Ad Mare ~100km?

Published: March 26th 2018
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I had some leg cramps during the night. Thinking perhaps that was because I hadn't had my usual post-ride pretzels the day before, this morning I salted my coffee (cafe au lait, actually - I am still not a full-fledged coffee drinker, although I'm starting to appreciate its value as a pre-ride stimulant) before heading out on what I intended to be a leisurely, knee-saving ride. Ignoring the map and navigating purely by gut feel (recall I was starting from a different hotel than most of our group) I poked around town and eventually got on route - perhaps not via the most direct itinerary (or perhaps it was?) but I got to see a bit of the town and where people lived.

Today's ride started off on the busy N16 which was full of commuters, most of whom thankfully were headed in the opposite direction. In short order, our route turned off the highway onto a quiet road that rose gently to the town of Finestret, where in contrast to every other town we have travelled through, the (presumably municipally-maintained) part of the road that passed through town was smoother than the road that led to/from it. Which was a good thing, as my notion of just poking along abruptly fell by the wayside as the road tipped up and kept climbing until finally topping out on a plateau.

After turning off on a side road the route climbed through an area peppered (apricotted?) with orchards before it veered away into the hills and unexpectedly wound along the edge of a gorge. The first part of the climb was shaded by the steep gorge walls, and only occasionally did we catch a glimpse of the river below, the sound of which could always be heard, The ride was not steep but it was constant, and at one point it seemed as though it had crested, although I still had to pedal to maintain momentum and I never even got close to getting out of the small ring (bike talk meaning it was a slow descent).

Nevertheless the road eventually dropped down to cross the river at Baillestavy (where I had to slow to allow a truck to pass on the single lane bridge) before pitching upwards again, this time on the sunny side of the gorge. Ostensibly there was 5km yet to go before Valmanya where the 'real' climb to the col would begin. I don't know if it was true or just a matter of fatigue and heat, but it seemed the road on that side of the gorge was steeper, and I was thankful my morning's salt treatment seemed to have worked. Even so, that 5km seemed interminable, as the road veered away from the gorge and stayed bathed in sunshine. I paused in Valmanya to ingest a madeleine before tackling the final 6km of the ascent, which fortunately proved shaded before yielding a massive downhill run that was steep enough to require braking, if only because I was unfamiliar with the road and unsure what to expect around the blind corners. In fact I was effectively blind heading into some turns simply because of the abrupt transition from staring directly into the sun to finding myself in shadow.

Of course all that elevation then had to be regained before the col could be reached, but at that point the grade seemed to have diminished, and periodic hints of a cool breeze suggested that the col was near. Unfortunately, those hopes proved tantalizingly false. In due course, though, the col was reached and there followed what I thought might be the last major descent of the trip so I tried to stretch it out into a long and lazy experience, stopping many times to savour the view. At this point in the tour I was quite nonplussed by the loose gravel being spit out by my tires, although not entirely inured to it: at one switchback I must have concentrated too much on avoiding the sand that was present and almost washed out in the gravel that was lurking in the shadows.

The way down eventually levelled out into a lovely wooded section before gently climbing up the other side of the valley amidst birds chirping, and once at the top I decided to just rest my legs and let gravity do all the work, a strategy which worked for about 20km all the way to Calmeilles, at which point the road actually tilted upwards, albeit only for few klicks - something I had to do again coming out of Oms but at a grade so gentle I am not sure it actually counts. Speaking of which, if you reach a col on a descent, can you still claim it?

At St.Jean-Plat-de-Cors we acquired a headwind and traffic picked up noticeably, vacationers flocking to the beach. In fact by Lo Naret bicycles were banned from the highway, something not noted on our cue sheets. Fortunately it didn't take much to discover a lovely little bike route on a road that paralleled the highway, but our trajectory pulled us off it in order to squeeze in more climbing up to Montesquieue-des-Alberes (I had hoped/assumed it was "one last climb" but that proved optimistic) before corkscrewing down to the sea.

Once in Argeles-sur-Mer I followed my nose to the beach, held up only slightly by a student driver, and celebrated the end of our Atlantic to Mediterranean odyssey, if not quite the end of our tour.

I suppose I should mention how hot it has become as well, now that we have headed south out of the mountains. We have grown accustomed to the motorized shutters that keep out the sun, but today was the first time we have had hotel rooms with actual air conditioning. Of course it wouldn't operate unless the key was in the receptacle, and since we were out most of the day the unit just couldn't keep up with the load the sun was putting on the room.

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