We are packing for the next part of our journey at the moment. Which is what led me to thinking about ‘ a stuffed shark’. Damien Hurst created what even the BBC refers to as ‘ the stuffed shark ‘, back in 1991. It became the iconic work of Britart and sold for a baffling quantity of cash. I like the work.
What has rather been lost in all the fuss, is the proper title of the work. One thing Damien Hurst is very good at is titles, and of course self promotion. Anyway, the title is ‘ The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living ‘. Which is why I was thinking about the shark and empathy. When you pack, and certainly when you have something as delicate, irreplaceable and beloved, as your touring bike. You have to put yourself into the head space of a baggage handler, and possibly a very pissed off one.
How can they throw your bike? Is there enough padding? How many bags can they pile on top of it, how will it cope with being crushed? Even if your bike survives the flight, there is the more brutal passage of the delayed luggage van. All you can do is pad it, zip tie it, label it and possibly make the sign of the cross and wish it ” bon courage “.
Then there is the empathy required to be standing in a place that is -20’c, and packing stuff for +42’c. We are back to the shark again. This is the maths we had to do on our way to Malaysia last year, and at the moment we have 24’c here in Malta and need to pack for the snow and arctic of N.E. USA and the flooded streets of a southern England transit day. It is said that only humans and dogs, have the ability of empathy, which you can have a think about along with a look at the shark.
You left us in Siracusa, which we loved. Getting out of Siracusa we loved somewhat less, and we were doing it at rush hour. We were heading away from the coast in a sort of 10 o’clock direction, heading towards the town of Florida. You do wonder if there is a Sicilian and orange growing connection with the name. We were eventually riding through the zone where town gives way to orange groves and left the madness and pot holes behind.
It continued to be busy and mentally challenging biking until we picked up the SS124 and left behind unpleasant sections of narrow road-work cycling. This became calmer, but the road tipped upward, pointing us towards the mountains that fringe the coast and hold the clouds.
Once more we are on a perfect road, in summer biking gear, with sun on our back and it is February. This area just inland and around Etna is one of the best cycling areas of the island. It rolls and curves in a pleasing way as it passes through the most lovely of pastoral landscapes. We stop in Solarino for first coffee.
The day was warming. Now up to over 20’c a few local road cyclists came by in what I would label, deep-winter clothing. Full face hats, full finger gloves, over-boots the lot. This is obviously a choice road and they were full of high spirits as they shouted greetings. The local fly population was also out in number and enjoying the warmth, which brings me to a bit of advice.
Never, if you can avoid it, should you drain your last water bottle. Always leave a mouthful in reserve as you may need it. This is a rule that I follow. Coughing, spluttering and eventually retching I am trying not to swallow a fly. Eventually you have to give in and swallow, and this is where the emergency water comes in. You will be very glad you kept some back and possibly email to tell me.
After 850m of steady climbing the road decides to ramp up beyond cycling grades for a walk and a push to the town of Palazzalo. We have something to post which takes an eternity. An oppertunity for a chat and catching up on gossip is never missed. Which is why we’re late for the shop closing time by 3 minutes. An Italian friend looked us in the eye when we asked about siesta, ‘ Italy does not have siesta’. I remember it well. But it does not explain why everything is closed from 1 till 4pm, which I would describe as the very definition a country that has a siesta.
There is an open cafe and we sit and order coffee number two of the day and some tasty treats. In a moment of curiosity we log onto the ferry company site on the WWW. They have bought forward the sailing times by 5 hours and cancelled the next days all together. We knew to look as we had already come across some of the rather Cavalier attitude to timetables that this company has. We had already done our days work but this changes things. Winter storms can trap you for days on the wrong side of the Med. We needed to cycle on.
It is always horrid when you think you are done for the day and need to do more. Just to make things worse, the sky clouded over just enough to threaten rain. We needed to leave ourselves with very little to ride in the morning. The sort of distance where you could have a puncture or two without panic and still make the ferry.
We arrived in Noto by late afternoon. There are many B&B’s as this is a world heritage site and exquisitely beautiful in a sort of cake icing over the top baroque way. We did an increasingly desperate tour of B&B establishments. None opened the door or answered the phone. There was a sign for a hotel. Like all such signs it failed to mention anything about how far you were going to be led. We followed the signs. It was well signed. It took us through areas of construction, areas of dereliction where our hearts sank. Finally what looked like a dead end. But it was open.
Noto deserves more attention than a walk in the dark looking for something to eat. Sadly that is all we gave it. We had an early start to prepare for and a ferry to catch. Noto did not want us to leave. It has the most despicable one way system on Sicily and it had us in its grip.
You can see the guy who designed it pouring over print outs of the town map. Tongue out slightly at the corner of his mouth, brow furrowed in infantile concentration. He may even have used crayons. It is a nightmare on a bike. Describing a sine wave it cuts across the grain of the land leaving you pushing or pulling on brakes for fear of your life. You could walk there quicker, no twice or three times as fast.
We wasted ages sticking to the law. We make good time, but then there were roundabouts. Only the Brits get the concept of roundabouts and understand the rules. It should be as simple as give way to those on the roundabout and wait for a gap. The French don’t manage, the Germans are slowly getting it after years of thinking about it. The USA had them first in the world but hated them. The Italians put random STOP signs in the middle of them. Crazy!!
Which is how Esther hit the back of my bike. She stayed upright, but we are both shaken. We make it to the ferry terminal with loads of time to spare but nerves on edge. Bringing the sailing time forward has done us a favour and we arrive in Valletta in the light, which is a big help with adjusting to riding on the left.
A night in Valletta and then it is a ride along the coast to Bugibba and our hotel. We have bikes to pack, insurance to arrange and stinking colds to recover from. We will be in the USA, just outside of Baltimore for a while whilst we wait for the snow to clear from the east coast mountains. We have a talk at the Streetcar Museum and radio interviews to give. If you are in the area, do say hello. If you are on our planned route, we would love to meet you. See you in the depths of winter very soon.