24 June -1 July 2017
This section covers the 725k from Rochebrune San-Martin to Quillan at the French foothills of the Pyrenees. I initially considered riding along the Mediterranean coast all the way, but I changed my mind because of the tourist season and unbearable high humidity. Instead, I went inland from Nice navigating my way west through national parks Prealpes D’Azur, Verdon, Luberon and Haut Languedoc from where I headed southwest towards the Pyrenees. It wasn’t high mountains (highest point around 1,300m), but the constant rolling hills implied climbing more than 1,000m every day and several days 1,500-1,700m.
Itinerary, weather, roads and drivers/people
From Rochebrune San-Martin, I rode 40k along the coast past Nice to Cagnes-sur-Mer where I headed inland – a strenuous and sweaty ride with the high temperature/humidity and constant rolling hills. The morning was overcast but as the weather improved, I had beautiful coastal views. I passed several cosy small villages/harbours but as I rode west, the towns became bigger and busier, so I was happy to leave the coast already the first day.
I rode up the mountains past Grasse to Verdon offering a surprisingly huge gorge and lovely lake. From there, I continued west past Manosque and Papal city Avignon to village Le Benefire, where I turned southwest through Carcassone to Quillan. All the way, I navigated rolling hills over mountains and down valleys through an ever changing landscape from flinty to forests and farmland – as it’s common in hilly landscapes most of the way along rivers. About half the way road quality was good to great and the other half poor to horrible, but it was unpredictable having nothing to do with road type or size (in general the quality declined as I rode west). So there was no reason to speculate in what roads to take except picking the ones looking more interesting or quiet. The main roads sometimes had shoulders but the smaller roads were less busy, so I aimed for the latter and probably rode them half the way, which was more than usual.
The weather was constantly changing from blue skies and sunny to overcast and rainy (overall probably 50/50). The first days the temperature was around 35-40C when sunny and 28-33C when overcast, but the weather generally worsened as I progressed west (lower temperatures and more rain). Most importantly, the humidity was much lower than on the coast however, in some cultivated (irrigated) areas it was still high. Most of the way, I had a strong headwind, which was tough on the endless uphills though pleasantly cooling me down. When overcast, the wind made the steep downhills cold, but they seldom lasted more than 15 minutes before it was back uphill. Night temperatures were around 14-18C so sleeping was never a challenge.
Until Verdon, it was very touristic especially lots of caravans; mostly (of course) French but also many of British, Dutch and Germans – I talked with many of them when having breaks or stopping for views. From Verdon, I hardly encountered any tourists until the Pyrenees except when passing through Avignon. While most tourists (except motorcyclists) complied with speed limits, most locals drove too fast but except in the cities, people were overall cautious waiting for room to overtake and keeping a distance when doing so. Few locals greeted me and they generally seemed quite indifferent which suited me fine since the language barrier prevented much conversation anyway - only 1-2 could or wanted to speak English and my French is only adequate to get by.
In the mountains, camping is usually fairly easy, but not during this leg. More often, the road was cut out of the mountainside or squeezed between a steep cliffside and a river - and whenever I could get off the road, the area was often private/fenced, overgrown, rocky/stony or simply too exposed to the road/houses. Many evenings and nights, it rained so camping with a small slope was important to avoid flooding of the tent. Once I had to camp on a flat surface next to a river – the weather was fine until, out of nowhere, torrential rain passed by and I quickly had to dig trenches around the tent.
Most importantly, I had no broken spokes on this leg. Half way to Quillan, I noticed the front tire bulge (identied on the way to Monaco) had grown to a dangerous size especially considering the many big downhills and the Pyrenees soon coming up. Changing it, I only had my used foldable tire left as a spare until the Netherlands where I had supplies at my friend Kenneth’s.
In Limoux just before Quillan, my dynamo charging cable broke by the soldering. Luckily I passed a bike shop where I had it fixed though I found 5 Euro a bit steep - it was worth it, but it only took a minute to re-solder.