After sleeping in rather late this morning we packed up our river-side free-camp and carried our belongings over to a steep embankment leading to the road. Once we were mostly prepared, we took the opportunity for one last frigid dip in the pond. From the warm safety of the shore we whiled away a half an hour as Tyler taught me how to be a superior stone-skipper. Thoroughly satisfied that his new pupil could successfully make a smooth, flat rock hop several times across the water, we jumped in ourselves. Unlike the stones, though, we hopped right back out again, limbs throbbing from the cold. Still shivering, Tyler filled our water bottles from the fast-flowing stream and began the process of hauling our belongings up onto the ground level with the street. I re-assembled the bikes and we hit the road in the direction of the Gorges du Verdon.
The first three hours of the day's journey were spent steadily climbing. So as not to experience yesterday's fatigue and feeling of hopelessness, we drank plenty of water and ate snacks every few kilometers, regardless of whether we were hungry or not. Listening to music and making sure we were well-nourished did the trick. We were easily able to climb hour after hour, completely enjoying ourselves! When we reached the town of Comps sur Artuby, we lunched under the shade of the sycamore trees by the post office. We stocked up on cash, and took advantage of the public water fountain—a neat contraption with a dial on top which you spin in order to pump out a gush of cool water.
Lately we've taken to wrapping our extra water bottles in wet towels to help them stay cool longer. It works wonders! Leaving our shaded picnic spot to continue climbing in the heat it was very nice knowing we'd have a cold drink along the way. We followed switchback after switchback as I counted down the kilometers on roadsigns we passed. Camp was 37 kilometers from Comps sur Artuby. On the way were blessed with a 10 kilometer stretch of road that either descended, or remained relatively level with small rolling hills. Then the climbing continued, up through tunnels and over a long bridge crossing the river at the base of one of the gorges. Cycling at a mere 5 kilometers an hour, climbing wasn't difficult and our scenery was absolutely awe-inspiring. It sure was taking a long time to get anywhere though!
We felt we were descending with superhuman speed (at 30 kilometers per hour) when the road finally took a turn downhill. It was almost dizzying to take my eyes off the road to look at the insane views on either side. We had been climbing picturesque dry, craggy mountains all afternoon, whose rock faces now suddenly plunged with a sheer drop into a chasm with a tiny curling thread of a river far, far below. We were entering the Gorges du Verdon. Cars backed up along the overlooks to take pictures of the intensely sublime views. When we stopped to look, Tyler of course climbed off the path, and sat precariously perched on the edge of the abyss. He was getting a little crazy-eyed, throwing rocks, peering over the dizzying edge, and talking about how fun it would be to wingsuit basejump. I had to give him three friendly reminders not to die.
Having climbed nearly 900 meters, we thought it would be all downhill to the town of Aiguines where our campsite was located. We were wrong. It didn't bother us though, as we had plenty of energy, food, and water, and were actually enjoying our peaceful surroundings. Thankfully the sun wasn't even beating down too harshly on our backs as we made our final, slow ascent. We had only about 15 kilometers left, but at the rate we were going, we would get into camp around 9:00. Oh well, I thought. For once I didn't worry about whether or not the reception would be open or the campsite would be closed. If they gave us any problems after we just spent all day winding our way up the mountains, I would simply stage a hostile takeover.
Though we weren't tired, sometimes it felt like we would be at it all night, and we encouraged each other to keep climbing and climbing and climbing, all the way up to 1200 meters(!). Finally, off in the distance, we could see where our road would begin to descend. Hooray! We stopped for a break before our final push, and then took it easy, relishing every moment of our hard-earned, 4 kilometer downhill coast into Aiguines.
The sun was just starting its descent as we rolled blissfully, effortlessly, downwards. The views were indescribably beautiful. We could see across valleys in the distance towards the road we had just taken, winding up the sides of the mountains. Looking the other way we could see the Lac de Sainte-Croix, the flat plains surrounding it, and more mountains in the distance. We were higher than everything. I cannot describe the peaceful sense of triumph I felt when looking at where we were and how far we had come. In a word, today was magnificent. Finally out of the touristy Riviera, we were blessed with the soul-soothing peace of nature.
When we coasted into our campsite, "Camping de l'Aigle," we were even more thrilled. For only 29 euros, we booked two nights at our panoramic site, a price that would buy only one night of crowded, techno-filled camping on the coast. Now it's time for dinner, and maybe a walk to enjoy the final bit of sun setting below the hills.
The sights today were awesome, big and small—check out this bug Tyler spotted during one of our rest breaks!