Thursday, 21 October 2010

The long road back to Tooting, 20-21st Oct, by Phil

60km?? travelled in ~22hrs on shuttle bus, train, on foot (pushing bike), bus....

After arriving back in London (trip not without considerable drama of loading bikes onto plane, Catania's airport x-ray machine being unable to cope with the dimensions of our bike boxes, and then acting as interpretor/tour guide for totally non-English speaking, likely Mafia, Italian gentleman for entire flight and through Gatwick airport) to an unexpectedly subdued reception from the Williams/Learner collaboration, the boys are reassembled with considerably greater finesse than the last time we tried to put them together in an airport - Alta seems a lifetime ago!! One of my brake cables has detached during the journey, which we judge to merit him un-ridable, a fact that doesn't concern me at this stage as I have no intention of cycling anywhere.
The girls are concerned about leaving me on my own, and I have to admit the idea of being a single entity rather than part of a trio is somewhat disconcerting. We wander over to hotel desk and get me booked in (for an exorbitant price - more than any hotel we've had all trip for all three of us!!). Ali checks I have some cash on me, in case of emergency, and Hazel reminds me to make sure I buy something for dinner. Both are jealous I get to stay in a hotel again.
Its a strange feeling to turn my bike and walk away from them, after the farewells, knowing full well I'll see them both in a matter of days...but who am I going to talk to when I wake up tomorrow??
Dinner sorted at M&S (Moroccan salad with hoummus, four pack of seeded rolls, an orange and a carton of apple juice), I attempt to locate an elusive stand of bike racks, which the hotel man had thought were "somewhere near the train station, past Ezy-jet...". More questions, and eventually I'm lead to a goods elevator which I can take down to the ground floor. Said elevator does NOT look as if its intented for public use but hey, what can I do? By this point its sometime after 6pm, meaning its dark, and I find myself standing in a goods bay, not a bike rack in site! More questions, no clear answers, so I wander off towards what may be a well-lit carpark thinking at least there'll be a post for me to lock the bike to. Turns out its a 24hr bus stop, but nevertheless, its well-lit and hence, has many good lamp posts I can lock the bike to. Incidently, this is the place of the bike racks, however they are all covered storage spaces and all taken. Resigned, I cable and lock my bike to the lamp post and begin to pray.

Taking my panniers, and with a last glance back at my lonely bike (he's never been left alone!!) I head back to the terminal to wait for my shuttle bus to the hotel. It eventually arrives ( I have no method of keeping time, having relied entirely on the girls to tell the time for the past 3 months so not sure how long it took) and I'm reassured as we head out onto the main road and straight past Mr Bike - still firmly in one piece! Finally I make it to the hotel, where unable to summon the energy to use the pool, I settle for dinner over the hotel info folder, a lovely hot bath and some telly in bed, with hot chocolate (after the cup of tea of course!).

Despite the comfy bed, I have a fitful sleep (which I still think is related to lack of exercise, can't wait to go for a run..who would have thought?!) and wake early in the morning to a throbbing headache and swollen glands - not good timing, I think, to be coming down with the virus the girls had a couple of days before we left Catania. Luckily, I am still in possession of a few painkillers from the disassembled Field Hospital, and after some drugs and water manage to fall back asleep. I'm woken again around 8am when someone (I'm presuming the cleaner) opens my key-card locked door, realises I'm in it and leaves. Deciding I've had enough sleep and don't seem to be overly viral, I boil the kettle and settle in for a bit of morning tv... Before I know it, its almost 10, so I quickly jump in the shower before rushing down for the buffet before it finishes at 10:30, knowing full well that Hazel will kill me if I miss it. The kindly lady at the door checks the list twice, despite my telling her that I'm pretty sure breakfast wasn't included, and promptly serves me up a 4-cup pot of English Breakfast. For the record (and I think this was a fairly good effort given the time frame of 30min):
- 2 pork sausages (short fat ones, you would have been happy, Ali)
- 2 half tomatoes
-1 hashbrown
- 2 pieces of toast, one white, one brown (half with raspberry jam)
- a serve of fried potatoes
- a serve of scrambled eggs
- a bowl of sliced peaches with mixed berries
- a rhubarb yoghurt (which I was extremely excited about, then most disappointed with , as it was warm)
- 1 small pastry with jam and custard
- 1 small pain au chocolat
- a glass of apple juice.
I felt sick (but didn't need lunch!), and it was reassuring to see that Bobby J had not in fact gone off on another European adventure! I should point out that I have been having difficulty not voicing my random thoughts out loud (they slip out every now and then), and have been unable to switch off the auto-blog that is going on in my head.
After a short lie down in front of the tv (not even room for a final cup of teain my overly full stomach) I check out and catch the shuttle back to the airport. My tension grows with every kilometre, in the fear that somehow the locks will have failed and someone else will have taken my poor bike on a new adventure. I'm delighted to see him still hanging out with the buses as we fly past back into the airport compound. Back in the goods lift, rear-loaded (which I will come to regret as I try to carry him down the stairs at Clapham Junction) and we're on our way to Apex to get the niggling problems sorted. The guys are admittedly a little surprised to see me a) in the month of October and b) on my own, but soon the stories have been shared and I leave the bike in their capable hands. Back on the bus to Tooting, where I stop, understandably, for some caffeine before killing some time in the internet cafe, giving lessons in emails and word documents to a middle-aged man trying to send his CV off for a parttime job whilst he's completing his doctorate in music.
Interestingly, I find I have much more time to answer questions and queries, and offer a hand to strangers who may be in need since our journey, which was shaped in so many ways by the kindness of strangers. Perhaps this is also due to the fact that, at this point, I have no schedule, no one to answer to, no trains or buses to catch at any particular hour so I literally have all the time in the world to sit patiently and explain ideas like the attaching documents to emails, or why you won't miss your plane because the time in the UK is an hour behind Italy. I like to think that this trend will continue even when those time constraints are reintroduced to my schedule, and hope that I won't ever find myself too busy to point someone in the right direction when they look a little lost.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Days 82 and 83 Catania to Cape Passero, Southernmost point of Sicily by Ali

average 22.4kmph
Max 51.5kmph
Odometer 6313km

There exists two roads heading due south of Catania. The SS14, on which we are allowed, and wish to travel, and the motorway on which we are clearly not permitted. We therefore set off early with plans to follow the SS14 south to Siracusa and then on the SS15 down to the Southernmost point of Sicily which will mark not only the end of our time in Sicily but the end of the entire journey across Europe from the northernmost point of Norway. We are all feeling a little tired but are oh so keen to get to the cape and complete our mammoth mission. Unfortunately for us, the cycling gods and spirit guides seem not to be on our side today, and we are met with misfortune at nearly every turn!
Catania is a medium sized and extremely traffic filled city, surrounded by that favourite of Italian drivers, the motorway ringroad or tangenziale. In an effort to avoid said ring road and find our SS14 we do the only sensible thing, and follow our compass due south. Before we know it we are on a large and busy dual carriageway, which although not officially marked as a motorway, has all the characteristics of one. Its slightly nervewracking but eventually we come to what we believe is our turn off, marked Siracusa SS14 we begin to quickly ascend the ramp. Hang on, Ramp?! It would appear the only approach to our state road, is on the motorway tangenziale.
Before we know it we are halfway up a motorway sliproad and stop abruptly in front of a large green sign which expressly forbids the following vehicles from progressing further. Bicycles, indeed are on the list. Unfortunately, due to the placement of this sign, we are now stopped at the edge of a one way sliproad, and have no choice but to cycle the wrong way back down it, to the relative safety of our dual carriageway. We are all a little shaken at nearly having cycled onto the motorway, and spend a while perched outside the state penitentiary, considering our next move. As ever we are not keen on turning back and spotting a small rural road off to the west, I consider we should follow its "quiet safety" rather than retrace our steps all the way back into town. After a brief consultation of google maps, there appears to be a network of tiny rural roads, which eventually will get us back east toward the coast and our desired road. We head off confidently, and are reassured to see a great many cars following us, the road must indeed be a shortcut south (!). After passing a huge industrial estate where all the aforementioned cars turn off, we find our road becomes more of a track and we are quite alone aside from the sound of big barking dogs. We are in the PIano or plain of Catania, its flat and virtually deserted, aside from a few confused olive grove workers and some burnt down houses and palm trees. It would, I conclude, be the perfect place to have a secret mafia gathering. The roads which looked so promising on the map, appear to be closed off to the public, with heavy iron gates barring the way, locked with padlocks. The dogs we heard earlier are here now, apparantly guarding the gates. We press on, hoping our road will lead us out of the badlands. Abruptly, it ends. We are at a marsh or "nature reserve" and despite being clearly marked on the map, there is definitely no road.
We about turn, and try a turn off to the right, down past a heavily armoured farm with a great many big barking dogs, but alas we are met with another locked gate. Its all most peculiar and the dogs are getting aggravated so we have no choice but to beat a hasty retreat, all the way back to the dual carriageway. It now seems cosy and familiar and we begin to follow it back toward Catania. Luckily we spot another turning off which seems to head to the SS14, and not via the motorway so we follow it. Joy of joys we find our road! In celebration, and seeing as we have done nearly 30km without leaving Catania, we stop for one of our favourite petrol station coffees. No really, it is actually really good coffee! We thence continue on down the SS14 for approximately 3km before we are met with a most helpful barricade, informing us the SS14 is shut completely for repairs. A helpful diversion sign points back up a ramp, past a no bicycles sign, and onto the motorway tangenziale. We stand a minute, considering our fate. As we muse, a bus passes us by and the driver is gesturing wildly, pointing up the ramp to the motorway. Assuming he knows something we do not, and that maybe the motorway section of the diversion is a mere metre or so, we do the one thing we have avoided all trip, and cycle up onto the motorway. Its quiet and theres a lovely nice big hard shoulder. We cycle on quickly, waiting for the yellow diversion sign to reappear and take us off the motorway. It doesnt. We are heading North East, and it would appear, toward a very long diversion down the motorway all the way to Siracusa. At this point, I would like to point out, we are very committed to the integrity of our trip, and doing everything in our power to get there, but for the first time in our trip, we decide to head backwards to where we started. We need to do more research on how to get South without taking the motorway, which in Italy, is basically the most dangerous thing you could do on a bicycle. We take a side road off the motorway, and try to find our way back to town. The signs try to take us back onto another motorway! We park up for a while in a triangle junction between the tangle of roads, and consider our position. Eventually we find ourselves back on the SS14 (the open section of which takes us into the centre) and after a brief stop at the airport for reconnassaince purposes we return to Catania.
We spend the afternoon doing extensive research on the computers, and manage to glean from ANAS (national road administration) website, that both the SS14 and SS15 are closed for repair work. We cant see any other viable option of getting to the South other than the motorway, so it is decided that for the first time ever we must CATCH the TRAIN past the diverted motorway section, and down to Noto in the South. Its a great shame that we managed to traverse the whole of Europe without having to resort to such measures, but the roads of Sicily have beaten us! Unless we do a possible 350km odd detour inland over the mountains and round the motorway, there is really no other option. We decide that if we still cover the same distance between Catania and the South Cape (100km) then it is acceptable to take the train in these extenuating circumstances. Seeing as we have already done 55km around Catania, I dont see making up the mileage being a problem.
The next day, we once again rise early and head off down to the train station. A kindly lady informs us that we will not be able to catch the train with our bicycles until 1pm. Making it impossible for us to get the cape and back in one day. Dispirited we mooch off into town and spend some time researching other possibilities, which include catching a ferry to Siracusa and even a ferry to Malta to complete the km there! Unfortunately no options are feasible so we decide to catch the lunchtime train, cycle to the cape and spend the night there. After some confusion about where to put the bicycles (they are eventually taken by a visibly displeased guard into a small gap behind the drivers cab) we are on the train and moving, oh so slowly, toward our destination.  The aformentioned guard fines us 5 euros each for not having stamped our tickets (surely that is his job?!) and we gently roast grumpily in the greenhouse that is the ancient train. We would much rather be cycling and I begin to feel the general malaise and sleepiness one gets on public transport. I vow to always cycle wherever possible in the future and am glad to alight in the town of Noto. After being chased by some children (not as we feared, after our bicycles, but merely curious as to our origins) we eventually find our way out of Noto and onward to the cape. Its a lovely cycle, and we are all enjoying cruising along at a cracking pace. This is how cycling should feel. Its a glorious day, and before we know it, we have made it! At the cape, looking out at the sea, munching the obligatory bread roll. And it is over. Nearly 4000 miles in 83 days. The North Cape behind us, a beautiful distant memory, can it even be real? I am not sure I believe is has all happened.
I turn to Hazel,
"What do we do now?" she says
Good question.

Day 81, Sunday 18th of October. Messina to Catania... Hazel

105.79km in 5hr

Averaging 20.9kmph, max speed 49.7kmph

Odometer 6213km

"Nice Morning" Mr Buffon the Italien goal keeper who has signed up to Kelloggs beams at us. "Nice Morning" appears to be a pale (literally) imitation of bran flakes which they've teamed with a name attempting some mild quaint englishness. There is no depiction of tea, sausages, marmalade on the pack so Nice is really all one could expect.

The bikes are hovering nervously at the side of our dining room,oh how things have changed from cramped hotel room/ bedsit living. After weeks of rain, off road mud, gravel, sand, freshly laid tarmac, and now the greasy mix of diesel fumes and sweat the handle bars are looking really quite grubby. So in the true spirit of procrastination we re-do all our bar tapes in our delightful Starlight/ canary yellow. The process becomes a little distressing towards the end when our exclusive lock ends are too exclusive for our bikes. Loud thumping with various limbs and culinary wares are heard from Alice's quarter accompanied by much huffing, puffing and cursing. But the bikes are now resplendant in their team lemon bars, with bar ends half wedged in.

We then squeeze into Schindler's Lift. Bike up ended, head tangled between handlebars and brake levers, a quivering hand emerges through the frame to jab at the lift's button. The hotel lobby clutters, the receptionist sighs before we are out onto the busy Sicilian streets.

I have still neglected learning how to drive, but as we pedaled out of town I wondered how anyone in Sicily would be able to learn. Or perhaps that's the key- no one can drive here!

Firstly the road surface in town is so blighted by pot holes, overzealous and inaccurate tarmacing, wobbly skewif drains jutting out, deep crevices and ridges, with of course no pavement. (It is also a wonder why we have seen so many carbon fibre bikes zipping around the shop!)

Secondly there is no logic as to right of way, giving way. At a junction you poke your bonnet out, pray, then wave and pull out into whatever oncoming traffic there maybe. This is true for pedestrians also, but bearing mind they have no defined pavement area to walk upon why should such matters as crossings be of concern either?
And lastly tooting. A toot for any item of intrest be it dangerous, frinedly, comic, grave, alerting or simply out of boredom. And sicilina precedence indicates that once one person toots, others vechicles should chorus this.

I wonder if we'll ever escape the city, but Colby expertly navigates us out. Apprently it was one straight road, but such is my appaling sense of direction (After a year working at any hospital I will still struggle to get from one side to the other) I was really quite impressed with her.

So out of the city and it's buildings shielidng us from the cloudy wet, grey sky. Welcome to your summer holiday girls!
The coast line bobs along and the kilometes tot up. With Sicily being a big Volcano it's not entirely flat, and again we find ourselves slowly winding up hair pins of a "cliff face". Unfortunately our pace was to slow for the Fiat Panda crawling along behind us who stalls around the corner and is unable to muster up the engine power for a hill start. Quite a tail back is building with fellow drivers getting out to push. Alas the hill is to much for the poor panda who is turned and rolls back down the hill. All this as we slowly climb away from them.
Taormina nestles up on the hillside some 50km in. Our spirit guides tell us this is the most wonderful, idlyic location in Italy. It's also a detour up a very steep hill apparently so we won't visit today. The area is awash with tourists and hotels bragging of their constellations. Quick pit stop at the railway station, and a long sit on the wall opposite, munching lunch and guessing what nationality the collective of people looking lost at the bus stop is (we settle on Dutch). The rain starts again and we press on.

Cycling through olive groves and lime trees, and back along the beach before we must again climb up over the headland before we can hit Catania, which must be close by!
Up over the hill and we start the roll down. The local government has seen fit to tackle Italien overtaking (reckless at best) by installing yellow barriers betwee the lanes. Of course this policy hadn't anticipated cyclists, let alone bulky cycle tourists and so the cars need to squeese down between us and the yellow barrier. Breathing in to make ourselves as narrow as possible helps and we make it down safely only to find ourselves in a fast and confusing 4 lane intersection. McDonalds realising this is a confusing place have sensibly set up resturant (or Mc Cafe as they are more approriately called on the conitinent) as a haven for weary travellers, and seeking shelter from the grey drizzle we allow the Golden arches to cover us.

There is a large, and high pitched children's party running amuck inside. We appear to be the only ones eating, the only ones not connected to the party, and also we seem to be the oldest people there!

Not letting this put us off our snack (full scale big mac meals) we finish, and again resort to the iphone compass to guide us to our city centre, on the duomo door step, hostel. We are unfortunaltey informed we are as far away on the northern outskirts of the city, with the Duomo firmly seated in the south of the city. Sighing we mount our bicycles once more, but now warmed and fed are able to negogiate our way around the coast to the Duomo, with help from a delightful Bulgarian lady on the way (who initially addressed us in German).

We step out for dinner, and after fruitless search for a working bankomat head to the cheap resturant on the Castello square for dinner. It's seven thirty, which in Sweden would be too late for dinner, but here we are among the first in the resturatnt. The waiting staff easily outnumber diners, but in remarkable inefficiency scurry from one station to the next without actually doing any waiting. Apart from at the tables where men with slow telling looks, and firm holds of arms steer the waiting staff to serve them first and not present them with a bill.

We wait an age to pay, despite our coats, raised eyebrows hopeful looks. But after an hour we pay and then run (which is the first time for some weeks) through the streets as the heavens open and the thunder rolls in.

Day 80 - Paravati to Messina, Sat 9th Oct, Phil

72km covered in 3hrs26min
Avg 21kmph, Max 46kmph, Odo 6107km

We boldly throw our two binbags of discarded items in the dumpsters outside the hotel, and enjoy a quick breakfast before setting off considerably lighter down the hill! After a 10km descent, we hit the flat, lined by beautiful ancient olive groves (which somehow only I seem to notice) and after 15km or so begin to climb again. Having grown used to this, we settle in and enjoy the climb, despite the incessant heat and the incredible amount of sweat we all seem to be generating. On reaching the summit of todays climb, some 500m back up again, we find the charming Barbara's breadshop/cafe where we devour half a loaf of delicious olive bread and quench our thirst before setting off down the mountain.

Down, down, down the winding roads....we meet a German speaking couple who have also stopped to check out the view at our first glimpse of Sicilia, Ali is delighted to engage in conversation with them and obligingly takes a couple of happy snaps for them in front of the island. We carry on, and the road becomes a twisting mess of alleys, doubling back on itself, as it snakes its way down the side of the cliff to sea level.... Thank goodness for new brakepads in San Salvo, but nonetheless, my hands are in agony by the time we reach the bottom.

Back around sea level, we wend our way along the coast, when a couple of lycra clad, Cervelo-riding cyclists overtake us up a hill (fine) then slow to a snail's pace to have a chat in front of us (not fine!!). Incensed (it takes a while to get up momentum when fully loaded, and one is never impressed when forced to slow the pace through no fault of their own or the terrain), we all begin to mutter curses under our breath (or me, in my head as I don't really have any breath at the top of a hill), when one of the two drops back and offers to buy us a coffee. We stop a a small bar, and the boys, Dennis and Beppe (so named as none of us are particularly good a remembering names unfortunately), not only buy us coffee but offer to escort us to the ferry crossing in Villa San Giovanni to Messina. This turns out to be a blessing in disguise (or just our usual spirit guides) as the wind has picked up as we round the coast, and I gratefully sit on Dennis' tail, as Hazel races Beppe. I would like to point out at this stage, that Hazel is carrying a much reduced load, in view of her ruined rear rim. Our morning has been interspersed with regular stops to ensure the cracks aren't becoming any bigger, and it seems, on the advice of the man in the Piaggi shop, that our luck and Hazel's wheel are holding out.

We arrive at the ferry terminal, flushed and exuberent from our cycle with the road bikes (always a pleasurable challenge!), to see the ferry about to depart! The boys usher us onto the ferry, assuring us that they'll take care of the tickets. We roll on board with big smiles, and a slight sense of disappointment that we haven't exchanged details with them. On the short crossing, Ali decides this is easily remedied- we'll send a postcard to all the Cervelo stockists in the Reggio region! (As it turns out there's only one, which makes our life considerably easier!).

Following the flow of cars out into Messina, the menacing clouds hold true to their promise and a light rain begins to fall. Our usual penchant for stumbling upon hotels seems not to be in action today, and iPhone is deployed, with a wonderful outcome - we find ourselves in a rooftop terraced apartment, with plenty of rooms for bikes, bags and bodies! A stroll around town leads us (eventually) to a supermarket, Hazel and Ali cook up a lovely Italian style-meal (primo e secondo), and we enjoy both free internet and a small selection of books in English -perfetto!!!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Day 79 - Friday 8th October - Amantea to Parvati by Ali

80km in 3hr39
21kmph average
47kmph max
6035 odometer

To my delight, there is cold cuts for breakfast. Not something I would ever have imagined myself excited about in pre trip life, but Im happily munching my way through a crusty white roll with some limp ham and sliced cheese, reminiscing about lodging with the old ladies in the Austrian Alps. I am not sure I will be able to cope with the excitement of an actual full breakfast on my return, probably wolf it down and then promptly have it rejected by my stomach, which has contracted and now only receives food in regular small sweetened parcels. Overloaded in everyway, we attempt to cycle up the steep ramp out of the hotel garage, and fail. Delightfully a real life Michelin Man (hes not fat, he works for Michelin) befriends us at this point, and amazed by our trip, rewards us with Michelin Man keyrings. I would like to be able to say that I was a little unimpressed, as I am 25 not 5, but of course I was actually really thrilled with my free gift, and duly attached him to my panniers where he bounces around, a lucky charm perhaps? Time will tell.
After being a little worn down by yesterdays heat and hills, I am initially pleased with the days journey, a nice flat first 50, and a little bit of cloud cover to keep Mr Sunshine at bay. The girls never fail to be amused by my inability to cope with any sunshine over 20 degrees celsius! As we come toward the town of Pizzo, all this changes. The sun comes out in full force and we begin our daily mountain climb. Today its from sea level to the town of Vibo Valentia at around 500m. Progress is slow and steady and when we are due our 60km break we stop the only place we can, at the side of the road. To our bemusement, well dressed city folk keep parking up right next to us and trotting off down the mountainside, emerging with bottles. As we are nearly dry of liquids, we follow them, and find some sort of ever flowing tap, which seems to be emerging out of the mountain. Conveniently, it would appear, we have found ourselves picnicking atop a mountain spring, where the water evidently tastes better than when it later emerges from the Italian taps. We refill and enjoy the sweetest sip since Norway. Quite how they manage to turn this lovely spring water into the warm cloudy juice which emerges into the sinks I do not know. Italy, where the tap water tastes more milky than the milk. 
Eventually we make it up to Vibo Valentia and are rewarded by a huge clap from a crowd of teenagers, which makes my day, as teenagers usually just laugh at us from their bus stop superiority. I am leading this 10km and am delighted to be about to head down the mountain for the forseeable future. Just as settle in and tuck in over the drops, theres the double bell ring request stop signal from behind me. Hazel has felt an odd sensation as we rode over some rough road surface. For once its not hunger, but a problem with her bike. We check the ever troubled back wheel and are somewhat alarmed to find large cracks around the spokes. We are no experts, but we have a feeling this is not good news. We sit awhile and ponder our mountaintop fate before coming up with a solution worthy of a logic puzzle. Loathe to turn back, we decided two people will ride the good bikes down to the next town, where luggage will be deposited. One person will then ride back up unloaded, and take the bags from the dodgy bike, which will be ridden down unloaded.
I weigh up whether I would prefer to stay with the broken bike or ride down, and then back up the mountain. I opt to stay. I find myself alone, which has been rare on the trip, and I feel a little unnerved. Nevertheless my vigil passes without incident and Hazel rides my bike back up. We descend together to the very small town of Parvati, where Phillipa has managed to find us not only a room for the night, but a man willing to drive us to the nearest bike shop! We accept his gracious offer and are relieved to find out that he is seemingly the one sensible driver in the whole of the country. We arrive at local "bike shop" which seems to only stock one bicycle, a selection of offensive motorbike stickers and three treadmills. Nevertheless Phil is soon chatting away to the proprietor, who may or may not be the former Italian champion road cyclist in the framed newspaper clippings on the wall. He is unable to repair or replace said wheel but offers us the advice, "I would risk it, see how far you get." hmmmm
I am a little hesitant of the safety issue, but we dont have much option so decide to give Hazel minimum weight possible on her back wheel to give her the best possible chance of making it to the Southern tip of Sicily. Therefore, as a team, we manage to dispose of two bin bags full of stuff from our panniers. Some rubbish, some clothes, some beloved friends such as Mr Thermos and Peter Storm. Ruthless were we in our slimlining of our possessions, and Phil and I were able to absorb most of Hazels (somewhat thinning and holey) clothing into our luggage. We head out to dine, but decide not to enter the first Pizzeria we come to as a group of 20 or so mountain men are staring at us as if they have never seen females before. Im growing a little tired of feeling self conscious and also of Pizza. I therefore sulk like a small child when I am presented with my slice of margherita dinner, and sit with head in hands taking small forlorn bites whilst the pizza man looks on somewhat upset.

Day 78, Thrsday 7th of October. Praia Mare to Amantea... Hazel

98.94km cycled in 4 hours
Averaging 24.6kmph, max 52.8
Odometer 5954.1km

The storm has wiped the grey sky clean and Mr Sunshine makes a happy return. Tired of the sufferings and moanings that accompany each italien breakfast we devour a box of rice crispies before heading down for a quick coffee and crossaint.... Italien cornetto (like the ice cream in name but pretending to be a crossaint in nature) is always dusted in iceing sugar, and is noramlly filled with a sugar gel attempting to be jam.
Bikes adorned with possesions we slip off down the coastal road hugging the beach whilst the SS18 hovers some 200m above us cut into the cliff. After getting lost in some out of season abandoned beach hut complex, and doubling back we find our connecting road, which snakes and twists steeply up the cliff face. Some, pedaling, puffing and sweat dripping we emerge at the top and now the SS18 rolls over the hill tops with the wind drying our wet seal bodies leaving salt crystals behind on Alice in particular.
The SS18 has an inordinate number of road kill pets along it's wayside, varying degree of decay,pelts and skeletons sadly strewn. In this heat the smell of rotteing carcuses sits stubbornly in the nose.
Zipping along, up and down hills, along the flat and through many tunnels. But it's seriously hot, and our stops are more so in order to drink. We decide to stop at Amantea, as there's no large towns for a further 70km. No wishing to cycle through ghost seaside towns in the early dark evenings we pull in and lo! a four star hotel... With outside pool! Which as it's not quite fully decorated furnished is not very pricey. So swim (after they clean the pool for us), sun lounge, then into the night to our ever faithful supermercatio.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Day 77- Wed 6th October, Lagonegro to Praia a Mare, by Phil

35km covered at an average of 29kmph.... :D

Up to a typically Italian breakfast, resplendant with sweet items and a lovely gentleman waiting on us patiently. Sadly the clouds hvae rolled in overnight, and we patiently wait out a few heavy showers before concluding the only option is to don waterproofs and cutoffs and make a play, or we're going to run out of daylight hours before reaching our intended destination 100km away. Flying on sugar high, we roll down into town to catch up with our newest friends at the local shop, Angiolina having taken a special interest in our adventure. Coffee number two in the American bar, and despite the increasing showers and encouragment from all present in the shop to stay another night in the town of Lagonegro, we somehow find ourselves on the downhill out of town, amidst the thunderclaps and lightening zigzaging across the skies. I'm cruising along with a massive smile on my face as the wind whips through my hair, and the thunder competes with the traffic noise, but Hazel is none too impressed by the giant lorries squeezing past as we fly down the hills to the coast.
We stop for coffee at the usual service station that has become our habit in Italy, and once out of the rain decide that stopping for the day is probably safer than continuing in the storm. We roll into the little seaside town of Praia a Mare however it seems that perhaps our decision was a little premature as it seems that everything has, once again, shut up for the winter!! We finally find a lovely beach front hotel that continues to offer accomodation to Italian workers and German skydivers (?!?!). We drag our wet and miserable selves up to our room to discover, to mine and Ali's delight that we have a sea view and are separated from the sand by a quiet road and a sparsely tree-lined foot path.
I continue to be enthralled by the storm, and watch in delight as the fronts roll in from the west across the sea. The light show is spectacular and I am in awe at the myriad of colours of the sea and sky in its various stages of weather. Ali and I attempt to capture this with limited success, and even Hazel is drawn from the bed to count the time between thunder and lightening in an attempt to gauge the distance of the storm. We wander out during a pause in Mother Nature's proceedings for a lovely evening stroll along the beach, and fix ourselves a hearty meal of gnocchi, which sadly marks the end of our hotel cooking adventures as the gas runs out before we can make the second course!!
Its another early night to bed with big plans for tomorrow, and I think I could safely say one of my favourite days of the trip!!

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Day 76 - Tuesday 5th October - Potenza to Lagonegro

We have spent the past two days a prisoner of our own lethargy, barely moving from a reclined position chewing bread in bed whilst alternating between the BBC World Service and Italian MTV. We know all the words to Katy Perrys new song, and thats just from watching the BBC. I jest. We are of course, more abreast with world politics than ever before, but alas awake today with no more energy. We emerge for breakfast and Roberto is so concerned at our hibernation he threatens to call the doctor. We reassure him we are as fine as we will ever be and sleepily mount our bikes. The day begins with yet more climbing, followed by ascending, then climbing and so on and so forth. At least today, we know that our planned destination is at lower altitude than our starting point. How far we climb and drop between that is another matter.
Within the first 10km we are all in danger of being sick on ourselves. The sun continues to beat down mercilessly and our legs seem to have gone into shock after a two day minibreak! We press on and enjoy some superlong tunnels which although perilously dark and narrow (here comes Signor Lorry from behind) they do at least offer a path through a few mountains rather than over them. Why they couldnt just build one massive long tunnel through the mountain range I do not know. Many people in Italy have failed to understand the whole point of our trip, and continue to enquire why we dont just take the train. When I explain that we travel by bicycle only, they exclaim "but you can take your bike on the train!" Despite previous laughter at the idea, Im beginning to wonder whether they had the right idea......
After a particulary brutal long climb up out of Brienza, I pass the lead onto Philippa, and as ever, having done my entire 10km uphill, Philippas is a blissful 10km down, in probably a 20th of the time it took to do mine! Such is the joy of cycling.
We find ourselves in a wide flat valley, the likes of which we havent seen since Austria. Theres mountains either side and we are able to (almost) cruise along, although a little more slowly than usual. Before long, the inevitable happens, and as we are having a break at the roadside, a car pulls up and enters into conversation with us (ok just with Philippa, Hazel and I pretend to understand and nod along). Francesco is a keen cyclist and insists on buying us coffee. Never people to turn down free caffeine we accept, and enjoy pleasant chat (ok, again, Hazel and I are just smiling) and gain invites to Francescos home should we be in the area. We have no idea where the area is, but we appreciate the gesture all the same. You cant say the Italians arent welcoming. Well, the men at least, are very friendly. In a nice way though, they genuinely cant be of more help to us. With smiles on our faces, boosted by yet another warm human experience we continue on our way.
Unfortunately the wide flat valley abruptly ends, replaced by mountains. As we watch the lovely smooth motorway head off into a nice tunnel through them we ponder as to why all motorways do not come with bike lanes attached....
We decide not to risk the Autostrada today and head off on the state road instead, which reassuringly, Francesco has assured is, is quite dangerous. If by dangerous he means so steep you can only cycle at 5mph then he is correct, for we are not bothered by any heavy traffic. Just the occasional Fiat Panda or three wheeled van which threatens to fall apart on the road in front of us, perhaps causing us harm by inhalation of their noxious fumes! Its a long winding climb and at 9%, also very slow. Eventually we make it to the pass at the top, approx 800m above sea level. Blissfully we now get to drop down to our resting place at 400m, so its a squealing of breaks as we roll down the bends into Lagonegro. Yet another beautiful mountain top town, and Hazel even blesses the scenery with the ultimate compliment, "It reminds me of Wales".
We struggle to locate any accommodation and on finding the pension full, follow the vague directions of an old lady up the hill to a hotel. We follow the arrow of her pointing hand and find ourselves on a very cobbled, very narrow and extremely steep track. We dont really believe it is a road, more of a crack between two houses. And yet more cars continue to squeeze through, obviously heading somewhere. Despite the girls suggestions that we turn back "Theres no way there could be a hotel up here" I suggest we consult that last resort of cycle touring.....the IPhone. Google maps informs us that we should be directly opposite a hotel, and although we think maybe google maps has misjudged our location, I trot down a side "road" which may have had steps on it, (easily tackled by a Fiat Panda no doubt). Lo and behold, theres a massive hotel perched on the hillside. Joyfully we check in (its super cheap for some reason) and rest peacefully, with the knowledge its all smooth downhill to the sea tomorrow......

Days 74 and 75 - Sunday 3rd and Monday 4th October - Potenza


Monday, 4 October 2010

Day 73 Saturday 2nd October Melfi to Potenza by Ali

58km in 3hr8min
17kmph average
59kmph max
5719 odometer

Owing to the fact that I can't currently stomach coffee or fruit juice, Italian breakfast offers me little in the way of sustenance. I'm aware that for the past few weeks all my blog entries have opened with a small British moan about a decent breakfast. I dont wish to disrespect the delightful Italian cuisine but they are really missing the point of breakfast. Actually they are just missing breakfast, how on earth did they create such a powerful
Nation on a few spoons of sugar?! I know Rome wasnt built in a day, but perhaps progress would have been quicker if they had started the day with weetabix rather than espresso and sugar?! The tiny dry toasts take more of my energy to consume than they provide in calorific nutrition and we return to the room.  I sit down on the bed, half wishing we could just be still. Perfectly still, for a while.
I'm feeling completely out of sorts and I long to go back to bed and shut out the mountains for a bit longer. Ideally I would like wake up in Sicily. Unfortunately it's time to go so we load the bikes wobble off. 
We've only 60km until the next town of Potenza but I'm finding every pedal lstroke hard. For the first time my legs really cramp, my bike feels too heavy to humanly propel and I realise my greatest fear of not enjoying cycling! It's a constant slow uphill across the mountains, and my mood is as low as my speed. We keep stopping and I could quite happily lie down on the side of the road and sleep. unfortunately when I awoke I fear I would still be in the same predicament of being in the middle of nowhere with a small two wheeled tank to transport onward.

So on we go, the girls patiently cycling with me at a crawl. It's a baking hot day and we sweat more than ever before, I have the odd sensation of a beading of water along eyebrows and then the sting as sweat runs in to my eyes. Unlike the beautiful alps where we were able to climb steadily towards our high altitude towns, here we are constantly forced right back to where we started. Normally I love a fast downhill as much as he next cyclist, but as we climbed 500m and then dropped 600 only to start climbing again, I began to dread them! Like the past few days, we see not a single cyclist on the roads, let alone a tourer! We are so far from the bici beaten trail  people are confused by us and as one van passes he gives the italian symbol for "what the hell are you doing?!" 
After taking a steep winding short cut over the next mountain (at least there's no downhill!) we arrive on the edge of Potenza and begin to drop down into the valley toward the town which is on the opposite ahill at 800m altitude. Unfortunately there's no straight road to the centro and as we negotiate hairpin bend after hairpin bend we realise we have descended too far and with Hazel at the lead we've ended up at the hospital. We can see the city up on his hill ahead and as we are loathe to turn back we descend further into the university campus in the hope there will be a way out on the other side. We find a locked gate. Still resistant to turn back we spot a semi off road track off to our right which we assume will be a short cut into town. Short cut meaning straight up the mountain rather than winding round. From a standing start we attempt to pedal up a 35% incline. Ambitious. For the first
time in the whole trip we resort to pushing our bikes, which is akin to pushing a small elephant who does not want to go anywhere! At the
Summit we are greeted with another locked gate and so we retrace our steps  all the way back up past the hospital.
Fortunately we spot a centre sign and wend slowly up the hill around the edge  of town like an upside down helter skelter.  We eventually find an albergho after some searching and questioning of police, who as ever were standig around with nothing to do. They sport nice white leather holsters though. We conclude that half of Italy are employed in some police force or other. On arrival at the albergo we have the delightful realisation that we none of us have our passports.
Being seasoned cycle tourists there is no panic. I'm happier in this predicament than with a broken wheel on the side of the ss16 with the dead dogs and prostitutes.
So we explain our situation to the owner of the albergo, Roberto, who fortunately is one of the nicest people we have met so far. He rings the hotel
In Melfi (whom have forgotten to give us back our passports) and gives them an earbashing. He then rings his friend at the local police to check he's not going to be arrested for checking us in without passports. All is well and Roberto even offers to take is to Melfi to collect documentation in the morning. As he is Chilean, we all coommunicate in a confusing mixture of Italian, Spanish and English, with me the most confused as when
I try and speak Spanish i find all
My vocabulary has been replaced by a mixture of Italian, German and Polish! We haven't even been to Poland. I'm very tired. He moves some other guests around so we can have a cheaper room in which we nap for the remainder of the afternoon. We arise briefly for dinner, and as we are friends of Roberto we enjoy an amazing three corse meal for 10 euros at the restaurant down the hill. Sated, we return to be for a well needed 12 hour sleep. Sorted.