Le Grand Canyon du Verdon

Trip Start Mar 04, 2008
Trip End Oct 06, 2008

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Flag of France  , Provence,
Saturday, September 20, 2008

So after blowing my time and money budget in so many ways during my stay in Andalusia, I was anxious to get back into cycling mode and start stealth camping again. I caught a train north to a town called Xativa, about a day south of Valencia. From here I bombed it up to and through Barcelona and along the stretch dubbed 'La Costa Brava'.

The Costa Brava was an absolutely spectacular stretch. It is the rocky coastline of the East Pyranees which separate Spain from France. Challenging riding...up and over headlands and down into canyons but man, was it worth it. This stretch is a cyclists wet dream. Sinuous coastal highway wrapping around rocky promontories, pine forest, mountainous backdrop, picture perfect Spanish towns tucked into tight canyons and magnificent sea vistas.

I met an interesting fellow cycle tourist on this stretch. I passed by him walking his bike into town and wondered what his deal was. He caught up with me as I sat drinking a coke outside the gas station. We struck up a conversation. He's towing a massive wooden homemade trailor behind him. Says he only does 20 km a day because he has to walk it all. I ask him if his bike is broken. He says no, it works fine, but he has to walk otherwise his goat can't keep up. He's headed to France. With his goat. Why France?, I ask. Why not? He says. Why the goat? I ask. He looks at me like I'm stupid. I change the subject.

Once into France the terrain soon became much more tame. A little too tame. One learns a lot about oneself on a trip like this. Of late, I've learned this: I'm not a beach guy. I like the idea of the beach but I can't bring myself to enjoy it. I don't like packing an extra five pounds of sand in my gear. I don't like headwinds. I don't like sitting around doing nothing, which is pretty much what one does on the beach. I'm like a meth addict. I always have to be doing something, and lately that something has been given'r on my bike. So I had a look at the map and decided to head on up into the hills to a place called 'Le Grand Canyon du Verdon'. With a name like that, it's gotta be cool, right?

Leaving the coast was the best thing I could have done. People aren't as friendly on the coast as they are in the mountains. The towns are dirtier. The traffic is worse and the tourists drive you mad. Up in the mountains everyone says hello to each other. The storekeep at the small alimentaire will give you a complimentary pain de chocolat because she knows she won't sell it this late in the day. Furthermore, wild camping opportunities up in the mountains are always good, and often are perfect 10 locations (note the Lac St. Croix lookout spot!).

The grand canyon was nothing short of grand. It is tighter than the American Grand Canyon, and thus not as breathtaking I suppose, but has a more intimate feel. The road goes right up through the canyon and along the canyon walls. You really get a feel for the enormity of the chert and limestone walls. Road grades were even half decent as for much of the stretch you are travelling right along the river.

I did have to go over 3 mountain passes that day, mind you. Of course on the third, at the end of the day, I got caught in torrential rain which turned to thick fog as I descended into the picture perfect French town of Greolieres. On the descent, I knew I was on the edge of something steep but couldn't quite see how steep. Maybe that was a good thing.
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