The map of Sardinia is being opened on the table and we are pointing out the route we have taken to circle the island. Every few centimetres that Esther’s finger trace Enrico asks, ” Did you see …… ?” The answer is almost always the same, ‘ No ‘. Enrico is a cycling tour guide here, and his professional opinion is, we have missed 50% of the best roads and 80% of the ‘ must see stuff!’. He looks almost hurt with our shallow coverage of his island. He is taking it personal.
We thought that the landscapes that we rode through, the things we came across where stunning. We got lucky, and went through high passes that were closed the next day by snow. We had shelter when we needed it the day the storm hit, and we found places to camp wild that were amazing. ” You must come back “, well yes Enrico, but we have not even left yet. If you want Enrico to show you his island, or put together a tour for you that does not miss all the best bits, nip across to HERE!.
In the last blog, you left us in Iglesias, where we were still trying to come to terms with riding in such cold weather. ” Is this normal? “, we have asked as we sat in bars and cafes trying to regain the use of our fingers. The conclusion is ‘ normal for February ‘, which is not much of a comfort. The air you breath out is at 100% humidity and 37’c, and riding around most of the island I have left a drip of snot like a snail trail. I have had to change all my cycling clothes in a bar at the top of a climb for fear of hypothermia in the wringing wet stuff on the descent. And yet, we have still loved Enrico’s island and now the sun is shafting in through the blinds of our room in Iglesias.
It looks warm, and we set off with arm warmers. Within 5Km we stop and put on leg warmers and coat. The bikes have been stored in our room, and now the thermometer is adjusting to the cold. 6’c, for goodness sakes, no wonder we are cold. We head for the coast at Portoscuso, which involves a long descent, which has chilled us to the bone and a stiff climb that has us stopping to take off a layer every kilometre. The summit gives us the first view of the Mediterranean West coast of Sardinia and the Aluminium plants that fringe it. It is industrial and a slightly brutal juxtaposition.
We drop down into the village, and after a bit of a hunt find the cafe. Most of the population are here in the bar to greet us. There is the very strong smell of coffee and the sound of laughter. The door is wide open and people are sitting around in the sort assortment of clothing you would reserve for outdoor winter DIY tasks. There is the usual combat trousers, facial hair and nut brown complexions of hard labour. The women sit slightly separate from the men who are lined up at the bar, each with a bottle of Ichnusa beer evenly spaced along the counter. We drop into their lives for a few minutes and are greeted as lost friends.
Out along the coast we go, and in a moment it is 16’c. The warmth came at a line on the ground. We have ridden into a warm front as surly as hitting a wall. Hurrah indeed and whoop whoop. Within a short distance there are just rough tracks that will keep to the coastline and we want to stay on tarmac, so turn inland and through the village of Tratalias. The land here is marginal for much cropping, but perfect for the sheep that provide milk for the islands famous cheeses. The flocks are in close to the homes at the moment and there are high pitched lamb bleats from the yard. New bourn lambs are everywhere. None is more than a few days old and are staying close to mum. It will be a few weeks before they have the confidence to run around in crazy teenage groups. You forget that milk sheep have developed to breed outside of the spring season.
We turn left onto the SS293, and head towards Nuxis. Just before 4.00pm, but we can see a good spot for a wild camp and pull off the road to push the bikes up a track. There is little sign of tyre tracks or boots, it looks perfect and is far enough from the villages and farms. It is dropping cold already and by 4.30 the low sun is picking out a line of mist with crimson rim light. There is no wind. It will be absolutely and quite literally freezing tonight in the tent.
We are spending half of the day, twelve hours, tucked up in our down bags. Thick socks, leggings, Rab smock, down Gillette and tonight, gloves and a hat. It is a strange almost catatonic existence. Dogs are just far enough away. They have got themselves worked up into a frenzy of barking. We have been seeing the bodies of foxes on the road and I bet they are being drawn to the smell of the lambing and the farm dogs can sense them.
Morning, we are in no hurry to get out of the warmth. A few extra minutes will make a world of difference to the temperature that we have to sit and make breakfast in. The sun will dry the tent, so we have enough valid excuses to stay where we are. We get to our feet as unsteady as new born. Tea, the finest tea ever drunk by man. Hot, sweet and with a view of mountains. You can not get better than a night in a tent in a perfect wild pitch.
Today we need to climb, to make the height that will take us over the spine of the island and bring us back to close our loop at Cagliari on the East coast. For some reason my saddle feels different today, not comfortable and the height is wrong. You get mornings like this and you must ignore the temptation to do any fiddling. It is gentle climb at first, but then it gets its act together and rises up. Left and right it serpentines through Oak and Cork trees and finally there is an almost pure stand of Eucalyptus. We gain more height, passing the parked cars of mushroomers.
We are in bright sun, but behind us there are clouds boiling up above the sea and spilling over into the mountains to the south. The road levels after the summit, but there is not the expected dash down. The castle Aquafredda, the most perched of all perched castles. It looks impossible and without doubt was an absolute sod to build. Beyond it the SS293 ends and we turn right to pick out a route into the city that strings together as many minor roads as possible.
We get int the suburb sprawl and pick out a pizza place for lunch. Only a touring cyclist would reach into their bag for chocolate whilst they wait the few minutes for the order. This is where disaster lurked for my dentistry. The chocolate was solid with the cold of the ride. I knew straight away there was a problem when I felt a small and very solid thing amongst the chocolate in my mouth. I had lost the side of my tooth.
There are thousands of kilometres this year where this would have been terrible. The street dentists in China, the thought of anything medical in Laos or even rural Turkey. The ragged stump was doing a near perfect job of lacerating my tongue as I ate. This was not good. On we went and in the time we had spent eating the roads had gone quiet. There is a lull in Italy, where the chaos of even the biggest city is calmed. Saturday afternoon after 2.00 and before 4.00 is a perfect time to bike into a city and we had hit it perfectly by a fluke of fortune.
By late afternoon we were sitting with our ‘ Warm Showers ‘ host, Enrico. My tongue was now swelling up and making me sound like John Hurt in the Elephant Man as I tried to speak. Never mind though, things had gone quite well. We had done a squashed loop of Sardinia and had seen many wonderful things. I went into our room and loaded todays photos. They looked great. Just out of curiosity I thought I would click on the iPhoto FACES button. It had been sitting there for over two years, so why not. 32 images of what were quite obviously The Virgin Mary, and the question ‘ Do You Know This Person? ‘. You do not expect religious inquisition from an APP. We have taken a lot of photos in churches in Italy.