When Tyler expressed his desire to return what I call "the tunnel from hell" to do some recording, I was torn. On one hand, I was excited that he'd finally be able to capture the bizarrely intense drone noises he was so enamored with, but on the other, cycling 120 extra mountainous kilometers to complete the round trip felt, to me, like a waste of time and precious muscle power. Of course, my enthusiasm for Tyler's newest hobby (field recording) won out by a landslide. Even so, I didn't expect I would enjoy the ride.
As we begin our slow climb out of Salerno, following signs for "Costiera Amalfitana" I realize just how wrong I was. In no time, we are high above the port, looking out at the sea, laughing about how all the ships and cars look like toys.
Before us lies a ribbon of winding coastal road, mostly following the cliffs but sometimes plunging down to the sea. Meandering through picturesque towns like Minori, Amalfi, and Positano among others is definitely not a waste of time or muscle power! This is a precious gift—the chance to re-live one of the most spectacular rides of our trip.
The Amalfi coast, Italy's famous gem of a riviera, is a much different experience this time of year. Back in October, the sun shone brightly, trailing bougainvillea was in full fuchsia bloom, and the curvy ocean-side road was dotted every few hundred kilometers with a fruit stand featuring gargantuan lemons.
Now, in mid-January, the coast is quieter. The skies aren't so clear, and the mountains present more of an imposing quality as they loom up through dark clouds and fog. Every brief moment the sun peaks through, bringing to life the colors of sea and sky, is a show-stopping event. Plumes of smoke drift skyward as farmers burn the trimmings from their olive tree pruning. There are a few lemons and oranges dangling like brightly colored Christmas ornaments from the trees of hillside orchards. Towns still have posters pasted on their municipal building walls (though they now curl up around the edges and show signs of fading) for the surrounding area's holiday events: a choir concert in the chapel at Ravello, New Year's dance parties at the club in Amalfi, and a school Christmas play in Salerno.
Seemingly devoid of tourists, we and the locals have the coast to ourselves. Tyler and I are passed, as usual, by hundreds of speeding Italians, receiving friendly honks and thumbs up from many of them. We smile and wave at the bundled-up racing cyclists who pass as well. Everyone we meet, it seems, from a shopkeeper who makes us sandwiches for lunch, to a man at a gas station who fills our fuel bottle, is so friendly and kind. We're just going to keep saying it: we love being in Italy!
After forty kilometers of very steep climbs and long, freezing downhills, we are ready to be done for the day. Unfortunately, we have about twenty more to go before we will reach the tunnel. Our muscles ache, but we force them to continue. The ride is no longer quite so memorable or sentimental. We wistfully recall that we slowly and intentionally cycled this route over a period of three days back in October; a much more relaxing experience.
Around dusk, we breath a sigh of relief when we see the tunnel ahead of us. Our excitement is cut short though; something seems wrong. The area is distinctly lacking the unholy roar we remember from our last visit. To our disappointment, no cars seem to be coming in or out of the tunnel. In fact, traffic seems to be curving around it on a detour. We quickly learn the tunnel is closed for repairs, and has been since 10-31-2009. All is quiet. In almost every other instance, this would be good news. Tonight though, the silence is disappointing.
We decide to camp in the tree-filled median anyway, as it is now dark and we are exhausted. With two of the three roads surrounding the island blocked off for construction, we only have one lane of traffic to contend with. We cross with ease and then remove our heavy rear panniers so we can hoist our bikes over the guard rail and into our home for the night.
Tyler is valiantly concealing his disappointment, while I feel nothing but tired from the 1000 meters we climbed through the course of the day. Our tent pitched on a bed of pine needles, we sink into our sleeping bag, now doubly comfortable, and I fall asleep. Tyler snuggles me for a bit and then goes to take photos of the closed tunnel.
Ah well… It was worth a shot.