Ben: In our preparations for today’s ride into Tuscany, we failed to realize one very important thing – in order for us to get into Italy’s artistic heartland, we had to climb over a mountain, after which there were only “rolling hills”.
We began our climb with the sounds of rifle shots and the pinging of metal targets at a shooting range downhill of our many switchbacks, while an old woman lit candles at an alter built along the side of the road. All the while, Bree was cursing her bike and wondering aloud why we chose this slow and painful mode of transportation. Instead, she fantasized about having a motorcycle or even a scooter to motor us up the hills in no time at all.
As is nearly always the case, following our ascent came the quick descent. We descended fast into the quiet Tuscan villages as we headed toward Lucca. The fields were vibrant and green and the “hills” in the background made the perfect setting.
Bree: Lucca’s walls were impressive right from the outset and we were glad we made the side trip just as soon as we arrived. We rolled very slowly, stopping about every five seconds for photos and eventually wheeled our bikes up a ridiculously steep path so that we could ride around the walls. We found a regular ramp to the top of the wall before we even caught our breath and laughed to ourselves that we always do things the hard way.
The top of the walls seemed to be serving as Lucca’s only gym, with people jogging, biking, and even doing their situps all over the place. We stopped for lunch which mostly consisted of treats from our bag, and then headed right into the heart of the city. We cruised the narrow streets, glad not to be following around a tour guide with the rest of the tourists in their matching t-shirts. The town was busy both with visitors and with locals heading to and from church and conducting their business. At one point, we stepped into the church in the square only to discover a service in progress. I didn’t feel like it was the appropriate time to take a photo, but I did turn on my camera’s video function to capture some of the beautiful music resonating through the stone walls. It was so cool!
Toward the end of our visit, we heard drums and headed over to see what the fuss was about. Lots of people, dressed in medieval costumes were playing drums and dancing and putting on quite the spectacle. Since we don’t speak Italian, we didn’t catch most of what was going on, but it was quite the celebration!
We were reluctant to head out of Lucca and on toward our campground. Something about the pace of things here has made us way too lazy. We could sit on any old bench and shoot the breeze for hours, watching the people go by. We knew we would want to be to camp though, so we headed out for the next 25 miles of our ride.
The ride weaved through towns and fields, most of which were closed up for the day, quiet. We had a bit of a wind in our faces, but it seemed no matter as we pedaled. The hills rolled up and down at at nice pace and all in all the ride was pretty pleasant. About 10 miles from where our GPS showed the campground to be, we stopped to regroup and grab a snack to tide us over for the rest of our ride. We were getting tired and ready to be done for the day, and rallied ourselves for the finish.
The first couple of miles rolled along a lovely river and we were encouraged at our quick progress. From there however, the route got steeper, and steeper, and steeper still until we realized we weren’t camping just at the foot of the mountain, but right on top of it. The final three miles were a dead straight up climb to which Ben commented, “any hill that has more than 10 switchbacks is no longer considered a hill.” We’re from Utah where mountains are a thing, and this was definitely a mountain we were climbing.
It was hot, and after nearly 50 miles of loaded riding, we were exhausted. A few residents cheered us on as we pedaled, but it barely registered with my exhaustion. We thought to just pitch our tent anywhere we could see, but nothing had enough cover or seclusion to make a safe camp, so we just kept pedaling. In three miles I probably stopped 10 times just to get my heart rate under control. I was up out of my seat and standing on my pedals pretty frequently just to keep my bike from tipping over.
I thought back to all of the spin classes we attended last winter and laughed at how much easier even the toughest workout was compared to today’s ride. The views were spectacular, but I didn’t even care, I just wanted to be there already! Gratefully, Ben had the good sense to pull over and capture a few of the details.
Ben cheered me up the final decent and finally, FINALLY we rolled into a beautiful, wooded campground. Too tired to even think straight I just stood there while Ben took care of check in, set up our tent and mats, and sent me to shower. Thanks dude! I was so relieved to just be done moving.
Tomorrow, we ride 25 miles into Florence which should be some of the quickest downhills we’ve ever ridden!