Anything after Fornovo is uphill and our only option is to push our bikes and try not to notice those other bikes that pass us with a maddeningly sibilant sish and all too frequently a jaunty "bon giorgnio". I would feel happier if I could wear a placard explaining that we are walking because our bike is broken and not because we are wimps, but I don't suppose anyone would have time to read it. Anyway, as long as we stay on the quiet minor roads the climbs are within our range and I make the mistake of congratulating myself on getting fitter, but then we hit the off-road section after Terenzo. Suddenly we are on a perpendicular stone track that walkers in hiking boots would think twice about, let alone cyclists with 25 kilos in their panniers. Nevertheless, true to our purpose we slog on and create the GPS trace along the Pisoni recommended route, albeit sweating, cursing, falling over and in my case feeling closer to the end of my physical resources than ever before. On the way we pass an old man who is taking a brief excursion from his car down the stony track - he looks at us in utter amazement and asks why we are not taking the tarmac route with our bikes. We shrug and try to explain, but anything we says seem to only confuse him even further. Then he looks back at Paul and gives me a meaningful look before saying: "you must have iron courage". A comment that is obviously so well meant that I have neither the heart nor sufficient command of the Italian language to explain that in fact I bear as much blame as Paul for being here.
By the time we are back on the SS62, which runs parallel to the route from hell, every muscle has turned to jelly, but after that it is all downhill. Blissful kilometres requiring no more effort on our behalf than a few squeezes on the brakes. Alright, so maybe I have only one working brake, but who cares when the wind has dried all the sweat off and we are cruising into Berceto where there is something like a street party going on.
The countryside here is stunning, rising above the Po valley, where green hills are topped with stone built villages. Much of the signing and pathway maintenance seems to be down to the Italian Alpine Walking Association. The Alpine bit gives you a clue and indeed it does what it says on the tin. This would be tremendous for a Sunday ramble, followed by a good meal, but 40 odd days and places to get to and beds to find, scrambling over broken shale is no fun when you are pushing this loaded bike and I suspect even hardened walker pilgrims would be scouring their maps for an easier option. In Berceto we are given a warm, dog friendly, welcome at the youth hostel, clearly something needs to be done about this DOODAH, pointed to a room with 2 creaky but acceptable beds and left to our own devices - good cheap pizza in a warm and friendly town.