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Cycling to Africa: Corsican Bonking

11:18 8th August 2013 By Pavel Trcala
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Continuing his ride across the French island of Corsica, Pavel has a big day in the saddle- and gets it all wrong.

A perfect spot for an early morning dip near to Bonifacio.

A perfect spot for an early morning dip near to Bonifacio.

What a view from our hotel this morning! The whole Ajaccio bay underneath me!

But with no time to spend looking at the view, I set off southwards towards the town of Bonifacio – a 140 km away via the coastal road. A late start with the baking sun was to prove fatal!

We had the coastal road all to us. I wanted to cross the island on the smaller coastal road. But already by the first hill I’d had enough. The midday heat was unbearable. And the vertical climb! The road went up like a chairlift in a ski resort. But I wanted to push myself. How foolish!

When the road descended again, I realised I probably had heat stroke. I needed food and drink badly, but it was the siesta and everything was closed. After a while I found a supermarket – officially closed but they sold me some food. From then on the road was up and down with little traffic and great views of the sea, but I had to concentrate on survival. I wanted to find shelter at the library in Sartè, but it was closed, so I visited the local paper – perhaps fellow journalists would let me send in my articles. Their internet was down, but the nice girl from north of France explained to me some things about Corsica whilst I hid from the worst of the heat.

Bonking

From Sartè I was so slow but couldn’t figure out why. I stopped twice and span the wheels to see if they were moving freely because my speed was so ridiculously slow. I realised that I was on a slight downhill, but barely moving. And then I understood. I had hypoglycaemia – more commonly known as bonking. After the strenuous ride in the extreme heat, my body had burnt all of its fuel.

The beautiful cliffs of southern Corsica- hard to focus on through beads of sweat and suspect heatstroke.

The beautiful cliffs of southern Corsica- hard to focus on through beads of sweat and suspect heatstroke.

The beauty of Corsica is that it is very desolate. Only 250000 people live on this big island. But at that very moment, I hated that fact! For many kilometres there were no towns or villages. Finally I saw a village perched on a hill in the distance – with my last strength I pedalled towards this salvation. After a few minutes I realised that I was hallucinating – it was just shades of trees and rocks in the setting sun. My hands were trembling to a point that I could barely hold the handlebars. And all this was new to me – bonking has never happened to me before.

To start with, I felt bad asking a passing car for a piece of bread, but minutes later, I felt no guilt. But no one stopped! One local car eventually stopped, had no food or water but the driver said that there would be a village coming up after the hill. The hill! I did not want to give up and get a ride with a car, so I delved deep into my hidden powers. There was nothing! The wheels moved so slowly, even though I pedalled hard.

I eventually found some hidden compartment inside me with the very last kilojoule of power and made that hill. It was one minute before nine and the supermarket was closing. The attendant was rolling down the metal curtain, but I managed to sneak underneath it in a limbo fashion. “We are closed” screaming in Corsican they tried to catch me, but I raced to pick up a pizza, cake, chocolate, bananas, water and – simple sugars in a form a cola. I made the queue at the cashiers and they let me pass. I sat outside on an empty pallet but did not eat- I devoured.

Harbour Lights

Beautiful Bonifacio harbour

Beautiful Bonifacio harbour

Full as a stuffed bear, with the heat away – the sun was behind the horizon by now – I was able to ride at speeds double of my previous average. Bonifacio was still relatively far, but with the energy I was back on top of my game. For the last few kilometres a pal drove up to meet me and used his car lights to illuminate my ride. I rode into the harbour very fast and sprinted towards the boats: “Man, I have to take in the atmosphere”. “What are you talking about?” I was still high on adrenalin after the sugar deficit and I just had to jump in the water to cool myself down.

That night, I slept in a tent beside the lighthouse dreaming of food.

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