Having reached the Mediterranean Sea, our plan was to take a ferry from Marseille to the island of Corsica. Storm Eleanor had already cancelled some ferry crossings, but weather on the mainland seemed to be fine for the next two days. After that the forecast warned about horrible headwinds and crazy amounts of rain for three days. We decided to get to Corsica to avoid getting stranded in the downpour. With two days, tail wind, and 100km to Marseille, it sounded easy enough.
We left the Camargue along a gravel road in the sea dike. The 11m/s wind pushing our backs was helpful, but also meant that there was no way to turn back if there were any problems. I called the tourism office to make sure the path was cyclable and there’d be no issues with flooding or tides. “The Mediterranean Sea doesn’t have tides, monsieur.” Even over the phone I heard eyes being rolled.
We made decent headway despite the path being blocked by occasional sand dunes. Until the trouble began in the afternoon. In the first village the grocery store was closed for siesta, forcing us to wait. Then what Google Maps said was a bridge turned out to be a ferry, which slowed us down again. Then a bicycle path became another bumpy gravel road. We stopped to eat. At least the sunset was so vibrant the colours barely seemed realistic.
Under the darkening sky, the gravel road quickly turned so bad that we had to push our bikes. I was getting a headache. The shaky road and the unnerving noise of a long row of wind turbines right next to us wasn’t making me feel any better. After an hour of struggling we were back on asphalt, only to discover that the road to Marseille was blocked due to construction. By then I felt too sick to go any further, so we camped right there behind some trees. Marseille was still 60km away.
The following day was the most challenging I’ve had in a long while of touring. Surrounded by an industrial hell, it wasn’t easy to find an area we were allowed in. 2km away from the blocked road we found a detour, but it was a difficult gravel road. Only a couple hundred meters in, the road was blocked by a fence. Then a few hundred meters to another detour, another fence. We kept going on another even further detour, which suddenly went over a railway, also blocked by a fence. Giving up, we returned to square one to the original blocked road and went over and around the barricades. We didn’t see any construction, and maybe it was possible to get the bikes around.
There were no workers or machines anywhere, or in fact anything wrong with the road at all. It turned out to be by far the best 3km stretch all day. At the end of it we turned towards the coast, which Google Maps recommended as a bicycle route. We’d wasted a lot of time with the morning detours, but still had a theoretical chance to make the ferry in the evening. Until suddenly a driver was waving us to stop - the way we were heading went through a dangerous iron factory and was not accessible on a bicycle.
We turned back, ended up on a highway, exited at the first opportunity, just to find out that the exit went nowhere, got back on the road, ended up on an even bigger highway, finally found a nice quiet paved road and felt better, until that soon deteriorated into an uncyclable nothingness, where again we had to push the bikes, and did I mention it was somehow a hot day with scorching sun in goddamn January? Factories in every direction pumped out their probably toxic fumes.
We had to turn back again, got instructions from a stoner on his way to work, ended up walking on another rocky footpath by the highway to avoid the dangerous traffic, to ask drivers at a truck stop for a lift to somewhere sane, walked back empty-handed on the same rocky path to get to a gas station, just to find that no, we can’t cross the highway there and should just return again to the earlier truck stop and then join the cars on The Roundabout of Complete Chaos.
By this time the sun was setting and we’d spent the entire day getting less than 5km from our campsite. In a couple hours the ferry would leave without us. What a shitty day overall. After one more brief visit to the highway, we simply gave up and started hitchhiking. There was no safe way to continue forward on the bikes.
We stood by the road with thumbs raised for only two minutes, when a truck stopped. The Tunisian driver was friendly, spoke English, and happened to have an empty trailer. Which he was taking to the Port of Marseille, right next to our ferry stop.
I’ve felt lucky many times before on this tour, but this was something on a completely different level. I’m very sceptical about concepts like fate, but it’s almost tempting to think that something wanted us to make it to Corsica after all. And now I’m curious to see why.