This is the second of three articles written by the brilliant Dave Johnson about his experience of riding with Sicily Cycling Club in Sicily - this time on Etna. Every article is followed by a little roadmovie.
WORDS BY DAVE JOHNSON / PHOTO AND VIDEO BY THOMAS OPSTRUP
Just making a point. ETNA.
VC10 Sicily training camp
A Bit of an Epic ride.
The stats said it was a short ride, done very slowly. The weather said Spring, and warm
That all referred, of course, to here, in Giarre, or wherever the hell we are.
Sitting in the sunshine, waiting for the fag to drop (we didn't have a flag) we were warned that a Gabba would be the very least of our essentials. No-one mentioned full Himalayan off-piste skiwear, a double-skin Antarctic research shelter and a Jotul woodburner, but more of this in a mo.
"Etna had decided she didn't like the look of us."
Lovely, fast tailwind start to the ride was followed by turning inland and upwards on smooth roads, climbing steadily at 5 or 6%. Thinking that we would soon be at the top of the local neighborhood's volcano, I sneered to myself that it was nothing like as mighty as Vesuvius, killer of Pompei and Herculaneum. "What has Etna ever done for the Romans?" I misquoted merrily. Then a sign said "welcome to the Piedmonte dell'Etna". The Piedmonte? Foothills?! We'd been ascending for hours. Arriving at the quaintly, though puzzlingly named village of Linguaglossa (what on earth can possibly happen here...........? we stopped for coffee. And we're told that the climb started shortly. Oh dear oh dear.
Well, at least the traffic disappeared. Long, scented woodland sections tinkled with goldfinches and something large and murderous soared overhead. Eagle perhaps?
Something else large and murderous eyed the slow progression upwards. Etna had decided she didn't like the look of us. As the trees thinned, the thickening lava flows give us a little warmth on one side, but the biting wind began to fling snow at us from the other. "haha! Whatever" we trilled as we kept more than cozy pushing our upward momentum. Oxygen began to decrease its molecules per lungful as on and on we plugged, deeper and deeper into the snow-blasted stratosphere. Deeper, yes, and much much steeper, too.
"Hours this descent went on, possibly Days.
I'm not too proud to admit that I cried."
I was simultaneously too light, too heavy, too hot, too cold and too unfit. At our top, not THE top, we stopped at the ski station and should have bought every item of clothing in the shop, rather than just the fabulously gloopy hot chocolate.
And then the descent. I can't give you too much detail as my smashed emotions won't take me back there just yet, but the gale howled, and the ice accumulated, and pellets of the stuff, millions of them each minute combined with sharp volcanic dust, moving at 70mph straight at exposed faces, hands, legs, while freezing water sprayed lightweight, uncovered shoes and into every orifice. The shivering was so unbelievably violent that bikes were uncontrollable, as well as unstoppable, as brakes, and fingers had ceased to bother. Hours this descent went on, possibly Days. I'm not too proud to admit that I cried. Which was stupid, as then I couldn't see, either.
Rojas ; "Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, I was hit in the face by an enormous, horizontally flying pine cone. It fell from a tree, I was wearing a helmet, it was the size of a cob of corn, but it hit me in the face,"
It's hours later now, we've showered and eaten, and yet, the mention of The Great Descent off Etna is still causing a shivering deep in the core of my soul.
Bit of an Epic, that.