THE "CICLOGIRI CLODIANI" FROM 1985 TO NOW
- Northern Italy
Links to some pictures are in brown.
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In the beginning of the 80s I started thinking that it could be not a completely insane idea to try to extend the use of the bike over the town limits and beyond the daily use, outlining the project of a vacation of 2-3 weeks going round Italy. The project is realized in 1985 as "1st CICLOGIRO CLODIANO, an itinerary of 18 days with stops in Viadana (MN), Vigarano Mainarda (Ferrara), Bologna, Sant'Arcangelo (FO), Sansepolcro (AR), Assisi, Terni, Rieti, L'Aquila, Tagliacozzo (AQ), Tivoli, Viterbo, Orvieto, Arezzo, Pistoia, Silla (BO), Lesignano de' Bagni (PR), Milano.
I had booked in advance the hotels by telephone, in order to save me from the anxiety of finding a place for sleeping, but very soon I was going to realize that this strategy was totally wrong: you can always find a room, whereas it's less sure you are able to reach on time the place where you had booked the hotel. A storm, a mechanical accident, an unexpected slope, and you'll be dozens of kilometers from your destination while sunset is coming.
I didn't know anything about joys and torments of cycling tourism, excepting what I had read on a book. I had thought of the way of defending myself against the rain, but as I never had spent a whole day on bike, let alone two or more consecutive days, I did not care of what troubles a long exposure to the sun can cause. Result of it: second degree burns on my right hand, besides various but slighter burns, on my arms, legs, and left hand. In the fourth day morning I went to the Ospedale Maggiore of Bologna, where the doctor did not believe that I could get wounds like these only because of the sun. I purchased some cotton gloves at a pharmacy, and started again. In Sansepolcro, at the end of the fifth stage, having ascertained that my hand didn't ache me, I removed the bandaging, and immediately a gigantic bubble popped out. I went to the hospital, where the doctor pricked the bubble, and made an antitetanic injection, advising me to go home, and to change the dressing every day in a medical center for 3-4 days along. I obeyed, also because the prospect of touring Italy on bicycle in order to test the efficiency of the italian hospitals didn't attract me so much. Two hospitals in five days were already enough for me. But the doctor on duty in the hospital near my home, only 24 hours later, told me that in his opinion the wound on my hand was healed. This opinion was confirmed by our family doctor. So I restarted, this time properly protected with gloves, long sleeves and long trousers, rejoining the original itinerary in six days, in the wonderful city of Viterbo.
I have a vague recollection of that first trip, concerning particularly the cyclist rather than the tourist. For example, I remember very well the effort of the first true climb, Passo di Viamaggio (a little more than 900 meters of altitude), leading to Sansepolcro, but the physical tiredness and the worry of reaching in time every day my destination, made me forget that I was on holiday, and so the chance of lying down in the shade of a tree after some hours of cycling appeared much more fascinating than the opportunity of visiting a church, or an ancient village. My first trip, therefore, had simply the function to get used my organism to that type of effort, and to show me if I really intended to try again, or if I had enough of it. At the end, I covered 1800 km divided in 16 stages.
My bicycle was a Bianchi "Gran Turismo", model "Ghisallo", a beautiful bike that still today I use to move around in the city, despite his over 23 years of honorable activity. The gear ratios: 50 and 44 x 14-16-18-20-22. Ratios too hard for climbing, especially with bags, and in fact I was going to make some changes later. For the baggages, a couple of proper rear bags, pretty small, and a very generic bag on the back carrier, tied with an elastic cable; the total weight probably didn't reach 10 kg.
Two years later, I decided that I wanted to try again. In 1987 spring I submitted my bicycle to a cycle repairer in order to modify the gear ratios. The repairer was very skilful, but abnormally slow. According to him, he had to repair all the bicycles in Milan, and my Bianchi went on passing to the end of the queue. At last, over one month later, he returned to me my agile steed with a 27 instead of the 20. Let's recapitulate: 50 - 44 x 14-16-18-22-27. Instead of testing the bike, I preferred to catch an off-season flu (in june, what a disgusting idea), and so I left without training. Speaking of this, I will say that from 1988 to now I have suffered only one flu, altogether one day in bed with fever, in February of 1999. I like to think that I owe this almost total immunity to cycling. Cycling is physical and mental welfare. After a day on bicycle you are in high spirits, and the ache in your legs, when it's there, passes off very soon, replaced by a pleasant sense of lightness. And the joy of a great dish of braised with "polenta", tasted after having overcome some alpine passes, has few equal in the list of the possible human experiences. You can also eat gladly braised with "polenta" after having spent a whole day sunk in an armchair, for example watching one stage of Tour de France on tv, but it is not exactly the same thing.
In 1987 I inaugurated the good habit of keeping a journal. I owe to it the possibility to reconstruct today the itineraries followed in all these years (with the exception, as we will see, of 1989).
CICLOGIRO 1987 - Partenza il 25 giugno
STAGE 1 - Milano-Casale Monferrato, km. 105 (at that time I didn't have a cyclocomputer, so I have calculated the distances on the maps)
Vigevano is worthy to be remembered for its splendid Piazza Ducale. Excepting Vigevano, the route, entirely flat, is a bit boring. In Casale, in order to shade the sense of parting, I lodge at the Hotel Milano.
STAGE 2 - Bossolasco, km. 106,5
From Casale, I come to Asti following a beautiful hilly road passing through Ozzano, Moncalvo and Calliano. From Asti unwisely I turn into the road 231 toward Alba, very busy, and lashed by a strong contrary wind. Then from Alba I climb up to Bossolasco through the nice road number 29, which is 28 km long. Unfortunately, about halfway, it starts raining. I felt the lack of training: at the end I was exhausted.
STAGE 3 - Ovada, km. 126,5
After few kilometers with a slightly irregular altimetry, the road goes down gently to Montezemolo, where I turn into the state road toward Savona, soon left for making for Dego. Here I turn into the state road 542, which is hard in the first kilometers, with a very steep slope, but afterwards, near Giusvalla, it's flat. I go down toward Sassello, renowned for its amaretti (macaroons: I can assure that its reputation is well deserved), and go on to Palo, at the top of another hard ascent. Except for one more short climb near Tiglieto, as far as Ovada it's all downhill. In the photo taken in Giusvalla, you can notice, besides the splendid grace of my bicycle, the solution I had found for verifying my itinerary: a card with the altimetric profile of the daily stage, hanged to the frame. Since the next trip, I was going to opt for a little card inserted in a wallet hanged to my neck.
STAGE 4 - Torriglia, km. 81
In a sunny day I go along the "Strada dei Vini dell'Alto Monferrato", passing through Gavi. The toils of the hard ups and downs are rewarded by the beauties of the scenery, in which the vineyard dominates on the hills often set out spectacularly as an amphitheatre. The state road "dei Giovi", then, is less interesting, but fortunately not busy, thanks to the proximity of a motorway. In Busalla, a little before the Passo dei Giovi, I turn toward Torriglia, through a road not particularly charming, and at the top of an easy climb I come to my destination in the middle of the afternoon.
STAGE 5 - Bedonia, km. 91,5
After a slight uphill, followed by an equally slight downhill, the state road 45 leads me to Montebruno, when I ask how is the road to Barbagelata. "Nice" they answer me, "panoramic...there is a little climb, you have to go uphill to 1100 meters...". I take the blow with self-assurance, but meanwhile I begin learning two lessons: never rely completely on the maps, neither the ones by the Touring Club Italiano, which I always used, in regard to secondary roads; and never trust the locals completely about peculiarities of the roads. Nobody considers cyclists. A friend of mine in 40 years has never realized that from Milano to Venegono Superiore, where he goes often in week ends, there is a difference in height of 200 m. I myself had to tell him about it. Of course: he has gone there always driving a car, or travelling on train. Barbagelata is a hamlet with two or three buildings at 1115 m of altitude, and the road passing through it is not panoramic at all. After the alpine slope of the ascent, here's a wonderful downhill perfectly suitable for consuming totally the brakes of my bicycle, on a roadway as wide as a marbles track. Fortunately, very soon I can turn left for coming in the valley of Aveto stream, gently downhill to Parazzuolo. From here a nice road leads, in approximately 20 km, to Borgonovo Ligure. Here begins the uphill to Passo del Bocco (860 m), 15,5 km long. It's hot. The subsequent downhill to Bedonia is very pleasant.
STAGE 6 - Castelnuovo Garfagnana, km. 127,5
It's a pity that there is mist, because the road leading to Borgotaro is really beautiful. Very enjoyable, as well for cycling, is the following climb to the Passo del Brattello (953 m). The downhill winds, at least in the first kilometers, through a magnificent wood. I'll remember it further, next Aulla, when heat will become oppressive along the uphill to Foce Carpinelli (842 m), from where the road descends to Castelnuovo Garfagnana. How can you defend yourself against heat? In my opinion the only way is to try to not mind it too much. The real enemy of the cyclist, if anything, is the cold. My clothes: a long-sleeves T-shirt, a pair of cotton gloves, tennis shorts (unusual for cycling, I know it), sport shoes and socks, a white cotton cap. Almost always I have worn white T-shirts, in order to be seen more easily (not for narcissism, but to reduce the risk of being run in a tunnel).
STAGE 9 - Cortona, km. 132,5
The state road leading to Poggibonsi is fine but very busy. It's even more beautiful, and less busy, the road to Castellina in Chianti. Then I go on to Radda and Castelnuovo Berardenga. The scenery is beautiful, the climate absolutely ideal. And there is not traffic. Not long after Castelnuovo I turn into the state road 326, also very nice, but much more busy, and with a surface only just redone, with the crushed stone adhering to my tyres and sticking them to the asphalt. I try to save from sure death a magnificent, enormous, blue green-spotted earthworm which wanted to cross the wide road headless of the heavy traffic and of its own slowness, but I can't do it. I have never seen an earthworm so beautiful like that. I come with happy carelessness to Camucia, a hamlet lying at the foot of Cortona.
STAGE 10 - Gubbio, km. 81
Early in the morning I come to Cortona, that is wrapped in a dreadful stuffiness. The town is swarming with tourists, perhaps there is a market, and I can't ever enter. Therefore I go away immediately, making for Portole (824 m) and the Passo della Cerventosa (742 m). It's a very panoramic and peaceful road, but there is too much haze, and I can't admire the landscape. This itinerary, after the downhill to Umbertide, ends in Gubbio, when I come in the middle of the afternoon. I remember that I had considered Gubbio a beautiful town, but not very moving, as I wrote on my journal. But I was too young and inexperienced, and thought yet too much of cycling, and not enough of reaping the fruits of my labours.
STAGE 11 - Todi, km. 98
I head south through the state road 298, going up to over 650 meters of altitude, pushed by a very appreciated favourable wind, in a pretty agreeable natural environment. I go round Perugia, and passing through Marsciano and Fratta Todina I come to Todi very early in the afternoon. In my journal I write that Todi disappoints my expectations. I was really stupid, then!
STAGE 12 - Norcia, km. 115
From Todi I turn into the road of the Monti Martani, passing through Bastardo (from the name of a bandit) and leading to Montefalco. The very gentle ups and downs, the tepid air, the sight of the vast sunflowers fields, the lack of traffic, make this route ideal for cycling. In my journal I write also that Montefalco is nice, but after all these little medieval towns of Central Italy are all the same. I find hard to believe it was me who wrote such a nonsense. I go down to Trevi and the "Via Flaminia" opposed by a very violent wind. On the "Via Flaminia", which runs along the "Fonti del Clitunno" and leads to Spoleto, it's hot, and a violent warm contrary wind blows uninterruptedly. In Spoleto I don't stay even for a minute, because I had visited it in the last February (but I would consider insufficient today such as justification), and go uphill to the Forca di Cerro (734 m), which is an easy climb. The last part is downhill as far as Norcia.
STAGE 13 - L'Aquila, km. 108,5
Placing the bags on the bicycle is a not always handy operation requiring some minutes. In front of the hotel, in Norcia, a cat has been watching me all the time, and at the end of every single operation, as if the little animal understood the intimate rhythm of that work, it looked away from the bags and stared at me with a questioning glance, as if it said: 'What are you doing? I've never seen anything like that before'. It has almost embarassed me! Then a women, its master, has come, confirming that it was an "observing cat". Animals solidarize willingly with cyclotourists, but they feel a strong dislike for the bicycle, because of the ultrasounds produced when it goes on. So I get used to hear dogs barking as I pass, especially when they can't see me because they are shut up, and the cockcrow at every time of the day.
From Norcia I go uphill as far as Forca Canapine (1541 m), along a nice panoramic road. I arrive at Amatrice too late for tasting an "amatriciana". Going on along the state road 260, pleasantly wavy, I reach L'Aquila.
STAGE 14 - Ascoli Piceno, km. 125
In the last kilometers of the previous stage, I had noticed that the front tyre had a big hole, through which I could admire the inner tube ready for receiving the offence of an easy puncture. After 12 km, the inevitable happens. Obviously, in addition to the inner tube, I change the tyre as well. Near Assergi there are about 6 km of climb not easy, and today my legs don't work properly. But when I turn into the provincial road of Vasto, the slope ends. No traffic at all, cows in the middle of the roadway. A calf, as soon as it notices me, starts gallopping frightened. I'm sorry, but I don't know how to calm down a calf. The road starts again rising, slowly, up to 1455 meters, and then it descends to the Passo delle Capannelle (1299 m). It's raining a little, and it's almost cold. Passing through Montorio, I come to Teramo, that I watch only from far. Teramo lies in a fine position, but at that moment I have the feeling that it isn't worthy of a visit (but really, what do I know about it?). The sky is still cloudy, and every now and then it sends me some drops. The road from Teramo to Ascoli has very close ups and downs. I arrive at Ascoli Piceno avoiding a big storm by the skin of my teeth.
STAGE 15 - Jesi, km. 131
STAGE 16 - Faenza, km. 181
STAGE 17 - Mantova, km. 179
By now I'm oriented toward home. In these two days, along the flat, endless, straight roads, I've seen at least two serious car accidents, with destroyed cars and badly injured men and women lying down on the asphalt. This is not civilization. Succumbing to the natural phenomena is a thing, but digging our own grave for giving in to a mistaken feeling of freedom is in my opinion a sign of madness.
STAGE 18 - Milano, km. 158
After one more insignificant gallop on the plain, I'm at home. Have I learnt the true mean of travelling by bicycle? I was going to take a break for thinking about it. I covered 2182 km, at an average of 121 a day, and I tell me it's too much for the idea of cyclotourism that is maturing in my mind.