More easy riding, more rice paddy fields, more memories. Today we ride comfortably into the Sanctuary of the Madonna of Bozzola where last year we staggered in and then begged for a bed for us and a place for Lubie. We were given both and Father Cesare, who we will never forget for his kindness and dual role as both monk and barman (the crucifix tucked neatly inside his T-shirt for the latter role), recognises us and treats to free lunch and beer that he absolutely refuses to accept payment for.
Once again we are asked about our horses, a point which launches a train of thought I pursue as we wend our easy way along flat, sandy tracks towards Pavia. What are the differences between horse and bike travelling? Speed is clearly the most obvious, as is ease with regard to finding accommodation – sticking a bike in a garage is infinitely easier than trying to persuade an hotelier that he really wants to have our horse in his garden. I also can’t deny that I feel generally far less stressed and exhausted than I did when we were riding, but as soon as I encounter the most pathetic hummock all of this is forgotten and I wish above everything else that we had our beloved horses to take the strain. But of course there is more than the simple mechanics to all of this and for me Eduardo expressed this most eloquently. He said that by travelling together horses and humans become a team, each and every member striving together to achieve a mutual aim – in our case getting from A to B. Gwen and Lubie faced the challenges with us and in many cases dealt with them much better than we did. In the mornings they shouted at us when we got up too late and in the evenings they whinnied softly to let us know that they were still there – magical, indescribable moments that only someone who has been there can really understand. I miss of all of that and their absence is now like a silent reproach Paul and I are determined to address for our next trip. But of course we still have our beloved Vasco without whom travel is simply unimaginable.
Just before Tremello, where the signing is particularly good and features hand painted pilgrim emblems, we meet Gian Carlo cycling in the opposite direction. With our minimal Italian, we understand that he is a passionate VF historian, the signs are his own handiwork and he wants to guide us through the next section. This is a chance encounter we would not miss for the world. In Tremello he takes us into the church he is currently restoring, the frescoes and statues startlingly rejuvenated where he has been, but others still only partially visible. The VF needs more people like him.
Our entry into Pavia is simple and straightforward, enlivened by an ice cream stop during which we meet two more pilgrims on their way to Rome, though on foot. Denni (Austrian) has walked all the way from Vienna and Marissa (Italian) has joined up with him in Italy. We swap stories and discover that they have also met Gian Carlo. Shortly after we are treated to an unforgettable view of the dome of Michel Maggiore emerging on the skyline (albeit covered in temporary scaffolding).
Tonight we are camping in Pavia and have decided to take a day out to catch up with our blogging and emails, while also doing some important bike maintenance. The pannier carrier on the black bike has snapped in one place, no doubt a stress factor after something like 2500 kms and nearly one and a half trips to Rome (this is the bike we bought to replace Gwen in Aosta last year), and the brake pads are wafer thin. Our recent progress makes this all possible as we can safely predict that we will be able to spend some time with our daughter Lucy in Camaiore where she has been working for the summer.
I think B has babbled through everything that I had to say, except perhaps to echo that warm feeling that you get when someone you have met briefly and in times of stress recognises you and instantly offers you new friendship and gratitude that is out of keeping with the rat race – is this the essence of why we do this?
DOODAH can’t have found Camping Ticini as its owners/managers are clearly dog and cat lovers and Vasco is allowed everywhere among a small throng of pets that emerge from caravans and tents, each trying to establish their own temporary territory.