Out of Milan and on the Road
I spent Oct. 20-Nov. 21, 2018 cycle touring unsupported from Milan, Italy to Split, Croatia this post recounts part of that journey.
After two nights in a hotel in Milan we’re ready to hit the road. We stop at a firewood store for a canister of camping gas and all they have are the tall skinny cylinders for a Coleman stove. We buy one saying we’ll just have to carefully balance the tiny camp stove on top. For some unknown reason in my haste to pack up my stuff from Maine I’ve brought dirty laundry to Europe and insist on washing it before we take off. The laundry mat is hot and stuffy and painted pink. There’s a cafe next door with delectable lemon custard pastries and cappuccinos. I know the milk will hurt my stomach but I can’t stop myself. Finally it’s 12:30 in the afternoon and we are on the road.
We take a beautiful canal-side bike path out of Milan. The water is crystal clear on the bottom of the man-made canal. We pass other cyclists, people walking their dogs, a big water wheel and an old mill. The city fades behind us as soccer pitches, big back yards and farm land takes its place. Europe is so damn charming. The houses are old, the trees are old. Things look settled and quaint. We cycle through a park and there’s a low gate to walk over to cross a bridge. We have to cross the river. Two kind gentlemen help us lift our bikes. It’s something that will grow to be second nature, but for now we don’t have our sea legs yet. We’re awkward with the heavy gear on the back. We walk the bikes over the bridge.
The river is clear and I can see schools of fish. Both banks are treelined and two huge white swans swim below the bridge. It’s like a postcard. We stop to take photos then continue on. A picnic pavilion on the opposite side seems like a good place to stop for lunch. We lock the bikes even though they are in our site lines. We’ll become more trusting as the days wear on, but for now they seem like valuable and precious commodities that surely someone would want to lift over the gate to steal.
Craig cuts his thumb on his new knife. It folds flat into a credit card sized plastic rectangle when not in use and is very sharp. We eat meat and cheese and bread and an apple. Things are going okay. We had a late start but we’re doing it and we won’t make the miles we planned but that’s alright. After lunch we lift the bikes over the opposite gate and quickly find ourselves on a dirt path.
I’ve cycled in Laos where many of the roads are dirt but for some reason wasn’t expecting rugged trails in Italy. I’m unsteady. I don’t like it. We’re slow going through olive orchards and into farm land. Suddenly on my left I can see mountains in the distance. We’re really out of the city now. This is the Italian countryside I wanted so badly to see. Here it is. And it’s beautiful. We keep pushing on.
The sun starts to set and we know we’re no where near where we planned to be. We will wild camp tonight. I’ve never done it. Neither has Craig. I’ve never set up the new tent he bought for this trip and I’ve never been so brazen as to camp on someone’s property. We’re in a green area on the navigation which means wild land or farm land. My stomach doesn’t feel good. The milk has caught up to me. I do my business in a little ravine by a gravel road. The road runs next to a river and we decide to cycle down it a bit to see if we can find a camp site.
We set up in the perfect spot. It has a great river view and is sheltered by bushes so we’re not so obviously seen by passersby. I’m still nervous. We hear dogs, cars in the distance and two walkers come within 20 feet of our tent. They don’t notice us holding our breath. I doubt they’d say anything even if they saw us. We cook pasta for dinner. Craig cleans the plates in the river.
We made it through the first day cycling. We set up camp. We fed ourselves. We are dirty and tired and we fall asleep to the sound of the water.