Italy Divide Report: Day 3

Italy Divide: Napoli – Lago di Garda, April 2019

Day Three: Vicious Italian sheepdogs and a drunken Jimi Hendrix tribute.

I woke up on the sofa in the abandoned house, shivering and cold. I hadn’t gone to sleep with my down jacket on, because I was still warm from riding. I wish I had. I had slept for just one hour after 36 hours cycling 583 km. I decided the best way to get warm was to get back on the bike.

The stretch of road ahead of me, through Tuscany, was a worry. Jay told me that this was where Josh Ibbett had been bitten by a dog last year. These local sheepdogs are vicious. They even look more like wolves than dogs. They hear you before you see them and they start barking.

Yes, you guessed it. In the dark of the night, I heard barking. It was off to my left and a little bit higher. As I raced on the sound got louder. Then I turned left. My bright light caught a hundred pairs of sheep’s eyes. Their enraged dog guardians were standing on small hills in the field. When they saw the light, the dogs went into an absolute frenzy. I stopped and picked up a rock. I retreated a little. They calmed down, slightly. I started walking forward, pushing the bike. They ran towards me. I got on the bike and started pedalling. Now, they were running alongside me, though on the other side of a barbed wire fence. I would be okay, wouldn’t I? I built up my speed. So did they and there were plenty of them, perhaps as many as 12.

All of a sudden, one of the wolves (that’s what it felt like!) leapt over the fence just in front of me. I still had my rock and pointlessly hurled it in an utter panic. I went into full sprint mode. Another dog jumped the fence and joined the first one and then a third. They were directly alongside me, snapping and snarling. It seemed to just go on and on but eventually, they started to drop back as I left their territory.

I was absolutely terrified. I have been chased plenty of times by dogs but this was easily the worst. I was thinking, what happens if one bites you? What if the other ones just join in? Then I’ll be on the ground with furious dogs all around me. I really had no way to protect myself and it had been a very nasty experience. I was on edge for the rest of that night. It would be another hour until dawn, and I kept hearing other dogs barking at me in the distance. Thankfully, I never passed close to them again. What a nightmare.

As dawn broke, the incredible beauty of the area became apparent. A wonderful sunrise with an extraordinary inversion cloud layer. I was now riding into Sienna, the route was really grippy, these were those white roads in the Strade Bianchi. Some were a bit nastier!

I got into town at about 08:00 and found a cafe to start to sort myself out. I had some digestive problems during the night and the results weren’t pretty. You can’t get the right food when you’re racing unsupported. It’s not unusual to feel quite unwell because you have to eat so much sugary processed crap. So, I found myself in a supermarket toilet having to clean myself and my kit with a handful of wet wipes. No clean and dry kit to change into, I made do! Very glamorous!

There was plenty of climbing ahead of me as we entered the Chianti region. Soon I hit Florence in the Saturday early evening tourist rush hour. Crazy stuff. What a city, riding past the Duomo. A great feeling. I stopped briefly and stocked up on food, buying a lot of handmade beautifully soft biscotti, perfect! Leaving Florence some dotwatchers turned up, which was brilliant. They took some photos as I whizzed by. Dotwatchers – if you’re reading this, please do send the photos to me!

There was a wonderful climb up into the Apennines, with some tough sections.

Into the dusk and sunset.

Then, the route became really difficult. Remember, I’m riding what is basically a cyclocross bike. This was a full out mountain bike descent. It was really dark and I had all my lights on. I was also going too fast, what can I say? I scared myself! When I say fast, I mean for the conditions. This is not as if I was dropping down off the Ventoux or Stelvio at 100kph on smooth tarmac. Due to the low speeds, my dynamo was not charging my battery pack for my external lights and the world around me was becoming deeper and indistinct. The climb I was about to tackle would take me up to 1,000 m. No way. I decided to find a hotel in the next town, have some sleep and charge everything up.

I thought this was muddy, little did I know what was to come!

I rolled into the town and went to the first hotel, full. The second, full, and it went on. Every hotel was full. Turned out there was a big motorbike race the day after at the nearby Mugello circuit. Plan B: I found a pizzeria. Plugged everything in. Ordered and ate 2 pizzas. Ordered and ate 2 desserts. Then Gino, drinking at the bar, got friendly. Hey! Come and stay at my place! OK – we end up at his place. I plug in everything; I stretch out on the sofa and he heads off back to the bar. I set my alarm for 3 hours, it all seemed perfect as I fell asleep.

An hour and a half later I wake up. It’s not because my alarm has gone off. It’s because Gino has come back from the bar and is now playing Jimi Hendrix on a guitar. I ask him: Please! No? Gino says just one more song. All my batteries are fully charged, I leave him to it and head out into the night.