Sestri Levante to Romito Magra (56.14 lies, 6 hours 21 minutes moving)

The day started off wrongly. After a good night’s sleep and a quick packing of my gear back onto the bike, I decided to check my email quickly before taking off. My cellular modem wouldn’t make a connection, but there were no error messages to tell me where the problem was. I bought the refurbished modem on eBay before my trip, wanting a cheap, unlocked (so I could use a SIM card from any country), and Mac-compatible one, and over the past few days, it hadn’t been working quite as solidly as when I was in Portugal. Sometimes it would need to be plugged into the USB port a few times before the dialer software would recognize it, and now that it wasn’t working at all, I wondered if I had just wasted 25 euros on an internet connection that I wouldn’t be able to use with a broken modem.  There wasn’t much I could do about it though, execpt hope that I’d pass through a town with a Vodafone store during the day’s ride.

What a good thing that I hadn’t tried to continue on to a campsite further down the road the previous night though! From my campsite, the road continued another 9 miles uphill, until I had crossed the 615 meter high Passo del Bracco.  Even with legs freshened by a night’s rest, I struggled to turn the pedals, even in the easiest gear, and became frustrated as my speed dropped from 6 miles per hour down to 3 miles per hour at the steepest portions.  Not having been able to find a good map of Italy to replace the useless one purchased in America, I had not known about or expected this endeavor.  Other cyclists rode past me as if I was standing still, smoothly gliding up the pass on their lightweight carbon-fiber racing bikes, and at that moment, I was actually contemplating just chucking all of my gear and panniers into the woods.  Logic prevailed though, as I don’t have the money to “credit-card” tour from one hotel/B&B/hostel to the next across Europe, and with the exception of a few things, I have been carrying mostly items that are being used, or would be needed in an emergency.

By mid-afternoon, four hours after starting the day, I had only covered about twenty miles. After stopping for a grocery store in the town of Lévanto, I started the climb out of town, once again, and was so very tempted to quit for the day when I saw a road sign pointing the direction to a nearby campsite.  I was heading towards the “Parco Nazionale dell Cinque Terre” which I had heard was one of the most beautiful coastal areas of Italy though, and thought that if I could continue on, the “Cinque Terre”, named for the five hillside towns connected by a remote walking trail, would give me a motivational boost.

Unfortunately, as I have been finding out, some of the most beautiful views do not have  nice flat roads leading up to them, and this road through the park was no exception. It wound back and forth along the cliffs, the road surface towering high above the miniscule towns and shore below. Clouds rolled up the mountainside, enveloping the nearly-deserted section of road in a blanket of nothingness. The air was chilly, but the work of climbing gave me an instant layer of sweat, which soaked my clothes. As I climbed, I found myself pulling so hard on the handlebars for leverage that my palms felt as if they were forming blisters under the pressure and wetness of my cycling gloves. At the top, before each short descent, I found myself having to put on my rain shell to keep my sweat from freezing, and then the process would start again at the beginning of the next climb.

Clouds envelope my world near Riomaggiore, Italy
Clouds envelope my world near Riomaggiore, Italy

The views, from what I was able to make out through the slits and sporadic breaks in the clouds, were magnificent though, and worth the detour off the easier and faster traveling SP1/SS1 road. From above, each of the little towns looked like miniature railway models, attached to the cliffside and retreating backwards along the natural landscape of the coast. The clouds and reduced visibility added an extra jolt of adrenaline as my bicycle sped down the small ribbon of road weaving serpent-like closer to the town center. The white shroud had the effect of removing the distant distractions from the landscape, and allowed me to focus on the details speeding into view around each turn. Upon reaching the town of Volastra, I was greeted with a large banner commemorating the stage 12 (time trial) of the 2009 Giro D’Italia, the famous bicycle race, that had been held on the same route (Sestri Levante to Riomaggiore) that I had just bicycled. To me, it was 60 kilometers of torture, punctuated by moments of joy and awe at the view, but to the pros, it had probably been just another day in Italia. They would celebrate with feasts of food to replenish calories burned, possibly enjoy some wine (or not) and sleep in their team-provided hotels or busses, while i still had to continue almost twenty miles down the road to a campsite.

Thankfully, after I left Cinque Terre, the road was much more flat, and I was finally able to pick up some speed. As I descended into La Spezia, I saw that it seemed to be centered around a large port, with several military warships at dock. I made my way around the port and back out of town (after stopping for a sack of ice at a bar), and the sun set as I was leaving town. I navigated the streets by the light of dusk until arriving at two campsites just before 9:00 pm. The boy standing at the corner didn’t speak English, but seemed to understand my Spanish when I asked which one was better. He pointed at the first and said it was one-star, and the 2nd was two-star. I wheeled my bike into the two-star site, figuring it would have better facilities to recharge my batteries.  Boy was I wrong! The shower/toilet block was the grossest I have encountered on this trip. There was water dripping everywhere on uncleaned floors littered with dirt that had become mud (or at least I hope it was mud!). This was not a place to hang out and write and my cellular internet wasn’t working, so I retreated to my tent, exhausted from the day of climbing, but looking forward to the planned short 36 miles to Pisa and then a rest day after that.

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