December 31, 2012

Disappointing December

Not a single bike ride during the month of December. Nada. Zilch. Not even one.

Regrettably, I talked myself out of biking to work on one fine morning.

The first weekend was rainy. I will admit it: I am a fair-weather cyclist.

The second weekend brought spectacular weather. A coworker brought me a slow-moving cold virus that benched me for the third weekend, as well.

The fourth weekend was devoted to family: Holiday time.

No problem—there are five weekends in December this year, and the club even scheduled a climb up Mt. Hamilton. Time for the December ascent!

On the fifth weekend of December, the temperature at the summit barely touched the freezing point. My throat was too sore to spend a winter's day outside.

On the long return flight from my family visit, it was my misfortune to have been sandwiched between a guy who was too wide for an airline seat and a sneezy woman with a non-stop runny nose.

For the year, I covered more than 2,960 miles and climbed more than 196,000 feet on my bicycles, including ten and a half ascents of Mt. Hamilton.

No complaints, really. I have a great job. I have a sound roof over my head. I have good health. I will ride again in 2013.

Beach-front homes in New Jersey

November 24, 2012

Short and Sweet

I had planned to join a group for an ambitious hilly ride; I knew I would quickly drift off the back, but the route was familiar and the weather was ideal.

That was the plan, until another ride popped up with the opportunity to ride (and climb) about half as much.

I left the choice to the friend who was planning to join me. We were of the same mind: A shorter ride meant getting half the day back!

We looped our way along the eastern foothills of San Jose, spilling out onto the lower portion of Mt. Hamilton Road. It was such a beautiful day ... should I turn right and head for the summit?

I reminded myself that this was meant to be a short ride. I did not pack a lunch, or even a second water bottle.

I turned left. Shortly after our group began the descent, I was startled to hear a scraping noise behind me. Was someone crashing? Would he slide into me and take me down?

Surveying the scene in my rear view mirror, I was surprised at what I found. First, I saw what appeared to be a motorcycle helmet and tried not to panic. Then I saw that it was worn not by a skidding biker, but by a teenager on a skateboard. I tried not to panic, anew. He was upright, and being shadowed by the car that must have transported him up the hill. I was relieved to pull away from him. I hope never to see him, or his buddies, on this road again.

November 22, 2012

Low-Key Thanksgiving

Mount Hamilton on Thanksgiving Day. It is a tradition.

Thanks, Mother Nature, for such a beautiful, warm day.

Thanks, Lick Observatory, for access to the top of the mountain and your gracious hospitality.

I chose not to charge up the mountain at full speed on my bicycle; instead, I played photographer. I was thankful to avoid the suffering, and 143 cyclists were thankful for my support.

Thanks, Low-Key Hillclimbers, for sharing your energy, enthusiasm, and good will.

November 17, 2012

Rainy Day Rover

Knowing that there would be some familiar faces biking up a local trail, it was the perfect day for a low-key hike. Cross-training, as it were.

Sure, it was raining (more or less; sometimes more than less). Dig out the waterproof boots, pants, jacket.

If you have hiked the Kennedy Trail, you might wonder how it can be such a popular mountain-biking trail. [I certainly wonder that.] There are at least three "walls" on this trail, and I do not understand how a cyclist can maintain enough traction on the rocky, sandy surface to climb them. Just hiking up those segments is enough to elevate my heart rate; hiking down is a test of nerves, balance, and muscle.

To that challenge, add slippery wet leaves, slick wet rocks, and rivulets of runoff crisscrossing the trail. With all that water, the top few inches of the lower (flatter) section of the trail was thick with tire-sucking, boot-sucking mud.

I rather enjoyed hiking in the rain. I was warm, I was dry, I was enjoying the sights. I played roving photographer, much to the delight of the cyclists (and runners) who tackled the hill today. On the way down, a couple of them rode their brakes to match my pace and chat.

I cannot imagine that I would ever bike up the Kennedy Trail. Which reminds me that, not so long ago, I could not imagine biking up Kennedy Road. [Hmm.]

November 11, 2012

Pining for Panoche

I planned my weekend around the chance to ride in one of my favorite places, a stunningly beautiful (but remote) valley.

One reward for rising early was a clear view of Saturn and the rising crescent moon. I headed out the door at 6:40 a.m., right on schedule for the long drive to our starting point in Paicines. The temperature was less than 37F, but I was bundled up and ready.

If only I could say the same for my car. Yes, the car that was inspected two weeks ago when I brought it to the dealership for a minor recall repair and a routine oil change. The car which, most likely, has a battery on the wane. You would think they would have noticed that. And this is why I have spurned their service department for years.

Ride? Denied. I went back into the house to sulk.

Two of the great things about our bike club are the variety and abundance of scheduled rides. I was in luck—I could bike to the start of a ride that would take us to the Veterans Memorial in San Jose (and the pre-holiday parade).

Our small group assembled and started rolling; four and a half miles later, a rider had a flat tire. After a few minutes, it occurred to me that I should check my own tires. If one rider has a flat, the odds are higher that another rider also has a flat.

San Jose, City of Broken Glass. My rear tire was soft. Nearly flat.

As for the memorial, I would characterize it as High Concept. Figures on glass panels [easy target for vandals] cast shadows at certain times of the day [not this morning]. White flags symbolize peace [not surrender?].

No parade for us; our leader could not linger.

I was grateful for the bike ride, but the urban-suburban route was no substitute for the doomed splendor of the Panoche Valley.

November 4, 2012

Peak Peek

What to do on an unseasonably warm November Sunday?

Climb Mt. Hamilton, of course!

[Last week was so ... October.]

I have not been looking forward to these late-season climbs, having descended the mountain more than once with chattering teeth and numb fingers. Not so today, with the high temperature at the summit approaching a balmy 68F.

This seems to be a banner year for acorn production. I thought my trees had gone nuts [so to speak] after being trimmed last fall, but acorns are bountiful on Mt. Hamilton, too. Happy squirrels; less-happy cyclists, who need to dodge slippery acorns as well as the usual loose rock on the roadway.

Conversation helps the climb seem shorter, and I was pleased to be joined by two friends today.

Practice makes the descent seem smoother, and I was pleased to pass two guys on the way down today—even though I am still descending with an abundance of caution.

October 28, 2012

Saddle Up

It happened that a fellow cyclist was organizing a group ride today, to support his fundraising for a Light the Night walk. It happened that he chose to send the group up Mt. Hamilton. And it happened that I had not yet climbed the mountain this month.

I will admit some apprehension. The climb? No problem. It was the descent that was on my mind.

As I neared the summit, riders were already streaming down. I caught sight of a pair about a mile from the top and ... where were they? They should have passed me.

I rounded the corner, having just missed witnessing the crash. One rider was down, off the road in a shallow rock-strewn clearing carved out of the cliff. "I looked down," he said, regretfully. "On a curve." Lying on his right side, his hand repeatedly probed a couple of his left ribs. His buddy pulled out a cellphone, and I wished that I were a faster rider to reach the group at the top.

At the observatory, bikes were being loaded onto the SAG vehicle to head to the rescue. I briefed them on what they would find.

The air was clear enough for a rare sighting of the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada. It was easy to linger in the warm sunshine on a perfect autumn day.

It was not so easy to banish the fresh image of a crash on the mountain.

How many more curves, how many more descents, will it take to get my groove back? More than 50,000 feet of climbing (and descending). More than 850 miles. More than all of that, to wipe out one single memory—fractions of a second long—the feel of my bike sliding out beneath me.

October 26, 2012

Six Wheels

As the mid-Atlantic coast battens down for a wicked hurricane-blended "Frankenstorm," out here on the Pacific coast we are enjoying some balmy late-fall days.

It was chilly when I dropped off my car for some minor service this morning, but I was prepared. As they busied themselves with paperwork, I busied myself with my bike and was ready to roll out by the time they were done.

Having thus boosted myself forward on four wheels, it was a short and flat 12 miles to the office. Commuting on my road bike has a very different—almost devious—feel. Riding to work is so strongly associated with the heavy feel of my loaded steel hybrid, and my nimble carbon road bike is associated with playful recreational outings.

One look at the wheels on that horse-drawn cart conjures a ride I would not envy. Today, it was just one element of the décor for our afternoon Halloween party. Some people spend the day in costume (and, in character), which leads to some unexpectedly entertaining meetings. Superheroes, video game characters, zombies, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz ... and one cyclist whose best effort involved colorful bike socks printed with ghosts and candy corn.

October 14, 2012

Progressive Dining

This being election season, I will first point out that a progressive dinner has nothing to do with politics.

Our bike club holds one of these events each fall, taking the aphorism "We bike to eat" seriously. Organized cycling events fuel us with rest stops every 15-20 miles; today's event was all about the food.

For the occasion, I actually cooked (rather than opting for my inherently lazy solution of selecting some creative salad from the take-out case at the local market). I found a well-reviewed recipe for Cranberry Couscous Salad, which I adapted slightly. The reviews were spot-on; it was a hit!

Having just returned from an ambitious cycling tour, the thought of driving to the start of today's route seemed, simply, wrong. It is surprising what can fit into one of those lightweight cinch bags—two 7-cup plastic containers holding a couple of pounds of couscous salad, for example. It would not have been difficult to carry them to the start of the ride (12 miles), but I took advantage of an offer by a nearby rider (5 miles) to drop off our food at her place (for transport by car).

Many of our rides take us into rural areas on remote roads, and wildlife encounters are not uncommon. Cruising the suburban neighborhoods of San Jose today, we were in for a few surprises. A hive of honeybees attached to an orange tree. Two dozen turkeys strutting their stuff.

We picked up route sheets at the first stop (which would also be last), and headed out for appetizers. The club set up bike racks at each home, and they were as full as I have seen at a typical bike event rest stop. Careful not to overeat early, we continued on our way to the next home for salads. At each stop, we enjoyed plenty of conversation and the chance to catch up with riders I have not seen for awhile. Then, streaming out onto the route to the next home, there were always groups to join or follow.

Fittingly, the main course included turkey.

The fourth, and most important course, was dessert. Apple pie. Lemon tart. Chocolate cupcakes. The disadvantage of biking to the start was that I could not afford to linger at the last stop, as the sun would soon be dropping behind the hills.

The advantage of biking to the start was that I could not afford to linger at the last stop.

I took the uphill route home, since that was most direct. For the day, 59 miles and 1,750 feet of climbing.

Bike to eat. Eat to bike.

October 7, 2012

Hard Pressed

You can find the strangest things on the road.

Black Road seemed steeper than I had remembered; was that the aftermath of yesterday's trip up Montebello, or the influence of so many gentle grades in Corsica?

It was on one of the steeper pitches that a long, shiny piece of metal caught my eye. Not good for somebody's tire, I thought, as I passed.

Be the change you want to see. Even when that's inconvenient.

I stopped, walked back, and tossed it off the road. [What, you expected me to pack it out?] It was a sturdy, pointed skewer from a rotisserie—a good 15 inches long. How did it land in the uphill lane of Black Road?

There were more helping hands at the cider party this year. Ravenous when I arrived, I sampled many of the snacks that we had all contributed before taking my place at the table, trimming apples for the crusher. The crusher kept ahead of the press, and the slicers kept ahead of the crusher. Plenty of cider, all around.

Just as the rest of our little group reached the top of Black for our descent, a truck turned onto the road. They went ahead; I gave the truck a five-minute head start, not wanting to ride his bumper all the way down.

Halfway down the hill, I found our ride leader on her cell phone at the side of the road. A car was parked nearby; the driver and his son had corralled a stray dog. Evidently I had seen his buddy, a skittish black Lab, weaving up the hill. At that point, I was more concerned about being chased than I was about attempting a dog rescue in the redwood forest, and I did not intervene.

Dog number two had a collar, but no tags. Damp and muddy from playing in the creek, he was also trembling a bit. He was well-fed and well-behaved, wagging his tail enthusiastically in response to "Good dog!" After many phone calls ("Animal control doesn't work on Sundays." "That's not in our jurisdiction."), it seemed the county sheriff might dispatch someone to pick up the dog. Eventually. They were kind of busy.

And so we waited. Our leader hiked up the road a bit, checking to see if anyone knew the dog. One woman had seen them in her yard earlier in the day (but called no one). A passing motorist delivered an unflattering opinion of the sheriff and suggested we let the dog run free.

The sheriff did not let us down. He called a county park ranger, who made the long trip on back roads to find us. Ranger Flint was a kind and friendly man; he would take the dog back to the park, where they have a couple of kennels and even some dry dog food.

Be the change you want to see.

Even when that's inconvenient.

October 6, 2012

Monte Bello

What attire could be more fitting for the first Low-Key Hillclimb of the season than my newest jersey, Mont Ventoux?

The last time I set out to climb Montebello, my rear derailleur cable snapped. New cables stretch, they say; these have stretched, and stretched, and stretched some more. The net result was that I had few usable gears (again); I fiddled with the barrel adjusters as best I could, to ensure that my lowest gears were attainable. I need to enroll in Bicycle Mechanics 101.

Over the years, I have accepted that the best way for me to support the Low-Key Hillclimbs is in a volunteer capacity. I was persuaded, though, to ride today. My bicycle was delivered earlier this week, with plenty of time to reassemble it. No excuses.

The only rider I caught and passed was a guy on a mountain bike who was not part of our event. [Sigh.] My finicky front derailleur would not shift onto the big chainring, which meant I could not use the less-steep segments of the climb to full advantage.

Coming out of the initial steep section, a rider in a team kit passed me and commented "Wow, you could pop a wheelie on that!" With my heart rate at 182 bpm, I was breathing too hard to emit even one syllable in response; he laughed. "I'll take that as a yes!"

Why am I doing this, again?

Photo by Luther Pugh
Nearing the summit, I enjoyed a steady stream of encouragement from descending riders. Some recognized me and called out my name; at least a dozen cheered me on. "Good job!" "Bravo!" "Well done!"

That is why I am doing this, again.

The Low-Key crowd includes some of the finest people you would ever want to meet.

October 3, 2012


There are some things I had never considered doing—until I did them.

Visiting Corsica, for instance. It is a place I had simply never thought about.

Or, pounding hot steel on an anvil. I have seen demonstrations, but never imagined that one day I would get some hands-on experience.

With some colleagues, I had a lesson in blacksmithing at a place called The Crucible. There, you can learn to create all sorts of things. I had been hoping for the class on neon, but that was not to be.

And so it was that I applied myself to the fabrication of a wall hook, with a decorative twist.

For the brute-force elements of this project, I was disadvantaged on two fronts. First, I lack serious upper-body strength. Second, even a small amount of hammering will aggravate an old injury to my right arm; being right-handed, blows delivered with my left arm hit the mark only approximately.

It was impressive to watch how quickly our instructor fashioned his hook. A few whacks with a hammer and the point of his hook was tapered. Many whacks with a hammer and the point of my hook showed some evidence of deformation.

How did our Bronze and Iron Age ancestors figure out how to do any of this?

I had help with the brute-force parts, but had no trouble executing the finer tasks—curling the tip, forming the curve of the hook, twisting the shaft.

I am proud to report that no body parts were harmed in the process: no smashed fingers, no bruises, no burns. I am even more proud of my finished product!

Responsibility for planning our next outing falls on me. Where should I take the guys? [I have threatened them with a quilting bee.]

October 1, 2012

Back to Work

After a multi-week cycling adventure, what is the best way to return to work?

Why, on a bicycle, of course! Is there a better way to catch the setting, almost-full moon in the early morning sky?

It has been a bit disconcerting to come home and find that things are not as I left them. Leaves are changing color and falling off the trees, and an autumn heat wave is blasting us.

Still in thrall to jet lag, last night I only half-heartedly prepared for a regular morning commute. Would I be wide awake at 4 a.m., again?

Jet lag, be gone! I woke up at a normal, but still dark, hour. On the road, after a month away, I even remembered some of my latest route optimizations.

Upon arriving, my breakfast choice would have been all-too-familiar to my fellow cyclo-tourists: yogurt with honey and granola, croissants with strawberry jam.

I did not expect to see my road bike before Thursday; FedEx delivered it before noon. Should I reassemble it and ride it home? I could ride the commute bike home on another day.

The temptation was great, but I resisted. There was work to be done.

September 27, 2012


Our tour ended, perhaps not surprisingly, with a touch of chaos. Somehow, the post-ferry logistics for meeting up with our host (and our luggage) had been left to chance.

Standing at the curb in front of the passenger terminal in Marseille, our group watched our distracted host turn left half a block away ... never to return.

It took a couple of hours to sort things out. I had allowed myself more than five hours to catch my flight, and that turned out to be sufficient. The rest of the group, seasoned travelers all, had wisely booked flights for the following day. They were more concerned about my flight than I was. From my perspective, missing my flight would just present the next problem to solve.

The greater source of anxiety for me was not my seat on a plane; it was how to get my bicycle back home.

When you plan to fly with your bicycle, the airline advises that you contact them within 24 hours of booking your ticket, to let them know. I did not do that. I thought they just wanted me to pay the (exorbitant) bicycle fee, and there was plenty of time to give them my credit card number.

Waiting was my second mistake. My first mistake was booking a flight out of Marseille on a "regional jet."

When I did call the airline, the agent reviewed my itinerary and told me that the regional jet could not take a bicycle. Her response to every question I asked was the same: the jet could not take a bicycle. No, they could not put it on another plane, my luggage has to travel with me. [Except when they fail to transfer it to your connecting flight?] "What I am I supposed to do?" "The jet cannot take a bicycle," she repeated.

At that point, changing my flight would require a hefty change fee, plus the (higher) cost of the new ticket. To fly on a large jet, I would need to leave the following day; so, add the cost of a hotel room and food. Not to mention the 200€ fee for flying with a bicycle. Shipping it would actually be cheaper.

Before the trip, I had contacted After an uninterruptible lecture on why it would cost less to take the bike with me, I finally got a word in to explain my predicament. When I told them I needed to ship it from Marseille, they said they had no broker there and could not help me. (Their website lists France as one of the international destinations they service.)

I had better luck with, eventually. Via email, they confirmed that they could help me. Trying to set up the reservation was difficult, until I realized that I had to fall back on Internet Explorer; their forms do not work in safer browsers (i.e., Chrome, Firefox). had not been my first choice, after reading comments on the web that described their process: Your shipping labels would arrive via email shortly before your shipping date. That gave me pause: How would I find a place to print the documents, overseas?

This was a nail-biter almost to the last moment. Despite repeated, somewhat panicked, email messages to, they did not send my shipping documents before I boarded the ferry in Corsica. When the ferry docked the next morning, it was an immense relief to find the documents in my inbox.

Now, how would I print them?

When I reached the airport, I was lucky to be paired with a really nice taxi driver. I handed him the address for the Federal Express depot (near the airport, of course), and he agreed to wait for me, avec plaisir.

I threw myself on the mercy of FedEx. I held up my smartphone, displaying the image of the shipping label. The representative graciously had me forward the message to his email address (and printed them for me).

The next time I travel with a bicycle, I will take care to book myself on jumbo jets.

The next time I travel with a bicycle, I will call the airline within 24 hours after I book my reservation (when it might be changed without penalty).

The next time I travel with a bicycle, I will stay an extra day after a tour ends.

This trip had more than its share of rocky moments, but I still had a wonderful time.

September 26, 2012


There are so many beautiful places left to explore, but the time has come for us to leave Corsica for the mainland (and ultimately, to return home).

To catch the ferry in Ajaccio, the group was evenly divided between two routes. One group preferred to retrace the route that led us to Calzola; the other group relished the idea of seeing new terrain along the coast. The inland-route group was certain that the coastal route offered no less climbing. The coastal-route group shrugged.

I cast my lot with the coastal group. There, the rolling terrain would give me some downhills to compensate for my slow climbs. The inland route would start with a sustained climb; I would fall behind long before reaching the top, and the rest of my journey would be solo.

Ironically, as we wended our way toward the coast, we found the steepest climbs of our time on Corsica. "Ow," my legs protested.

The views, and the cheers, were worth the pain. Passing through small towns, we were greeted with:
Allez, allez, allez!
The locals are getting ready for next summer: For the first time in its history, Le Tour de France will visit Corsica, where the race will open with three stages. Banette will be an official supplier—as we all know, cyclists need their carbohydrates.

We stopped for lunch in Porticcio, my last chance to enjoy a savory galette, followed by a Nutella-choco crêpe. Here, we hoped to catch a small ferry to the harbor in Ajaccio—and thus avoid a trip on the unpleasant national road.

Alas, the ferry had shut down for the season. There was no alternative route. When the rest of the group headed straight onto the divided section of the highway, I hesitated. Now I understood the signs, and I understood the frontage road bypass. If they did not see me follow, would they worry?

I crossed my fingers, hoped for the best, and ... took the bypass. Imagine my surprise when I popped back onto the main route and saw the rest of the group ... behind me!

Despite some poor coordination, we found our leader (and our bike cases). The harbor at Ajaccio is a much less intimidating place than the port at Marseille.

We unclipped for the last time, having covered 40 miles and climbed some 2,285 feet. Now it was time to pull out the tools, to break down and pack our bicycles for the journey home.

Over the course of this adventure, I biked more than 550 miles and climbed nearly 43,000 feet. Yet, there is so much of this island that we did not see.

Corsica is a cycling paradise, as the world will soon discover when Le Tour arrives next July.

September 25, 2012


As we prepared to head off on our bicycles for the day, one of the other hotel guests was curious about our itinerary. Another rider was trying to explain where we had ridden yesterday. "A Aullène," I interjected. He raised his eyebrows and tilted his hand at a steep angle, acknowledging the climb. I smiled, "Oui."

The group was divided today. Rather than following our leader on an expedition to Grosseto, I opted for the mellow group that planned to stay local. We were eager to visit the prehistoric site of Filitosa, where evidence of human habitation dates back more than 8,000 years.

We turned left out of the inn, looking for a side road that we never found. Which meant, of course, some extra-credit climbing.

It was not hard to find Filitosa; the tour buses gave it away. That is one way to see a foreign land, and it beats sitting at home on the sofa. But there is so much that the pre-packaged bus riders will never experience.

Filitosa is a significant archaeological site, in private hands—embellished with a somewhat tourist-y feel. Nonetheless, it is impressive (and eerie) to amble over the same rocky fields and duck into the same rock shelters that provided cover for inhabitants during the Bronze Age. We learned about menhirs, and enjoyed the opportunity to examine the imposing, carved monoliths at close range.

Much to my surprise, I spotted a woman who had to be from the Bay Area—she was wearing a Beat the Clock bicycle jersey, which surely meant that we had a mutual friend. Was this the same woman I saw on the road yesterday, in an Alto Velo jersey? [Yes!] Chasing after my group, I was disappointed not to catch her yesterday. We chatted and posed for a picture together—which I promptly sent off to our astonished friend.

Not to be outdone, two of the other people in our little group met someone from their home town; many years ago, they had attended the same high school—a year apart.

Really, what are the odds?!

Porto Pollo is the nearest town, so we headed there for lunch before returning to the inn. For the day, we traveled a comfortable 23 miles, with 1,325 feet of climbing.

September 24, 2012


Our designated destination was Zonza, which we understood to be a prototypical Corsican town. The route, of course, headed uphill.

After the first 14.5 miles, we were only halfway to Zonza and had already climbed 3,200 feet. This did not bode well.

There were a couple of bail-out points along this route. We faced our first decision point after crossing the Col de St. Eustache. We could see a significant descent, followed by a climb to the next town.

What terrain would we face after that, if we continued to Zonza?

One rider favored turning back at this point, but we had ascended for miles on a road that was in poor condition—the rest of us had no wish to descend it. With a chance of rain in the forecast, there was anxiety about the weather. Clouds were rolling in, and the winds were strong on the far side of the pass.

We continued to Aullène, and then agreed to bail out. I suggested that we find lunch here, since it was already 13:00, but our leader promised we would have lunch at a nice restaurant. We conferred on the route and headed downhill: D69 to N196.

Once I lost my downhill advantage, a paceline formed. I hammered along at nearly 17 mph, but the group pulled away from me; I faced the headwind alone.

I reached an unexpected turning point—the intersection of D69 and D268. Proceeding straight onto D268 seemed like the right direction. To stay on D69, I would need to turn left. An arrow for D69 pointed to Sartène. An arrow for D268 pointed to ... Sartène. I did not want to head toward Sartène, which was clearly not along the direct route toward the coast.

At this intersection, it would have been nice for the group to wait for me. Or for one person to wait for me. That is what I would have done.

I pulled out my map and studied it. Carefully. Then I studied it some more. I chose to proceed straight onto D268, and found the group at a nondescript restaurant less than a mile later—at the intersection with N196.

We ordered our lunches at the same time; everyone had finished (pizza) before I was served (salad). Their impatience was palpable.

I released them. "I will find my way back," I told them. They offered that we start together, but what would be the point of that? I would fall behind immediately.

Biking on the national road was not fun, especially when I was adjacent to fast-moving traffic on uphill sections or contending with construction zones. I pulled off the road a few times, just to get a break from the traffic. I studied the map, looking for alternatives; there were none.

Sixty miles, 4,545 feet of climbing.

On the plus side, it didn't rain.

September 23, 2012

Porto Pollo

At the end of yesterday's ride, I was completely spent. After stashing my bike, I more or less collapsed in the hallway, next to my luggage, until I learned my room number. Two women (other guests) regarded me with some disdain as they passed.

I have certainly completed longer rides. I have completed rides that entailed more climbing. For some reason, Saturday's ride took a lot out of me.

I had absolutely no intention of riding the next day.

A good night's sleep made all the difference.

In earlier times, our inn had been a mill where they pressed olive oil. We were out in the countryside; the closest town was nine miles away.

Porto Pollo, and its beach, beckoned. It helped that the road to the coast followed the river, and was essentially flat.

We had the place nearly to ourselves, even though it was a warm weekend day. It is the off-season, and the locals must be busy with the routines of daily life. We found a spot of shade near some trees, floated and splashed and swam in the sea, and had a nice lunch at a beachfront café.

In other words, we enjoyed a relaxing day, one that would be typical for many a vacationing tourist along the Mediterranean. Except that our version required 18 miles of bicycling, with a whopping 250 feet of vertical ascent.

Tomorrow, we will return to our regular vacation routine.

September 22, 2012


To prepare for today's journey, I did my homework. I asked Google Maps for a route to our next hotel; although it was car-centric, it was also bikeable. Studying the map, the rest of the group had settled on the same route. There just aren't that many alternatives for getting from point A to point B on Corsica.

I studied my paper map and wrote out a primitive cue sheet. The signs at intersections consist of arrows labeled with the names of the nearest towns—not north/south/east/west. It is important to be familiar with the places you will see along the way.

For me, the low-stress approach would be to go it alone. I promised to call for help if I needed it. As I pedaled away, I overheard a veteran of these tours (no longer able to bike):
She is very courageous.
The road out of Porto started with a seven-mile climb; a Google Streetview car passed me here. Were the cameras rolling? Time will tell.

The road dipped back down to sea level, and then offered 20 miles of rolling hills along the coast before the next sustained climb (five miles). If the natural beauty of Les Calanche de Piana was not enough, we were distracted by the spectacle of an exotic car rally. Lots of those red cars (by Ferrari), one Ford GT, one Audi R8, some Aston Martins and Corvettes. And one vehicle that I recognized by the sound of its engine before it came into view, a Lamborghini Diablo.

After pedaling for more than three hours, I started eyeing cafés in the town of Sagone. I stopped at the third one, eager for the melon et jambon listed on their chalkboard.

Unfortunately, it was not yet noon. Apparently, the guys at the table out front were lingering after petit déjeuner. The proprietors would start serving lunch a midi, or vingt-deux minutes from now.

One does not toy with the rhythm of life in a small European town.

I could not afford the time to wait; I needed to find a place farther down the road after noon, or in the next town.

Instead of my cherished melon et jambon (12€), I found a reasonable pasta salad at the U Express supermarket for a mere 3.58€. In fact, this turned out to be the deal of the century: it was on sale, and rang up at a mere 1.79€. I stopped at a nice spot along the shoreline to enjoy my little picnic. After handing my camera to a French couple for a photo, they wished me bon appétit as they pulled away.

Navigating the outskirts of a major city was the significant challenge of this route. Riding on a national road was not bad in the countryside; getting past Ajaccio was another matter altogether. A matter of a divided highway.

I lacked the requisite knowledge to interpret the road signs. There were circular blue signs depicting bicycles and pedestrians. There were circular red, white, and black signs depicting bicycles and pedestrians. In the US, such a sign would carry a diagonal slash to indicate "prohibited."

I stopped. I studied my map. I needed to travel one kilometer on this portion of the road. Traffic was moving fast. There was no real shoulder, but there was some room to the right of a dashed line—not quite as wide as a standard bike lane.

I took a deep breath and started pedaling. The circular blue sign would have led me onto a peaceful frontage road. The bicycle sign with the red circle meant that bicycles were prohibited. The drivers must have thought I was insane. It was just one kilometer.

Soon, I turned onto D302—the quiet road that would take me straight to our hotel, near the hamlet of Calzola. This involved the final long climb of the day (8.5 miles). I crossed the narrow bridge over the river Tavola and turned into the inn's driveway.

I had climbed 6,235 feet over 72 miles, without a single wrong turn.

September 21, 2012

Ota Porto

Given the prospect of a long ride to our next town tomorrow, most of the group opted for a day off.

A day off the bike, that is.

In the morning, we would hike.

We returned to Ota, stopping for a close look at the Ponte Vecchiu—a bridge we had seen from the road above, yesterday.

We continued to the nearest trailhead for Tra Mare e Monti Nord, which passes into the spectacular Gorges de Spelunca. The steep, rocky trail was challenging, but why would anyone want to hurry, here?

We relaxed on the river bank at the Pont de Zaglia before retracing our steps. These stone bridges were built to serve a centuries-old route of significance—we were hiking through history.

Returning to Porto after lunch, I visited the local market to stock up for tomorrow's journey. It was also time to swap out my booted tire; my friends were concerned for my safety on the bike, and generously gave me the spare tire they had brought along. [Note to self: next time, bring a spare.]

There was even enough time for a quick cruise before dinner. It was immediately obvious that my limited vocabulary is devoid of nautical words, but the coastline needed no narration—especially in the long rays of the late afternoon sun.

September 20, 2012

Col de Vergio

Here's the thing about Corsica: The only place that is flat is the sea.

After yesterday's challenging journey, I was not convinced I would ride today. But then, what would I miss?

Our host pointed to a lake on the map; it seemed impossibly far away. "First we follow this white road, then we take this yellow road ..."

From sea level, there is nowhere to go but uphill. Take a glance at a topological map, and this will be abundantly clear.

We inundated the tiny local market in the town of Ota. Shortly thereafter, our group of eight began to shrink.

The first two riders were determined to turn back after we had climbed 2,000 feet. Methinks it can be a bad thing to have too much data.

We stopped for lunch in Évisa. I took one look at the enormous serving of pasta in front of me and pronounced it too much to eat.

I then proceeded to eat it. All of it.

Three more riders turned back. I got a short-lived head start on the remaining two (our host, and one of our most hard-core cyclists), and then settled into my own comfortable pace. We would all turn around at the summit; the distance to the lake was too great.

I was startled when a small wild boar scrambled out of the brush and ran across the road; they're fast! On the way down, I paused when I met a small group of them. Two youngsters were engaged in a circular romp in the middle of the road, while the adults foraged in the roadside grass. Like the wandering cows and sheep, they ignored me and I continued on my way.

After stopping to marvel at a spectacular gorge, I noticed a tour bus edge around a sharp bend on its way up the hill. The stretch of road between us was little more than a single lane wide, and I definitely did not want to be squeezed against the low stone wall at the edge of the gorge. I tucked into a wide spot and waited for the bus to pass. The driver was attentive and waved to me in appreciation.

With today's climb of 5,015 over 44 miles, I have climbed nearly 10,000 feet in two days. Evidently I am stronger than I thought.