Ok. Where was I. Ah yes. I’d done a few trails in central Italy, buggered about a bit on the ACT and all that. Now I’m in Sicily, about halfway through the current TET track here. I’ll try to be a little less verbose this time, darlings. I’ll fail. But I’ll try.
Making my way down from the high trails I was utterly baffled by what I was riding though in the dark. Scaffolding everywhere. What seemed to be almost ghost towns. But with holiday camps in them, all the little single story buildings fully booked. Weird. The next morning in the daylight there was more of the same. Sure, it’s a pretty region, but so many holiday camps and incredibly busy off season. Confusing. Then I passed through a little village and noticed a sign which said….
Please show respect.
Ok, thought I. This place must have a really funny name, like Fucking in Austria. So I pulled a U-turn to find the sign and take a selfie. But it had a totally normal Italian name. Then I saw a house with one wall missing, living room exposed. Earthquake. Oh.
Honestly, it’s uncanny. I had to stop and turn off my music, it somehow didn’t seem respectful. I took no photos. If you want to see what I’m talking about you can Google it. It was utterly haunting to ride though this place that had been smashed up, here in Europe. The holiday camps are where the people now live. I soon found myself riding though the town of Amatrice, or what little is left of it. The historic centre is quite literally gone – there’s a one way street with concrete barriers to keep the rubble off the road. That’s all there is. The old town just isn’t there any more. I stopped at a cafe just outside the historic centre in a more modern building that survived the quake and asked people about it, did my googling. This all happened on 2016, nearly 300 people died and the government have made almost no progress towards reconstruction. The people who have stayed are still in temporary accommodation. The power of nature and the inability of the Italian state to fix things are, faced with them so bluntly, hard to believe.
After the epic, panoramic trails in central Italy I took a look at the calendar and realized I needed to get a bit of a wiggle on – there was a two day storm coming, which I knew would eat up some time, so I decided to make a hop south, mostly on the roads.
The sole human encounter of note was Gerry and her brother. Gerry was drafted in by a restauranteur to translate my order for me, which turned out to be not entirely essential as “Calzone Della Casa” is pretty easy to read out from the menu. But she was from London and her brother in law was the most lovely, most rural Italian chap ever – who told me all about his local mountains. Mountains he loves so acutely I’ll I found his passion irresistibly touching. He had a tear it two in his eye at some my photos and stories of the many mountains I’ve had the pleasure of visiting and working in. It’s a gift to have the connection with agriculture I now have, however tenuous it might be as even though the language barrier it gives these encounters a far deeper meaning.
On the way south, in the name of beating the storm, I headed down though Beach Resort Country. I’m glad I did. Not because it was nice, it wasn’t. It was hellish, dystopian hellscape of everything I avoid in a holiday. But it’s good to be reminded of that, without it I don’t think I’d have the full picture of this peninsula – Resort Land is a part of it. A night in a hotel near a hot spring hiding from the big storm and it was time to head south again. Unlike Treebeard, for me it doesn’t feel like going home.
I wanted to do some trail riding in the far, far south just before Sicily. I expected more of the tough, steep, rocky single track I’d been suffering with – only worse in the wild south. I was wrong. In the Aspromonte national park I found sweeping, wide, fast trails though deep and impenetrable forest. Lots of mud after the big storm, lots of slippery grass and streets in such poor condition they may as well be trails themselves. No people. At all.
Then it was time to visit Mafia Island, the destination this whole endeavour. I fell at the first hurdle. Top tip folks, you can’t buy a bloody ferry ticket on the ferry. The ticket office Google took me to was for a different ferry line that sail where I didn’t want to go, less frequently, taking longer, at greater cost. Whoops! But I’m here now. The detail of which I will leave for another day. Suffice to say, it’s spectacular. This place really is a trail riders paradise and I definitely will be back to explore beyond the TET one day.