Tim, Alex and Paddy the final days leading to Rome
Tim, Alex and Paddy head from Nice to Rome
Day 6 was, on reflection, the toughest day of the journey. We had done our research on Tuscany and the hills, but most of the accounts we had read were written by people covering short distances without 17kg of weight on the back of their bikes! Thus, when we actually got down to it, it was much more difficult than expected. Although the gradients were not particularly steep, the roads were several kilometres long for each incline, which in the heat and without a sea breeze was extremely difficult. There were a number of occasions when we became disheartened by the locals’ reactions to our remaining journey when we sought directions, and again some of the direction we were given were very poor. We stopped for a lunch time break at a vineyard, the most tempting part of the trip! We were able to avoid sampling any of the local Chianti wines but did indulge in a fantastic lunch of pasta and antipasti – without doubt the best meal of the journey. Thereafter, we hit the roads and despite a lull in performance for the early part of the afternoon, we got a second wind which saw us through to Siena just in time for sunset and absolutely knackered. Siena, though, brought us to life for a few hours with its vibrant city life as rock bands performed in multiple areas amongst the ancient city, people flocked to the square and we indulged in some more great Italian food before bed.
Siena to Orbetello (via Grosseto)
The cycling out of Siena was as hilly as the way in, and this continued throughout almost the entirely of the journey, with little reprieve in between. The saying that “it gets easier as you go along” had been cursed on the previous days, but began to hold some truth on day 7. Whether our muscles were numb or they were finally becoming used to the hills, the fatigue didn’t kick in so quickly and we were able to sustain our energy levels for longer than we had done on previous days.
The journey was, of course, very tough and again not without incident. We would have ended up on the Auto Strada (the motorway - not for the first time) but to be heavily beeped by drivers wishing not to witness or be involved in our demise…and Paddy managed to fall off his bike in front of a tour bus whilst still being clipped in. Only his pride was hurt, thankfully. The highlight of the day had to be enjoying a traditional Italian bruschetta at a small Italian restaurant atop a hill, the owners of which were an elderly couple with great humour and as much zest for life (and wine) as anyone in their early 20’s. After pushing through some quiet towns we eventually made our way towards the coast to Grosetto, and then down to Orbetello, a beautiful little town surrounded by the sea (almost an island, but not quite). We enjoyed a huge homemade lasagne for 4 (plus much more I might add) before Alex gave a Henry V style speech to motivate his comrades ahead of the 5:30am rise.
Approximate distance covered: 135km
Day 8 - Orbetello to Rome
The final day began, unfortunately, without food. The breakfast at the hotel (understandably) didn’t begin until 7:30am, and we had no cereal bars, bananas or chocolate remaining from the previous day. Alex was happy enough to keep himself going by eating an orange from a nearby tree, but the general consensus was that we would fill up at the first shop or restaurant we passed. We did just that, stocking up on cereal bars, mars bars, biscuits and a tub of peanut butter…a healthy day all round. The weather wasn’t great throughout this journey and, whilst the light rain cooled us down and was not a problem, the intermittent thunder storms were difficult to handle. We already had a big distance to cover and being slowed by storms wasn’t great for morale. The great thing about this day was that the roads were relatively flat, and we were back on the coastal roads which made for some great scenery. We learnt from this trip that, until you know the roads and the towns, and unless you can predict the weather, it is impossible to know how long each leg of the trip would actually take. Some of the mountainous roads took us far longer than we had anticipated, simply because no distance was covered as we scaled the heights before making our way east. Some of the hilly roads were not steep gradients but were long, drawn up climbs which were not only physically very challenging but also mentally. Our last day, however, was more or less as predictable as we could have made it. Having trained at a pace of around 25-30km per hour, we knew that on flat roads, in decent conditions and with minimal traffic/disruptions, we could cover around 200km per day after deducting water and food breaks. In fact, we covered just over 140km in less than 10 hours, arriving in Rome in the late afternoon. Our entry into Rome was hampered by another thunderstorm, and we took shelter at a hotel. Riding through tunnels in heavy traffic and with rain drastically reducing visibility was dangerous, and we didn’t want to fall at the final hurdle. We were soon back on the bikes though and heading towards the Colosseum, our finish line! The feeling as we approached was one of excitement, pride and...to some degree, disappointment that it was over. It was an unbelievable experience and we hope that it has helped raise enough money to impact upon the lives of somebody else and, ultimately, to give others the great experiences that they wish for the most!
Approximate distance covered: 143km