From an outsider's perspective, cycle touring may seem like a romantic, leisurely and relaxing way to take a vacation. There's the beautiful scenery, the wind in your hair, the open road, and the freedom of having the whole world at your fingertips (or calves and thighs, really). These things are all true. Sometimes. Cycle touring can also be difficult and stressful, not unlike a hard day at work.
At times, there are steep hills you're scarcely able to PUSH your bicycle up (much less pedal). Being too cold, too wet, too hot or too sweaty are regular occurrences. Showers can often be a distant memory. Unless you're rich or on a very short tour, you'll likely set up and take down your bedroom and kitchen almost every day. Cycle touring doesn't always live up to the happy fantasy that people can ascribe to it.
Today, though, was one of those ideal days that are a testament to the beauty that is traveling the world by bicycle! It was the kind of day that erases the memories of difficult times and makes us feel like we could do this forever; it was cycle touring at it's absolute finest. A bright sunny day lay before us and a brisk breeze at our backs provided the perfect temperature for riding. Grimy, littered towns gave way to charming, clean villages and the traffic clogging the roads dispersed, leaving us on quiet highways almost devoid of cars. Our only company (besides each other) was the occasional farmer driving their standard issue, tiny, noisy, three-wheeled truck.
Grocery shopping was the first item to tackle on our daily to-do list and we found a small supermarket with ease. As we leaned our bikes against the wall outside, an emaciated stray kitty tried to befriend us. While shopping we decided to buy a can or two of cat food; one for the little guy outside and another to bring with us for some other, particularly hungry looking one down the road.
When we returned and emptied the contents of the squat little can on the top of the concrete wall, our kitty perked up and really went to town devouring his food. I think he enjoyed it, but hopefully it won't spoil him and mar his hunting skills! We left him with the best words of wisdom we could think of, like: "don't get run over in the parking lot!" and "don't have babies you can't support!"
After enjoying our daily cat fix (we miss ours a lot, can you tell?!?), we continued on, biking along while admiring scenery like this:
We passed through mostly rural villages as the scent from farmers' brush pile fires wafted into the crisp October air. We hadn't passed any signs of bars, coffee shops, restaurants, or grocery stores for quite some time, so when we came upon a lone cafe in the middle of nowhere, we stopped for our rest break.
For over three hours we sat and worked, while the friendly lady who tended the counter watched "Starsky & Hutch" (in Italian!) on a large TV hanging in the corner by the ceiling. When it was finally time for us to hit the road, she made a "pssssst" noise and waved me up to the counter to hand me a large paper bag full of day old croissants!
We hadn't gotten very much further down the road when we passed through the lovely seaside town of Pioppi, which featured a shady park with seats overlooking the water. Time for lunch! Our standard midday meal (bread, butter, deli meat, cheese, chocolate) was removed from our panniers and spread out on one of the benches. While we ate, we silently enjoyed the view:
Old men slowly ambled along, looking at the sea and keeping an eye on the young man fixing fishing nets down on the beach below.
Enthralled by the views of the sparkling sea and feeling very relaxed, Tyler decided cycling could wait a bit and took out the laptop to finish some programming that had been cut short earlier. What was meant to be a quick lunch break ended up lasting well over an hour. I tried to knit but I only managed to complete two rows before giving in and staring at the hypnotizing in and out rush of the waves in front of me. Finally, rousing ourselves from a meditative food and view-induced dream-like state, we forced ourselves to leave, thinking we should probably do some riding today!
We continued on our ever undulating path, slowly up mountains and then swiftly coasting down towards the ever-present sea. Terraced groves of olive trees lined the road; huge red and green nets were strung between the trunk of each tree to collect the falling fruits. I always wondered how they harvested olives, unable to imagine they picked each little one off the tree by hand!
Our idyllic day was almost brought to a screeching halt when we were suddenly faced with a ridiculously steep road that never seemed to end. Pedaling was out of the question and so we hopped off and began to push up perhaps the steepest climb we've encountered on our journey to date.
Thankfully I spotted a lovely public (but deserted) park off the side of the road. Inside the rustic fenced-in area amid gorgeously wizened, gnarly olive trees, lay a childrens' playground, a gazebo, a water fountain, garbage cans, and lots of space to make a home in. Though we'd only cycled 35 kilometers, I made the executive decision—we were staying and would tackle the rest of the hill tomorrow.
I set up camp overlooking olive groves and the sea far below and Tyler got back to work (again!) at a picnic table. I cooked dinner on a low brick wall, amazed by how much easier life is when you have seats, a table, shelves to put things on, a garbage can at the ready and source of water just a few meters away. Luxury!
While noodles became tender in a pot of boiling water, I chopped our free eggplants into tiny little cubes, along with a red bell pepper and an onion. I minced a clove of garlic, and added it to the veggie-filled pan with salt, pepper, chili pepper, tomato paste, and olive oil. The resulting dish was a delicious and healthy vegetable pasta, which I served with the last of our buffalo mozzarella and some cured olives.
By the time all was consumed and cleaned, it was dark and ccccold so we snuggled up in our tent and watched an episode of the Sopranos. A lovely end to a relaxing day.