jeudi 29 octobre 2015

North Appenine: Liguria, Emilia, Toscana

Having noticed that after all my summer BIGs, the nearest from Nice was now passo del Ghiffi, which was the first of a string of BIGs in the north Apennine, I began to think seriously about going this way. As the highest BIGs of the set topped no more than 1600 m, I thought it was perfect for a mid-season trip. So in the last days of October I was back on the BIGs road again.

My initial plan was to go directly to Florence by train and to turn back to Chiavari, at the foot of the passo del Ghiffi, where I could take easily a train back to Genoa, Ventimiglia and Nice. But when I arrived in Ventimiglia to take the 4.40 am train that would lead me to Florence, I had the unpleasant surprise to find all the doors locked, so I had to go to train head where the “capotreno” saw my bike and refused me access. Though I told him I intended of course to dismount it, I had to resign to take the regional train that left 20 minutes later, disappointed to see that in Italy the train inspectors were as stupid as in France. But the problems were not finished as a few minutes later we were all invited to get out of this train to take the following one that was
supposed to leave 15 minutes later. We left in fact even later, and two trains having been replaced by one, it was overcrowded while approaching Genoa. I felt that reaching Florence in these conditions would take me the whole day, so I decided to leave the train in Chiavari and perform the trip in the other way. I sacrificed the passo della Futa, as it seemed now highly unlikely that I could ride to Florence and turn back to Nice on time for the Nice-Lille football match. But I still had 8 BIGs left on my program which was quite enough to satisfy me.

I left the Chiavari suburbs heading north towards Borzonasca. The 3 kilometres before the last one of passo del Ghiffi are very hard but fortunately the road gets easier 1 kilometre from the pass and the last 500 m go downhill (the other side seems easier, as more regular). After the pass, the descent continues to passo del Bocco where I crossed the road that was fatal to Wouter Weylandt, heading towards Varese Ligure and Sesta Godano. The road climbs again with some drops until the start of the Zum Zeri climb where things get tougher as this climb is a serious one.

As an effect of my usual absent-mindedness, I forgot to close my saddle bag before beginning the descent and the jacket I had inside fell into the rear wheel, blocking its rotation and causing the tire to rip on the road, which led to a hole and a flat before I realised what was happening. At first the hole seemed enormous but seen from the inside it was much smaller. So I put a patch inside the tire and went down slowly to Pontremoli. I was wondering whether I’d find a bike shop in this city but to my great delight there was a big one at the first roundabout when entering town. I had some talk with the shop owner while he was fixing the wheel. He looked incredulous when I told him I was about to go to passo
del Cirone as soon as my bike was ready, as it was now nearly dark. He told me that the possibilities of sleep on the other side of the pass seemed to him very scarce and that I’d better go to the convent of Pontremoli where they had rooms for travellers. My fighting spirit had been greatly lowered by the tire incident, so I followed the advice and went to the convent. There were two people here waiting for the eventual pilgrims, I was asked for my pilgrim card, which of course I had not, but they accepted me anyway, telling I would be the one and only to stay here this night.

As I’ve been left free to leave my cell at any time, I was up at 4 a.m. to attack passo del Cirone. The first part is on the passo della Cisa road, but leaves it at the first hairpin. There are some drops at the beginning but the gradient increases as the pass comes closer. As I’ve been told the day before, I didn’t see many hotels in my descent towards Corniglio. I crossed passo del Ticchiano on my way to passo Lagastrello, where I turned back to go to Passo di Pradarena (it was possible here to go down the tuscanian side, and come back by passo del Ceretto but it was a bit longer). On my way to Pradarena I had to cross Passo di
Pratizzano which is not a little job. At the beginning of Pradarena climb, there was a post indicating a 10% gradient for 1 km, so I thought things would get easier after 1 km, but at the end of this kilometre there was the same 10% post for 2 km more! Anyway after these 3 km the road gets a little easier up to the pass. I had then a long descent down to Piazza al Serchio and along the Garfagnana valley when finally I turned left to take the San Pellegrino climb.

All these roads in the Apennine are generally quite steep, but San Pellegrino is by far the hardest. From the outskirts of Pieve Foscagno, there are 13 km from which 11 are hard, the last stretches before the sanctuary reaching the 20% gradient. There was a very high wind coming from the mountain, so it was impossible, with in addition the weight of my bag, to stand on the pedals. So I had to join the fraternity of walking pilgrims in some parts to reach the San Pellegrino hamlet. It was 7 p.m., I intended first to ride to Abetone before stopping for the night but the wind was so strong that I stopped at the hotel in San Pellegrino.

In the morning, the wind having blown all night long, there was not a single cloud in the sky and the view over the Apuan Alps made me happy not to have missed it passing by at night. I finished the climb of passo Pradaccio and went down to Pievepelago and turned in the direction of Abetone, which turned out to be the easiest climb of the trip. On the descent, I went down to Rivoreta and a succession of downs and very steep highs led me to Melo and the start of the Croce Arcana. This road climbs steadily but never inhuman up to a small ski resort called Doganaccio. At the end of Doganaccia, the asphalt stops but there are just 2 km of track that can be ridden easily. I turned back at the top so can’t tell how the track is on the other side.

The BIGs were now over and I just had to get home. In Melo, I stayed on the road going down to Cutigliano and La Lima. There I had to choose between going to Pistoia or Lucca. I chose Lucca, Pistoia would have been closer but as both towns are on the same train line, I don’t think it would have changed anything. I took the first train to Viareggio where I had soon a train to La Spezia, followed by a train to Savona. In Savona, I saw that the next train was an InterCity, so forbidden to bikes. I dismounted it carefully and I had no problem with the capotreno, although he had a remark about the bike not being in a bag. I was in Ventimiglia at midnight, later than the last train to Nice, so I had to make a last two-hours ride along the sea to turn back home.

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