In an odd change of perspective, every climb was cause for celebration today (and there were plenty of them: 800 meters, or over 2,500 feet in all). In lieu of hopping around madly trying to keep warm as we did while packing up camp, we slowly and contentedly pedaled our way through the Italian mountainside, generating just enough heat to keep our extremities from freezing. Every time we were faced with a downhill, we uncharacteristically cringed a little, bracing ourselves for the frigid descent.
After a truly plodding seven kilometers, we stopped for hot cappuccinos in the only town we would pass for the entire day. Most of the stores were closed (indeed, we couldn't even buy food!) except for Caffe Umberto, a real gem of a coffee shop. This morning, it was run by Umberto himself. The proud proprietor of the establishment since 1956, he has been serving up excellent coffee for longer than Tara and I together have been alive!
We leaned our bikes outside, removed our scarves and helmets, and tried our best to make our greasy hair presentable (it has been over a week since our last shower). I gave up with a laugh, spiking mine into the most ridiculous mess I could manage. The men hanging out in the coffee shop welcomed us with warm, hearty laughs and hair tousling of their own. One removed a camo cap to reveal his sparse disheveled hair. "Like Frankenstein!" one of the burly mountain men teased the other.
The men were friendly and very curious about our trip. Once again we were touched by the ceaseless and earnest Italian hospitality we've encountered here. They told us about their lives, and about various relatives who had made their homes in the US. One said he had a relative in Florida, but that he didn't like to visit. "Too humid!" he said, "I prefer the mountains!" Today, surprisingly, we agreed.
After our early morning rest break, we continued on, embarking further into the depths of the cold gray afternoon. About an hour later, Tara squealed and pointed to the sky, whirling her head around while excitedly shouting something I couldn't make out. Her voice was muffled by her scarf and what little I could hear was being carried away in the gusts of a freezing descent. "WHAT?!?" I shouted. As we reached the bottom of the hill, I could finally understand her: "SNOW!! SNOW FLAKES!! THE FIRST SNOW OF THE YEAR!!" she cried, yelling louder than before so that her discovery could be fully celebrated.
If someone had told me a year ago that Tara would be excited about snow during a bicycle ride I would have laughed at this, an inconceivable possibility. It was quite a thrill cycling in a tiny flurry together, alone, miles and miles from civilization in the mountains of Italy.
We had a very late start today, awakening like a pair of freezing lizards unable to function. Between this and our lengthy rest at Caffe Umberto, we barely covered 40km today. Cycling until it was almost dark, we pulled off the road to camp in an field of olive trees. Once there, Tara turned into a frozen statue, sitting on a walkstool, teeth chattering away. I quickly fetched her Kerkennian shawl, gave her my hat, and proceeded to make camp while she tried to stay warm.
Once the tent was erected, Tara assembled our bed inside, promptly taking refuge under the warm down covers of our sleeping bag while I made dinner. Since we were unable to buy food today and we've been eating through our supply like a pair of hyenas, dinner was a few packets of our "emergency" chicken-flavored ramen.
Just a few hundred meters before we stopped for the night, we passed a man doing some pruning. Tara thinks he looks just like her dad did when he was our age.