Bike Touring Journals by Neil Anderson and Sharon Anderson Two for the Road Bicycle touring Italy
8 Supply and Demand
The tent was pitched at a more abrupt angle than usual on a steep hillside overlooking a small lumber yard complete with requisite barking dog. Sharon figured during the night we may become human bobsleds. I thought we would be okay if we anchored our butts to the camprest with Velcro.
In the morning, after a relatively sleepless night spent scrunched into a ball at the bottom of the tent, we stopped for groceries in a small hamlet. Sharon, fearing her lack of showers would be repugnant inside closed quarters, had yet to discover what was on the other side of an Italian grocer's door. Since it was early no customers were yet inside, so I persuaded her to come in with me. As we shopped, a woman entered and pushed her way past us. Her pit smell made my eyes water. Sharon said: "I don't know what I was worried about."
We were out of Nestle Quik hot chocolate. I found outrageously priced two hundred fifty gram sizes, but didn't purchase, preferring to wait for a better valued five hundred gram unit. Addiction or not, even I had my price limit.
Italians didn't eat much chocolate. Consequently, chocolate bars were expensive and I had chopped them from my daily caloric intake. Strangely, being close to Easter, stores began stocking giant decorated chocolate eggs. But not the chocolate egg sizes we had in America. These were the largest I had ever seen, standing a meter high with a circumference so great I doubted if I could put my arms around it. Maybe that was why Italians didn't eat much chocolate: They bought one of those humongous suckers each Easter, the whole family ate until they were ill and then they swore off chocolate for another year. Anyway, it all melted down to higher prices for me.
Italians didn't eat much junk food and were aware of proper eating habits. We hadn't seen many fat people. Sharon thought it was because the price of junk food was too high, no one bought it. I thought because no one bought it, the price was high. It was a vicious circle. Parents didn't buy sweets for their kids. The kids grew up without developing a sweet tooth. The result was piddling selection and extortionist prices for me.
I bought a hazelnut cream liqueur log (hazelnut was in many of the sweets) to add to my caloric intake. At the checkout, the customer behind me said, "If you eat that you'll get fat."
"Fat chance," I replied.
Sharon raised an eyebrow and asked me, "Who in America would ever say that to someone?"
I bought another 'oops.' The jam looked blue, and had a picture on the label depicting some type of blueberry with a strange split down the middle. And it was more expensive than the other jams, so it had to be good. Right? It turned out not to be blueberries at all, but powerfully strong and tart plum jam. Didn't they believe in putting sugar in jam? I realized why prunes kept one regular: Your body tried to get rid of them as soon as possible!
Hardly any cars travelled the road we were on. We cycled for an hour without encountering one car. The air temperature was on the coolish side; with the wind, being outside verged on miserable. A chain saw buzzed across the valley. While eating brunch on a steep side road leading to a logging area I sat on a thorn that poked through our ground sheet-picnic blanket. I was stunned the thorn had been able to penetrate my buns of steel.
Little did that man in the store know, but that hazelnut log was but a mere snack for my benzina belly. At the same sitting, along with the hazelnut log, I ate seven hundred grams of chocolate chip cookies and half a jar of plum jam (only half because I didn't like the taste). And still I continued to lose weight.
Looping gracefully down the mountainside, we freewheeled out of the hills toward Castiglion Fiorentin, a small town with impressive brick and tower architecture. An immense studded wooden door opened into the walled town. I felt I had gone back in time. For someone who loved churches, it was paradise: I counted sixteen.
It began to sprinkle with the wind blowing the precipitation earnestly into our faces. We pulled off the road beside a high walled (and locked) graveyard. The trees we sheltered under didn't block much wind or rain. Shivering in the ground sheet-rain poncho, Sharon confessed she would take a good old North American fir tree any day.
"Have you noticed how wimpy we've become?" Sharon asked. "We don't even want to ride in a little rain anymore."
"Yep," I agreed, "in Oregon I prayed for a day like this."
"Well," Sharon replied, "it took you a while to get it."
In Lucignano we were just in time to hit Highway 326 during afternoon rush hour. It was a shock after bicycling on lightly travelled mountain roads. But the traffic was bike friendly and the Italian drivers, especially the truckers, honked, waved and flashed their lights at us--not one finger amongst them.
In a couple of kilometers a dirt road led off the busy route to a logging area. We pushed our bikes along the foot high muddy ruts until we reached an area with spindly trees and a trickling stream. Little did we know it would be our home for the next three days.
I checked a nearby path and concluded that the thick overgrown vegetation meant it hadn't been used in a long time. Satisfied we wouldn't be intruding, we set up by the creek. In the dark, we cooked frozen Cordon Bleu. Suddenly, we heard the screeching of metal on metal and an orange light flickered through the trees. Moments later a Bobcat-sized caterpillar lurched by--its tracks grinding, headlights and amber flashers blazing. It lumbered down the overgrown path.
We heated a pot of water and washed up. It felt great to remove the layer of grime and sweat. I was hard pressed to think of a more unpleasant feeling than my legs sticking together when I tried to sleep.
The wind died down and I began to feel warmer. A man in the store had told me, "It's usually twenty degrees Celsius by this time of year." The high for the day had been half that, and that was before factoring in the numbing wind. Being out in the elements twenty-four hours a day had inflicted me with a few ailments. My nose embarrassed me by dripping unexpectedly at inopportune moments. Was there an opportune moment? I sported two cranky cold sores that just wouldn't go away. My left eye featured a Jupiter-like red spot on the lower lid. Sometimes both my eyes felt as if they were burning in brimstone. Only my ears were still working properly. "Scuzi?" I asked Sharon. Okay, maybe one was plugged a little.
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