And fortunately our group of four tour-experienced, couples kept our heads as we faced one of our most challenging tours ever. We spoke up, made wise decisions and even toughed it out. Our four challenges included fire, wind, rain and more…..
Our challenges began on the second day – we planned to stay in an agri-tourismo near Abbateggio. We headed down-valley from L’Aquila roughly following the Aterno river toward Pescara, stopping for a cappucino in Raiano. The temperatures rose to those uncomfortable high-90s, low-100s and, unbeknownst to us, Italian copy-cat arsonists were on the loose. Just before stopping at a villa for a delightfully cool sit-down lunch, we climbed a hot, little “booger” hill and checked out the olive oil, olives and wine in Tocco Casauria. As we exited the cool villa and looked down-valley, we spied some smoke near Abbateggio. A few of us shuttled directly to our rooms while others continued riding into the late afternoon.
At our planned agri-tourismo, ash from a wildfire was blowing into closed guest rooms. The last cyclists barely arrived when eight of us called a meeting to “get us out of here.” The evening was spent evacuating cyclists and bicycles (we insisted) to another hotel in Bocca di Valle after a long, circuitous, detour-laden route. A late – even by Italian standards – dinner was nevertheless appreciated. Lesson 1 – where there is fire, get away. Don’t burden locals with your presence or take chances.
The next day we’d planned to ride up the classic Giro climb, BlockHaus from the northwest. Due to our emergency relocation, we instead approached BlockHaus from the east. Fire-generated wind challenged us the day before but in this day all was calm. We skirted the Majella Parco Nazionale and made it through Pretoro uneventfully. The skies were still a little smoke-grey but to the eye the views and the ride was exactly what we’d hoped. The wind picked up after entering the national park but it was insignificant to us. We drank at natural water fountains and made our way up to Passo Lanciano. Continuing with the climb under ceilings of verdant green trees was cooling even on the shrouded day and up we went as twigs and small branches were thrown down on us like a gauntlet. We broke out above the tree-line as we passed through a flock of sheep. We found the wind!
The next few days were remarkably “normal”…we rode past pasta factories, ate great Italian food, drank wonderful Italian wine, visited places where Pope John Paul stayed to hike the mountains, ate gelato and splashed in the Adriatic Sea. We rode up and down and around. It was great! Then we faced Gran Sasso. We climbed and then we climbed more. We broke past the trees and into low autumn clouds. And we climbed. As we passed the peak, the highest in the Apennines, temperatures cooled. When we left a cozy little restaurant at lunch, the clouds opened up as they do in the high mountains. Down we rode through cold, drenching streams and across rivulets. Down we rode, curving through one set of debris-strewn switchbacks and then another on our return to L’Aquila. Finally we broke through to some late afternoon sun and the valley floor back to town. “Okay,” we thought, “survived the deluge.” But, no, mother-nature left us saturated once more within a kilometer of the marble-cobbled street to the hotel. Wheels and bicycle cleats slipped constantly as we wobbled up the last steep 1/2 block. Lesson 3 – where there is rain AND cobblestone, walk to avoid falls! If necessary, walk in your stocking feet.
It didn’t happen while we were there but about 18 months later. The beautiful city of L’Aquila succumbed to a 5.9 earthquake with 297 people dead. Today L’Aquila continues to suffer from the effects of the 2009 earthquake which damaged many of the beautiful monuments, promenades and historic buildings in this wondrous place. Lesson 4 – be aware of the local weather patterns, geography and geology that could affect your tour to prepare as much as possible. Then, get lucky!
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Tail winds and thanks for reading!
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