The Corsican Experience
by Jack Priestnall, posted 8 September 2017
Riding from “the little finger to the index finger”, as the locals say, proved an adventure that has formed the theme to many other rides for Jack Priestnall.
Cycling through a stunning country with my great friend of 12 years was a brilliant experience. One I now channel almost every time I get on my bike: telling myself “It wasn't this hard in Corsica!”, but then again it was hot, sunny, beautiful with smooth roads… well mostly.
To cycle up the west side of Corsica we took three and a little bit days (the little bit being the last 30km ride for a well earned lunch and beer). We started in a small village called Campomoro on the edge of the island and finished in the ferry port of L’île-Rousse.
Waking up on the first day to start our little adventure to find it had rained overnight, for the first time in three months, was a little unnerving. Looking on the bright side, this meant cooler riding than the usual Corsican heat. Starting on a beautiful town on the beach is all very well but it does mean the day started with a climb up and around the mountain. I was glad I packed light with the choice of an Apidura saddle pack with all my clothing, spare tubes and couple of bike tools in. Sleeping bag, mat and bivvy bag were strategically strapped to frame of my Genesis Croix De Fer. I also had a food pouch mounted in front of me for fuel during riding.
We spent the first 30km or so on roads we knew from previous ventures out over the last week so the excitement of turning off of what we knew and ‘officially’ starting the adventure was high.We knew that the road we turned onto would be a descent but what a descent! Full of long S bends that allowed you to see the gray silk stretching on far ahead, zooming under trees and past low walls that gave windows over the mountains that lay ahead. When we reached the bottom of this heavenly road it just stopped! There was an old bridge that was not been big enough for a car - who built this road, and why?
Over the next few hours we covered good ground and got ourselves to Bastelicaccia by 3pm and found a typical local food shop and picked up some fresh grub to make lunch with. We sat in the car park eating cheese and saucisson baguettes followed by a juicy peach each. We stuffed bananas into our back pockets and set our sights on the small town of Afa on higher ground. That evening we watched the sun lower behind the mountains with pizzas and beer in a small restaurant.
Waking up the next morning after roughing it off the beaten track, breakfast consisted of a vanilla and caramel Power bar and a Clif bar for something close to cereal. A nibble on some saucisson and bread then we packed up and left.
Looking at the map we decided we wanted to head for Paina; voted one of the most beautiful villages in France.Day two was more relaxed riding than previously. The day’s biggest climb was still pretty tough, as the gradient seemed to gradually rise until it hit somewhere that felt like 10% and stayed there for about a kilometer or two. That took a lot out of us, mentally more than anything. I think we both found it quite hard to keep our chins up at that time. I know I did.
The gradient did eventually ease off, but never completely. As we rode along the mountain side, high above the valley, we could see inland to the looming clouds heading this way. “We’re gonna get rained on tonight” we agreed.
On a high and quiet mountain road between the Col de Torraccia and Piana we got caught out.
Lightning struck a power cable just 6 metres in front of me! “HOLY S***! Did you see that?” Is all I could say before being interrupted by what I can only describe as the loudest noise i've ever heard - thunder clapped right above us! Its fairly obvious to say we picked up the pace from then on to get us to Paina. Which we could now see through a gap in the mountains. Just before we started our descent to the village, a fire truck in full emergency mode sped past us in the other direction. I looked over my shoulder to see smoke rising from the valley we’d just been in.
After coffee and a doughnut, or two, the rain had stopped and we found a hotel on route on the edge of Piana to rest up and keep us dry incase it rained over night. It was a stunning place to stay.
The next morning was bright skies and sunshine. We started with a glorious descent down almost to sea level. Then a fairly tough climb back out of the of the village of Porto. Before long Porto (which had been our previous day's target) was behind us as the days heat started to build. A long hot morning in the saddle on quite a barren road was probably the toughest part of our four days. We reached the summit of Col De Palmarella just as I felt my rear tire soften. I've had worse views to sit and change a tube. A blast from my Co2 and my tire was ready for the 7km descent.
We were aiming for Calvi to end that day. Near the end of the day we hit a very rough road, full of holes with no let up for quite some time. I was grateful I’d bought the right bike. The Croix De Fer felt at home on this rough stuff. By the time the holes filled up and the tarmac started again we were close to Calvi and in my mind, a beach.
Before long we were sat on that beach watching the sun set, and then we headed off and found a place to camp for the night.
On our last morning we planned a route to keep us off the main road to L’ile-Rousse. This took us up an early climb to a hilltop church and a flowing fountain. A god-send in this heat: we refilled our bottles and washed our faces with the gloriously refreshing cold water. We stayed at altitude for a while with a gradual climb until our final destination came into view below us. We didn't start descending until just a few km off the edge of town. We dropped into the hustle and bustle of L’ile-Rousse and ended our tour in a busy square with paninis and drinks.
Good company, a beautiful country and two faultless bikes. I'd do it all again.