Well, I am out of the mountains. Darn.
I am sitting here in Parma, in a tiny little hostel. Parma is lovely and small, no tall buildings and lots of trees, very reminiscent of Eugene, Oregon or Chico, California- nice little college town, in Italy, with a nice historic center. There is a river here, and I wonder why no one is swimming in it- it is hot! I am sunburnt again, and a bit zonked from three days of climbing. There was one 650 meter climb up to Bracco Pass, and another 850 meter climb after that, with numerous small climbs in between; let’s just call it a couple thousand. It has been beautiful, and I have been enjoying the weather, though I did get rained on outside of Genoa, a few sudden, heavy, and cold showers, but after that I was let be.
As is not uncommon for me, I was into the last leg of the climb to Bracco pass, completely prepared to camp, but for water. Also not uncommon, I was too shy to ask the few reclusive looking villagers for a fill-up, so I suffered the uncertainty of the situation, chastising myself for my meekness and eagerly eyeing abandoned buildings and closed hotels for any spigots. There are none. No roadside springs, no village fountains. After one such abandoned/empty hotel and its outbuildings, in which I actually dismounted and wandered around, I gave up and started up the hill once more. About fifty feet up the road, on the uphill side, was a small spring of water pouring directly out of a rock. By Moses’ beard! If I can’t drink this then there is no hope for us. I fill all my bottles after trying it out: cold and delicious. I find a campsite immediately, grateful for the fortuitous spring and glad to be off the saddle. My legs are shredded from this day, though not as bad as after the Pyrenees. Granted, there was not quite as much continuous climbing, but I think it will take a lot more to harm my seasoned legs at this point. My campsite was very nice- so nice, in fact, that I eschewed the tent once more and bivouacked again.
I was sort of rushed getting the last blog post out- in such good company, I hardly had any time to sit reclusively and write, fortunately! I omitted pictures of my last campsite, and was also necessarily brief in my summary of my time in Genoa, and sloppy in general, I see in hindsight… Particularly I would like to mention Daniel and Josh, the pair of Canadians I met there. These guys saved up a good sum and are tramping around Europe for a few months in grand style, and I greatly enjoyed their company. Josh turned 20 years of age while we were there, and Dan is 19! They are both well-rounded, balanced guys, and I am hard pressed, at the grizzled old age of 26, not to look back and think about where I was at their age. I was too poor to travel, which I like to conveniently blame on the economic state of the Union around 2010. All I can say is that they will greatly benefit from their travels and I am so happy for them that they are seeing what is out here while in such formative years. (Hey, I’m still in my formative years too, I’m up and coming!) I am very grateful to them, and to Sam, the Australian girl, and also the Canadian girl- I am a terrible person and can’t recall her name- for recharging my spirits. I rolled into that hostel- called Victoria Hostel, in case you were wondering- very weather-worn; a little loose in the head and certainly physically exhausted. I left feeling great.
I also met a very intelligent and verbose German man named Novi who I learned quite a bit from, a good chap. There was a French man who is living in Germany, a programmer as well, who I only talked with briefly, but would loved to have kept in contact with… unfortunately I missed him! I liked his essence.
A funny little side-story: I was sitting somewhere in the hostel the second night and I stood up and realized my keys had fallen out of my pocket, which surprised me almost to the point of suspicion, for my pockets are very deep… but after a moment of scepticism I accepted it and picked them up. The next morning, as I am about to leave, I see the Canadian guys and charm them into helping me carry my bags downstairs (thanks guys). I deposit my keys, and they mention that they lost theirs, though definitely somewhere in the hostel, so it’s okay. They help me down and we realize they’ll have to buzz to get back in! Should have kept my keys. I forgot to say goodbye to Sam, and I am thinking this while I pack, when the Canadian duo and Sam emerge from the hostel for more exploration of Genova. They do not see me though, and are soon down the street! Darn, maybe I’ll catch them at the light. After securing my bags, I dart down to the intersection, but I missed them. Darn! Oh well, time to figure out how to get out of here. As I roll East, someone hollers at me and there they are, the troublesome trio! We wave, and I ride off, glad to have bidden Sam adieu. I stop at a busy intersection, and am annoyed by things in my pockets, what’s in there? My wallet, that can stay, and what are these? Another set of keys!!! It all comes together: I pocketed the keys they lost and I didn’t realize it! I tell you, these pockets are deep. Now I have to go back to the hostel, lug my bike inside, and go up to the third floor to return these. Dang, not how I wanted to start my day, but there’s nothing for it. If only I could find my pals again, but it is impossible- everything to see, as far as I can tell, was South or West of the hostel, and in the maze of streets I could never find them. I cut the wrong way through a bus stop and pull up at an intersection, waiting for the light to turn and hoping none of the cars or scooters pulls anything dangerous. As the light turns, I look up. Well, who do I see but Daniel, Josh, and Sam across the way? I pull up to them from behind, elated, and say, “Hey, I found your keys.” I think I surprised them pretty good. They were thanking me for finding them and I was thanking them for returning them for me and I was all jacked up on that strong hostel coffee and we were all talking at once and I took off as they all laughed at my sudden appearance. That worked out! Josh and Dan only live 3 hours from Seattle, so I hope to see them again sometime!
The point of that recap was pictures- here are some pics of my campsite before Genoa, and the one after:
I slept very, very well, even without a sleeping pad or protection from bugs. There was a boar making a lot of noise just up the hill though, those things make me nervous! I’ve never seen a live one, but the dead ones are huge. The morning after, I returned to my spring and filled up again. I crossed Bracco pass, which was just a little further on, and hit a gorgeous descent. Italy is beautiful. At this point I am just going to assume that this whole trip will be beautiful, wherever there are trees, at least- Khazakstan sounds rough…
I kept along a river and the elevation was tame for a lot of the day, which was good, because I was toasted. It kept getting steeper though, and I wound up threading up another big hill up towards another pass- Terenzo? I can’t recall. I get to a false summit and decide to call it a day around four o’clock, for I can tell I am tired, and this time I am well prepared, with lots of water. I find another lovely little campsite, and gratefully sit down. As I read and eat I notice a lot of ants and a tick or two, so I elect to set up the tent.
I love settling in to my temporary home- when it is a good spot- and tidying up as the sun goes down. The last three camp sites have been above little villages, and you can watch the little lights turn on below. When you lay down, you are surrounded by these warm little constellations, humble centers of life, homes and hearths. It makes me comfortable, happy.
A lot of the time I am thinking about logistics or the weather I’m in, what’s around the corner. Or at the end of the day, about the condition of my body and where to sleep. Today my chain was squeaking and I was worried that maybe my cassettes are too worn, or maybe my chain is stretched. I have also had to tighten my headset a couple times, something in my front forks is loose. This stuff one focuses on as you squeak along, setting off every dog in the countryside. Other times, in fragile, fleeting moments, I am overcome by it all. On a quiet ridge today I rode, afforded expansive views from both sides, surrounded by trees and grassy plains, and I felt it. There is nothing like it, this serenity, this sense of oneness. It is complete belonging, a perfect moment, the sense of gratification without any desire attached. It is subtle, it is pervasive, it is ineffable. These moments are the sort that make the last seven weeks worthwhile. These are the timeless places, the secret worlds within the world. Hidden they are, in plain sight. Beyond luxury and comfort, at the other end of great challenge, are these moments to be found. One feels in the simplicity of these experiences that we were made to plant seeds in the world, to create life and spread love, and the world was made to plant seeds in us, to cultivate the rich soil of our hearts. Symbiosis, mutually fulfilling.
I think of the places I have called home for a night, the hidden parts of the earth in which I have dwelled. There have been many, and they are almost always hard to get to, discovered by a slow mode of travel, without motor. There is a grace in the energy put into finding home, having carried it all day. There is gratitude in safe harbor for the night, the setting down of labor and resting, breaking bread, laying down one’s head. Of these places, those found while backpacking do not always have the same sense of uniqueness or safety as these furtive sites off the road, for usually someone has been there before, and one is in a place delegated for camping. On the road, one is more in need of harbor, and that makes these places special.
Some views from the road today. I took my bike in to a bike shop after setting up at the hostel, for the aforementioned reasons. I saw the place on the road the hostel is on, and it said “repairs,” so I figured I’d check. I roll my bike in to this little shop, which consists of two men working on bikes at their stations, bikes, repaired and ready to pick up, and a little register in the corner. One of them speaks English, and as he finishes the bike he is on, asks me what is wrong. I tell him about the squeaking, how far I have gone, that it is in the high gears, etc. I also tell him about my front forks. He messes with my headset, but it doesn’t tighten up. He tinkers around awhile, and tells me that it is not fixed, but that it is not a big problem. I mention that I carry about 40 kilos. Not a problem. Then he pops my bike up on his stand, right then and there, and asks about the squeaking. He shifts through the gears, then brings me around to look at my big cassette in the back. He says that my cassettes and my chain are not the problem, that my jockey wheel is too close when I am in the middle and small rings. He sprays some WD-40 in everything and tells me to see how it rides. I take it for a spin, running it through the gears. The bike feels so strange without weight that I can barely ride it at first! The front is so wobbly, especially with the extended bar-stem, that I look like I just learned to ride the other day. I had to find a hill to test the gears on, but when I did I heard no squeaking. I take the bike back. Did you hear anything? Nope. Okay. I am satisfied, and ask how much- No charge. Really? No charge. He also implored me not to change my chain until problems arose, then to change my chain and my back cassettes, because the new chain will mess up the shifting pattern. What a guy! I was afraid I’d be out forty euros by the end of this. I don’t know what my cyclist friends think of this (He hem… comment below…) but these guys definitely knew what they were doing. It looks as if they fix fifty-odd bikes- of every shape and color- a day, every day. The little shop doesn’t even show up on the map, and there isn’t even a name in the window, but I think it is called Cyclotopia or something to that effect, based on the t-shirts the guys were wearing. Great guys! They’re on Via Trento, in Parma.
Oh, last night a boar came within 20 feet of my tent, loped up the hill, fast, and stopped a ways away, making that coughing grunting noise they do. I wasn’t sure what to do. My knife was in a bag next to me, but I was zipped up tight! I was afraid to move, so I just waited til I heard it leave. Eventually I pulled my knife out and set it within reach. Man, these guys are everywhere! My plan, if charged, is to poke them in the eye with my scary knife. Hopefully this situation never comes up.
Well, that about does it. There are so many things and so many pictures I omit everyday, but there is simply too much, too much. I like it that way.