Before leaving our volcanic campground we stopped for breakfast at the bar/shop on site. As we ate we noticed there were several cats wandering around (at least seven by our count!). One of them decided to befriend me, hoping to get a taste of my warm pastries. At first I thought desire for food was the sole basis of our budding relationship but even after I finished my chocolate croissants, he was still trying to snuggle with me. After indulging him for a few minutes we went to pack up and he came along, nuzzling our panniers! We joke often about taking one of our animal friends along with us. A short fantasy about affixing a cat-trailer to our bicycles was quickly quashed by the realities of life on the road. Sadly, we had to leave him behind.
Departing from the quiet comfort of our campsite we returned to the loud, traffic-filled roads we'd cycled in on. We didn't know it at the time but our noisy morning was only the overture for the very loud day to come. Approaching, cycling through, and finally leaving Naples was pretty much one endless stretch of crazed, honking drivers, dirty, gray cityscapes and LOTS of cobblestone streets in various stages of major disrepair.
As we bumped and shook our way through the city we became cobble connoisseurs. Most main streets were comprised of large, gray, rectangular cobbles (about 1 foot by 2 feet) which were very worn and bumpy. Some stones stuck up a good four inches above the ones around them. Many of the secondary streets used small cobbles which were only marginally easier to traverse. The smaller ones were often partially covered in some sort of grout that was invariably so cracked and crumbling that the ride it provided was no better than the mess it was meant to cover. If by some stroke of luck a road was relatively flat we still had to be on our guard because often entire stones were missing. The gaping, rim-destroying holes in the road were everywhere.
The non-cobbled streets weren't much better. Most were riddled with potholes and covered in a smattering of various layers of haphazardly applied concrete patches. Very few of them were graded to the level of the road; it was practically like riding up (or down) a lowish curb every few feet! Needless to say we spent most of the day feeling as though we were in a tumble dryer or wielding a jackhammer.
All of these lovely roads were complimented by gritty industrial scenery and chilly grey skies. It was fine at first but after a few hours it had worn us pretty thin. Around 3PM we stopped for a late lunch, sitting down on a bench built into the side of a low wall separating the road from an endless line of ramshackle apartments and houses squashed together.
Across the pavement in front of us was a ditch filled with dilapidated couches, broken chairs, weather-damaged books, discarded toys, the poop of many a dog, and a smattering of plastic bags and used tissues. A wire fence at our backs protected us from a very obnoxious, very loud German Shepherd. We tried various methods of quieting the animal but our efforts were fruitless. We ate lunch to the soundtrack of very deep, raucous barking and growling just inches from our ears.
After eating we left quickly amidst a flurry of goodbye barks. Unfortunately, our noisy day showed no signs of letting up. By 6PM we'd pretty much given up hope of finding a safe free-camp in such densely packed urban area and decided to head towards a campsite we knew was in Sorrento. It was about 15 kilometers away and we figured we had just enough daylight to get there, provided our route stayed flat. Not far down the road, I saw signs for "spiaggia libera" (free beach? public beach?) and a ramp leading to a deserted area far below. Maybe we'd find our free-camp after all!
We wheeled our bikes down the steep ramp, excited about the prospect of a perfect seaside free-camp. Unfortunately our cheer was cut short when I noticed a particularly fresh looking used condom and pop bottle water pipe next to it (presumably for smoking meth or crack). After a few minutes of deliberation it dawned on us that it was ridiculous to even consider staying. I'm sure it would have been fine but spending the night with a tweeker is not on our list of goals for this trip.
Almost immediately after returning to the road we encountered a lengthy tunnel. We've ridden through many on our trip thus far but this one was unquestionably the most intense. The ceiling was covered with hundreds of orange incandescent lights which rendered almost every color in their blazing path a shade of gray. Massive fans overhead circulated the air and churned out an all-consuming, otherworldly, vibrating roar. It felt like we were in a drone album. An unending train of vehicles large and small screamed by in both directions as we rode; the sound of their wheels howling on the pavement was a perfect melody of rising and falling pitches. I felt like we were riding into the gates of hell.
When we finally emerged safely, we immediately pulled over to take a breather and talk about the surreal experience. I have often mentioned to Tara that we should get a field recorder (to record things like the wild boar we heard some months ago). Today, I deeply regretted not having one. After collecting ourselves we looked ahead to discover a road which curved steeply upwards and a sun slipping below the horizon; never a good combination.
I jokingly pointed to a largish median at the mouth of the roaring tunnel saying (yelling really; the tunnel was still very loud) we could free-camp in the middle. To my surprise, Tara thought it was perfect and jumped at the chance of calling it a night. For once, I was the one feeling unsure about a free-camp!
Tara stayed on the safety of the shoulder and I ran over to give things a look. Sure enough, the whole island-like median was surrounded by a guard-rail with thick shrubs behind it. In the middle there was plenty of tall grass, several trees and a tiny well hidden clearing. Together we removed our front panniers, ferried them over the guardrail, and then heaved our bikes over as well. Once inside we quickly set up camp in our small green oasis, comfortably at home hidden in a sea of traffic.