From one massif to another / Toulon - Nice
A 4-day long weekend was announced. A great opportunity to discover unexplored trails. The plan was to ride towards the Tinée valley to climb where we had never ridden before. Another door-to-door construction site that promised wonders. But the weather will have decided otherwise. Rain and risk of thunderstorms throughout the department. All week, we scrutinize the weather, we hope and we wait until the last moment to find a plan B for our hopes and our gravels. The day before departure, it's still unclear, but we decide to take the train towards the Sainte-Baume massif in the Var.
From there, we chart the course day by day with our best ally, Komoot. Then we book hotels on the course. No night out, we take a shower and a good hot dish and it does not displease us after a day in the rain. I promise, it only happens very rarely, we stay faithful to the nights in the sleeping bag by the fire.
First stage, Toulon station. Above us it's gray but it holds. We leave the city quickly, starting with a nice climb. A road that goes straight into the Sainte Baume massif. Here we are at the start of the trail. We don't really know what to expect and our only objective is to reach Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume before dark.
At the beginning it starts rather well; beautiful track, pebbles but not too many, it's rolling, it's beautiful. Tourists on the move. Then at a crossroads our first “private road” sign. We look at each other. We look at the map. Frankly it's a DFCI track we go for it and we'll see if it passes or if we get shot. I don't hide from you that the path ends at the top of a not very reassuring hunter's mark. Never mind, we are stubborn, and so is Komoot. Then second surprise, the path stops in the middle of nowhere. We cross the bush, we turn in circles, we go back under our feet, we sink into the mud and we end up on a GR. Ah, and the rain is coming, a nice downpour! It's okay, keep calm. Head in the hood, zipper all the way up… head down, arms forward, pushing the bike. No choice, we have already ventured well so we continue. At the top of the GR we laugh yellow, I take out a piece of bar and I hand a piece to Matt. By detailing this moment, I remember exactly the atmosphere, the colors and the rain and it makes me smile.
The day ends avoiding private roads or not. Leaving us with a strange taste of Sainte-Baume. We were stuck in the middle of a gigantic natural space without knowing how to get out. We will meet two game wardens surprised to see us pass there but still friendly; “But where are you from? "Do you know that we hunt with bows here?" Ah no… Well we may not advise you this way then.
We arrive in the village like old dogs, dirty and happy to have played in the mud. A pizza and a drink to warm us up and we set off for tomorrow towards the Massif des Maures.
Second day on our Paula. We start with a coffee at the bakery and we leave to join the tracks which seem to be tracks… Everything starts well with a small secondary road before sinking into the woods. The track narrows and becomes more and more technical… It passes but not all the time. Well, I speak for myself. We slalom between the rocks (and not pebbles). A few photos as the terrain changes, and we continue the crossing. The massif is very playful and we take advantage of it at every opportunity. The puddles are not spared. Until this huge pond in the middle of the path, itself surrounded by an electric fence... Is it ok? Yes, finally, after 3 electrocutions for Matt and 2 for me. We stay very stupid for a few seconds then we go back to the plain.
In a small village, there is the only open grocery store. The owner cooks up two 100% local ham and cheese sandwiches. A few more sweet things in the pockets and we embark our snacks.
The Massif des Maures is not very close so we continue to advance on the Caucadis track. A very smooth stage which is combined with new vegetation, more calcareous and more flowery. We are under the spell and devour the road with our eyes, our wheels and soon our stomachs. In the middle of the path, a bench of stones beckons us for a croc!
We are on a small estate, barely a few hectares and yet we have the impression of being very far away. The map reveals more and more tracks that make us want to explore the area but not the time. We drive straight towards Cuers, Pierrefeu and Collobrières, our last stage. But first, another surprise on a track that descends steeply into a torrent of pebbles, without exaggerating. This is also gravel, not knowing how the next track will be, if it will be passable, more or less rolling or if you will have to carry the bike. It always ends well and in the end it's part of the experience. You never know what to expect and why. This part will still be one of our favorites at the start of the course before the next crush…
The last stage of the day begins with a ravito stop at Pierrefeu-du-Var. Cookies come out hot from the bakery and coffees follow one another at the PMU at the crossroads. Then we arrive in the Maures by the track of the Camargues. A 15 kilometer section of DFCI to end in style. Steady and gradual climb until a last serious ass kick and then it's all schuss up to our stopover village for the night. We are at the heart of the maquis, cork oaks, hundred-year-old chestnut trees, and above all the capital of chestnut ice cream! But on the menu it will be more mushroom omelet. We will be back this summer for the ice cream.
Wake up in the rain. But all is well, we have adopted our waterproof jackets for the trip. The day begins with a traditional visit to the bakery; slice of pizza and pastries on the menu. All this to enjoy at the little café on the square.
Then we leave to get lost in the Moors. We take the departmental road between Collobrière and Grimaud before turning towards the ridges. A dead end that twists in the mountains and ends in a track. We climb slowly. The hood on the bicycle helmet, nothing can happen to us. Once on the ridge we arrive on the old road all weathered. She is like forgotten in the middle of nowhere. We progress and arrive at an incredible point of view. A fire went through there and left some traces with black and bare trees. Around us, the vegetation is bright green. There is rain, mist and earth-colored rock. Everything is wet. It is really nice.
From there, we go back down to La Garde-Freinet for a few sheltered coffees, two croques Monsieurs and off we go again for the little Moors. Not too many surprises on the course apart from a private road, a single and huge ass kick formed by 3 bumps in elevation whose percentage I can't say! But is it routine? And above all we join the trail of the Roc d'Azur that we have already recognized. We feel that the house is not far and the end of the weekend with but forget that, we are here to ride.
The bikes are getting dirtier and wearing new terracotta shades…you get the picture. Yet the hotels welcome us without flinching. Sometimes the bike sleeps in the room and sometimes in a room but always warm. And despite the weather, we mix with the fauna of tourists who want to enjoy this weekend. For our last stage, we unclipped the shoes in Fréjus, by the sea. Hard return to civilization that we will forget at the crêperie. Yes we eat as much as we expend calories, at a good pace!
Last day. We are only a few kilometers from Nice and take the time to cross the Esterel. A little gem that always surprises us with the variety of its tracks and all its contrasts. Some people talk about Colorado in the south-east of France and I really want to believe in cowboys! We will follow their tracks on 20 kilometers of red and muddy tracks. Along the river to go up on the heights, passing in front of the house of the ranger with his Wallabies and descending at full speed. For the record, the Wallabies (friendly little Kangaroos) mistreated in a zoo have been adopted by the forest ranger. With the rain we didn't have the chance to see them but I would like to have their garden with a view.
From there we know the way back with our eyes closed. A beautiful descent to the end of the track and the exit of the massif. Without looking back, we join the big blue and its cycle path to return to Nice.
Here we are, we have progressed somewhat haphazardly, drawing our map from day to day. With the massifs, the rain, the galleys and the ravitos; the recipe for happiness in gravel.
Coming soon: the glossary of pebbles by Lucie.