Wednesday and Thursday, September 10 and 11
I was lucky to fall back to sleep at 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday. The camping spot I was given was actually just a living room-sized square of sharp edged pea-sized gravel. There are a number of these places on the Italian coast where a large arrow points one off the road and closer to the ocean for camping. But, this is not camping in the way we think of camping in the West with a picnic table, campfire pit and pine needle bedding. These are rectangular cities where Europeans drive their small trailers down, plant it on a site, and then build a holiday retreat with porches and living spaces attached. Tents weren’t what they had in mind.
Anyway, I brought my lighter-weight backpacking pad knowing that I would feel the ground beneath me, but have two fewer pounds to carry up any mountains that might be in my way on this trip. I woke up at 4 a.m. after just four hours of so-called sleep and almost decided to pack up, put my lights on the bike and enjoy some early morning riding before the traffic started. I didn’t have quite enough energy to do that and thankfully fell back to sleep.
Despite the restless night I had a glorious day on the road. I alternated between cycling south right along the beaches and the coast with meandering through small villages and the famous Italian rivieras perched on the sides of mountains above the sea. At one point I found myself grinding my way up a narrow cobblestoned alley and imagined myself in the Tour de France. I, of course, quickly remembered where I was and changed my image to the Giro d’ Italia and thanked Andy Hampsten for bringing Italy to America.
The cycling highlight of the day was temporarily being passed by an Italian cycling team decked out in their matching red and white jerseys and riding in a paceline. Seeing that they weren’t blowing by me, I quickly accelerated and hopped onto the back of their train taking advantage of the draft that five of them produced in front of me ( For the uninitiated, a group of cyclists can produce a vacuum of air similar to what you would feel behind a semi trailer. If you can stay in that invisible draft it can carry you along for miles with minimal effort.).
For 14 kilometers I let them do all the work while I lifted my speed by 10 kph and enjoyed the free gift. I am not sure how they felt about it. It must not have been good for their egos to have an old man with fifty pounds of gear hanging on to the back of their echelon. I felt like it was “Breaking Away” Revisitied as I joined the elite Italian team like Dave Stohler did in the film so long ago.
It’s been interesting to visit the smaller and more community-based Catholic churches along the way. I haven’t researched them and gone looking for them, but in many of the towns they are catching my eye. If the basilicas of Rome seemed to elicit a feeling of glory and holiness, the local parishes seem to nurture a feeling of intimacy—something about the balance between holy relics and icons and walls with nothing but wood or paint to allow the spirit to focus inward. While the Vatican experience was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (unless I decide to lead others on pilgrimage….hmmmm), I do know that I felt most at home in the places where the energy wasn’t awing me, but redirecting that energy back to my own soul.
I arrived in the town of Terracina, snuggled between the sea and a range of mountains. After visiting another camping site, I decided it was worth checking out a hotel (I had discovered that my sleeping pad had a hole in it and the thought of another night like that was tough to stomach). I was lucky that I did. Just before bed, the thunder and lightning started and rain punished this little town. I might have just thrown in the towel if I had been in my tent at that point. I awoke this morning knowing that the sore throat that has been nagging me had finally climbed into the category of a cold. And my computer had become almost non-functional in recent days, making me feel that maybe the gods were trying to send a message to me.
The good news was that the hotel staff at this quaint, sparse and lovely little inn took charge when they heard of my computer problems and cold. I had offered to handle finding a place on my own and they politely rejected that saying, “No, you’re American. It’s better if we make the call for you.” With all the logistical issues I have faced it really felt good that someone was trying to take care of me. There is grace, after all!
I rode off on my bike to deliver my computer to the fixer uppers in town not two kilometers away. Two hours later I arrived completely soaked after the rain doubled, tripled, quadrupled and left literally streams of water running through the streets. I promise I am not exaggerating just to hold your interest! It was ironic because the minor irritations that I had had were frustrating me (the bike not arriving with me, punctured sleeping pad, getting out of Rome, etc.), but when the Noah-like rain started I could only laugh and enjoy myself. I will always have the crazy picture in my head of trying to deliver a virus-infested computer while riding through what was probably the biggest river in Terracina that day!
The good news is this. My computer is fixed and in the short time I have had this evening I have planned my route through the rest of Italy and have reserved four nights at local monasteries. I feel like I am getting this under control now (don’t laugh). Rough plan (subject to change if Mt Vesuvius blows again):
- Friday Cycle as far as comfortable (about Caserta)
- Saturday Arrive in Pietralcina (birthplace of Christian mystic, Padre Pio)
- Sunday Cycle as far as comfortable (about Foggia)
- Monday Arrive in San Giovanni Rotondo (home of Padre Pio Shrine)
- Tuesday Another day in San Giovanni Rotondo
- Wednesday Cycle about halfway from San Giovanni to Brindisi
- Thursday Stay in monastery in Ostuni
- Friday Stay in monastery in Ostuni and begin planning Greece route and stays
- Saturday Enjoy the ferry from Brindisi to Greece
Off to bed now. The rain comes and goes still.