On two wheels

I cycled 240km to Sanremo. Then I fainted.

Pay attention to where the wind is coming from when you go on such an adventure.

Last Thursday, I had an idea. It occurred to me that I had a lot of time on Saturday. And with that much time, I could do a long-distance ride. But I didn’t just want to go to the lakes again that weekend… somehow my legs wanted even more distance. Sanremo came to my mind. I knew of that beautiful bike lane there at the riviera of flowers.

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It’s roughly 300km from Milan to Sanremo. Too much for me. It’s only about 220km from Torino to Sanremo (give or take). Now, that sounded doable. After all, I had made good experiences with my long distance rides around Lago Maggiore and to Mantova last fall. Temperatures were similar now. And I never had been in that area. And very likely will not have easy ways to return for quite some time.

So I prepared a quick route. Originally I considered to cycle from Sanremo to Torino. I had just booked the hotel when I realized that winds were supposed to blow from the North this past Saturday. Fine. 50,- EUR invested into flower decoration for the next guest. In exchange, I got a nicer narrative: ending at the seaside.

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The route and the ride

The route first took me to Alba. That’s another city I had wanted to visit. Actually, I had wanted to see the entire area. Barolo wine comes from here. It’s supposedly hilly. Following a river, I got to Alba mostly flattish. I then had a 7km climb to the top of those hills which actually were more like small mountains. Now, from there to the seaside it is a constant up-and-down. If not one takes the only road that goes along the ridge of some of these mountains. That made it almost flat. And I had views. It was a bit cold up there still. (And overcast.) Less sweating. But let’s be fair: I had no clue this flattish road existed. I was lucky to pick it.

From that ridge, I descended to Ceva. This is not really an important village, but it happens to be at the intersection of a few valleys. From there, a street leads South into the Ligurian Alps and ultimately to Imperia. Imperia is already at the seaside, about 30km from Sanremo. It’s a very loosely settled area in-between. There are but a few villages between Ceva and Imperia. So it was still 80km to go, but Imperia was already announced on the distance signs. I found that very motivating.

In a German board of road bikers, that street out of Ceva has a reputation for nasty traffic. I made a very different experience. There was virtually no car. Now, things might be very different later in the season. The Mediterranean is still too cold to swim for many. Once it warms up, that street will be the most direct connection to the West of Liguria. For a ride in fall or spring, however, the conditions were amazing. Wind was pushing me strongly through this valley as well.

I actually did not go straight to Imperia. At some point, when I started to wonder about the snow on the mountains in front of me, I turned left. Three windmills on top of the mountain in front of me indicated the end of the pass that I wanted to cross. From the top, I could already spot the sea. The Colle San Bernardo reaches 960m on a mild 5% slope for the last 6km. They felt more challenging than I anticipated. Somehow I was not as powerful in the legs as recently in the Alps. I ascribed it to the backpack. (I’m not so sure in retrospect, but I’ll get there.)

It was all downhill from there, and the further I got down, the more it looked like Liguria. Olive trees appeared together with bright houses. On the other side of that pass, I reached the Mediterranean in Albenga. That had been my choice only to extend the time that I would eventually spend cycling along the sea. It turned out that it was a cute village in itself.

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The Ligurian cost has mountain character. Hence, it’s not entirely flat to cycle. Wind still came from the back and now I only had 60km left to Sanremo. Naturally, that increased my motivation and strength. About every ten minutes the beeper of my Garmin FR 935 notified me how I got closer to the finish.

I added the ascents of the Cipressa and the Poggio. Those feature famously as the decisive climbs of the Milan-Sanremo bike race. I could not cycle in this area and just ignore them. Sure… they came after a long distance. But slowest up the mountain is still up the mountain, I thought. And I wasn’t even slowest. But almost.

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It was only 19:00 o’clock when I reached my hotel in Sanremo. My Garmin showed 238km. I was satisfied. My legs were good still. I only wanted ice cream twice and a nice dinner in-between.

Some notes and take-aways

I broke the route down into pieces. My first destination was Alba. 60km is not a long distance for me. Then I thought about the end of the climb, about the 100km threshold, about the half-way point, about the top of the next climb, to the sea-side, about Imperia, about the foot of the Cipressa. And only then about Sanremo. At that point, only 10km were left.

Sanremo is not my favourite place at the seaside. For one, there was so much port it was actually difficult to find a spot where I would sit quietly at the water. I found it the next morning. I still had time between leaving the hotel and jumping on the train. Made for a reasonably nice shot of bike and backpack.

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Other than that, Sanremo’s main street to me appeared like a place for rich trash. Going up the hill into the historic center of the village revealed a drastically different Sanremo. Rather broken houses, but with much more authentic atmosphere in the narrow isles of a fishermen’s village. That’s also where I had a great dinner. I would have liked more of that. So, maybe I should have continued to Ventimiglia. That would also have brought me to 250km.

Torino instead was a pleasant surprise. I had expected some boredom from a city that is built in a grid and that is mostly famous for it’s industrial heritage. It turns out that also grids can make for cute city centers and that Torino has more than industry. I only walked around for two hours on a quiet evening. I liked it already.

I recorded my ride with the Garmin FR 935 in order to be safe with the battery life. For navigation, I used OruxMaps whenever I needed it. I mounted both Garmin and phone next to each other to the handlebar. I had loaded the route also on the Garmin, but that one straightens long, curvy roads and occasionally you might miss a turn for unclear directions on the breadcrumb map. Not with OruxMaps. I’ve been testing this combination for about a month now and I’m mostly very pleased with it. I’ll cover it in a separate post.

As often lately, I took too many things just-in-case. Notably, I had taken a lot of extra food. In fall, I had planned that a bit more wisely, but I had not trusted to find as many open shops and bars for the loosely populated part between Alba and Albenga.

For that ride, I had taken a few slices of bread with a fresh cheese spread, slies of yellow pepper, some GU stroopwafels, three Mulebars, and four Multipower energy gels. During my four breaks, I consumed one stroopwafel (at the foot of the Cipressa, 200km in the ride), one Mulebar (in Albenga – 175km from the start), one gel (2km before the peak of Colle San Bernardo), and then the bread and yellow peppers (after 60km in Alba, then after 115km in Ceva, and also in Albenga).

I also took the lock, but I didn’t use it. My hotels could store the bike safely. With a bit more preparation time in advance, I might have called and inquired.

Spring is definitely a good season for such a long ride. Temperatures are mild, days are long, and the vegetation is motivating. More important even is the direction of the wind. It was fierce at the seaside ans strong already all the way since Alba. The same route in the opposite direction would have been twice as hard.

Music is motivating. Just, it’s also a huge distraction. I won’t ride with earphones. I want to hear the traffic. Before I departed, I played to myself a few of my favorite songs. Then I was my own radio. I recommend Of Monsters and Men.

Oh, and then I fainted

Now, we are debating about how closely tied both events actually are. I didn’t faint immediately. That happened only four days later when I was standing in class in front of my students. The evening before, I felt rather tied, had some very minor headache, and then slept without much recovery. (My resting heart rate was 10 beats higher than usual.) When I reached university and climbed the stairs to lecture hall, I walked up in slow speed. I felt week already, but I didn’t expect this.

Then it was coming. I reacted a few moments too late, so I just missed the chair. I was not the only professor in the classroom. My colleague had reached me as I fell. He tried to catch me, which made at least for a smoother fall. So: no blue stains, no bruises, no scratches. Now, that part I actually don’t remember. I just remember that next I woke up like on a Monday morning and thought about sharing strawberries with someone. And then one of my students held my legs up in the air. Only at that moment I got that I wasn’t standing or sitting, but actually lying on the ground.

They got me coke, water, and even magnesia. Our students were great. I finished my presentation sitting, and then made it one of the more silent working days. I’ll try to understand what really happened; a doctor’s visit is coming up.

I don’t believe it was the bike ride. Four days in between… I was rested. I didn’t eat too well. I generally sleep rather bad in my current place. There’s quite some street noise. (Scooters. Oh, they are the worst.) It got warm rather fast. Many factors that might have played a role. But still: let’s take it easy. Like a marathon, a 240km bike ride does require a good amount of rest.

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