Have you ever wondered “what would have happened if?” Or “who knows what I would have done if?”
Today I’m going to tell you about the day I left for an unexpected bike ride in France. This journey was born from a friendship and it began like this; I was on the train, coming back to Pisa from Venice, when I got a call from my dear friend Victor. He said that he was leaving for a month-long trip to come back to his family in Bilbao. He asked me to go with him giving me only a small hint: the departure would be the following day. Mine has been a lightning-fast decision and I soon started preparing the necessary equipment to go with him. I decided to travel with a lightweight luggage for my few days trip. The path would have been hilly and windy, exactly what I liked so I chose to bring with me only essential things.
I put the bike packing bags in my Trek Checkpoint SI5 in which there were: an Outwet winter outfit, a thermal base layer, a 100 gr jacket, a towel, two pairs of socks, a sleeping bag with a thin mat; I was ready to go. Having my bike, as much as possible, always reactive and light in any situation, makes me feel every movement and pedaling with my bike. The most important rule for me is to have few things but essential and of good quality so I decided to test the new Outwet garments.
The following day we left by train from Pisa to go to Ventimiglia, avoiding the Italian coast so usually headwindy (poor us!).
In the early afternoon we arrived in Ventimiglia and there our journey began. After few kilometers through the urban center we started going up the river side Roia where the road immediately climbed sharply with a regular 8% slope and few 12/13% peaks. Our constant thought was “after the curve it will be smoother”: with this mood we crossed the border. Finally we arrived in France! The road however had no intention to decrease the slope; on the contrary we continued climbing along the river side that had now a wonderful stream, full of boulders and small waterfalls that accompanied us on the ascent with their rustle. Continuing to climb, the kilometers flowed under our legs and time passed, it was about 6.30 pm and the sun was about to dive behind the mountains that stood out in front of us.
The temperature dropped drastically but we soon arrived at the top of Col de Braius 1300 mt. It was 7 p.m. and after usual photo we immediately began to put on something warmer for the descent, the temperature was below zero. Fortunately my Outwet underwear and my thermal shirt helped me staying dry even after hours of pedaling. The sweat had been pushed towards the outside of the garments leaving my skin dry and safe from sudden changes of temperatures. At this point it was enough to wear my Outwet EW Winter jacket to be ready to push myself downhill towards Nice. The glance was breathtaking, in front of us a wonderful valley and kilometers of hairpin bends: in about 15 km we would have reached the valley. This is where I appreciated having only the essential with me and therefore my light weight bike. We quickly faced the descent enjoying every single curve, because of the cold our hands and face were numb but the thrill of riding in those roads overshadowed everything else. The idea was to continue pedaling and then stop for camping.
As temperature would have dropped soon below freezing, we opted for a small hotel in Nice, that we can call Hotel “discomfort”. After the descent we did a few kilometers at night crossing the center of Nice. As soon as we arrived at the Hotel “discomfort” we were greeted by a French gentleman who did not even check the reservation, he just accompanied us to the room that we discovered was more like a dormitory with 6 sleeping places. Tired and hungry we did not matter too much about it. After a shower strictly with our socks on and some noodles prepared in the terrace we slipped into the sleeping bag (with our face masks on), trying get some sleep between snores and loud noises.
Full of energy for the coming new day, we began to ride through the beautiful cycling path along Nice seafront. It was a beautiful sunny day and there were many cyclists: after all it was Sunday. We tried to use the wake for a while, then we turned right and left the sea behind us to start climbing again.
We passed through a small road that slowly followed the slope of the mountain cradling us among the lush vegetation, more and more green that boded well for the coming kilometers. We even had a light breeze that lightly pushed us toward our goal. In fact, after a further right hairpin turn, the road changed completely: we had reached the borders of the Sainte Baume Massif natural park. Here the ups and downs became more irregular and difficult.
The red rocks and plantations of cork trees soon replaced the green of spring leaves. The stones reflected the sunrays and the wind kept blowing so that we didn’t feel too much hot. We went though some kilometers of only wild nature, (I had never seen France from this point of view) then suddenly the sea. From above we had a breathtaking glimpse of the Côte d’Azur and Marseille. We started our descent desperately looking for something to eat: it was Sunday and everything was closed. Fortunately we found a minimarket and we devoured 2 sandwiches and a small roasted chicken.
After few kilometers we arrived in Le Luc, we found a guesthouse more comfortable than last hotel, where we took a hot shower and rested in a quiet place. The following day would have been my last day and we decided to reach Arles as our final destination. It was one of the toughest days. Not only because we already rode for 350 km and about 4000 mt of elevation but because we still had to cover 180 km with side wind. We then left Le Luc and after a bit of gravel road we faced very long straights, followed by small roundabouts and again other straights: it seemed like being in a loop. The roads were mostly surrounded by wheat fields as far as the eye could see.
Finally we arrived in Provence, one of the windiest regions in France. In a while it was easy to be pushed from the edge to the center of the road, a very dangerous situation we had to face with our bike. The bikepacking bags and the high profile wheels didn’t help: they were a sort of real sail that made us bounce from side to side of the carriageway. Luckily the cyclists are more stubborn than every blow of the wind, so pedal after pedal we arrived in the historic center of Arles. Once crossed its imposing Roman walls, the wind had calmed down and the feeling to be arrived put a smile in our faces. We did it, after almost 500km and more than 4000mt of vertical altitude, we reached our destination! Having succeeded made me feel really satisfied: a feeling of joy pervaded my mind and body, making the difficulties of those days negligible. To reach a goal with your own strength, this is the magic of a bicycle trip!
During this last day, clothings have been a really important choice: the strong cold wind and the clouds that covered the sun did not help the temperature rising. In order to face my last day weather conditions I used the bibthights, a short sleeve thermal base layer and the winter jacket by Outwet. Clothings were to be tested as my body was due to manage thermoregulation and effort together with high perspiration.
The great insulating power of the garments helped me to better manage my performance in these days ensuring the necessary comfort and hygiene! I hope you have followed me in this unexpected bike ride: I wish you all good rides and tailwind!
Text and photo by Riccardo Chimenton