Our frosty free-camp at 1,400m (4,500ft) was so cold we blew off our 5:30am alarm this morning. Cuddled in our toasty warm tent we hoped the sun would come out sooner rather than later. It didn't. When we finally did summon the willpower to get up, packing our panniers was easy—we were wearing almost every article of clothing we owned! Tyler took care of breaking camp while I made cinnamon crepes. In my dreams I was making pumpkin spice pancakes with fresh whipped cream, walnuts, and real maple syrup. Despite the lack of autumn ingredients, our piping hot, buttery, cinnamony crepes hit the spot.
As we pulled away from camp our tires rolled over piles of yellow and orange fallen leaves, the wind sending them swirling around our feet. High in the mountains, fall was at the height of its splendor (it is practically summer on the coast). Occasionally, as we made our final push to the top of the pass, the woods would open up, treating us to stunning autumn views of the misty mountains below. Every gust of wind sent leaves tumbling from the trees like a gentle snowfall. It was magical.
One of the things we like to do while riding is to talk about what we want to do when we get home. Lately our conversations about the future involve our goal of buying a piece of land, building a home on it with our own two (well, four) hands, and living as self-sufficiently as possible. The autumn woods and mountain terrain we were riding through particularly inspired me to think about our land. I was tempted to settle then and there in the Sicilian mountains and build a little cabin to hole up in for all time.
I was enraptured with thoughts of crackling fireplaces, bountiful gardens, industrious beehives, free range chickens, and wheels of homemade cheese. When we saw a gravel path lined with golden boughs leading off the side of the road, I exclaimed "that's our driveway!"
Instead of quitting our bike trip to live a rustic life in these beautiful woods, I simply made a mental note: must have wooded land with nice fall colors some day. As we completed the last of our ascent both of us were sweaty underneath all of our layers but hesitated to remove any for the top was always "just around the next corner". Finally we reached it—and steeled ourselves for the frigid ride down to the coast that would quickly eat up all 1,524 meters we had climbed.
Down, down, down we went. Through clouds of fog we rode past groups of wild pigs that ranged in size from big fat mamma sows to tiny little piglets. They were a myriad of colors, from inky black to pastel pink to spotted combinations of both.
We stopped by the side of the road and oinked at them for a bit before carrying on with our coasting to find an ANAS man right around the corner chuckling at our communication efforts. Jangling goats pranced nimbly along steep slopes, while docile cows lazily grazed, their warm, moist breath freezing in the air in white puffs.
After only a few hundred meters of descending, we were out of the clouds and gone from the land of perfect autumn scenery as quickly as we had entered it. Back in the foothills, the leaves were still green and remained firmly connected to their branches, lending a different quality to the woods. We coasted all they way to the seaside town of Acquedolci, where we would begin our route west towards Palermo.
The first thing we did when we reached sea level was to stop by the side of the road, removing various layers of clothing for the warm (by comparison) weather. While we were doing this, a car pulled up and a man rolled down his window and began asking us what we were doing with a very accusative tone.
I tried to explain that we'd come down from the mountains where it was cold, and that we had taken off some layers now that it was warm again. For awhile he just waited there, eying us suspiciously from inside his crappy car. Feeling a bit irritated, I talked briefly with him about our trip. Still the man sat there, staring at us.
He didn't seem satisfied when he finally identified himself as an off-duty police officer, offering it as his explanation for the stop. Neither of us really knew how to respond and so after giving us another long, mistrustful look he finally started his car and drove away up the hill. The whole experience was bizarre, and very alienating. Shortly after, when we smiled at a passing biker, he glowered at us too, and we began to wonder: is everyone in Acquedolci a jerk?
Happy to leave town, we continued in a powerful headwind following the coast along a violently churning ocean. When it looked like it was going to pour we set up camp as quickly as we could on a flat bit of land in a terraced olive grove and narrowly missed getting soaked.