove– it was just a surprise! On that same topic, after three-and-a-half weeks of spending nearly all day in the sun, my sunscreen and long-pants/long-sleeves routine has kept me from receiving a single sunburn, and my face and hands are only slightly more tan than when I started. I won’t be coming back to the United States with the ultimate-tan you’d expect of a bicycle tourer, but I also hopefully won’t be getting prematurely aged with the skin cancer “down the road” to go with it. I guess all of those lectures in medical school and the patients I saw on my dermatology rotation actually sank in.

Coastal View
Coastal View

One of the roads had the scariest gutter for a bicyclist so I decided to stop and take a photo of it, and almost dropped my bike down into it twice in the process. It’s a gutter about eight inches wide and eighteen inches deep, and if you became off balance and accidentally rode a bicycle off the edge, it would surely result in a minor disaster!

Gutter of Death
Gutter of Death

I was thinking about running marathons and bicycle touring today, because my sister, Joy, will be running the Boston Marathon on Monday, and I realized that, for me at least, there’s a parallel concept to the “20th mile” in marathoning. Marathoners talk about how after the 20th mile of running, those last 6.2 miles are often the biggest struggle as muscles start to get tired, energy reserves fail, and fatigue sets in. For me, this translates into the “50th mile phenomenon”, whereby the first fifty miles of each day are generally pretty tolerable, barring problems with the weather such as rain or wind, or large hills/mountains requiring constant climbing. But after 50 miles, i find myself wanting to take more drink, food, and photo breaks, my butt getting sore more quickly after those breaks, and my general ability to keep a nice high cadence while pushing the pedals begins to diminish.

This concept was especially notable today because at about mile 54, I began a 7-mile long climb that brought me from just above sea-level to 311 meters on a winding mountain road. Each time I rounded another corner, I kept hoping to see the final crest, but instead the road would be visible far-ahead, winding its way up and over the mountain. I did have a number of oncoming cars give me some excited beeps and honks with thumbs-up signs, which temporarily helped my spirits and gave me a few more watts of power.

Trophy photo at the top
Trophy photo at the top

Finally, I reached the top of the climb, posed my bike for a photo, and began the gradual for mile descent to my chosen campsite for the night, Les Philippons. I arrived once again just as the golden orb of the sun dipped behind the mountain I had just crossed (funny how that always seems to happen) and chatted with my tent-neighbor, the husband in a retired couple from Holland who runs orienteering races, while I put up my tent.

Special thanks today goes out to Bill and Lindy Good, who made a donation to ALS through my Iron Phi fundraising drive. Also, I’m appreciative of the man at camping reception who made me a new photo-copy of my passport, as my original photo-copy from the start of the trip has almost become unrecognizable after so many days in my pocket, and to the campsite restaurant, which gave me a free sack of ice cubes that I used to enjoy a few glasses of my previously purchased Pepsi Max, during my supper.

Tomorrow it’s a short ride to Cannes, where the famous international film festival takes place each May, and then to Nice, where I’ll spend an extra day gearing up and recuperating for the end of my trip as I head down the coast of Italy to Rome. I can’t believe how quickly these weeks have been going by, and I am sad that my days here are numbered, despite also being a little anxious to be home.