The tents are pitched, my underarms smell fresh and all remnants of the days’ salty residues have been washed away. It is only day 9 and we already appreciate the simple things in life - a warm shower and roof over our heads. Today we crossed our second border and waved goodbye to Italy. Becs and I are very pleased with our progress and our early arrival in Slovenia. We are a day ahead of schedule. SVB on the other hand is tearing her hair out as we ruin her plans for her ‘warm shower’ hosts at every stop and make her ride for hours on end. There has only been one call for HARIBO gummy bears... STAT!
Day one seems like an eternity ago. For Becs and SVB, pedalling away from the office after almost 4 years was an emotional goodbye. A huge group of our colleagues waved us off as we pedalled down the side of Lac Léman on what felt like just another lunch time ride to Chexbres. The only difference was we were loaded with an extra 25kg worth of kit, our homes and clothes in four panniers, and absolutely no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We were hooting and cheering with a stonking tail wind at our backs. That day we had planned to do 100km and sleep in Sion. Becs and I decided in Aigle (50km) that this gig was easy and we would be silly not to push on to Brig. 100km turned into 160km and with 37km to go, the wind changed direction. Safe to say the last couple of hours on day 1 have been up there with the hardest. Our spirits were saved by our amazing ‘warm showers’ host Mark who took us in, fed us and kept SVB’s spirits alive that we would not have to ever sleep in a tent.
Day two was always going to be a challenging one - the Simplon Pass and our first border crossing. Becs and I were patting ourselves on our backs that we had knocked off an extra 60km the previous day. We looked up at the 2000m snow-capped climb that we were about to endure, collected a group of friends from the Brig train station and set off up the mountain. A steady 6km an hour average had us at the top two and a half hours later. Who knew climbing with the equivalent of a 6-year-old strapped to our bikes would be so tough? Nothing a bit of croûte de fromage and some frittes couldn’t fix at the top of the col. We descended in sleet and snow, and all survived with all fingers and toes intact and a tick of approval for the newly purchased wet weather gear. It was an emotional goodbye in Domodossola for SVB as she waved off Dave (her Hugh Grant) who she will miss over the coming months. I convinced the girls that we should continue another 10km up the road before pitching the tent for the night. SVB’s heart sank when she heard the word tent, but was upbeat by the prospect of an Italian pizza before bed. Turns out there is not a pizzeria around every corner in Italy as my memory had thought, and the road past Domodossola just goes straight up. Our first lesson was that we should always listen to gut instinct! We did and called it a day soon as the gradient was looking ominous. Pitched our tents for the first time ever above the road, in the rain, fired up the camp stove, made some porridge and pasta with a touch of salt, and crawled into our sleeping sacks.
Day three was one to remember and one to forget. Some stunning scenes as we climbed from Domodossola over to Lake Maggiore. It rained relentlessly all day and we had planned on staying in Como overnight. With high spirits after lunch, we set off towards Lugano; after all, “there is no such thing as bad weather, just a bad attitude”. 10km down the road we came across a very, very big hill. The iPhone told us to go up. We did not. Next lesson learnt was to always look closely at a topography map when planning routes. We turned around, tails between our legs and followed Maggiore towards Varese on the flat. In the sunshine this would have been spectacular, but the views were blurred by raindrops. Como started to look more and more unrealistic, and after another unplanned climb, I called on my old FIFA Master Prof and his wife in Gavirate who took us in with an hour’s notice, saved us, and treated us like their daughters. Amazing hospitality, food, wine and a bed. Day three still remains Bec’s pick of toughest to date.
Day four had us on the undulating roads around Lake Como. The views were something else; day one’s hooting and cheering reared again. With ample pizza and gelato as fuel, we dried out along the way and made it to our next ‘warm showers’ host Mateo, another win for SVB. We were treated to a local brew and managed to dry our tents ready for the next couple of nights sleeping under the stars. After 536km in four days we were ready for a couple of light days.
Day five and six were relatively cruisy, some flat, lovely lakes, a night at the campground in Sarnico, lunch in Iseo and another stunner camp spot and a few Saturday night aperols beside Lake Garda. Refreshed and ready for the onslaught.
Day seven and eight have almost merged into one. Many long straights and trucks, broken up by some quaint little towns. We have made the most of the flats and put in a few big days to spend some more time in Slovenia. We have settled into a nice routine of waking up, packing up (which takes one of us longer than the others), and hitting the road. A morning coffee stop, a lunch stop, another coffee/coke stop, depending on the temperatures, and the final slog to the line. It doesn’t seem to matter how long we set out to do every day, whether it is 70km or 140km, the last 20 always seem to be a real mental challenge. Something we may need to work on. We rested our tired bodies in Cittadella, a very cute fortressed town, and the next night in Udine, another Italian charm and with another friendly host.
And so ‘Long Way Homers’, the gravity of the challenge is slowly setting in, more so for the one member of the peloton that is actually going the whole way home. We are all coming to terms with tent life, hand washing and packing our panniers. There have certainly been some challenges, but all in all the scales are tipped heavily in favour of all of the laughs.