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Day 16 – Riva del Garda to Trento – Southern Alps

Torbole, Lago di Garda, watercolour by Leanne Talbot Nowell

The air is cool under dark clouds today. There is nobody around. It is my father’s eighty-first birthday. I wish he was here to see this beautiful view. The only sound is the chug of a small boat in the distance, the sound bounces off the rocky cliffs. Layer upon layer of blue mountains slip into the lake. The Alps have hardly begun, but the ride into that realm begins now.

Luciana gave me delicious scrambled eggs and fruit salad for breakfast this morning. The ride started peacefully pedalling along the lake edge. Not much reflection, just deep dark colours. Then a turn up a particularly steep mountainside. I snigger proudly past a young man struggling up on his mountain bike. The e-bike advantage is enormous in this terrain. Karma takes immediate effect by making me miss the sign for the cycle track, so I ignorantly take the high road.

The high road is for quarry lorries. There is no shoulder for a bike. The lorry drivers gesture wildly at me as they bear down. I am caught between the raw stone wall of the mountain on my right shoulder and the wheels of large trucks on my left. As they pass they leave a gap exactly wide enough for my panniers – give a millimeter or two. There is nothing I can do but go on as fast as I can, making a lot of small screams as the giant wheel-hubs spin and thunder at my ear. Those drivers certainly know their dimensions.

After about ten kilometres later, at a small town in the valley between Riva and Trento, the cycle track reappears and whoosh! What an incredible ride! It’s the first ridiculously perfect cycle path so far. A mini highway just for bikes. Lines and signs keep us on track. Suddenly there are other bikers around, and we shout greetings.

Sarche

At the village of Sarche black clouds came over the mountains and the rain rushes down in torrents. A couple of road maintenance men point me to a hotel. Sitting comfortably in a nook with a cup of coffee… then cappuccino… then tea…eventually I give up waiting for the rain to pass and put on my plastic suit to go.
From then on things become very soggy, including my bladder. There is very little chance of a roadside pit stop, being a lady. So I go on. The track leads to roads and a system of bridges and tunnels leave me feeling dumb. Some locals tell me I can go through the tunnel, but it is long and very-very dangerous and illegal for bicycles. My confusion is complete. I phone my family for directions but nobody picks up.

In desperation I take a smaller road, pressing aimlessly on, checking google maps on my phone but not actually finding the way. It would probably help if I knew where I wanted to end up. At a weird intersection leading onto another truck-filled road, I get off the bike and just stand there like a cow chewing cud. Like the weather, a grey mood descends on me and the Catastrophic voice goes mute. To tell you the truth I would rather push the bike through a forest than go on another ‘high’ road after the experience this morning with the quarry trucks. I scan through the grey matter of my brain and find only fog. A small red car comes along so I wave, it slows a bit then roars off.

But not all is lost, suddenly my imaginary team comes to the rescue. My kids voices pipe up in my head and I listen while they discuss the problem amongst themselves before leaning over to me and say “Mom, just go up this road to see what’s at the top of the hill”. So I go. Turns out the cycle track starts right there. I giggle-cry a bit and carry on.

Two men are loading giant copper pots into a van. They give me directions: “Go here, then two curves further on, take the third track left for a few kilometres on farm roads until you see a fruit seller on the corner, then don’t take the marked track, take the one that goes to the left, then turn right almost immediately onto a dirt road, it goes up steeply but it’s fine, then at the fourth or fifth track on the right side of the big road, go down and up again, then cross over the highway at the end of that road…….

Miraculously I find the fruit seller sitting in his van with the window open. He has one precarious looking tooth. When asked “which of the four tracks go to Sopramonte?” He gestures vaguely towards a muddy track in the forest and grins widely. He leans out of his van window and hands me half an apricot to taste. I eat it in two snaps. It is as sweet as honey.

Something tells me to avoid the forest road, so I take one of the other options, they all merge around the corner anyway. The climb is huge, 1000 meters up to Candriai. I manage to find a loo at a cafe there, and the barista tells me I’m nuts to ride further up to Sopramonte.

Trento

Dropping 1000 meters down into Trento is exhilarating, switchbacks all the way down the raw orange cliffs. Trento lies flat in the valley, crusty and full of fuming industry. First a glass of Vermentino wine at a bar where the barman recommends the ‘Everest Hotel’. So I go there.

I must admit I’m falling in love with my bicycle. Seriously, after clinging to her all day there is a certain separation pang when I lock her up in the hotel Everest basement for the night. She looks so forlorn stripped naked of her panniers. In the morning I feel a wave of happiness to see her again. Going a little crazy?

I put vinegar on my pasta instead of olive oil at dinner by mistake. It’s apple cider vinegar, no more balsamic in apple country. I eat the sour pasta with long teeth.

 Heading for Meran tomorrow.

Trip distance so far 858.67 Kms.

Time in the saddle 55:32 hrs.

Happiness level: “high.”

See the route map ( forgot to add Candriai)

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Day 13 – Rocca Vignola to Mirandola – being lost.

Giorgio at Antonella's place - watercolour painting by Leanne Talbot Nowell

The day began with astonishing ease. Resting for a day has given my backbone a chance to realign. Valter oiled my chain and Christina gave me a hug, then I did the mad little hop onto my bike and off we went. The voices in my head were louder, and my bike was beginning to take on a personality too. She was my dependable travel buddy. Nobody overtook us for the next 30 kms on the first dedicated cycle track (piste) of the trip. It was a fabulously fast ride at a constant pace soaring over the flats of the Po valley towards Modena.

Thanks to yesterday’s cyclone, the underpasses were flooded and impassable. Vehicle drivers needed to take evasive action when I crossed over highways and spaghetti junctions. One needs to have some faith in humanity. There are humans behind the steering wheels of those trucks, happy to take evasive action if need be. 

Getting into Modena was exciting. That is where I found signs for the “Euro Velo 7” bicycle route.  Called the Ciclopisto del Sole – The Sun route –  part of the European network of cycle routes, it runs from the Alps all the way to Sicily. Not that there has  been any sign of it up till now.

Lost

The problem with losing yourself in a chaotic three-dimensional intersection with intercepting bridges, byways, flybys, fly-offs and contraindications, is that you cannot be helped by a map, whereas on Google Maps I can pinpoint myself as a pale blue dot. That is if you have phone signal, wifi and battery power all at the same time. But Italy is notorious for its blind spots. My phone signal was connected less than fifty percent of the time.

The arrow signs pointed both the way out of the city and the way into it, but I wasn’t sure which arrow meant what. Modena is a beautiful old city, full of arty treasures. The streets are cobbled with round river stones and the squares are immense. 

 A pretty bride wearing filmy pink wafted into the municipal palace with her beautiful bevy of bridesmaids. People sitting at small round tables under the arched portico, watched the wedding party, looking them up and down and judging their elegant outfits. The Italians know how to dress beautifully for an occasion, not sparing money or effort on details. I drank an excellent cappuccino, made by a genuine Italian. Mostly Chinese barista this side of the Gothic line.

Romance then took another turn.

My map app refused to load so I was forced to ask directions at every corner. For an unknown reason I kept losing the eurovelo 7 signs. Everyone has a different understanding of the streets in Modena, almost as if they have the ability to change the layout of the city according to their individual creativity. 

An old man on a cranky bicycle beckoned me to follow him: “Come this way, I am going to see my mother in that direction”. So, I followed him for a long way, until he waved me off at what appeared to be a dead-end street.

I went to the end of the broken lane and found myself completely lost. After some further complications a happy couple shouted to me from the opposite side of a flooded underpass tunnel, “It is ok! You can ride in the water! Va bene!”.

I launched into the dark and splashed through about thirty meters of sludgy water, the pedals just tipping the surface enough to wet my soles. Soon after that, a group of men told me to go back the way I had come.

“There is no way here, vai indietro!”

So I sloshed back through the tunnel again. One large person was most concerned about me and insisted that I should stop at a nearby restaurant to eat something. After many rubbishy intersections, I found myself mired in the pile of debris from the recent flood, trapped under a highway overpass. The inner catastrophist said nothing.

Then Giorgio Giliberti swiftly appeared from somewhere on his bike and saved me from the trench.

I rode behind him as he told me about his life. He is a photographer by profession and shows his work at exhibitions and produces many books. He had long curly hair and an open face. He looked a bit like God on holiday.

I happily followed Giorgio along the river Secchia, on top of the dykes for about twenty kilometres. He then took a turn off so I followed. We cruised through a maze of narrow country roads, between pear tree plantations and vineyards. Suddenly he veered off into a farmyard full of strutting geese and chickens and vanished behind the house. The inner catastrophist hissed in alarm. I edged my way around the corner into the backyard, not wanting to seem rude, but ready for fight or flight.

Giorgio introduced me to Antonella – “Ooo ciao! a pleasure to meet you”

She served an amazing lunch fresh from her bountiful garden, washed down with a bottomless glass of homemade Lambrusco wine. We sat in the dappled shade under the trees on plastic chairs, a soft breeze flittering the leaves, and munched on fava beans, liver and onions, feta cheese and prosciutto.

A large butcher arrived and said nothing, he sat down and ate his food. As he got up to leave, he turned to me and said “what you are doing is rubbish, let me buy you a train ticket home?”

I thanked him and declined his offer with a giggle “No grazie Signore!”

A local friend of Giorgio and Antonella, also a dedicated cyclist, came by and brought me the cutest little round bottle of Balsamic vinegar, which he held out to me cradled in his calloused hand. He softly whispered, “it is very old, certainly as old as yourself”.

I choked up with gratitude thinking of all the generosity along the way so far. What an amazing outpouring of goodwill if you show even the slightest interest in people.

Giorgio Giliberti took a picture of my bike and me standing on a dyke, then photoshopped a road sign into the background – Rome to Oslo – which he sent me later via Facebook.

Distance covered …650 kilometres from Rome to this point.

After lunch Giorgio rode alongside me, chatting, almost all the way to Mirandola, which was a bit off track. He told me to go there so I did.

There was a terrible earthquake in the area in 2012. Broken buildings still lie around in heaps of rubble, or are propped up with scaffolding. All three Churches in Mirandola were severely damaged, and whole apartment buildings stood empty, broken windows looking onto the street like skull eyes.

The new hotel Pico on the modern outskirts of town offered me a good room. There was nothing available in the historical centre. A nice young man at reception helped me to lock up my bike in a cage of gas cylinders, and then suggested that I go to the “Memory festival” to mark the day of the earthquake. 

After a necessary and pleasant shower, I tramped into town and sat down for a Campari Spritz at a crowded café under tall plain trees. The festival programme was packed with speeches, concerts and shows. Culture, food, music, art, cinema, theatre…a  reminder that a the true heritage of a community is the people and not the buildings.

See the route here.

Rocca Vignola
Rocca Vignola
B&B Civico 7 a Rocca Vignola
B&B Civico 7, Cristina and Valter in Rocca Vignola. Cycle track to Modena.
flooded underpass on the way to Modena
Flooded underpass on the way to Modena
Cycle track into Modena, Italy. Speedometer shows me going 26 kms per hour.
Cycle track into Modena, Italy
eurovelo 7, Modena
Eurovelo 7 cycle route signs
Modena, Italy. My bike.
My bicycle in the center of Modena.
Lost in Modena, Italy
Lost on the outskirts of Modena.
Lunch at Antonella's place
Generosity in Italy is astounding. Giorgio takes me to lunch at Antonella’s place.
Leanne Talbot Nowell cycling tour. (double the distances on that sign)
Leanne and bike outside Modena, Italy. Photograph thanks to Giorgio Giliberti. He added the signage.
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40 orbital loops

Leanne Talbot Nowell - Three kids on a rock

Zooming way out to get a forty day overview.

Something that all astronauts talk about when they see Earth from space for the first time, is an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. They see this beautiful blue ball floating in deep space, lonely, delicate and miraculous. Three astronauts landed on Earth on Friday after more than 200 days on the ISS. The Russian team who pulled them out of the descent module had to undergo quarantine prior to the landing to ensure the virus was not passed to the crew. For the astronauts, instead of going home to welcoming crowds and family hugs, are on their way into quarantine to protect themselves.

Simon wants me to remind any non-latino’s that QUARANTA means 40, so a quarantine is supposed to last about forty days.

He very kindly rode his bike with me for the first week of my 60 day journey from Rome to Oslo. An excerpt taken from the dairy:

“A thrilling downhill ride brings us to the dark dining hall of La Dogana (Customs) on the border between Lazio and Tuscany. We dig into a bowl of delicious black olives, crusty salt-less bread and peppery olive oil, while waiting for the green stinging-nettle risotto being stirred in a copper pot by a chef in a tall white hat. A log fire burns under a russet brick arch. Galileo Galilei was once miserably quarantined here on his way to Rome. There was an outbreak of the plague. He had been commanded to present himself to the Papal Inquisition. Having been accused of imposing on God, the extra burden of a moving planet and judged to be “vehemently suspect of heresy”. However, he escaped corporal punishment and was put under house arrest for the remainder of his days.”

The numbers of covid-19 infections in Italy decreased a little yesterday, but there is something weird about the worldometer stats. We’ve given up trying to figure them out. I spoke to my parents who are not complaining yet, but it might be necessary for them to stay in strict lockdown (no space walks) until September!? Like astronauts on the International Space Station.