Photo: One of the stunning views along the coast of Sicily.
Sicilia No Stop. A 1,000+ km audax mapping out the coastline of Sicily.
Starting Wednesday morning we had until 10:00 Saturday morning, 75 hours, to complete the course. We decided to try and finish Friday evening to take advantage of the hotel rooms we’d booked for that night. This meant we’d have to ride an average of 347km a day. With only 8,000m climbing over three days, then this was do-able. ‘We’ being Salvatore and me.
Sicilia No Stop offered the opportunity to book a hotel room for the Wednesday and Thursday night. Salvatore and I agreed that two nights sleep in a bed wasn’t really an audax, so we eschewed the offer preferring just a shower at the bag drops.
Navigation wasn’t going to be too complicated. The roadbook was only one page but could have been even shorter:
“Keep the mountains to your left and the sea to your right until you get back to where you started.”
Day 1, Terrasini – Porto Empedocle (302km), Uniform: ARI National Team
Turning onto the main road soon after the start a pick up truck kept the horn on and close passed us all. Welcome to Sicily. I was to get some official advice on Sicilian driving later that night, but I had already concluded that keeping out of their way was a good idea.
The morning riding was glorious. Even better that we would complete the highest climb (twice) of the entire audax that morning on our way to and from San Vito Lo Capo.
During the day we had to contend with a few obstacles, including sheep being herded and a para surfer. Moments after I took the photo the wind caught the para sail, bringing it down towards Salvatore, narrowly missing him, only for it to rise again for me to pass.
As the day wore on it got hotter and hotter. We took every opportunity to cool down.
In Marsala I heard a crunch. I looked down at my front wheel and my heart sank. A mangled mess of spokes. My audax might be over. I looked closer to discover a metal bucket handle had caught up in my wheel. As I was going slowly and I braked quickly I was amazed to be able to extract the mangled metal with no damage to spokes, dynamo or wiring. Phew.
We weren’t so lucky in Sciacca, 245km in. We’d taken a wrong turn. We were both looking at our computers to work out the route. Salvatore braked. I didn’t realise and rode into the back of him. Our bikes were interlocked as we tried to stop whilst veering across the road. We managed to stay upright until we stopped. Unfortunately Salvatore’s rear disk was slightly bent. It was too late to find a bike shop so for the rest of the ride Salvatore decided to put up with the “ting… ting… ting”. He tried to coast as much as possible. I felt so guilty for the remaining 797km.
Salvatore is a stronger climber than me, so he often moves ahead of me and I catch him up later. On one such climb I was thinking I should stop to put on my hi viz/reflective gilet. As if by magic a Polizzia Stradale car pulled up beside me and told me to pull over in the very lay-by that I thought I would stop in. I got a bollocking for not wearing my gilet. As soon as I whipped it out from my jersey pocket they were much happier and started to chat about what I was doing. They asked lots of questions about audaxing. Their parting comment was a bit of a worry though.
“We don’t recommend cycling at night in Sicily. With our drivers, it’s much too dangerous”.
We arrived at the hotel bag drop at 21:15. Showered, changed, re-fuelled then headed off into the night.
Day 2, Porto Empedocle – Mascali (363km), Uniform: Islington Cycling Club
By 5am, we’d been riding for 22 hours and covered 412km. We needed a rest. We checked into an audax hotel in Scogletti.
After an hour we got back on the road in search of breakfast. We found it at Marina di Ragusa. I spotted a friend had posted one of those memories from Facebook. Three years ago that day she had enjoyed a day in…. Marina di Ragusa! Spooky.
My trip down memory lane was a little later in Syracuse. We’d been there on holiday in 2008 and really enjoyed it. I loved riding through the streets, even passing the hotel we’d stayed in. At the control I discovered a new treat. Coke Zero (Coke original is far too sweet for me) with granita. I loved it so much I had it twice.
On the road to Catania Salvatore called for a stop. By co-incidence we stopped next to this memorial to the Royal Berkshire Regiment. Salvatore moved away a respectable distance before responding to the call of nature.
On the way to the foothills of Mount Etna we had to contend with the afternoon traffic in Catania. That would prove good training for the following day.
Approaching the hotel stop I saw a sign on a descent that I haven’t seen before. “Warning. Volcanic dust on the road” That kept our speed down.
At the hotel we’d tried to book a shower only, but they refused and insisted we had a room. We decided we’d sleep for three hours before heading for home. In the room there were three beds. After two and a half hours sleep we realised why. The hotel were using the rooms as dorms so other riders were coming and going. Two riders came in, turned the light on, saw there was only one bed, then left. I was so tired I got up to get changed, applied sun and chamois cream before I realised my alarm hadn’t gone off. I tried to get another thirty minutes sleep but another rider turning the light on again put paid to that. We headed off into the night again at 00:30 for what we hoped would be the final day.
Day 3, Mascali – Terrasini (377km), Uniform: La Centinarolese
Our start was accompanied by the bright red lava flowing out of Mount Etna. We decided not to stop for photos as our camera phones just didn’t have the zoom capability needed. We’d have ended up with two red dots in the dark. You’ll just have to imagine it.
During the night we picked up another rider, “Bipo”. After dawn the interrupted sleep caught up with me. I was feeling drained. I’ve learnt what an amazing effect a micro sleep can have. 10 minutes at the table of a cafe, an espresso and a croissant and I was restored.
We pushed along the northern coast heading towards Palermo.
Keeping cool in any way we could.
Who thought riding through Palermo on a Friday evening was a good idea? We had to. It was the last major obstacle left between us and the finish. It was chaos. Cars and scooters everywhere. My London riding experience came in handy as we dodged the traffic. Concentration and Confidence are the two ‘C’s you need whilst riding through a busy city.
20km from home Salvatore and I split up. We’d picked up another rider, Reny, before Palermo. He and Bipo had different problems. Bipo was done in and couldn’t manage the pace. Reny’s Garmin only had a few percent battery charge left so I kept going with Reny whilst Salvatore helped Bipo home.
At a road closure Reny and I had obviously worked out a more efficient way to get back on track as a tandem train rejoined the route just in front of us (a tandem on the front and three single riders in tow). I asked permission to join them and was about to suggest I was happy to take a turn on the front when I realised the speed they were going would have made it impossible for me. Can those tandems shift. Even more remarkable was the fact that the stoker, Lorenzo, was blind and totally dependent on the driver. I hung on until I realised we’d dropped Reny so I thanked them and slowed to pick him up. We were by now close to the finish so we enjoyed the last few kilometres, especially the bonus kilometres as the .gpx file finished 2 km from the end.
It was Friday night. We’d made it. So had Reny’s Garmin, but only just.
At the finish I waited 20 minutes for Salvatore before clocking in so that our times would be the same. 63 hours 55 minutes. 1,042km, 8,119m climbing. Four hours sleep.
A big thank you to Totò Giordano of ASD Ciclo Tyndaris club for organising this 11th edition. A tip for any audax organisers out there. Think carefully about starting a WhatsApp group for riders. Otherwise you might have to put up with way too many crazy questions. We are audaxers, we are supposed to be audacious, not ask questions like “How long is the tunnel, what level of lighting is there and what traffic can we expect to encounter?” Grazie mille Totò.
A huge thank you to Salvatore for the company. I’m really sorry about the disc. I hope your riding is a little quieter now.
Salvatore made this great video of our Sicilian adventure.
Unfortunately the finishing medal and certificate weren’t the only souvenirs I brought back from Sicily. Covid.
Jan and I are now in quarantine for 7 days minimum. I’ve just got a cough but Jan is in bed with a fever. Not the ideal preparation for the next challenge. The Alpi4000 in four weeks time.