I think I have found a counter argument to all the evidence that was stacking up in favour of evolution. Darwin never applied his analytical genius to touring cyclists. Not once, and never.
The two people that we have met who have been on the road for the longest share one truth. They are the worst equipped, and over laden bike tourists that we have yet met. Ten years on the road and you have gained a overpacked bike and now tow a trailer with 10Kg of vegetables. Seven years on the road and you are on a compact framed carbon road bike with radial spoked race wheels whose spokes, few as they are, hang like overdone spaghetti. It is now impossible for one person to lift this bike.
Where is the evolution over time? You would never dream of setting out on day one this badly prepared, so they must have got worse over the years. Both are solo bikers, and hats off to all who do the distance in their own company. But solo bikers do go a bit bonkers, bless them.
It is damp, definitely autumnal and misty with it. We set off from our pals and pick out a the quietest roads as we skim Bologna. We are sharing the ‘ rat runs ‘ with the morning commute, and it is all a bit tight.
By late morning we get to Medicina. The sun has not once put in an appearance and is now veiled by thick cloud. The town has a leaning bell tower, we are making a point of checking the stats of this national scandal. It can not stay dry, and just 10Km down the road the clouds break. With great foresight we are standing outside a cafe.
We go inside to join the locals. The back room appears to be run as a sort of creche for the retired. It is full with the slap of card and domino, and talk of football and politics. We sit and watch the rain fill the gutters. I hope the peloton get better weather when the Giro passes next year.
Second tea, and locals want a chat. We mime what we are doing to a murmur of approval. I show off my bike short tan line and one of the old guys lifts the leg of his trousers. His legs are as pale as milk, but that is not the point, they are still shaved. He probably rode with Fausto and kept the habit. There is laughter and a third tea.
The town of Lugo, and we are too wet to enjoy any of its delights. We have biked in the rain for hours and need a cheap hotel. The ground is uniformly too sodden for tents and it would be just too horrible to contemplate. We bargain and plead and the room rate drops to just under extortionate. Big plus, the size of the room is enough to spread out and dry everything. It smells like a cross between a garden centre and a gym changing room. We turn up the room thermostat to 30’c and it is almost unbearable.
It has stopped raining as we set off next morning. It is not looking great but we are overjoyed. So are the farmers. The vineyards are full of tractors, old Fiats and chatter. The wine is being harvested.
We turn into the town of Forli, looking for a coffee and a place to plan the how to thread through the mountains ahead with the least pain. We need to choose our route carefully, these are big hills.
Back on the road. We are casting a shadow for the first time in days. Ahead, there is a smudge of blue grey on the horizon that in a few kilometres will turn into the mountains that block our route south. A pasta lunch in the town of Meldola and then the climbing begins.
The SP48 is going left and then right and always up. It is a narrow road, with room for one and a bit cars or a tight squeeze with a touring bike. We are climbing well today, and soon it is 14% down into the valley and the town of Borello.
The final climb is punchy, and there is little left of enthusiasm or strength. It picks this moment to give us 14% up. We get enthusiastic cheers or pitying looks from the local road warriors. Down they go in primary colours and carbon wheels chattering on the rough surface. We wild camp in a church car park on the only flat land we can see.
A bit of blue sky first thing. But the bits that aren’t blue are a mess of saggy black. It could go either way. Within 2Km of throwing a leg over the top tube of the Yates’, there is our first 18% sign. It is up and down, with the ups being brutal and crested with churches. It sorts its self out and becomes a bit of a down. The cafe of cycling dreams. It is early, but the place is open. Carbon bikes drop by the window as we take our time over two cups of perfect coffee.
600m gained and we are on a ridge that runs by the village of Perticara. We are catching every gust from what is now quite a gale. 650m, and we go under the outcrop of sandstone known as Monte Aquilon. The road starts to go down. An old roadie turns and joins us. He is 78 and as fit as a butcher’s dog. ” Which way did you get up? ” “MONTEGELLI ” We have to shout a bit. He makes the Italian gesture for being impressed – a sort of trying to calm the burns on fingers just put onto a hot plate. He is impressed.
Down we drop, into a summers day. Panini lunch, and then a climb up to San Leo which is a brute on Panini stomachs. At 600m, we have climbed 898m in just 34Km today. The height opens the view over the flat land to the sea at our left. There had been talk of going around the mountains, which now seems sensible.
At 800m we reach the town of Madonna di Pugliane and then up to 980m by the end of the climbing. It is 14’c and threatening rain. The descent is a desperate affair, with bad to terrible surface, no signposts and legs that are screaming at the demands of the day. Empty ski villages and no shops open. We keep going, but all joy is lost. After 64Km with 1350m of going up, we have a place to camp. That was the hardest day for months.
We are pitched by the side of a reservoir at Mercatale, with the old town above us. It blows an absolute gale overnight sending bins flying. We are weary, and in need of a good bike shop. Which is just what we come across in Casinina. New brake blocks and bottom bracket for Esther from a enthusiastic mechanic. Perfect ‘ bedside manners’. We had a choice of routes first thing – short+steep, or longer and less so. We opted out and went with option B.
It is a beautiful route to Urbino. Every time the road goes up our legs scream, but it is easy on the eye and grades. The city is a World Heritage Site, and we have just enough energy to go for a walk. I misread the 10 minutes walk from town in the hotel blurb. It is 10 minutes by car. Worth it though. The one memory amongst all the Renaissance splendor, is the concept of the pizza ‘ happy hour ‘. A thick and large slice, and beer or wine for €2.50. See how easy our ‘ cultural compass ‘ can be swung. We have been on the road a long time now.