Once you get going, you go further and further.
Sleeping on lake Trasimeno was the last of the hot nights. It did not rain but there were plenty of lightnings that I spent the evening admiring from my lake front lounger.
In the morning I was ready to roll and eager to leave Tuscany, its oppressive heat and potholes behind me. The route was going to take around the north of lake Trasimeno, down through Perugia, skirting Assisi and finally to Foligno in the very hearth of Umbria, the third region of my tour and the one I had very fond memory from when I was younger.
The heat was less of a factor in the cycling, it’s funny how cycling in 35º C appears almost pleasant once you’ve got used to the mid 40s. The landscape was as charming as I remember and yet, riding a bike made all look a little less bucolic and a little more industrial. On top of that I started seeing sign of what would become a recurrent thread in the next few days, signs of decay, signs that could make a less kind hearted observer define Italy a failing state.
I had a coffe and a “cornetto alla crema” in Passignano sul Trasimeno and then, among the puzzled looks of the little old men crowd developing the local public opinion, speeded off towards Perugia and Assisi.
Motivation is a funny thing, it follows a now rather predictable development path trough the day. I start quite cheery and full of ambitions, then, as soon as the sugars start getting low, the mind wonders towards all the possible ways in which I could insert pauses, shortcuts, mechanical aids and such like into the plan. Then, usually after some food and/or a can of Redbull, motivation surges again. Usually by this point I have passed the 20 miles mark which appears to be a sort of psychological watershed and, after that, it is not unusual for me to ride quite remarkable distances keep upping the target and telling myself I have passed the midway to that target.
Going through Umbria followed that path, with me, at the bottom of the despair, planning train cut through between Maggiore and Perugia. I managed to pass that phase though and cycled through Perugia and on to Santa Maria delle Grazie the majestic papal cathedral at the bottom approach to Assisi.
There I stopped for lunch and, while sitting on my spectacular folding armchair, definitely the most successful bit of kit among the ones I have acquired in the summer, I made friend with a family of tourists over from the western coasts. We talked about cycling and the state of the road surfaces, and they made me laugh when they suggested that the Italian authority answer to potholes was just investing in road signage, adding progressively lower speed limits rather fixing the damaged surface.
Leaving was a bit tough, it was the hot part of the day and I was already on the third litre of water for the day. It was not long to get to Foligno, but dark clouds were gathering at the horizon and I started thinking that the weather might turn on me. On the bright side I came across an all too brief bit of cycling path, the first I have seen outside an inhabited area outside my region.
The weather did turn on me but luckily only once I got to Foligno. By then I had cycled a dignified 52 miles and decided that it would be sensible to cross the mountain towards the coast at this height rather than venturing further south and into more mountainous territory. To this end I elected to catch a train towards Fabriano heading slightly north east and setting myself up for a Monday downhill ride towards the Adriatic coast of the Marche region.
Two things happened: first I become well familiar with the station in Foligno as the 35 minutes ride to Fabriano was on a train that progressively accumulated a delay of 2 hours. Second, while I was waiting and conversing with the locals on the quality of the Italian rail services the mother of all thunderstorms took place making me really happy I elected to take the train.
I eventually got myself to a B&B in Fabriano where it had just stopped raining and the temperature was rather pleasant. The road to the place was pretty steep but short and it did not matter too much as it was on route for the following day so it was road I’d have to cycle anyway.
It was really comfortable to stay in a bed and having breakfast cooked for me started the day in just the right way, unfortunately the weather had not healed completely and as soon as I left the B&B it started spitting with rain
I decided to rig the bike for rain and keep going but, before long, that proved not to be the right answer to what was in fact a full blown monsoon. I found shelter in the doorway of a chapel in a small hamlet not to far out of Fabriano and it quickly become apparent I was not the only animal taking shelter in the same place.
The rain did not last long and I resumed my way heading for the last of the last few hills before the long descent towards the sea. Reached the town of Castelraimondo gave me the right nudge towards calling my father “Raimondo” to wish him happy birthday and at the same time provided for a good rest place to have the first break of the day.
As you can see from the map the road from here was going to be mostly downhill and, despite the minimal gradient, promised to offer the opportunity of making up quite a bit of ground.
It was so, it took me another two hours but I got within a few miles of the Adriatic coast, dripping with sweat due to the heat but not terminally tired. I saw what would best be described as a trucker’s restaurant where they were advertising fish as their specialty and decided to stop for a bite conscious that I could then go much further in the afternoon if I had managed to put some food in. In the end the lack of a written menu proved to be a minor hindrance for someone used to have one and I had to improvise with the result that I ended up with almost twice as much as it was sensible to eat. Never mind it was delicious.
I have to admit stepping on the bike again was not trivial but it had to be done and it was done. I cycled another three hours till I got to just north of San Benedetto del Tronto and then I found a reasonable campsite where I pitched the tent.
The problem with being in Italy is though that it’s difficult to resist the temptation to go out and eat what is extraordinarily good food, drink exceptionally good wine and pay supremely reasonably for it. So I did and had a mixed grill in town followed by the mother of all freshly made tiramisú.
Another day and more long running ambitions. I am now on the coast road, the Strada Statale 16 (State Highway 16) is pretty flat and, in bits rather uninteresting. I have in front of me just a bit less than 190 miles and the thought that I might get there in two days.
There are some big towns and a big city in my path and approximately 85 miles before I get within reach of achieving the goal so I start early and begin chewing tarmac at an heightened rate. Before long I get quite depressed. This is not so much to do with my biking performance but to do with the scenery I see. There is a sort of a feel of abandonment in the places I pass. The houses crumble, the road banking are filthy and there is a stink in the air as if the sewage pipes had last been looked after by the roman empire.
There was obviously grace and beauty once in these parts but it has all but gone. In it’s place there is a country devoid of pride and self esteem where there is no understanding or appreciation of the importance of preserving together the “res publica”. I don’t like it at all, I’d rather be Scottish and proud of it.
I quickly got out of Marche and into Abruzzo, which I crossed in one day ending up in a campsite just inside Molise, the sixth and second last region I was to touch in this trip. Things did not change dramatically and the miles rolled off without leaving a lasting impression in me, apart from the plentifulness and reasonable price of the great food.
Unremarkably I made it to and past Pescara and then on and on to Ortona and Vasto and only when I passed the border of Molise I stopped with in excess of 90 miles clocked and probably the longest day ride I have ever done while cycle-touring.
The campsite where I stopped started to look like the campsites I remembered from my youth, lots of noise, lots of kids running around and people eager to come and know the new neighbour. My kit made an impression, expecially the bike and the chair, but people could not believe I had cycled all the way from Modena, they obviously do not meet that many cycle-tourists in these parts as I still believe I’m barely a beginner.
After I got settled and clean I withdrew to the bar and the company of a week internet connection and some aged Jura made me reflect on the achievements of the day. I knew then I would definitely make it there the day after!