The sound of Sunday church bells. We would not be surprised to see that snow had fallen overnight, but all is clear and even the persistent wind has now gone. It is the perfect morning for a bike ride. We check the WWW. for weather, which is good and a look at the profile. Every town in this part of Sardinia is on the top of a hill and where we are aiming for is 30m higher than here in Nuoro.
Quickly we find our bearings and pick up the SR129. It is absolutely freezing cold. I know that we had an agreement back in Asia never to complain about the cold ever, ever again. The reality of biking close to freezing is difficult and you will need to give me a bit of slack for a moan. We are on the road to Macomer, and as so often here, there are Oaks and Cork trees.
Small flocks of startlingly white sheep graze under the trees and move out into the parkland. As we draw level with the flock, two equally white and very fierce looking dogs break away from the flock and chase up to the fence. We are not welcome and the dogs run the whole length of the field making sure we know that tearing apart cyclists that go in their field is part of their job description.
In a field to the left of our road is a tower. There have been many such towers that we have seen throughout Sardinia and they are called Nuraghe. Many are just ruined stumps, but this one is in good order and we follow the track to it. So often when you stand in front of archaeology, the first impression is of total wonder that they managed to get such big stones so far off the ground. This is no exception, they are huge. The craftsmanship of dry-stone construction is beyond doubt. The structure is twin skinned, with stairs leading up the inside of the walls.
I had a look at the WWW. where it describes these Nuraghe as being from the Bronze Age and unique to Sardinia. Back home in Scotland we have startlingly similar structures called Brochs. These are according to the WWW. from the Bronze Age, and are unique to Scotland. To my untrained eye they are identical, and I have sent off a mail to the National Museum of Scotland for their thoughts on the subject.
We return to the road, moving along with a flock of Thrushes that are skimming the roadside bushes. This is typical of migrant birds. They have come together for protection and travel in large noisy flocks through the winter.
It is of course a drag up a hill to the town of Macomer where, this being Sunday, everything is closed. Sunday is hard on the bike tourer looking for food, but there is at least a bar open here. We join the football fans positioning themselves for the match on the huge flat screen. Macomer has a commanding view back over the plains that were to our left as we rode in. It is early, but dark clouds are piling up to spoil things and keep us on our toes. We need to head into the hills a little to find a wild pitch.
We pull off the road to check out an abandoned house. There is a small amount of flat ground and we have protection from what looks like a gathering storm. We have found our home for the night. There is a railway just two meters in front, but it has a healthy patina of rust on the rails. By 6.30 pm it is that time when the sun has gone and there is now a blue after light before the sky turns to black. Corvids that were regularly spaced along the power lines, take to the air. A burst of deep throated bird calls as they circle around before flying away to roost. The hierarchy has to be sorted before the day ends if you want a warm and safe night.
It is a cold night in our summer weight tent. All night thunder rumbled out at sea and threatened to spill over us. Above us, a Barn Owl came and went from the old window. The most beautiful of owls. Much like David Beckham, the voice and good looks do not appear to match. Barn Owl screech and hiss.
There is frost on the ground around our tent as we try to find our legs and start the day. Breakfast, and we are on our way again. Within 5Km, we get a glimpse of the sea and Sardinia’s West coast. We will run South now.
The SS292 runs parallel to the coast. We follow it in the direction of Oristano through a series of small and tightly packed villages. They appear to be sheltering from old storms blown in from the sea and up the cliffs. You can reach out through windows and shake hands with two of your neighbours. The road squeezes between the homes and shops, never wide enough for more than one and a bit cars to pass.
The SS292 is typical undulating coastal riding. Hard enough, but here it throws in major climbs to the bigger towns that are perched on lofty and defendable vantage points. This is as hard on the legs as a mountain day. The sky is sharply clear, but by 3.00pm you need to start thinking of a spot for the night. By 4.00pm, you need to start looking and by 5.00pm it is a panic.
A wild camp, just beyond the village of Riola Sardo. As so often, it is under Olives trees and we have managed to tuck ourselves away from the road. It is sheltered enough to attract a couple of bites from mosquitoes. There is a pale blue light to the sky, and it looks as if it could be even colder tonight.
There are reeds and wetland all around us. Perfect places for Heron, and several fly over even late into the night. They is another bird with a horrid call. It sounds like swearing at the best of times and goodness knows what they would say if they hit their thumb with a hammer. The second coldest tent night of our time on the road. It is light and we have waited in our bags for some morning warmth. By the time I have stumbled out and flicked on the bar meter it reads 3’c and -66m. There is a high pressure front.
Another perfect day, with the added pleasure and bonus of a tail-wind. The last few villages have been stunning in a quiet unshowy way. Cabras is no exception, and we have a very early first coffee. Fields are becoming flatter here abouts and agriculture more with an eye to the market. Rows of Artichoke and Carrot in the fertile sandy soil and then a stretch of water and a Pink Flamingo or two.
The SS126 continues towards Guspini and is in a hurry to get there. For the first time in Italy it becomes Romano-Straight as per the history books. Mind numbingly straight, and with enough of a climb not be noticed by anything above the legs. On the wrong day this would be torture.
Our resolve evaporates and I hit the gps for a hotel. We role into the twilight cobbled streets of Guspini with the temp gauge plummeting and our breath in clouds. It is warm, quiet enough and more fun than camping in our hotel. We are out on the streets early, and have a nasty climb right from the door.
Thank goodness we did not look on the WWW. for today’s profile. We would have had our spirits crushed, and may even have wept. The climb starts before the shops have even dropped behind. It is steep, sharply winding with frost in the shadows. It is cold enough to hurt. The town of Arbus marks the end of the first climb and it is the hardest, steepest and I will say most boring we have done on the island. I have not got a kind word for it.
After the summit things improve and the nature of the road changes. It is bleak but beautiful and we drop down through curves and bitingly cold straights to the village of Fluminimaggiore. We worked so hard for the hight and throw it all away.
The second big climb of the day is less steep, but it climbs relentlessly. At 500m there is a hamlet, 2 houses, a church and a pizzeria. Only in Italy. Stunted Oaks and Cork trees dripping exuberant looking lichen in this clean mountain air. This is beautiful.
The descent is steep with high speeds cooling the front whilst sweat rolls down your back. As we enter the old town of Iglesias we have done just 55Km. In that short distance we have climbed two passes that have bought up a total of 1,114m of hard climbing. The cold has worn us out as much as the road distance. We have had wild camps under the darkest void that has been pierced by stars bright enough to cast a shadow. There have been satellites and shooting stars and soon the promise of a comet. We have carried all this cold weather equipment for thousands of kilometres but need it all now.