Friday, July 8, 2016

Cycling Corsica Day 2 - Calvi to St. Florent via Col di Battaglia (85 miles, 8.5k ft climbing)



After a day's rest/socializing/drinking/sleeping/recovering from my hike up and down the coast, it was time for the gang to move from Calvi, on the northwest coast, eastward to the cape just north of Saint Florent.  It was supposed to be a couple of hours away by car, but I had a better idea: get up early and make my way there on my own, meanwhile finding a few needless detours over the inland mountains -- specifically, Bocca di Battaglia, a Cat 2 climb.

Amy and the gang wanted to meet for lunch halfway, in the town of Pigna, so I decided to ride the climb twice: once before lunch, and then again on my way to Saint Florent.

I imagined that the ride from Calvi to the base of the climb, in Speloncato, would be flattish, but this was Corsica, and I really should have known better.

The opening miles through the valley were a balmy 75 degrees, with distant towns ringed by what Corsica considers foothills.





Crossing over one of these "hills" -- something like 2 miles at 5% grade -- made me realize a central fact of Corsica: every town has its own church with a truly magnificent view.



The church wasn't the top -- up and up I went.



From the top of the climb, Calvi was visible in the distance -- it's the town on the far side of the bay.



A zoomed-in shot:



Continuing over the ridgeline to the east, inland Corsica opened up before me, and I meandered my way from town to town, each more picturesque than the next.







After 3 hours of winding my way through mountain roads and seeing more cyclists than cars, I came to what I thought was the base of the climb.  Once again, a church marked the way.



And here was the base of the climb:




Whoops.  This is what happens when you're a little cavalier with planning routes in other countries on RWGPS: the program showed a road, but if that was the climb, I wasn't doing it.

Happily, I was able to figure out where I should have been, and another 30 minutes of riding brought me to Speloncato and the beginning of the fun.

The bustling metropolis of Speloncato.
This sign might as well have said: "Hey, stupid cyclists -- this way."
Bocca Di a Battaglia is a Cat 2 climb, ascending almost 2,000 feet over the course of 4 miles at an average grade of 9.5% grade, and with no shade at any point.  It's a doozy, and I was to do it twice that day.


As grades approach 10%, it becomes harder just to grind up them, but I winched myself up it in no great haste, taking in the surroundings every few minutes.  They didn't disappoint.






From near the top, Speloncato -- where I'd started the climb -- was visible in the distance.







Finally I reached the summit, where there's a small restaurant catering to almost exclusively cyclists, from what I could tell.  I managed to convey my need for water, but my French for "ice cream" escaped me, so I just held up a Nestle placard, pointed to what I wanted, and looked apologetic.

As time was running short, I descended back the way I came rather than down the backside of the climb, and met up with Amy & Company for lunch in Pigna, a quaint medieval village (but aren't they all in those parts?).  Unfortunately, my Garmin crashed just as I was reaching lunch, so I lost fully four hours of effort and my climb up the mountain.  So much for Strava glory.

After lunch it was back up the Bocca Di a Battaglia -- I found it on the first try this time -- only this time in 90-degree scorching heat.  From there I descended down the backside to the south, where I got my first glimpse of Mt. Doom.  It's actually called Monte Cinto, but at 8,000 feet it's the highest peak in Corsica, and unlike many of the neighboring mountains, it has a distinctly jagged, sinister aspect.




It seemed to have its own weather.



Unlike the 9-10% grade up the Battaglia from the north, the descent down the south side was a gentle, meandering amble through forests and around ridge lines -- a little of everything that Corsica has to offer.  At one point I think I went 20 minutes without pedaling a radian.  The only drawback was that parts of it were truly/madly/deeply rural -- as in, if you have a problem here, you'll need to build a house and start hunting boar, because no one's coming for you.



After making my way back north to the coast, I turned east toward Saint Florent, but to get there, I had to cross 20 miles of the "desert," an uninhabited inland region with scrubby brush and little else.  I wasn't expecting much, and my low expectations were met fully when the first five miles were grinding up a Skyline-esque ascent.  At the top, though, things improved markedly.  To the south, the valleys extended to the horizon.



And to the north, the sea was visible over an ocean of rocks.






There were some inhabitants, whose beauty was enough to make one find religion.



Then, at last, it was time for the real show: the descent into Saint Florent, a postcard-perfect port town.








What a day -- it had been 80 hilly miles, and there were only a few to go.  Amy mentioned that our house was actually in the town of Farinole, which was 5 miles north of Saint Florent, and she'd noted that it was "uphill" to get there.  It turns out she wasn't joking: our house turned out to be at the apex of a Cat 3 climb that begins with about 100 yards at a 20% grade.  Holy crap, Batman.

But at the end of the day, holy crap was right -- the view from the bedroom said it all.


After a blissful shower, it was time for rosé on the balcony.  What an island!