After the flood
I spent Oct. 20-Nov. 21, 2018 cycle touring unsupported from Milan, Italy to Split, Croatia this post recounts part of that journey.
Our Warm Showers host cancelled on us due to the flooding. We had just left Venice that morning after traipsing around for two days knee-deep in the worst flood waters in a decade. Warm Shower is a Web site much like Couch Surfing that connects cycle tourists with hosts who welcome them in for free lodging, a shower and often a meal. Our host’s town of San Michele al Tagliamento was being evacuated because the Fiume Tagliamento was overflowing her banks. He advised us to get off our bikes and take the train to Trieste to avoid the oncoming storm. While we respected his wishes to not host guests during an emergency evacuation, we didn’t take the train.
It had been a long 90km (56 mile) day. We started at Jolly Camping in Marghera, where I had stayed for a week with my sister a few years back. The campsite was as inviting and cost-effective as I had remember for a town as expensive as Venice. It was fortunate we were staying on the mainland as the island of Venice in addition to having a bicycle ban was totally flooded.
The flooding meant traffic was backed up, roads were closed and whole roundabouts were under waters. We cycled for a ways down a brimming canal and had al fresco cappuccinos in a small town near a church in the center. The barista made hearts in the foam and we tried two different croissants for elevenses.
Biking on a bike path is such a joy compared to vying for positioning with all the cars on the road. The canal was our constant companion through the surprisingly sunny morning. Ducks and egrets forged near the banks and we stopped for lunch at a picnic table near a cemetery. As it was October 30th the locals were busy cleaning graves and sprucing up the place for the November 1st celebration of All Saints Day. We fired up the camp stove and ate surprisingly good curry from a packet. The sunny morning started to turn into a cloudy afternoon.
We cycled on not sure where we’d stay or what the weather would have in store for us. The wind was picking up as we cycled through Portogruaro, the last town before our goal of San Michele. We started hunting for good wild camping spots. In Italy wild camping isn’t expressly forbidden and is up to the local municipalities to police and make rules. We hadn’t been caught yet and had been getting more bold and better at picking sites.
An abandoned looking building looked promising until we saw the huge flooded yard we’d have to cross to get inside. We cycled to the back and found that it wasn’t abandoned at all but was some sort of factory with cars in the lots and lights on. It was only 4 p.m. but the skies were darkening and a storm was brewing and we needed to set up the tent if we were going to enjoy a pleasant, dry night. We continued on.
A big down the road a pine grove piqued our interest but with all the rain the ground was soggy. An abandoned restaurant next door looked pretty promising and we rode into the parking lot to investigate. Craig is fond of saying that people “Can’t be bothered” to care too much about what we’re doing. With the weather coming in and the building clearly not in use, it didn’t seem like anyone would bat an eye. We went around to the back and started to set up camp. A covered picnic pavilion in the front of the restaurant filled with old signage made a great bike garage for the evening. We locked them together and covered them with a poncho and set out to unfurl and stake down the tent.
Between the windbreak in the restaurant wall and an aptly placed wooden rail we could tie the fly too we were pretty sure we’d withstand whatever mother nature had coming for us. The first drops fell just as we finished setting up.
The terrible storm we anticipated never materialized and the rain stopped shortly after it began. We cooked pasta for dinner and as there’s never much to do once the sun goes down, called it an early night.
I’m always nervous breaking camp at dawn, thinking someone will see us and we’ll somehow get in trouble. A woman and her child were waiting for the school bus across the road as I unlocked our bikes the next morning. She saw me but didn’t say anything. We packed up and headed back on the road under clear skies.