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The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

by Going Slowly

Most of the day wasn't bad. We narrowly escaped some rain while packing our olive grove free-camp and then had a lovely uneventful ride along the coast. Cycling just feet from the crashing waves, we occasionally felt salty spray from particularly powerful swells. It was downright hot in Cefalù when we stopped for our daily "sit down" and treated ourselves to what were supposed to be milkshakes but turned out being more like flavored slushies. They were actually pretty good but they were certainly not the diner milkshakes we miss so much from home.

After we met our goal of getting within 50 kilometers of Palermo, we decided it was time to look for a free-camp or, hopefully, a campsite. We'd seen lots of campground signs during our ride; we were already envisioning our hot showers! The highway we'd been following was about to cut inland but there was a secondary road that followed the flat coastline and met up with it again a few kilometers later. Despite our best efforts we couldn't find a way to reach it. It was around then that our day slowly progressed into an avalanche of bad.

Oceanside Lunch Bird of Paradise

Here, in list format, is the last two hours of what could have been a completely uneventful day:

  • Ready to be done with the day, we encounter a 100m ascent which we climb in perfect view of a completely flat road in the distance that we can't get to.

  • We've been low on water for most of the day but neglect to go out of our way to find it, expecting to come across a fountain. We never do.

  • We pass on dozens of free-camps during and after our ascent, some of them very stunning.

  • Instead of calling it a day and making do with the water we have, we decide to bike into a town 7km down the road to get water.

  • We are now riding into what turns out to be a very large city. At dusk.

  • We arrive in the city, stop at a train station and manage to find a water spigot.

  • Tyler fills our bottles. Success! Now we are ready to free-camp! In a city. Full of people.

  • We decide we can get out before the sun sets.

  • The GPS has trouble locating itself between the narrow lanes and massive buildings.

  • We get lost among the maze of steep, winding, cobbled roads.

  • Tyler is on rails to GET OUT. Tara is leaning towards a hotel.

  • When Tara is ready to put her foot down, all the hotels disappear.

  • We finally get our bearings.

  • The way out of the city is up a huge, ridiculously steep hill.

  • Tara has to push, panicking that right when she needs to move quickly she can barely move at all.

  • With Tyler halfway up the hill (almost out of sight) passing douchebags take the opportunity to catcall and honk at Tara.

  • We regroup and make it out of town. Things will be okay!

  • It is now dark.

  • As we ride along the coast (where normally there are loads of places to camp) there is a train track to our right instead of beaches.

  • Tyler spots a small road on the GPS that crosses the railroad.

  • The dead-end road winds up being lined with posh beachside homes and 8ft fences.

  • We ring the doorbell of the last house, hoping to ask if we can camp in their yard.

  • Over the intercom we are unable to communicate our needs to the lady who answers, especially over the racket of her loud, barking dogs snarling at us through a metal gate.

  • We trudge back to the main road and sit down on a little wall by the bridge.

  • Tyler rationalizes that with night completely upon us we are no longer in a race against time.

  • We decided to ride on. If all else fails we can come back and camp near the bridge.

  • Tara is terrified (rightfully) of riding at night with no forward lighting.

  • We make it less than 1km down the road before deciding it is too unsafe to continue.

  • We turn around to return to the bridge.

  • With barely any sanity remaining, we make camp.

  • We're now in the tent, proud that we both kept it together, but completely exhausted (emotionally).

  • Taking solace in the fact that nothing else can go wrong we try to prepare for bed.

  • Suddenly lights are flashing everywhere outside our tent.

  • At this point, we are both completely numb to the absurdity of the situation as we leave the tent to speak with the police who have just arrived.

  • The officers inform us that we are on private property and that it is a dangerous spot to camp, due to the traffic. We assure them that we are well aware, that we've biked from Scotland, that we've had VERY BAD evening, that we will leave at the crack of dawn and that we don't want to be there any more than they do.

  • The officers say we can camp on a beach, 4km down the road. We say we were not moving.

  • Tara convinces the police that it is much more dangerous for us to to continue than to stay.

  • One of the policemen takes our passports back to the car and the other stays and chats with us awkwardly, warning about pickpockets and telling us to lock our bikes.

  • The other officer returns with our passports and gives us their phone number (for emergencies).

  • We give them one of our cards and bid them farewell.

Crawling into our tent, we pulled the sleeping bag over our heads and tried to hide from the world until we'd calmed down. Then we got online and booked two nights at the Hotel Joli, a very romantic looking hotel in the heart of Palermo. It's reasonably priced, located near the ferry port, and comes with breakfast and free wifi. Dreaming of a real bedroom instead of a makeshift home right off the highway with cars, trains, and wet trash all around us, we managed to fall asleep, resting from the nightmarish evening we'd had.

Worst Free Camp Ever