Our first run-in of the day was with a man in an ANAS van (the Italian highway maintenance service) shortly after leaving our seaside free-camp. He stopped us about 10km into a long ascent and did his best to explain that the road ahead was closed. I thanked him for his help and Tyler nodded and pretended to fiddle with the GPS while we waited for him to leave. As soon as he was gone, we promptly continued climbing.
From previous experiences we've learned that closed roads are almost always passable. After consulting our GPS and finding that we were on the only road that didn't require several kilometers of backtracking and a day of riding through the mountains, we decided we didn't care if there was an avalanche ahead. We would tear our bicycles apart and carry them piece by piece across the rubble if need be.
About 15 minutes after our encounter we arrived at a large chain-link fence. It was closed but the lock which formerly kept it that way had been cut. The only thing preventing us from crossing was lifting one end of the barrier, a metal tube slid over a piece of re-bar sticking out of the ground, and moving it aside.
There was a time in my life (pre-Tyler) when I would have been very nervous about, and highly opposed to, such blatant rule-breaking. Apparently I've changed a lot since those days; this time I didn't care in the slightest. There was no way we were going to go back and trek through the mountains. It just wasn't going to happen.
Tyler lifted the chain-link barrier off of the re-bar and held it while I wheeled my bike through. I quickly leaned it against the guardrail and then ran back to grab his. With both bikes on the forbidden side of the road, Tyler began putting the barrier back together, holding it high in the air to slip it back over the re-bar… when our friend returned in his orange van and caught us red-handed.
Looking like he might explode, he extracted himself from the vehicle and marched over. He was not pleased. We eventually won him over with our persistence, resourcefulness, expressive gesticulations and horrible Italian. "Sette mille kilomete!" we said emphatically, hoping to convey that we'd come a long way by bike. "Sola strada!!" we insisted, indicating that this was the only road we could take on our journey. "Inglaterra, Franchia, Swchitzera, Italia", we listed from the wrong side of the fence, hoping to show that we could handle a less-than-perfect road.
I'm not sure if he actually understood what we were attempting to communicate, but eventually he shook his head, grumbling something sarcastically along the lines of "Way to go! Way to move the barrier like you are an Italian too!", and then told us to follow him. After moving the barrier aside in the same fashion that Tyler had, he started down the "impassable" road.
We followed slowly, still climbing. The "hazardous" area was perfectly passable for bicycles (and the ANAS van seemed to manage just fine). It was only littered occasionally with fallen rocks and brush. Workers stopped their sweeping and rock-gathering to grin and wave and "ciao!" at us as we passed with our own personal escort.
Not more than one measly kilometer later, we were out of the restricted area. The man in the van deposited us on the other side, grumbled something like "next time you see a sign that says "DANGER, DO NOT ENTER!" —it is dangerous and you shouldn't enter. IDIOTS." and trundled off down the road.
Back on safe roads, we cheered at our successful aversion of a backtracking disaster, and found ourselves in a sleepy village with two hungry, sick-looking, stray cats sunning themselves on a low rock wall. And so we fed them, of course, and refilled our bottles in the public water fountain before carrying on.
The subsequent run-ins of the day occurred much later, after a long rest break at a fantastic coffee-shop and then completing the final twenty five kilometers of our riding day. Tyler found a nice free-camp on a mostly deserted beach, and we set about making a pasta dinner together while it was still light out. While we were cooking our meal, we experienced run-ins two, three, and four.
Run-in number two was with a strange man in a bright blue tracksuit. I noticed him lurking in the woods between the main road and the beach as we wheeled towards the shore, but didn't think anything of it. Later, while Tyler was cooking, I noticed the blue tracksuited man approaching and hissed to Tyler that we were going to have a visitor. The lurking man walked slowly, as if in a dream; his hair was greasy and parted perfectly in the center of his head. Instead of ignoring him, we figured the best approach was a pro-active one, so we waved and looked at him directly. He didn't seem to notice, but walked ever closer in a Frankenstein sort of way.
When he was very close, we said "buona sera" but he didn't seem to notice that either, and proceeded to walk in a circle around us, only inches away. Obviously his personal space bubble was a lot smaller than ours. It was a little creepy, but we deemed him harmless. Nevertheless, we kept tabs on the location of "blue guy" (blue guy: 3'oclock, blue guy: drinking from water hose, blue guy: incoming!) who would wander around slowly, occasionally stopping to stare blankly into space.
And then came run-in number three. I saw this guy from afar as he was walking along the beach. From a distance he looked normal, but as he made a bee-line for us, I noticed him carrying a handful of jewelry to sell. At first he simply hovered inches away, standing over us while we were sitting, busily preparing food, on our walkstools. And then he proceeded to make small talk; we reluctantly obliged him by making conversation.
Finally he slipped in the question "you want to purchase?"; we were happy his intent to sell was in the open, answering with a firm "NO." Still he hovered. And then, we're not sure why, he started saying "you are a GOOD man!" to Tyler. He would say it, wait a few moments, and then say it again. Repeatedly. He looked at me and said it a couple of times too, before remembering his elementary English vocab and changing it to "you are a GOOD woman." He didn't leave until Tyler offered him a firm but friendly, "CIAO!"
Run-in number four was with a man who arrived on an old rickety bicycle and reminded me of the men back at Re del Po. He seemed to be friends with blue tracksuit man. He asked all about our trip and seemed the most normal of our beach-side run-ins. When he asked if we were sleeping here tonight I quickly lied and said no, we were continuing on.
Later, when we found ourselves constantly looking around, furtively keeping tabs on the locations of blue tracksuit man, necklace man, and bike man, we realized it was probably unwise to stay. It was dark when we repacked our cooking gear, haphazardly bungee-d everything back together, and wheeled our way to a hopefully less creepy part of the beach where no one had seen us.
We settled in a much better location about 500 meters away next to a deserted snack bar. We leaned our bikes against the wooden building and placed our tent right in front of them. If anyone was poking around they'd have to practically crawl on top of us to get near anything. The rest of the night was pleasantly run-in free.