Sunday, September 23, 2012

Piedicroce and An End Run

Friday marked a turning point for me on our cycling tour of Corsica.  We had had a long, tiring ride the day before (Thursday) around Cap Corse, and my rear end was becoming seriously chafed.  On Friday, we set out for another long ride – 78 miles.  Things were going reasonably well until around mid-day.  Mark and I met up with three women in our group, and we rode with them throughout the early afternoon as we searched out a place to eat lunch.  Malcolm, the husband of one of them (Michelle) was a few miles ahead, riding with another guy in our group (Tom), and they started texting back and forth as Malcolm and Tom scouted out the next villages on the route for a place to eat.  

We pulled in to one village, and the women were able to get some water from a very nice woman who filled up our water bottles.  But as to restaurants – even a boulangerie – we were out of luck.  So we pressed on.  We were riding up and down in little valleys that came up from Corsica’s eastern coast, several miles inland.  I was starting to get cranky.  The only thing that kept my spirits up was the joking of the women, especially Michelle, as she related that her husband had started referring to us as the “Donner Party.”

Finally, a little after 2:00, Michelle received a text from Malcolm, saying that they had found a place that served pizzas, but we had to get our order in, as they were about to close.  With this dose of hope, we cycled a few more miles to where they were waiting for us.  We had a bit of a wait because they had already shut the pizza oven down and had to fire it up again.  But, finally, out they came:  seven pizzas for seven hungry cyclists.

Around 3:30, we set off again for our destination:  Piedicroce, a small village in the heart of a region of Corsica called the Castagniccia.  This is when I really started to bonk – emotionally, physically, mentally, every way possible.  On the long, gradual ascent to Piedicroce, I crashed.  The grade was not that bad, but it was long.  It just kept going.  Up.  Up. Up.  Then they were working on the road and it was nothing but dust and gravel.  Then, when we finally got through those sections, we turned a corner and ran into a herd of goats meandering their way up the road.  I was SO grateful that a car – from Germany – was forging a path ahead of us because, if possible, at that point I would have liked a huge cow catcher that would have moved those GD goats out of my way.  

As I rode, I thought about how most people on the tour didn’t know that I had just started cycling only four months ago.  What was I doing there?  What was I doing on that road in the heart of Corsica, heading toward a remote village in the middle of BF nowhere?  As I rode, remorselessly onward, I thought about how it had felt to live in the closet all those years in a Mormon world where I had to keep up appearances, never daring to reveal how I really felt …

Mark talked me through the ascent, as the rest of our group of cyclists traveled further and further beyond us.   It was on those slopes, as the shadows of late afternoon lengthened, that I reached a catharsis.  I bonked.  And I passed through to the other side.  

Enfin … at around 5:30, we reached a point where the ascent stopped and we then coasted down to Piedicroce.  We encountered pigs on the road.  Cows on the road.  Shit on the road.  But we were going down.  And that made all the difference.  Down, down, down to Piedicroce.  Then, we were there.  And our hotel was appropriately named, “Le Refuge.”

Main Street in Piedicroce
As I got off my bike, I thought, “I don’t want to ever get on that damned bike again!”  But, of course, I did.  Yesterday morning.  After a somewhat meager breakfast of instant coffee, processed orange juice and the ubiquitous “pain au chocolat” and “pain,” we mounted once again.  On our way out of town, we passed the baroque church, then, more interestingly, the ruins of the Couvent d’Orezza, the ruins of a Franciscan monastery that was bombed by the Germans during WWII because the resistance (the “Maquis) used it as a hiding place.  (We didn’t know that until that evening, after I had consulted my Lonely Planet guidebook.)

We descended along the road that was shaded by the ubiquitous chesnut trees (which made it difficult to see the cow sh*t that was on the road).  Along the way, we passed cows grazing or nursing, which was cute, alongside the road.  Then, we approached the town at which we were supposed to make a sharp left in order to continue our descent toward Corte.  The only problem, which Mark and I experienced on behalf of the entire group (because we were the first out this morning), was that there was a barrier where we were supposed to turn left.

The reason?  After some discussion with the self-satisfied locals who were manning the “barriere,” we learned that there was going to be a “rally” that day on the two roads which intersected in that village, and neither could be descended “toute la journee” (all day).  Smiles.  Self-satisfaction.  (Translation:  You fu&*ing Americans are screwed.)  They informed Mark and me, with wicked grins on their faces, that we would have to ascend back to our point of beginning.  (Did I mention that we had ascended a col for miles before descending into that village?)  

Conferring, consulting maps, Garmins and iPhones
Finally, not knowing what else to do, we turned around and headed back up the way we had come, whereupon we shortly ran into the rest of the group who were barreling down into the village, anticipating the sharp left that would lead toward our goal:  Corte.  We weren’t long in waiting.  They arrived, and we told them what was going on.  Then, shortly thereafter, our tour leader, Glenn, arrived with the support van.  After being informed of the situation, he consulted the map, and … Voila!! … an alternate route was found that would, unfortunately, take us far to the north, then back to Corte.  But we would make it without circumnavigating the entire island.

It was at this point that an elderly woman across the road who was watering her meager plants in her front yard said to me, “Yes, there is a road rally today, but I don’t think many people know about it.”  Understatement of the month.  Then Mark came up to me and asked if I could ask her if it was possible to use her bathroom because he had a bit of what he later characterized as a “colon emergency.” In other words, he had to go to the bathroom in the worst way, and if those people didn’t let him use their bathroom, it would mean a messy trip to the woods somewhere along the route.

The house that Mark visited
I hesitated because, after all, this would mean invading the most sacred space of one’s French home.  But, I asked, and she unhesitatingly replied, “bah, oui.”  Mark then disappeared into the bowels (no pun intended) of the house, and did not emerge from the darkened shadows of her entry hall for quite some time, with a big smile on his face.

We then set off with the rest of the group, on the circuitous route to Corte, which would mean riding north, then west, then south.  The neat thing about the ride is that everyone took it in stride, and I enjoyed riding with the rest of the group.  Mark and I were primarily with the same group with whom we had ridden the day before.  More mountain villages, more pretty villages, more cows on the road.  It was fun.

We had anticipated a 42-mile ride to Corte which would put us at our hotel in early afternoon, and I was envisioning myself lying by the pool, reading, writing, snoozing.  Instead, our ride ended up being 53 miles, and we didn’t arrive until mid-afternoon.  But, again, it was fun.  Today, we are off to Solenzara on the southeast coast.

Lunch yesterday on the route:  a sandwich and patisseries from the boulangerie across the street

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