Tip of Italy Base Camp!

It’s been a tough few days, and we’re ready for the next chapter of our second half. The weather and baby worries of the last few days have taken their toll. The entrance roof to our Agri Camp-ground blew off last night and six people died across the country in separate tree and roof weather incidents.

We’ve not had decent WiFi or phone reception through it all either, so we’re behind in everything!

We didn’t get as much sleep as we needed and while we woke to a sunny day, it was still quite windy and neither Pompeii nor the Amalfi Coast felt like good ideas.

So we tag teamed and drove down the rest of the Italian mainland, and found ourselves the most wonderful place to park Molly, high on the cliffs looking over the tiny seaside town of Scilla to the north and the island of Sicily on the west of us.

We’re the only people here other than the caretaker who doesn’t speak a word of English. But we paid our €20 and we’re all happy.

I think we’ll be sleeping here a lot in the future… an AMAZING base camp for coming through the bottom tip of Italy.

My view from bed as I type:

Pink Gin in writing hand…

Goodnight…

PS: Thanks so much to those who’ve signed on the easy, no-spam newsletters I send out no more often than monthly (and believe me, I miss sending half of those)!

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Pompeii!

Coming to you tonight from a wild and woolly Pompeii!!! I can’t believe I’m saying that! As a young girl, the Pompeii exhibition came to town and it’s the first memory I have of being truly mesmerized. My teacher was an archeology guru of sorts and dragged us all along. This rich experience lies at the deep core of my love and compassion for tribes, humans, tragedies, and rich love stories. The imagine of a young Pompeiian couple cast in plaster, cuddling together forever, is as crisp in my mind’s eye as the day it captured my imagination all those years ago.

Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii… two words that I rarely hear or think about, but when they do, my heart skips a beat. It’s on the bucket list, …and not planned for this trip.

We planned to take a “short cut”; the twenty-one hour ferry from Livorno to Sicily this evening and last week booked ourselves, along with Molly, Hitch, and the Sphinx (of course) for tonight’s evening departure.

Right after a fabulous weekend in northern Tuscany with my very special cousin Kathryn, where we all ate waaaay too much food, and talked waaay too much. There was also much to be done around the farm, but the weather turned for the worse in a big way, so a cozy fire, a crazy kitty, and the odd G&T or red wine, and there went the weekend. We were determined not to let the weather dampen our spirits but news from home of desperately ill babies cast its long-distance shadow.

Super important meetings and speaking engagements were cancelled, Miss Four’s birthday party was cancelled, and poor Mama Bear spent the whole weekend in bed in such a big single-bed-ward with her precious and fragile Miss Two. It’s the third time in as many weeks this bubba’s been in hospital, from broken foot to serious gastro, but this time it’s a whole new ball game. I won’t go into details but it’s been terrifying … and while they still aren’t out the woods (or hospital) yet, things look like they are beginning to turn around. It’s things like this that tear at our hearts and remind us we can’t be away from them for too long.

Thanks to the amazing (free) Australian medical system for their incredible care of our babies! I know they aren’t perfect but they’re streaks ahead of any other medical system we’ve experienced over the years and believe me, we’ve tested them.

As the weekend came to a close and the weather changed from bad to worse, the ferry was cancelled and we set out this Monday morning to drive down the length of Italy instead of sail. It was by far my preference, as I’m not keen on the ferry idea at all, but wind which slows the traffic down to a standstill on the freeway is not my idea of fun either. Hours and hours of fallen trees, torrential rain, a few roofs blown off, and many of the cars pulled over to wait out the worst of it. Too many cars, in fact, which meant the slipways were over-full and cars stuck out into the road, hazard lights not really doing much.

By four in the afternoon it became so dark and dangerous we pulled into a service station and prepared ourselves to sleep the night if necessary. Then I noticed the Mercedes parked next to us with a shattered terra-cotta roof tile sprinkled across its bonnet and roof, with the windscreen smashed.

The police arrived, the service station was closed down, the rain subsided somewhat, and we decided we’d best venture back onto the roads again and find a proper camp site for the night.

Twenty minutes later we found a decent Agri Camper site on our app and wound our way through skinny streets (you know how much we love those!!), rain, puddles, wind, and even drove UNDER a fallen tree! It had landed across the road with its top on a very high, now broken wall.

So here we are, right in the middle of Pompeii. The weather forecast for tomorrow is clear and sunny skies, so we think we might just stop a moment and visit the only museum of the whole trip.

But I’m not holding my breath!

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Mountain Bike Ride!

Many of you will know how much he loves mountain bike riding and here in the Italian Alps there are mountains and trails all around us. It would be crazy for him to leave here tomorrow without a truly decent ride down one of these slopes, wouldn’t it?

So we drove to the top, high above the line where things don’t like growing and the air is thin…

Past beautiful mountain lakes….

And teeny towns that clung to the sides of cliffs…

Up we climbed in tight switch backs that had our ears popping…

It’s very hard to capture how steep it was, but this photo shows the road we’ve come to the bend on from the left as well as the road ahead to the right….

We climbed through the tall forests with their leaves changing colour for winter…

Above the trees where far in the distance the bare peaks already have their first dustings of snow…

We were supposed to mark on the map where our current home is so he could ride straight down for a few hours while I drove Molly back to camp… but he was a little bit frazzled and excited… so off he went (he’s in this photo somewhere along those winding paths)…

I waved him off taking the obligatory video, then Molly and I started the trek home again … just as the fuel light came on. The steep climb had chowed up so much diesel that there wasn’t much left and clearly driving down again wasn’t dissimilar. She had to be an automatic as with Frank I can’t push a clutch any more. So I watched the last of the fuel meter drop before my eyes.

I quickly realized we weren’t going to get far and an automatic car doesn’t roll so well on empty, so while there was still something left of the red I moved her into neutral and we coasted ever so slowly down most of the bends and eventually, as flattened out into the valley we rolled into the only petrol station around … with three litres (less than a gallon) left in the tank!

I wasn’t super in the mood for running out of fuel in the middle of nowhere without a word of Italian and unable to walk anywhere, and nor was I much in the mood for getting lost. But I’ve got a pretty good sense of direction and Molly and I followed our noses and I kept an eye out for the right mountains as seen from camp and we eventually made it home absolutely shattered!

Thankfully it was all worth it as he had an AMAZING ride, with barely any uphills as he dropped nearly six thousand feet of elevation as he rode about thirty five kilometers back to camp!

(His Strava is in meters…)

One very happy (and therefore somewhat less grumpy) husband this afternoon 😊😊😊

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The Pino Outcome:

I love this photo!! I look so normal! But here’s what it doesn’t show:

  • That I couldn’t walk at all! We’d ridden for over an hour. My leg muscles are amazingly strong considering how little work they get to do in real life. But it was lunch time so we stopped for a break, he helped me get off, and that was it… In the photo I’m sitting on the side of the bike because I couldn’t go any further. Yet I was able to get back on again (with help) and ride another hour!
  • The photo also hides my sore face. I smashed my face a few days ago and have a fat lip etc.
  • This is ALL I did yesterday. He let me sleep in as long as possible and got ready for the day without me. He woke me late morning in time to eat then we drove to the Pino, we rode, then I barely made it back to camp again for a shower and bed. I was in bed again by 4pm and didn’t even have the energy to read.

So…. don’t confuse my ability to ride with my ability to walk, and don’t forget this took all a day’s energy to do and there was nothing left.

Now we’re in the process of trying to buy one. This is a game changer for me and in a completely different way, a game changer for him. It’s my only option for keeping strong right now. It could take months to get one, but we’re praying hard for another Pino Miracle and that we’ll have one well before the end of the year! So watch this space!

(In the mean time, it’s back to a few short metres of heavy crutch walking a day and that’s it… it’s very difficult to be given such freedom then having it taken away!

Pino Pain!

This is going to be a long and interesting journey! It’s the bike for us for sure, and we love it. But it’s also a bit of a relationship tester. It’s like putting everything under the microscope and baring it all!

The littlest frustrations, the things that make us feel safe (or not), the communications, the listening, the understanding, the patience, the “assuming” or jumping to conclusions.

Let’s just say we stopped and spent a while sitting by the beach redefining the rules somewhat, ….and that Uber may or may not have been mentioned (or threatened) as alternative ways to get home. Other stuff may or may not have been said too.

Thankfully we’re grown ups and we were ultimately able to get our stuff together enough to have a great ride home. As always, when we’re in synch we rock! I’ll leave it at that…

On another note, I managed to get a couple of photos before we set our, of me actually sitting in the stoker seat of the Pino and a few other things:

I need to get some decent shoes and my own helmet and so on, but thankfully I don’t need those Lycra pants with a mattress sewn in the crotch! My seat, thankfully, isn’t anything like your average bicycle seat. I would not be able to manage a bike seat with Bertha at all!

I took all these this morning with the same Paola lemon 😊 (his bike seat at left and mine at right).

We rode nearly thirty km in four hours (less than two of them actually riding), climbed nearly 250m and went as fast as 42kmph !! (Not all of us were entirely happy with that speed on day two of my riding career… but now we’re home again to Molly for home made paella thanks to Lorna’s recipe, and what a success it was.

PS: Thanks so much to those who’ve offered to support and keep asking where and how! I’ll keep these links at the bottom of my posts for the next month 🙂 They’re the easy, no-spam emails I’ll send out no more than weekly (and believe me, I miss sending half of those) till the book launches and you can get your free copy!

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Pino Miracles

We’re looking for a bike we can both ride, called a Pino, which we saw at the alpaca place in Dec 2016 when we started planning our second half (more on that another day). They’re REALLY hard to find and it’s been a frustrating battle. Not helped by language barriers. It’s difficult to explain how frustrating this has been and how many dead ends we’ve come to.

I eventually joined a Pino Facebook group but many on there are Americans & Brits. So I asked on the two nights ago if anyone knows where we can hire one in the south of France. I didn’t like my chances. There’re only 140 people in the worldwide group, so it wasn’t looking good. They answered by morning, were wonderful and friendly but we’d already tried the offered sites. In hindsight, I think we’re looking to late in the “season”, somewhere we’ve never quite gotten our heads around coming from the Southern Hemisphere where such seasons don’t really exist.

I felt frustrated, I can barely walk at all right now and I feel so strongly this could be my only opportunity at getting my muscles strong again. But, as I said before, we’ve hit dead end after dead end.

The further we got from western France, the harder it’s been getting and we feel pushed to give up finding the bike on this trip. We could just order one online, but they’re awfully expensive and if I find I can’t use it then it’s a huge waste. So we really need to hire one for a few days and not for an arm and a leg either.

On a totally different topic, we struggled to find a place to stay yesterday. The weather is terrible & the campsite we planned on was so creepy we barely slowed to a stop before driving onwards in the hope of finding something else. I was sore and tired.

With no Pino’s available there’s no point in going to the places we’d hoped to ride it and we were beginning to feel like we’re starting to meander around France somewhat aimlessly. Frustration is well and truly setting in.

We eventually found a mostly deserted but gorgeous campground. We settled down by the river and I realised I need to stay a few days to regroup. I’m feeling fragile. I asked if we could stay here in this random little town for a while till we find our bearings again. He felt the same and agreed quickly. We’re both fragile right now, in different ways.

But I also wanted to give finding the Pino one more shot. He responded in exasperation: Well, I’ve tried everything so unless God pulls out a miracle we aren’t going to try the Pino this trip, so we’ll have to make some new plans.

I checked the Facebook Pino group again, and this time there was a comment on my post from a man named Claude. If you’re anywhere near me I’ll rent you mine for a few days... I assumed he’d also be forever away, but checked anyway. I looked up his town up on the map… and he’s less than 5km away!

There’s the miracle!!! It’s hard to explain how amazing this is, what went into us being right here, right now, how many, many little things have come together for this…

Claude and I had a great conversation, but when we arrived at his house this morning, we realised immediately he barely speaks a word of English. How crazy is it that we can speak on Facebook in our own languages and not even know that. I assumed his English was pretty good and boy was I wrong. The two men compared notes, bike-riding international jargon, and a mix of each of their handful of the other’s language and it was fun to watch faces of confusion so often turn to faces of recognition and laughter.

So today we went on our very first ride. Forty-five minutes along the coast to a small town where we had lunch, then rode forty-five minutes back again. The fastest we rode was thirty-seven km per hour whizzing downhill!! I won’t lie, it’s a little scary sitting on the front of a bike with nothing else in front of you and not much to hold on, no seat belt, and flying at thirty-seven km per hour down the road with the cars!

We rode all along that red line and back again!

I can’t do stairs, but it turns out I can ride a bike! I knew I could and I was so determined to find one. The vital pieces of information about the Pino are these:

Firstly, riding the Pino, I don’t put any weight at all on my legs. I can pedal (when and if I want to) but because my feet are straight out in front of me (and slightly raised), I can do all the movements of pedalling, without putting any weight on Bertha, Frank, or my bad knee. So I’m exercising again! (as well as very much contributing to the riding of the bike). You can see where the Captain (in yellow) sits, in a totally normal bike riding position. The stoker (me), in blue sits totally recumbent on the front of the bike. I even lean back, much like I do in my bean bag!!

The second thing is, because my body lies rather flat on the front of the bike, my blood and bodily fluids don’t build up in my legs. Much of my bed-time is about keeping my legs up high. This does that.

Thirdly, because I don’t sit upright, I’m not sitting on Bertha.

And last but by no means least, if I have nothing to give, I run out of puff, my legs won’t cooperate at any point in time, ….I can leave my feet in the pedales and do nothing but go along for the ride instead of staying stuck at home.

But I’m still just as hopeless at taking selfies!! (Though you can see how close our heads are together which means unlike “normal” tandems, we can communicate and chat and so on without any bother). (And I’ll need a decent helmet!)

I’ll try and get better photos tomorrow (I need someone else to take the pics of me).

PS: The book’s never going to happen if I don’t finish it! Or if I don’t have a support team So I’ll keep these links at the bottom of my posts for the next month 🙂 They’re the easy, no-spam emails I’ll send out no more than weekly (and believe me, I miss sending half of those) till the book launches and you can get your free copy!

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French catch up..

So… I’ve missed a few blogs. I’m not well. I don’t think of myself as a people pleaser but I haven’t yet learnt to explain to people that I need to rest, with my feet up, for most of every day. I shouldn’t try and sit at the dinner table on upright chairs for more than half an hour and I shouldn’t offer to go on shopping trips … even short ones.

So while I’ve loved seeing people the last few weeks, I shouldn’t have offered so much. The reality is I’m not sure how not to…

So I’m sore… very sore, which means I have brain fog, haven’t written my book in a while, and when I’m tired and my brain is foggy I knock and therefore hurt myself. So I’ve had a headache for three days and quite bad concussion. Bertha is doing ok because I’ve been very good with her with all the concussion rest… but I shouldn’t ever let it get this bad.

The weather hasn’t helped. I can’t stand wind and the stormy weather of the last four days mean my joints hurt. And husbands get grumpy in this kind of weather… who knew?!

So we’ve taken the opportunity to hide from the world a bit, pop into the odd IKEA for more storage options, and driven across about half of the southern coast of France.

I sent him out on a ride yesterday, to help him increase his niceness, and it even worked for a few hours.

What I don’t like about France is their tendency to use guns in clearly risky areas. We woke yesterday morning to someone shooting what appeared to be rabbits (hanging from his belt) with both joggers and cyclists on the same road as he was!

Right here:

We’ve since heard an English cyclist was accidentally shot and killed by a French farmer recently. We’re not surprised at all!

I’ve no idea where we are right now exactly, or what day it is. Nor do I care on either score. All I know is we’re trying to work out life together without the pressures which have dominated us for decades. That isn’t always easy. Especially with concussion and Mah Eeds and bad weather and grumpy old men!

But I love this man more than I could ever say!

PS: The book’s never going to happen if I don’t finish it! Or if I don’t have a support team So I’ll keep these links at the bottom of my posts for the next month 🙂 They’re the easy, no-spam emails I’ll send out no more than weekly (and believe me, I miss sending half of those) till the book launches and you can get your free copy!

Main email group:
Team Tortoise:
Team Hare:

Where you can find and follow Jennifer:

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@JPeaSmith