It took a lot of willpower to leave our cozy sleeping bag this morning. Fall doesn't mess around in the mountains. It was cold! We both layered ourselves like onions in the tent before braving the day. Tara even tied one of our homemade bandanas over her head to keep her ears warm, prompting me to start calling her Laura (like Laura Ingalls Wilder). Heartily bundled, we snuck out of yet another great free-camp and stopped for a quick breakfast by the side of the road.
While eating we spotted this lizard huddled under a rock; these guys are everywhere in Italy. Usually they dash away well before you can get near them though. He was pretty lethargic at first but after warming up he scurried off at only slightly less than lightning speed into the underbrush. I hope we didn't give him too much of a scare!
Following a short and unhealthy breakfast of chocolate-filled wafer cookies, we hit the road. Not long after, our phone rang. We rarely receive phone calls, especially at 7:45 in the morning. Tara hurriedly stopped, fumbled around in her overflowing handlebar bag and actually managed to dig out the phone before it was too late (if you want to call us, call twice in a row).
To our surprise, it was Dr. Mike, a cyclist we met yesterday. He'd looked at our website, found our number (on the contact page) and wanted to check in to make sure we were doing okay; thanks again Dr. Mike! He also told Tara he felt like he knew us and said our website was "cute as a button" :-D This marks the first time someone has used our contact page to call us. Cool!
After our unexpected phone call we headed on towards the town of Bronte. Just before reaching the village we stopped for a rest break and encountered a very friendly old man who asked us loads of questions about our trip. Tara is getting quite good at talking about cycling in Italian so she did most of the talking. After we'd said our goodbyes (we never did get his name) he turned around and explained that we should wait for a minute. A bit confused, we agreed. Neither of us realized it but we were standing in front of his yard.
The old man ran into his house and quickly reappeared with a paper bag full of homegrown apples and walnuts! We were thrilled and did our best to convey as much. After one more round of goodbyes the man returned to his house and we finished our rest break, enjoying the delicious apples. As we were preparing to head into the city, the man peeked out of his house, presumably to see if we were still there, and waved for us to wait again. This time around he brought us four ice cold, perfectly ripe pears!
Astonished yet again by the kindness of strangers we accepted our second load of free fresh fruit and began the very, very steep push into the quaint village of Bronte. Arriving in town, almost completely out of breath, we wound our way slowly through the cobbled streets until we found the bustling shop-filled "centro". We easily located a perfect coffee shop and settled in for a good three hours of work, one of our longest rest breaks on record.
On our way into town Tara discovered that Bronte is famous for its pistachios. Continuing her crusade of trying local foods, she ordered a pistachio croissant which she raved about: "It was filled with a sweet (but not overly cloying) pistachio goo, similar to an almond croissant, but with a different nut! Delicious." We also tried chocolate croissants and a huge pastry ball that Tara couldn't resist ordering just to figure out what it was. The softball sized pastry turned out to be fried dough filled with chocolate cream. We agreed that we preferred the croissants!
When we checked our email, we discovered that Tara's mom not only made contact with her long lost friend in Tunisia but she'd offered to let us stay with her when we arrive! Carla, who grew up in the tiny rural town of Bunker Hill, Illinois with Tara's mom, somehow ended up in Tunisia and married a local man. Apparently their son recently did a three week cycle tour of Michigan, and Carla is currently reading a book about a woman who cycled around the world. I don't have much tolerance for "magical" thinking but the veritable mountain of serendipitous events occurring on this trip is pretty awe-inspiring!
As we read the email we could barely contain our cheer. This will ease our transition into Tunisia, give us a reliable place to have our package sent, save us a ton of money on hotel charges, and allow us to meet some really wonderful people! Thank you so much Lisa for making that happen, and Carla, in advance, for being willing to host us!
Finally through at the coffee shop, we said goodbye to the friendly barista who had helped us, and took off for our ascent to Cesarò. The weather was perfect as we climbed, brilliantly sunny and just the right temperature for biking. The ascent wasn't hard, and we both commented on how it was the easiest mountain climbing we'd done yet. When we arrived in Cesarò, thinking we'd reached the top (ha!), we were crestfallen as the road became much steeper and continued to climb ever upwards. The sun was rapidly setting and we hadn't even completed 30 kilometers!
Tara suggested we free-camp just after Cesarò but I hate not "finishing what we've started" and wanted more than anything to reach the top. Outside of town the road continued to climb while the sun sunk ever downwards at a pace far outmatching our slow crawl. When we entered into a beautiful mountain forest, Tara tapped out, citing the increasing darkness and her fatigue from a day of climbing; I begrudgingly agreed but would have preferred to keep going through the night if need be to meet our baseline goal of riding 50km a day.
I set up camp in the darkness while Tara made a delicious soup. We added the last of our chicken to the broth and it was heaven with some crumbled up saltine crackers. For a post-dinner snack we cracked a few of our walnuts using my favorite tool: our trusty vice grips. Before falling asleep at the ridiculously early hour of 9pm, Tara's dad called and they had a nice chat. Tomorrow we should have our second biggest descent ever. Exciting!