In uncharitable moments back home in Edinburgh, I despair at the glass on bike paths. More often than not it is from bottles dropped from bridges onto what are converted railways. I have even considered the commercial possibilities of finding a bridge and charging people to drop bottles that are on their way to the recycling depot. I am sure there are people who would pay for such joy in their lives.
Here in Italy I am going to set up a dummy road junction with a set of traffic lights. Concept goes something like this – I will be first at the lights. When they change to green I will not pull away, but wait 2 seconds. This will allow the Italian driver the joy of blowing the specially loud horn with unbridled joy. They would pay, of that I am convinced. One millisecond late up and away and they honk here, and you know they are enjoying it.
We have walked around what must be a thousand markets on our trip. As we were walking around the Palermo market, passed the millionth stall selling knock-off perfume/bags/phone sleeve or such I suddenly noticed a ommision from the stock. No compact discs. They have become extinct without our noticing it. The record industry is so firmly in the gutter that you can not even turn a profit by selling copies.
I was thinking about this as we rode out of Palermo and down the coast. It is Monday morning and we are riding counter-clockwise and both could have dampened my mood. Coastal towns out of season can be melancholic, but it was more than that.
Palermo has done the city equivalent of outgrowing it’s clothes. There are hills rimming the coast, so it has done an ugly sprawl along the coast. It is depressing, and low cloud with the threat of rain is not helping in the slightest. There are uncountable numbers of derelict homes and businesses. The sight of sea brings a strange insanity. There is building work and dereliction. Things going up, things being left half way, and stuff decaying and falling down. It all meets in some mid-point of entropy, between hope and despair. It is 50Km of grim biking.
It is however, 18’c. Things are improving, but there is still rubbish everywhere and wild dogs to keep an eye open for. Narrow streets, heavy traffic and the constant threat of a swipe from a car door. There is no possibility of a camping spot and the light is fading. We have played the odds and always won, ‘ something will come along ‘. It does.
We can see that the road is going to run tight to the mountains, with no flat land to pitch. Down bellow there looks like a quiet corner of the beach and we head towards it. I am not sure how much the tide runs here, there is a strand line, but it looks old and pushed up by a storm. I set up a pile of white stones at the furthest point that the water reaches and then put on a brew of tea ( Thanks Jez Hastings for that tip ). We will wait and see.
General knowledge says that there is little or no tide, but to get this wrong would be a big mistake and there is little room. It can’t hurt to wait for the light to fade more before the tent goes up. The camping is perfect, but of course the sound of the sea gets louder overnight and I get up and check the stones. Tidal range here, about 1 metre, so now we know.
It is sunny and not just a lazy excuse of a winters sun. We need to put on sun-screen. The smell and excitement of a December application has been a little hasty and I still have sand on my hands. I have stumbled across a new product in health and beauty. Exfoliate and skin protection in one has to be a winner.
Straight out of the tent the climbing starts and a sunny morning has us stopping every kilometre to take off more clothing. It continues to 22’c, our perfect Goldilocks temperature for touring. We climb over the headland and get a view back along the coast. Wine and marble quarries and things have really improved. A blue sky with fluffy clouds and the mood is improving.
We have climbed to above 300m and we are going to drop down to the coast and the town of Trapani. It does this all in one go and arrive like a holiday flight. We get through the bust outskirts without incident and then the buildings close in around us as we enter the ‘ old town ‘.
This is nice, we like the town straight away. Narrow streets where you can reach out and touch both walls, some tight enough to touch with your elbows. We pick up a cheap hotel and go for a walk.
The town of Erice sits at 750m on a mountain overlooking Trapani. We leave the bags in the room and set off to climb it on light bikes. It is early, but already it is 18’c and it is off with the base layer almost before the climbing starts. Bends kink us to the right and we are heading back down the coast. It is steep and the altimeter is busy marking off the climb.
We know that Wiki says the town is at 750m, but there is a hope it is wrong. We are going to do the hill in one go and already that feels like a bit of big ask. We always try to ride conservatively when we tour, never digging too deep. There is always another hill and another day. Mind, it is hard not to get excited.
500m and we now know that we are going to make it. I can see the town on the gps screen and call off the bends till the end. We stop, and of course we are cold within moments. In all the excitement I have forgotten that we have just gone through 14,000Km this year and 41,000Km in total. It all feels like someone elses at the moment.
We go for an unsteady walk around the town. Cobbles, steps and a touring bike to haul around. There is a German Christmas market in the square. Of course there is, no town will be without one soon. First coffee and when we come out the clouds have rolled in and taken summer away. It is now 10’c and we have the prospect of a very cold descent.
Quickly we drop through the clouds and warmth returns immediately. By the time we are back down at the town it is 20’c again and we could climb off the bikes and stand like Cormorants to warm. But we have new problems, the school run. Every mum has a mobile to her ear and the road sense of a Squirrel.
Expecting the unexpected is hard on the nerves and they are doing the most stupid things. We ride back into the old town happy with our trip up to 750m and back down again. We are travelling slowly at the moment, very slowly, and have no intention to hurry.