Monday, 20 June 2016

Caesar Arrives Triumphant into Rome

Our last two days of this epic journey kept us focussed right to the end. Here is that story. 


Capalbio to Campagnolo

The penultimate day would prove to be a long one, and longer indeed than it looked on paper. With a forecast suggesting quite warm conditions and our ride involving 155 kilometres and 2000+ metres of elevation gain, Dianne and I thought an early start would be a good idea. Dylan had discussed with our hotel management the possibility of an early breakfast but the best they said they could do was a 7:30 start. His charms must have had some effect however, as food was spread out much earlier than that and most of our group were down from their rooms early and eating by 7:15.

Conditions on the road early were glorious. With the sun still low we had the benefit of shady roads almost the first hour. It was relatively still and there were some great views. There was almost no traffic on the road so we could cruise along comfortably, enjoy the rolling terrain and feast our eyes. This video will give you some idea of what it was like ...


At about the 20 kilometre mark we arrived at our first real hill for the day when we joined a larger road with a bit more traffic. (If you want to see the Strava details of the ride, including location and the profile you can click on this link.) A little way up the hill I noticed a bike chain lying on the shoulder of the road. Without equipment on board to repair my own chain should lightning strike twice in the same place, I hoped that this was not a sign of the severity of the climb. thankfully the gradient remained sensible and my bike didn't blow apart.

Right from when we entered the northern fields of France we've been seeing poppies alongside the road and I've been chiding myself for not stopping to take more photos of them. Today I decided to make up for that omission ...



As the morning progressed I found myself caught up in a bit of a poppy frenzy. Seeing poppies on the roadside against a backdrop of wheat arrested my attention ...



 and when I passed a field of grain liberally scattered with poppies I decided to loop back and shoot a short video ...





Although a bit out of sequence, I thought I might as well give you the last of my day's poppy obsession sooner rather than later. For some reason I just liked this mixture of colours and textures ...




Something else that we've noticed on this journey, especially as we entered sunny Tuscany - but even earlier in more northern regions - has been the proliferation of solar power generation, often in modest-sized installations. It makes me ashamed as an Australian that we don't do more of this in our country. When we passed yet another example, this time with a couple of wind turbines thrown in for good measure I just had to stop and take a photo ...



The riding throughout the morning was quite varied and scenic and, despite wanting to cover as much ground before it got hot, I found myself stopping more than I thought I would to record the journey. At some point or other I stopped to take this photo of Di riding through dappled sunlight ...



Further along we crossed a bridge and spotted an old arch further downstream, reflected in the still water below ...



At another point I found an opportunity to record a classic, long gravel Tuscan driveway leading off to a farm with rolling hills in the background ...



Although the roadsides have not been so liberally dotted with Madonnas as some we've walked along in France we have occasionally seen them ...



As one would expect with the morning wearing on we found ourselves in sun more often than shade. Here's a video where we enjoyed a bit of shade for a while before emerging once again into the sunshine ...



Not long before lunch we descended through a small town where some sort of festival must have been happening, as the road leading back up into town was choked with a long line of traffic: something we have not seen since embarking on these quiet roads. A long climb followed and I got a photo of Di nearing the top (if you look closely you can see an eagle directly above her right shoulder) ...



We arrived at lunch in very good shape, with about 52 kilometres left to ride and despite some climbing still to come, an overall descent to our finishing point. Dylan had set up outside a café with a pasticherria next door and we had a pleasant little feast. It appeared that we'd finish the day nice and early, with perhaps two hours of riding left. However, this trip keeps throwing up surprises.

The first surprise was that Di discovered she'd left her water bottles sitting on the table at lunch. No problem really as we could call Dylan and ask him to bring them with him when he packed up. We'd just have to stop somewhere, which would slow us up just a little. But the second surprise really put the brakes on our progress. Although we'd been warned that the state of the roads would deteriorate as we neared Rome, we didn't imagine them getting quite as bad as they did. In fact we rode on numerous sections that were worse than any paved roads we've ever experienced on a road bike before. Often this was on narrow, twisty, up and down laneways so we had to proceed with greater caution as it was more likely than not we'd round a bend and be faced with a minefield of potholes, sometimes with a car in the middle of the road. In riding or horse racing parlance you'd be tempted to say that the surface was DEAD, except that frequently it was actually moving under one's wheels! Yet another adventure, but perhaps one we could have done without towards the end of a long day. Apparently there isn't really wasn't an alternative so close to Rome if we were to avoid extremely busy roads.

The saving grace for the bad roads later in the day was the magnificent hotel where we finished up. Set in an old estate, it is was a grand family building with spacious rooms. We had a most convivial dinner all together outside at a big table under a marquee. A marvellous way to finish another epic day.


A Short Roll into Rome

When we rose this morning we knew that we had less than fifty kilometres left to ride on this amazing trip. Everyone was pretty jubilant about the prospect of arriving nice and early after such a big outing yesterday. There were some formalities to get out of the way first, one of which was a group photo with all our kit on. After the photo I paused to honour the bike that has carried me so far on this journey ...

A bike fit for Caesar?
One of the really neat things about this hotel was that it is right adjacent to a section of original Roman road, which has been excavated and preserved for people to admire ...



Most of us agreed that it would have been just about as good to ride on as some of the bits of road we were on late yesterday!

Today's ride consisted of two distinct sections: the first 28 kilometres which we rode individually followed by a bike path that took us all the way into the centre of Rome. Here are the most of the Caesar crew waiting for the last few riders to arrive at our rendezvous point before we head off for our triumphant procession into what was the heart of the ancient Roman Empire ...


While we were there, less than 20 kilometres (as the Roman crow flies) from the heart of the city, we saw a mob of sheep being herded across the road. It was too far away to shoot a video, but here are a couple of photos to illustrate ...





For our last 20 kilometres or so we were on an elevated bike path that ran beside the famed River Tiber. This bit of riding was a lot more interesting that I imagined it might be. There were lots of cyclists of all sorts of bikes; there were plenty of walkers and runners; there were even people roller-blading and even one guy on a bike-sized scooter.

Anywhere else I've been in the world this excellent public amenity would have been well tended, but here it was significantly overgrown, so thickly in places that there was only room for one bike at a time. Here is a video I took while riding along behind Dylan. Towards the end of the video look for a guy on the left side of the path who is sharpening a scythe that he's been using to trim back a particularly bad section ...


As we got closer to the city the pathway moved down right on the bank of the Tiber at a bridge that gave the impression of having major significance in historical times. Here's a bunch of Ride-and-Seekers waiting for the rest of our unit to regroup ...


This next part of our ride continued to entertain. Here is a video shot as we rode right beside the river, only a couple of kilometres from our final destination ...


It wasn't long before we arrived at another flight of steps that took us off the bike path, then we were crossing a major road and we had about 400 metres of cobbles to finish the journey. Here's a photo of my bike and Di's finally resting after carrying us the 3300 kilometres or so from London ...


Here's what the understated entranceway to the hotel looks like ...



The hotel is an old convent right in the heart of the city. Part of it is still in fact a nunnery, and we have seen nuns coming and going. 

The next task was to go up to the rooftop for a group photo. We were lucky enough to have Philip Le Masurier, a professional photographer, along with us for the last two weeks of this journey. This is his photo ...


I got José to take a photo of Dianne and me with the city skyline in the background ...


Finally - for this post - I'd like to acknowledge the terrific support crew we've had on the second half of the trip. Mark, our new guide; Dylan, co-owner of Ride and Seek, and Phil the photographer joined Fede who had been with us from the start. Here they are ...

Dylan, Phil, Mark and Fede

They, along with Sam, Bruno and Richie from the first half of the ride were brilliant in getting us all from London to Rome. 

And that's it for this post. I'll do one  more in a couple of days - a retrospective - with some photo contributions from other riders. And that's all you'll hear from me. In the meantime, Ciao from Rome!