Corsica December 07 2011

November 1st - 7th 2011 In excellent warm weather, we ride our bikes across Livorno from our hotel to the port. Traffic is not as bad as I expect, and by my standards Livorno proves to be a fairly typical Italian town. It has 3-4 story tall white & cream colored buildings, narrow one way roads, and Italians... everywhere! At the port, it takes a bit of fooling around to find where to go: we don't have tickets yet, and although one of the company's (Corsica Ferries) boats can be seen from ¼ mile away... the path to get there is designed for peak season when hundreds - thousands of cars might be transported to Corsica or Sardinia. Now it is low season and only ~100 cars wait to load our ferry in addition to a bus load of German tourists. Our ferry arrives & unloads in Livorno whist we stand and watch. When the unloading is complete, a lone cycle tourist stands across the road where we wait. He looks like he knows his business: fully loaded with matching front and rear paniers... all top notch waterproof Orlieb gear. He wears a backpack and on it a spare rim for his wheel. It strikes me as funny: one must carry lots of assorted spare parts to decide to carry a spare rim. What is the likelihood of damaging a rim & not being able to find a replacement near by? Where else has he been riding that he carries such spare parts... Africa? I would like to ask him questions and make small talk, but instead we load the ferry. From the sun deck we watch him walk away from the ferry & down the middle of an empty 3 lane wide port road heading towards town. Our own supply of spare parts and repair tools includes a leatherman, a socket-head multi-tool, a spoke wrench, 3 tire levers, tape, 2 pipe clamps, a handfull of zipties, locktite, spare M5 screws, tire patch kit, 1 spare tube of each size, and a small bike pump. We have not yet had any major problems, not a flat tire... not even a low tire. Our repair kit has gone unused and treated us well. The Italians are not quite like the Swiss and Germans, and the vessel leaves port no less than one hour late. The ferry cuts through the water surprisingly fast and at 160m long, it is capable of transporting 2000 passengers & 500 cars. The exterior paint job hides the boats true age, but once on-board we see that it is not the newest of boats. Its unkempt on-deck swimming pool needs an overhall, a few doors and bathrooms are listed as out of service, and the interior design is due for an upgrade. Perhaps it previously operated as a luxury cruise ship and has now been put to more practical uses. The boat vibrates horribly with the engines running during the four hour trip. We wait out the ride on the ship's rear sundeck and after sunset in the adjacent indoor lounge making small talk with some of the German tourists. The Mediterranean is surprisingly calm and flat for the duration of the journey... as if there is no wind at all. Its partly cloudy and warm... the warmest weather we've had in weeks. We arrive in Bastia well after dark and make quick work of finding the bed in our hotel room. The following day, we do typical things upon arrival in a port city: stock up on food, send emails, and get info from the tourist office. My favorite way to hit a tourist office is to find someone who speaks English and simply explain that we arrived without any plans, accommodations, nor reservations... 'can you please advise?' This usually leads to getting a local map & a partial list of hotels. We how have 8 days to explore the island by bike, and perhaps rent sea kayaks, a small sailboat, or take kitesurfing lessons... all seems to good to be true! Corsica is in the Mediterranean Sea 200km west of Italy, 300km south of France. Although French in nationality, culturally it is a mix of both countries. The island is 250km long and 100km wide (at most). The terrain is a mix of sandy beaches, sea cliffs, vineyards, dolomite spires, mountains, and no less than 5 ski resorts. (or so we conclude from the tourist info) After lunch on our first day, we bike north out of town riding the 35km to the northernmost town and end of the road on the island. Heavy rain clouds sit over the mountainous interior of the island whilst we ride in descent sunshine & warmth (my first day riding only in shorts). The road is manageably hilly and pleasant whilst following the coast from town to town. Most of the traffic on this shoulder-less 2 lane road dissipates within the first 5km of leaving Bastia. We are by no means cursed, and have continued to have the best of luck on this trip. BUT, while we ride- a modest tail wind builds behind us and the calm flat water of yesterdays boat trip turns into increasingly choppy water. 10km out of town I start to notice a distinctive catch when using my rear breaks. It seems to thump once per rotation when I engage the break. They have been fine up until now, and I haven't put much thought into them since we have mostly been riding flat terrain. Back home in the mountains of Colorado I am very particular about inspecting my breaks – a ritual at the top of every big pass. Upon arrival in the small town and harbor of Macinaggio, the weather has built into a strong Southern wind and the forecast tells us it is expected to turn to force 4 winds and rain by morning. To leave Macinaggio we will now need to fight a headwind in excess of 30mph and rain. Our original plan is to traverse the island to the opposite coast (15km) and continue back south; instead we take shelter in a small room in the towns cheapest hotel. It has a large window and deck overlooking the harbor. Stranded?... sort of! 2 days later, the boats below still rock violently in their harbor slips – shaken by the wind. Our pastime of watching the waves crash through & overcome the habor's breaker wall continues to be a source of entertainment. Sheets of rain comes in short fierce bursts a few times an hour. Macinaggio consists of about 200 full time residents, 2 small supermarkets, 1 bakery, 1 gas station, 5 small older hotels/B&Bs, and a handful of shops/restaurants. All the main buildings are lined up together along the main & only road which follows the harbor perimeter. It is off-season and we share the town with only locals and a few sailors waiting out the storm. The harbor is nearly full with ~200 boats, a mix of all types. Whitecaps cover the ocean out to the point where the horizon mixes with the gray sky. Since our arrival, not a single boat has entered or left the harbor- not to our surprise. However, a growing number of windsurfers arrive on the first day of strong winds. A windsurfer is one of the fastest wind powered vessels: for many years holding the speed record (56mph) over millions of invested dollars in purpose built speed sailboats. A wind surfer is also capable of jumping in excess of 15 feet out of the water with the choppy conditions we experience. My jaw drops at the speed and agility at which the windsurfers move in this wind. Perhaps it is fate... or payback for my mockery of the other cyclist carrying a spare rim. Undeniably, my rear rim's braking surface is damaged: cracked, dented, bulged and grooved out badly. In particular a two inch segment is cracked and the adjacent segment of rim has bulged out noticeably. The brake pads are warn down well past the indicator grooves, but not quite to the support plastic. Rear brake pads are inaccessible and harder to inspect on a bike loaded with a rack and the permanently affixed pannier. It would be possible to replace the rim- if I had... or could get a spare. But, this fix will have to wait at least a few days and renders my rear brake unsafe. Without the good rear brake, we will need to avoid steep descents & abrupt stops. After 3 days of force 4 wind & partial rain, the town electricity becomes intermittent. As of now, we still wait at the end of the island. And our departure is still unknown. We will not be getting the full fledged island tour that we had hoped for.