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I was twenty-five years old and 3,5oo miles away from home, alone, in a tent, in the south of France, in the pouring rain… and I began to cry. This was a more Adventure than I’d bargained for.

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Invincible

I started my trip wide eyed, confident as I looked the unknown square in the face. I’d already conquered distance by getting both myself and my bike across the ocean on KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and then from Amsterdam to Nice by successfully navigating train transfers in Holland, Belgium and France’s capital, Paris. I was proud, from here I’d move under “pedal power.”

Saddle bags had been planned carefully and included, besides clothes, a basic toolbox for repairs, a tent, a sleeping bag, a single burner stove and a miniature stove-top espresso maker.

The plan was to bike from Nice (France) to Genoa (Italy) where I’d catch a ferry to Corsica. I’d travel from Bastia at the northern tip, to Ajaccio before ferrying back to Marseille, catching a train to Chamonix-Mont Blanc and crossing the Alps into Switzerland.

My adventure would have me conquer the Alps… but I wasn’t there yet. My first defeat would come early on.

Monaco

As I made my way from the train station in downtown Nice, to the campground in the hills above the French Riviera, the sun was setting. The next morning I awoke, had a bite to eat, tore down my tent and headed for Monaco, the glitzy city-state that was home to casinos, luxury yachts and the House of Grimaldi – Monaco’s royal family – of which American actress Grace Kelly would become the iconic Princess Grace.

The sun was not shining but the cloud ceiling was high, allowing for a carefree visit of the Principality… (even despite the very formal, white-gloved police officer who informed me that I couldn’t park my bike anywhere on The Rock – the old city where the Royal Palace is situated… I guess I wasn’t glitzy enough that day!)

That night though, at during the wee hours of the morning, rain began to fall. It would not stop for two full days and nights.

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Early Defeat

That first night, only the tarp was wet so I packed it in the saddle bags with everything else and set out for Genoa, some 180 km away… a two day ride at a relaxed pace.

Although I’d planned a rain jacket in case of inclement weather and although the saddle bags had a measure of water-proofing… they were no match for the rain that I would encounter and by the end of that first day, somewhere between San Remo and Imperia, on the Italian Riviera, I set up camp for the night… in the rain.

All that night the rain continued.
The following morning I was wet and cold.

I remember hearing a British couple in the tent nearby. I hadn’t noticed them the previous night, but in that cold, miserable state… my ears must’ve been more finely attuned to my native language. I listened to them pull their tent down and pack it up in their car.

… their car.
… their dry, not-exposed-to-the-elements, equipped-with-a-heater car.
… and as they drove off… I cried.

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Drying off

I stayed the entire day in that campeggio (campground in Italian), figuring I’d be better able to stay dry in the tent than I would be on the road – although at that point it was more a question of “varying degrees of wet”… not dry. I’d try waiting the rain out.

The following day was no better so I packed up all of my rain-soaked gear, found the nearest train station and headed to Genoa by rail.

I don’t remember the name of the hotel I stayed in (we’re talking 1995) but I do remember its claim to fame, splattered boldly across the brochure…

“Formerly 4-Stars”

At three and a half, it was still nice but who wants to actively publicize that they’ve been downgraded!?

Either way, it didn’t matter, my plan was simple. As soon as room service had been through, I would set up my tent & hang up all my clothes to let things dry out, then, before breakfast the next morning… back in the saddle bags it would all go.

After all… who wants to look like a slobby, failed cyclist “à la drowned rat” when you’re staying in a “used-to-be-a-4-star hotel”? 

It worked.
I was able to dry out.
Three days later I was off to Corsica and the rest of my adventure.

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Success

At the campeggio in Imperia I came close to throwing in the towel.

Wet, cold, discouraged and lonely it would’ve been easy to give up. If I had however:

  • I’d never have gotten to Corsica and tasted the Corsican clementine. (best. clementine. ever!)
  • I never have come across two stray cows, on the road, between Osani and Partinello.
  • I’d not have met Andreas, a German cyclist, at a campground in Porto or seen the sunset over the bay from atop the rocks.
  • And it’d be impossible to remember the overpowering smell of Eucalyptus which permeated the air more times than I can recall.

Incidentally… it never rained in Corsica!

Back on the mainland it did make it to Chamonix-Mont Blanc and from there I did conquer the Alps, passing through Argentière and the Forclaz mountain pass before descending into Martigny, on the Swiss side of the border.

In total, I biked 800 km that month, saw six countries and have a hundred unwritten stories.

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Adventure…

…it pays incredible dividends.
but sometimes you can be but a hair’s breadth away from throwing in the towel and missing it all.

 

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