Elba Island is one part collapsed mountain, one part volcanic remains. The resulting landscape, while stunning, is quite a workout on a fully loaded touring bicycle.
Directly out our front door the day began with a steep 350m climb to the quaint town of Poggio. Feeling fresh from a hearty breakfast of bread covered in honey and jam we made the ascent, billed as "relentless" in our guidebook, with surprising ease. We were both relieved as we made the final pedal strokes into town, regaining a bit of confidence in our abilities after some recent weight additions to our bikes.
The unassuming town of Poggio, nestled in the trees near the peak of Monte Perone is home to an epic view of Elba's northern shoreline. Arriving in the village we were joined by several elderly tour groups and a particularly friendly cat. After chatting with the locals and tourists in a slightly confusing and constantly changing amalgam of languages we sat down to enjoy the scenery with our new feline friend.
After catching our breath from the climb (and the view) we left down the other side of the mountain in a loud, brake squealing fury. Our next destination was Marino de Campo; Elba delivered a few more steep ascents on the way. Our Lonely Planet guide listed a ferry returning to Italy from this port town but as we rolled into the city center we quickly learned it didn't exist. A little upset, one part feeling "done" with Elba and one part not wanting to backtrack across the tiny island, we decided to have some lunch before regrouping about our next move.
In spite of our initial letdown, Marino de Campo did have something we were looking for: roasted chicken! A week or so ago we received a donation from Matt Shannon with a notation that lunch was on him. We've had our eyes peeled ever since for a good place to spend this generous gift. As we excitedly ordered a whole chicken we were genuinely thrilled about the concept of a lunch we didn't have to prepare. I devoured my rosemary encrusted half like a hyena. Tara ate with slightly more civility. Tender, moist, perfectly seasoned and delicious, it was insanely good! Thanks Matt, this really made our afternoon!
After lunch we consulted our guidebook again, this time to see what the elevation profile looked like for crossing the center of the island to reach the port on the northern shore, Portofarrio. We chose the longer of two possible routes (33km vs 25km) because as far as we could tell the ride would be flat. I'm still not sure if we read the book wrong or if the information provided was inaccurate but the resulting ride was anything but.
The road turned upwards shortly out of town and didn't stop until we'd climbed another 300 meters. We were relieved when we reached the top, certain that now we could coast the rest of the way to the other side of the island! To our chagrin, Elba wasn't done with us yet. The road fell as quickly as it had risen and when we reached sea level we still had 15km to go. Most of it appeared to be even more climbing.
Halfway up the second ascent we both pulled off the road and collapsed in what would have been a welcoming, shady, free-camp if only we'd had any water (we were denied entrance for water at two campsites in the previous town). It was getting late and we were both exhausted as we discussed giving up and coasting back down to stay at a campsite we'd passed. After hemming and hawing about backtracking for ten minutes we decided to push up the rest of the way, hoping the descent on the other side would finally take us to the end of our ride.
At the exact moment we steeled ourselves for the push ahead a cycle touring couple came down the hill with encouraging words, "only 200 meters (distance, not elevation) to the top!" They gave Tara some water and we all wished each other the best of luck before continuing on. With our spirits lifted just enough for one more effort, we reached the top and were able to coast the rest of the way into Portofarrio.
Unfortunately, our day was not done yet. In what was beginning to feel like a continuing trend of the island denying us what we needed, the next ferry leaving was at 8PM; far too late to be of any use to us. At this point, I had to invoke our, "if you're upset, you don't get to make decisions rule" and let Tara take over.
After some confused navigation through town Tara managed to find a water spigot where we finally refilled all six of our completely empty water bottles. Then she found a campsite 4km west of us (which, shocker, was an incredibly hilly ride too). Along the way we made our way to a nearby beach to take a refreshing swim. Once we were all settled in at camp, Tara made a feast of spaghetti with homemade marinara sauce, and garlic sauteed in olive oil to dip our bread in. Feeling more at ease than we had all day, we decided we would stay tomorrow as well, giving ourselves a much needed day of rest.