The heat. The white roads. The gradients. The breeze.
Where are the shadows? Why not fill the pot holes?
The views. The deer. The vineyards. The hilltop castles and churches. The cypresses. The firecrests, the cirl buntings.
As breathtaking as the hills are for cyclegrims, this is even harder work than the spines of mountains we’ve previously crossed.
I had a dawn chorus walk in San Quirico d’Orcia, taking in the park and the sculptures by Emanuele Giannelli. Brutalist but intriguing.
Our first task on starting the day was to climb a brutal white road and worse, descend and lose all that altitude. Tuscan hills should be renamed for cyclists. Around every corner to climb to, there is another climb. These are the Tuscan Bluffs. It’s dispiriting because when the actual peak is reached, you coast down and the legs get a rest BUT there’s always another hill. And your legs have to get restarted, the hamstrings pinging, the knees begging for mercy. The first 5 km today took an hour and it was already 25ºC by 9:30am.
And then came another climb on route SS2, Via Cassia, repaired by Emperor Hadrian in AD 124. Today’s road surface was asphalt and much of it was smooth. The wrinkled and cracked bits are scary for my thin wheels – the mountain bike doesn’t even notice them. By contrast, the second hour took another 18 km off the distance to Rome.
We were lucky today. We followed SS2 for over 60 km. There are bits that are 14% but generally it was graded very well indeed. One memorable bit was a gain of 250 m on a monotonic surface over 5 km ending in a squiggle or two on bridges 40 m metres above dry river beds and ending in a 650 meters of cool air tunnel. It was 30ºC by then.
We found shade, lunched and I birdwatched because I heard unfamiliar calls and songs. Cirl Buntings were added to my life list. And this was in a horrible road siding but shaded. Noisy as trucks went by but we were sitting on a low wall in shade.
We carried on and on and on and then Lake Bolsena appeared. It’s the largest caldera lake in Europe, the surface expression of the Vulsini volcano which has been dormant since 104 BC.
I liked Bolsena and walked in the marina and lakefront for 90 minutes before dinner. Lots of bats appeared at dusk, flitting among the umbrella pines. We had learned of a connection to a native of the town through whom we got recommendations for ice cream and dinner. Both were spot on.