There have been hard days during other tours. But this day in southern Italy, with no snow capped mountains and no insane distances was, if not the hardest, one of the more unpleasant days I've spent in the saddle.
Weather was a factor even though it was, in most regards, a nice day. We'd had no reason to complain about it at any point during the tour with very cool mornings and comfortably cool afternoons. Many days were finished still with leg warmers and vests. There was this headwind that dogged us every single day, but that became the norm. But, it had been getting gradually warmer during the tour and today, while quite nice, would be the warmest yet. Just one of the rocks in the pack for the ride today.
Sunday, March 25, 2012
Canosa to San Giovanni Rotondo
We rode to, then through, the city of Cerignola, covering a distance of about 14 miles. In maybe 2 hours. At home, we would have had 25 miles behind us and be enjoying a break at the Kwik Trip in Coon Valley. But not here. As Bill noted, you can always tell you're having a good day if you've had to haul your bike over guardrails 3 times before 10 a.m.
As for this painfully slow pace, there were the usual slow-downs for navigational decisions. These come more often in the cities which are not laid out in the Iowa-grid style, but we've done this every day. Today, we decided to go off of one of the suggested routes as that would have taken us to the larger city of Foggia; we'd already had enough of winding cobblestone streets.
After spending some time with maps and GPS units, we worked out a plan to get us out of town. It seemed clear enough; we would just go north, cross over the 4 lane divided highway and pedal contentedly through olive groves and fields of flowers, like this one:
Alas, it was not to be so easy. The road went TO the four lane. But not over it. Or under it. It took us 20 minutes to find a way to get on the other side of this obstacle, this effort including the third hauling of bikes over guardrails. But, we were finally heading north.
The wind was heading south, however, and the road deteriorated at a slow but steady pace.It became rocky and pot-holed and was straight as an arrow through the flat countryside. And, there were the gradually increasing temperatures. We were so perfectly aligned (maybe that's misaligned) with the wind that I wondered if the road had possibly been carved out over the years by its effect.
It was wide open country, no Kwik Trips here. We had picked up panini in Cerignola and stopped near a farmhouse for a quick lunch on the side of the road. Basically, it was a ditch; but, it was in the shade...
It had now officially become a long day. I am not sure there is anything harder than riding a long stretch of straight, flat, rough road into an unrelenting headwind on a warm day.
Head down. Pedal. Pedal. Pedal. Look up. See that nothing has changed. Repeat.
The hills we would have to climb to finish the ride seemed to remain just barely visible on the horizon. I thought, seriously, that if Laurenz came by in the bus (hardly any chance of that, actually) I would hop on in a heartbeat.
We finally reached the climb and started up. It was not such a steep climb, but the effects of the day were heavy on my legs. And, as much as I had been nursing the water along, I had less than 1/2 a bottle left. There had been absolutely no chance to stop for a snack or a drink since Cerignola. Foggia was begining to look like it might have been worth the hassle.
Just a short way up there were 2 switchbacks followed by a long straight stretch. On the map, it looked like it might be a respite, but it was steadily uphill and open to the headwind. I stopped along this section to remove arm warmers and drink 1/2 the remaining water. Then, it was 8 more switchbacks on the way up the steeper face of the hill. After a couple of more passes at the water bottle, it was empty. And I was wondering if the hill had a top. I had no interest in taking pictures, so this capture from Google Street View will have to suffice...
When the road finally crested the hill, we are met by our in-the-plains headwind's older, and stronger, brother, the top-of-the-hill headwind, aka hurricane. And, the grade was still up. Twice I went around gradual bends and got sheltered from the wind, only to get nearly blown over when it figured out where I had gone.
But I eventually arrived at the top. Julio was waiting for me in a sheltered bus stop and we pushed on. It was a slightly downhill, with-the-wind ride into San Giovanni. There, we went into a small bar/cafe where we could get cold Cokes and plot the path to the hotel, just a few blocks away, but not easy to find.
All along our ride in Puglia we encountered reminders of Padre Pio, but nothing like what we saw in San Giovanni. A large plaza and church/convention hall was situated above the town and there were small hotels everywhere to accommodate the pilgrims who came to pay homage. I was glad to have seen these reminders here, as while on the climb I had actually expected to be seeing him face to face at any minute.
The day ended well in another small bar/cafe near the hotel. Beer followed by gelato and then coffee as we sat at the table and went over the ride. It had been quite a day.
Highlight of the day
Surviving, as represented by arriving at the cafe in San Giovanni. I can still remember how that cold Coke felt and tasted.