Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Morning After

We woke up on top of one of the highest points around, with a cloudy but not wet day ahead of us. Once again the sunshine came toward us as we packed up quickly and prepared for a very long descent.

We were riding around to a very small and likely low traffic road that heads through the remaining mountains to the coast just north of Genova. That night, the 25th, we were scheduled to stay at an listed apartment about a 10 minute ride up from the coast, and the following night we were taking the ferry to Olbia, Sardegna from Genova. Rather than take the busy route through the valley, we'd gone up and over Passo della Bocchetta and we were not done climbing.

But after the day we'd had, we expected to have a relatively calm ride to our apartment for the night. Or, we hoped to have a calm day. It was also supposed to be short, because we were meeting our host at 2pm. By 9am we had our rain gear on against the cool wind we were expecting as we plummeted down the mountain

The downhill was intense. Very fast, long, and steep, and our hands were again aching long before we reached the bottom. The light through the clouds traveled quickly across the mountainous landscape and we quickly lost sight of the Mediterranean. There were leaves falling and it felt like the season was changing. Then the air became warm around us, and in town where we made our first decisions of the day we were in a completely different climate.

We made our turn, took off our rain gear, and started heading up again.

Not only had Passo della Bocchetta been more of a climb than we were prepared for, but we'd endured an earth - and eardrum - shattering storm for much of it. I think we were both hoping to not have to climb much. I wanted the road to kind of turn and wind around the side of the mountain, but instead it started the unmistakable hairpin back and forth of a steady climb to the top of a mountain. A sign indicated that we were going towards that really, really high point we had seen from our campsite. Damn.

We both felt pretty good, though. Considering. In our spinniest gears we traveled upward again. It got colder. A man in a little red truck passed us with what looked like cement bags in the back. Then we saw his truck pulled over in a driveway. And then he passed us again and stopped. This little red truck is the kind you see often in rural Italy - the cab is a two-seater, and there's really only room for two people. It's very narrow and the bed looks like a mini-version of full-sized trucks. Maybe only a foot deep. The bags were full of stale bread.

He asked if we were going all the way to the top to see the monument up there. I tried to explain that we were going over to a town on the other side. He had no idea what I was talking about. I got worried that we were on the wrong road, doing some climbing we didn't need to do. But I described it a bit better, and said the name of the town at the top. It finally clicked for him and he told us to load up our bikes.

We hesitated. I think we were both grateful and enjoyed the idea of getting a ride. But didn't we put ourselves out here to ride our bikes? I would never have asked for a ride. But we're not stupid, either, and we unloaded the bags, threw them in back, and then lifted the bikes in on top of it all. Just as we were loaded up another man appeared on the road, someone who knew our new friend, and offered to take one of us up. But since we were ready to go, our driver declined and off we went. Joshua rode in back with the bikes and I sat in the cab.

The man was a baker and was heading home after a day that started at 3am. I explained that we were riding up and over just because it was fun to ride bikes - we were not in a hurry but we like to travel by bike, long distances, during our vacation. "Vacanza..." he said while shaking his hand in that decidedly Italian hand gesture that evokes both sarcasm and sympathy and means something between "that's rough" and "daaaaaayyyuum" and "hey, whatever works".

He was very kind and it was fun to talk to him. The first flexing of my Italian language skills for any significant amount of time. It only took us 15-20 minutes to get to the town at the top. He pointed out his home when we passed it along the way. He said he also had sheep, chickens, and a garden. He was going to get some lunch and then go home for a nap. He described winter, when he had to get himself out of 2 meters of snow at 3am and down the mountain to the bakery before anyone else was awake. Light fires in the ovens, warm up the kitchen, bake beautiful and delicious breads. It was hard to imagine the humid and hot almost jungle-like scenery covered in snow.

Every once in a while he yelled in a friendly voice out the window to Joshua "Joshua! Tutti a posto?"

At the top we thanked him profusely as we pulled all our bags and then our bikes from the back of his truck. He probably saved us two hours of climbing, or maybe he just reminded us how nice it feels to have someone do you a favor.

And then? We bought some mountain top pastries and headed down the other side.

I failed to take photos of the bikes and Joshua in the back of the truck. I'm sorry. 

The road was very low traffic and very tiny. It was beautiful and the entire ride down was again kind like floating in a dream that hurts your hands. The air changed again to a warmer, softer, wetter texture. A wind blew from below and the influence of the Mediterranean was even more apparent as the flora changed from wet, hot jungle-like deep greens to dry-looking, small-leafed, chaparral-like bushes. The road we were on was the new road, but the old road was still there. In the photo above you can see the new bridge on the right and the old bridge on the left. People used to walk up this way to their tiny farms on steep slopes.

We were a bit early for our meet-up, but we didn't mind. There were no cafes or restaurants where we could hang out, so we poked around trying to find the exact location of the apartment. And once we found it, which took a bit of time, we found an Internet signal floating around, which we used to pass time and collect emails. We ate those pastries, which turned out to be the best cookies ever made.

crumbly, buttery, flavorful, perfectly sweet

Oh, and there was this dramatic train bridge.

Our hostess met up with us as arranged and she is a friendly, smart, and interesting woman who showed us around before heading back to work. It rained on and off throughout the rest of the afternoon, our tent and wet things all out on the line the whole time. There were some very handy info pamphlets about Genova left by our hostess and we figured out that we might be able to take a boat-bus, the NaviBus, to Genova in the morning. Sounded better than riding along the large road beside the freeway. We ended up watching a Harry Potter movie with Italian subtitles and going to be early.

And in the morning, in no hurry, we packed up and shipped out. We rolled down into town and straight toward where we hoped to find the NaviBus, and just as we stopped to try to figure out where it would dock, one came in to a nearby jetty. We rode over and got on just in time. Luckily they took bikes. Just a few Euros each.

the "Jolly Verde"
Genova from the water

Once again, our city day was taken up mostly by errands and practicalities. We bought a map of Sardegna and a couple of books in English. Joshua fixed my broken front derailleur cable. Oh yeah, that's right, I couldn't use my front derailleur - the cable housing had finally given way that morning and so my speed was limited to my smallest chainring or whatever downhill momentum I could gain. Oh well. While I asked at the tourist info office about a bike shop, Joshua fixed the situation, making a new ferrule from a presta valve cap. Those things do have a use! And good work Joshua.

Then we found an outdoor cafe at the end of a piazza where we ate lunch. The owner or manager admired our bikes. He had a fancy road bike leaning against the building by the door to the cafe. The piazza, having a dead-end, was a great place to leave the bikes. The owner/manager said he'd keep an eye on them, so we locked them to themselves and took off to see some of the city. And to finally get a haircut and drink prosecco.

Finding the ferry terminal entrance for a cyclist isn't the easiest thing to do. We put our Los Angeles traffic riding experience to work to get to the passenger terminal, but ended up uncertain since we were technically "vehicles". We did board through the passenger terminal, but we had to take a tiny elevator. My bike barely fit and Joshua had to put the bags in the elevator and carry his bike down the stairs. We got all the way to the reception on the boat - bikes stowed, bags lugged up two or three escalators and one flight of stairs - and found out we were on the wrong boat. Grimaldi sends out two boats within an hour of each other from docks just next to each other going to two different cities on Sardegna. Travelers beware - we showed our boarding passes to three people and none of them noticed we were getting on the wrong boat. Only when the reception guys had no key set up for our cabin number did they look closely.

It was tight, but we made it to our actual cabin on the right boat before it left the dock. Dinner was a delicious picnic in the cabin, we strolled the very windy deck looking at Genova's lights, and slept deeply until the boat started to pull around to the port at Olbia.

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