Finally we rode into the final control at Castelnuovo where had more wonderful ribollita and other goodies to eat. We didn’t linger here long as both Chad and I were now looking forward to getting back to Gaiole. As we rode out of Castelnuovo Chad told me to not bother waiting for him along the way now, that we’d see each other at the end. So off I went, we were heading down hill on smooth curving pavement and I was feeling good. I was riding from one group of riders to the next. More strade bianche lay ahead, we were riding back onto the same roads we started on. And then I bonked. Big time. Looking back I don’t think I ate enough at the Castelnuovo stop. And now I was paying the price. I had no energy left for the climbs. I evidently wasn’t the only one though. Riding up one hill I came upon two Italians walking their bikes. As the road steepened and I rolled to a stop behind them, dismounted and began walking, they called out cheerfully, “Join us, it’s a nice walk”. They knew I was suffering just like them. They knew too that keeping good spirits helped a lot. So we walked for a while together the 3 of us. They must’ve exhausted their English as the chattered away in Italian. I didn’t understand a word but we seemed to laugh at the same thing, whatever it was they said. As the road leveled out some they hopped back on their bikes and with a “Ciao!” to me they rode off. A few moments later I hopped on my bike and rode after them but just didn’t have the energy to catch back up. They slowly disappeared down the road.
Soon after this I was back going down the climb that had been lit with luminaries that morning. The first section of strada biancha shortly out of Gaiole. It felt good to know I was close to the end and it felt good to be heading downhill.
But that meant I still had more climbing to do – we’d left Gaiole in the morning coasting downhill. I was on that section of pavement now, my bonk still with me. All I could think about was food. I rode past a gas station and wondered about stopping to see if they had anything to eat. But decided to keep going knowing I was near the end. Coming the other way were cars with bikes on the roofs and strapped to the back. These riders were done and heading home now. Not much longer and I’d be done too. Another car passed, Paul and James hanging out the window cheering me on. I was now seeing people walking their bikes to their cars, they’d wave and cheer as I rode by. I was definitely close now. I was thinking how good a sandwich or pizza would taste when I got to the piazza. And then I was alone. There were no more cyclists riding by, no more riders walking their bikes to their cars, no-one. I’d missed my turn into Gaiole somehow. Crap. It was now getting dark and starting to rain too.
Up ahead I spy a couple walking down the road. I stop and ask, “Parla Inglese?” (do you speak English). The man points to his wife. I ask in the simplest English I can muster how to get back to the L’Eroica finish line at Gaiole. She answers in Italian. Thank goodness I can actually understand this little bit as I catch words due kilometri, sinestra… Just when I’m ready to head back the way I’d come a car pulls up with bikes on the rack. The driver speaks perfect English and says he’ll guide me back to Gaiole. So, after 85 miles plus another 3-4 for good measure I ride into the finish area, get my card stamped and signed for the last time, receive my commemorative bottle of wine and FINALLY get to sit under an awning in the piazza with a beer and a panini. Heaven. A short while later Chad shows up. He looks spent. We sit for a while, relaxing, enjoying the company of other L’Eroica riders at the café, eating paninis and drinking beer. While I wish I hadn’t bonked so hard at the end, I felt pretty good for what I’d just accomplished. It’d been a wonderful day all in all. Great scenery, interesting roads, wonderful camaraderie, tasty food and drink. Barely had I finished the ride than I was thinking, “Now that I know what to expect, I’d like to come back and try the 200K route!”.
Hope you enjoyed the write up.