Let Italy be your muse my Lonely Planet “Cycling Italy” guidebook suggests, with gastronomic superiority, long and venerated history of cycling, immensely diverse landscapes and vivacious culture. After crossing the Alps going from Grenoble, France to Torino, Italy, with three Tour de France mountain climbs in three days, my legs were toast. 350 miles in five days, averaging 70mi/day over the Alps, at some point the legs just won’t go where the ego urges.
Crossing the Alps was unrelentingly gorgeous. You fight and you stagger – and the mountain doesn’t care – but eventually you conquer the pass and welcome an unparalleled satisfaction. You reach the summit, legs thrashed and endorphins pumping, and peer out over a desolate alpine range that teaches you a little more about the depths of inspiration. Grueling climbs feed your soul, you experience the sublime, craggy-mountain ranges and valleys in a way that makes the place a part of you. With each summit, you are birthed afresh. Dramatic? Riding the passes fully-loaded will inspire drama in you as well. (“Cycling Italy”)
From Briancon, France I started the day off with a climb to the Col du Montgenevre pass, the summit marking the French–Italian border. With the ski lifts still spinning at the top, I vowed to ski down mountains rather than hauling a fully-loaded bike up them. As a buddy of mine replied, Some of us just have to pee on the electric fence for ourselves. I briefly considered climbing the Colle di Sestriere to see the ski resort from the 2006 Olympics – which I learned was conceived by Mussolini and built by the Agnelli clan of Fiat fame – but the thought of 21.4km uphill to 2035m quickly put that idea to rest. Which was fortunate because coming down the other side in the Susa valley was spectacular. Descending for nearly 50mi through dense alpine forests with steep mountains on either side, the place felt mythical.
After a night in Torino, next stop was the coast. I had to climb, climb, and climb some more on the route from Torino to Varigotti. Somewhere between overgrown hills and underdeveloped mountains, 104 miles in a day in hilly Italy is much more difficult than 101 miles in central France. Unforgiving in beauty and in challenge, at 7:30pm with 35 miles to go, I was at the height of my frustration when I had to pull out the duct-tape for my bike. As the great philosopher LL Cool J once said, Adversity either makes you stronger, or breaks you to pieces.
There is a great resource called Warmshowers.org which is basically Couchsurfing specifically for bike-touriers. Lucky for me, I get a day off in the coastal town of Varigotti, and slept on a bed in the basement of a Pizzeria! Classic Italy. Too tired to dream about pizza last night, after my third espresso of the day I can’t wait for dinner. Couch-surfing is a great way to restore faith in humanity! I enjoyed watching the Italian cyclisti bike by all morning on bikes nicer than a lot of cars. I think on my next trip I will trade my bi-cycle for a motor-cycle, preferably a Ducati.
Finally, some others who don’t think I’m crazy, and who share in the fervor & passion.