Careful in That Ax En-Provence Sean: Marseille to near St Martigue Via Aix-En-Provence and many places not on my map. - Lookin For John Fairweather - CycleBlaze

April 5, 2014

Careful in That Ax En-Provence Sean: Marseille to near St Martigue Via Aix-En-Provence and many places not on my map.

In the grey light of early morning the ship approaches the port of Marseille, after a good night's sleeping in a seat and having eaten my fill of the buffet breakfast. looking out the window there are kilometres of quays with containers beyond which there isn't much sight of a major city. Lines of electric lights still linger in daylight and the top of hills beyond the coast catch the first glow of the rising sun.

The first thing is getting out of the city. I suppose follow the coast west. My Michelin map makes it look easy enough. Beyond that the overall aim in the week or so ahead is striking out in a westerly direction towards and over the Massif Central to the Dordogne, then northwest to Brittany.

Later: That's what you get for being complacent Sean. This day would turn out to be a total failure in navigating out of a major urban conurbation. The endless satellite towns and districts, not least the hilly terrain just worn me down and began to feel like a vortex drawing me in, from which I couldn't escape.

Early on upon a quiet street, I stop to admire a railway viaduct.
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Hilly with lots of tall tenement blocks.
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Once I exit the port, I find the road along the coast is motorway. I ride a few hundred metres on a road alongside to where it comes to an end, then turn back and up a steep hill inland. Hills are just what the city is built upon as I climb and sweep down and climb again along city streets with high-rise tenement blocks all around. The only direction signs, it seems are to city districts. And ways out of town, places that are on my map, go onto the motorway.

I shadow the motorway for a bit using the streets like a service road, but in doing so, find myself struggling up an extremely steep hill with more high-rise blocks on top. At the top the street ends, but there's a pole-barrier, beyond which a roadway continues into a park of low bush clad hills. I ride in through a gap to the side of the barrier and continue. The narrow asphalt path follows the boundary fence of a military range on the right around in a large square, then climbs towards a hill topped with communication masks. I was thinking this way would eventually lead down to a road out of the city, but on cresting the flank below the masks, see that the way which is now reduced to dust with a scattering of loose stones, turns back towards the coast and the city.

I plunge down meeting runners and other cyclists, then pass to the side of a barrier and down a leafy residential street and turn onto a road at the bottom. A block along I'm passing a Lidl supermarket. It feels like a relief to stop and be off the bike for a bit while I stock up on coke to drink and cheese and baguette for lunch.

The road on from Lidl looks as if it may lead somewhere, but after a short while there's less traffic, then no traffic and a little further comes to a dead-end with a path into pine plantation and uphill, back into the large hinterland-park where I's earlier with the hill topped by masks. I think though, the track I'm on now, may lead through the hills north. I know it'll be a long way on a dusty loose stone track. I'm prepared for a long slog in warm sunshine with a lot of climbing.

On a steep climb two mountain bikers catch up on me as I lose balance and have to get off and push up-over the smooth loose stones, though soon they too can ride no more. One falls into the grass to the side and lies on his back laughing, and the other only gets a little further up when he put his foot down to save himself falling. The last bit is rideable and at the top is another group of mountain bikers taking a pause. One expresses awe that I've ridden up such a steep trail on a such a heavily loaded bike.

I thought maybe I could escape the city on this trail.
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At the summit of this path where the mountain bikers are taking a breather, I can see a formidable range of hills to the north, totally barring any exit from the city this way. And the track descending the other side drops back down towards the city.

I descend and exit onto a city-street once again. This time I follow streets parallel to the motorway and eventually pick up a road going to Aix-En-Provence. Its a D road with Velo Vert signs pointing to small towns along the way with a mix of fields of vegetables, wooded hills and out of town superstores to the side. I'm beginning to relax, knowing that I'll be fine beyond Aix. But then I lose the green cycle signs and the signs for the centre of Aix go onto the motorway.

So, I spend quite a while lost, riding through a mix of town and countryside; eventually, I'm on a road southwest to the airport serving Marseille. I pass nearby the airport and now can find most of the places on the direction signs on my map. The road west is parallel to the Mediterranean coast. Its all up and down hills with the sea glimpsing through gaps in between.

Its now gone time to stop as the sun casts long shadows. The road has no houses to the side and lots of suitable camping spots. I find a place just off the road at the top of a hill with a view of the sea. Feeling absolutely exhausted I don't notice that its quite windy and there is no shelter where I've pitched the tent. The wind bellows in the side of the tent and as lay down to sleep, I worry that the tent won't survive the night if the wind keeps up.

It's comforting to known that supermarkets open on Sunday morning.
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A nice road at last.
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Today's ride: 115 km (71 miles)
Total: 13,369 km (8,302 miles)

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