Mountain Climbing

Sunday October 11

Well, today was really just a nothing kind of day. We spent it in front of computers and iPads, trying to finalise arrangements, plans and bookings for the remainder of the trip. We still didn’t get everything done, but made some progress with the things that need doing. We did stop for elevenses though!

Elevenses
Elevenses

Monday October 12

We hit the pedals early this morning, with a fairly long day ahead of us and some hilly terrain to tackle. We’re heading in the general direction of Florence, but we’d planned to head for a town just short of Firenze (Florence). Riding out of Bologna, we were right in the thick of Monday peak hour. It was busy and the traffic was fast and there were lots and lots and lots of the dreaded roundabouts. We pedalled and signalled and roundabouted this way and roundabouted that way, we took the first exit, the third exit, with the cars and trucks zipping beside us. I even gave one bloke a blast of my horn when he cut in front of me on a roundabout, forcing me to brake and swerve to avoid running into him. What is it with drivers at roundabouts!? Look around you!! We eventually made it out of the city mayhem, into more open country and the climbing began.

The road went up and continued to go up and didn’t really stop going up! It was long, but at least it wasn’t too mean and steep. We finally got to see some different scenery too, which was lovely. We had forests and rolling hills and we passed through some small towns and the views are always the welcome prize for the hill climbs.

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We stopped at the top of a hill and decided to park on a patch of ground and have elevenses while looking across at the hills and trees. While we sat there, we were joined by Simon. He was cycling his way down the hills that we were still to climb and he pulled over to introduce himself and have a chat. Simon was from Argentina and is also doing some cycle touring of Europe. He was a charming, enthusiastic and thoroughly engaging 23 year old, with a smile that was competition for the sun that had decided to shine today. “Isn’t this amazing!” he beamed, sweeping his hand across the landscape and view before us. We chatted about our respective trips and how we travel, where we’ve been and where we stay.

“I didn’t have a good night last night,” he said, “it was very bad, I didn’t sleep at all because I was so cold.” He said he was heading to Bologna and had somewhere to stay where he knew he’d be nice and warm. “Then I am heading North, so I will be cold! I know I will be cold!” 

It was a lovely roadside chat to a fellow two-wheeled tourist and we wished each other a good trip and he pedalled down the hill we’d just come up and we prepared to climb the one he’d just zoomed down. We had ridden 38km by elevenses but…in the next hour of riding we only travelled 7km! That’s what those pesky hills will do to forward progress!

Elevenses
Elevenses
Our elevenses view
Our elevenses view

On we went, climbing up, with the hills getting a little steeper. We passed some old houses and had the valleys, hills, trees and gorges beside and below us. The autumn colours were also giving us a beautiful picture along the way too. We got some smiles and waves from people beside the road and some road cyclists who obviously ride those hills for fun, on their nice, light, unloaded bikes!

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We had some beautiful autumn colours
We had some beautiful autumn colours
We crossed over into Tuscany
We crossed over into Tuscany

We finally got a short down hill, that took us into a small town and saw a bench that looked like a good spot for lunch.

Almost to the top of a climb before some downhill
Almost to the top of a climb before some downhill
Lunch
Lunch

After eating our fuel and researching somewhere to stay in the town we were aiming for, we prepared to leave. I had cooled down, so I was deciding on how many layers to put back on.

“It’s going to be downhill from here, so I’d put your vest on as well,” suggested Steve.

So I added the second layer of a windproof vest, to give me an added barrier against the chilly downhill gusts. We saddled up and rode on to…

…more hills! There was no downhill, no downhill at all! All we had, after lunch, at the worst time when the legs have cooled down, was hills that were even steeper than the ones we’d just been climbing. Up we went, up and up. I didn’t need the extra layer at this stage, because I was back to hot and huffing hill climbing. We stopped on a short flat stretch and Steve looked at the climb ahead of us. “I think this is our final climb,” he said with a smile.

I pulled a face.

“I was giving you good news!” he added, somewhat perplexed by my facial response.

“You said it would be all downhill after lunch, so I don’t believe you,” was my explanation.

On we went up that “final climb” and then on to the next one and the next one and the next one! The hills kept coming and they stayed steep. I was in the lead and stopped at a pull-in area part way up a hill to wait for Steve. As I waited, a couple returned to their car, having been walking with their walking poles. The man walked towards me and spoke. I delivered my script to apologise for not speaking Italian.

“Firenze? Florence?” he asked.

“Si,” I replied, that was where we were eventually heading.

“Today?” he asked, “kilometres? 20? 30?”

“We’ll do about 75 today,” I answered.

“Ah, brava, brava,” he smiled and waved as he strolled back to his car.

I love these friendly people! I just wish I could speak their language.

Steve arrived and pulled in to look at the view.

“When exactly do the downhills start?” I asked.

“I’ve got no idea!” he replied with some puffing and frustration.

On we went, with more climbing. After another few kilometres of solid up, we stopped and Steve said, “There’s got to be some downhill soon!” There wasn’t any in sight! Up we pedalled.

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Up we go
Up we go

Eventually, finally, at last…we got the downhill run into Barberino di Mugello, our intended pitstop. The good thing about a downhill is we get to collect some free kilometres. The downside is, it’s freezing! The day was sunny, but it was fairly chilly in the mountains and we’d hit a top of 14C, but it had been 10C too, so as I freewheeled down the hill, the wind rush of the downward glide, coupled with the chilly air, left me shivering in the saddle. My hands began to feel numb and I was trying to enjoy the free ride, while also feeling freezing cold and trying to concentrate my freezing muscles on controlling the bike to stop it running into one of the many, usual, holes and cracks in the road. As I wheeled down, a couple of fellas on motorbikes zoomed up and one of them gave me a very nice, and encouraging fist-pump! Thanks mate!

We passed some nice forests on the downhill ride
We passed some nice forests on the downhill ride

We arrived in the centre of Barberino di Mugello, which looked to be a nice, old and quite quaint little town, on the edge of a lake. Our hotel was across town though, so another 4km still to go. The legs were feeling less than happy about turning the pedals after the downhill. They too, had cooled down and seemed to be slightly frozen in their freewheeling position. Trying to get them to turn the pedals, made them grump and groan and creak with some annoyance! Still, they kept going and we wheeled up to the hotel, checked in and they gave us a spot in the basement for the bikes.

Today we rode 79km, most of which was uphill. It was actually good to know we could still do it, after quite a hiatus from the hills. We arrived a bit later than we usually would and the hotel was nowhere near supplies, so after the long day in the saddle, Steve settled for the nearby Maccas and I heated a packet of soup and accompanied that with some rice cakes. Simple fare but good enough for refuelling. There’s rain and storms forecast for the next few days, so we’ll see how we go making our way to Florence. It looks like we’ll have another soggy day in the saddle along the way. I don’t know what the terrain will be like between here and Firenze, we haven’t looked yet. Probably more hills. Maybe I don’t need to know. Maybe a healthy state of denial and ignorance is the best place to be! Whatever it is, we’ll pedal along, we’ll take all the experiences tricky or not and add them to the memory file. I don’t feel a great need for hills in my life, but bring on the memories! I’ll take a mountain of them!

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