Cassis - An Autumn by the Sea - CycleBlaze

November 12, 2018

Cassis

Sooner than wait for, A break in the weather, I'll gather my far flung, Thoughts together, Speeding away, On the wind to a new day.  (Pink Floyd, San Tropez)

Thanks to Greg Garceau, who dropped this delightful lyric in the inbox.  I’ve never heard this song, but the sentiment sure fits the experience.  Especially today, when we awaken to a dry day and a solid east wind on a day that we expected to get wet.  Looking ahead, it feels like we’ve come through - after almost three weeks of often wet weather, we’re looking at a ten day dry spell in the extended forecast.

We left our ten jammer B&B fairly early, with the idea that we would arrive in Cassis in midafternoon and still have time for a hike to the calanques before sundown.  We spurned the easy way out of town, which would have been to drop back down to the spit and then follow the flat coast road, and instead bore southwest across a low ridge to save three miles.  Timewise it may have been a wash, as the ridge included a short but quite steep climb that I walked half of.  I could have biked it, as Rachael did; but halfway up I was stopped by a mushroom that needed a closer look.  Afterwards though it didn’t feel safe to try to start biking again on the steep, narrow, switchback road so I just pushed up the rest of the way.

This one is so white and delicate, except for the mound of soil on its cap that it pushed up.
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Bill ShaneyfeltThat one is scary to me!
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Bill ShaneyfeltMy thinking too. Any shroom that looks this good can’t be good to eat.
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1 month ago
Looks like a clutch of croci
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Bill ShaneyfeltMight be chanterelles, a bit past their prime. Or another not so good kind that looks very similar.
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1 month ago
I like this shot, for the speed and violence it suggests about the eruption when a mushroom breaks through. Shreds of fungus lie on the ground, and a snail is stranded on top.
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Dropping down the other side, we returned to the coast and picked up the excellent cycle route that would carry us the next ten miles to Toulon.  With the wind at our backs, we made good time and we’re back on track for our planned early arrival in Cassis.  The route ends at Toulon unfortunately, and the next few miles went slowly as we navigated our way through the busy coastal city.

A lovely cycle route runs all the way from Hyeres to Toulon, keeping us comfortably separated from the traffic whizzing by. We were sorry to see the end of it.
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This must be another stretch of abandoned rail line. For about half of its distance it directly parallels the coast highway.
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For the other half though, it breaks away from the road and is peaceably quiet.
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Toulon is a sprawling but colorful small city. Just passing through it today, it looked well worth a longer visit.
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Beyond Toulon, an already great ride just kept getting better.  First, we snaked our way through the short but dramatic Ollioules Gorge.  On a normal day, I might have included a half dozen photos from this gorge, and viewed it as the highlight of the ride.

Southern France is so amazing. There are countless gorges to stumble across and weave through. Who’s ever hear of the small but spectacular Ollioules?
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In the Ollioules Gorge
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In the Ollioules Gorge
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Soon after leaving the gorge we stopped in Sainte Anne for lunch, sitting on a bench in the town playground, soaking up a bit of sun.  It’s wonderfully warm today, perhaps around 65.  After that, we enjoy several miles of gorgeous scenery in a landscape of low hills with vinyards yellowing with the season.  We’re losing time though, stopping often for a slower look at unbeatable views.

This is such a colorful time to be here. We’re well past the autumn harvest, and leaves are turning everywhere.
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We’ve never been here this late in the year. The plane trees have a quite different look now, with their russet leaves.
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I forget what this lovely village is. Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer?
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I had a difficult time with this setting. The sky was mostly overcast, but a patch of sun broke through and illuminated different sections of the field as it blew past. Hard to choose what to highlight.
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Another gorgeous spot. The photo doesn’t do justice to how vibrant the colors felt.
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Finally, we return to the coast at La Ciotat, and are wowed once more by a totally different spectacle.  The bay itself is dramatic, but today it is alive with wind surfers racing across the waves, pushed downwind and aloft by huge winds.  It’s another scene we could have easily spent a long time taking in.  We allowed ourselves about ten minutes, still hoping to arrive at Cassis with some light left to the day.

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Cassis will have to wait for another day though.  Between Le Ciotat and Cassis is the nine mile Route des Cretes, which must rank as one of the most scenic roads in the world.  No exaggeration.  It stuns us in so many different ways - the miles of unbroken heather on its eastern slope as we climb, its awesome views from the summit, the quality of the riding experience itself.  It’s challenging - a hard climb, followed paradoxically by a harder descent.  Strong winds, steep winding descents.  Fortunately for us there is almost no one else up here, fortunately it’s not raining, which would make it truly frightening, fortunately the winds aren’t so strong that the road is closed.  It ss a glorious time to get to ride this road.  This is a ride that ranks high in our all time best list.  

We stop often, and not often enough.  It would have been great to have had more time, but we don’t have it if we want to get off of this mountain before dark.  We’re slowed down by a precipitous 30% descent, so steep that Rachael walks part of it instead.  I’ll put in a good plug here for our disc brakes, which saw us safely to sea level again.

We arrived at our hotel not long before dark, and too late to see Cassis itself.   Our wow muscles are pretty well shot by the time we reach town anyway.  We’ll appreciate it more in the morning.

One more thing to add about an otherwise outstanding day - no video, other than a short one early in the day.  Rachael was almost heartbroken to find that BOTH of her camera batteries are dead.  We think there was a problem with recharging them last night. It’s a real shame, but we’re not tempted to climb back up that 30% cliff tomorrow for a do over.

Note the arrow, which is oriented correctly. It’s a steady 8-10% climb for the next three miles.
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All the reviews we read of this route speak of the spectacular scenery and the white-knuckle road. I didn’t see anyone mentioning the stunning heather that blankets the slopes for miles. Maybe it’s because few people come here at this season, and miss the fireworks.
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At least I think this is heather. Correct me if I’m wrong.
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Steve Miller/GrampiesLooks like Heather to us.
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1 month ago
Looking back at Le Ciotat and it’s bay
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At the top, we could see far into the interior to the north. We both thought there was snow on this ridge, but I see it’s just limestone outcropping.
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After several miles along the top, we come to the start of the descent. Yow - on a scale of one to ten, I’d rate this about a twelve.
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Actually, Rachael isn’t enjoying the descent as much as you might think. It’s steep and precarious, and the winds are strong and erratic. At times this road is closed for safety reasons due to high winds.
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Oh, my gosh. This ride is incredible in so many different ways.
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The view west. After dropping steeply for a ways, we’re climbing again. I’ve been watching our altitude and distance to destination with amazement for the last mile - with only 2 miles to go, we’re still 1,200 feet up.
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Cassis is just another two miles down the road, but still 1,200 feet below. It’s going to be a fast decent!
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Maybe a bit too fast. Rachael moved gingerly through this section, one of the steeper sections we’ve ridden recently. She ain’t seen nothin’ yet!
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I’m not sure I’ve ever ridden on a road this steep. Thank heavens we’re going the right direction. And that the roads are dry.
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Steve Miller/GrampiesEven with our e assist this would be impossible going up, and scary as he'll going down.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Steve Miller/GrampiesIt gave me pause also. All the way down I was keeping an eye for places to crash land if my brakes failed.
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1 month ago
Bruce LellmanWe encountered, 'Too-steep-to-ride-down.' in northern Thailand. Frustrating after making it to the top and to not get the exhilarating reward.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Bruce LellmanFrustrating, alright, but not unheard of. We experienced something like this in southern Spain a few years back. Steep, but also very windy.
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1 month ago
And that it’s not any later in the day. The descent is taking a bit longer than we expected.
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The view from our hotel, not long before sundown. It looks like the bay is rimmed by awe inspiring cliffs, but we’re too late in the day to really see them. Tomorrow.
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Well, we did see a bit of Cassis after all, walking along the waterfront looking for a meal. It looks worth another look in the morning, alright.
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Ride stats today: 45 miles, 3,500’

Today's ride: 45 miles (72 km)
Total: 2,378 miles (3,827 km)

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