Lately, when we have a few days off it takes a bit of mental cajoling to get back into the groove of cycling. Already feeling a little reluctant to leave the comforts of civilization behind, we were not encouraged by the weather that greeted us when we walked out the door of the Park Hotel.
The sky was filled with fast moving gray clouds and the gale force winds sweeping them along were stronger than any we'd ridden in so far. Tall canes of bamboo-like grasses which seem to line the roadsides everywhere in southern Italy were bent almost horizontally, the tips of their topmost leaves brushing the ground.
On our trip thus far, I have learned to be comfortable with headwinds, enamored with tailwinds, and generally fine with most crosswinds. Today, the gusts were worse than any I have ever experienced. As I biked (if I could actually get on and get moving without being blown off balance) I felt terrified, completely out of control and scared of falling over or being swept into speeding traffic. The first few kilometers were uphill, meaning that we were biking very slowly, leaving us even more vulnerable to the intensely powerful gusts. When I almost fell over twice and then began blowing down a hill I hadn't mean to turn on to, I had to stop and calm my nerves.
Tyler coached me through everything, explaining that I needed to get some momentum to deal with the wind. Then he demonstrated how wildly his bike could wobble from side to side without flying out from under him. After walking for awhile I finally consented to giving it another go. This time around I was able to pick up speed, which made riding slightly easier, but still I was terrified. Eventually, I lost it, crying and screaming and feeling completely powerless as I hurtled haphazardly down a hill. I felt like a car about to spin out of control! Teary, blurred vision wasn't making matters any safer so I pulled over and promptly broke down sobbing.
Tyler held and comforted me as I cried, hyperventilated, and left snot all over his shirt. Finally when I was a little more composed, we walked our bikes for a bit more while I finished calming down. As we trudged along the shoulder I imagined myself as a bruised and bloodied boxer who knew she'd have to get back in the ring. Eventually, I did. I was just getting the hang of leaning into the wind when it miraculously died down to "normal" levels and we were finally able to cover some ground. In the end, I never did fall or blow into traffic but I don't think I've ever been so scared in my entire life!
With our ultra windy morning behind us we were able to focus on something other than simply riding in a straight line: finding an open grocery store on a Sunday. We were both thankful when just moments after discussing it, a busy supermarket appeared on the side of the road. After pulling over we went in and performed our usual routine; this involves Tara finding all of the important things we need to actually stay alive while I wander around grabbing random snacks. I love cooking but I am so thankful she takes care of most of our dietary needs. As we were fitting everything into our panniers, a mom and dad with two adorable kids left the store and hopped on their bikes.
While the father and children pedaled away, the mother stayed behind to talk to us, happy to practice her English. At the end of our brief conversation she invited us to come over for lunch! When we happily agreed, Loredana led us to her family's small seaside vacation home (they were just visiting for the afternoon to enjoy the sun). For the next few hours we were to be treated to an astonishing amount of impromptu hospitality. Upon arrival, Massimo (Loredana's husband) was already preparing lunch! Federica (their daughter) and Domenico (their son) quickly changed from cute and shy to cute and outgoing, generously using what little English they'd learned in their elementary school classes.
Federica won us over with her smile and boisterous jump-roping in the tiny living-room/kitchen/dining-room. Domenico cracked us up as he tried to sneak sips from his parents' glasses of spumante (Italian champagne). They both made us homesick for my younger brothers and sisters (Hi Gabe, Vivian, Isaac & Esther! We love you!).
Lunch was a several course affair involving sopressata (a special smoked sausage of Calabria), fresh mozzarella, breaded chicken, meatballs called polpettes, tiny sips of very strong espresso, and finally, shots of limoncello. Neither of us had expected so much food! By the time lunch was over we were stuffed!
While we were eating Massimo offered to drive us to the nearby picturesque hilltop town of Fiumefreddo. When lunch was over, we all piled into their car and set out. It was a nice change of pace to watch the switchbacks fly by without so much as a single pedal stroke! Following what Tara guessed (correctly) as a 200 meter climb, we wound up looking out over the city wall at beautiful sea views as a large falcon gracefully floated along the face of the mountain. Continuing to blow us away with their kindness, Massimo treated us all to gelato before we returned.
Back at their home the hospitality still didn't end! We barely managed to make it out the front door amidst their incredibly generous offers. We left with a large link(?) of sopressata, a bottle of Sicilian wine, three packets of traditional Italian cookies, and the knowledge that if we had any problems at all, help was only a phone call away. Thank you so much, Loredana, Massimo, Federica, and Domenico!!
As we cycled off, marveling at our good fortune we couldn't help but laugh about our reluctance to leave the comforts of our hotel. Somehow or another, something remarkable seems to happen to us at least once every few days. The rest of our ride passed uneventfully, ending at the early hour of 5:45 when we found a seaside free-camp just as the sun was setting. Daylight savings, we will miss you.