The morning began with a series of short but brutal hills; a not-so-gentle reminder that the Po River Valley is well behind us. The moment we reached the top of our first 200 meter climb the Tuscan sky opened up, ruthlessly hurling down heavy sheets of rain that soaked us in a matter of seconds. I grabbed our rain jackets and we put them on (a futile measure) before deciding what to do next since the road we had been climbing now fell abruptly downwards in a slippery slope. We've decided that steep hills which descend as quickly as they rise, repeatedly leaving us to start over at the bottom, are the worst kind of terrain we've experienced on the trip thus far. We'd both take an all-day mountain trek over it in a heartbeat.
Now soaked, and with a very steep and slippery descent in front of us, we didn't even get to enjoy the ride down. Instead we decided to hop off and take the safe approach: walking. As we slowly guided our bikes down the slick hill we laughed and joked that we'd somehow been transported to England. Thankfully the downpour didn't keep up in earnest; we were removing layers for the next climb in no time. Just after passing through Greve, our brief respite from the rain was over and it was becoming evident that our Lonely Planet: Cycling Italy book had optimistically dubbed the mountains we were climbing "rolling hills."
As the rain picked up finding a free-camp became a very urgent matter. I try to approach every situation in life with as much patience and perspective as I can but this trip has shown more than once that setting up in the rain has a unique ability to destroy my sanity. I wanted to find a camp, fast. Little did I know, not only would we be setting up in the rain but the next 30 minutes would be the all time worst on our tour (so far).
The deluge had steadily increased from sprinkle to fire-hose intensity when we spotted a road leading off the highway. It was blocked by a single chain with a sign affixed to it, warning trespassers about dogs and video surveillance. By this time, I would have crossed it to set up camp even if it promised certain death.
We quickly located a decently hidden clearing to make camp and began the arduous process of erecting our tent in a downpour. One of the best features of our home, its mesh top with separate rainfly, is also one of our most loathed when setting up in the rain. As I laid the tent on the ground to attach the poles I couldn't help but cringe as I watched water splashing through the roof, quickly soaking the inside.
Suddenly, in a freak, Murphy's Law coincidence, one of the joints popped off the tent poles exactly like it had in Switzerland (also in the rain). As the pole snapped out of it's socket, so did I. Soaked from head to toe, holding a broken tent pole in an absolute downpour with a pile of mesh and nylon that was quickly becoming a pool, I lost it. I cursed at everything in sight, enraged at the (self induced!) injustice of the world. I was so upset I could barely function. I was aware though, that the longer I waited to fix the situation the worse the things would get. Armed with this sliver of sanity I tried to re-assemble our tent poles while Tara dug out the vise grips if case they were needed.
In mid-fume I managed to screw the pole back together, quickly returning to putting the tent up when the other side popped off. We set this tent up almost every day and this never happens. I was so upset I felt like my head would explode. Thankfully once I realized it wasn't physically possible for anything to get any wetter than it already was, I felt a very slight sense of calm returning. Now able to see straight, I managed to fix the poles and we got the tent up.
As soon as the tent was standing we discovered the inside was full of water. Like a kiddie pool. At this point, I think I went into shock. I just stood there, in the rain, staring at our complete mess of a camp, shaking my head and shouting dumbfounded complaints about the impossibility of what was happening.
Tara, realizing I was now useless, took over and put the rain fly on. Then she found a (wet) towel and began bailing out the tent, wringing out the water after every wipe. When I ducked under the rain fly and saw the state of things, I collapsed, completely giving up and closing my eyes. I obviously have a little bit of an OCD about wet tents. Tara consoled me while I willed myself to let go of the fact that absolutely everything was soaking wet. Maybe I just need to toughen up but it was hard. Around the time she was sopping up the last of the puddles I had regained my sanity and hers was fading. She had kept it together up until this point, because, she exclaimed, "we can't both freak out at the same time!"
It was my turn to take over, this time consoling her through her tears and shivering as I explained our next move. We had to go outside and get the sleeping mats and the sleeping bag, assemble things in the tent, dry off and get warm. Armed with this knowledge, we both sat in the tent for a few minutes collecting ourselves before braving the torrential downpour again.
Once outside, we took a minute to stand in defiance of the onslaught. In one another's arms we let the rain wash over us, accepting that it didn't matter. With new perspective we finished setting up camp, soaked to the bone, in much brighter (relatively speaking) spirits.