Some people prepare for grand trips with careful preparation and a checklist. Many will look over their entire kit in the days leading up to their trip and think about different possibilities. Our trip, so far, has taken a very different approach. We’ve literally only just set off, and we already cannot work our stove, I lost my only fleece in a New Year party in a tiny Venetian restaurant and our bikes are still in boxes at the airport – we arrived three days ago. But these are just tiny speed bumps that we can breeze over, I have no doubt. The sun is shining, it’s warmer in Venice than it’s been since we arrived and we have all of Italy laid before us. Let’s go for a bike ride.
We arrived at the airport at 12 noon, and within a half hour had withdrawn our bikes from storage. Unpacking everything we find that all is as it should be, and soon we get down to building those puppies up. At one point Ryan and I turn to each other and I say ‘this is what it’s all been leading to – this is why we’re here.’ Building the bikes was one of my favourite parts of the past few months. We had the warm Venetian sun with us, and it took me a little under two hours to get Hobbes constructed. Tom, Mia and Lydia met us to say goodbye and there were lots of hugs, photos and posing. Once the bike was built, I realised that the front brake wasn’t performing as it should be, but other than that was happy.
Ryan on the other hand, had a couple of issues. One of his panniers was broken, so had to be duct taped on, and he couldn’t attach his handlebar bag as the wire was too frayed, so it had to be duct taped also. Of more pressing concern was the fact that his front brakes were jammed on, which made cycling a little difficult. Nonetheless we decided to press on, as it was 4pm by this point and the sun was starting to go down. Now a word to the wise, cycling out of Marco Polo airport through to Merghana is hellish. Although the map may tell you it is not a motorway, it certainly feels like one. It took us 2 hours to go a measly 20km, due to all the twists and turns. The cars were flying past us, and the shoulder disappeared and reappeared with disturbing irregularity. We had to get through the city to the other side so that we could camp, and the sun was going down, pushing us for time. One particularly terrifying moment was a stretch where there were two different on-ramps converging then 100m later diverging. Within that 100m we had to move through four lanes of traffic to get to the opposite lane. I was lucky to get a break in traffic and was able to dash over to wait for Ryan at where the lanes split. Five minutes later, Ryan puffs into view, forcing his bike through the brakes and is just about to indicate to cross when a car shoots in front of him – three more do so and he wisely pulls in to the side of the road. We wait for several minutes before we find a gap in the traffic and Ryan blasts over to me as fast as possible, and we exit that hellish section. We both needed five minutes to calm our frayed nerves, so we sat at the bottom for a while before moving on. It was now properly dark, so the lights went on and we started to look for a good camp site. Nothing was looking good, until we saw a sign for Camping Fusina. Following this took us to an industrial estate and we decided to take a look around. It was creepy as hell, like a shipping container graveyard and we pedalled around looking for anywhere to camp until we spotted an old man walking along the road. Ryan called over to him, and asked if there was anywhere to eat and he told us there were a few bars along the road. Following this sage advice, we cycled to the unfortunately named town of Malcontenta. There we found one cafe, selling cakes and biscuits and decided to hold off for more filling grub. It was not to be found. What we did find, however, was a good spot to pitch our tent, and under the cover of darkness we snuck over a ditch with our 40kg of touring bike and set up camp. As soon as the tent was up, I was off back to the cafe to pick up a haul of doughnuts, cakes, a coke and three toasted sandwiches. After devouring these, both of us fell asleep from 7pm until 7am the next morning.