Cycling in Piedmont: Day Three. Steep Climbs on a Rainy Day and Italians to the Rescue

Day three of the Piedmont bike trip turned into quite an interesting day. We had a 47-mile trek, long climbs, steep climbs, a wipeout on an invisible oil slick and an Italian couple who came to the aid of one of the group.  

And it rained. 

The ride was long because we left Alba and went to our next destination, an agriturismo in the middle of the plush Piemontese countryside. We faced more than a few steep climbs in the first 25 miles.  

Note the climbs in the first part. Whew!

The weather delayed our start by 30 minutes. So we met in the lobby and Gian Luca pulled out a set of laminated, oversized maps of Italy and we were schooled in history, regions and traditions up and down the boot. (I’m glad there wasn’t a test afterward because I didn’t take notes. 😉

Finally, the rain let up enough and we set off for Benevello, nine miles away, with a 6.9-mile climb and a maximum 6 percent slope. I’m not sure which was worse: the climb or going downhill getting pelted with rain, while wearing a windbreaker that was not waterproof. “OK, OK, I got this,” I told myself. I stopped to catch my breath and take photos, of course, because even on rainy overcast days, Italy is beautiful.

At some point, my jacket, shoes, gloves and shorts were all soaked and I was cold. Then with the higher elevation came the fog. I actually stopped and laughed for a minute, just to take in the whole situation. I was pushing myself beyond anything I’ve ever done before, I had a voice on the GPS app giving me directions from my shorts pocket and the road ahead was shrouded in fog. Andiamo! 

A short while later, I paused in a small parking lot and sent a text to Cristiano to come and get me. I think I was spent. He arrived within minutes and said, “I’m not going to put you in the van when you have just 400 yards to go! You can do this!”

OK coach! That was all I needed to keep me going. I finally got to the bar where everyone else was already enjoying the break. I stayed outside for a minute just to get my bearings. Cristiano reminded me that what I had done was an accomplishment. “It’s a tough ride anyway to this point and when you add the weather, it’s even harder. So be proud.”

I realized something else at this point: I wasn’t eating enough, before and during the rides. With this kind of workout, you really need to load up on calories. That’s what the van was for: supplying water and nourishment. I just didn’t take advantage like I should have. Trust me – that bad practice ended that day. For the rest of the week, I made sure to load up, even if it were just a banana.

We still had 16 miles to go until the next stop, which was lunch, and it included a steep 12-percent climb. I took Cristiano’s advice and rode in the van, got warm and dry and gathered my thoughts about this crazy morning in my notebook.

Upon arriving at the Agriturismo Dimora, it was time to relax and enjoy the grissini, salad, an array of vegetables and cheeses, while the aforementioned soaked outerwear dried on a few chairs in the back. 

Then I found out that our other guide Davide took a spill on an oil slick and was sitting in pain at one end of the table with an immobile shoulder.  After lunch, I had new energy and was ready to make it the rest of the way to the B&B Casa Margherita. We had 20 miles to go and none of those crazy steep climbs.  We started in the pouring rain. It eventually stopped and I even saw dry pavement. Woot! 

There was just the little matter of a two-mile climb at the end but at that point, I was game for anything. I arrived, high-fived the owner Andrea, saw the spa area and the dining room and made my way to my very spacious room.  That’s when I learned about Anne, a member of the group, who had gone off course after lunch. 

She didn’t have her cell phone with her, a mistake she realized afterward, and took a wrong turn. She ended up in an industrial zone but saw a tower and remembered she should see a tower at the end but she was still off course. When an Italian couple drove by and saw her walking the bike, they pulled over and asked if she needed help. The gentleman spoke some English but the woman didn’t speak any and Anne does not speak Italian.

They took off the bike’s front tire, loaded the bike in their back seat and the three of them squeezed in the front.

They called their friend who speaks English and Anne told her she was going to Villa Margherita hotel. “And we drove there, only to find the building dark and unoccupied,” she recounted. “That’s when they let me use their cell phone to call Norm (her husband, also in the group) and he had Cristiano call them back.” 

Cristiano immediately left to get her in a nearby town called Acqui Terme. Anne couldn’t express enough gratitude for the kindness of the couple, pictured below.

Later Anne realized we were staying at Casa Margherita, not “Villa,” which was a good 10 miles away. What a confluence of events!

Anne and Norm realized having just one phone between them was a mistake. “We thought we’d stay together,” Norm said. “We didn’t need it the other two days and Anne was flying on the e-bike.”

We ended this most interesting of days at Casa Margherita with a tasting of biodynamic wines and a pesto demonstration. Chef Franco made it look so easy with the mortar and pestle. By the time we sat down to dinner – a gorgeous buffet of greens, fennel salad, tomatoes, eggplant, the pesto over trenette pasta and stinco, a Piemontese dish of pork shank – we reflected on all of it and were very happy to learn that Davide did not break any bones in his fall. (That guy’s a machine. He was back on the bike the next day.)

The other happy news? We were finished with rainy days for the rest of the trip. We still had plenty of hills to climb but at least we’d be doing it under a sunny sky. 

Next: Climbing to lunch in a vineyard and a visit to Acqui Terme.

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