17 - 24 April 2017
This section covers 520k from Porto Vecchio in the southeast and clockwise all the way around the island to Bastia in the northeast. Again, we could have done it much easier and faster doing the 140k flattish ride up the east coast, but we wanted to explore as much as possible of the island.
Itinerary and weather
The ferry was delayed, so arrived late morning in Porto Vecchio. Instead of a straight run south on the main road, we did a 20k detour around a small peninsula south of Porto Torres – stunning coastal views but unfortunately also many built-up stretches. Reconnecting with the main road, we rode south towards Bonifacio, but before getting there we did another detour to camp. After morning sightseeing in beautiful but touristic Bonifacio, we took the mostly inland hilly main road northwest to big city Ajaccio, which we skipped and continued north along the coast to Bastia. The initial plan had been to ride across the mountains from Ajaccio to Bastia, but we met a German bicyclist coming the other way and highly recommending the coastal route. Another aspect was the weather – constantly changing from sunny/blue sky to rain/dark sky but always very windy. On the coast, this was manageable but navigating the high mountains would be less pleasant especially if we had limited views for the hardship of going there. Finally, Sonia wanted to do the coast and there would be many more mountains to climb when later doing the Alps and Pyrenees.
Riding around Corsica was fantastic not least the diversity of the nature - amazing coastal views from gorgeous beaches to tall vertical cliffsides, countless beautiful mountains sometimes snow-capped, deep valleys with flowerbeds and rivers as well as many cosy small town and villages. We had no expectations of what to see along the way, so suddenly riding through the incredible rock formations Les Calanches at Piana was amazing – I don’t remember seeing anything like it in Europe (only in North America).
Even the sunny days with 20-22C didn’t feel very warm because of the always strong winds and when it was overcast (and sometimes rainy), it cooled down significantly (a number of mornings and when biking in the mountains). Night temperatures were still low especially when camping in higher elevation – around 3-7C.
Road quality, drivers/people and camping
The roads were generally in good condition whether main roads or secondary roads – partly because we avoided the big towns and cities where the road quality is always worse. Only exception worth mentioning was a horrible 30k stretch of coastal road to Calvi – bumpy, potholed and patched. As everywhere in southern Europe, people drove fast (especially the crazy motorcyclists) but unlike e.g. Sardinia I didn’t always have the feeling, the drivers were cautions when passing us. The French tourists seemed to be patient and cautious while the prevalent approach amongst locals seemed to be me me me - even though it meant honking, shouting or squeezing some bicyclists. Maybe they are less used to bicyclists (we saw much fewer than e.g. in Sardinia or Sicily) or maybe they are just inconsiderate, selfish and somewhat crazy.
At least one story supports the latter when two guys tried to kill me. I rode down a hill and in a left curve I slightly cut the corner because of some loose gravel in the side. A van was very close to hitting me, even though there was more than enough room to pass by – normally they cut corners like crazy in which case they never would have been close. My guess is that they saw me, forgot to turn/cut the corner and went towards me because they were going much too fast. I made finger gesture and they stopped ahead - I just rolled around the van and continued down the hill with 40-45 k/h. They came racing after me and the guy in the passenger seat tried to hit me hard on the on the arm/shoulder – luckily it wasn’t a great attempt or I would have gone straight into the cliff/rocks to the right. When they again stopped, I stopped to tell them what maniacs they were, so they got out and walked towards me looking like they worked in the docks of Marseille. The aggressive “passenger seat” guy didn’t speak much English which seemed to pacify him a bit while the other guy spoke a little though I’m not sure how much he understood. Whatever I said his response was “and….? this is Corsica” like that was a universal explanation for killing random tourist or maybe anybody who misbehave according to their rules. I took a photo just in case and several cars stopped to see what was going on – maybe lucky for me so I didn’t end up as fish food with concrete shoes. Impossible to argue with this, so I took off – as always in these macho cultures their egos couldn’t let it go so they followed right behind me - likely ready to hit me should I cross the white line to the road. I didn’t so after 4k they got impatient, came close and wanted to push me over/off the road (them being on the bike part of the road was apparently not a problem!). I have tried it 3-4 times before and it’s always the same so I was prepared – I bike on the white line and just as they came close to squeeze me, I braked and pulled half a meter right so they “overshot” by several meters. I wasn’t sure if they would try again or maybe wait for me somewhere down the road but nothing more happened. Maybe they came to their senses or more likely they saw me with Sonia when she caught up some minutes later. She fell behind on a climb and experienced nothing of this, which was probably for the better.
I had the same feeling about the people – tourists generally seemed friendly often returning our greetings while the locals often had blank stares or ignored us. As in Sardinia, it didn’t surprise me, and as in Sardinia it did surprise me how rich the island was – for sure, a lot has happened here the last 15-20 years.
We had heard the Corsicans harassed tourists not staying and paying in official campground e.g. by breaking side mirrors on campervans. So our starting point was to hide well or ask permission – preferably the first as the latter - if it was true that people were not friendly – would be difficult. Also campgrounds were everywhere, so it would be easy to send us there instead taking us in. It turned out to be similar to Sardinia - despite riding mostly secluded areas, camping was difficult since the land was either private, stony open or steep slopes. Sometimes we squeezed into some bushes but most often, we found a small abandoned side road to camp on/by. Quite often stony/sloping but with nice views - almost always it was difficult pulling the bike through the notorious dense maquis (scrub bush).
Over the weeks our friendship had been pushed to (and maybe over) the edge and none of us were happy with the situation. The only reasons we had not split up, was that Sonia didn’t want to bike alone and had promised taking her to San Marino. We had everyday arguments and disputes about both biking and camping, which leaves little else on a trip like this. On the last day, we had another fight and she took off. It might not be nice to say about a friend, but felt a great relief because now my commitment of taking her to San Marino was cancelled. I had felt imprisoned and now I was free – overwhelmed by happiness.
The bike sometimes felt tougher to push and it also began making noises which slowly increased over time. I did a big check-up but it didn’t reveal anything, so I felt sure it was the bearings. In November 2016, I went from Istanbul to Denmark to have a new rear wheel built. It was with a hub having done about 8-10,000k which normally isn’t much but who knows. Maybe a sand grain made its way in there or maybe the bearings were damaged biking in minus 5-10C some days in Turkey – since they are sealed, I don’t see how it could be a problem, but who knows….
As mentioned in the section Brindisi to Sicily, I previously dismissed an awkward feeling of not being able to smoothly turn the handlebar. This also worsened, and although I had no other explanation, it was difficult believing it to be the stem bearings since they were just over a year old and had biked less than 20,000k from Singapore. The previous frame (that broke in Australia) did 60,000k without stem bearing problems.