This is the last of three articles written by the brilliant Dave Johnson about his experience of riding with Sicily Cycling Club in Sicily - this time on the benign mountain road build by the allies during the Second World War. Every article is followed by a little roadmovie.
WORDS BY DAVE JOHNSON / PHOTO AND VIDEO BY THOMAS OPSTRUP
VC10 training camp Sicily Day 3
After Il Ritiro dell'Etna, Cheese.
On arrival at the bike shed, which appears to be an old chapel, this morning, two of us had to change tubes due to punctures incurred during the terrible Retreat From Etna. We are genuinely very relieved that no one had to try and change a tire in that awful storm. Too cold, we would have failed, and at the least, it would have involved mountain rescue services.
Sadly, our guide Thomas had completely disappeared.
Well, what a difference a day makes. Not high summer, to be sure, but bright and sunny. Up to a different and far more benign summit road, at 1000m. Built by the allies in WWII, it winds up to and along a high, sunlit, silent, flower-decked ridge, with magnificent views from either side and on, via a rather gravelly denoument to a summit used, at that time for intelligence gathering on the German coastal defenses. The story is that this peak was bombed very heavily, and the soldiers manning it prayed for cessation. Just when it seemed no-one could survive, the bombardment inexplicably ended. Survivors returned some years later to build the current chapel in thanks. Even more interesting to me, is that no scenes whatever from the plodding, sodding Godfather were filmed here (see " comedy impressions using just two Barolo corks")
The concept of a light lunch deconstructed itself with astonishing rapidity as cheese arrived.
A bumpy descent brought us, via the mad village grandmother who, as far as Patterson 's holiday Italian could translate, complained bitterly about whippersnapper hells angels (us, we presumed) tearing up her home, to a junction. Sadly, our guide Thomas had completely disappeared. We waited. Then waited some more. Eventually, the most svelt, paperweight climber amongst us, Fitzgerald, volunteered to ride back up in search of our man. We waited. Then waited some more. The fraternal, mutually supportive bond forged in the death grip of fire and ice of yesterday leapt, as we knew it would, and forever more will, to the fore. "Let's leave them", I said, "bastards" Just as we'd all signed up to this stratagem, however, our heroes appeared on the high horizon. Thomas led us into an unpromising building nearby,, having had to mend 6 holes in his tires. There were a few plates and a pile of dust on the floor, so he led us out, and this time through the correct door into a little restaurant.
He thrilled us with impressions of Marlon Brando using just two Barolo corks.
The concept of a light lunch deconstructed itself with astonishing rapidity as cheese arrived. Squelchy, fresh, cooked, sliced, lumpy, limp, lamplit, limpid, lovely cheese. And pasta. With cheese.
And, probably, cheesecake.
Pantani Fitzgerald, as well as the rest of us, expanded, bloated and swelled. Any clothing removed in the warm diner had to be discarded, so much had it shrunk in the warm fug.
Later, so much later, we, a waddling squad of cheese-dazed, burping sumo cyclists climbed back on, and continued the technical, swooping descent. At every majestic corner, brakes went on, groaning bikes slowed, giggling fatties creakingly eased too, but the cheese had its own momentum, sliding undigested and writhing, back out of your dairy -doped heroes, to lie, unloved, on our handlebars and front wheels. Some of it will never, ever come off.
It turns out that Patterson and Christopher are less affected by excessive tonnages of rotting milk than the rest of us, so got back first.
This evening, we ate more food, more cheese and drank some splendid Red. And when I say "some", I mean "gallons", in honour of Harris' birthday. He thrilled us with impressions of Marlon Brando using just two Barolo corks.
Someone prepared to take photos, but just as they quipped "say ch.......", there was unbridled vomiting.
Rest day tomorrow.