We have met them. They tend to be sole riders, they tend to be overloaded, and yes they are often German [maybe the Germans get out to explore more- we have only met 5 Brits on the road in 3 years; ET]. From a distance they may look like a tandem, as they have a guitar bungeed vertically to the back rack. They have tales to tell of exotic roads and stories of exotic illness and mechanical breakdowns. More than once they have complained of things falling off their bikes and stuff not working. 5,000Km on the road and their bikes look terrible, with equipment beaten up and gears not working for the last two weeks.
The chain is run on the ‘ frying pan principal ‘ of never cleaning, just topping up the grease. Now there is more than one way to skin a cat, and no real rules to touring, so this is just an observation. Our chains do about 8,000Km, and lots of important bits went on the bikes more than 40,000Km ago. If you keep the bikes clean, you get to see the cracks in a wheel rim or feel the spoke that is not quite right. Other than the mauling from baggage handlers, our Dave Yates touring bikes look great. So, the motto is; keep your chain clean and your teeth likewise ( we had 5 rolls of floss with us as we entered Asia, just in case ).
To those two rules, you could add, stay flexible with your plans. We were going to ride south along the west coast of Italy. Right up to the very last moment this was the plan. Right up to the point when Enrico put a serious face on and told us about the mountains that would be in our path on that route. Illness had meant that we had fallen behind the leading edge of winters approach. Down the road there would be snow falling on the higher passes if we were not very lucky. Enrico did not much like the idea of trusting to luck.
It would be about 800Km of exposed mountain roads and a closing weather window. Within 20 minutes we had a new plan.
The island of Sardinia sits out in the sea, just under the French island of Corsica. It has French and Spanish heritage, lots of winding roads through beautiful countryside and because of some quirk of nature, a mild climate, even in winter. We have a new plan, and Enrico is much happier.
We take the train out of Rome with the bikes and go back up the coast a bit to Civitavecchia. It still smells of fish and fuel oil, more so the closer we get to the docks and ferry terminal. We have given ourselves lots of time, but the terminal we need is at the far end of the docks. Every time you are in a hurry, there will be one less signpost than the bare minimum you need and one door that will open in the opposite way to the way you expect. We are cycling up One-Way link roads and now running out of time. We make it, but in far less good humour than we might.
It is a 15 hour trip, and we settle into our cabin on the near empty boat. The town of Cagliari, where you arrive, looks totally different to the Italy we have got used to. France is here, Spain, but Africa has also thrown some of her influences this way. It is warm, with southern colours and enough faded style and crumbling paintwork to make your head spin. A man squats at a low table. Mice run around the table watched by three cats. It is performance piece, art, begging and desperation rolled into one, and a crazy way to make a living. It feels more dignified than the other tables with their knock off sunglasses and hand bags.
We set off the next morning to ride the islands coast anticlockwise. 9.30 in the morning, and already it is 19’c. What is more important than the temperature, is the direction of the wind. We will obsess about this here on the island’s exposed coast. We are right on the coast at first, but then turn inland towards the hills and the crisp packet dryness of the interior. It feels and looks Spanish, dry and sparse with orange groves, olives and the occasional vineyard. Eucalyptus forests the hills to both sides of the SS125 as we climb to 300m. By 400m we have climbed high enough to have a great view back down the valley. Cork trees, the first this year and a few stunted oaks.
This is a fantastic climb. The legs feel good, everything feels just right. 430m and we are at the summit and down the other side on a sine wave of well surfaced road. The SS125 enters our top 10 roads of our trip, and would be heaven on a light road bike. Pink granite outcrops are picked out by the sun with woodlands of oak, roadside corks and eucalyptus smells caught as we dive down the road.
A camping spot, and it is perfect enough to bring us both to a halt. It is too early, but far too perfect after long sections of fences and dogs today. 2.30pm and we pitch the tent, we have the luxury of time. We are in the centre of a bowl of steep sided wooded mountains. As a bit of a bonus, the perfect stream runs near the tent. For the first time this year we get out the water filter.
As ever in these remote spots, there are people living quiet lives. We can hear a couple of dogs barking and sheep none too happy at the attention. It is a jumble of stones making crude enclosures and something like a tepee. As the evening comes, we hear the sound of children’s voices from the ‘ farm ‘. I wonder about the lives they lead and hope they are happy.
Breakfast, and just as the sun breaks the ridge, we are ready to pull away. The SS125 kicks up a little and then dives for the coast through gorges where it is forced to cling to the sides of vertical drops. San Priamo, a village of almost Adobe style and our first coffee. The road turns to follow the coast and becomes rolling, without ever becoming too demanding. This was the main connecting road with the north of the island until the modern upgrades that tend to run parallel. We pass through small towns and even smaller villages. They have the habit of fading away before ever really showing you a heart or centre. Did we miss something?
The final town is Tertenia. It is big enough or narrow enough to need a one way system, which we go up the wrong way. With the clock changes, it is getting dark early ( a little less having come west to the island than on the mainland ), and we need to find a camp spot. It is not quite as dark if you lift your sunglasses, but we have less than 40 minutes to spare.
The town sprawls along the SS125, keeping quiet pull off spots to a minimum. Sheep farms, olives and a host of tumble down barns where Fiats go to die and then a sign ‘ picnic site ‘. A big and very bright full moon pulls above the trees as we get the stove going. We are in dense tree cover and joy of unbridled joy, we have a bench. It is still very early and we can walk around through the trees by the light of the moon. You could read and possibly sew on a button if you had to it is that bright. The joys of simple and illegal wild camping.
Yesterday it was 7’c when we got ready, today with a clear sky it is 6’c. We put on layers that we know we will peal within minutes. As we stop to adjust our wardrobe there is the unmistakable call of Cranes overhead. Amazing, but there they are in a flat ‘ V ‘ formation. These were the emblem birds of last years tour and here they are again. We have taken too much off and chill on the descent.
First coffee at the village of Bari Sardo. Church bells put in a midday performance to the Sunday devotional. On we go, and there in the field to our right are stone monoliths. We push the bikes into the field for a closer look. Unbelievably, they have the same ‘ cup ‘ markings on the recumbent stones we have back in Scotland. Even 4,000 years ago the world was a small place. This is the sort of thing that blows your mind if you know what you are looking at.
It is going to be a short day. Ahead is a monumental beast of a climb which we need a whole day and fresh legs for. Camping Telis near the town of Arbatax is open all year, and there is the promise of showers. The pitches are hardstanding bays for camper vans and we have to drive the pegs in with encouragement from a heavy rock. The bay is stunning and peaceful and we go to sleep to the sound of waves riding up on the beach.
At 5.00 am the sound is of a howling gale. It gets worse and gusts push the end of the tent flat. This is not good. By 7.30am we are trying to take the tent down before it is wrecked. We need to be organised as it will rip to shreds in this gale. Locals are out looking at the bay. It is unusual enough to take photos, but becomes even worse when the rain and thunder start. There is a bungalow option and we get a bit of deal to sit out the storm.
All day it rages, turning the whole bay white with foam and white caps. It is too dangerous to walk far and so we just sit and watch the sea and sky all day, glad that we were not wild camping last night in the middle of nowhere. You have to have a bit of luck when you travel and we have used up a month or mores in one go. We wake to news that on this small island 14 people have been killed by the storm. By luck, we were in a safe place this time. Ahead is one of the highest mountains and we will need to climb to well over 1,000m. We are rather shaken and take a day off to let things calm down and check the conditions of the roads ahead. Bridges have been swept away and we do not want to ride ourselves into a dead end. It is my birthday as well.