Happy April Fools, Fools: Cycle Touring Central Italy

By Stephen | April 1, 2013

We received so many warnings about so many things before our trip even began that we now take any caution lightly. Maybe a little too lightly.

Today we left Alex and Kasia behind and we headed out on what we consider to be Day 1 Proper. Our plan was to head towards Valentano, a 44km bike ride that would get us within a day’s ride of Orvieto. We planned to find somewhere to pitch our tent early in the afternoon and then get a good night’s sleep.

After about 10km into our ride, the asphalt disappeared and a stunning golden dirt road lay ahead of us, winding its way through lush green Tuscan farms. The road was a little muddy in the low places, but nothing to worry about.

Country roads in Italy

Another 4km along we turned onto a paved road which seemed to be heading us in the wrong direction. We stopped to examine our map and were quickly approached by an Italian man and his daughter, who wanted to know where we were headed.

When we told them Valentano, they looked puzzled and said it was very far. We assured them we knew how far it was but wanted to know if we were headed in the right direction. They looked at our map and showed us where we needed to go. But they warned us that the road was “not black, but dirt”.

The daughter then told us, in broken English:

My father says he thinks this road is not good for bikes. There will be some water and puddles because we have had a lot of rain.

We said we were OK with that, expecting a road similar to the one we had just been on. “Adventurers!” they said. “Si,” we replied, and after some grazies and ciaos we headed off.

cycle touring Lazio Italy

We turned onto the road they had indicated, which was hard-packed dirt, perfect for cycling. After a beautiful few kilometers of rolling countryside, the road dipped low. At the lowest point, there was not road, only a creek running across it. After testing the water we decided we could ford it, and so we did.

Italia-Canino-2

MISTAKE.

Traveller’s tip: If the road is washed out in one place, it probably will be again.

The next 5km took three hours, all of our energy, and almost all of our patience. What had recently seemed like beautiful countryside was now a muddy version of hell. Happy freakin’ Easter.

Each washed out mud bath was followed by a deceptive section of beautiful smooth road, and each time we were fooled into thinking we’d seen the worst of it. Thick mud coated our tires and clumped together under our fenders and around our brakes, making the wheels impossible to turn. Again and again we stopped to use sticks to dig the mud out from around the tires so we could forge ahead a few more meters.

Finally, we came to a section of mud so bad that had it been first, we’d have turned around and gone another way. There was no way we were going back after already spending hours getting this far. I set off to try to find a route through, while Jane silently cursed the road and tried hard not to cry.

Italia-Canino-3

There was no way to wheel our bikes through the knee-deep mud in the road.

We decided to take our panniers off and carry them across the 50m of bad “road”. Then we came back and hoisted our bikes on our shoulders, treading as carefully as possible so as not to sink into the mud. Even so, our shoes were caked up to the ankles, our clothes were filthy, and our bikes looked like they’d never roll again.

By now we knew we hadn’t seen the last of it, and although we could see a bigger road in the near distance, we still had five more dips, each with their own muddy bath at the bottom, to traverse.

We finally made it back onto pavement. Never have two eco-travellers been so grateful to the petroleum industry. Thank you asphalt.

By this time it was 3pm. We were starving. Thankfully this is Italy, so you are never far from an Osteria Pizzeria. We are slightly surprised there wasn’t one on the muddy road we’d just trekked through. The one we found happened to be at Vulci, a Roman archeological site.

Despite our decrepit state we were seated in the spotless restaurant. Jane felt extremely self-conscious as her mud-caked shoes left a trail from the door, straight to her seat. But it was worth it for the delicious Zuppa di Ceci e Funghi (soup with chick peas and mushrooms) which we followed with local amaretto, on the house.

Since we had lost three hours in the mud, we decided to head towards Canino, which was much closer than our original target of Valentano.

Traveller’s tip: Goals are important, but so is knowing when to change your goals.

After another (relatively quick) 10km of riding, we found ourselves in the midst of an ancient Roman ruin just outside Canino. Jane spotted a Roman wall on the side of the road and decided to see what was behind it. It was the perfect spot for our first free camp. The wall protected us from the road and the terraced olive grove lifted us up away from the dirt track leading through the farm. As we started to make camp, rain began to fall. Perfetto.

Italia-Canino-4

We are now bundled up in our sleeping bags, enjoying the sound of the rain, and hoping a farmer doesn’t wake us up too early with whatever the Italian is for “Get the fuck off my land.” At least only the police, and not the farmers, have automatic weapons in Italy.  

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15 comments

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    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen April 5, 2013 at 3:09 am

      Stiamo lasciando vecchio. Metti giù la pistola.

  6. Comment by Kimberly

    Kimberly Reply April 3, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    You are living the yogic teachings and accepting what comes your way with grace and flexibility (and a few good curse words too) and learning from every experience!!! Thanks for such vivid accounts of your experiences!

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen April 5, 2013 at 3:08 am

      Thanks for reading, and commenting Kimberly! It is quite a challenge to stay positive when they lose my bike, or we almost lose our own bikes in the mud, but there is always a way forward, and a way out of it. More adventures, more difficulties and more good times to come.

  7. Comment by Alex

    Alex Reply April 3, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    Oh my God, this is better than a reality show :-) “Good as gold and even in mud, they’ll carry on regardless” :-)

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen April 5, 2013 at 3:07 am

      And we did carry on – there was a moment where we realised we could only go on, because back was just too much to handle. I am glad you are enjoying – like a reality show it is terrific for you, because you aren’t the one stuck in the mud ;)

  8. Comment by Wendy

    Wendy Reply April 3, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    … but you’re in Italy and the sky is blue (or at least it was in your photos)! Life is an adventure, or it’s nothing. Enjoy your road ahead, whatever that road may look like! :)

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen April 5, 2013 at 3:02 am

      Yes – the day was beautiful, but there had been a lot of rain in the days before. That should have kept us off the dirt farm road, but it was so tranquil. Until we got stuck. Uck.

  9. Comment by Tommy

    Tommy Reply April 3, 2013 at 10:31 am

    Glad to see you’re moving at least. Don’t cry Jane! Mud is life, just messy! Xo

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen April 5, 2013 at 2:58 am

      Mud is life, life is muddy. At least we have a steri-pen so we can drink it!

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