It was a bleak and drizzly morning and I hadn't affixed the rain fly properly last night. Consequently, one end of the tent was completely soaked. Where normally I would have been fuming and frustrated, I was completely serene as I silently rolled up our drenched-on-one-end things and packed them away into their stuff sacks, realizing that I have finally overcome my hatred of packing wet gear.
I was similarly calm when upon rolling my bike down the hill that led to our free-camp, I spotted a fellow vagrant crouched by the edge of the river not more than 20 meters away. He was stark naked and I didn't know what to do when our eyes met except… wave. I'm pretty sure he wasn't expecting someone to wheel a heavily loaded bicycle into his nude stomping grounds as he immediately grabbed his things and ran away like a scared animal.
After heaving our bikes back to the road we set off under rainy skies that alternated regularly between light sprinkles and absolute downpour. Our first destination of the day was Sondrio; Ingrid and Yves loaned us a copy of Lonely Planet's cycle touring guide to Italy and our plan was to follow one of their suggested routes starting from there.
I had intended on putting each major city along the itinerary into our GPS so we could follow their suggested route in a general sort of fashion. Tara wanted to adhere to the plan exactly, taking advantage of the book's marked cyclepaths and secondary roads to avoid a repeat of the harrowing highway riding we had experienced on the way in to Sondrio. I happily helped her transcribe directions on to a piece of paper which we affixed to her handlebar bag, and turned the navigational helm over to her.
As the weeks and months race by I am becoming more and more comfortable with loosely laid navigational plans (prior to our trip this would have driven me nuts), so much so that I will go out of my way to avoid getting directions if possible. This might sound like a stereotypical male thing to say but it isn't quite what it seems. It isn't that I'm convinced we're "not lost", but rather that I can't stand trying to determine where we are (ie: decipher directions). I'd much rather ride along and enjoy myself than stop every half kilometer to make sure we're still on the right route.
Maybe it was a case of self-fulfilling prophecy but it took us a good 30 minutes of looping around before we found the intersection at the beginning of Lonely Planet's route for our day. With Tara leading the way we found the bike path listed with little trouble. Unfortunately less than a kilometer in, it turned into an impassable wall of weeds. We'd picked up the trail on the wrong side of the river. By the time we found the right path at least an hour had gone by and we'd covered no ground. Tara was understandably frustrated but I encouraged her to navigate until the first city before we reassessed things.
The cycle path turned out to be an idyllic, secluded and relaxing ride; well worth the effort to locate. Unsurprisingly the moment a turn was required in our route, it wasn't where it was supposed to be and we spent several minutes cycling in circles trying to determine if we'd missed it. It wasn't long before we agreed to throw the strict route out the window and wing it for the rest of the day.
Instantly everything became much easier. We followed secondary roads, interspersed with small bouts of highway riding, in the direction of our next city and it was beautiful. The kilometers flew by and as we rode, we noted how different things are from Switzerland, Italy has a well-worn, almost regal oldness to it.
Just before beginning our evening's wild-camp hunt we stopped at a small alimentari (grocery store) and again marveled at how cheap everything was. We bought a pound of spinach and ricotta ravioli for 2.50! We left with a huge supply of food and quickly found a bicycle path following a river where Tara spotted yet another free-camp, this time under a bridge.
We're settled in now enjoying ravioli with a sautéed garlic / olive oil sauce. It looks like rain is coming; thankfully this time we have a concrete roof over our heads. We feel a bit like a pair of hobos!